The Bible and Moral Injury
Reading Scripture Alongside War's Unseen Wounds
Brad E. Kelle
The Bible and Moral Injury offers an exploration (with case studies) of the interpretation of biblical texts, especially war-related narratives and ritual descriptions from the Old Testament, in conversation with research on the emerging notion of moral injury within psychology, military studies, philosophy, and ethics. This book explores two questions simultaneously:
- What happens when we read biblical texts, especially biblical stories of war and violence, in light of emerging research on moral injury?, and
- What does the study of biblical texts and their interpretation contribute to the emerging work on moral injury among other fields and with veterans, chaplains, and other practitioners?
The book begins by explaining the concept of moral injury as it has developed within psychology, military studies, chaplaincy, and moral philosophy, especially through work with veterans of the U.S. military’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A major part of this work has been the attempt to identify means of healing, recovery, and repair for those morally injured by their experiences in combat or in similar situations.
A key element for the book is that one feature of work on moral injury has been the appeal by psychologists and others to ancient texts and cultures for models of both the articulation of moral injury and possible means of prevention and healing. These appeals have, at times, referenced Old Testament texts that describe war-related rituals, practices, and experiences (e.g., Numbers 31). Additionally, work on moral injury within other fields has used ancient texts in another way—namely, as a means to offer creative re-readings of ancient literary characters as exemplars of warriors and experiences related to moral injury. For example, scholars have re-read the tales of Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad and The Odyssey in dialogue with the experiences of American veterans of the Vietnam war and the moral struggles of combat and homecoming.
Alongside these trends, consideration of moral injury has increasingly made its way into works on pastoral theology, Christian chaplaincy, and moral theology and ethics. These initial interpretive moves suggest a need for an extended and full-orbed examination of the interpretation of biblical texts in dialogue with the emerging formulation and practices of moral injury and recovery. This book will not simply be an effort to interpret various biblical texts through the lens of moral injury. It also seeks to explore and suggest what critical interpretation of the biblical texts can contribute to the work on moral injury going on not only among chaplains and pastoral theologians but also among psychologists, veterans’ psychiatrists, and moral philosophers.
In the end, The Bible and Moral Injury suggests that current formulations of moral injury provide a helpful lens for re-reading the Bible’s texts related to war and violence but also that biblical texts and their interpretation offer resources for those working to understand and express the realities of moral injury and its possible means of healing and repair.