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

January 10th, 2010 by Matt

In 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 the passages in Joshua that appear to record the carrying out of genocide at God’s command, such as, “putting all the people to the sword”, “leaving no survivors”, “totally destroying”, “striking all the inhabitants with the edge of the sword” are not intended to be taken literally but rather as hyperbole.

Plantinga suggests that such phrases should “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.”[1] In reading Joshua, Wolterstorff defends the thesis that the relevant passages are hyperbolic. He argues essentially that:

(a) the picture of total conquest and annihilation of populations is incompatible with what is said elsewhere in Joshua and Judges;
(b) this is obvious to anyone who reads the narrative straight through without artificially dividing the text into chapter divisions and verses;
(c) the redactors or authors would not have been so mindless as to accidentally put obviously contradictory accounts into one narrative;
(d) the annihilation language appears stereotyped and formulaic whereas the other passages read like more down-to-earth history.[2]

On the basis of these points Wolterstorff argues that texts are hyperboles, similar to a football player who says “we slaughtered the opposition just like Coach told us to”[3]

In my previous post I addressed (a); I argued, in some detail, that the picture of Joshua conquering all southern and northern Canaan, killing every inhabitant of the relevant cities and regions and leaving no survivors, if taken literally, contradicts what is affirmed in the rest of the book of Joshua and what is affirmed in Judges. I also agree with Wolterstorff about (b); to any person who reads the text straight through, not breaking it artificially into chapters and verses, and who then reads the book of Judges, these contradictions are fairly obvious. These two points alongside (c) make it improbable that the text should be read in a literal fashion.

I think Wolterstorff understates (c). If, as Wolterstorff believes, the primary author of scripture is God then obviously the author of the text is an intelligent person who is unlikely to have deliberately (or accidentally) authored an obviously contradictory narrative.

Now it may be contended that an appeal to divine authorship in this way begs the question, however, I think this is mistaken. As I understand the objection, the sceptic who claims that God commanded genocide is offering a reductio ad absurdium; he or she starts by assuming that whatever God commands is right and that scripture is the word of God and then derives from these assumptions the absurd conclusion that genocide is not wrong. The question then is whether, granting these assumptions, such a conclusion does, in fact, follow.

Taken together, (a),(b),(c) and (d) do make a hyperbolic reading probable. If the text cannot sensibly be taken literally, and if there is some evidence of formulaic, ritualistic language in the text, then that would suggest some kind of non-literal reading and a hyperbolic one certainly makes sense of the data.

Wolterstorff’s case has some merit, however, I think it can be considerably strengthened. Wolterstorff limits his case to what I call internal evidence, evidence from within the text itself. I think, however, there is some interesting external evidence, evidence from how particular terms and language is used in other ancient near eastern histories of conquests and battles, which could be added to Wolterstorff’s argument to make it significantly more plausible. Here I will cite three lines of such evidence.

The first is that rhetoric of total conquest, complete annihilation and destruction of the enemy, killing everyone, leaving no survivors, etc, is a common hyperbolic way of describing a victory in ancient near eastern histories of the same period. Kenneth Kitchen notes,

[T]he type of rhetoric in question was a regular feature of military reports in the second and first millennia, as others have made very clear. … In the later fifteenth century Tuthmosis III could boast “the numerous army of Mitanni, was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) non-existent” –- whereas, in fact, the forces of Mitanni lived to fight many another day, in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries. Some centuries later, about 840/830, Mesha king of Moab could boast that “Israel has utterly perished for always” – a rather premature judgment at that date, by over a century! And so on, ad libitum. It is in this frame of reference that the Joshua rhetoric must also be understood.[4]

