God of War: Playing the Amalekite Card

Anthony Weber —  July 16, 2012 — 46 Comments

If you have engaged in serious discussions with skeptics about God and the Old Testament, you know it won’t be long before someone will play the Amalekite card – and let’s be honest, it’s a game-changing card (read the  war texts in my previous post).  There’s a temptation to  fold at this point and hope that the next hand deals something better (“Hey, I know! Let’s talk about love!”). However, there is far more to the story (I should note here I am indebted to the writing of Christian apologists such as Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan and organizations such as the Christian Think Tank).

As a teacher, I often have parents call me because their child came home with a tale of woe featuring my ineptitude as a teacher and my complete failure as a human being.  How else to explain that “D”?  I offer a perspective they did not hear from little Johnny.  More often than not (I’m not perfect) we resolve the situation pretty quickly.  It turns out there was more to the story than they initially heard.

We have a tendency to judge the actions of others before we fully appreciate the complexity or depth of the situation. That even applies when the ‘other’ is God and the ‘full story’ is actual world history.  As this series unfolds, I will attempt to reveal the context and complexity more clearly.  Let’s start with some observations about the Amalekite culture.

Historians agree with biblical history that the Amalekites were apparently outstandingly bad by any standard of that time. According to the biblical text, they had quite a track record:

“…in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”  (Deuteronomy 12.31)

Note the issue was not merely that they worshipped their gods; all the nations around Israel served other gods, and they escaped judgment.  Egypt’s treatment of the Israelites was not ‘evil enough’ to warrant a war.  If God’s only goal was to make every nation around Israel like Israel, he would have needed to attack everybody. The gods were not in and of themselves the issue.  Something unique was happening here.

In Leviticus 18, God gives a list of the things that had “defiled the land,” and for which He specifically was judging the inhabitants.  There were only two categories:  rampant sexual immortally (including beastiality and incest) and child sacrifice, both of which seem to be associated with temple prostitution and the worship rituals offered to their particular gods.  There are, of course, terrible consequences from incest:

“…delinquency, anxiety, regressive behaviors, nightmares, withdrawal from normal activities, internalizing and externalizing disorders, cruelty and self-injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor self-esteem, and age-inappropriate sexual behavior. A review of forty-five studies indicated two common patterns of psychological response to incest (Williams and Finkelhor 1993). The first are those associated with posttraumatic stress symptomology. The second is an increase in sexualized behaviors…

Long-term psychological sequelae of incest include depression, anxiety, psychiatric hospitalization, drug and alcohol use, suicidality, borderline personality disorder, somatization disorder, and eroticization (Schetky 1990; Silverman, Reinherz, and Giaconia 1996). Common, too, are learning difficulties, posttraumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders and conversion reactions, running away, prostitution, re-victimization, poor parenting, and an increased likelihood of becoming a perpetrator.”

As for child sacrifice, you can find numerous sources online that quote this description:

“Its origin (human sacrifice) must be sought, evidently, in Canaanite culture. When a disaster was threatening Carthage, the inhabitants of the town decided it was due to the anger of Kronos, to whom they had formerly sacrificed their finest children: instead, they had begun to offer sickly children, or children they had bought. Thereupon, they sacrificed two hundred children from the noblest families. There was a bronze statue of Kronos with outstretched arms, and the child was placed on its hands and rolled into the furnace….Funerary jars have been found with the bodies of young children distorted by suffocation as they struggled for life after having been buried alive as a sacrifice to Canaanite gods. Such young children have been found in the foundation pillars of Canaanite houses…”

In addition, as soon as Israel escaped Egypt–before they could even ‘catch their breath’–the Amalekites made a long journey and attacked Israel. Their first targets were the helpless: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt.  When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God!” (Deuteronomy 25.17-19).

Historian Mike Woodruff notes, ” They were distant cousins of the Israelites who gained God’s ire by going out of their way to provoke him. They likely knew that the promise God had made was to bless everyone through the blessing of Israel, and they certainly heard of the way God was providing for the Jews; but the Amalekites did not fear God. Instead, they attacked the weakest of God’s people. After giving their promise not to attack, they waited for the Jewish slaves to file through their land on the way to Sinai and then attacked the stragglers—the sick, tired, and elderly. This actually became a bit of a pattern for the Amalekites. They preyed on the weak, and they never missed a chance to attack the Jews.”  

The behaviors we’ve looked at were not  widely shared by the other Ancient Near East cultures. This evil appears to have been specifically Canaanite/Amorite, and its recorded by both Christian and secular historians.  One writer noted: “By 1400 B.C. the Canaanite civilization and religion had become one of the weakest, most decadent, and most immoral cultures of the civilized world.”  Honestly, can you look at history and say these people didn’t have it coming? The Amalekites were particularly bad dudes. They preyed on the weak; they burnt their children alive; they worshipped their gods by engaging in ritualized incest and beastiality. They were in a league of their own.

