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January 23, 2013


After thinking about the incidents surounding Custer's Last Stand, and the Indian Wars, I find it a bit hypocritical to hear Americans discuss the driving our of the Canaanites as being an injustifiable act, while at the same time living on land that would still belong to Native Americans if someone hadn't slaughtered their families to get it, and having confined many of the surviving to reservations to keep them away from the rest of us.

If such an act is truly an unjustifiable evil, should we not try to correct it? If it is not, why does the Canaanite incident require justification?

Does not the whole Canaanite objection to a good God depend on the Canaanite removal being an example of evil? It we did the same thing on a larger scale, should we not be held to provide restitution for the act?

The story of the Canaanite genocide is myth anyway. No modern scholar believes that the Israelites stormed through Canaan and wiped them out with lighting speed. The archaeological evidence shows that the Israelites actually emerged from Canaanites as a sect that began to worship one God, Yahweh. A good place to start studying this is "The Bible Unearthed" by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman.

Regardless, if the act (real or not) is an indication of God being evil, it is well documented that we did do it, and I am sure we are real.

Certainly we need to understand the story within its context, including historical context. Yet the scholarly consensus assigns the book of Joshua to the divided kingdom or later. So there is first the issue of how historically accurate these accounts are when they were not not written until at least 500 years after these events took place.
The problem is not primarily a disregard for God. God is presented as advocating genocide, even the slaughter of infants. I cannot fathom why infants should be punished.

For a Christian, this portrait of YHWH stands in stark contrast to Jesus who advocated loving, forgiving, praying for your enemies, not wiping them off the map. The church father reconciled this by allegoricalizing the conquest narratives. I don't have an answer for this, but I appreciate the work of Randal Rauser on this topic.

People should be careful how they characterize the "kind" Jesus. He was more intolerant of divorce than Moses. He warned of the Lake of Fire and a post suffering judgement for unredeemed sinfulness that you don't find in the OT. Also remember some of those parables - not exactly kindness in action. God is Love but also Just. And don't forget that Jesus twice attacked the stands of the moneychangers. Remember also the NT writing cover a small period of time: Jesus' ministry on Earth was less than 4 years. The OT covers greater than 4000 years of history. The Canaanites, according to the narrative, had been performing their wickedness for 400 years before God finally passed judgement.
As to the lovers of the book, The Bible Unearthed, there are other viewpoints such as:

Paul Copan's book is the definitive evangelical defense of genecide in the OT. Copan's work is just a more detailed argument than Greg's defense. Thom Stark has a book length critique of Copan's work which every apologist should read and be aware of. Read it for yourself and consider the evidence. I have not been satisfied with any of Copan's responses to Stark's critique. Look up " Is God a Moral Compromiser " on or Google the PDF version.

There is no reason to assign Joshua to any time or author other than the one that tradition assigns: Joshua himself wrote Joshua. The authors of the Talmud, over a millennium closer to the events than any of the clever academics that know better thought as much. And those authors represent a highly disciplined oral tradition that goes back much farther (claiming to go all the way back to Moses himself, though even if more recent, old enough to know whether Joshua showed up during the divided kingdom or before).

"Attacking the stands of the moneychangers" carries a more violent connotation than I think the text allows. Jesus said "let the little children come to me." This is far away from "let nothing breathing remain alive - including women and infants."

As far as I am aware, the earliest evidence of Hebrew writing goes back to the 10th century BCE. But these are only inscriptions. The ancient near-eastern evidence suggests that urbanization and cult organization are required to support a scribal culture that could produce something comparable to the Hebrew Bible. For a defense of this position, see the work of Christopher Rollstom and Karel van der Toorn. This evidence argues against Joshua writing Joshua because Hebrew did not exist as a written language during the time of the Joshua.

I think the reason that the US doing the same thing to expand into new land that the Israelites reputedly did isn't a big is that if there was ever a commonality admitted, either

1- We'd have to drop the objection that the Canaanite issue as being an issue at all


2- We'd actually have to do something about what we did.

Since we don't want to do either, the conversation is unlikely.

Trent makes an interesting point. If it's wrong to drive one people out so another people can settle, then should we, in any case where that happens, give the land back?

I think it depends on how much time has passed and how settled everybody is. I mean people have been displacing other people for as long as there's been history. Have we really got to get everybody back to where they first settled when they began to spread out? That hardly seems possible.

It does sort of put a cramp in any righteous indignation in condemning others when you are reaping the benefit of others who have done it.

I think the issue we have with the driving out of the Canaanites is that we are too man centered. We do not hate sin enough. The Canaanites were not innocent people. They were evil and deserved the just wrath of of God. God made all people and we are all contingent beings and God can do with us whatever he pleases. The whole earth is his as well. He choose to give and take as he pleases.
I do not think there is any reason to allegorize Joshua or any other Old Testament book for that matter. God is merciful but also just. He is loving but also justly wrathful against sin.

Also, the Caananite issue has a bunch of assumptions built in. It's far more beneficial to temporarily suspend discussion of that story and talk about, say, the recent tidal waves in Japan.

Why this? Because it allows discussion of God bringing death on a large scale without the added complexity of doing it via human agents. Christians don't believe in a deist God, who sets it all running and then goes "Oh, look, tidal wave. Hmm, didn't intend that.". Rather, Christians believe that everything that happens is under God's rule - if a tidal wave kills thousands in Japan, it happens under God's authority, and questions on the morality of such an event can be addressed to him.

I'm not saying that the involvement of human agents in God's judgement doesn't add additional moral questions, but they are minor compared with comprehending the authority of God to judge and our true moral standing (or lack thereof) before him. Better to deal with the big questions first, without the waters being muddied by lesser questions that can't really be answered until the big picture is in place.

Which absolves humans by making their involvement minor.

Nice comment Andrew.

It underscores the fact whatever it was that the Jews did to the Canaanites is another of the many examples of evil in the world. The fact that God commanded it is idle. As you note, the winds and waves obey His command too. So they are every bit as problematic as what happened to the Canaanites.

Or, to put it another way, what God commanded be done to the Canaanites is no more problematic than any variety of other moral or physical evils.

And I take that there is a wide range of traditional answers to the problem of evil. It is not necessary to argue that the Canaanites somehow 'had it comin''.

I think you miss the point, Willie.

The big questions is: Is it moral for God to kill a person? Or many at once?

If you assume the answer to that is "no", then we can't even get started on the "human agents" question, since we're not working from the same baseline. Or you could rephrase the question as "Hypothetically speaking, if God didn't exist, would it be moral to follow his command to wipe out another nation?", but I'm sure you can see why that is a logically absurd question.

However, if you do accept that God bringing death and destruction is right and proper, then we can meaningfully discuss the moral nuances of witting or unwitting human agents in bringing it about or refraining from it in particular situations.

Another thought: while killing 10 people is more horrific than killing 1, any moral system that considers killing 10 more wrong has serious moral issues of its own.

If it isn't morally wrong for humans to perform colonial genocide, why would it not be moral for God?

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