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Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I

January 3rd, 2010 by Matt

Critics of Christianity often claim that the book of Joshua teaches that God commanded genocide. Raymond Bradley for example states,

In chapters 7 through 12, [the book of Joshua] treats us to a chilling chronicle of the 31 kingdoms, and all the cities therein, that fell victim to Joshua’s, and God’s, genocidal policies. Time and again we read the phrases “he utterly destroyed every person who was in it,” “he left no survivor,” and “there was no one left who breathed.”[1]

Similarly, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong cites passages in Joshua with the same point in mind.[2]

The objection that Bradley and Armstrong raise in highlighting these passages is that Christians are committed to an inconsistent set of propositions.

[1] Any act that God commands is morally permissible.
[2] The scriptures are an authoritative revelation of God’s commands.
[3] It is morally impermissible for anyone to commit genocide.
[4] According to the book of Joshua, God commanded Israel to commit genocide.

If we are to rationally affirm both [1] and [2] then we must give up either [3] or [4]. So which one should we reject?

Philip Quinn has developed a way of addressing clashes such as this. He suggests that we can draw on a principle whereby “whenever two conflicting claims differ in epistemic status, the claim with the lower epistemic status is to be rejected.”

[3]Given this approach, if a particular interpretation of any passage conflicts with one of our moral intuitions then we should ask whether or not the case for that interpretation is as convincing as the principle that it clashes with. Now, the principle that genocide is wrong is, I think, a highly plausible one. Therefore, if one is to prefer [3] to [4] then the case for a literal reading must at least be this plausible, and preferably even more plausible. In this series of posts I will argue, perhaps surprisingly to some, that [4] is doubtful. While it is true that taken in isolation and interpreted in a strict literal fashion the book of Joshua does appear to state that God commanded Genocide, I contend that when the text is read in its literary and textual context this conclusion is far from evident and is, in fact, rather questionable.

In the tenth chapter of the book of Joshua we read,

They [Joshua and his troops] took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron. So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. (Joshua 10:39-41)

This text summarises Joshua’s campaign in southern Canaan. The northern campaign is summarised in a similar fashion in the following chapter,

So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and struck them down, putting them to death. Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses. At that time Joshua came and wiped out the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their towns. No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive. So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11:16-23)

If these passages are taken in a strict literal fashion and read in isolation from the proceeding narrative they record the divinely authorised commission of genocide. Taken literally these passages state three things.

Firstly, that Joshua conquered and subdued the entire regions of southern and northern Canaan. Verse 11:23 states that “Joshua took the entire land” and then “gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.” This suggests that the region in question is the same land that is later divided between the Israelite tribes, which was the entire land of Canaan.

Secondly, the passage repeatedly emphasises that Joshua exterminated all the Canaanites in this region. Verse 11:21 states “Joshua came and wiped out the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah.” Verse 11:22 states that no Anakites were left living in Israeli territory after this campaign.  Repeatedly it states that Joshua left “no survivors” and “destroyed everything that breathed” in “the entire land.” Alongside these general claims the text goes to identifies several specific places and cities where Joshua exterminated everyone and left no survivors and killed all who breathed. These include Hebron, Debir, the hill country and the Negev.

Thirdly, the text states that God commanded these actions. Verse 23 identifies the commands with those laid down in the Law of Moses, which refers back to passages like Deut 20:16-19 and Deut 7.1-5.

The first thing I want to note is that the text should not be read in isolation from the narrative in which this occurs. This hermeneutical point may seem rather obvious but when it is taken seriously immediate and obvious problems occur with a strictly literal reading of the ‘genocide passages’ I mention above. The most glaringly obvious issue relates to the opening of the book of Judges. In the first chapter of Judges we read of events that occurred after the death of Joshua (and, hence, after the campaigns mentioned in Josh 10 and 11). Here it is explicitly stated that Canaanites are living in the land which had been allotted to various Israeli tribes, the land that Joshua is said to have conquered and “left no survivors” in. Note that this was not a small remnant. They existed in such numbers that each of the tribes of Israel needed to fight in order to dislodge them from the land. Several of the tribes were unable to do so and so Israel failed to dislodge them.