In a comprehensive comparative study of ancient near eastern conquest accounts K Lawson Younger documents stylistic and literary similarities between Joshua and reports of wars written by the Hittites, Egyptians and Assyrians including this kind of hyperbole. Merenptah’s Stele describes a skirmish with Israel as follows, “Yanoam is nonexistent; Israel is wasted, his seed is not.”[5] Here a skirmish in which Egypt prevailed is described hyperbolically in terms of the total annihilation of Israel. Sennacherib uses similar hyperbole, “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.”[6] Mursilli II records making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).”[7] Mesha (whom Kitchen cited as stating “Israel has utterly perished for always”) describes victories in terms of him fighting against a town, taking it and then killing all the inhabitants of the town.[8] Similarly, The Bulletin of Ramses II, an historical narrative of Egyptian military campaigns into Syria, narrates Egypt’s considerably less than decisive victory at the battle of Kadesh with the following rhetoric,

His majesty slew the entire force of the wretched foe from Hatti, together with his great chiefs and all his brothers, as well as all the chiefs of all the countries that had come with him, their infantry and their chariotry falling on their faces one upon the other. His majesty slaughtered and slew them in their places; … He took no note of the millions of foreigners; he regarded them as chaff.[9] [Emphasis original]

The hyperbolic use of language similar to that in Joshua is strikingly evident.

Second, comparisons between the book of Joshua, and other ancient near eastern conquest accounts from the same period, demonstrate some important stylistic parallels. Commenting on the structure of the campaigns mentioned in Joshua 9-12, Kitchen notes;

This kind of report profile is familiar to readers of ancient Near Eastern military reports, not least in the second millennium. Most striking is the example of the campaign annals of Tuthmosis III of Egypt in his years 22-42 (ca. 1458-1438). … the pharaoh there gives a very full account of his initial victory at Megiddo, by contrast with the far more summary and stylized reports of the ensuing sixteen subsequent campaigns. Just like Joshua against up to seven kings in south Canaan and four-plus up north.[10] [Emphasis added]

Kitchen adds,

The Ten Year Annals of the Hittite king Mursil II (later fourteenth century) are also instructive. Exactly like the “prefaces” in the two Joshua war reports (10:1-4; 11:1-5), detailing hostility by a number of foreign rulers against Joshua and Israel as the reason for the wars, so in his annals Mursil II gives us a long “preface” on the hostility of neighbouring rulers and people groups that lead to his campaigns.[11] [Emphasis added]

Kitchen adds other examples. He observes that the same formulaic style found in Joshua is also used in the Amarna letters EA 185 and EA 186.[12] Similarly, before his major campaigns, “Joshua is commissioned by YHWH not to fear (cf. 5:13-15; 10:8; 11:6). So also by Ptah and Amun were Merenptah in Egypt, and Tuthmosis IV long before him: and likewise Mursil II of the Hittites by his gods (10T-Year Annals, etc.), all in the second millennium besides such kings as Assurbanipal of Assyria down to the seventh century.”[13]

Younger notes similarities in the preface, structure and even the way the treaty with the Gibeonites is recorded between Joshua and various ancient near eastern accounts.[14] Like Joshua, The 10 Year Annals of Mursilli and Sargon’s Letter to the God record a divine intervention where the God sends hailstones on the enemy.[15] Tuthmosis III has a similar story regarding a meteor.[16] Joshua follows ancient near eastern convention in describing numerous battles occurring in a single day or within a single campaign.[17] Ancient near eastern accounts also, like Joshua, repeatedly make reference to the enemy “melting with fear.”[18] Even the way post-battle pursuits are set out and described shows similarities with similar pursuits in ancient near eastern literature.[19] I could mention more examples; the point is that “when the composition and rhetoric of the Joshua narratives in chapters 9-12 are compared to the the conventions of writing about conquests in Egyptian, Hittite, Akkadian, Moabite, and Aramaic texts, they are revealed to be very similar”.[20]

Finally, both Kitchen and Younger note that such hyperbolic language is used in several places within the book of Joshua itself. In Joshua 10:20, for example, we are told that Joshua and the sons of Israel had “finished destroying” and “completely destroyed” their enemies. Immediately, however, the text, affirms that the “survivors went to fortified cities.” In this context, the language of total destruction is clearly hyperbolic.

