Statement on George Floyd and Use of Bible

Statement on behalf of the Society for Old Testament Study

As human beings we are horrified at the racist killing of George Floyd by a white policeman. George Floyd was a member of an ethnic group subject to centuries of slavery, subordination and oppression and still regarded as inferior by so many in the UK and Ireland as much as in the US. We express our solidarity with all who feel demeaned and threatened by this further instance of a continuing history of violence against people of colour, and with all who are standing in peaceful protest against it.

As students of the Bible we are disgusted with the use of the image of a bible in a propaganda set piece in the context of confrontation rather than conciliation, enabled by the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls to clear away peaceful demonstrators exercising a constitutional right. We of course condemn all violent and destructive acts of purported protest, but these people, like the great majority of protesters, were not engaged in such acts.

There are texts between those black covers that require all to love both neighbour and stranger and instruct rulers to give judgment in favour of the oppressed poor, commandments that have been ignored or flouted by those who set up the image. This also is an instance in a longstanding history of the use of the Bible to legitimate injustice, morally wrong even though other texts countenance slavery or genocide, and unusual only in that it uses the Bible as a mere icon rather than a text.

We recognise that our own freedom to study, teach and research the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible is secured by resources built up historically in part by the exploitation of subordinated groups, notably African slaves. Thus our own privilege is bound up with this history of injustice legitimated so often by the Bible. We determine to contribute to the redressing of the balance by encouraging the critical study of the Bible among much wider and more diverse sections of society, and promoting study emerging from such wider groups.

The Committee