Of particular interest, however, are the several cities and regions mentioned. In the first chapter we are told that the Canaanites lived Gaza (Judg 1:18), the Negev (1:9), in the hill country  (Judg 1:9) in Debir (Judg 1:11), in Hebron (Judg 1:10) and in the the western foothills (Judg 1:9). Moreover, they did so in such numbers and strength that they had to be driven out by force. These are the same cities that Joshua 10 tells us Joshua had annihilated and left no survivors in.  Moreover, the text explicitly states that Anakites are in Hebron, yet Joshua 11:22 tells us that “No Anakites were left in Israelite territory.” This seems rather odd if Joshua had exterminated everyone there and left no survivors. It is also odd given that Joshua is said, in the genocide passages, to have conquered and subdued the entire region.

Moreover, the account of what God commanded also differs in Judges 2:1. Here no mention of genocide or annihilation is made, instead we hear of how God had promised to drive them out and has commanded the Israelites to not to make treaties with them and to destroy their shrines. Taken in a straight-forward literal manner then, Joshua’s actions are at odds with the first two chapters of Judges.

It is not just Judges that this problem occurs in. There are numerous places within the book of Joshua itself where the same picture is presented. As noted, Joshua 11 ends by stating that “the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses” was given “as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.” When the text turns to giving an account of these tribal divisions it is evident that the Israelites do not actually occupy it, but living, breathing, Canaanites do.

The allotments begin with God telling Joshua, “You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over” (Josh 13:1). Moreover, when one examines the allotment given to Judah we see Caleb asking permission to drive the  Anakites (Josh14: 11) from the hill countries and we also hear how Caleb has to defeat Anakites living in Hebron and, after this, marches against the people “living in Debir” (Josh 15:13-19). Similarly it is evident with several of the other allotments that the people have yet to drive Canaanites entrenched in the area and that Israelites were not always successful in doing so.

We read, for example, that Ephraimites and Manassites “did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim” (Josh 16:10). Similarly, in Chapter 17 it states “Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely” (Joshua 17:12-13). We hear that “Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory, so they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their forefather” (Joshua 19:47). Here, we see the same land said to be subdued and conquered by Joshua in battles where he exterminated and left alive nothing that breathed. This land is yet to be occupied by the tribes of Israel and is occupied by Canaanites, often heavily armed and deeply entrenched (17:17-18).

Brevard Childs notes the apparent contradiction,

Critical scholars have long since pointed out the tension – usually it is called a contradiction – in the portrayal of the conquest of the land. On the one hand, the conquest is pictured in the main source of Josh. 1-12 as a unified assault against the inhabitants of the land under the leadership of Joshua which succeeded in conquering the entire land. On the other hand, there is a conflicting view of the conquest represented by Judges 1 and its parallels in Joshua which appears to picture the conquest as undertaken by individual tribes, extending over a long period beyond the age of Joshua, and unsuccessful in driving out the Canaanites from much of the land.[4]

More recently Kenneth Kitchen has taken issue with Childs’ picture of Joshua 1-12. He notes that, apart from the passages cited at the beginning of this post, a careful reading of Joshua 1-12 makes it clear that Israel did not actually occupy or conquer the areas mentioned at all. Kitchen notes that after crossing the Jordan the Israelites set up camp in Gilgal “on the east border of Jericho” (Joshua 4:19). He notes that after every battle in the next six chapters the text explicitly states that they returned to Gilgal,

The conflict with Canaanite city-state rulers in the southern part of Canaan is worth close examination. After the battle for Gibeon, we see the Hebrews advancing upon six towns in order, attacking and capturing them, killing their local kings and such inhabitants that had not gotten clear, and moving on, not holding on to those places. Twice over (10:15, 43), it is clearly stated that their strike force returned to base camp at Gilgal.  So there was no sweeping take over and occupation of this region at this point. And no total destruction of the towns attacked.[5]