When these lines of external evidence are conjoined with the internal evidence that Wolterstorff proposes (and that which I elaborated on in my previous post) seven things are evident:

(a) the picture of total conquest and annihilation of populations is incompatible with what is said elsewhere in Joshua and Judges;
(b) this is obvious to anyone who reads the narrative straight through without artificially dividing the text into chapter divisions and verses;
(c) the redactors or authors would not have been so mindless as to accidentally put obviously contradictory accounts into one narrative;
(d) the annihilation language appears stereotyped and formulaic whereas the other passages read like more down-to-earth history;
(e) the kind of formulaic language used in Joshua is a common form of rhetorical hyperbole for describing a victory in ancient near eastern accounts;
(f) Joshua is written in accord with the literary and rhetorical conventions typical of such ancient near eastern accounts;
(e) the rhetorical use of “finished destroying” and “completely destroyed” is attested to elsewhere in the book of Joshua.

In light of these seven lines of evidence, I am inclined to think that the case for the reading that Wolterstorff defends is compelling.

While space prevents me exploring all the implications of this conclusion, it is worthwhile commenting on one. Wolterstorff argues,

On the assumption that Deuteronomy and Joshua are part of the same sequence of books then I submit that this interpretation of Joshua forces a back interpretation of Deuteronomy. If ‘struck down all the inhabitants with the edge of the sword is a literary convention when used to describe Joshua’s exploits then it must, likewise, be a literary convention when used by Moses in his instructions to Israel in general and to Joshua in particular. Remember this is one sequence edited just before the end of captivity.[21]

I think Wolterstorff is correct here. The same point can be seen from the text of Joshua itself,

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 10:40 NIV) [Emphasis added]

Similarly we see,

Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed them, not sparing anything that breathed, and he burned up Hazor itself. Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded.” (Joshua 11:11-12 NIV) [Emphasis added]

Also,

So that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses (Joshua 11:20b NIV) [Emphasis added]

As the LORD commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:15 NIV) [Emphasis added]

The text of Joshua clearly and explicitly states that what Joshua did fulfilled the command that Moses had given regarding the Canaanites in Deuteronomy. If the language of “putting all the people to the sword”, “leaving no survivors”, “totally destroying”, “striking all the inhabitants with the edge of the sword”, and so on, is hyperbolic (as the evidence suggests it is) then the command cannot have been intended to be taken literally.


[1] Alvin Plantinga “Comments on Evan Fales’ Satanic Versus: Moral Chaos in Holy Writ” a paper presented to My 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.
[2] Nicholas Wolterstorff “Reading Joshua” a paper presented to My 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.
[3] Ibid.
[4]
Kenneth Kitchen On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids MI: Erdmans Publishing Co, 2003) 174.
[5] K Lawson Younger Jr Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990) 227.
[6]
Ibid 228.
[7] Ibid.
[8]
Ibid, 227.
[9]
Ibid, 245.
[10]
Kitchen, note 4, 170.
[11] Ibid, 170.
[12]
Ibid, 172.
[13] Ibid, 174-175.
[14]
Younger, note 5, 200-204.
[15] Ibid, 208-211.
[16] Ibid, 217.
[17] Ibid, 216.
[18] Ibid, 258-260.
[19] Ibid, 220-225.
[20] Ziony Zevit The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (London and New York: Continuum, 2001) 114.
[21]
Wolterstorff, note 2.

RELATED POSTS:
Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I
William Lane Craig, Raymond Bradley and the Problem of Hell Part One
William Lane Craig, Raymond Bradley and the Problem of Hell Part Two

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45 responses so far ↓

  • Brillant!!

    You should submit this to the Biblical Archaeology

    Alistair

  • The philosophical journal “Philosohpia Christi” had an article on this not too long ago: http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=63&mode=detail
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  • Blogs…

    Explore the Christian Conversation: A Look at News and Blogs Everyday—blogs … Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II- from MandM…

  • Good stuff. Your final point about Deuteronomy is a good one. I particularly find the Hebrew word “cherem” frustrating. Every commentary and lexicon is uncertain about what it means. Suggestions range from “separation” to “destruction”. Yet the English Bible translations alway seem to choose the harshest possible translation: utterly destroy. The translators must want to show God in a bad light, or they must want to just justify violent warfare. Neither option is nice.

