Is God a Monster?

This week we have seen the arrest of General Ratko Mladic, otherwise known as the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’ who has been held responsible for masterminding the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995 in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were put to death. They invented the word ‘ethnic cleansing’ to describe the things he did – a systematic attempt to exterminate another race in an attempt to cleanse a piece of disputed land from their presence. To make it even worse, there are images of Mladic being blessed by the priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Was this not only a genocide but one for which religious motivations were found? Was this terrible crime carried out in the name of Jesus Christ? In the Balkans, religion soaks all the ethnic tensions and rivalries in high octane fuel. Churchmen and imams are not afraid to call on the name of God to whip up a murderous nationalistic fervour.

But lest we feel a bit smug hearing about this, they aren’t the only ones to use God to justify clearing out land. The conquest and destruction of the peoples who inhabited the land on which we stand today was often justified as a Christianisation of pagan space.

The idea of a Holy War is one that mostly appals us. We can see how terrible and how bloody its consequences can be. But what if the Bible itself were to contain episodes of genocide and ethnic cleansing and to claim that God himself had commanded it? What if the Old Testament was shot through with stories of God-ordained violence? Wouldn’t we be justified in thinking that the Bible was a barbaric book and its God a monster?
Certainly, this is what leading atheist Richard Dawkins thinks he has discovered in the pages of the Bible. In his best selling book The God Delusion he writes:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak, a vindictive, blood-thirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniac, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Hasn’t Dawkins got a point? Isn’t the God of Israel involved in promoting the kind of barbaric act that would lead him to share the dock at the Hague with Ratko Mladic?

Have a look, for example, at Deuteronomy 20:16-18:
But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them-- the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites-- just as the LORD your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.

It’s grim stuff.

I don’t pretend that an adequate response can be given in this short forum here (for a fuller response see here). But there are a number of points we might put forward.

First among these is to note the patience and justice of God. The conquest of Canaan was not the theft of one people’s land by another: it was the judgement of God on the peoples of Canaan for their corruption, barbarity and injustice over many generations: their ‘abhorrent practices’. The suggestion that they practiced child sacrifice to the god Molech has apparently been confirmed by archaeological evidence of skeletal remains at religious sites. But notice how in Genesis 15, God tells Abraham that the delay in clearing the land is because the sin of the Amorites has ‘not reached its full measure’. It would take four more centuries before this was the case. The wrath of God against these peoples was not especially swift, or capricious. It was rather patient. 

Second, note that the conquest was not a matter of ethnic cleansing, nor was it motivated by feelings of racial superiority on the part of Israel. The stories of Israel’s conquest of the promised land most certainly do not invite them to think of themselves as a superior race. The mysterious encounter with the captain of the Lord’s army in Joshua 5 not very exactly reassuring, is it?

Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"
 "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come."

If the Israelites are to conquer the Canaanites, it is not because they are exempt from the same possibility of being judged by the Lord of all creation. Indeed, that is what happens in the rest of the Old Testament: what we read is of Israel’s own capture by other military forces – the Assyrians and the Babylonians to name but two – and we are led to understand that this too is judgement of God upon them for their corruption and injustice and oppression and rebellion. In fact, the Old Testament is always hardest of all upon the people of God.

The story of Rahab the Canaanite prostitute shows that racial purity is not the issue, here, either. Rahab’s collusion with the invaders is rewarded – and in fact, she becomes part of the ancestry of King David’s royal line, to show us that faith in God, even the faith of Canaanite prostitute, trumps the so-called ‘right’ gene pool every time. The ideology of ethnic purity is a 20th century invention which we do well not to project onto ancient peoples.

Third, the language for the wars of the Canaanite invasion are always quite specific and restrained. There is not in fact the suggestion of a bloodthirsty killing spree. The Israelites are given specific instructions as they go – as we in fact read in Deuteronomy 20. This was not an expansionist war, or the building of an empire. The Israelites did not make a king who might have visions of empire for themselves for many years after this.

My fourth point is this: when the Bible describes a town or city being attacked it may be speaking only of a military garrison – and not a city with non-combatants in it. There is no archaeological evidence of civilian population at Jericho, for example, or at Ai, the city attacked in Joshua 8. The language of ‘all’, or of ‘men, women and children’ can be understood as a stock phrase that just means ‘everybody who was there.’ Evangelical scholar Paul Copan claims that Jericho was a small settlement of probably a 100 fewer soldiers (though I haven’t been able to cross-check this claim). He also reminds us that the Hebrew word ‘eleph’ (commonly translated, “thousand”) can also mean “unit” or “squad” without specifying the exact number. So Jos 8:25, for example, may in fact be far less shocking than it first seems. In general, we ought to understand that the conquest of Canaan was far less

Fifth, we ought to take into account the exaggerated language of military victory. This isn’t deliberately deceptive language but the conventional way in which you would speak of warfare in Ancient times. For example, in Joshua 10:40 we read: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.”

Does this mean in fact that all the Canaanites were obliterated? Not quite. It is like me telling you about a football match and saying that ‘we totally smashed them’. It is an acceptable exaggeration. How do we know? Because the book of Joshua itself later refers to the nations that ‘remain among you’; and the opening of the next book, the book of Judges actually tells us that they hadn’t completely taken possession of the land, nor completely driven out the local inhabitants. We see this too in Deuteronomy 7, where they are told to ‘utterly destroy’ the inhabitants of the land, but also ‘not intermarry with them’. It would seem that one command if taken literally would make the other redundant, right? The chief concern was with destroying the false worship and idolatry of the Canaanites and not with them as a race.

Sixth, the wars of conquest in the Old Testament are NOT offered as a model for such wars in the present day. Unfortunately, they have been used in this way. But that the Bible has been misused in this way is not the Bible's fault. Like the rest of the Old Testament, it needs to be read through the lens of the New Testament. It is part of the history of God's interaction with people that leads up to and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It always ways in fact the case that the promises that Israel had received through Abraham were given to him for the blessing of the whole world. The Bible never a story of ethnic or tribal superiority. The conquest of Canaan was a specific and unrepeatable part of God's plan not just to benefit the children of Israel but to redeem the whole world – including Canaanites (like Rahab).

I don't pretend that this is a comprehensive response to a thorny question. But it is, I think, a plausible beginning.

Michael Jensen is rector of St Mark's Darling Point and is the author of the book My God, My God: Is it Possible to Believe Anymore? He's on twitter: @mpjensen

Comments (130)

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  • Sandy Grant
    May 30, 11 - 11:50pm
    Copan also wrote a book length treatment on the topic, Is God a Moral Monster?, which is on my list to buy. Justin Taylor's review notes it is highly commended by Gordon Wenham and Chris Wright. He also summarises some of Copan's points.

    I had a go at addressing this question at church when we started a series on Judges. My article makes some complementary points to yours. In particular it spells out that in the case of ‘holy’ war’, we will never agree it could be just, unless we believe in the absolute holiness of God - his complete moral purity and goodness. And of course, not everyone accepts that (biblical) presupposition.

    Other points I thought relevant were Israel's vocation to live as a holy nation morally distinct from the nations round about, the more corporate view of moral responsibility than in our individualistic West, the fact that the perceived ethical problem will still exist for sceptics with the NT, except that there, the final judgment it promises is still future, but even more devastating than physical warfare.

    Lastly, I also suggest Moore College lecturer, Barry Webb’s, “The Wars of Judges as Christian Scripture” in Reformed Theological Review 67:1 (April 2008) - excellent but unfortunately not online.
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 12:49am
    Thanks Sandy, that's great. You'll see I linked to Copan's book above.

    I think we also need to see the holiness of God and his people as a salvific holiness, too.
  • Sandy Grant
    May 31, 11 - 2:01am
    Sorry missed that second link. Thanks for taking a tough topic.
  • Stephen Davis
    May 31, 11 - 2:43am
    Mike, I think the only point Dawkins has in this instance is the one he is sitting on- OOOUUUCCHHH!!!!!
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 3:53am
    Deuteronomy 7:
    1"When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you - the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves -
    2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
    3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons,
    4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.
    5 But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.

    The context clearly shows that Yahweh is commanding the Israelites to slaughter all defeated and captive survivors of any action against the "seven nations". He is saying that after he has "given them over" to the Israelites they are not to be treated as defeated enemies typically would, i.e. no peace treaties are to be made with them, and no intermarriage is to occur. Rather they are to be completely destroyed - no mercy, no prisoners. חָרַם
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 3:57am
    Yes, but Copan's point (and Nicholas Wolterstorff's) is that this (in his view) an 'acceptable exaggeration'. What actually happened in the Deuteronomic History as it progressed? What about Rahab, for example?

    The emphasis is on the destruction of their religion and religious practices.
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 4:07am
    Michael,
    We see this too in Deuteronomy 7, where they are told to ‘utterly destroy’ the inhabitants of the land, but also ‘not intermarry with them’. It would seem that one command if taken literally would make the other redundant, right?

    In view of the full passage quoted above at #5, are you suggesting that Yahweh did not intend these instructions to be carried out to the letter? There's evidence elsewhere in the OT that he gets very irate with Israelites who hold back from destroying every living thing when he has commanded just that, eg. Saul and the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15.
    I don't think the command to devote every living thing to destruction was intended as some sort of rhetorical flourish, to be interpreted broadly.
  • Luke Stevens
    May 31, 11 - 4:11am
    Picking up the discussion from Facebook...

    I still think you're on a hiding to nothing on this one Michael. For example (to invoke Godwin's law), let's say Hitler said "Exterminate all the Jews - everyone last one of them, man, woman or child", but the Nazi soldiers (implausibly!) took this purely as far-fetched exaggeration, but did attack and only went after Jewish military and political leaders so they could no longer practice Judaism. We wouldn't turn around and say "Well, this Hitler fellow seemed like a pretty chill bro with a sound, compassionate mind, he just exaggerated a little... and hey the emphasis was on destruction of the religion!"

    What the Israelite soldiers did or didn't do (which is an open question!) doesn't change what is commanded. You can't excuse the genocidal impulses of a leader just because his foot soldiers don't entirely carry out his commands (and I'd be inclined to think they did to some degree). Conflating the commands of a leader and the actions of his subordinates seems like a mistake.

    If you read this as history, Yahweh either has a severe communication problem, or a severe moral problem.
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 4:16am
    Michael @ #8,
    The emphasis is on the destruction of their religion and religious practices.