Kitchen goes on to note,

What happened in the south was repeated up north. Hazor was both leader and famed center for the north Canaanite kinglets. Thus as in the south the Hebrew strike force defeated the opposition; captured their towns, killed rulers and less mobile inhabitants, symbolically burned Hazor and Hazor only[6] to emphasis its end to its local supremacy. Again Israel did not attempt to immediately hold on to Galilee: they remained based at Gilgal (14:6).[7]

Kitchen notes that the first “real indication of a move in occupation beyond Gilgal comes in 18:4.” This is after the first allotment of “lands to be occupied are made” and as we saw above the Israelites did not find occupying these allotments easy. He concludes, “these campaigns were essentially disabling raids: they were not territorial conquests with instant Hebrew occupation. The text is very clear about this.”[8]

So a straight-forward, literal, reading of the passages cited at the beginning of this post does not cohere with the rest of the narrative. The best account I have come across for explaining this apparent contradiction between a literal reading of the “genocide passages” and the rest of Joshua and Judges is one recently defended by Nicholas Wolterstorff.[9] Wolterstorff suggests that the phrases such as, “Everyone in it they totally destroyed,” “They left no survivors,” etc are not intended to be read literally but function as hyperboles. The analogy he gives is of a high school student who, after a baseball game states, “we totally slaughtered the opposition, we annihilated them just as coach told us to.”[10]

Plantinga suggests a similar line as a possibility. That phrases such as, “put to death men women infants and cattle” are to be understood more like a person who in the context of a boxing match states, “knock his block off, hand him his head” or  in a football or baseball game where it is stated that the team should “kill the opposition” or that “we totally slaughtered them.”[11] Understood in a non-literal sense the phrases probably meant “something like, attack them, defeat them, drive them out; not literally kill every man, woman, child donkey and the like.”[12] Wolterstorff elaborates,

When a high-school basket ball player says his team slaughtered the other team last night he’s not asserting, literally now, that they slaughter the other team. What is he asserting? Not easy to tell. That they scored a decisive victory? Maybe, but suppose they barely eked out a win? Was he lying? Maybe not. Maybe he was speaking with a wink of the eye hyperbole. High school kids do.[13]

In the same way,

To say Joshua struck down all the inhabitants with the edge of the sword is a way of saying something like Israel scored a decisive victory and once you recognise the presence of hyperbole it is not even clear how decisive the victories were. Joshua did not conquer all the cities in the land nor did he slaughter all the inhabitants in the cities he did conquer. The book of Joshua does not say that he did.[14]

In my next Sunday Study, Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II,  I will attempt to defend Wolterstorff’s position.


[1] Raymond Bradley “A moral Argument for Atheism” Presented at the University of Western Washington, May 27, 1999, and–in a revised form–at the University of Auckland, September 29, 1999.
[2] Walter Sinnott-Armstrong “Why Traditional Theism Cannot Provide an Adequate Foundation for Morality” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism and Ethics eds Robert K Garcia and Nathan L King (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008) 110.
[3]
Philip Quinn “Religion and Politics” in ed William Mann The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Religion (Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005) 316.
[4]
Brevard Childs An Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Fortress Press Philadelphia: 1979) 247.
[5]
Kenneth Kitchen On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003) 162.
[6]
See Joshua 11:13 “But Israel burned none of the towns that stood on mounds except Hazor, which Joshua did burn.”
[7] Kitchen, above n 5.
[8]
Ibid.
[9] Nicholas Wolterstorff “Reading Joshua” a paper presented toMy Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible” Conference at the centre for Philosophy of Religion, University of Notre Dame, Saturday 12 September 2009
[10] Ibid.
[11]
Alvin Plantinga “Comments on Evan Fales’ Satanic Versus: Moral Chaos in Holy Writ” a paper presented toMy Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible” Conference at the centre for Philosophy of Religion, University of Notre Dame, Friday 11 September 2009.
[12]
Ibid – stated by Plantinga in the Q&A session.
[13] Nicholas Wolterstorff “Response to Louise Anthony” a paper presented toMy Ways Are Not Your Ways: The Character of the God of the Hebrew Bible” Conference at the centre for Philosophy of Religion, University of Notre Dame. Saturday 12 September 2009.
[14]
Wolterstorff, above n 9.