  • Christian Carnival CCCX…

    At MandM, Matthew Flannagan gives a followup to his last Christian Carnival submission arguing for a hyperbolic reading of the genocide passages in Joshua. Here he defends Nicholas Wolterstorff’s hyperbolic reading and attempts an expansion of his arg…

  • Thanks for commenting at my blog on my take on Joshua and the genocide of the Canaanites.

    http://drivingthepeterbilt.blogspot.com/2010/01/joshua-10-joshua-kills-lot-of-people.html

    The purpose of my blog is to explore what the Bible actually SAYS, not what one wishes it to say, not what one would expect it to say if one presupposes the existence of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-power god, not what one can rationalize away because the concept of slaughtering every inhabitant of a town, including every old man, woman and child, goes against every enlightenment value we have.

    And the reason I do this is because even your average, non-fundy, modern Christian takes certain parts of the Bible literally. I assume, for example, Christians take literally the idea that Jesus Christ was the son of god, that he died and rose again. Which is as equally absurd, if not even more absurd, idea, than the idea that Joshua and his people engaged in total warfare against the country he and his people invaded at the command of god. I hope, by taking the Bible literally, and pointing out why to do so is absurd, Christians such as yourself feel free to reject the entire concept of reading any part of the Bible literally and free themselves from superstition.

    Now, looking at your blog, I think you are one of those selective literalistic, Christian. You presuppose that no god who calls himself just could ever order the slaughter of innocent old men, women and children, and you are right. So, you have to assume that god didn’t really mean what he very clearly said. Then you choose other parts of the Bible which are clearly in contradiction and think it resolves the question to say it’s all hyperbole.

    But by doing this you continue fail to recognize a very simple problem embodied by Moses and Joshua: the very concept that a people can come into another land and use violence to conquer a settled people because their god says to do so is evil in and of itself, no matter how many people they managed to leave alive.

    But, I am glad to see you are using your reason and logic to attack the Bible at all. This is good. Reason and logic will lead you out of the fog of superstition if you apply it properly, even to those passages in the Bible you agree with. Now, apply it to the whole thing.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Joshua 10: Joshua Kills A Lot of People =-.

  • You responded to my comment at my blog:

    Blogger J. L. Watts said…

    Actually, if you used your ‘reason’ you would seek to understand the bible in the way which it was written. your literalism is hardly what was intended by the authors. I am not attacking the bible – I believe the bible, I believe that Jesus Christ is God, and I believe that you have need of understanding.

    Fundamentalism in atheism is no prettier than fundamentalism in religion – both distort the truth to fit their own goals.

    And I’ll let you inept judgment of me pass for just what it is. Inept.

    January 17, 2010 9:31 AM

    I responded there, but will respond here as well.

    I ask you, who are the authors of the Bible? If you declare that the authors of the Bible are men, fallible and prone to error, then why believe anything it says at all in terms of Christ’s death and resurrection when it so clearly violates all known laws of biology? If you declare that the Bible is the word of god, then why is it so ineptly written as to be so easily misunderstood. Actually, strike that, it is easily understood. It’s clear on it’s face. You refuse to accept what it says on its face and instead engage in mind-reading of the authors.

    I have no idea of whether the Hebrews who wrote Joshua intended it to be meant literally. Neither do you. You have no idea if the authors of Joshua are the same as the authors of Judges, the book in the Bible in which you declare that Joshua’s killing spree is proven to be exaggerated. And you, therefore, have no idea if the intent of the two authors are the same.

    You reject the Genocide in Joshua for emotional reasons. You reject it because it “feels wrong” to a good person such as yourself to accept that a loving god would allow such slaughter. And rightly so.

    But you have no problem accepting that a loving god would tell the Hebrews to attack and occupy a land through force. Why is that?
    .-= My last blog-post ..Joshua 10: Joshua Kills A Lot of People =-.