I’m a fan of Lee Child’s series of books starring Jack Reacher.  Reacher is a former military policeman with a strong sense of justice who could probably snap me in half.  In every story, he finds himself in a situation where somebody has to do something to stop really bad guys from exploiting and using other people.  Nobody else is strong enough or capable enough, so Reacher steps in.  There is one book in particular in which he uncovers an organization of terrorists whose list of atrocities is disturbing to say the least. When Reacher stops that kind of evil (and he usually kills the people involved) we cheer for him not because we love violence and death, but because somebody needed to step up and put an end to that kind of evil.  We cheer for both justice and mercy will prevail: justice for the perpetrators, and mercy for those who suffered.

Certainly what happens in the Old Testament occurs on a larger scale, but I think the analogy holds. The people with whom the Israelites  dealt were causing far more destruction than than the villains in Lee Child’s literary world. Somebody needed to bring justice and mercy- and sometimes that means killing the perpetrators of evil to bring an end to the suffering of their victims.

Of course, if the Israelites committed atrocities of their own, that’s still a huge problem. Justice would have to fall on them as well.  We will address this more fully as we continue this series with ” God of War(ning) and Waiting.”

Question: If you don’t agree with God judging this culture in this way, is there ever a case where you would be glad to know that God said, “Enough”?

Anthony Weber


Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (tcapologetics.org, empiresandmangers.blogspot.com), and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.

46 responses to God of War: Playing the Amalekite Card

  1. You essentially defend genocide by saying they deserved it.  Which is, in and of itself, not convincing.  But to establish that they deserved it, you use quotes that appear to be cherry picked from the internet and you provide scant attribution.  These quotes could be from some  published sermon where the preacher just made things up.  I would have expected better. 

    • Hey Lamar.

      I’ll let Anthony respond to your specific challenges, but you are using the word ‘genocide’ inaccurately. It may not have been intentional, but throwing that word out sounds unnecessarily inflammatory.

      In short, ‘genocide’ is the wholesale slaughter of a race based upon their race. What Anthony is describing is something different. He is referring to the consequences dealt to a group of people who committed egregious crimes. The fact that they all shared the same ethnicity is inconsequential.

      • Hi Scott,

        Where did you acquire your definition of “genocide”? Are you familiar with the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide? Here’s the definition from that document:
        In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
        (a) Killing members of the group;
        (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
        (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
        (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
        (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
        Do you object to that definition? If so, why?

        • Sure Steve.

          Let’s say 5 Spartans killed a bus load of Canadians. The Canadians ordered the Spartans brought to justice. A Japanese tactical unit took out the Spartans. As it turns out, those were the last 5 Spartans alive. Was that genocide?

          (As Anthony said, it’s a moot point anyway. I only mentioned it because I don’t think it was proper to invoke genocide so quickly.)

          • What? I don’t understand your point at all. The Convention says, “…acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,” which doesn’t remotely match your scenario.

            And no, it’s not a moot point, because the claim that “genocide did not in fact occur” must inevitably depend on what genocide is. Is there any reason we should use your narrow, customized definition rather than the definition that forms a part of recognized international law?

          • Steve, my argument will be that none of the UN’s descriptions apply to what happened in the Old Testament. I’m just not at the post yet in the series, but it should be up by the end of the week.

          • idonotknowhatusernametochoose November 1, 2015 at 11:24 pm

            Please provide me with a link to that post of yours, now that it’s 3 years later. Thanks :)

      •  I stand by my use of the word.  And the slaughter of a whole tribe of people, women and children included hardly needs the use of the word genocide to inflame.  As I said above, I skeptically await an explanation that makes this behavior in any way moral or defensible under our current understanding of ethics. 

    •     1) Lamar, I will argue in the following posts that genocide did not in fact occur, so I’m not defending it at all.  I will get to that question soon in the process of these posts. Stay tuned :)
          2) I have been reading books and online articles for years and keeping notes on the side. Backtracking to my initial sources was harder than I thought it would be.  I embedded what  links I could throughout the article, but some of my sources were books I have regrettably forgotten.
            3) If by “cherry picked” you mean I didn’t use every quote out there, that’s true – but nobody does that. If you would show me that I am quoting inaccurately or citing lies (which you have not done),  I could better understand your criticism of them. For what it’s worth, none were taken from published sermons where preachers just made things up. 
          4) I cite Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan as key writers on this issue. Their conclusions have attracted criticism, but both are at respected scholars in their field (click on the links in the article to read more about them).  In addition, here is  lengthy article from the Evangelical Philosophical Society (http://www.epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=45), and you can listen to a debate between Copan and Norman Bacrac  here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idCch7fjO1k). 

      •  I was too hard on you about not citing sources.  I cite even fewer sources in my articles and rely on my doctorate as sufficient authority to say the things that I say.  I will skeptically wait, however, for how you follow up on the suggestion that this account was anything other than the murderous tribalism of a semi-literate group that happened upon the genius of monotheism.  The Bible is better understood as a history of the evolution of our understanding of God, culminating in Jesus.  As they say when they try to minimize something awful: mistakes were made along the way.  And remember, it is the victors who write history.  So the account of the immorality of the enemy must always be suspect.  Without independent substantiation of all the accusations you mentioned, they can’t be supported.  However, that these things were pointed out as immoral is part of the evolution of an monotheistic ethic in which all individuals are loved by God.  A next step is discovering that killing people just because they don’t belong to your tribe (because God loves them too) is also immoral, but that takes a little longer.  The final step to finding that the moral stance is to turn the other cheek is revolutionary, indeed.

