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Wolterstorff, the Canaanites and Hyperbole: A Response to Ken Pulliam

June 29th, 2010 by Matt

Critics of Christianity often ask how can a good and loving God command the extermination of the Canaanites as is taught the Old Testament? A clear assumption behind this question is that the Old Testament teaches that God did in fact command the extermination of the Canaanites, an assumption which is based on a straight-forward 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 these passages is mistaken. The language of “leaving alive nothing that breaths” or “destroying” and other such language should be understood as hyperbole and hence is analogous to someone today saying after a ball game, “we totally slaughtered the opposition, we annihilated them just as coach told us to.”

Ken Pulliam has taken issue with this defence so here I will respond to some of his criticisms. (I plan to address some of the other objections in future posts). Before doing so it is important to address some rhetorical tricks his article contains. To begin with Pulliam entitles his response Grasping at Straws Part Eleven–Evangelicals Defend Genocide and cites Wolterstorff and myself as examples. But neither Wolterstorff or I defended genocide, we argued that God did not command genocide. Moreover, referring to my argument, Pulliam states that I cited “external evidence of how other ANE nations reported their exploits of war [by citing] evangelical Kenneth Kitchen.” Now it is true that Kitchen is an evangelical and that I cite him, however, Kitchen is also a leading Egyptologist and I don’t just cite him I cite numerous examples of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) reports of war where language similar to that used by Joshua and Deuteronomy are used hyperbolically. I also noted evidence that Joshua is written according to the literary conventions of such reports.

Instead of addressing this evidence directly, Pulliam gives a series of arguments for the claim that the text is not hyperbolic but literal. One objection Pulliam raises is that this interpretation “fails to solve the other moral problems in the Hebrew Scriptures.” He asks, “are we to explain away all of the problems in the Old Testament by appealing to hyperbole?” The answer of course is no; it is hard to see why this is an objection. Why does an interpretation of one passage have to answer every question about every other passage in order for it to be plausible? Interpreting the first line of Pulliam’s post literally does not solve every problem I see in it should I, therefore, not take it literally?

A second, objection Pulliam makes is that “it fails to take into account how these hyperbolic passages would be misused in the future by those who thought they were following divinely commanded principles.” Presumably Pulliam means that God, by allowing his word to be mediated through the literary conventions of ANE historiography, would forsee that future generations will misinterpret it. This, of course, is correct. Again, it is unclear why this means that the text should be taken literally. After all, it seems any language which God mediates his word through, whether literal or figurative, will have this implication. A message mediated through the more literalistic conventions of 21st century English, History and Moral Philosophy would be misunderstood by numerous people as well (his seems to be more a problem with verbal revelation per se rather than any particular interpretation of it).

Pulliam’s other arguments are more on point. He argues that a hyperbolic interpretation “fails to appreciate that Judges 2:1-5 says that the Israelites did not obey the LORD in totally destroying the Canaanites, and that as a result, they will have problems for generations to come.” Pulliam poses a rhetorical question, “if the genocidal commands were never intended to be taken literally, why are the people scolded by Yahweh and told that their future problems will come as a result of their disobedience?” In fact, in articles which Pulliam refers to both Wolterstorff and I cite this passage and point out that, in fact, it says no such thing; it states,

‘I will never break my covenant with you,2 and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?3 Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.4

Here Israel is criticised for disobeying an order to not make a covenant with the Canaanites and to destroy their altars. There is nothing at all present in these passages about extermination and genocide. Moreover, both Wolterstorff and myself pointed this out.

Pulliam further objects that,

One must ask if Wolterstorff’s opinion that Joshua uses “highly figurative” language is based on literary considerations or is it driven more by his need to solve the moral problems involved? He does not provide any direct parallels between Joshua and other literature which is clearly recognized as hagiographic and figurative.

This again is simply a distortion of the situation. In my original post I gave a large number of direct parallels between Joshua and other literature which is both figurative and hagiographic (in Wolterstorff’s sense of the term). Given that I did this and that Pulliam has clearly read the post (he did link to it) one wonders why he claims no such parallels have been offered. Moreover, Wolterstorff, in the article he cites from, does provide several literary considerations for his thesis. It seems evident that several of Pulliam’s arguments involve simply ignoring what Wolterstorff and I have written and distorting the evidence.

Equally puzzling is Pulliam’s argument, “If Joshua is hagiography, why shouldn’t one believe that the Gospels are as well? Why should one take their stories as literal history?” This is puzzling because my post addressed this. There is compelling textual evidence both from within the text itself and also via comparisons between Joshua and other ANE texts to suggest that it is hyperbolic. These parallels and textual considerations are not present with the gospels. Similarly, in his book Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim that God Speaks Wolterstorff discusses the genre of the gospels and cites comparisons with ancient Greek biographies to defend the claim that the gospels are ancient Greek biography. Again Pulliam’s response appears to be to ignore what those he criticises actually wrote.

It is worth noting that this kind of argument relies on a peculiar assumption, that if one grants that one part of a text is non-literal then one cannot, non-arbitrarily, take any other part of the text as literal. Pulliam’s own writing falsifies this claim. He concludes that “Wolterstorff is more sophisticated than some of the other harmonization attempts we have seen, it is in reality just another case of grasping at straws.” Surely, his phrase “grasping at straws” is a non-literal figure of speech (I am assuming he did not mean to refer to real straws) does it follow then that we should not take anything else he says in his post literally?

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  • Okay, the last comment was really funny (the grasping at straws thing). Your critique of the lack of understanding between Ken’s presentation of his opponents and what his opponents are actually saying can be extrapolated to many of his posts (particularly those in his forté of penal substitution), and many critiques from both sides of these issues throughout the blogosphere. Unfortunately, many readers of blogs do not actually look into the works that those posting are critiquing and therefore assume the arguments are valid…they’re not looking for honest analysis, but for confirmation of their previously held views.

  • This comparison to a ball game is almost offensive – but certainly ridiculous. If I say I want the All blacks to *slaughter* the Wallabies, in NO WAY do i want any actual killing to take place… but when the Hebrew Bible talks about the slaughter of another people group – killing is exactly what they have in mind. One is an analogy – with NO literal meaning WHATSOEVER intended. The other is (perhaps) hyperbole with an exaggeration of the literal meaning, but still containing the literal meaning. This is an important distinction which you seem to have missed (again).

  • Max, what you fail to realise is how little your being offended means to anyone. The post-modern “I’m offended, therefore you’re wrong” will not stand scrutiny.

    Yes, the Hebrews were fighting a war, and yes they killed a lot of people. However the issue is not whether they were fighting a war or whether they killed a lot of people, but whether what they set out to do could be considered genocide by modern standards. To show that the war itself was wrong you would have to either show that war is innately wrong, or that the Canaanites were undeserving of being dispossessed of their lands. Since God gave them the time that Israel was in Egypt to mend their ways, and they didn’t, it’s impossible to say that they (as a people) didn’t deserve it.