  • RyogaM, you state that I am a “selective literalist” and that not even “non-fundy, modern Christians takes certain parts of the Bible literally.”I agree. I read some parts literally and other parts non-literally. That’s a sensible approach to any form of communication.

    Another sceptic told me they thought that ‘the Bible was bullshit, because it was full of contradictions.’ No sensible person would interpret this entire passage literally, to do so would mean it would be easily refuted. One could show that most bibles are composed of thousands of pages of ink and paper. One could note that ink and paper are a different substance to bovine faeces and that the term “bullshit” is, in English, a metaphor for falsehood. Similarly, no one would interpret this passage as entirely figurative; the reference to the Bible, for example, is not a metaphor nor is the reference to contradictions.

    The sceptic is literally referring to the Bible and literally attributing contradictions to it and metaphorically describing it as bullshit in the same sentence. A sensible interpreter who is honestly trying to interpret the sceptics’ comments will interpret “bullshit” figuratively and the rest literally. This is for two reasons: (a) taken literally, the comment is clearly absurd and it is unlikely an intelligent person would mean it to be taken this way; (b) the word “bullshit,” in English, is a well-attested metaphor for falsehoods in contexts like this. These same two reasons are precisely what we see present in Joshua: (a) taken literally, the statements are absurd (they contradict the rest of the text); (b) the language is well-attested in ANE writing of this sort as hyperbole for victory.

    Most literature and communication involves both literal and figurative language and any sensible communicator will attempt to discern both. If you disagree with me then I think your own blog post is easily refuted. You, after all, talk in your own post about “large fucking rocks.” Now this is clearly stupid, rocks cannot engage in sexual intercourse and only a complete moron with no knowledge of the sexual proclivities of rocks would say this. On the face of it, you clearly stated that rocks “fuck.” Of course I could contend (sensibly) that the word “fucking” in this context should not be taken literally, that you used the word “fucking” in a hyperbolic manner to emphasise the size of the rocks and the might of God. But then you are a selective literalist, you clearly do not want me to take everything on your blog as figurative. To do so would involve me “reading your mind,” it would involve me assuming you would not intend to say something obviously stupid. Seeing you think people should not do that then I have to conclude that you are a moron.

    Please learn a bit more about sexual reproduction and its relationship to rocks before you write in future.

    You presuppose that no god who calls himself just could ever order the slaughter of innocent old men, women and children, and you are right. So, you have to assume that god didn’t really mean what he very clearly said. Then you choose other parts of the Bible which are clearly in contradiction and think it resolves the question to say it’s all hyperbole. Actually NO, I provided several independent lines of evidence, for the claim that the text is hyperbolic, the fact that a literal reading was contradictory was only one line of evidence in this case. If you disagree with my argument you need to address it, ignoring all the evidence I provided and citing only one piece in isolation is not honest.

    I assume, for example, Christians take literally the idea that Jesus Christ was the son of god, that he died and rose again. Which is as equally absurd, if not even more absurd, idea Well no, first the idea that a good God would command something abhorrently evil is a contradictory notion, the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead does not entail any contradiction, so they are not absurd in the same way.

    Second, you fail again to note the difference between the cases. The Gospels are a particular Genre, that of ancient biography, in light of this it’s sensible to interpret the claims of the author’s death and resurrection as intended literally, especially in light of what we know Christ creeds taught and believed at the time these documents were written. On the other hand Joshua is Ancient near eastern conquest account, given what we know of how these were written, there are good grounds for thinking that it contains hyperbole and non literal accounts of destroying everyone. This was how ancient near eastern conquest accounts are written. The reason one comes to different conclusions regarding different texts is that the evidence is different in two contexts. This might be a revelation to you but people draw different conclusions in different contexts when the evidence is different.

    the very concept that a people can come into another land and use violence to conquer a settled people because their god says to do so is evil in and of itself, no matter how many people they managed to leave alive. Well I disagree, its easy to see that this is not necessarily evil at all. Suppose a particular settled country was invading its neighbours and engaging in genocide against them, suppose you know that by invading, other throwing the government and occupying the nation you know you can stop this unjust aggression and suppose God commands you to intervene to protect the innocent from attack. This would be a case where a person invades another country with force and where God commanded them to do it, yet it would not obviously be evil. So your contention that such an action is always evil in itself is false. What makes a particular invasion evil depends on the particularities of the case, not the mere fact that it’s an invasion.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Methodology behind the Real Climate Change Science Hockey Stick Graph =-.