        • I believe the forthcoming installments will address many of the issues you’ve raised Lamar.

          One thing that stands out to me as odd though. Your characterization of the OT sounds like it is the imperfect and evolving ramblings of cavemen, but that it finally found its realization in Jesus being revealed as God. Yet Jesus saw the OT as containing actual history. How do you reconcile this?

  2. There are a bunch of problems with this assessment (I’ll list a few below) but I think the most interesting thing is the way that it inadvertently belies the claim that YHWH is the source and foundation of morality. If YHWH is the source of morality, then what he commands is good. Right? But that’s not the case you’re making here; you’re making the case that the Amalekites deserved to be punished, that destroying them would make the world a better place, that they poked the Israelites first, and so on. These arguments, as I’ll explain shortly, depend crucially on the simple claim that it’s OK for YHWH to say, “KILL!” and “CONQUER” and for his volk to go forth and do so; since that’s the case, why do you feel compelled to hide that claim beneath these excuses?

    Here’s what I mean: the Deut 25.17/1 Sam 15:2 arguments against the Amalekites (based on their attacks on Israel as they came out of Egypt) cannot be used to justify the Israelite genocide of the Amalekites hundreds of years later because the Israelites were aliens and invaders in the lands occupied by the Amalekites (for up to 40 years, can you dig it?). If it’s OK for the Israelites to drive off invaders of their lands, it’s OK for the Amalekites to do the same. The only way you can say it would be not OK is if there were some divine sanction for the Israelites’ invasive behavior.

    Another thing: the fact that the Amalekites allegedly sacrificed their own children cannot be used to justify the Israelite genocide of the Amalekites. It’s absurd to argue that the best way to stop the killing of Amalekite children is to try to kill all the Amalekite children. The only way this makes sense is if you’re willing to say that it’s OK to kill children when you think YHWH commands it, but not OK to kill children when you think some other god commands it. If you think that’s true, then go ahead and say it! If you think it’s right, claim it!

    A different aspect: it’s disturbing that you take the descriptions the Israelites give of the Amalekites so seriously. Don’t you know that those Jews are greedy liars who steal and eat Christian children and constantly work for the destruction of all that is good and true? Oh, wait, that’s not my opinion, that’s the opinion of a bunch of people who carried out a genocide against the Jews! People who try to commit genocide always paint their targets as vile creatures who deserve to die. But even this belies the idea that YHWH is the source of morals: if YHWH says they should die, no one who believes in him should need another reason to kill them. After all, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have a hated,” amirite?

    Basically, my question is this: If YHWH had told Saul to go and kill all the Amalekites because it pleased YHWH for them to be dead, and we knew nothing else about the moral situation whatsoever, would you still say that it was good for YHWH to give that command, and good for Saul to carry it out? If you are willing to say that, then you should put aside the pretense that the moral context matters when evaluating the OT wars; if you’re not willing to say that, whence your ethical standards?

    • First paragraph: Steve, I’m a little confused by what you think I am hiding.  I clearly said it is good for a just God to kill those who deserve death.  It’s been a pretty standard law enforcement technique for most of human history. 
      Second paragraph: You are responding to an argument I did not make.  I pointed out the cowardice of the Amalekites in attacking only the weak – a tactic they were known for throughout the Ancient Near East. I said nothing about who poked who, or who had what home.  

      Third paragraph: You are angered by an argument I did not and will not make.  My position will be clear in a post in the near future. Stay tuned :)

      Fourth paragraph: If you are that skeptical about historical records, you probably need to treat all historical texts in the same way.   All Roman, Greek, Mesoptamian, Egyptian history – discarded because it was written by the winners, right?  If that is you approach, I applaud your consistency.  If not, be fair with this text too.  
          I would note that  what the Bible records as characterizing their culture has confirmation in other sources.  Just because the Bible records historical data does not automatically mean it’s wrong. 

      Fifth paragraph:  My obvious point is that a “God’s eye view” of the big picture matters.   The incidences in the OT are purposeful: God was revealing something about Himself in the midst of those particular situations in a manner that was expected and understood by all cultures at that time. After the Old Testament time frame, that form of direct communication ended, as did the manner in which God made himself known to the world.  
           Because God no longer communicates in that way (and has not for 2,000+ years), and because none of us can see the big picture,  any Christians who have said or do say that they know God has ordered them to do something like that is tragically wrong. 

      • First: Yes, I’m sure you believe it’s good for God to kill those who deserve death. But that point is blunted by the fact that to approve of the behavior of the OT God you must also believe that either a) it’s good for God to kill those who do not deserve death, or b) everyone deserves death, including women and children who bear no responsibility for the culture in which they live.

        Second: perhaps you don’t think you’re making that argument, but YHWH made it in 1 Sam 15:2. Also, if your source is correct, “…the Canaanite civilization and religion had become one of the weakest … cultures of the civilized world,” which would make the Israelites cowardly for invading and waging war against a bunch of weaklings.