    What Matt has laid out is a argument that within the framework of contemporary language the so-called genocide passages are merely the ancient equivalent of trash talk. They indicate you won (most of the time, I understand that the Egyptians even talked up defeats) but not by how much, nor is their exact content intended to be taken literally. It can also be shown from other passages that the “annihilated” peoples were still alive after their defeat (both in the Bible, and in contemporary Ancient Near Eastern cultures).

    If I watched the WWF and took seriously the way the wrestlers postured before, during, and after a bout I would be committing the same error as you fall into.

  • Jason “I’m offended, therefore you’re wrong” will not stand scrutiny… what an odd thing to say! I did not make an such argument – this is a creation within your own mind. I merely said it was offensive not that this proved anything.

    As for the rest of your reply, I was not debating whether war was wrong. I was merely pointing out that the analogy to the language used to describe a ball game is a poor one.

    “If I watched the WWF and took seriously the way the wrestlers postured before, during, and after a bout I would be committing the same error as you fall into.”

    BTW – what error have you assumed without evidence I fall into? Just curious.

  • Matt,

    Thanks for interacting with my post regarding the Canaanite genocides.

    1. You took issue with the title of my series: Grasping at Straws Part Eleven: Evangelicals Defend Genocide, since you and Wolterstorff do not believe a genocide was commanded. I can see why you object but a title by necessity has to be short. A better title would have been: Grasping at Straws–Evangelicals Defend the Language of Genocide in the Commands Allegedly Given by Yahweh. My point was that you are trying to reconcile the apparent genocidal commands with the Christian notion that God is perfectly moral and just.

    2. You took issue with me not giving all of Kitchen’s credentials. Again, I am not writing an full length book here. I think most of my readers realize that Kitchen is an archeologist but I don’t know if they all realize he is an evangelical. At any rate, these first two criticisms seem to be nit-picking.

    3. You took issue with my complaint that seeing the genocidal commands as hyperbolic does not solve the other moral problems in the OT. This is a valid criticism and I should have stated my complaint more clearly. It seems to me that the OT is filled with passages where Yahweh has no issue with killing infants, for example, the annihilation of the people of Sodom, the killing of the Egyptian firstborn, the slaughter of the Amalekites, and so on. The order to exterminate the Canaanites is in harmony with these other actions. If, as you say, the genocidal command with regard to the Canaanites is hyperbolic, then should one assume that the other passages which present the same moral problem are hyperbolic? It would seem that consistency would demand such. If the other passages, in which Yahweh either kills or orders the killing of infants, are to be taken literally, then why would one suppose that the command to kill all the Canaanites is not to be taken literally?

    4. With regard to my argument that God must have intended the passages in Joshua and Deuteronomy to be taken literally because if he had intended them figuratively, he would have known that they were going to be misunderstood resulting in the slaughter of many innocent peoples in the future, my point was this: Why would God use figurative language knowing that it was going to be misunderstood? To me that makes God culpable in future massacres which supposedly he does not approve of. If he didn’t want these kinds of massacres happening in the future, then why did he open the door for them by using hyperbolic language?

    5. You say that my interpretation of Judges 2:1-5 is flawed because there it only says that the Israelites are to make no covenant with the Canaanites; it says nothing about their extermination. However, the command to exterminate the Canaanites in Deut. 7:2 includes a prohibition of making a covenant with them. It reads: 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. Clearly the opposite of exterminating them is to make a covenant with them, thus, when the Israelites are scolded for making a covenant with them in Judges 2, they are also being scolded for not exterminating them.

    6. You maintain that I ignored the parallels claimed by Wolterstorff and you between Joshua and other “hagiographic” literature. My point was that the parallels cited by you and Wolterstorff are not truly hagiography. As Louise Antony pointed out in her response to Wolterstorff’s paper, hagiographic literature uses hyperbole to teach certain moral values. What moral values are being taught by the command to exterminate all the Canaanites? The only “moral values” taught by such a command are, as Antony states, states domination and ruthlessness.

    7. My point about the Gospels is that they are the clearest example of hagiography in the Bible. Yet presumably neither you nor Wolterstorff want to take them as hagiography. With regard to them being ancient biographies, yes they are similar, but ancient biographies tend to exaggerate the actions of the hero whose life is being recorded (see this post) in the same way that hagiographies do.

    8. You say that I insist that if one part of a text is non-literal then one cannot take other parts of the text as literal. That is misrepresenting what I said. I certainly acknowledge that there can be literal and non-literal passages in the same writing. Obviously that is true because figurative language only has meaning as it is contrasted with literal language. My point was that it seems arbitrary on your part to take certain passages in Joshua as figurative when there is no good reason “internally” to do so. Your rationalization for taking these genocidal commands as hyperbolic involves “external” considerations such as other  ANE writings. While these external sources may have some value in the interpretation of Joshua, it seems to me that there needs to be internal markers in Joshua indicating that the language is figurative. Otherwise, the claim of hyperbolic language appears to be an arbitrary invention on your part in order to escape the moral implications of your God ordering the killing of children.

  • With regards to Mr. Pulliam’s point #6. God clearly demonstrates that he dispossessed the Canaanites, a large dominant and more advanced civilized group than the Israelites, because they were immoral, (e.g. practiced an abominable form of polytheism with child sacrifice and ritual prostitution rites) He makes it clear to the Israelites NOT to become like them AND when the Israelites started to integrate their practices into their national life through syncretism (e.g. Manasseh’s reign) God drove them out of the land as He did with the canaanites through the Assyrian/Babylonian Invasions

    The text itself is historical AND is meant to be read literally WITH a MORAL lesson, given the proper context of God’s commands to the Jews at that time period and circumstance. Now if spanish conquistadors were to use the book of joshua as justification for the slaughter and destruction of aztec culture. They would be mistaken, since the commands of God ONLY applied to the JEWS against CANAANITES. God didn’t say anything regarding the Aztecs and Spaniards specifically. But in Principle. God did say that he was against idolatry, human sacrifice, (Aztecs) and hypocrisy, phariseeism, (Spaniards) so the spaniard conquistadors were wrong in using the Joshua passages as justification for their act to follow even if they think themselves as Catholic Christians

    Contrary to Louise Antony, its not about dominion and ruthlessness, as God promised the Israelites only a sizeable portion of the land between the Nile and the Euphrates River, if the Israelites kept the covenant. so there are maximum limitations of what the territories should be (they weren’t allowed to invade Edom for example), in contrast to conquests of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire annexations, Mussolini and Hitler’s scale of conquests, which went beyond continental limits (Eithopia, India, the Balkans etc)

    God also commanded the Israelites not to rule over one another in a ruthless fashion, but to consider social justice and rights for the native-born and alien alike

  • Ken

    Re 2. I fail to see why the fact that Kitchen is an evangelical is relevant.