  • RyogaM “You reject the Genocide in Joshua for emotional reasons. You reject it because it “feels wrong” to a good person such as yourself to accept that a loving god would allow such slaughter.

    Well if I had argued that it was non literal merely because I found it emotionally distasteful then this comment would have some validity. But I didn’t I gave several reasons for thinking this, I offered some facts and arguments from those facts. Its ironic that in making this comment you refuse to accept what I wrote “on the face of it” and instead engage in mind reading by speculating about my motives. The very thing you say people should not do when reading the bible. Is this contradicting your self what you mean by following logic and reason consistently?

    I ask you, who are the authors of the Bible? If you declare that the authors of the Bible are men, fallible and prone to error, then why believe anything it says at all in terms of Christ’s death and resurrection when it so clearly violates all known laws of biology?

    Well first the resurrection does not violate known laws of biology. Scientific laws are stipulated to hold only in a closed system where nothing outside the system intervenes or influences the results. The claim God raised Jesus from the dead states that something “outside” the system of space time did intervene. Your comments here show only that you don’t understand the laws of biology.

    But second, I noted this in my previous comment, the reason we take the Gospels as literal is that they are biography and the major events attributed to a person in a biography are intended to be taken literally.

    Its not hard its called taking into account the Genre of a text. It’s the same reason I don’t interpret J K Rowling to be claiming Harry Potter exists but do take the history book on my shelf to be claiming Alexander the Great did. The two are different styles and Genre of writing. Its always amuzing to see skeptics adopt a stance towards the bible they would never adopt towards any other book.

    If you declare that the Bible is the word of god, then why is it so ineptly written as to be so easily misunderstood. Actually, strike that, it is easily understood. It’s clear on it’s face. You refuse to accept what it says on its face and instead engage in mind-reading of the authors.

    It’s not ineptly written anymore than Egyptian or Hittite or Assyrian historical accounts are ineptly written. Its just that some people refuse to accept that not all cultures share modern western peoples obsession with literal precision in detail and so are inept interpreters.

    ”I have no idea of whether the Hebrews who wrote Joshua intended it to be meant literally”. Two things, first if you don’t know this then you can’t know that Joshua teaches that God commanded Genocide, I take it then you consider the numerous skeptics who maintain otherwise are mistaken.

    Second, if this kind of skepticism were justified, one would have to claim we can’t learn anything from Egyptian records or Hittite records, etc after all, nor can we tell anything from Greek and romans histories or biographies etc. After all we can’t mind read can we. But no historian would suggest this, historians can and do determine both literal and figurative language in these texts as we can from Greek playwrights and so on. It simply requires knowledge of the language and literary conventions of the time.

    You have no idea if the authors of Joshua are the same as the authors of Judges, the book in the Bible in which you declare that Joshua’s killing spree is proven to be exaggerated. And you, therefore, have no idea if the intent of the two authors are the same.

    This is irrelevant, first if the author is God they are the same this argument works only if you assume its not, you can do this if you like but then you can’t validly argue that bible is not Gods word on the basis of your interpretation because you have presupposed it in the interpretation.

    Second, we do know that at same stage an editor compiled a series of books containing both Joshua and Judges into a single volume hence we know this editor/author intended to affirm both. So we need to ask did the author redactor intend both Judges and early Joshua to be taken literally, probably not, given the former uses language recognised as hyperbolic in other writings of the same style at that time. Its sensible to assume a hyperbolic reading here.

