From the Daily Office Lectionary for Wednesday in the week of Proper 25, Year 1 (Pentecost 22, 2015)
Ezra 6:11 ~ Furthermore, I decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of the house of the perpetrator, who then shall be impaled on it. The house shall be made a dunghill.
In the Sixth Century BCE, the Jews returned from the Exile and rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple under the patronage of Darius the Great, the reigning Persian Achaemenid emperor. This line is found in the decree which was issued by Darius instructing his governors to see that the temple work was completed despite the opposition of the Samaritans, who had offered to be part of the rebuilding effort but whom the Jews would not permit to do so because they considered them unclean. (Samaritans were descendants of Israelites who had been left behind and who had intermarried with non-Jewish peoples. Although they kept the Law of Moses, the returning Jews did not consider them pure enough to take part in the restoration.)
The destruction of the homes of those who oppose the actions of Jews in the Holy Land is not merely an historic or biblical footnote. It is a present reality. In 2014 the Civil Administration of the Israel Defense Force destroyed the homes of 969 Palestinians on the West Bank. In January of this year, Israel destroyed 77 buildings belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank, leaving 110 people, roughly half of whom were children, homeless. Home demolition has been a frequent occurrence reported in Palestinian news throughout the year, although it is seldom mentioned in American media. Often the justification is that one member of the household has been accused (not proven, simply accused) of actions in opposition to Israeli occupation.
This morning I wonder if the inspiration for home demolition, or at least part of the inspiration, might be this obscure biblical passage. I don’t know, but it’s something to ponder . . . . So much terrible behavior can be justified by reference to ancient scriptures. When will we learn that these stories are not necessarily models of how we should act today; often they are stories of modes of being we are called to grown beyond and to leave behind. I suspect this is true of the decrees of a foreign king who, though he made the restoration of the Temple possible, was not a spokesman for the God who made hospitality, generosity, and forgiveness part of his Law. Home demolition surely violates that Law.