    Re 3. First, nowhere in the account of sodom and Gommorah is its stated children are killed, in fact the text states if there were innocent people in Sodom God would not destroy it, it was because he found none that it was destroyed. Second, I do think the Amalekite passage is probably hyperbolic for reasons parallel to those of the Canaanite ones. Third, your argument here is defective, the issue is not whether a literal reading is in harmony with the content of another passage. Its whether the literary context, genre, phraseology etc is the same. If they are not there is no inconsistency in taking one hyperbolically and the other literally.

    Re 4. the massacres you refer to have no relevance to whether the text is literal or figurative. Even if the text is literal and is taken literally, there is no command given to future generations to wipe out other nations the text clearly and literally states that Israel is to do this to the Canaanites living in the land and not to other nations. Either way the events you talk of involve a misunderstanding.

    Re 5, Your argument here is circular, you interpret Judges 2 as commanding Genocide, because you interpret the language in Deuteronomy as literally commanding Genocide. You can’t then argue that these commands must be literal because of Judges 2( as you did in your post).

    Re 6. Wolterstorff defines what he means by hagiographic literature ” My suggestion is that the Book of Joshua has to be read as a theologically oriented narration, stylized and hyperbolic at important points, of Israel’s early skirmishes in the Promised Land, with the story of these battles being framed by descriptions of two great ritualized events. The story as a whole celebrates Joshua as the great leader of his people, faithful to Yahweh, worthy successor of Moses. If we strip the word “hagiography” of its negative connotations, we can call it a hagiographic account of Joshua’s exploits.” It is common in ANE literature to write hagiographic histories, precisely with this language. The Merenptah Stele for example, praises Mernephat as a faithful follower of Ra by using hyperbolic language of the sort mentioned. The Mesha Stele uses such language to portray Mesha as a faithful servant of Chemosh who faithfully in fact T L Thompson suggests these texts all are part of a Genre of “the good king” where hyperbolic rhetoric is used to paint a king as a faithful follower of the gods, who defeats the enemies of his nation and esthablishes peace justice which he ascertains in numerous ANE texts. Anthony may be correct that modern hagiography does not function this way, but no none is talking about modern hagiography.

    Re 7. I agree with some of what you say, ancient biography does contain a degree of reconstruction, Wolterstorff actually makes this very point in the paper you mention and states it answers various apparent discrepancies in the gospels, I doubt it proves much.

    Re 8. you state its arbitrary to read a passage as hyperbolic without internal reason for doing so, and claim that my argument involves external reasons. This is false, i gave both internal and external reasons, as you yourself state in your post. Matthew Flannagan, has written on Wolterstorff’s proposal (here and here) and argues that the hyperbole explanation is the correct one based not only on the internal evidence of the text, as Wolstertorff says, but also on the external evidence of how other ANE nations reported their exploits of war. so this seems to simply be false.

  • Max

    The ball game statement is a quote from Wolterstorff. I am not convinced the distinction you draw applies, as I understand it he suggests that the ball game and combat situation are both ones where the person uses anhilation language to refer to a victory, so it has the same sense in both circumstances.

    One could however modify the example, Plantinga for example suggests a boxing analogy, “knock his block off hand him his head” here it is hyperbolic, one is dealing with an exaggeration of violence.

    The point is that if we heard that a boxer knocked the block off his opponet and handed him his head. We know only that he won the fight, we don’t know much more. This is the idea with the OT, one knows only that he one a battle ( or more probably a skirmish).

  • Yes.. Sodom must have been one of those child-free cities that used to exist…

  • Matt: Let me make it simple.

    In wars we kill folk. Literally.

    In football games we only kill them Fig-er-at-iv-ly

    Is this complicated?

  • Sorry – that was overly sarcastic. But there does seem to be a sharp distinction between exaggeration of an actual event – and an analogy referring to another event.

  • Anon, actually Paul Copan in an article recently cited some studies which suggest that within Canaan many cities “were used primarily for government buildings, and the common people lived in the surrounding countryside” In his forthcoming box he notes many cites “were mainly used for government buildings and operations, while the rest of the people (including women and children) lived in the surrounding hill country/countryside” citing some archeological and textual studies to this effect. So its actually not as clear as you think.

    Oh and I dealt with the hyperbole issue, in boxing and in wars we use literally use violence. Similarly in ball games and wars people literally win.

  • I think some of the disagreement here on the language is because we use hyperbole to extend over what is intended, that is exaggeration. Because games do not involve death, then a better term describing the phrase “slaughtering the opponent” is metaphor. I don’t think that this makes much difference to Matt’s argument, he is trying to say that the command to annihilate in war was an exaggeration for effect, though killing would still take place.

    I happen to disagree with Matt here, but I grasp the point of his post.

  • Bethyada, I get the point about metaphor vs hyperbole. I am just not entirely convinced that when the word is used in sports its a metaphor and not a hyperbole. It seems to me sports are often combatative, often physical, and one side has to overcome and defeat the other. Saying you “slaughtered” “killed” etc in this context does seem to me to involve an exageration. To totally slaugher ones opponents is to defeat them in a much more comprehensive decisive way than one in fact did.

    I also think that in some sports like Boxing for example which involve a degree of violence, one can say this language is hyperbolic. It exaggerates the violence.

  • Matt – this perhaps demonstrates something interesting about your world view, You seem to see all victories or successes, even in a completely peaceful pursuit, as violent and murderous conquering. In what way is winning at a game of cards violent for instance? But in fact I don’t think you want to make sport seem horrendous – rather you are trying to rehabilitate war perhaps? If you can see war as just like a game of footy then all sorts of problems, ancient and modern, can be swept aside.

    Re: the Sodom story…. yeah But Lot lived with his WIFE (a woman) and his children (um.. children). You are s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g to try to use this family-less city hypothesis.

  • I also think there is some confusion over contact in sports and violence. I have been given black eyes, and broken ribs in Karate, and I have had many bruises playing games out on the field – but non of this do I consider “violence” in the way war or assault is.

    Even in boxing the voluntary nature of the sport makes it a very very different situation to soldiers going into a village and murdering the men and raping the women, as ALL armies throughout history have done, and continue to do.

    As I said before I find the comparison to a few lads playing footy to the horror of war to be farcical.

  • Matt,

    2. It matters that Kitchen is an evangelical in the sense that he is committed to the divine origin of the Bible.

    3. If children were not killed in Sodom, then what happened to them? Were they miraclously raptured out prior to the outpouring of divine wrath? Surely you don’t think there could be a whole city of people with no children? How can the Amalekite passage be hyperbolic when Saul is punished for not following the command literally? You are right that Joshua could be hyperbolic and the others not; however, it would seem logical to take them all the same way since they are dealing with the same matter, i.e., the extermination of an entire people group.