    How comforting for Hivite women to know that the Israelite warriors hacking and spearing their children to death were doing so only for religious reasons.

    Al-Qaeda also kill women and children in the cause of a transcendent "holy" god.
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 4:19am
    @ Grant: check the evidence put forward by those who have carefully put forward the position.

    When you say: "I don't think the command to devote every living thing to destruction was intended as some sort of rhetorical flourish, to be interpreted broadly" - on what basis do you say this?

    @Luke - you are avoiding the historical and linguistic and textual evidence put forward by Copan and co. Is it sound or not? On what basis?
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 4:23am
    @Grant - the Al-Qaeda comparison is a furphy. We need to read the text in its full canonical context - it is recording instances of Holy War but Scripture is not advocating further instances of it. [There's a few things more to add, but I have to go at the moment].
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 5:00am
    Michael @ #11,
    When you say: "I don't think the command to devote every living thing to destruction was intended as some sort of rhetorical flourish, to be interpreted broadly" - on what basis do you say this?

    I think I've made that pretty clear in the posts at #5 and #7. You seem to be suggesting that Yahweh didn't mean exactly what he said. 1 Samuel 15 shows that he was quite exacting about how his destructive decrees were carried out. Saul thought it was negotiable; Yahweh (through Samuel) disqualified Saul from kingship for such hermeneutic licence.

    Are you contending that even though Yahweh commanded in Deut.7 that defeated "seven nations" people were to be completely exterminated, without mercy - rather than made peace with and married - he meant something else? If it was all really about casting down idols and breaking altars and maintaining Israelite cultic purity, why was the slaughter of women and infants required? Was the Yahwist identity of the "chosen" people so fragile that it could be threatened by the survival of orphaned babies?
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 5:05am
    1. Why would you need to be told not to marry them if you had already exterminated them?

    2. What was it that Saul spared in 1 Sam 15 that got him into trouble?

    Mind you: it is still war. It is still terrible.
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 5:13am
    Michael,
    The conquest of Canaan was a specific and unrepeatable part of God's plan not just to benefit the children of Israel but to redeem the whole world – including Canaanites (like Rahab).


    The end justifies the means? Can't make a redeemed omelette without breaking a few child-sacrificing eggs?

    And why do you speak of the "whole world" being redeemed? It's great for the opportunist traditor Rahab, but what about the infants that lived next door to her? What redemption for them? Does the possibility that they might have ended up in a child sacrifice some day justify their "complete destruction" by one of Joshua's brave Yahwist squaddies?

    I suppose if it's true that we're depraved and damnable from conception, then being slain at age one by a divinely appointed Israelite sword is merely getting one's just deserts a bit earlier than usual ...
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 5:20am
    Michael @ #13,
    1. Why would you need to be told not to marry them if you had already exterminated them?

    It's clear from the Deut.7 passage I quoted at #5.

    2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
    3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons


    Yahweh finds fault with the possibility of mercy, peace treaties, and intermarriage, and demands instead total destruction. If the Israelites were in fact showing mercy to, making peace treaties and intermarrying with defeated "seven nations" people, they were flouting Yahweh's decree.
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 5:30am
    Michael @ #13,
    2. What was it that Saul spared in 1 Sam 15 that got him into trouble?

    Saul spared the leader Agag and the choice livestock. He had been quite diligent about killing everything else, but not these.

    If Saul had turned up having spared the Amalekite women and children, would Samuel have cut them to pieces, to finish the job properly?

    As it turned out, Saul had already destroyed "all that was despised and worthless".
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 5:36am
    @Grant - you are arguing with things I don't say.

    1. The command for the conquest is not tolerant of the 'Seven Nations'. As you'll see from Dt 20, peace treaties are a possibility envisaged.

    2. Let me be clear about my 'whole world' comment. I don't mean universal salvation. I was defending the Israelites and Scripture from a specifically ethnic/racial purity notion at that point.

    3. The broader canvas on which this question is set is this: is the God of Jesus Christ known in the pattern of salvation history for the patience and restraint of his justice, for his determination to warn and restore rather than to destroy, for his working of mercy even in judgement? Then, whatever questions we might have of these episodes (and believe me I have some) are we not justified in giving him the benefit of our doubt as a divine (rather than human) agent?
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 5:42am
    Yes, Grant, no mention of women and children at all. The passage is not inconsistent with my 'rhetorical exaggeration' theory.

    If all were destroyed utterly, then who was it who was running around in 1 Sam 27-30? and in 1 Chron 4:42-3? (not that things went very well for them there, either!)
  • Luke Stevens
    May 31, 11 - 6:02am
    @Luke - you are avoiding the historical and linguistic and textual evidence put forward by Copan and co. Is it sound or not? On what basis?


    I was arguing it's moot. As I've said, there is still plenty of scope for evil, especially given the glorification in the text of genocide.

    Nevertheless, it appears I don't have to ignore it. This (lengthy!) commentary on Copan's book (PDF) thoroughly dismembers, err.. dismantles his claims limb by limb.. err piece by piece I mean. I suggest everyone interested in this topic read from page 172 on. It takes the discussion well beyond what we're discussing here, however it also covers this issues raised so far.

    (Also, for those interested in Copan's arguments, you can see the relevant book chapter (I think) here. That he bookends his discussion with the arguments with (i) they deserved it, and (ii) God can still do it, doesn't inspire much confidence, and indeed the above review takes him to task for, ultimately, very poor scholarship, if you can call it that.)

    Sigh. How depressing :\
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 6:08am
    ...but the text does not glorify genocide...
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 6:08am
    Michael @ #17,
    1. The command for the conquest is not tolerant of the 'Seven Nations'. As you'll see from Dt 20, peace treaties are a possibility envisaged.


    PART 1 - Rules of engagement for "all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here" (i.e. not Canaan)

    Deut.20:
    10 "When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. 11 And if it responds to you peaceably and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. 12 But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. 13 And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, 14 but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. 15 Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.
  • Luke Stevens
    May 31, 11 - 6:13am
    Please check out the PDF Michael.
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 6:14am
    PART 2 - Rules of engagement for Canaan:

    Deut.20:
    16 But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction - the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites - as the LORD your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God.

    For what fulfilment of such commands entails see for example Deut.2:
    31 And the LORD said to me, 'Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land.' 32 Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. 33 And the LORD our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. 34 And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. 35 Only the livestock we took as spoil for ourselves, with the plunder of the cities that we captured.
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 6:21am
    It's not unusual for one tribe to demonise another, to legitimise its own atrocities, cf. the Balkans, Christian blood-libels against Jews, Lebanon...
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 6:25am
    Blimey Grant, I keep saying: it's a rhetorical formula. You were saying 'look hey no treaties.' I said, well not quite true.

    Luke, I'll look at the self-published, non-peer reviewed pdf, for sure.
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 6:32am
    Michael,

    Deut.2:34
    And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors.

    Rhetorical formula? Blimey!
  • Luke Stevens
    May 31, 11 - 6:36am
    Who's being snarky now?

    Luke, I'll look at the self-published, non-peer reviewed pdf, for sure.


    As opposed to Copan's claims (who is not a biblical scholar), which you can't verify but use to support your argument? Bit rich to be claiming the intellectual high ground there Michael. The work cited in that review (from a published author, for what little that's worth) is far beyond Copan's amateurish claims. But hey, if citing Copan on faith suits your preconceived ideas, don't let opposing points of view get in the way.

    For anyone genuinely interested in the issue, I again recommend reading the relevant parts of this review (PDF) from p172 on.
  • Luke Stevens
    May 31, 11 - 6:40am
    You know you've lost an argument when you rule devastating critiques invalid because they're not "peer reviewed"...
  • Grant Hayes
    May 31, 11 - 6:44am
    Michael @ #25,

    You were saying 'look hey no treaties.' I said, well not quite true.


    I wasn't. I quoted a passage from Deuteronomy that you had cited, and I was commenting on that passage.

    In Deut.7, as I've pointed out, Yahweh deplores the making of treaties and intermarriage with members of the "seven nations", preferring that they be annihilated. This is borne out in the "complete destruction" passage from Deut.20:16-18 I quoted at #23 above, which applies to the same people group in Canaan.

    The treaty possibilities in Deut.20 you refer to (and which I quoted in context at #21!) are for those cities "very far" from Israel, i.e. not the "seven nations" to be dispossessed.
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 6:45am
    @Luke, I retract the snarky comment. However, my quick read of the critique doesn't leave the impression 'devastating' on me I have to say. It isn't devastating just because you say it is.
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 6:46am
    @Grant, that's right. I disagree not a jot with what you say there.

    I am offline for now - things to attend to. Play happily. :-)
  • Michael Jensen
    May 31, 11 - 6:58am
    Stark (Copan's critic) says this:

    If our faith is such that we have to be dishonest in order to maintain it, then woe to us!


    I think this is a great point to make. Stark accuses Copan of trying to conceal the true difficulty of the texts - and if so, then woe to him.
  • Martin (Enkidu) Shields
    May 31, 11 - 1:06pm
    This is obviously a quite complex topic and, I admit, I haven't given it as much thought as it requires. Nonetheless, I'd like to make a few points.

    First, the Hebrew term חרם (<em>ḥrm</em>) is significant (in Arabic the cognate term gives rise to "Harem"), because none of the relevant texts merely refer to "killing" the opponents of Israel (that is, they don't use the Hebrew term for "kill"). Rather, this term is laced with religious overtones. It refers specifically to setting apart for religious purpose, and I think that this highlights the fact that the focus in all these actions is primarily on avoiding syncretism. Of course this usually does result in wholesale slaughter and destruction.

    But not always.

    For example, consider Joshua 10. The first point, in accord with Michael's suggestion that these cities were predominantly military, is the fact that Josh 10:2 states that all the men of the city were warriors. Second, through some legerdemain on the part of the Gibeonites, they escape the mandated eradication and even enjoy God's protection. One factor here appears to be their allegiance to the God of Israel which removes the dangers the ban (חרם, <em>ḥrm</em>) sought to protect against.

    A similar example is Rahab who, in spite of the ban, is spared.
  • Martin (Enkidu) Shields
    May 31, 11 - 1:08pm
    These incidents do lend some support to the notion that the language used is idiomatic rather than strictly "literal" and is employed to express the requirement that all traces of foreign religion are removed from the land so it can be holy. Examples of such use of language can be found elsewhere in the OT.

    I also noted something interesting about Deut 7:2–4:

    You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
    3 You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.


