Canaanite Genocide

Why is the Bible so violent?

During the time of Noah, God wiped out humanity with a flood (Gen. 6-9).
During the time of Moses, God killed all the Egyptian firstborns and then drowned their army in the Red Sea (Exo. 12, 14).
During the time of Saul, God told Saul to completely slaughter the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15).
During the time of David, God smote Uzzah for merely trying to stabilize the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam. 6).
During the time of Hezekiah, God destroyed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (2 Kgs 19:35).

Why is the Bible so violent?

To hear my 38 minute response to this question, click on the video.

Christ Community Church (a multi-campus church in the Chicago suburbs) invited me to speak on violence in the Bible as a part of their summer of 2017 sermon series entitled, “Elephants, the questions we can’t ignore.”

The video begins with an moving 2-minute story that answers the question, “Do elephants really never forget?”  I appear at the 2:05 mark.

To listen to the audio, click here.

I don’t cover all the incidents of violence in the Bible, but focus on what I believe to be the most troubling one, the Canaanite conquest recorded in the book of Joshua.  Some of this material appears in God Behaving Badly, or in my Relevant article on the Canaanite Genocide.

Enjoy.

 

Advertisements

Book Review of Did God Really Command Genocide? Part 2

In recent years there has been a spate of books addressing the problem of the “Canaanite genocide” by Wright, Copan, and Seibert. Even Lamb entered the fray.  In 2013, a collection of essays edited by Thomas, Evans, and Copan addressed the issue of Holy War in the Bible.  In my contribution, I argue that biblical warfare shouldn’t be associated with holiness since, according to the text, divine anger and compassion are its primary motivations.

The most recent addition to the discussion of biblical warfare comes from Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan (C&F): Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.  In Part 1 of my review (click here) I examine the first section of the book, and Part 2, I will look at the next section of the book which begins to work through the relevant textual issues, which is the section of the book I’m personally most interested in.

Chapter 4 asks, “Does the Bible Command Us to Kill Innocent Human Beings?”  The answer to this question might seem to be an obvious “No.” But the argument is sometimes made that the Canaanite slaughter could be seen as establishing a biblical precedent for later slaughters (let’s mention the Crusades, since that’s the obvious one always referred to).  C&F argue persuasively that the command to “utterly destroy” was unusual and shouldn’t be understood as establishing a precedent.

Chapter 5 asks, “Does the Bible portray the Canaanites as innocent?”  The answer here again is “No” and C&F make three points. First, Israel owned the land because God gave it to them.  I generally agree with this point, but a skeptic or an atheist won’t be convinced by it, because the Canaanites were in possession of the land. Second, the crimes of the Canaanites, which included human sacrifice, were serious crimes, worthy of punishment. Third, the Israelites needed to remain free from the influence of the Canaanites.  They conclude the chapter with three examples of Canaanites who were spared: Caleb (not sure about this one), the Shechemites, and Rahab, who is the best example since she’s clearly Canaanite (not like Caleb), and yet she and her family are spared.

Chapter 6 makes the point that instead of annihilating the Canaanites the most common textual image for the conquest is that of “driving them out,” a point I also make in God Behaving Badly (p. 100).  This point is helpful for several reasons.  It takes the text seriously and it acknowledges that the process of removing the Canaanites from the land may have taken awhile and wasn’t exclusively done by extermination.

Chapter 7 argues that readers of the “utterly destroy” texts of Joshua should not read these texts literally, but as examples of hyperbole.  A hyperbolic interpretation makes a lot of sense, particularly as one compares these more problematic texts with other texts in Joshua and Judges.  I make this point in my Relevant article (“Reconciling the God of Love with the God of Genocide”), but C&F use Wolterstorff and Kitchen, which are probably a better choices.  For the most in-depth academic discussion of the topic of hyperbole in ancient conquest narratives, check out the monograph of Lawson Younger here.

If my review continued I’d get in trouble for too many spoilers.  So, for the motivated reader who’s interested in making sense of the problem of the so-called “Canaanite Genocide” I’d highly recommend this book.

Review of Did God Really Command Genocide? Part 1

When I spoke to Paul Copan at a biblical studies conference in November 2013, he told me about a book he was co-writing on the Canaanite Genocide. I told him I’d look forward to reading it.  In November 2014, Did God Really Command Genocide: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God came out, authored by Copan and Matthew Flannagan (C&F). This new book is a much deeper discussion of a subject was addressed more briefly in Copan’s earlier work, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, a book I highly recommend (for more details, see my three blog posts on the topic here).

The overall tone is less casual, a bit more academic (about 100 pages longer), than Copan’s Moral Monster. While I really appreciated the readability of Moral Monster (I’ve been accused of being too informal, even snarky), I’m sure some academic types will prefer this book’s slightly more serious tone. I would have thought that for a more academic book, C&F would have gone with footnotes (which I prefer) over endnotes. A feature of the book that I really appreciated was the summaries included at the end of each chapter which, in a pithy format, reiterate the main points (particularly helpful for writing a book review blog).

While I should have been prepared for it if I had read the introductory chapter more carefully, I was somewhat disappointed that C&F didn’t begin by looking at the relevant biblical texts (a few in the Pentateuch, but mostly ones from Joshua). The first two chapters lay out their philosophical framework which sets up their discussion for the rest of the book, which probably makes sense since Copan teaches philosophy, but as a Bible guy, I just want to talk about the text. But I quickly got over my initial disappointment as I moved into the third chapter, a discussion of the relationship between the Old and New Testament. (As I like to say, “How does one reconcile the loving God of the Old Testament with the harsh God of the New Testament?”)

To examine the OT/NT relationship, C&F discuss two scholars who some think are pseudo-Marcionites, Peter Enns and Eric Seibert (it’s “e” before “i” even after “S”), both of whom are friends of mine, although on the issue of the Canaanite “genocide” my own views are much closer to C&F, than E&S (see my article in Relevant on the topic here).

Before offering a critique of them, Did God Really goes into depth discussing the perspective on violence of Enns and Seibert, fairly portraying their views, modeling gracious, irenic dialogue about a topic that often can become ironically hostile. C&F agree that it is good that scholars like E&S (they also list C. Wright, G. Wenham, D. Lamb, and J. Goldingay) are “thinking deeply” about the troubling portrayals of God in the Hebrew Bible.  But they also argue that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament “don’t actually read the Old Testament the way Seibert and Enns think they should” (p. 47).  I agree.

My review will continue in Part 2, but at this point in time I can highly recommend C&F’s new book to anyone troubled by one of the most disturbing problems in Scripture.