    4. Granted that the text is at best descriptive and not prescriptive. But my point is that an omniscient being would know that his language was going to be misinterpreted and used as divine validation for future exterminations, and in a sense they would be right in thinking that if God ordered the elimination of pagan idol worshippers in the past, he must not be opposed to the idea. If God was at all concerned about the people who would be massacred in the future, he could have been a littler clearer in the text so that future generations would not misunderstand it.

    5. In Deut. there are two alternatives, either kill them all or make a covenant with them. Is making a covenant with them figurative language? I think Judges 2 is making it very clear why all the troubles that are later recounted in the book of Judges is going to come upon the Israelites, namely, that they did not obey Yahweh in exterminating all of the Canaanites.

    6. I am not sure that hagiography is the right term to employ. The fragments from the other ANE sources while clearly exaggerations are not large or complete enough to identify the precise literary genre. Actually I think its anachronistic to employ it all about these ANE writing including Joshua. But even if it is hagiography, the point remains what is the moral value that is being taught by saying to exterminate them all and show no mercy?

    7. All that it proves is that conservatives want to make use of the elements of hagiography or ancient biography that suit their purpose but then ignore the elements that present problems to the historical accuracy of the biography.

    8.I said there ought to be internal markers in order to take the language hyperbolically and I did not find your “evidence” of such convincing. Thus, I believe that you are reading this back into the text as a result of external factors.

  • Max

    I think you misunderstand my argument. I am not claiming that sport is analogous to war. I am claiming that the way certain language is used to describe a victory in sport is analogous to how it is used in describing a war. This is not the same thing.

    Re: You are correct that Lot lived in the city with his adult children, these of course were the people who were not destroyed in the story.

    But my main point is this: the bible does not teach that God destroyed innocent people when he destroyed Sodom. Sodom the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is part of a larger narrative. Just prior to the story God announces to Abraham he is going to destroy the city. Abraham then responds “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” and then enters into a dialogue with God about whether he will still destroy the city if there are righteous people in it. God responds that he will not. In the narrative that follows Lot and his family are spared because they were the righteous people identified in the story. hence the teaches that God did not destroy a city with innocent people in it. That is one of the major points of the story.

    When Ken suggests that Bible teaches God killed innocent people in the destruction of Sodom he is mistaken. What is true is that if you take some of what the text says and ignore other parts it teaches this. The problem with this is that as far as I know, no one believes in this selective interpretation. the evangelicals who believe in inerrancy that Ken attacks do not. Moreover those who deny inerrancy, are unlikely to have any reason for accepting that the parts where God is said to destroy sodom is true but the part where its said that he will not destroy the innocent is false. Liberals are unlikely to hold such a view, and skeptics will deny God’s and so reject both parts.

    Its hard then to see who exactly is supposed to be refuted by this line of argument.

    If Ken is going to attack evangelical commitment to inerrancy he needs to respond to what this commitment actually entails, if he is going to reject this commitment and use the commitment to attack it his argument is circular, either way his argument fails.

  • I don’t misunderstand Matthew – I am not that much of a moron ;). I know you are saying the way language is used is the same. I disagree with this. In one case it is a METAPHOR – in the other case it is an EXAGGERATION. See – different use of language. This was my point. Not a huge issue really.

    However – as an aside I did mention that you minimize the horror of war by this misuse of language – but that is a secondary issue – not a misunderstanding.

    “You are correct that Lot lived in the city with his adult children, these of course were the people who were not destroyed in the story.”

    And the most likely scenario is that no other people in the city lived with their wife and children… and what do you think the adult children were before they became adults? It is a minor issue – but your willingness to use whatever references you can find, however far fetched, and no matter how hard it is to make them fit, as long as they support what you want to say reeks of Craig-style apologetics.

    Yes – as far as the rest of the story – Abraham demonstrates a much better moral character than Yahweh does in this story. This is interesting. The moral character in this story is not their god… but a human who has to convince his god to do the right thing. This demonstrates a relationship between the god and his people which does not really gel with the modern “classical theist”s conception.

    But Ken’s point is that the people who wrote these stories had a very different conception of “innocent” than we do today. A person was “guilty” and worthy of death/rape/slavery merely because they belonged to the wrong group. Now I know you don’t like this, or agree with this, but this is what we find. So in the Sodom story, infants were annihilated because they came from the wrong families… as far as Yahweh was concerned he hadn’t killed any innocent people and had kept his promise to Abraham. They were guilty because they came from a guilty family. Again we (most of us) have moved beyond this sort of thinking – but we should not pretend that the Hebrew texts were written by people who has our concept of innocent in mind!

    I don’t personally think it says anything awful about God – it merely shows that the writers had a vision of a violent xenophobic god that most Christians would want to reject today,….. maybe. Apart from Bush.

  • Matt. You are up against the Problem of Evil, and Gods Judgment.
    Do you believe the story of the Fall is literal or not?
    This will effect your entire understanding of the scriptures including the portion you are looking at as when Man fell, He fell into condemnation as a species. We are all contaminated by the original sin. All guilty before God and under his judgment of death. When a torrent destroys a town, It destroys Sinners, not Holy Righteous and Innocent beings.
    Hitler, and Stalin were children once.
    There is the seed of a devil in everyone of us.
    God could order our extermination by Angels, or allow everyone of us to be swept away by flood with no stain on his holiness. In fact it may glorify his holiness.
    He may righteously smite us at will.
    We are all corrupt and will die.
    We all need mercy and Christ…thankfully this is the true Nature of God! Loving, merciful, patient…

    That the Bible contains rhetoric is not in question (Gods promise to multiply the Children of Israel ‘as the stars of heaven’ would appear to be a hyperbole that God was very ‘touchy’ about).
    The vital question is was Gods command to utterly destroy the Canaanites mere hyperbole?, and what motivation is behind the need to deny God would give such an order?

    Ought the believer to relegate as hyperbole every instance of scripture that he finds unpleasant, or brings social stigma from infidels?