    Note this is not saying "no peace treaties." The focus is on avoiding alliances or agreements which result in circumstances wherein syncretism arises — either in personal relationships (i.e. marriage) or other political/religious alliances. Note also the quite different language in Deut 20 when a peace is offered to cities — they are not there entering into a covenant but rather offering to accept the surrender of the city.

    Obviously there's much more to be said here, and the significance of these observations will be subject to disagreement, but I think there are grounds for delaying judgment in this matter until the evidence is considered more closely.
  • Stephen Davis
    June 1, 11 - 12:44am
    Jeez Mike, you know how to organise a good debate mate! I must admit though, it is hard to sometimes discuss some of these issues with people who are not Christians as you are both coming from different directions, I admire your committment though, I do not know how long I would have lasted. All the best mate.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 3:38am
    Stephen Davis,
    Jeez Mike, you know how to organise a good debate mate! I must admit though, it is hard to sometimes discuss some of these issues with people who are not Christians as you are both coming from different directions,

    Jeez Stephen, you reckon being a Christian gives you some special insight into the true value of divinely commissioned Bronze Age massacres?

    I guess it will be much easier for SydAngs to rest easy about all that Canaanite blood (not so very much blood after all!), since Copan (through Michael J) has provided such a relieving suite of evasions, rationalisations, and oh so carefully strained interpretations.

    Thanks to Copan, we're now aware that when Yahweh commands kill 'em all, every man, woman, and child, leave none alive, he doesn't really mean it (wink, wink) - it's just a case of "acceptable rhetorical exaggeration", like when you're talking footy with your mates. Of course, The Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ didn't advocate wholesale slaughter of all those -ites, he was just commissioning small scale, targeted raids against purely military installations, garrisoned by only a few hardened warriors. Herem warfare was simply about smashing religious paraphernalia; the stuff about killing everything that breathes is just a bit of colourful hyperbole (ah, those passionate Levantine types!). And any collateral killing of women and children was most regrettable, and they probably deserved it anyway...
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 3:55am
    Yes, Stephen, all good Christians can rest assured that Yahweh didn't ever commission any massacres of whole populations, and anyone who thinks he did is just not reading between those ancient, quite complex and tricksy, biblical lines. If we're going to discuss the dispossession of Canaanites and the attendant unpleasantness, you see, we must be very, very careful, and tread very, very gingerly, with lots of lexical caveats. Words don't mean what they seem to, and only a properly credentialled evangelical apologist, reviewed and approved by his evangelical apologist peers, can set you straight about that, help you handle Scripture rightly. And in all of this, you must always keep the end in sight, remembering that the long-ago slaughter of a few (such a very few) reprobate heathen warriors (and the occasional dependant...whoops) is a small price to pay for the great blessings revealed in Christ. Just close your eyes and think about Jesus...and remember, if in doubt, it's all just "acceptable rhetorical exaggeration".
  • Stephen Davis
    June 1, 11 - 3:58am
    Grant - give it a rest mate, you are starting to sound like a broken record! I do not claim to have any "insight" into anything, I was simply stating a fact when I said that discussing these issues with people who are not Christians is hard, and it is a fact that you cannot refute.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 4:24am
    I have not tried to "refute" it.

    The "fact" I'm seeking to highlight is that Copan (with Michael J tagging along) is engaging in an intricate game of wishful thinking and special pleading when he tries to minimise and reframe the harsher side of Yahweh, because it makes the OT reek of Srebrenica and Rwanda.

    Herem warfare, as Scripture (and extra-biblical sources) plainly indicates, involved the wholesale slaughter of a population as a sort of ritualistic purge/sacrifice. The commands to leave nothing alive were not negotiable bursts of "you get the gist, just knock down the altars" hyperbole.

    Have you got anything to contribute about that, or do you just dispense oranges at half time? You can give that a rest...
  • Stephen Davis
    June 1, 11 - 4:26am
    Not everybody likes oranges Grant! Gives us one of your long winded dissertations on that one mate!
  • Michael Jensen
    June 1, 11 - 4:52am
    @Grant - it is fascinating how adamantly Christianity's critics will insist upon the most fundamentalist of readings of the text.

    You haven't actually dealt with my suggestion about rhetorical exaggeration with any arguments other than a resort to sarcasm. I have offered literary evidence why I think it may well be the case that these phrases are to be taken in a certain way. All you have done is shouted about the plain reading (so-called), as any good fundie might.

    Now let me be clear - I am not seeking to exonerate God, or to make the Yahweh somehow domesticated to suit mild-mannered western liberals. But I am interested in reading the text as it is, and not according to the so-called 'plain' reading which puts up the strawiest of straw men just so it can vent its moral spleen against it.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 6:11am
    Stephen

    It is hard and challenging on any public forum as people relate to one another. On this forum Christians quite rightly need to rise to the challenge to answer questions. Those who know Christ are to give answer to the hope we have in Him.

    I think it is right to expect that people from all different perspectives and persuasions will engage and that those who seek to defend the faith should engage with all grace and patience so that all of us will know and love Christ.
    cont...
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 6:12am
    Grant has really pushed my thinking on this matter. He sends me scurrying to the Bible and forced me back to listen to what God says on this broad issue.

    Grant has probably heard me on these passages but for what it’s worth I’ll mention them again. I’m thoroughly blown away every time I think on God’s reply to Job in relation to Job’s disasters.
    Job 38-40
    Job 38: 1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
    2"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
    4"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    ......

    Job 40:
    ..... 1And the LORD said to Job:
    2"Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
    He who argues with God, let him answer it."
    3Then Job answered the LORD and said:
    4"Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
    I lay my hand on my mouth.
    5I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
    twice, but I will proceed no further."
    6Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
    7 "Dress for action like a man;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.
    8Will you even put me in the wrong?
    Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
    9Have you an arm like God,
    and can you thunder with a voice like his?


    cont...
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 6:13am
    I was particularly struck this time by the last verse (above). When we’ve got muscle like God then we can afford to speak like him. Otherwise best to shut up and listen!

    I’ve also been comforted by the knowledge that the judgement of God is described as his ‘strange’ and ‘alien’ work:

    Isaiah 28: 21For the LORD will rise up as on Mount Perazim;
    as in the Valley of Gibeon he will be roused;
    to do his deed—strange is his deed!
    and to work his work—alien is his work!
    22Now therefore do not scoff,
    lest your bonds be made strong;
    for I have heard a decree of destruction
    from the Lord GOD of hosts against the whole land.
  • Stephen Davis
    June 1, 11 - 6:13am
    Dianne, I absolutely agree with you but one thing I have to say is this, I think some times you get to a point in a debate and you have to just walk away. In this instance I think Michael and Grant have almost exhausted themselves on this matter and I am sure that without any doubt whatsoever, they could probably go on until death did them both apart!
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 6:14am
    Also very moved by the compassion of God in the face of rebellious children:

    Hosea 11:
    3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
    I took them up by their arms,
    but they did not know that I healed them.
    4 I led them with cords of kindness,
    with the bands of love,
    and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
    and I bent down to them and fed them.
    .......
    8How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, O Israel?
    How can I make you like Admah?
    How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
    My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
    9I will not execute my burning anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
    for I am God and not a man,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.


    That is not the heart of a monster. A God who hates evil, yes. But never a monster.

    Di
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 6:52am
    Michael @ #41,
    All you have done is shouted about the plain reading (so-called), as any good fundie might.


    I am not shouting - no capitals. I have tried to express (with "rhetorical exaggeration") why I do not find Yahweh's rhetoric of slaughter "acceptable", as you and Copan seem to. I've quoted germane sections of Deuteronomy that you yourself first cited, and I've sought to show thereby that Yahweh's rhetoric of total annihilation is applied without qualification to the "seven nations" in territory to be appropriated by the Israelites. There is no wink or nod from Yahweh to suggest that the herem ban is to be taken in some sort of figurative sense.

    I ask again, why does Yahweh command utter annihilation of "seven nations" men, women, and infants (and note: other parts of Joshua, for example, report such missions as accomplished) if he only required some "religious" smashing of altars and execution of principal combatants? If that's what he actually intended for the "seven nations", why not command that?

    It's not "fundie" of me to make that point and frame that question. And expressing my indignation is not "shouting".
  • Michael Jensen
    June 1, 11 - 6:55am
    But you haven't addressed the point I have made, which is that the fact of exaggeration is proven by the fact that the Israelites plainly did not enact total annihilations and were not told off for it. The reports of such missions as accomplished are there - but then so are the people that (if the command were literal) they were supposed to have killed!

    My rhetorical exaggeration about your rhetorical exaggeration is to call it ... shouting. You seem to dish it out rather a lot yourself!
  • Robert James Elliott
    June 1, 11 - 7:07am
    Michael: can I alternatively take a view that these wars are a result of God's sovereignty and it is not my place to question God's right to order the Israelites to annihilate their enemies? I am not a Calvinist and am not attracted to Calvinism but this reading of Israelite history is a cohesive explanation. Thanks as always for your scholarship. RJE
  • Michael Jensen
    June 1, 11 - 7:12am
    Thanks Robert. My problem is this, I guess: if God has (we believe) generally revealed to us in pretty stark terms what right and wrong are, then how can we understand a moment in time when he seems to be asking people to do something quite contrary to this? Is what is good just arbitrary and open to God's whims?
  • Dianne Howard
    June 1, 11 - 7:28am
    Proverbs 16:

    The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.
    Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD;
    be assured, he will not go unpunished.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 7:38am
    Michael @ #48,
    the fact of exaggeration is proven by the fact that the Israelites plainly did not enact total annihilations and were not told off for it.

    Yahweh found fault with the Israelites for not having finished the job. The implication of Deut.7:1-5 is that the failure to "devote them (the seven nations) to complete destruction" and to "make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them" would lead to God's judgement: "Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly."

    Yahweh does, in fact, employ the rhetoric of genocide in Israel's terms of engagement against the "seven nations" peoples.

    And the herem ban is not just ordered, it is claimed to be accomplished, emphatically, eg:

    Deut.2:
    33 And the LORD our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people. 34 And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors.

    Why boast of killing men, women, and children if you only killed armed combatants? And even if this is just formulaic bravado, it still implies clearly that Yahweh ordains the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants ("no survivors") in his cause.

    Whether or not it actually occurred is beside the point. It conveys an image of God as a tradent in Mladic-like intertribal violence of the most ferocious kind.
  • James Ramsay
    June 1, 11 - 7:57am
    The question is why are people quibbling over a few thousand "unjust" deaths when God eventually kills everyone?