    But you have no problem accepting that a loving god would tell the Hebrews to attack and occupy a land through force. Why is that?

    Already addressed your assuming that a loving good just person would never endorse violence I think that’s patiently false. Countries have armies, prisons, police forces, courts, prisons etc precisely because force is sometimes justified.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Methodology behind the Real Climate Change Science Hockey Stick Graph =-.

  • Thanks for responding so thoroughly. I will take all your comments into consideration, but realize that we are working at crossed purposes, though I don’t see us as in direct conflict.

    I see the Bible only as the historical/political text of the Hebrews and Christians, not inspired by god any more than the religious/political/socials text of any other people. It deserves, to my mind, no more or less veneration than any other ancient text.

    And, as far as violence is concerned, you are right that sometimes violence is needed to overcome violent regimes, but only for humans. An infallible being would no more need to use violence, or require others to use violence on his behalf, than they would need to use a knife to cut meat.

    Thanks for the lively conversation.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Joshua 10: Joshua Kills A Lot of People =-.

  • “An infallible being would no more need to use violence, or require others to use violence on his behalf, than they would need to use a knife to cut meat.”

    You’re assuming that God’s ultimate plan was to eliminate the Canaanites period.

  • RyogaM writes “I see the Bible only as the historical/political text of the Hebrews and Christians, not inspired by god any more than the religious/political/socials text of any other people. It deserves, to my mind, no more or less veneration than any other ancient text.” I think the text is divinely inspired, but assuming you are correct. I think your conclusions do not follow. First we venerate some historical texts written by human beings more than others, Shakespere, the Magna Carta, The Aeneid etc, this is because of there literary, historical, cultural significance, and it seems the bible also has this significance. Second, I don’t think skeptics typically do treat the bible the same way as any other “ancient text” name another ancient text which a person would read the English version of, ignore such things as context, literary conventions, Genre, ignore commentaries and critical writings about, interpret it as saying something dump and then dismiss 2000 years of reflection on this text on the basis of this interpretation as garbage. I know of no group that treats the illiad, or Josephus, or Heroditus, or Shakespeare this way. Do you? Even less so with Eqyptain and Hittite conquest accounts from the same time and context as Joshua.

    ”And, as far as violence is concerned, you are right that sometimes violence is needed to overcome violent regimes, but only for humans. An infallible being would no more need to use violence, or require others to use violence on his behalf, than they would need to use a knife to cut meat.”,

    Assuming your correct and God does not need to do this, so what? The assumption is that God doesn’t do anything unless he needs to, this is false God does not need to create me, he did. The question is not does he need to use violence but, whether a perfectly good God could command human beings to use violence in certain situations. I maintain he could, the fact that human beings are sometime justified in using violence shows that a perfectly good being would not object to them using violence.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Sunday Study: Inerrancy and Biblical Authority =-.

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  • This seems a fairly good response to this issue but I still think the other response, to suggest that genocide isn’t moral absolute still has merit. God will wipe out an entire people after all in judjement. Look at Noah’s flood for example. Even those who are not literalists have still pointed to a possible local flood that covered the entire middle east which would’ve wiped out every man woman and child.

    You present very strong evidence that the language of total annihilation is hyperbolic and it most likely is in many of these instances, it is. I think a counterexample is what happened to the Benjamanites at the end of Judges shows that it probably isn’t always hyperbolic. One might suggest that God didn’t command them to completely wipe out the inhabitants of those cities, but I think it’s problematic that they did so as God said he would deliver the Benjamanites to the hand of the israelites and after they anhilate these cities, there is no judgment against them for doing so.

    I think this and much else should call for us to seriously reevaluate our individualistic morality and absolutism for all morality as we tend to have in evangelicalism (though I do believe what might be absolutes though I think the language of absolutes vs. relativism can be misleading).

  • Given the flood stories prevalent in ancient near eastern writings at the time I view the flood story as just that, a story. Such stories were used to make points much like Aesops fables.

