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Al-Awlaki has a Phineas moment

Posted by Charles Cameron

Here’s a meme worth noting when it crops up in the advocacy of religious violence:

You don’t need permission from a religious authority…


This particular idea came up in the video of Anwar al-Awlaki that was released yesterday, Nov. 8th.

Flashpoint Partners translated the comment in question, “do not consult anyone in killing the Americans. Fighting Satan does not require a jurisprudence. It does not require consulting. It does not need a prayer for the cause. They are the party of Satan … It is the battle between truth and falsehood.”

The AFP translation of the key phrase here reads, “Killing the devil does not need any fatwa (legal ruling).”


My interest was piqued because of the correspondence between this comment from al-Awlaki, and the case of Phineas in the biblical Book of Numbers, chapter 25.

Phineas is “the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest” – but when he recognizes that the Lord would be infuriated by the interracial and interreligious copulation of Zimri, “a prince of a chief house” in Israel, with Cozbi, the daughter of the “head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian”, he does not go to the priest his grandfather seeking permission to kill them – he knows it is his Lord’s wish that they should die, and so he takes the responsibility for his action entirely upon himself, and kills them.


As I shall recount in greater detail in two future posts on the topic of Phineas, it is the fact that Phineas acts without first requesting permission that pleases his Lord so much that He grants to Phineas and his seed “the covenant of an everlasting priesthood”.

It is precisely this acting without requesting permission that is emphasized in modern Christian Identity writings on the topic of “Phineas Priests”:

So a Phinehas priest is a MAN who acts on personal initiative to execute Yah’s judgment on violations of Yah’s laws which are adversely affecting His people.

And according to Ehud Sprinzak, the eminent scholar of modern Jewish terrorism, it was reading the “Balak portion” of the book of Numbers, in which the story of Phineas is recounted, that convinced Yigal Amir that he could legitimately assassinate Yitzhak Rabin without first obtaining rabbinic approval (which would have put the rabbi who granted him permission at risk).


So. We have one more piece of the puzzle by which a mind with its own interpretation of God’s will can come to the conclusion that some specific act or acts of violence – accurately termed “terrorism” by others – are not only divinely sanctioned, and indeed mandatory, but can be undertaken without the requirement of prior verification from an appropriate religious authority.

And in this case — the religious authority, such as it is, of Sheikh al-Awlaki proposes this.


Aaron Zelin‘s post on the Qur’anic text invoked by al-Awlaki’s title and the commentaries on that verse by ibn Kathir and others, is well worth your time, if you have not already seen it.

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