Disproportionate Revenge: Rama & Saul

From my Ramayana Series!

Rama annihilates demons

Hindu Disproportionate Revenge

As you can read in the synopsis, “Sita [Rama’s wife] is abducted  by the monstrous demon king Ravana.”  Hearing this news (quoting now from Choudhry’s children’s book):

Tears blinded the eyes of Rama as he took the ornaments of Sita.  Holding them in his hand, he swore, “I will wage war against Ravan and kill him.  I will wipe out his entire race to avenge the grief that he has caused me.”

And elsewhere he thought, “Such an act should not go unpunished.  Not only would [Rama] kill Ravan but he would wipe out his entire family.”

Later Sita says to here captor, Ravana: “By Kidnapping me you have hastened not only you own end but that of your entire race of demons.”

Saul annihilates Amalekites

Jewish Disproportionate Revenge

Saul is the King of Israel and Samuel is the prophet of Yahweh (the god of the Jews) who came to tell Saul he must annihilate their southern neighbors – the Amalekites — for an old offense (see Exod. 17:8-16;, Deut. 25:17-19).  This is only one such story where Yahweh commits genocide:

From 1 Samuel 15: 1-3:   Samuel said to saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over His people Israel.  Therefore, listen to the Lord’s command!  “Thus said the Lord of Hosts: I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt.  Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him.  Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!”
[The Jewish Study Bible]

Reading stories like these to my kids, I have to pause the sacred recital and tell them, “Ah, don’t let this bother you.  Back in those days they always talked about wiping out everybody (guilty and innocent) to revenge a much smaller offense.”  Why should we be shocked that Yahweh was so vicious, everyone bragged about their gods and heros doing it back then!  Of course Christians and Hindus reflexively justify these deeds of their heros, but I wonder if they know that their defensiveness is generic.  I wonder how many have read outside their traditions and seen the patterns.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “Disproportionate Revenge: Rama & Saul

  1. Well, one thing I can give more credit to the Hindu’s about is that when they demonize their enemies, they literally demonize their enemies, so that you feel that they are restoring the cosmic order as opposed to revenging an old blood feud.

  2. rautakyy

    I think that in these stories we have to recognize the ancient cultures as having revenge as a sort of legal action. Everybody who was somebody ie. belonged to a family, or a nation had a responsibility to avenge their kinsmen. Because, that was the only “legal” reprecussion for war. They did not have international warcrimes tribunals. Hence, it was also common knowledge, that revenge led to counter revenge and so forth. To stop the recycle in its tracks it was propably seen as a good idea to annihilate all the possible avengers. That is the entire population of the “oppocing force”.

    In anciet Finnish poetry Kalevala the last survivor of his family line, Kullervo exists only to revenge the murder of his kin. Alltough he tries to avoid his responsibility and live on, it is his fate to throw his life away to do the horrible revenge.

    Now, I am not a cultural relativist, so even if it made sense to them, I do not think it was justified, and therefore if there are gods they should have interfered, but instead they usually only appear in these stories to give justification to such deeds.

    We might look at these ancient stories and find them horrific, but look at what the comic books and Hollywood spouts out. The revenge stories often tell of these quite disproportionate vengeances. Do they not? To avenge one person a hero might kill dozens and dozens of “evil hengemen” like they were no humans at all. It is like in the parody “True lies” the characters have this conversation: “Have you killed many?” “Yes, but they were all bad.” One might see the intended irony in that, but we do not even consider wether the baddies were actually evil when the killing continues.

    Then there are some modern wars, that have been justified by revenge. Not to the thinking people, but to a great mass of audience who felt they needed to hit back to feel safe again. Or am I greatly mistaken?

  3. @ TWF :
    Ah, don’t get your hopes up. Part of my point of these posts is to show that we all did very similar things. Ram-ists and Yahwehists all had their brutal sides. Maybe I can find stuff for you in the future so you can also comfortably despise the often falsely idealized East. 🙂

    @ rautakyy :
    Great points. I largely agree. Thanx for the Finnish stuff. Do you know of good English translations of some Finnish mythology? Or better yet, movies? 🙂
    And as you said, the “Exaggerating your Enemy” is still a human tendencies — it did not disappear with the ancients. Look at much of American foreign policiy thinking, for example.

  4. rautakyy

    The Wikipedia actually comes through with a quite good article about the Finnish national epic Kalevala here:


    It also mentions an English translation, but I have never read it, so personally I can not wouch for it to be a good representation of the story. There are a couple of movies made on this subject. Interresting enough, one of them is coproduction between Finns and Russians made in the fifties, called the “Sampo”, according to the myhtical device, that could produce limitles wealth for the owner. I do think it is more representative of the mythical films of the era when it was made than the actual story.

    A nother is the Finnish film “Rauta-aika”, wich was done in the eighties and had a bit more effort to it, but even that does not really do credit to the stories themselves. It is a bit overly artistic for my taste. A little taste here:

    Of course only a small portion of the stories is ever put to these movies. And neither film deals with the story of Kullervo the avenger I previously mentioned.

    Yes, I was also thinking of the US foreign policy, though there are so many examples throughout history and around the globe of politics based on revenge, that the US is not by far alone on this agenda. However, when a great nation, or an empire – if I may say so – goes to war, the results are even more devastating. Even a commercial embargo, can be a terrible price for a nation to pay for their dictators exploits. In my view embargo is better than outright war, but when people allready suffer under the tyranny of a dictator an embargo that bans for example medical supplies only makes it more difficult for them. It may also embolden the position of the dictator, but now I am getting on a tangent…

    When a god, a religion, or a politician appeals to our lust for revenge, they are appealing to our worst sentiments. What kind of revenge is not disproportioned? Is it somewhere along the lines of an eye for an eye, but there are obvious ethical problems with that logic also, are there not? Is revenge justified if it prevents the other party from violence, by showing them not to use violence, since it can be used against them too, but if it is just for the sake of getting even, it rarely leads to that on either side.

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