        Third: I await your explanation.

        Fourth: I’m curious about these “other sources” which confirm the Bible’s assessment of the Amalekites. I haven’t been able to find them. Can you link me to some? In any case, it’s not that I’m skeptical about all historical accounts, it’s that I’m skeptical of descriptions of the oppressed by their oppressors. I don’t believe the Nazi stories about the Jews, the Confederate stories about Africans, the Hutu stories about the Tutsis, or the Israelites stories about the Amalekites, among many others. You don’t need to go back to ancient history to find people lying about the groups they dispise; it still happens in the modern world! It seems strange to deny the possibility that it happened in the OT.

        Fifth: I’m not sure that we’re talking about the same thing here. I’m glad that you don’t think it happens anymore, but do you think that it was moral for YHWH to send his chosen people to invade and conquer by the sword whichever lands he chose?

        • I believe I will address all of these in the upcoming posts, so I will save my perspective until then. 

      • Oops, I lost my train of thought in that last paragraph and merely restated my original question. What I had actually intended to say was this:

        I think it’s interesting that you appear to be defending a culturally relative moral code – the idea that some things are right for some people in some places and times, but wrong for other people in other places and times – while I seem to be defending something more like an objective standard – that it’s always wrong to deliberately commit genocide, and that wars of conquest are always unjustified. That’s an interesting change from our usual positions, don’t you think?

        • It would be interesting if that were the case.  Justice is an objective good; the means by which justice is achieved may change.  Our own legal system shows this. We use fines, prisons, and jails.  One person may get a fine when another person does the same thing and goes to prison.  This happens because there is a big picture to the scenarios that a judge sees.  That does not make justice subjective; it does show that justice factors in extenuation circumstances and responds as needed.
              You seem to think I believe that genocide and wars of conquest are sometimes good and sometimes bad. As I noted, my unfolding explanation will hopefully alleviate this misconception.

  3. I don’t know if this has been discussed in this thread….I think that the destruction of the Amalekites was a necessity because they were probably a extremely diseased people. Clearly, the engaging in rampant sexual atrocities like bestiality posed a grave health risk to not only the Israelites but all peoples within the region. Surely there were the issues of God reigning justice upon them for their crimes against Israel and probably many other nations. But think of the infections of sexually transmitted diseases from decadent practices. Why would God have the animals destroyed as well? They’re just animals right? Think about it. The animals had to be infected as well as the children born with incest-related diseases. It’s a horrible image but that’s what the destructive nature of violating God’s natural/spiritual laws regarding chastity. The Amalekites would pose a critical spiritual and physical health risk to its neighbors due to contagion not to mention the constant risk of war.

    • When we look at the actions of God in relation to destroying His children (whomever/wherever they may be) we must take into account the consequences of sin in as contextually complete a manner as possible. There are many consequences to sin. Yes, many innocent children died and that is very, very sad. But it was the fault of their parents in incurring God’s wrath. Also, we can’t assume that the Amalekite women were any more innocent than the men. It’s not like the men were doing all the sinning and the women were trying to stop them. I can’t imagine that being the case. Children were being sacrificed horrifically to idols. Where were the moms? Right there making it happen with the men. Indeed, the women may have been more to blame given that men are “baser creatures” more easily given to sexually sin IMHO. Perhaps, the women were exercising unrighteous dominion over their men and encouraging the heinous behavior. It’s never as simple as we think it is. Just a thought.

      • Keith Brian Johnson October 15, 2013 at 1:16 am

        And you think God had no way of improving the situation short of killing them all–or of ordering his hit men, the Israelites, to kill them? You don’t think an all-powerful God could do something less harmful in order to change the situation for the better?

        • Well Keith, simply criticizing the action taken does not make your argument a good one. In fact, it is without any substance at all. In order for this to be a good rebuttal, you have to offer an actual substantial statement… Why don’t you offer a better scenario?

          In anticipation to a specific objection, If you say modify the environment of the culture’s psyche, that would be controlling their free will… I would like to hear your proposal then…

          • Keith Brian Johnson May 7, 2014 at 9:49 pm

            John Abad: Read through all of my comments on this page. I’ve given alternatives.

          • Keith: You can post your alternatives without me sifting through your arguments… I have other things to do, but will willingly engage in a discussion if you would state what your alternatives are.

          • Keith Brian Johnson May 24, 2014 at 12:14 am

            We have to live with bodies that decay and die, and somehow that’s not an infringement on our free will. We have to obey the laws of physics, and somehow that’s not a violation of free will. And the Amalekites were not the ones who did the slaughtering; they were the ones slaughtered. Just what do you demand–that free will include the freedom to be slaughtered against your will?
            God could simply whisk the Amalekites to a replica-Earth (minus replica-Israelites) on which they could live the same freely-willing lives they led on Earth without having the privilege of being slaughtered by Israelites. God could put up a barrier preventing the Israelites from slaughtering the Amalekites. There are all sorts of ways he could prevent the slaughter. Instead, he not only does not prevent it; he *commands* it. That is not how a moral God would behave.
            On what basis do I judge morality and immorality? On the only basis I have available: my own rational thought about morality and ethics. I take thinking, feeling beings to be such that they ought to be treated as though they had intrinsic moral worth. I take the welfare of thinking, feeling beings to be morally important. If God doesn’t, that doesn’t mean I’m getting morality wrong; it means he isn’t moral.