    My old Pastor Dr Dennis Spackman said to me that if a scripture can be taken literally it should be.
    I think this is a great starting point and it is from this position that you must vindicate the notion that this portion of scripture is not literal.
    Quoting Egyptian text cannot help answer this. It is false to interpret the bible as being simply an epic like Homer, or part of an old world regional mindset.(this is how infidels want you to interpret the bible)
    Israel did not exist in a vacuum and it is true that false Gods and corrupting cultures were always a problem for Israel, yet the very topic we are looking at is that of God creating a peculiar people in the promised land, which gives us some of the divine justification for ordering the extermination of the Canaanites (Apart from their own wickedness).
    To use Egyptian test etc to vindicate your position is to reverse the position designated to the Jews under Joshua by God himself…as completely different and under his covenant and kingship. A Theocracy.
    Israel was separated from the rest of Humanity by God Almighty.
    That is Key. This is the scriptural doctrine at distinguishes the Jews from everyone else.
    Yes the Jews were always corrupted by their neighbors…as a result of not obeying God in all things, breaking their covenant…one of the biggest being failure to rid the promised land of the accursed Cananties.
    Clearly this was not a hyperbole but an essential part of Gods plan for Israel, which was part of his grand scheme of salvation of Mankind in which the very *Seed* of Seth…right through Shem, Abraham…right up to the birth of Christ had to be protected from corruption by Satans seed.
    Looking for a moral excuses between Ordering a Genocide or merely half a genocide is a pointless exercise at best that ignores Gods express purposes and so is a false doctrine.
    Do you understand that the great Flood was to protect the *seed* of mankind and esp the Messiah from being corrupted by the fallen angels who had sex with woman and had offspring before the flood?
    This is the main reason I reject your proposition Matt. Not just the religion of the Jews was under threat from others, but separation was essential to the Messiah himself as Satan was attempting to destroy Israel and The messianic seed.
    Understand what was at stake when God sort to clear out Cannan.

    Judgment, not Salvation is the main attribute of God revealed in the scriptures.
    What about Sodom and Gomorrah?
    Do you think any children got drowned in the Great flood, or burned at Sodom?
    There has never been a tempest that God could not have calmed any time yet God chooses to let nature take its course, and good and innocent people are killed by natural catastrophes, not to mention being murdered every day.
    My point being God does in experienced reality allow evil to happen, genocides included, so whether he orders them or not, he still allows them.
    Looking at Noah’s Flood is a scary eye opener as to Gods Judgment upon Sin…outside grace.
    It is also easy for bible believers to see that before the cross and the Dispensation of Grace, when mankind was under a curse, that as with Sodom and Gomorrah, God might order the annihilation of the Canaanites which is peanuts in the face of the great flood, and the Great Tribulation period yet to come. (Or do you think that both the flood and the story of Sodom and Gomorra are but primitive fables used to describe natural disasters…not evidence of a Judging God upon fallen Man?)

    The fundamental issue is that after the fall of Man into sin, God cursed Mankind to death and separated himself from us…but stayed his hand not utterly destroying us though he would have been completely righteous in doing so.
    Thus despite The Flood, All the wars, and the coming Great Tribulation, God has been merciful to Mankind!
    You cannot make every instance of Gods judgement a Hyperbole, and without doing that it seems worse than pointless to say ordering the genoside of Cannaan is hyperbole because it detracts from the scheme of God.. The Righteous Judge of Fallen Man…and his Redeemer.

  • Yes Max, the vast majority of historical peoples were collectivist. You rose and fell with your tribe.

    Have we moved beyond it into hard individualism? Perhaps we have.

    Is that a good thing? I’m really not sure one way or the other. There was a community spirit then, now I hardly even know my neighbours.

    The error I referred to was over-literalism of ancient hyperbole. If you don’t hold that position I apologize.

    As for “it merely shows that the writers had a vision of a violent xenophobic god that most Christians would want to reject today.” Are you familiar with the first commandment? Creating a god who fits your sensibilities could be considered a violation of that.

    “Abraham demonstrates a much better moral character than Yahweh does in this story. This is interesting. The moral character in this story is not their god… but a human who has to convince his god to do the right thing.”

    Abraham was asking out of concern for his kinsman Lot. He had little or no concern for the people of Sodom in and of themselves. They were of his outgroup, Lot was of his ingroup. It’s that whole collective thing again.

    In regards to the nameless other. Hyperbole was an accepted part of ancient rhetoric. Since they all knew what it meant it would have been superfluous to actually write down that it was hyperbole. That’s what it means to be a high context society.

    Being a low context society ourselves, we need every i dotted and every t crossed. But that’s our limitation not theirs.

    Tim, hey, wall of text mate. Work on keeping it to a few short paragraphs. Okay? 🙂

  • Ken

    2. Why is Kitchen’s belief that “the bible is of divine origin” relevant? Are you suggesting that if a person is an evangelical he can’t be a competent Egyptologist or able to read an translate ANE documents?

    3. You ask “If children were not killed in Sodom, then what happened to them?” this question of course assumes that there were children in sodom which is precisely the issue. Once again you are reasoning in a circle.

    As I noted to Max, the text actually denies there are innocent people in the city. You may not believe this could be an accurate description of what happened, but you cannot claim (as you did) that the text says God wiped out children because it doesn’t.

    The Amalekite issue warrants a post on its own but
    (a) The author cannot have intended for this passage to be taken literally v 8 of this passage states 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 the author of the text makes it clear that they were not literally wiped out latter in the narrative (Samuel 30) the Amalekites attack a city, raid it and David has to launch a counter attack to get the captives back for this reason.

    (b) ANE hyperbole is used frequently in the passages. It states for example “two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men” fought “all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt” this is the kind of hyperbolic exaggeration common in ANE accounts.

    Moreover the language of “totally destroy” (cherem) in the passage is very similar to the language used in the Mesha steele which is recognized to be hyperbolic.

    (c)Your claim is that Saul is condemned for not taking the passage lite rally, actually Saul is condemned for taking plunder (v 17) but even if this is correct, it shows that the command was taken literally within the context of a hagiographic account. This is vital, the phrase “Harry Potter went to Hogwarts” is intended to be literal, but it occurs with the context of a fictional novel and hence should not be interpreted as making the claim that there actually is a harry potter who went to hogwarts. Similarly, a command to obey commands couched in ANE hyperbole within a broadly hagiographies genre, does not mean that the text states God actually made that command. Such language functioned not to describe what occurred, but to paint the king as a faithful (or in this case unfaithful king).

    4. Not sure what is unclear, even if one takes the text literally its clearly qualified to the nations within Canaan. Deut 20 states “This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.” I don’t know anyone who thinks that because God commands Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees and go to Canaan everyone is required to do this, this is because its recognized as an occasional command not one given to all people for all time, so is the passage in Deut 20 .

    5 Again we have circular argument, I argued that the word “destroy” in Deut 7 is hyperbolic. Your response is to say that this is wrong because Judges says so, Judges says so because Deut 7 says so and Deut 7 says so because the word ‘destroy” is literal and means kill.

    6. The issue is not what we call these texts, its rather how was ANE history written, is it sensible to interpret texts like this in the extremely literalistic fashion you and other skeptics do to get your conclusions, the answer is pretty evidently no.