    For me personally I see most of the OT stuff as a reflection of the culture of the times, and God working within that culture (and sometimes giving the Israelites exactly what they wanted though not what they thought they asked for).
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 8:08am
    James Ramsay,

    Yeah, what's a few thousand, here and there. It's all ancient water under the bridge, eh...and we're all gonna get it sooner or later anyway...

    For me personally I see most of the OT stuff as a reflection of the culture of the times, and God working within that culture


    The "culture" of "our times" (say the last three-score-and-ten years) still furnishes plenty of examples of mass interethnic and international slaughter.

    I guess God is still "working within the culture".

    Roll on, massacre!
  • Michael Jensen
    June 1, 11 - 8:32am
    @Grant - you still haven't answered the question with anything but assertions. Is there any evidence that you have that such exaggerations weren't a standard device, commonplace in ANE writing? How do you cope with the reality that the text has Amalekites walking around (for example) after they are supposed to have been wiped out?
  • James Ramsay
    June 1, 11 - 8:36am
    I sense the sarcasm Grant but I fail to see the point. If all death ultimately proceeds from God what is the difference?

    Oh and I also find Michael Jensen's argument that there is no archaeological evidence of civilians at places like Jericho and Ai pretty unconvincing. An army camp in the ancient world without "camp followers" was pretty rare and unique. It was pretty rare until well into the 20th century.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 9:59am
    Michael @ #55,
    Is there any evidence that you have that such exaggerations weren't a standard device, commonplace in ANE writing?

    Sorry, there's a bit of potential slippage in "such exaggerations". We'll have to define this a bit clearer. There were plenty of "exaggerations" of various kinds in ANE writing, that I know of. Armies marched, cities burned, and gods and kings were eulogised for their victories.

    Are you asking whether it was

    A) a "standard" and "commonplace" ANE device for a deity to give an order to his people/agent that they carry out the complete destruction (herem or related term) of all the men, women, and children of a particular people group?

    AND/OR

    B) a "standard" and "commonplace" ANE device that the people/agent thus commissioned by the deity report that they have fulfilled the mission, completely destroying (herem or related term) all the men, women, and children of the designated target people group?

    I should be able to find plenty of parallels, right?
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 10:24am
    Michael @ #55,
    How do you cope with the reality that the text has Amalekites walking around (for example) after they are supposed to have been wiped out?

    They weren't wiped out. I can cope with it.
    Yahweh ordered Saul to wipe out an Amalekite sept led by Agag, and was rejected as Israel's king for his interpretive licence in the fulfilment of the order. So much for your assertion at #48 of
    the fact that the Israelites plainly did not enact total annihilations and were not told off for it.

    1 Sam.28:17-19
    17 The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your (Saul's) hands and given it to one of your neighbors — to David. 18 Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. 19 The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.
    There's one Israelite who was "told off". Of course, although Agag's sept were gone, there were still Amalekites about to be fought. If Saul had managed to annihilate every last one of them, perhaps he may have been lauded for carrying out Yahweh's vendetta, declared in Deut.17:
    19 When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 11:10am
    Sorry, that last reference is Deut.25, not Deut.17.
  • Paul Copan
    June 1, 11 - 11:24am
    Hello, all. Thanks for commenting on my book, and, Michael, for getting the discussion going. Just a few thoughts. First, the term "herem" is applied to Judah, which was sent into exile: "'I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will *completely destroy* them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin'" (Jer. 25:9). As we know, God's literally wiping out the Jews didn't happen. Far from it. The same is true of the Canaanites, who leave plenty of survivors (e.g., Judges 1-2)--and we're told that Joshua "did all that Moses commanded." The same applies to the Amalekites: although it appears that Saul wiped them all out, and then an entire Amalekite army reappears at the end of the same book, with 400 of them escaping David! The Amalekites are around during the time of Hezekiah and then later during Esther's time.

    As for Thom Stark's "book" on my book, I'll be offering some general responses. Stay tuned to the blog Parchment and Pen over the next couple of weeks, and something will be posted. Stark is quite adept at twisting the facts and misquoting.

    I'm coediting a book with InterVarsity on Old Testament "holy war." I've coauthored a lengthy chapter on the Canaanite question (extending this to the Amalekites and Midianites)---and much more.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 11:52am
    Are we then to take Yahweh's threats as mostly idle? And if his threats are so much ancient rhetorical hot air (total means partial, all means some, everlasting means maybe), what of his promises, and what of his so called absolutes?
  • Paul Copan
    June 1, 11 - 12:39pm
    Not idle, Grant, but rather not as literalistically as we Westerners are likely to read things. Even so, if hear a mother tell her child in a grocery store, "If you don't put that down, you're dead," chances are very good that this not a literal death threat. Context (or genre) makes the difference. When God, say, walks between the pieces of dead animals in Genesis 15, say as to say "May it be done to me if I break this covenant," that's a very strong binding promise.


    As for God's "absolute" commands, do you think this calls into question whether adultery or rape are wrong? Perhaps I need more clarification/elaboration here.

    Moreover, what I am advocating is that we read not just the sweeping statements alone, but also the texts that indicate abundant survivors. It's not as though God's word/threats can't be trusted. It's just that we see ample evidence that we shouldn't take the language in such a sweeping way---something the biblical text itself makes clear. Why be "literal" about one but not the other?
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 12:55pm
    Paul Copan,
    As for God's "absolute" commands, do you think this calls into question whether adultery or rape are wrong? Perhaps I need more clarification/elaboration here.


    If Yahweh doesn't really mean it when he says kill 'em all, let none live, why does he mean it when he says don't commit adultery?

    And if Yahweh did not really want Saul to kill 'em all, in 1 Samuel 15, why did Yahweh unking him for, as it were, being flexible with the rhetoric? He didn't "take the language in such a sweeping way" and ended up dead on Mt Gilboa.
  • Paul Copan
    June 1, 11 - 1:16pm
    I think we have ample reinforcement about what God intends to say about adultery. I'm only saying that ancient Near Eastern war texts standardly utilize exaggeration (as does the Bible), and as we compare these biblical texts with other parallel texts that emphasize survivors, we shouldn't think that the biblical authors are so obtuse as to flagrantly contradict themselves. What 1 Sam. 15 indicates is a localized battle (in which King Agag was fighting). I would encourage you to look at my comments on 1 Sam. 15 in the book.
  • Martin (Enkidu) Shields
    June 1, 11 - 1:59pm
    Grant,

    If Yahweh doesn't really mean it when he says kill 'em all, let none live, why does he mean it when he says don't commit adultery?


    If you sometimes employ sarcasm in your writing, do we assume everything you write is sarcastic?

    If some language operates as a literary trope recognised by the original audience, as Michael has argued above, then that audience possesses all the information they need to comprehend the meaning correctly. As readers removed from the original literary, social, and cultural context, we are in danger of missing such elements within the text and so misapprehending the meaning, all the while claiming we are clearly offering the "plain meaning" of the text.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 2:19pm
    Paul Copan,
    I'm only saying that ancient Near Eastern war texts standardly utilize exaggeration (as does the Bible)

    The ANE culture I'm most familiar with is Egypt. There is plenty of rhetoric in Egyptian accounts of the king's wars, but there is nothing like the herem bans of the OT. Broadly, there are formulaic laudations of the king and his martial prowess, campaign itineraries, and careful enumerations of enemy slain, "living captives" and spoil taken. I have not come across commands from gods to wipe out all men, women, and children of designated people groups or cities, and no "mission accomplished" statements from kings that they have fulfilled such commands. If such exist, they are not "standard" in Egyptian rhetoric.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 2:53pm
    cont'd from #66

    As is well known, Assyrian annals are frank in their depiction of the brutal aspects of Assyrian imperium. Rebel heads are lopped, bodies flayed and hung, pillars of skulls raised. But again, I do not find any "standard" or "commonplace" rhetoric like the OT herem bans in which the deity ordains total destruction of all men, women, and children of a particular people group. An example of the Assyrian style from the annals of Sennacherib (ANET 3rd ed, pp.287-88):

    "I besieged Eltekeh and Timnah, conquered them , and carried their spoils away. I assaulted Ekron and killed the officials and patricians who had committed the crime and hung their bodies on poles surrounding the city. The common citizens who were guilty of minor crimes, I considered prisoners of war. The rest of them, those who were not accused of crimes and misbehaviour, I released."

    In the bloody progress of Shalmaneser III (ANET 3rd ed, pp.277-78), the slaughter is always of "warriors", "fighting men", not entire populations.

    The salient parallel to the OT herem I can find is that on the so called Moabite Stone of King Mesha, in which Mesha claims (ANET 3rd ed, pp.320-21):
    "Now the men of Gad had always dwelt in the land of Ataroth, and the king of Israel had built Ataroth for them; but I fought against the town and took it and slew all the people of the town as a satiation for Chemosh and Moab."
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 3:01pm
    cont'd from #67

    So far, I'm not getting the impression that the herem type rhetoric of total destruction of all the men, women, and children of a designated people group is
    a standard device, commonplace in ANE writing
    (Michael J @ #55).

    Where it does occur, in Mesha's stela, it appears to mean what it says. Or maybe the King of Moab was also just turning over a few altars for his god...
  • Grant Hayes
    June 1, 11 - 3:18pm
    Noble Enkidu @ #65
    As readers removed from the original literary, social, and cultural context, we are in danger of missing such elements within the text and so misapprehending the meaning, all the while claiming we are clearly offering the "plain meaning" of the text.


    Implicit in what you say is that the retrieval of these texts is only truly available to meticulous, recondite specialists like yourself. To all else, reading such stuff is a ginger, tentative, creep through an eggshell minefield fraught with semantic "danger". At any step, they could crush delicate hermeneutic hatchlings...

    If that is the case, it's irresponsible of theologues to advise common-or-garden-variety folk to read their Bibles; they are almost guaranteed to read them awry, Enkidu.
  • Paul Copan
    June 1, 11 - 6:28pm
    Thanks for the input on various and sundry ANE war accounts. Interestingly, the Mesha stele also boasts, "Israel is no more"! I would add, Grant, that no crushing of delicate hermeneutical hatchlings need not take place; I think we can simply urge these hermeneutical novices to look more closely at the text--to acknowledge that commonsense observation that *both* the "wholesale slaughter" texts and the "survival" texts can't be taken literally. So they're not at the mercy of "meticulous, recondite specialists." Yes, parallel ANE war texts reinforce the point, but they certainly don't establish it.
  • Martin (Enkidu) Shields
    June 1, 11 - 9:54pm
    Hi Grant,

    Implicit in what you say is that the retrieval of these texts is only truly available to meticulous, recondite specialists like yourself.


