Technology (Aaron Chambers)

Aaron Chambers is a professor and administrator at Tabor Adelaide.

Technology by Aaron Chalmers: When horses and chariots were new

In the world of ancient Israel horses and chariots were a relatively new military technology, having made their debut in Egypt and the Hittite kingdom during the mid-second millennium BC. Overall, however, the OT displays an ambivalent, if not openly hostile, attitude towards them. Why? Is the OT simply anti-technology? Or is there more at work?

Perhaps the main and best-known reason for this negative perspective is the potential for idolatry which such technology embodies. All too often, Israel was tempted to place its trust in such force of arms, rather than the Lord himself who had promised to protect and deliver the people (cf. Ps 20: 7 and Isa 31: 1).

How is technology idolatrous? How is it oppressive? How is it liberating? What are you doing to make technology a force for freedom?

Walter Brueggemann, however, has suggested another possible reason for the OT’s antagonistic stance towards such military accouterment based on a sociological reading of the text of the OT. He argues that horses and chariots were characteristically connected with Canaanite (and Israelite) inequitable and exploitative royal power and thus “symbolize and embody oppression. They function only to impose harsh control on some by others…horse and chariot are tools of domination” (“Revelation and Violence: A Study in Contextualization,” in A Social Reading of the Old Testament, p. 300, 303).

This recognition of the social dimensions of technology and, in particular, its potential for use as a tool of oppression raises important considerations for how we approach technology.

In addition to considering how such developments might impact our relationship with God (the issue of idolatry), we also need to consider how it could impact our relationship with our neighbor (the issue of oppression), and especially the potential social costs that might be involved. Of course, the wonderful thing about many recent technological developments (e.g. the internet, lap-tops, smart phones and social media) is that they have the potential to democratize information, thereby helping to liberate rather than oppress people as well as subverting attempts at domination by others.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • phil_style

    Let’s compare like with like:

    Chariots were advance military technologies. Their application at the level of trade/ commerce was limited, if not excluded (a few affluent people may have traveled short distances in chariots). They’re essentially tanks. One should therefore think about chariots in the same way one thinks about tanks.

    To get an idea of ancient Jewish views on “technology” (such modern concept) once must look at all the techs available to them;
    Tools for planting/ harvesting? (the bible mentions these)
    Tools for religious ceremony? (the bible mentions these)
    City walls? (these get a big positive affirmation in many cases, especially with reference to
    their usefulness for Jewish towns and Jerusalem).

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    phil_style is right, and I want to add that I am sick of this approach of labeling everything as an idol. The right accuses me of idolizing myself, of idolizing my own thoughts, of idolizing science. It has become a way of saying that people disagree with others and the people doing the complaining have the true view of god. I no longer find use for the concept.

  • Rob Dunbar

    @phil: I was thinking along those lines myself. Of course, a strong military still is touted as a force for peace and freedom, so horses & chariots & tanks still apply to the ideas Scot’s getting at in this post.

  • Percival

    A geographical perspective might help here. Chariots are no good for hill people who stay in the hills. To hill people, you can imagine how chariots might be seen as a foreign evil. Only when the kingdom spread beyond into the plains would chariots be adapted by the Israelites.

  • http://Leadme.org Cal

    The idea is correct but the means of argument are completely off.

    The worship of ‘Technique’, or the Idea of Technology, comes in defining humans around the concepts of Technique. Anthropology in terms of progress, the obsession of the machine, the priesthood of the Engineer.

    Read Jacques Ellul, he’s dense but good.

    DRT:

    Though the Human mind is, as Calvin said, “a factory of idols”, your complaint is valid. The “I think this/that is an idolatry” has become weaponized christianese for “I don’t like what you’re doing”. I lament that pop movements destroy vocabulary.

  • http://restoringsoul.blogspot.com Ann F-R

    I think Brueggemann’s point is valid, and could be combined w/ the insight from Haidt’s book that moral psychology studies have shown that we’re more apt to kill others when there’s some physical disconnect between our bodies. A horse & chariot certainly distance one from the people on foot, and can kill them even w/out resorting to force of weapons wielded by human arms. (Consider the development of modern weapons deployed from greater & greater distances.)

    The downsides of the internet’s democratization of information are numerous, and include the rapid spread of false info, overload of too much info to process, and the opiate effect of entertainment.

    Cal, I disagree with your summary dismissal of “idolatry” because it’s clearly visible in Paul’s writing and vice lists, where the OT “lifting up oneself to what is false/empty” has been identified in the actions that reveal false worship — idolatry. (cf. Romans 1 )

  • http://Leadme.org Cal

    Ann:

    I didn’t dismiss idolatry, rather the abuse of by making it evangelicalese for taking someone to task.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Cal and Ann F-R, I bet we are all on the same page here. No doubt idolatry is a valid biblical idea that we all must use to check ourselves. I am objecting to its use as a weapon in debate.


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