    As to your question “what is the moral value that is being taught by saying to exterminate them all and show no mercy?” apart from the fact that you again assume this is actually a command to exterminate. (circular reasoning again). The answer is reasonably clear. ObeyGod. do not tolerate people who engage in certain types of practices ( such as human sacrifice) to live with you if they are a corrupting influence on others etc. Failure to do so will lead to you becoming like them.(Josh-judges)

    7. I think this is false, conservatives often acknowledge that biography is not an exact description of what happened but serves other functions. Wolterstorff actually notes this with the cleansing of the temple. He points of that the illucotionary stance of biography means that sometimes the question being asked is not when did this happen? Its rather is this an accurate picture of Jesus? is this the sort of thing he would have done if confronted with that sort of practice?

    In fact often liberals often are selective here, would you deny for example the basic historicity of Plutarchs account of Alexander, the battles he fought, that he conquered Persia, died in Babylon from fever etc. No. Can you use Plutarch as an source of the “historical Alexander” yes. Would anyone apply redaction, form and historical criticism to Plutarch and claim that really this was all invented to gain power, he really did not exist or was a mushroom, or did not say or do anything in the text. No.

    8. This seems more a string of assertions, than an argument. I suggest that when the author of a text explicitly and repeatedly states that something is not literally the case, and when the text is known to use certain literary conventions, and its well attested that the language in question is not literal according to those conventions. In light of this it’s rather anachronistic to read the passage literally. Of course it might have useful shock value and further secular propaganda about religious people being dangerous fanatics who cause wars etc. But that does not change the fact that its bad hermeneutics.

  • No one claims Saul was a mushroom Matthew – that would be ludicrous. It is Jesus who was the mushroom.

  • Jason:

    Surely there is something in between “hard individualism” and racist collectivism? You don’t have to join the Libertaridronz or the KKK. But yeah – it is sad that neighbors are strangers.

    “Are you familiar with the first commandment? Creating a god who fits your sensibilities could be considered a violation of that.”

    Yes – one we/they/you/I constantly fall short of. And yeah – the writers of these texts did not always stay true to such an idea, and nor did the people they wrote about…

    “Abraham was asking out of concern for his kinsman Lot. He had little or no concern for the people of Sodom in and of themselves….”

    Yes – maybe I was too kind to Abraham. He and Yahweh probably do share the same idea of guilt/innocence – inside/outside. But I think we can get beyond this idea without falling into an only-I-matter individualism – which really is the same mentality taken to an extreme of “I” am the only member of the in group. The other way to take it is to consider ALL people to be members of the in group – but sadly this is a much harder path to follow.

  • Max, I don’t recall suggesting anyone claimed Saul was a mushroom. I was referring to Alexander the Great.

    My, point is that even if one grants that ancient biography like that of Plutarch, often gave literary historical reconstructions of his subjects and took some liberties with sources to illustrate aspects of his subjects character, while that does require us to be a bit careful in approaching the text, it does not call into question the basic historicity of the subject or the events narrated.

  • OK – so you agree with the Jesus as mushroom hypothesis then I assume.

  • Max, I don’t share your opinion of Craig.

    If I understand you correctly you suggest the earlier passages in Genesis show a primative tribal conception of God. The latter revelation in the Canon corrects this and so when you read the whole bible, its clear it does not teach that God is like this, if this is correct then we are in fundamental agreement the bible does not teach that God is like this and Ken is mistaken to suggest it does.

    My own position is different, I agree that there is an anthropmorphic picture of God in the text, in that Abraham negotiates and pleads with, and one that needs to come down and check wether what is said about Sodom is true. This I think cautions us against taking the story as totally descriptive of what actually happened. The author appears to be presenting history in an anthropomorphic dialogue form to make a theological point.

    What I object to however is reading more into the text that is not there the facts are (a) the theological point the text makes is that God will not destroy Sodom if its full of innocent people. (b) the text says the people of sodom are wicked. (b) Sodom is destroyed by God. We have no evidence from the text as to who else was or was not in Sodom and we (c) have no external archaeological evidence on this matter (d) with ancient near eastern cities we cant guarantee that it contained women and children.

    So I am inclined to think that one cannot really make confident claims about Sodom being full of children we simply do not know the situation. Ken however on the basis of speculation from limited evidence confidently makes claims on this matter.

  • “Max, I don’t share your opinion of Craig.”

    I like Craig. I enjoy his debates… but just occasionally I think he is more interested in seeming right that being right. I have yet to see him stop, consider, and say.. hmmm… you have a point. He is always back to his pre-prepared material and seems to pay little attention to his opponent. This si just my opinion of his debating skills. His articles are better.

    We ARE in fundamental agreement the bible does not teach that God is like this and Ken is mistaken to suggest it does.

    I don’t take the story as a description of an historical event in any way. I was talking about the characters in the story not the actual Abraham or God. The author is presenting a story yo make a theological point – whether it is history I am less sure…

    As for your points:

    (a) I agree – but with the disclaimer that what was meant by innocent is not what you or I mean when we speak of it today.

    (b) Again yes – but again it is left up to the reader to decide what this wickedness entailed. Really the whole idea of a completely Evil city is an absurd one – as the idea of a completely good city is – so perhaps this should be just seen as a myth a bit like Mordor being a country only inhabited by evil goblins and trolls. the problem is if people do interpret it in any way literally it perpetuates the idea that there are such things as “Evil” cities or countries. And when people who think in this shallow way get into power… well we know the results.

    (b) No – but the null-hypothesis, without further evidence, would surely be that this was a normal city containing a range of citizens.

    (c) Which again would lead you to assume (if you think there was a Sodom at all) that it was a normal city…

    (d) No we can’t GUARANTEE that it had children in it. But that is a pretty shonky way to reason. This concern you and I seem to have for children is one which probably did not even occur to the writers of this piece in any case.

    It seems Matt, that you are making similar speculations, for equally ideological reasons, with as little evidence as Ken. We can’t be certain that the writers meant to indicate a city which had a range of people living in it – but without evidence to the contrary this seems the natural assumption to go with… especially when the ONE house which we do get to see inside in the story contains a family.. with women and children. Should we assume that the author wanted his readers to assume that this was a a unique house in the city, and every other house contained only administrative workers? This seems far fetched enough to reject out of hand.

  • Max, if your correct and the story “should be just seen as a myth a bit like Mordor being a country only inhabited by evil goblins and trolls” then one cannot argue that because normal cities contain children this one does. Mordor is not an evil city.

    For the record, My position is not that we can’t guarantee there were children its that we don’t know. second I am not sure that a ‘normal’ city in this part of the world would contain children, like I said I have read studies to the contrary.

    Either way it does seem to be that athiest like Ken read the text in a mistaken way, whatever one thinks about the Genre, the whole point of the story is that God spares the innocent and punishes the guilty. To suggest the text shows that the bible teaches that infanticide is OK and that this assumption is a default positon to read other passages seems to me to be mistaken.