More recently Kenneth Kitchen has taken issue with Childs’ picture of Joshua 1-12. He notes that, apart from the passages cited at the beginning of this post, a careful reading of  Joshua 1-12 makes it clear that Israel did not actually occupy or conquer the areas mentioned at all. Kitchen notes that after crossing the Jordan the Israelites set up camp in Gilgal “on the east border of Jericho” (Joshua 4:19). He notes that after every battle in the next six chapters the text explicitly states that they returned to Gilgal,

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Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II

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  • [...] here to read the rest: Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I | MandM By admin | category: University of NOTRE DAME | tags: character, conference, hebrew, [...]

  • I’m slightly harder than you in my interpretation. One of the things that G_d does with people who have repetitively done genocidal things is remove that group. The survivors merge into a new hegemony or empire. Or die.

    Examples include Sodom, The Assyrian destruction of Isreal, and the Babylonians — raised for a purpose and then destroyed.

    The Canaanite practised ritual human sacrifice: I suggest that Israel (like Spain with the Mayans) were used to remove that culture. Destruction of an evil regime is justified. By force.

    And… destroying a city and its elite does not destroy the people. A cursory read of Kings and Chronicles notes that the nobiliyt of Juday was almost eliminated (bar Zechariah to Zerubabel). I think the word genocide is the hyperbole in this discussion.
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  • That’s excellent. I’ve always been bothered both by the genocidal actions of Joshua at the apparent behest of Jehovah, and by the seeming discrepency between accounts of all the Canaanites being wiped out and the later accounts of surviving Canaanite groups throughout the Land. But your account makes sense, and better than just explaining away the problem through something far-fetched, you support it with ample reasoning and other textual references. Nice!

  • Genocide in Judges?…

    In the book of Judges, one of the conflicts we as Christians feel is when we discover that Joshua is repeatedly said to have carried out Jehovah’s commands by “utterly destroying all the inhabitants” of various areas. And now there’s these folks, w…

  • [...] rest is here: Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I | MandM By admin | category: The University of AUCKLAND | tags: argument, auckland-university, [...]

  • I have dealt with this topic quite a lot when I was teaching seminarians. I had personally come to the idea of hyperbole at least as a partial explanation, from learning about ANE descriptions of war. For instance, kings would often talk about how they completely subjugated a group of people only to have to go back and fight them a year later. One then wonders how complete the subjugation could have really been.

    Yet one passage I kept coming up against was 1 Samuel 15 where Saul gets in quite a bit of trouble for not taking the command quite literally. Do you think that passage presents a problem for hyperbole as a solution? Or, do you think it still works as a solution and how?

    I realize that’s a lot for a comments section. Perhaps you would like to address that 1 Samuel 15 in a separate post. It’s no rush for me, but it was something that I just kept thinking about myself.

  • Jeremy I think Samuel 15 is the biggest challenge for the reason you cite. Let me note two points though; first the Samuel passage relates to a different incident and so one’s conclusions viz a viz Joshua do not necessarily relate to Samuel.

    Second, I am not sure what to make of this passage as the evidence strikes me as ambiguous. On the one hand you have Saul getting into trouble for failing to kill all the animals but saving the best for himself and his men, this suggests a literal reading, on the other hand you have the fact that the text claims that all the Amalekites have been put to the sword, except the king who is promptly executed a few versus later. If this is taken literally, it follows the Amalekites were exterminated. The problem is that later in the narrative (Samuel 30) the Amalelkites attack a city, raid it and David has to launch a counter attack to get the captives back. This is rather odd if the command, which was said to have been carried out, is to be taken literally. It seems then that the internal evidence points in both directions here.