          • What do the laws of nature limiting free will have to do with God revealing himself to them in a personal manner? They have their own culture they were content with, and had practiced historically… to infringe upon that by an unwanted revelation would be to infringe upon their consciousness, not a restriction of bodily freedom…

            You claim the Amalekites didn’t slaughter, yet they practiced infanticide and fratricide, including attacking the Jews, as the OP originally stated in his first comment, with sources…

            If I were to be killed against my own will in a war I willfully participated in, would you consider my death not a consequential product of my free will? Would not the immoral practices of the culture be a product of free will? Are humans not moral creatures? Were not the Amalekites at war with the Jews? There you go…

            How would a moral God behave? Let them continue to live immoral lives in debasing each other and performing human sacrifice, and attacking the Jews whenever they were vulnerable? The truth is, you don’t know what a moral God would do, because you don’t know the extent of the negative relations between the Jews and the Amalekites… nor are you taking into consideration the immorality of their culture at that time…

            Why would God create another special earth for them? God gave them free will, their choices have been made and passed down through the generations…

            If you are an atheist, which I suppose you are, how do you believe in objective morality? Why are you judging God?

            If you think human beings have intrinsic moral worth, which they do, yet you saw your neighbors committing child sacrifice, and attacking your family members, among other immoral acts, would you wish for them to be punished? This would not take away their worth, but restrict their freedom in a just manner… If you suggest they be taken to prison instead of executed, were the Amalekites Jewish citizens? Were they at peace? Was there a suitable prison system? It’s more complex than you think…

          • What do you mean by obey the laws of physics? Free will in the context of mental free will is what is discussed in atheism versus theism circles, not physical free will, that’s a strawman…

            For atheists, there can be no free will, you’re just a protoplasmic bag of stardust, a piece of machinery, just a brain in a body…

            Free will includes the desire to fight back, to accept punishment, etc.

            As stated, the Amalekites were slaughtered because they were immoral, and were separated from God… They were not like a modern society with our current cultural norms… They were a bloodthirsty culture, known for child sacrifice, bestiality, and consistent warring against the Jews at the time…

            Basically, you’re ignoring the crimes the Amalekites committed.

            Reason doesn’t decide what is right and wrong, as reason is simply a subjective thought process… Thus, you have no basis for morality, as you need an objective moral lawgiver for that… basic ethics here.

            There is no intrinsic moral worth under atheism, as morality cannot be found in matter, it is metaphysical… Dignity cannot be localized in subatomic particles, and is a value, not a description of matter…

          • Keith Brian Johnson May 1, 2015 at 8:26 pm

            First, when I say that we have to obey the laws of physics, I mean that we cannot flap our arms and fly *despite freely willing it*, that we cannot go underwater and breathe (without machinery) *despite freely willing it*, and so on. We can only do what our bodies are physically able to do. We are not able to freely will whatever the heck we want to and be able to do it. We live under the limitations of physical law. It is therefore untrue that placing physical limitations on us is something God just wouldn’t do because it would violate our free will; and if he prevented ancient tribes from harming each other, that wouldn’t violate their free will any more than giving us bodies that prevent us from running a ten-second mile violates our free will.

            Second, nontheists have desires and motivations every bit as much as theists have, and if we are determinists (which you seem to be confusing with nontheism) whose mental states were physically caused, we still have desires and motivations. Having desires and motivations, and acting upon them, is not somehow impossible in a deterministic (not nontheistic) universe. Yes, in that case, you’re “just a brain in a body”–but you’re a brain *that generates conscious mental states* in a body, and you’re a brain *that generates desires and motivations* in a body, and you’re a brain *that makes you act in accordance with your desires and motivations* in a body. Even if determinism (not nontheism) implies that we are automatons, it does not imply that we are merely mindless automatons. And, as I will point out again, that’s determinism, not nontheism, that says that.

            Third, we have no reason to think of the Amalekites as wicked, bloodthirsty, child-sacrificing people *except for their own enemies’ statement that they were*. Aren’t you aware that peoples often demonize their enemies, making them look as bad as possible before attacking them, in order to *justify* attacking them? We don’t know that they were like that.

            Fourth, let’s suppose that they were. Let’s say they committed all manner of moral crime. Let’s say they behaved truly wickedly. And let’s say you’re concerned about the wickedness’s spreading, like an infection. Do you really think that it is more moral to *kill* them (or, in this case, to have God get the Israelites’ hands bloody doing the killing for him instead of simply killing them himself, the morality of his commandment to them to go do the killing being itself dubious) than to prevent them from harming anyone by whisking them off to another world or by erecting a force field (and, if you like, a black wall, so that their immorality can’t be seen and imitated by anybody else) between the two tribes, thereby preventing the “infection” from spreading? If you’re concerned with punishing wickedness–and I must say, a lot of religious believers seem to be inordinately worried that somebody might get off with a lighter penalty than he deserves instead of being concerned with doing what is really constructive and helping people to behave better–do you really think it is more moral for him to *kill* them than to provide them moral instruction? Surely he could give them a lesser punishment than *death* and still give them moral instruction. Did Jesus go around killing evildoers? Do you really think that that’s the moral approach: Person A behaves immorally. Kill him! Really? Do parents kill their wayward children, or do they give them appropriate punishments to let them know they did wrong and then *also* give them moral instruction? (Of course, the Old Testament says that yes, killing them is exactly what you should do–but we all know better than that, don’t we?)

