While the Bible inspires many to peaceful ethics and actions, violent extremists have likewise found their identity, motivation, and legitimation in the Bible. As a rich and varied trove of images subject to competing interpretations, the Bible contains many examples that have inspired violent extremism, lending authority to the leaders of violent groups, forming a basis of shared culture and identity among extremists, and/or supplying justifications for extremist ideologies.
According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, violent extremism refers to “beliefs that encourage, condone, justify, or support terrorism,” with terrorism being defined as violence aimed at property or bystanders for the purpose of influencing another audience in furtherance of ideological, political, and/or religious goals. Like other texts, such as the U.S. Constitution, Qur’an, or Mahabharata, the Bible is a favorite in extremist circles because of the influence that it holds in the parent religions from which extremist offshoots trace their lineage. This is the case even though the parent religions may well reject the extremists’ violent interpretations of the texts.
Did you know…?
- A range of extremist groups that identify with Christianity, as well as extremists identifying with New Age religion, Islam, and Hinduism, all draw on the Book of Revelation and other biblical texts to justify their violent beliefs.
What biblical text has been exploited the most by violent extremists?
Extremists draw on a wide variety of biblical texts, but the Christian book of Revelation seems to be the favorite. Since the Middle Ages, violent parties have viewed themselves as the righteous elect from Revelation, the “saints,” who are persecuted for their faith in Christ (e.g.,
What other texts, in addition to Revelation, have inspired violent extremists?
A wide variety of other biblical texts have also inspired extremists. For example, the name of the Phineas Priesthood, a concept among white supremacy groups, takes its inspiration from
In a similar vein, other biblical figures who committed violence in the name of God serve as inspiration for violent extremists, who often take the biblical text out of context. For instance, the domestic terrorist group the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA), active from 1976–1985, named their land in Arkansas “Zarephath-Horeb.” This name combines the location of Elijah’s home before he slayed 450 pagan prophets (