    Paul Copan cites a view, apparently defended by Richard Hess, which might explain this. As Copan cites it, Hess contends that the phrase “destroy all men, women, young and old, cattle and donkeys” is simply an Hebraic idiom for destroy everything, that it does not actually mean that women, children, etc were in the target group. It is a bit like the way one can say “he brought everything including the kitchen sink” simply means that a person brought everything, it does not mean that they actually brought a sink. If this is correct then when God says to Saul go to war with the Amalekites “destroy men women, young, old, cattle, donkey” it does not mean that Saul is to kill all the Amalekite women and children, it simply means that whatever group they fought against, everything in it was to be killed. This would explain why the command is taken literally and also why all the Amalekites are literally exterminated. It would also mean that, seeing we don’t know from the text if the target group was a civilian population or an army or a fort, etc we cannot justifiably infer anything about killing women and children from the text. However, I am yet to track down Hess’ research to examine it in detail.

    .-= My last blog-post ..Contra Mundum: Confessions of an Anti-Choice Fanatic =-.

  • Matt,

    I agree on your first point. I think Niditch, if I remember correctly, would distinguish much of the material in Joshua as “Ban as sacrifice” from the material in 1 Samuel 15 as “Ban as God’s vengeance.” So, in a certain sense, we may not be dealing with exactly the same topic.

    As the Hebraic idiom, I’m not sure this completely accomplishes everything one would want. It would seem to me that the way that you are phrasing it, it would mean that women and children are not the specific target. However, if women and children are there they must be killed. So, while you may not have a specific commandment, you still have a conditional one that legitimates the killing of women and children if they happen to be there. Still doesn’t sit quite well. Or, perhaps I am misunderstanding.

    Not trying to be antagonistic in any way. I’m just trying to think through these issues as well.

  • Jeremy no antagonism taken. I am not sure about Hess’ solution either but I am not sure your criticisms really work for two reasons. First, suppose it is a Hebraic idiom like, “bring everything including the kitchen sink,” and suppose it is known to the person in question that the target was an army or a fort, it is doubtful that a counter-factual claim is included in it, such as, if this were not a fort but a city then your duty is to kill children.

    Second, I think there is an important difference between a command to commit genocide and a command to, in a specific context, kill some non-combatants. Both conflict with my moral intuitions but I think they are quite different. There is a sensible debate over whether the killing of non-combatants can, in certain situations, be justified. Acts such as the bombing of Hiroshima and the bombing of Germany in WWII are still debated today in the literature as exceptions to a general rule. No one, however, seriously thinks genocide might be ok. I am not saying I endorse Hiroshima or the bombing of Germany, I am simply noting that a divine command to kill non-combatants in a limited, one-off, context is not as obviously morally absurd as a command to commit genocide would be.

    My doubts about Hess stem from the fact that even if the idiom is of the sort mentioned, the target group is the Amalekites and hence the command would be “kill every Amalekite,” which is still genocidal.

    I was reading a sceptic who cited this passage just last night who made me think about the Samuel 15 passage some more.

    Now as I noted yesterday, the evidence in this text is ambiguous. On the one hand, you have Saul getting into trouble for failing to kill all the animals, he saved the best for himself and his men, this suggests a literal reading. On the other hand, you have the fact that the text claims that all the Amalekites were put to the sword, except the king who was promptly executed a few versus later, but if this is taken literally, it follows that the Amalekites were all exterminated. The problem is that later in the narrative, Samuel 30, the Amalelkites attack a city, raid it and David has to launch a counter attack to get the captives back, which suggests that they were not exterminated and not even close if they were capable of such an attack. You also have the fact that the language in Samuel 15, “kill them all”, “wipe them out”, “spare no one”, etc is well attested hyperbole in ANE literature and clearly the same kind of language is used hyperbolically in Joshua.

    The sceptic I read last night was using a different translation to the one I used and I noticed that the text states “now go attack the Amalekites, and put his property under the ban. Spare no one, put them all to death, men and women, children and infants, herds and flocks, camels and asses” (1 Sam 15: 3). Now it struck me last night that there are “two” commands here: the first is to put Amalekites property “under the ban,” which in Hebrew, in this context, means that it is devoted, must be destroyed and no spoils of war can be taken. The second is a command to “kill them all”, “spare no one”, followed by a series of couplets designed to emphasis this point.