    At one level you are correct, because not everyone can understand this:

    http://www.shields-online.net/paleohebrew.png

    However, once translated carefully that text is available and comprehensible to most careful readers. Nonetheless, there remain portions of the text which are opaque and open to misunderstanding if "simply" translated because the reader can derive a "plain meaning" from the English words which fails to convey the underlying complexity. At this point a "foreignising translation" is appealing (see http://blog.shields-online.net/?p=122, http://blog.shields-online.net/?p=124 for discussion and example), for it highlights which parts of the text are difficult to understand.

    I hasten to add that most of the translated text can be understood with reasonable clarity by careful readers, but there remain some portions which are obscure even to scholars. I think translations should highlight these issues rather than domesticating them.
  • Martin (Enkidu) Shields
    June 1, 11 - 10:00pm
    Perhaps of interest to those involved in this discussion will be a colloquium on the biblical studies list of David Lamb's book God Behaving Badly. The discussions will carry on from 20th to 27th June and it would be a good idea for anyone doing more than auditing to read the book. Details are here:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblical-studies/
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 3:19am
    For what it's worth, some "long winded dissertations" to vex Stephen Davis :^)

    ANE campaign texts were quite capable of making distinctions about how various defeated enemies were actually treated. Yes, there are the triumphant hyperbolic flourishes like my enemy is no more, or my enemy is stripped bare, or my army leapt the Euphrates like it was a ditch, or I cast fire in all my enemy’s towns. Yet there are also less florid passages like that of Sennacherib (quoted above at #67), where, at the taking of a city, specified enemies are executed, others enslaved, others let go – a gradation of culpability. There are accounts of town populations put to flight or deported, and of prisoners taken. There are careful enumerations of dead warriors. We find some of these sorts of distinctions in the OT too: if not all were killed, that is described; if combatants only were routed and slain, that is described. Spin and exaggeration are present, and there are vaunting victory paeans, but there is also a core of factual reportage. My point: to construe OT herem bans in terms of some “standard”, “commonplace”, “acceptable rhetorical exaggeration” in ANE war boasts, is to obscure the fact that ANE war accounts could adopt a far more sober, documentary tone when needed. They can launch into broad boasts of triumph, but they can also mean what they say.

    Cont'd
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 3:21am
    Cont'd from #73,

    With regard to the herem bans of the OT, Deut.20 shows that they mean what they say, from Yahweh’s perspective. In Deut 20:10-15, the typical rules of engagement for enemy cities “very far away” (i,e, not in Canaan) are set out by Yahweh: terms of capitulation are to be offered – if the enemy accept, all the people who are found in the city are spared and subjected to corvee labour; if they refuse and are defeated in the ensuing battle, then all the males are to be put to death and the women, the “little ones”, and livestock are to be taken as plunder. This is pretty standard for ANE warfare.

    In Deut 20:16-18, in explicit contrast, Yahweh sets up completely different rules of engagement for the peoples targeted for dispossesion in Canaan. It is stressed that they are to be wiped out: “you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction”. These conditions are made clearer in Deut.7:1-5, where no mercy is to be shown; men, women, and children are to be completely destroyed. That’s a charter for Canaanite genocide, and the Yahweh of Deuteronomy is fine with that.

    Cont'd
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 3:23am
    Cont'd from #74,

    Now, as Paul Copan and Michael Jensen have pointed out, there were still Canaanites and other proscribed –ites around for most of Israel’s history, well after all these Yahweh-ordained genocides were supposed to have been carried out. I don’t debate the “survival”, or that “Canaan” was never fully conquered for Yahwism.

    So how do we take these terrible genocidal texts? Genocides were divinely ordered, but aparently didn’t happen, or were only partially accomplished. Well, the Deuteronomist genocide orders do not represent the attitudes of Israelites in the late Bronze Age “conquest” milieu, but of Yahwists under the Judahite monarchy round the time of Josiah (late 600s BC) – the context of Deuteronomy’s composition. In this iconoclastic, puritanical phase, the Judahite regime attempted a thorough implementation of the Yahwist prophetic agenda - complete extirpation of traditional (competing) Israelite cult practices and divination. The Yahwist rationale can be summarised something like this: If only our forefathers back at the very start of Israel had done what Yahweh had told them to, that is, to competely exterminate the seven peoples that lived in our Promised Land, we wouldn’t now have to contend with all these polluting altars and asherim and diviners and goddesses and images that are angering Yahweh and making him stir up our enemies to punish us.

    Cont'd
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 3:25am
    Cont'd from #75,

    It’s wishful thinking about what should have been done, back in that formative phase of Israel’s existence. The Ephraimite hero of that time, Hoshea – legendary leveller of mighty cities – is Yahwised as “Joshua” (Yahweh saves), punning with Josiah, and becomes the ancient, divinely ordained paradigm for what Josiah is supposed to accomplish – the constitution of a ritually complete and pure Israel that could hold secure its place in the Levantine sun. The inaugural genocide of the contaminating native folk that should have happened is fathered on epic warrior Hoshea/”Joshua”, and now Josiah, six centuries later, must complete what subsequent generations of lax and blameworthy kings had left undone - a thorough iconoclastic purge of popular, abominated, Israelite religion. And all because Yahweh’s herem ban had not been carried out to the letter way way back, even despite ardent “Joshua” getting it off to a roaring start.

    It is the textual voice of Yahweh that personally endorses and engages with this 7th century retrospective genocidal fantasy. As far as he is concerned, it’s the way things should have been, but, as usual, Israel was disobedient. And now they would pay, unless a whole lot of altar-smashing went on…
  • Stephen Davis
    June 2, 11 - 3:38am
    Grant, I drifted off to sleep long ago mate, you could actually package and market this as a cure for insomnia, you would be set financially for life! Now please don't try to wake me up any more, I am having very sweet dreams!
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 4:05am
    Rest you.
  • Luke Stevens
    June 2, 11 - 5:34am
    Stephen, your own sniping from the sidelines is only adding more noise to the discussion, unless you've anything to contribute on the topic at hand?

    Grant said:
    Whether or not it actually occurred is beside the point. It conveys an image of God as a tradent in Mladic-like intertribal violence of the most ferocious kind.


    To me that's the nub of the issue -- one that Michael has been studiously avoiding ;) -- all else about the number of people killed is moot. Even if you concede everything put forward -- cultural relativism (everyone spoke in genocidal terms!), the supposed benevolence of the Israelite army to the unconscionably evil enemy, that it was descriptive not prescriptive, etc -- you still have Yahweh speaking in genocidal terms, exaggeration or not. How do you reconcile even this most sympathetic reading of the God of the bible thinking genocidal illusions are an appropriate rhetorical device?

    And that's the best case, all arguments conceded!

    (Not that I do concede them, however. Stark's suggestion is that these are texts for an unsophisticated, ~95%+ illiterate audience where intimidation/glorification -- not knowing rhetorical wordplay, as literate Westerners may want to interpret it -- seems more plausible to me, not that it changes the fundamentals of the debate, as I outlined above.)

    Also, welcome Paul!
  • Stephen Davis
    June 2, 11 - 5:37am
    I don't even know why I am replying to this but anyway, you talk about sniping, a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black if ever I saw it!
  • Michael Jensen
    June 2, 11 - 5:49am
    @Stephen - I think Luke has a point. And I think the last comment was unnecessary.

    @Luke - I think you are deliberately reading in a non-literary way in order to put forward the least sympathetic picture possible. An important distinction is whether the texts are self-justifying or not: I say that a reading of the Old Testament leaves us with the bizarre impression that here is a nation whose national religious text condemns THEM for their irreligion over and over again. There just isn't the triumphalism we might expect - and we are remind again and again that the Lord's work is not the same as 'whatever Israel and her kings decide would be cool'.

    THIS is the uncomfortable truth that readers of Scripture cannot duck, and to which these texts point: God is fiercely against human sin - especially, in fact, the sins of his people, or those who claim to be his people.
  • Rob Callander
    June 2, 11 - 5:57am
    Michael

    I am not seeking to exonerate God, or to make the Yahweh somehow domesticated to suit mild-mannered western liberals.


    But isn’t that exactly what you are doing? I very much doubt that Christians of the 5th, 10th. or even 19th.centuries would have been overly concerned with such matters – seeing it simply as a matter of God’s Judgement. (What is the Jewish perspective on this issue?)

    It is only with the atrocities of the 20th. Century (most notably the holocaust) and the scientific recognition that there is no such thing as race and that the only legitimate classification is homo sapiens sapiens that such behaviour becomes an issue.

    My problem is this, I guess: if God has (we believe) generally revealed to us in pretty stark terms what right and wrong are, then how can we understand a moment in time when he seems to be asking people to do something quite contrary to this? Is what is good just arbitrary and open to God's whims?


    Yes, that is the question isn’t it. Of course there is no contradiction if one merely accepts it as record of one tribe’s journey; replete with myth, exaggeration and apocrypha, as one would expect – and as it reads.

    Rob
  • Michael Jensen
    June 2, 11 - 6:03am
    @Rob - but at the same time, these texts are placed and received in the canon of Holy Scripture by the churches, and by the Jews themselves.

    The Rabbis of the middle ages and earlier had long discussions about these issues, and were aware of the same difficulties we are discussing. I haven't traced Christians responses.
  • Luke Stevens
    June 2, 11 - 6:17am
    @Michael, actually, I think the question of how we read these texts is quite interesting -- there's (i) the so-called "plain" reading, (ii) the "literary" reading, and (iii) lets say the "scholarly" reading (for want of a better word!) which looks at questions of authorship, dating, composition, sources etc. To me part of the interesting-but-depressing reminders in debates like this is how little time (iii) gets in sermons, bible studies, these debates and so on, when it can often be quite critical in shaping (i) and (ii), but that's just a general observation.

    Anyway, as to whether the text is self-justifying, I don't see how we can say "Well, the OT routinely points the finger at the Israelites, so there must be some other explanation." To me (if I've understood) that speaks of a far stronger narrative through centuries of texts than I've been aware of. The moral question stands on its own in ~1400 B.C. (give or take one or several hundred years). That God is against sin is fine, whether that excuses Yahweh's use of genocidal language (and, in my view, likely action) against certain enemies is quite another case to make.