  • Did God Command Joshua to Commit Genocide?…

    …The key, as is so often the case, is to pay attention to literary genre—in this case, the conventional literary tropes ancient leaders used to describe their military victories. If you’d like a clear and compelling demonstration of how this may be d…

  • 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….

  • Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites…

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

  • interesting stuff Matt. I’ve noticed an increasing number of folks looking a bit closer at Joshua in recent years, particualrly as archaeological evidence seems to suggest slower socio-political chnage during the assumed “conquest” time periods (more in line with judges accounts).

    Have you read Greg Boyd on this issue of the conquest. Greg, from memory is a pcaficist and has looked at Joshua from the perspective thatv even a “just war” is morally indefensible.

    Other pacficist type scholars such as Girard has spent some time on Joshue. Of course, you might differ somewhat from Girard in terms of your theological convictions, but I wonder what you might think of Girardian scholarship on Joshua…

  • I love you Matt…

  • What’s your views on being a sophist? Socrates is obviously against it, what about you?

  • Matt Flannagan on the Genocide of the Canaanites…

    Matt Flannagan, an evangelical theologian/philosopher in New Zealand, has developed a particular apologetic concerning the Israelite genocide of the Canaanites recorded in the Jewish Bible….

  • 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 II […]

  • […] 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…

  • […] series. RyogaM was not impressed he made several points of critique which he posted on his blog and repeated on ours. I will repeat the relevant parts below: The purpose of my blog is to explore what the Bible […]

  • […] series. RyogaM was not impressed he made several points of critique on his blog, which he repeated on ours. The relevant parts are below: The purpose of my blog is to explore what the Bible actually SAYS, […]

  • […] POSTS: Georgia on my Mind Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I Joshua and the the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament? A Selection of Matt’s posts on Divine […]

  • 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…

  • 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….

  • I would argue that genocide or mass murder is different from judgment. The number of people being judged (or killed) at a time is irrelevant if they are all guilty-even judgment rendered on man by the hand of another man.

    What about the Great Flood? Many would call the flood the greatest “genocide” ever. Judgment would be a better descriptor.
    Who is a better judge than God? Who has better understanding than God? Who thinks from man’s perspective it was ok that God let Satan kill all of Job’s children as a test? Is it God’s duty to make us comfortable with His actions? Is God obligated to explain Himself? Does the pot say to the potter, “Why have you made me this way?”

    I think we walk tricky ground when we try to bend God to fit into human, politically correct ideas of what is ethical. Genocide implies criminality-contrary to God’s nature and therefore not possible.

    As Christians, It is not our responsibility to try to make God’s actions more “tasteful” to others or to attempt to justify God to anyone. The “Good News” is simple and we all come to understand it at the same place-repentance. We drop our pride and acknowledge an almighty God.

    Some things cannot be explained using human argument methodologies such as resurrection from the dead, renewing of the mind, the dwelling of almighty God through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of mortal men and the peace that passes understanding…

    God’s ways are not man’s ways.

    With God it is obey, then understand…

  • John

    “God’s ways are not man’s ways” surely means God is less inclined to vengeful nationalistic fantasies than humans typically are.

    That is what Luke 9:51-56 seems to imply. (Textual variants suggest this may have been a bit of a learning curve for some early Christians).

  • I think a lot of Christians are inclined to forget that God is holy and just and righteous as well as loving and merciful.
    Jesus came as Gods gift to us to provide a way to satisfy the requirements of holiness, justice and righteousness.

    John C is right “Judgment would be a better descriptor.
    Who is a better judge than God? Who has better understanding than God?”

    We should be grateful for mercy because otherwise the wages of sin is death.

  • […] you to MandM‘s thought-provoking examination of genocide in the book of Joshua.  Well, part two is now online.  […]

  • […] 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 as, […]

  • Very interesting. Although I’m not sure if this argument could be used for passages like Numbers 31:17-18, which seems to suggest the killing of all male children and married women within the isolated region:
    “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

  • […]  The “annihilation” language in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges was a familiar ANE linguistic convention which used hyperbole to express military bravado in victory, not literal annihilation.[2] [English […]