    Now it occurs to me that the lines of evidence I cited refer to different commands implicit in the text. Saul got into trouble over the first command in Samuel 15. The existence of Amalekites in Samuel 30 relates to the second command. Perhaps, the best answer, given the textual evidence, is to see a mixture of literal and hyperbole in this passage. The command to put the Amalekites property under the ban is literal (as it clearly was in Joshua) whereas the language about killing everyone, sparing no one, is like in Joshua and elsewhere in ANE literature, the language of hyperbole. This explains both why Saul gets in trouble and why the text affirms both that the second command was carried out and that Amalekites exist in large numbers later in the same text.

    I wondered if this reading was too forced but then it occurs to me that figurative and literal language often come together in the same passage or sentence. Returning to the analogues I mentioned in my post, the mix of hyperbole and literal language is common practice even today, “we slaughtered the opposition just like Coach told us to, he advised that we watch our defensive passes and we did, and as a result we annihilated them.”

    So reading the text as a mix is not absurd. It fits the textual evidence, it fits with how we know the language was used elsewhere – putting property under the ban is usually used literally in scripture – however, references to destroying everyone with the sword, leaving no survivors etc is hyperbole. It is known to be hyperbolic in ANE accounts of battles at the time. Perhaps this is the best explanation of all of the evidence here.

    .-= My last blog-post ..Contra Mundum: Confessions of an Anti-Choice Fanatic =-.

  • Matt,

    Points taken on the first part, though with the reference being a people group and not a location, it is hard to say whether a counterfactual statement is there or not. I also agree about the issue of non-combatants. My dad has told me stories about Vietnam in which non-combatants were used to carry weapons (explosives and such). Though I don’t know enough say whether these kinds of tactics were used in the ANE, I would not doubt it.

    As to the translation you are referencing (from the skeptic), I wish that I could say that I agree with you on this providing a potential solution. But, having looked at the text, I think “property” is a poor translation. The Hebrew is kol, + ‘asher, + l + preposition. This phraseology is clearly used elsewhere to refer to people, e.g. Genesis 20.7 “But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all that are yours.” Even if it did refer to property, considering that in the ANE some people were classed as such also adds to the problems with including this translation as part of a solution.

  • Plantinga suggests a similar line as a possibility. That phrases such as, “put to death men women infants and cattle” are to be understood more like a person who in the context of a boxing match states, “knock his block off, hand him his head” or in a football or baseball game where it is stated that the team should “kill the opposition” or that “we totally slaughtered them.”[11] Understood in a non-literal sense the phrases probably meant “something like, attack them, defeat them, drive them out; not literally kill every man, woman, child donkey and the like.”[12] Wolterstorff elaborates,

    I read your entire post, including this culminating paragraph, through the lens you provided at the beginning of your post — the perspective (and challenge) of a skeptic.

    While I find the interpretation that you offer helpful as a believer, I’m not sure it will ultimately answer the question of the skeptic.

    As I understand it, the challenge from the skeptic is more than “How can a just and loving God command genocide?” The challenge is, “How can a just and loving God command killing any innocent people?”
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  • Christian Carnival 309…

    …the book of Joshua appears to state that God commanded Genocide. Critics of Christianity claim that this places the Christian in a rationally inconsistent position. … this conclusion is far from evident and is… read more at the post Joshua and t…

  • Kill Them All – Man, Woman & Child … But, Not Really…

    Matt over at MandM has recently written on the “commands to commit genocide” in the Book of Joshua. One matter he brings up is the potential use of hyperbole in those passages, which is something I have thought a lot about in the past. So, I’ve been di…

  • Christian Carnival CCCIX…

    I don’t usually do this, but two posts are so outstanding that I wanted to highlight them. … MandM’s Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites, Part I is one of the best presentations of the view that language in the book of Joshua commanding what …

  • Jeremy, you write “ I wish that I could say that I agree with you on this providing a potential solution. But, having looked at the text, I think “property” is a poor translation. The Hebrew is kol, + ‘asher, + l + preposition. This phraseology is clearly used elsewhere to refer to people Sure, the phrase, means something like “every thing that belongs to them”. Your example shows that this phrase can be used to refer to people, not that it must always be, hence it does not undercut my suggestion as a “potential solution” it seems the phrase by itself could be interpreted either way hence its an issue of which the evidence suggests is best.