            Fifth, when you say that reason provides no objective or intrinsic morality, I agree with you. But God doesn’t, either. There is no objective or intrinsic morality. What there are are judgments of right and wrong made by beings who care about how they and other beings treat each other. If nobody cared how he was treated, nobody would make moral judgments. But we do care. So, we make moral judgments. Is that so hard to understand? There needn’t be anything objective about them in order for us to go ahead and make them, and to make them for the sufficiently good reason *that we care*.

            Sixth, in case you do think God provides objective morality: why would you think that? Yes, God might provide a moral code–but what’s objective about it? You still have to *choose* whether to obey it or not. It’s just as though *I* gave you a moral code and said, “This is the right moral code.” Really? What would make me right? What makes God right? God’s decreeing it doesn’t by itself make it objectively right. If there *is* an objective moral code–and I don’t think there is–then God might *know what it is*, and he might *tell you what it is*, but it’s not objective *because he says it is*. (This is an old point made long ago. I am not inventing this.) But if there is an objective moral code–what could possibly make it objective?

            Seventh, I agree that human beings speak of dignity and worth–human beings make value judgments. We do so whether we are free or are instead entirely determined. You seem to think that being determined means you can’t make value judgments. This is a mistake. We all just do make value judgments. And if you think that we freely do so–well, what does that mean, exactly? For any choice I make, either it is caused by something or else it *just happens*. If it is caused by something else–that’s determinism. If it *just happens*, that’s random chance. How do you see random chance as helping you have personal autonomy?

          • There is a difference between having free will to commit immoral deeds, and acts that have to do solely with exercising bodily movements… Your examples are amoral movements that violate free will… No moral implications, thus completely irrelevant to what we’re talking about, and not a good analogy at all…

            *that generates conscious mental states*… Well, where’s your evidence that the brain generates mental states? What are these mental states if not physical? Also, yes, mental (physical) determinism is a necessary implication of atheism, as you are just a physical brain under atheism, no supernatural causes… subatomic particles acting and determined on past events.

            Yes, the only evidence given on this thread were descriptions from the Jews of the time… Where is your contrary evidence? Just your guess and assumption that they were lying or exaggerating? Not convincing.

            The Amalekites were not open to moral teaching, as the bible describes, they were given many chances, this was why they were killed… Thus, your argument is proven faulty. It’s not about if God can teach them, it’s about if they choose to learn given the sufficient reason to learn, which they didn’t abide to.

            Your examples were bad analogies. At the time, Israel needed to survive, and was in danger of being annihilated by neighboring tribes… thus the extreme measure was necessary. This is called just war.

            So basically, you’re content in stating that morality doesn’t exist… Killing a baby isn’t inherently wrong, it’s just something you shouldn’t do because you care about it… Why do you care about it? Under your view, there is no inherent worth (dignity is beyond physical matter), so what’s the point? Pretty counter-intuitive! Fashionable norms!

            God is inherently good, and thus his moral commands are good, as he is the standard of good… This is because God is pure actuality of perfection, and moral good is a perfection… You can’t have objective morality without God… philosophy 101…

            Whether you obey a law or not has nothing to do with it’s existence, so your objection there made no sense…

            I never said being determined, you can’t make value judgements… Provide a reasoning behind this claim. You simply don’t understand… Your counter-intuitive atheistic view means there is no real value to what you are judging…

            False… physical determinism does not mean uncaused acts are the only alternative, which is impossible in creation… There are supernatural causes…

            When did I say free will was the product of random chance? That’s a false dichotomy…

          • In order for there to be morality, objective, it must be binding… You described subjective morality, which is non binding, and supposes no oughts exist

    • Keith Brian Johnson October 15, 2013 at 1:14 am

      This is absurd. Do you really think God couldn’t simply *cure* their illnesses? Do you really think he would have to resort to killing the Amalekites and their animals instead of curing their diseases? Do you think it’s *more moral* to kill them than to cure their diseases? Of course it isn’t. This is just making excuses for God.

  4. Keith Brian Johnson September 20, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    The trouble is, God doesn’t have to have the Israelites murder other tribes in order to solve the problem. He can just transport those other tribes to another part of the world or to another habitable planet. (God, being *God*, could do that sort of thing.) Instead, he not only has them slaughtered, he has his chosen people get blood on their hands and murder on their consciences. This does not seem like the sort of thing a real morally perfect God would do.

    • Hey Keith.
      I’m curious why you refer to this as murder, and why you think exile is a morally appropriate response?