    You still have Yahweh using genocidal language. To me, this is an unescapable fact, and why apologists either accept it (e.g. Craig) or have it as a fall back on it (e.g. Copan) - the "they deserved it, God can do it" defence. Nevertheless, the morally uncomfortable and deeply challenging fact remains: Yahweh speaks in genocidal terms.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 6:35am
    Michael @ #81,
    God is fiercely against human sin - especially, in fact, the sins of his people, or those who claim to be his people.


    So why does he involve "his people" - even rhetorically - in the sort of heinously sinful conduct - i.e. inter-ethnic massacre, ethnic cleansing - that these days gets you arraigned at The Hague?

    In their anti-Canaan MO, Moses and Joshua have a lot in common with Karadzic and Mladic.

    Of Yahweh's ordained slaughters: To employ the sin that you abominate sends mixed messages, to say the least.
  • Michael Jensen
    June 2, 11 - 6:44am
    Yes, you keep repeating that these are equivalent cases. I say they aren't.

    In any case: when we punish offenders we in a sense commit an 'evil' against them - imprisonment, or capital punisment, or whatever. But it has a morally different standing than the commision of a crime of kidnapping, or murder.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 6:53am
    Michael,
    In any case: when we punish offenders we in a sense commit an 'evil' against them - imprisonment, or capital punisment, or whatever. But it has a morally different standing than the commision of a crime of kidnapping, or murder.


    Yahweh's rhetoric of genocide includes a sort of "capital punishment" against minors. How had they offended?

    If even Assyrian despots like Sennacherib took the trouble to present themselves sorting culpable ringleaders from innocent bystanders, why not Yahweh?
  • Grant Hayes
    June 2, 11 - 6:56am
    Is it the case that, with Yahweh, there are none innocent, even from the cradle, and that we are all (except for a few prechosen Rahabs) destined for herem?
  • Ron Bennett
    June 2, 11 - 10:21am
    Hi All,

    I have a question that links into this. If Gods judgment did not mean all then how do we look at this in light of Jesus return? Will not all be accountable for their decisions? Man, woman and child?

    I for one have no troubles trusting a God that "transcends all understanding" in this. Only he knows who is going to make it to Heaven on the final day and only he knew why the world had to be cleansed when he started a fresh with Noah.
  • Gerard OBrien
    June 2, 11 - 11:33pm
    Hi Michael,

    I'm still not quite understanding how you interpret the herem commands. It seems you don't see it as a command to wipe out every man, woman and child. So what is God commanding?

    Is he commanding the execution of only a percentage of men, women and children (say 50%)?
    Is he commanding the execution of only the men?
    Is he commanding the execution of only fighting men in garrisons?

    I understand that you can't be so specific as giving a precise percentage, but I think it would help clarify for me what you are saying if you could give a rough definition (maybe with a rough percentage) of how God's command would be understood in the ANE context and especially whether it was included in the command to kill women and children.

    Thanks!

    Gerard.
  • Stephen Davis
    June 2, 11 - 11:35pm
    Michael, just for the record I disagree with both your comment and this Luke character's comment. If nothing else, at least I speak my mind and I have said absolutely nothing out of context.
  • Gerard OBrien
    June 2, 11 - 11:36pm
    Oh - and I should have said - thanks for the article. It has definitely been thought provoking. And thanks to you and all the other commenters for the stimulating discussion.

    Gerard.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 3, 11 - 12:03am
    Gerard @ #90,
    Is he commanding the execution of only the men?
    Is he commanding the execution of only fighting men in garrisons?

    I'd direct you to my post on Deut.20:10-15 and 16-18 at #74 above. To reiterate, Yahweh does issue rules of engagement that involve killing "only the men" in Deut.20:10-15. Those conditions are for those cities that are "far away" from Israel, i.e. outside Canaan.

    The herem ban of complete destruction in Deut.20:16-18 is explicitly contrasted to the foregoing "male only" massacre in Deut.20:10-15. For the "seven nations" peoples to be dispossessed from the "Promised Land", there is to be no mercy.

    Michael's (and Copan's) contention that the herem is merely an instance of "acceptable rhetorical exaggeration" of a type supposedly "standard" in ANE texts renders meaningless the distinction between the two sets of rules of engagement in Deut.20:10-18.

    In other words, if Yahweh intended something like Deut.20:10-15 to apply to the Canaanites, (i.e. kill the males only, take the women and children as plunder) why issue the special genocidal provisions of Deut.20:16-18?
  • Grant Hayes
    June 3, 11 - 2:13am
    Analogy:

    “...Granpa Jack was saying they’d run the lubras over the cliff and throw the picaninnies down after them.”

    “Hold on there, he didn’t actually do it, he just raved to the boys about how much the blacks deserved it for spearing his sheep, and how someone should do something.

    “So when the boys turned up at the house one day and tell Granpa Jack ‘Yeah, we did it, we killed ‘em, the blacks,’ he says ‘What, the lot?’ They say ‘Yeah, all of ‘em, like you said.’ And he says ‘Blimey! I didn’t mean you to really go out and do it. I was just sayin’. You didn’t have to go and do it.’ And he had this funny look in his eye.

    “It was quiet for a bit, then Ern pipes up and says, ‘Well, we didn’t really, Jack, not the lubras an’ that. Just three of the men. We shot two, an' they dropped dead on the spot; another one Dave hit, but he got away into the scrub.’

    “ ‘So why didn’t you finish the job?’ says old Jack. ‘I mean, if you start it, you oughta see it through...now they’ll be back after me sheep. You bloody idiots.’ And he laughed and laughed.”
  • Andrew White
    June 7, 11 - 6:54am
    Seems to me there are two related but independent issues under discussion here:
    - the authority of the Israelites to enact God's violent judgement on the Caananites.
    - the details of how they carried it out.

    IMO, the second is an interesting discussion, but not that important. We can fiddle with the details, but unless we gut the accounts completely, it's nonetheless true that God orders the Israelites to execute (and possibly subjugate) the Caananites as punishment for their sin. This, not the specifics, deserves the attention.

    The interesting questions there are:
    - does any human have the right to execute "justice" on another, whether by deprivation of liberty or life?
    - does this scale up to a "corporate" level (whether a tribe or a nation)?
    - what authority is sufficient to do this?
    - how would we evaluate this?
    - (for Christians) how does the revelation of Christ modify our understanding and application of corporate justice in this world?

    The answers are not simple. Preventing forceful injustice often itself requires force, and most arguments for or against eventually twist back on themselves. Even pointing to the clear mandate God gives Joshua to carry out his punishment (possibly the strongest argument going, for or against) provokes the question of how to respond to those who would claim such a mandate today.
  • Brian Tung
    June 8, 11 - 12:27am
    Late to this. Haven't read all the posts but I wonder if anyone has raised these issues:
    1. Given that we are part of the race of being who elevate to the status of rights the killing of our young (by way of abortion) for economic reasons and to allow them to be experimented on, do we have the capacity to pass judgment on these things, and on God.
    2. Isn't the protest against God for his apparent cruelty and monstrosity presupposes his goodness. If we know that he ia cruel and a monster why would we accuse him of being that! In fact, our protest honors his goodness and righteousness.
    3. Rev 6.3-4; Rom 1.18-32. It seems to me that God's judgment on human sin is to allow us to devour one another in war. What we do not know is how Isreal herself, although being the instrument of God's judgment will be judged for her violence. hope that make sense.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 8, 11 - 3:27am
    Brian Tung,
    1. Given that we are part of the race of being who elevate to the status of rights the killing of our young (by way of abortion) for economic reasons and to allow them to be experimented on, do we have the capacity to pass judgment on these things, and on God.


    If the killing of unborn infants by humans is wrong, why is the killing of born infants by humans (commanded by Yahweh) right? In other words, why would a god who abominates abortion command the massacre of children?

    If Yahweh's herem genocide of Canaanites is construed as a righteous order of execution against the utterly depraved, in what way had Canaanite infants offended, so as to deserve such execution?

    Was their capital offence simply that they were descended from Adam, and thus under Yahweh's condemnation from the moment of conception, regardless of the commission of misdeeds?
  • Grant Hayes
    June 8, 11 - 4:02am
    Brian Tung,
    2. Isn't the protest against God for his apparent cruelty and monstrosity presupposes his goodness. If we know that he ia cruel and a monster why would we accuse him of being that! In fact, our protest honors his goodness and righteousness.


    It's possible that the apparent "god" who commissions the "monstrosities" is not actually "God" at all.

    Another possibility: that with Yahweh, Might makes Right and the content of his "goodness" and "righteousness" is not fixed or predictable. So he can command some to massacre infants and indict others who abort them; he can say "forever" and mean "a while"; he can say "all" but mean "some"; he can promise and renege; he can curse and relent. And who can contend?

    Perhaps he is a monster; or perhaps he's just negotiable.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 8, 11 - 4:14am
    Brian Tung,
    3. Rev 6.3-4; Rom 1.18-32. It seems to me that God's judgment on human sin is to allow us to devour one another in war. What we do not know is how Isreal herself, although being the instrument of God's judgment will be judged for her violence. hope that make sense.


    In terms of the Canaanite genocide being considered on this thread, Yahweh does not judge Israel for violent action that he commands. Rather, there are indications that he judges them for not carrying out such "divine" violence.

    In the terms of Yahwistic scripture, Israel's predicament as the abject addict of idolatry is predicated on its failure to have destroyed the contagion at its source, nipped it in the bud by annihilating those abominable Canaanites.

    The "violence" for which Yahweh judges Israel is that which Israel commits against its own, and against sojourners under Israelite protection.
  • Brian Tung
    June 8, 11 - 5:46am
    #99- lastly Grant, i think you might have misread me. I did say "will be judged" not "have been judged". Genocide is not the only moral ambiguity in the Bible how can God condemn those who directly and indirectly executed his son when he had Ordained for them to be the instrument of his plan of salvation to mention an obvious one. We belive that the shadow of moral ambiguity even in salvation history will eb resolved then. Now we perceive only darkly.
  • David Ball
    June 8, 11 - 6:36am
    Grant - re the "children" point (#97), I think you are reading the story through a 21st century lens in which individual human rights are paramount, and in which individuals can't be subordinated to the society in which they live. This is a contestable assumption even today.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 8, 11 - 7:51am
    Brian @ #100,
    how can God condemn those who directly and indirectly executed his son when he had Ordained for them to be the instrument of his plan of salvation


    Jesus asked that his Father forgive them, for they did not know what they were doing. Did the Father answer "No"?