    For the record, what basis do you have for saying that ‘innocent” is defined in the story the way you say. I see the story of Abraham (coming immediately after the tower of babel) as an account of how God wants to bless all nations and restore the whole world. I don’t see the zenophobia you talk of.

  • Max no, I don’t think Jesus or Alexander the Great were mushrooms. I accept that most of what we know about both is from ancient greek biographies.

  • “Max, if your correct and the story “should be just seen as a myth a bit like Mordor being a country only inhabited by evil goblins and trolls” then one cannot argue that because normal cities contain children this one does. Mordor is not an evil city.”

    But Morder is an EVIL country! But you are mixing metaphors now.

    “For the record, My position is not that we can’t guarantee there were children its that we don’t know. second I am not sure that a ‘normal’ city in this part of the world would contain children, like I said I have read studies to the contrary.”

    Your mind is very binary isn’t it Matt? Just an observation. You don’t seem to like saying you don’t know for sure but it is likely or unlikely. Yes – sure – it is possible that in the narrative the author meant a city without children…. but how LIKELY is this? If you have the attitude that you can believe whatever you like if you can’t prove otherwise then you will end up with some pretty whacky beliefs… .

    But whatever a normal city might be like – the description we have of the inside of this city (lot’s house) is clearly not the sort of city you need it to be.

    But I do agree that atheists tend to be the worse sort of literalist.

  • I do try Jason, that post was not exhaustive. Matts arguments require serious effort.
    I don’t dispute Matts scholarship here. He raises the most vital issues and presents the most comprehensive and up to date views on his topics so that even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, you always learn something valuable.
    I only dare to present an alternative to his views when I believe the Lord would have me do so because no one else will present the Bible believers position.
    Perhaps M+M will tire of my unlearned views and I will be asked to go.
    I am presenting a faith in Gods Word and Gods Character that surpasses understanding.
    I am saying the vital communion of God is to trust him beyond your own grasp of things.
    If God ordered the extermination of the Canaanites…I say it was just period!
    I trust Gods Judgment even when I don’t understand it .
    I trust in the goodness of God Absolutely.
    The portions of scripture in which God appears to be horrible, are tests of faith for us to overcome. Thus instead of saying this portion is hyperbole. I suggest we say in faith…The Holy God passed Judgment upon Canaan and we trust he had righteous cause.

  • Matt perhaps on the metaphor and hyperbole. Metaphor has a very broad usage. I was just saying to those who dispute your analogy that arguing over words misses the point of Matt’s post and isn’t that relevant. I disagree with your interpretation, yet I can still see what you are saying about passages being hyperbolic. There are other passages in Scripture where hyperbole is claimed.

    Max, Matt has previously indicated that some material suggests that cities at that time had adult people of prominence in them, and that the families lived in the fields around the city. Matt is not saying that children do not exist, rather that many of the young children of the area lived with their mothers and perhaps some men not of note outside the city. If I have understood Matt correctly. I don’t agree with Matt here either.

    The case of Lot does not address this as Lot’s daughters were not little children, they were women of age.

  • Maybe its what the author had in mind… but seems unlikely. But yeah – maybe.

  • Max, seeing we are discussing tangental points. I wonder wether what “the author had in mind” is the correct target.
    Take the command “do not kill” the human author probably did not intend to condemn shooting people with UZI’s, but the text does condemn that.

    I am inclined to think the issue is what the words meant in their context. In the Sodom story the author refers to a place “Sodom” whatever his beliefs about Sodom, that’s all that is in the text. If Sodom is a real place and the story is historical then author is meaning to make claims about that place. If it is a mythical city, then the author is making comments about a city within the scope of a myth. What the author believes about children etc do not really come into it.

  • I don’t think they had UZIs Matt – but they did have cities. So although the author was *probably* not thinking about machine guns… he probably did have the image of a city in mind.

    I agree that children probably never entered the authors mind – in the same way a lot of military conquest heroism stories don’t have children in their scope. But that is kind of the issue.

  • Sure Max, but is what the author had in mind part of the meaning of the text. I think one needs to be careful distinguishing between what the text says and what implications or associations the author had in mind when he uttered the text.

  • I guess I rather unfashionably preference the authors intention over any and every possible modern or post-modern reading you want to impose on the text. Or to put it another way – I am more interested in what the author meant, than what 21st century evangelical theology can get out of the text when they have added a whole philosophical framework over it first…. I know I can’t ever really know what a writer of that time was like psychologically, or get a real understanding of the culture at that time, and I freely admit that I am no expert in the OT in any case, but that is my aim…

  • I left a most important final point out of my last response that I must add since Matts piece has gone global. It carries on from the position that God is Good. Unless I add this, Matt may assume I am being Anti-intellectual/ anti investigation and that I believe God must be protected from scrutiny. This is not so. My position of Faith ought not to stifle intellectual investigations such is Matt’s vocation, but that knowing God is Good ought to guide the philosopher towards searching for answers that don’t involve theological retreats and sophistry, always giving the benefit of the doubt to faith in the scriptures as reliable, because they have proven themselves to be so time and time again, rather than favoring conclusions that reduce the stature of the scriptures from being Divine to…Human…oh so human!
    “Yea, hath God said?…”

  • Matt,
    Sorry for the long delay in responding. BTW, I see you might be coming to Atlanta. If so, I would love to have a cup of coffee or tea or beer whatever you New Zealanders drink.

    Now to your response:

    2.. Kitchen’s belief that “the bible is of divine origin” is relevant because it is going to color how he reads the evidence. If one thinks the Bible came from God, thus one is going to interpret archeological evidence or any kind of evidence to agree with one’s understanding of the Bible.

    3. How could you possibly believe there were no children in Sodom. Do you know of any town of any size. Do you think Sodom was one of these adult only retirement communities?

    You are not reading the text accurately. God said he would spare Sodom if he could find as many as 10 “righteous” (צדיק) people. Innocence and righteousness are not the same thing.

    Your reading of I Sam. 15 is also in error, I think. There is no way to make sense of why Saul is chastised in the passage without saying that he failed to execute the command of God. The fact that Amalekites are around in ch. 30 can be explained in a number of ways: 1) There were even more Amalekites in other areas that Saul was unaware of; or more likely 2) the account in ch. 15 is really a story made-up by some scribe to explain why Saul’s son did not inherit the throne.

    4. If the text is intended literally then it tells people that God is not necessarily opposed to exterminating a group of people that he feels are incorrigible (and this agrees with other events in the Bible such as Sodom, Noah’s flood, and the final judgment). Granted they might not be justified in trying to apply the principle but its easy to see how one could in his zeal make this kind of mistake. The fact that God is omniscient means he knew that and a perfectly moral being would have taken steps to prevent it.