      • Keith Brian Johnson October 7, 2013 at 5:20 pm

        It’s murder when you go kill people who aren’t themselves attacking you or anyone else. As to why exile is a more morally appropriate response, I should think it would be obvious–a response that doesn’t kill anyone is on its face more moral than one that does–but perhaps it will help to include just a little of my basis for morality. I think of thinking, feeling beings as the sorts of beings that should be treated as though they had intrinsic moral worth. This is a value judgment I make, admittedly, but it’s one I want other people living in the same society I live in to make, too, since I want them to treat me and my friends and my family–as well as everybody else–as though they had intrinsic moral worth and not simply do to us as they like. With this value judgment made, I find the exile of any group–criminals or not–preferable to the killing of them, as exile allows them to go on living their lives but killing them does not. Exile treats them as beings whose lives matter. Killing them does not.

        • I’m a tad curious as to how your reasoning works, Keith. Perhaps I’m blinded by my own culture*, but pray tell: since
          1. the Amalekites *were* “kill[ing] people [namely the weak and defenceless from another people, and even their own children (rather horrifically, at that)] who [we]ren’t themselves attacking [them – the (adult) Amalekites] or anyone else”, and
          2. they did not treat these parties as fellow thinking, feeling beings with intrinsic worth, moral or otherwise,
          in what way was the ordering of their (or their belief system’s) being wiped out less moral than simple exile, given that, in exile, they would have continued with their blatant disregard for life and for themselves?
          (One final observation: within a group that shares beliefs, despite individual differences, the belief system tends to be maintained, not rent asunder.)

          * My country is one of those that maintains the death penalty for murderers and rapists, among others.

          • Keith Brian Johnson October 15, 2013 at 12:52 am

            I’m not really conversant with all the details of the Amalekites. I’ll just assume that your version is completely correct. It really doesn’t make much difference. (You probably wonder, “How could it not make much difference?!” I’ll explain.)

            We should distinguish between what the Israelites, on their own, would be justified in doing, and what God would be justified in commanding the Israelites to do. The Israelites could use force–the minimal force necessary–to stop the Amalekites from killing other people, much as we are justified in sending U.N. troops to stop killing in other countries. We want to minimize the killing involved, but it’s possible that some will occur. Anyway, going and stopping them by force would be justified.

            However, when we use force in that way, it’s a tool of last resort. We do it because we have to. We have no better choice. God is not in that position. God can stop them with a metaphorical wave of his hand. He can separate warring factions. He can separate individuals, if need be. He can deal with whatever harm they are doing to others in ways other than simply wiping them out. And he should–just as if we can deal with other people who are doing harm by means short of killing them, we should.

            It does not matter whether they themselves are upstanding, moral people or not, as long as they themselves are thinking, feeling beings. I live in a country that maintains the death penalty, but I strongly oppose it. (And there was a time when three-quarters of Americans opposed it. Then the percentages switched.) It is one thing to make yourself safe from someone else; it is another to kill him.

            As for your suggestion that in exile they would go on doing the same sorts of things they had been doing, God can prevent their harming each other, if he really wants to. He can separate individuals who would harm each other. He can communicate with them and teach them morality, just as he supposedly did with the Israelites (though, of course, I don’t buy that that happened). God has options *short of killing them* and *short of enlisting the Israelites to kill them*.

            This is the point: a real God would have options. He wouldn’t have to wipe them out. He wouldn’t have to order the Israelites to wipe them out. It’s barbaric to leap to wiping them out–or to taking out a contract with a hit man–when you have other options. That’s the point.

  5. excellent post!

  6. So you believe that the targeted killing of children and babies is, sometimes, under some circumstances, justifiable??

    Even in war, the targeted killing of children is considered a war crime. Killing children as “collateral damage” in the act of war is not a war crime, but deliberately targeting children for killing; hunting them down; looking for their hiding places and then running them down as they scream in terror as they see you raise your sword or knife, IS a war crime.

    Your god would be arrested, tried, and convicted of the most heinous war crimes if he were put on trial today. He is a monster. How can you teach your children this barbaric nonsense? How can you call yourself a “moral” person and believe this?

    There is NEVER any justifiable reason to target children for killing. Never.

  7. Your assessment does not answer for why God ordered the slaughter of children, infants, and women (who were considered property) along with the “guilty” males.

    You try to work up a case for why the Amalekites needed to go down, but the Bible makes it clear that this was a grudge killing. 1 Sam 15: 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

  8. Hello,

    Guess I’m a late-comer here, as I didn’t start this blogging stuff until a few months ago, but I do see some problems with your beliefs as expressed here:

    1 – The moral depravity of the Amalekites wasn’t always the reason God ordered them slaughtered. In 1st Samuel 15:1-3, there is only one reason expressed or implied in the text that God commands Saul to attack the current generation of Amalekites: it was because God remembered how Amalek had attacked the last of the Israelites as they exodused from Egypt…an event that occurred more than 400 years prior to the time of Saul. This is a clear case of punishing the children for the sins of the fathers, and it is this sense of corporate guilt that makes the children no less deserving of death than their immediate parents.