    Getting back to the Canaanite question: Yahweh explicitly commanded the Israelites to destroy all "seven nations" men, women, and children whom he gave into their hand. If they had refused to comply with this, they would have been sinning.

    Though the death of the Christ were the crux of his cosmic machinations, the Lord did not explicitly command anyone to execute Jesus.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 8, 11 - 11:58am
    David Ball @ #101,
    Grant - re the "children" point (#97), I think you are reading the story through a 21st century lens in which individual human rights are paramount.

    If I read through a "21st century lens", it is because I live in the 21st century. Why should I privilege the idioms and taboos of the Iron Age over those of my own context?
    Some of us have learned, somehow, that genocidal massacre is a bad thing for both perpetrators and victims, that demonisation of an enemy is often the prelude to atrocity, and that minors should not be punished for the crimes of their parents. I don't see why we should unlearn these things simply because they don't feature in the fulminations of an Iron Age deity.
  • Dianne Howard
    June 8, 11 - 12:32pm
    I have just finished listening to two sermons by Phillip Jensen on Nahum (very graphic) which deal with similar issues that have been raised in this conversation.

    The sermons address a range of issues from utilitarian justice/retributive justice... deceit/lies...warnings and wipeouts...worldview and war and judgement...anger/love...very worth the listen...Nahum 1 and Nahum 2-3

    Di
  • David Ball
    June 8, 11 - 12:36pm
    Grant @103. The idea that the society trumps the individual (either adult or child) is not an "Iron Age" idea. Your construct of human rights is a western one. Try having a discussion about the relationship between the individual and society with someone from China, for example.

    More substantively, why do you assume children are necessarily innocent given that they will inevitably have absorbed the behaviour and attitudes of their parents?
  • Grant Hayes
    June 8, 11 - 1:13pm
    David Ball @ #105,
    Your construct of human rights is a western one.

    So what? I am "western", not Chinese or ancient Judahite. I detect a hint of reproach...

    You seem to be suggesting that "the idea that the society trumps the individual" is right and proper (and scriptural), and that therefore the execution of minors for the "crimes" of their parents may be justifiable.

    More substantively, why do you assume children are necessarily innocent given that they will inevitably have absorbed the behaviour and attitudes of their parents?


    Are you seriously implying that, say, a five year old Hivite child was somehow culpable for the "sins" her parent society practiced? (...setting aside for a moment the question of whether the Israelite construction of Canaanite villainy is trustworthy)

    And if so, would you have carried out the "sentence" against her?
  • David Ball
    June 8, 11 - 11:50pm
    Grant - I'm not suggesting that the children were "culpable", or "executed for the crimes of their parents", in the sense of one individual being punished for the conduct of another individual. Nor am I suggesting that a society has a right to punish its own individuals for the wrongs committed by other individuals.

    What I am suggesting is that children represent the continuation of a society (with all its ingrained evil practices etc, and also the possibility of the society being re-established several decades down the track). Therefore, if the society has to be wiped out, then the children have to perish also.

    Whether I would have carried out the punishment personally is irrelevant to the question of whether the punishment itself was just.
  • Chris Brennan
    June 8, 11 - 11:51pm
    One thing missing so far in this debate is an acknowledgement of the difference between national judgement and individual judgement. It must be acknowledged that God can completely destroy a nation physically and yet save individuals from among that nation spiritually. The Bible, in the cases under examination is looking at instances of national judgement, and yet gives a hint of an individual differentiation in the case of Rahab. The debate here has focused too much on the earthly and physical without a consideration of the spiritual and eternal as if physical death and physical suffering are the only things worth considering. The OT narratives don't tend to focus on the latter categories, although they are clearly crucial biblically. And far be it from me, since the Bible doesn't address it, to say how each individual is treated eternally, but it must be said that persistant rebellion against God, evidenced by the evil treatment of others has consequences.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 9, 11 - 12:30am
    David Ball @ #107,
    What I am suggesting is that children represent the continuation of a society (with all its ingrained evil practices etc, and also the possibility of the society being re-established several decades down the track). Therefore, if the society has to be wiped out, then the children have to perish also.

    = the charter for genocide.

    Your casuistry is chilling. It would have gone down well over cognac at Wannsee.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 9, 11 - 12:42am
    David Ball @ #107,
    Whether I would have carried out the punishment personally is irrelevant to the question of whether the punishment itself was just.

    I asked you - given the "justice" of the punishment (which you hold to be the case) - whether you would carry out Yahweh's "sentence" of execution on a condemned infant (as Joshua's warriors were supposed to).

    If you were commissioned by Yahweh to carry out this "just" punishment, you would do it, right?
  • David Ball
    June 9, 11 - 3:41am
    No, Grant (both #109 and #110). The mere fact that something is just doesn't mean that it should be done. It merely means that either choice (justice or mercy) is defensible.

    Your analogy with Wannsee etc is unsound anyway. No reasonable case can be made that the Jews were in the same category as the Caananites.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 9, 11 - 3:54am
    David B @ #111,

    So, I reiterate (since you haven't been all that clear, and I am obtuse):

    If you were commissioned by Yahweh to carry out this "just" punishment (i.e. execute Canaanite infants), would you do it? Or would you demur?
  • Grant Hayes
    June 9, 11 - 4:28am
    David B @ #111,
    Your analogy with Wannsee etc is unsound anyway. No reasonable case can be made that the Jews were in the same category as the Caananites.


    So your argument is "Ah, but the Canaanites actually deserved it." (genocide, that is)

    My analogy pertains more to the genociders than their victims.

    To the Wannsee Nazis, "the" Jews were a contaminant that had to be thoroughly erased - an intolerable, pestilential threat. And so, in Nazi rhetoric, we see at work a demonisation and wholesale calumniation of their target victims. The analogy to OT constructions of the vile, abominable Canaanite is close.

    History shows that the instigators of a genocide view their drastic project as necessary to preserve some non-negotiable notion of ethnic, racial, or cultural inegrity (or all three), and to redress the deepest grievances of their people. Ordinary human empathy (that baulks at, say, child-killing) is overridden by a supervening imperative to steel oneself for the "greater good", which has been so constructed as to require the scapegoating and erasure of another group of people - the embodiments of evil.

    Such a construction of the other occurs in the genocidal passages of Deuteronomy and Joshua et alii.
  • David Ball
    June 9, 11 - 4:57am
    Grant:

    @112 - why do you believe that the question is relevant? Your criticism, as I understand it, is fundamentally directed at God himself.

    @113 - 1. I don't agree that the OT description of the Canaanites is a construction, so I still think the analogy is flawed.

    @113 - 2. If I am wrong about 1, and the OT (in this respect at least) is a construction, then I would say that the passages you are criticising say nothing about God himself, merely about the attitudes (flawed or otherwise) of the Israelites.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 9, 11 - 5:28am
    David B @ #114,
    @112 - why do you believe that the question is relevant? Your criticism, as I understand it, is fundamentally directed at God himself.


    A god that you (and many others) carry about in your head. I want to get a sense of how much you would live up to (or rather down to) the imperatives of this god. I suspect that you are just as attached to individualising, human-rights-haunted, 21st century "western" mores as I am, when it comes to the "just" execution of infants.

    @113 - I don't agree that the OT description of the Canaanites is a construction, so I still think the analogy is flawed.

    So we have Michael J and and Paul Copan claiming on the one hand that the OT depiction of Canaanites and their deserved fate is rife with rhetorical formulae, i.e. highly constructed, and here you are claiming it's not a "construction" at all! So when the OT employs language which in any other context would be construed as genocidal, you excuse it on the basis that it's God's plain and factual Word, with no biased "construction", no siree - the Canaanites really did deserve to be wiped off the face of the earth, without mercy.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 9, 11 - 5:29am
    David B
    @113 - 2. If I am wrong about 1, and the OT (in this respect at least) is a construction, then I would say that the passages you are criticising say nothing about God himself, merely about the attitudes (flawed or otherwise) of the Israelites.


    By nongod, I do believe you've got it.
  • David Ball
    June 9, 11 - 6:03am
    Grant

    There is no imperative for Christians to agree on everything, just on the most important things, the most important of all being that Christ was raised from the dead. In any event, the fact that a piece of writing uses rhetorical devices doesn't shed any light, per se, on whether the contents of that piece of writing are true or not.

    I am not sure what I would ultimately do if given such a command, and I don't think anyone can say for sure unless and until they are actually put in that situation themselves. At the very least, I would want to be 110% sure that the assessment of the Canaanite's character was accurate, and that mercy was not a viable alternative. Wrestling with such questions does not imply a lack of faith.
  • Eric Henry Wynter Best
    June 9, 11 - 12:07pm
    Hmm. From what I've read (and I'm certainly no expert in biblical archeology) there is little evidence of any of this having actually occurred. The Israelites grew out of Canaanite culture, and they kept many aspects of Canaanite religious culture (eg Yahweh had a female consort) right up to their exile. It was in exile that Judaism came into being. The conquest of Canaan was not literal but literary. The commanded purification (sic) of the land sets the scene for Israel's failure to be faithful. This enabled the Jews to avoid the conclusion that they were conquered because their god was weaker than the god of their conquerors but, instead, because their God was punishing them. To lose one's god was to lose one's centre and thus to cease to exist as a people. The Jewish story enabled them to continue to have an identity after many of their signposts of uniqueness were destroyed.
    Prior to Christianity, smashing ones enemies, taking slaves, etc, was 'de rigueur'; compassion and fairness got a real boost with the influence of Christianity.
  • Paul Copan
    June 9, 11 - 3:25pm
    Hello, all. I appreciate all of your engaging comments, and I want to point out a few more things to help give perspective.

    As a reminder and to give perspective, I pointed out that God (if we take the biblical text "literally") promises that he himself will use the Babylonians to commit genocide on the Judahites in the 6th century BC: "behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will *devote them to destruction* [haram = sometimes translated "utterly destroy"], and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation." This, of course, didn't literally happen, and God didn't literally intend this either.

    We also read frequently in Joshua that Joshua "carried out all that Moses commanded"---yet we see many Canaanite survivors mentioned within the text of Joshua. Thus Moses' command in Deut. 20 must not have been literally intended either.