    I’d make two further points about this; first I wonder if the grammar allows it to refer to “people” in this context. The passage states “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly devote all that is to him; do not spare him, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Now in this verse what is to be devoted is what belongs to “him” which is Amalek hence you can’t therefore identify Amalek with what belongs to Amalek in 3a. The next passage goes on to state that what is to not be spared is “him” which refers to Amalek, and sparing Amalek appears to be contrasted with killing everything which suggests that what Saul is commanded to kill in 3b is identified with Amalek himself. I have no examined the Hebrew grammar here in detail but am relying on a transliteration of the English. But the transliteration does suggest that the command in 3a is a command devote what belongs to him whereas the command in 3b is a command to not spare him but kill him kill him. So the commands relate to different things.

    Second, suppose I am mistaken about this. I noted in my previous comments that there is evidence pointing both ways here. 1 Sam 29 and 30 quite clearly show that the Amalekites were not all killed and so the command to kill them all cannot have been literally carried out as this passage states. Moreover, the same phraseology as Sam is used hyperbolically in Joshua and in other ANE literature. So there is evidence for a hyperbolic interpretation. On the other hand Saul appears to be criticized for not following the command to devote everything that belongs to Amalek literally. It seems then that no matter which interpretation one adopts there will be textual evidence against it. My solution has the advantage that it seems to make sense out of both these lines of evidence. Suppose, however as you suggest there are still problems with it, it’s not clear that this fact provides grounds for rejecting it and adopting the literal reading or any alternative one because the rival positions also have problems. The question would be which has the least problems or fits the evidence better.

    Third, perhaps the best response to the above is to suggest that all readings of this passage have problems, the evidence is ambiguous and neither solution appears defensible. Then the sensible position would be agnosticism; we simply do not know what God commanded Saul here viz a viz the Amalekites. If this is the case then it would still follow that the literal reading is not justified or defensible in light of the evidence and hence the claim God commanded Genocide in this passage would be indefensible and unjustified
    .-= My last blog-post ..Christian Blog Carnival CCCX =-.

  • [...] post Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites was [...]

  • [...] my previous post, Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I, I mentioned the position suggested by Alvin Plantinga and endorsed by Nicholas Wolterstorff that [...]

  • [...] as a paradigm of the pagan ideas in question. Valliant’s post contains numerous errors. His uncritical acceptance of literal reading of Genocide passages, his claim that the Bible teaches sex is bad, his assertion that it [...]

  • [...] literal reading of some passages in Joshua and Deuteronomy. In an earlier blog series, Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites, I elaborated and defended the position of Nicholas Wolterstorff that such a literal reading of [...]

  • [...] Matt Flanagan has argued before, along with Nicholas Wolterstorff, that we should understand the cherem language about the total destruction of the Canaanite people in the OT as  hyperbolic (akin to an athlete saying, “We totally annihilated the other team”).  Ken Pulliam recently argued against this, contending instead that we must understand the cherem literally and that it is one of the most morally reprehensible portions of the Bible. Today, Matt offers a strong (and convincing) rebuttal of Ken’s argument. [...]

  • [...] Matt Flanagan addresses the problem of genocide in the Book of Joshua here. Ken Pulliam responds here. Flanagan retorts here. (HT: Scientia et [...]

  • [...] Matt wrote his blog series Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I and Part II he had no idea just how far clicking the ‘publish’ button would end up [...]

  • [...] compelling demonstration of how this may be done, check out Matt Flannagan’s two-parter on Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites. Here’s his summary: (a) the picture of total conquest and annihilation of populations is [...]

  • Canaanite Genocide…

    This is easily the best view of what has been described as Canaanite Genocide I have ever seen from an Evangelical perspective. I pray Dr. Flannagan (the author) can make it to ETS and present this view to the American Evangelical Elite…

  • Canaanites Massacred?…

    I always thought that accounts in the OT of the Canaanites being massacred and things like that meant that God was twisted and evil. Then I read this and I now wonder if I was just reading it wrong….