    5. So let me get this straight. Judges is saying that all the problems that are about to befall the Israelites are due to their failure to completely obey a command of God given in Deut. and Joshua that was hyperbolic. How does one obey or disobey a hyperbolic command?

    6. It does matter because you and Wolterstorff are in my opinion using the term hagiographic anachronistically. I think Judges as well as other examples of God killing whole civilizations are reason enough to take the command to kill all the Canaanites and Amalekites literally. But even if one were to believe them only hyperbole, the fact still remains that the author of the passage thought it a good thing to exaggerate. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that one would call killing every human being and showing mercy to none could possibly be a good thing?
    You say that the moral value of the hyperbolic command is: Obey God. do not tolerate people who engage in certain types of practices ( such as human sacrifice) to live with you if they are a corrupting influence on others etc. Failure to do so will lead to you becoming like them.(Josh-judges) Okay, so how do you not tolerate them? How do you keep them from practicing human sacrifice unless 1) you kill them all or 2) you institute some type of military government in which you prohibit them from doing what you find distasteful? Again the fact that Judges shows that Israel did fall into these pagan practices due to their failure to obey the command leads me to believe the command was not hyperbolic. If the command was simply hyperbolic, then one could argue that they did fulfill it because they did kill a lot of Canaanites even if they didn’t kill them all.

    7. As long as one is willing to read the gospels like they would other ancient biographies, then I have no problem. Its when the arguments are made that because its ancient biography, therefore its trustworthy in every detail (Bill Craig made this argument).

    8. You say in response to my claim that there are no internal markers in Deut. or Joshua to take the language hyperbolically: I suggest that when the author of a text explicitly and repeatedly states that something is not literally the case, and when the text is known to use certain literary conventions, and its well attested that the language in question is not literal according to those conventions. In light of this it’s rather anachronistic to read the passage literally.
    Where does the author state explicitly and repeatedly that the language is not to be taken literally? I see nothing in the context of the commands that would make one think they are not intended literally. I grant that external factors such as other ANE writings use hyperbolic language in regards to warfare but to insist that Deut and Joshua are doing the same is an assumption based on external factors not internal ones.

  • Did the Hebrew God Intend His Commands To Kill All the Canaanites Be Taken Literally?…

    Recently, Flannagan ran another post in which he attempted to answer my objections to the claim of hyperbole. He entitled it: “Wolterstorff, the Canaanites and Hyperbole: A Response to Ken Pulliam.” In the comment section on his site, he and I have c…

  • Tim,

    Thanks for your post. Your position is very similar to the one I held when I was a Christian. I think any attempt by philosophers such as Matt or Paul Copan or Bill Craig, etc. to “tone down” the extent of the judgment or to attempt to make it palatable with human reason ultimately fails.

  • @ Ken
    So if I understand your last comment to Tim
    your de-converstion from Christianity was essentially a case of elevating your own intellect and will to be the arbiter of truth because you could no-longer trust God for those bits you didnt understand yet or didnt like? That would be a really fundamental definition of sin, the creature setting their self above their Creator. My will not Thy will.

  • Ken,
    As I have said, I believe it is unnecessary to make excuses for God…because he is God!
    The Idea that God cannot justly step in at anytime is an atheist whim rather than objective reason, thus I would argue that the difference between Faith and Infidelity is the poor reasoning of the infidels, not that faith involves a necessary retreat into irrational mysticism to avoid sound reasoning of atheism.
    I suffer the same frustration that you feel when Guys like Craig employ sophistry to make God more accommodating to infidel reasoning. Like you I see this as a poor show…contemptible really…They have retreated from the high ground in a cowardly display that cannot hope to convert the unbelievers but make them more resolved skeptics.
    God is not mocked. He has his express purposes…to catch the vain in their own craftiness. He knew this would cause a stink in the eyes of hypocritical haters.
    Things like this Canaanite issue are stumbling blocks for those with impure hearts, but are glorious tests for the faithful in the eyes of God. He put this stuff in the Bible on purpose to challenge the false ethics of infidelity…. to test what sort of Soul you are…or as Christ described the Seed of the word falling by the wayside, falling among the thorns, falling on stony ground…or falling upon the good soil which brings a bountiful harvest.
    The unmoved Atheist is the wayside. The so-called Christian scholar that keeps making concessions to atheist premises is the thorny or stony ground, the Man who keeps his faith in the seed that was sown in him is the good ground that bareth much fruit.

    I am in awe of Craig, yet cannot but see his acquiescence to the theory of evolution as weak, weak, weak. Yet another retreat for the sake of accommodating the poor reasoning of infidelity and the cult of academia.
    Preferring atheist Human reasoning over the true theist supernatural position that holds the bible as sacred truth.
    He buys into too many of their notions of authority regarding scholarship, reason, The Bible as being fallible etc and frankly im amazed he has not been pulled up and held accountable for it by his opponents. I wish they would pull him up on this because then he would have to run back to the high ground or admit defeat. He sits too comfortably among the pseudo-scientists. Like all specialists he thinks his expertise in philosophy is the high ground falling into the trap of being unable to see its not the high ground at all…but a misplaced vain idolatry for his own craft. Christianity Stands or falls on the truth of the scriptures…not the scholarship of philosophers of religion.
    Matt obviously sees Craig as a mentor. I seek to prod Matt to push himself beyond Craig’s obvious short comings as a theist.
    I ask How Matt might defend himself from wolves in sheep’s clothing….The devils workers who appear as ministers of righteousness…without appealing to the scriptures…as he would have the problem that these devils can utilize persuasive moral arguments, that appear righteous to men of reason.
    Regarding his Canaanite piece I think he’s fallen into just such a trap when he thinks he must some how vindicate God in terms that are acceptable to modern moral philosophers who champion reason as the only source of Morals…subjectivists who say things like….Human life is the standard by which to judge morality.

  • Matt,

    I find two other problems with your explanation of “hyperbole” for the Canaanite genocides.

    1) It fails to appreciate the concept of חרם. Being “devoted to destruction” would require the extermination of everyone or everything under “the ban.” What is your concept of חרם? Did the Israelites understand the חרם as hyperbole? It seems unlikely to me, especially in light of the story of Achan.

    2) It fails to appreciate that the record of the Conquest in Joshua is most likely not historical. (See William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 23-90, 167-221; Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology‘s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Touchstone, 2002), 72-96.). This explains why some of the cities mentioned as being utterly destroyed in Joshua are later said to be heavily populated. So, if the record of the Conquest is not historical, then the stories told there were created for a purpose, i.e., to teach some type of moral lesson. What could the moral lesson be and why did the creator(s) of the stories not see a moral problem with assigning genocidal commands to Yahweh?

  • […] Wolterstorff, the Canaanites and Hyperbole: A Response to Ken Pulliam […]

  • […] to get around that fact, Matt Flannagan’s pious protestations (here, here, here, here, and here) […]