    The language of "driving out" the Canaanites is used quite frequently, but when we see this used elsewhere (Adam and Eve driven out of the garden, David driven out by Saul), this cannot mean death.

    As for archaeology and the Canaanite displacement, I argue in my book that we don't have evidence of utter military decimation; we witness something more like gradual infiltration, which is what the biblical text indicates.
  • Paul Copan
    June 9, 11 - 3:27pm
    Thus, the critic’s strategy of emphasizing literal Canaanite annihilation at the expense of literal Canaanite survival simply cannot be sustained. Consider the following:
    • If the critic believes that Israel really wiped out the Canaanites militarily, will he reject archaeological discovery which stands against this suggestion?
    • If the critic claims that Israel engaged in literal annihilation of the Canaanites, why does he not take literally passages within the same texts that reveal an abundance of survivors?
    • If the critic believes that Moses commanded the literal annihilation of the Canaanites, why not treat literally the claim that Joshua obeyed “all that Moses commanded” (11:12, 14-15, 20)—which includes leaving plenty of survivors?
    • If the critic claims that God literally commanded Israel to “completely destroy” the Canaanites, then what are we to make of the language of God’s “completely destroying” Judah under the Babylonians (Jer. 25:9)—something which didn’t literally happen?
    • If the critic believes that the Old Testament does not use hyperbole and rhetoric in warfare texts, then what does he do with clear indications of rhetorical exaggeration in other ancient Near Eastern war texts?
  • Gerard OBrien
    June 9, 11 - 10:36pm
    Hi Paul,

    I'd also be interested in how you interpret the haram commands. It seems you don't see it as a command to wipe out every man, woman and child. So what is God commanding?

    Is he commanding the execution of only a percentage of men, women and children (say 50%)?
    Is he commanding the execution of only the men?
    Is he commanding the execution of only fighting men in garrisons?

    I understand that you can't be so specific as giving a precise percentage, but I think it would help clarify what you are saying if you could give a rough definition (maybe with a rough percentage) of how God's command would be understood in the ANE context and especially whether it was included in the command to kill women and children.

    Thanks!

    Gerard.
  • Gerard OBrien
    June 9, 11 - 10:37pm
    Also, given you've done some work on this, I'd be interested to hear your response to Meredith Kline's understanding of the haram passages. For readers not familiar with his work, he proposes the concept of 'intrusion' (expounded in 'The Intrusion and the Decalogue' in Westminster Theological Journal, 16 no 1 N 1953, p 1-22). According to him, all humanity (including children due to original sin) is under God's judgement. It is only by God's grace that Adam and Eve were allowed to continue living and it's only be God's grace that we take our next breath. God has prohibited humans from taking the life of another (apart from specific cases such as capital punishment), but it is entirely just for God to take human life (as he does every day). The haram commands are a particular moment in history when God has set apart the reprobate for destruction as a shadow of the eschatological judgement against the reprobate. He uses Israel as his agent of judgement. Thus 'intrusion' - it is an intrusion of the eschatological judgement into this age. It cannot be used as a license for genocide today because God has neither ordered it nor marked off the reprobate for destruction. Instead, until the second coming of Christ, Christians are called to love their enemies with the abounding love which God showed to them while they were his enemies.

    Thanks!

    Gerard.
  • Stephen Davis
    June 9, 11 - 11:08pm
    Gerard, in my view, your comment sums up our relationship with God better than everything else written here put together! I think this whole discussion can serve as a lesson to Christians that sometimes we can get into all these heavy theological debates and still miss the whole point of what Christians are called to be. Further, what is the real point of Christians and people who aren't Christians discussing these things in too much detail? Maybe my preceding question shows a deep level of ignorance on my behalf in some way, I don't know, I am happy to be corrected.
  • David Ball
    June 10, 11 - 12:46am
    Gerard at @122 - I agree entirely.

    Paul and Eric - the issue I have with not treating the OT events as history is that by doing so, they become irrelevant theologically also.

    Also, proving a negative is very difficult - just because we don't have any evidence to corroborate an account, it doesn't necessarily follow that the account is inaccurate.

    In terms of debating these issues with non-believers, I think that the justice of God is a legitimate topic for discussion.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 10, 11 - 5:26am
    A response to Paul Copan's perspectives and reminders above @ ##119 and 120, from "a critic":

    If the critic believes that Israel really wiped out the Canaanites militarily, will he reject archaeological discovery which stands against this suggestion?

    I have not contended that Israel actually wiped out the Canaanites. This is because the genocidal orders were not actually issued in the late Bronze Age to Hoshea (“Joshua”) of Ephraim, but reflect the wishful thinking of hardline Yahwists in late monarchic Judah. The genocide of “seven nations” peoples was retrojected onto a legendary warlord and reflects the anxieties of the 7th-6th century, not the late Bronze Age. An analogy: It’s a bit like the retrojection of high medieval courtly values onto post-Roman warlords (centuries earlier) in the Arthurian literature.

    As for the archaeological evidence, it suggests that the Joshuan narratives contain much that is invented.

    Cont'd...
  • Grant Hayes
    June 10, 11 - 5:32am
    @ Paul Copan @ #120
    If the critic claims that Israel engaged in literal annihilation of the Canaanites, why does he not take literally passages within the same texts that reveal an abundance of survivors?

    I have not claimed this. Yahweh’s demand to wipe them out was never actually issued to semi-legendary Hoshea/Joshua. That’s just Josianic/exilic storytelling.
    That being said, the rhetoric of Yahweh allows no interpretive licence in carrying out his (fictional) herem orders. The Judahites of Josiah’s time and later revered a god for whom genocide/massacre was a good and useful tool (he even uses it on his own people). In the anxious thought-world of these Judahites, much of the troubles of their nation could be traced back to the failure of their forebears to complete the annihilation of the cancerous "Canaanites" - abominable source of everything that tainted Israel's cultic integrity. It’s genocidal fantasy, projected onto the tribal god, Yahweh, and his supposed agent Hoshea/Joshua, of storied memory.

    Cont'd...
  • Grant Hayes
    June 10, 11 - 5:44am
    @ Paul Copan @ #120,
    If the critic claims that God literally commanded Israel to “completely destroy” the Canaanites, then what are we to make of the language of God’s “completely destroying” Judah under the Babylonians (Jer. 25:9)—something which didn’t literally happen?


    The genocidal command itself was “literal” alright, but it was not made to Hoshea/Joshua. It was projected onto him centuries after his own milieu.

    As for the complete/not complete destruction of Judah by Babylon – well, Yahweh seems to resort to this annihilation shtick an awful lot, yet you can never be sure whether he really means it (cf. Nebuchadnezzar and Tyre). And yet, one has to admit, he has left history strewn with massacred, crusaded, pogromed, gassed children of Judah. He may not have wiped them out completely, but he’s sure had a red hot go (and often through the agency of his adopted Christian children)...

    In other words, Yahweh huffs and puffs a great deal of rhetoric. A common thread throughout is slaughter and destruction of various kinds, with rather sudden lurches to dovey promises - like a jealous, abusive husband who beats up his "tramp" of a wife, then vows tearfully he'll never do it again.

    Cosmic good cop/bad cop...

    Cont'd
  • Grant Hayes
    June 10, 11 - 5:58am
    @ Paul Copan @ #120,
    If the critic believes that the Old Testament does not use hyperbole and rhetoric in warfare texts, then what does he do with clear indications of rhetorical exaggeration in other ancient Near Eastern war texts?

    I dealt with this at some length above (see ## 66, 67, 68, 73, 74). Of course formulaic hyperbole occurs in ANE “war texts”. But genocidal commands from gods to annihilate entire people groups – men, women, and children, without mercy – are not “standard” or “commonplace” rhetoric in said texts. As I indicated, ANE "war texts" can depict conquerors (who were in many respects quite ruthless) troubling to distinguish the culpable from the innocent in the cities they took. The Yahwistic depiction of Hoshea’s/ Joshua’s campaigns takes no such trouble.

    Paul Copan claims the herem bans are just another form of bellicose exaggeration. But in making this point (and reiterating it) he obscures the fact that the content of the exaggeration can vary significantly. It's one thing to claim the king is as furious as a panther, and that his foes are "no more", and quite another to issue an explicit order to wipe out men, women, and children without mercy, eg.

    Assyrian "conquest of Ekron" rhetoric - Sennacherib executes rebellious ringleaders, enslaves their accomplices, and lets the rest go.

    Yahwistic "conquest of Canaan" rhetoric – Yahweh demands the slaughter of all, even children, without mercy.
  • Grant Hayes
    June 10, 11 - 6:22am
    Underlying all of the "perspectives" Paul Copan offers is the supposition that Yahweh actually gave commands to any "Moses" and "Joshua" that both he and they knew were not to be taken literally. They were all - both the god and his men - participating in a kind of Bronze Age warspeak, that we clueless types keep misinterpreting. And "survival" of Canaanites in post-conquest biblical settings is adduced as proof that the apparently genocidal commands were neither intended nor taken literally...and that the biblical authors knew this: Kill 'em all (you know what I mean, wink, wink)...

    My position:
    That the Yahwistic commands to annihilate the “seven nations” Canaanite peoples are clearly genocidal in content, and they mean what they say. They are not typical ANE warspeak. And they were never actually issued by Yahweh to “Moses” or Hoshea of Ephraim, rather they represent the stark - even vicious - wishful thinking of Yahwist elites in late monarchic/exilic Judah. “Canaanite” peoples in territory claimed by the Davidic dynasty weren’t "survivors" of some rhetorically absolute/actually limited blitz on their strongholds by a Yahweh-commissioned Joshua. They had always been there. Clear archaeological evidence for a Canaanite holocaust is lacking precisely because the Joshuan holy war is a construction of Josianic and post-Josianic times, loosely based on actual events of the distant past.

    The "Canaanites" and the "Israelites" were one.
  • Eric Henry Wynter Best
    June 10, 11 - 11:24am
    David, you wrote in #124, 'Paul and Eric - the issue I have with not treating the OT events as history is that by doing so, they become irrelevant theologically also.'

    David, I hear your concern, but it might not be as significant as you fear. For instance, we treat Jesus' parables as theologically relevant without any concern for their historicity. Also, we can do what the early Christians did to get around their ostensible anti-Christian flavour: treat them as allegories. As well, we could see how Christ advanced our understanding of God, after all, he did say, "You have heard how it was said, You will love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you, love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven...You must...set no bounds to your love, just as as your heavenly Father sets none to his".