  • [...] this interview, Matt talks about how he got into philosophy of religion, the topic of Genocide and the Canaanites, his recent debate on morality with Raymond Bradley, the benefits of public debate, and much [...]

  • Apologist Interview: Matthew Flannagan…

    Today’s interview is with Matthew Flannagan, philosopher and blogger at MandM.org.nz. Matt talks about … his blog posts on the Genocide of the Canaanites,…

  • Child Witches of Nigeria…

    Substantive, irenic discussion of issues raised in Dr. Craig’s work. I found this to be an interesting article on the “genocides” portrayed in Joshua….

  • Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites…

    Critics of Christianity often claim that the book of Joshua teaches that God commanded genocide….

  • Weekly Apologetics Bonus Links (08/20 – 08/27)…

    Here are this week’s recommended apologetics links. Enjoy. • Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites…

  • Matt Flannagan on the Genocide of the Canaanites…

    Compare Matt’s apologetic for the genocide of the Canaanites to William Lane Craig’s apologetic for those same events. … I suspect those bound at the hip to Biblical literalism will follow Craig’s lead, and those with a shred of conscience will follo…

  • [...] Commonsense Atheism has written a review of my argument on the genocide of the Canaanites (Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I and Part II). Luke’s comments are largely positive (and I appreciate that a critic of Theism and [...]

  • [...] Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I [...]

  • [...] Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I [...]

  • Biblical Studies Carnival – September Edition…

    Matt Flannagan responded this month to criticism of earlier essays which sought to deal with the Canaanite massacre in the book of Joshua by appeal to the greatest use of hyperbole all time, truly, Flannagan absolutely murders all of his competition, m…

  • [...] Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I [...]

  • [...] children. There’s no way to get around that fact, Matt Flannagan’s pious protestations (here, here, here, here, and here) [...]

  • The Delusionary Thinking of Both Matt Flannagan and Paul Copan…

    both Matt Flannagan and Paul Copan have backed themselves into a corner … “According to the Bible, Yahweh killed children, and ordered others to kill children. There’s no way to get around that fact,” but watch them try. As I have said before, def…

  • Episode II: The Phantom Herring…

    In my last post, I made the mistake of misapplying Matt Flannagan’s statements about innocent children at Sodom to his discussion of the conquest narratives in Joshua. I apologize to Matt for my egregious error….

  • Episode III: Revenge on the Benjamites…

    Flannagan, Copan and others have been trying to argue that when the conquest narratives state that women and children are slaughtered and entire populations of cities and tribes are annihilated, this is just hyperbole. In reality, women and children ar…

  • The Joshua Delusion…

    Both of these strategies have been taken up by Evangelical biblical scholar Richard Hess as well as by Christian apologists specializing in philosophy of religion such as Nicholas Wolterstorff, Paul Copan, and Matt Flannagan….

  • Moral Difficulties in the Bible: The Concessionary Morality Response…

    The divine moral concessions present in the perplexing passages at issue here are perhaps a necessary means for the ultimate redemption of human beings, brought back to a state of original justice in communion with one another and God. In this state, h…

  • [...] this time last year I wrote two posts Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites I and Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites II. These posts attracted a fair amount of attention [...]

  • Joshua and the Canaanite Genocide — an embarrassment to Christians?…

    No; not embarrassing at all: see Joshua and The Genocide of the Canaanites Part I and Part II….

  • [...] about genocide in the Bible? In a recent two-part article (see here and here), Dr. Matt Flanagan argues on textual grounds that blood-curdling Biblical language such [...]

  • [...] of mankind. Richard Goode Believes Hell in the Bible is a mistranslation for the grave. Matthew Flannagan Believes Old testament references to God ordering the genocide of the Canaanites to be merely [...]

  • […] is the contention of Christians such as Matt & Madeline Flannagan, who wrote, “If these passages are taken in a strict literal fashion and read in isolation from […]

  • […] Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites […]

  • […] Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites […]

  • The only justification(?) for killing both young and feeble, would be that that they could not survive on their own once all fighting age adults killed and the Hebrews had no means to care for additional captives that would require extra support. Better to put to the sword then left alone to starve? But to me the accounts as written describe my understanding of what I would call genocide.