    2 – Copan and Flanagan’s thesis of war-rhetoric exaggeration is problematic on several fronts, the most important is that the only place Canaanites could plausibly flee without Israel pursuing are the outskirts of the promised land, and since the promised land was by definition well watered and suitable for cattle and crops, the outskirts would necessarily have little or no such resources. Exile, especially exile after most of their adult males were killed in war, would surely subject them to the vile savagery of the ANE, as Christian apologist Glenn Miller says. If Copan and Flanagan are right, God’s intent to make the pagans flee to outside the promised land makes God look even more sadistic than the issue of his alleged command that they be killed.

    3 – Because Ahaz was said to have caused his “son” (singular in all translations) to “pass through the fire” in 2nd Samuel 16…and yet his “son” (singularly) later takes over the throne when Ahaz dies (16:20) there is biblical argument to be made that the pagan practice of passing children through the fire to Molech was more a rite of passage of sorts, and not intended to cause the child to die anymore than baptism by immersion is intended to drown the new convert. Why Carthage has burnt infant bones is the subject of intense scholarly debate (could just as easily have been cremation as response to some type of epidemic that was killing the kids, and the pagan descriptions of the children thrown into burning pits in the Molech statue might just as well be post-war propaganda), and therefore, the Christian who blindly swallows her pastor’s assurances that the pagan nations surrounding ancient Israel were shockingly horrific 24-hours per day in their vile unspeakable depravities, really isn’t doing herself any scholarly favors for herself. The only way you can avoid this biblical argument is to speculate wildly that Ahaz had two sons, the first was sacrificed and the second wasn’t, but if speculation is allowable to apologists, do they allow it to skeptics?

    4 – I don’t see why apologists try to avoid saying God commanded the absolute slaughter of children as Israel took over the allegedly promised land, when such mercilessness toward children was a staple of Hebrew religion anyway (Gen. 38:24, Lev. 21:9, promiscuous daughter to be burned to death; Joshua 7, Achan’s kids never even implied to be personally guilty of his stealing, yet they too are stoned to death with him (in v. 15 God says the guilty shall be burned, nothing expressed or implied about any other method of execution, so when Joshua later first stones them and then burns their corpses, he is sinfully adding to the word of the Lord and imposing on them a fate less horrific than what God originally intended]; Numbers 31:17, Moses makes clear that when he communicated God’s intent that they take “full” vengeance” on the Midianites (v. 1-2), this meant the slaying of even the male babies too; Exodus 11:5, God killed all the first-born of Egypt; Numbers 16:27, 32, children also are buried alive in God’s judgment on Dathan, etc, etc. The vast majority of Christian commentators through the centuries who have taken the “utterly destroy” stuff in Deuteronomy and Joshua literally, were doing so in perfect harmony with the tendency of the Hebrews to subject children to horrific deaths anyway.

    God’s infliction of a vexing sickness on the baby born to David and Bathsheba, so that it lived for 7 days in misery before dying (2nd Sam. 12:15-18) not only shows God’s desire to torture the humans who are the least guilty of any, but also shows God punishing the children for the sins of the fathers.

    One has to wonder whether Copan and Flanagan would have bothered to write their Genocide book, had they first read in Deut. 28:63 how God will not only inflict horrific atrocities on those who disobey him (rape, v. 30, parental cannibalism, v. 53), but would take “delight” to do this no less than he took “delight” to prosper those who obeyed him (v. 63). Do we gain anything by saying the God who delights to cause rape, did not intend his “slaughter everything” commands to be fulfilled in an absolute sense?

    5 – Your arguments, by mostly presupposing the accuracy of the bible, have little to zero effect on those who deny biblical inerrancy, such as liberal Christians and atheist bible critics.

    6 – If Copan wants to say Israel imitated pagan war exaggeration rhetoric, he should also be willing to say Israel also imitated the other pagan practice of exaggerating the level of immorality of one’s enemies.

    7 – ANE law codes from the pagans, such as the Hittites, never express or even imply that sacrificing children should be part of any religious rite. If they were as debauched as apologists say, they would not have shrunk from including such gruesome details in their religious texts.

    8 – That Israelite historians were willing to whitewash their own history is clear from such absurdities as 2nd Kings 15:5, saying David never turned away from anything God commanded him in his life except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. Since the story of David never has God commanding specifically David concerning anything related to Uriah the Hittite, this biblical historian can only have meant that David in his life did not turn away from any of the moral commands that his God required of everybody in general. While that is more likely what he meant, that precise understanding makes him to be a first-rate liar. What fool thinks David wasn’t turning away from Deut. 17:17 because of his polygamy, 2 Sam. 5:12-16?

    9 – Other Christian apologists such as Glenn Miller and William Lane Craig disagree with Copan’s and Flanagan’s “exaggeration” explanation of the genocide-texts.

    As you can tell, I have objective reasons to reject Copan and Flanagan’s thesis, and to thus believe the moral objection to the bible-god continues to stand solid.

    I would be willing to discuss this evidence with you.


    p.s. I always save a copy of my posted challenges, and I repost them to my own blog.

  9. Technical question—Deuteronomy 12:31 seems to talk about 7 nations in Canaan, listed in Deuteronomy 7:1, and Amalekites aren’t listed there. So how do Amalekites fit in relation to those Canaanite nations?

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