Archives For genocide

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If you have been patient enough to read the previous series, you have read several key insights that help us understand God as he is revealed in the Old Testament:

So why does all of this matter to us today? Continue Reading…

“God is a moral monster with no objection to the massacre of women and children” – or so the charge goes. But is this really the case? My previous post noted that language in the war texts is predominantly hyperbolic language of dispossession, not annihilation. However, even this reading does not excuse unwarranted brutality and destruction among those who were involved in the battles.  In this post, I want to cover what happened to those who remained behind.

If historians are correct, approximately 70% to  90% of the population in Canaan lived away from the cities.  As I noted earlier, God’s plan was to displace people ahead of time.  Many ran away in response to the foreshadowing, so the civilians were largely gone from the land by the time the Israelites arrived. Those who did battle with the Israelites were the hardcore defenders of cowardice, oppression of others, perverse sexual temple fertility rituals, and the torturous sacrifice of children. It was in the cities or on the battlefield that they made their stand.

We read that when the Israelite spies returned from Jericho, they  said to Joshua, “Surely the Lord. has given all the land into our hands, and all the inhabitants of the land, moreover, have melted away before us.” (Joshua 2:24). “All” is certainly hyperbole (they still fought a battle at Jericho) but the general tenor is unmistakable. As  historians have noted:

 “We have strong archaeological evidence that the targeted Canaanite cities, such as Jericho and Ai, were not population centers with women and children but military forts or garrisons… “all” who were killed therein were warriors – Rahab and her family being an exception. The same applies throughout the book of Joshua.… This is further suggested by the fact that the Amalekites were not all annihilated: within the very same book (1 Samuel 27:8; 30:1) we encounter an abundance of Amalekites. The command allows, and hopes for, exceptions (e.g., Rahab and her relatives).” Continue Reading…

In the previous post, “God of War(ning) and Waiting,” I offered four important points we need to remember while reading through the accounts of the battles between the Israelites and the various people groups in Canaan:

  • God waited and warned the people groups involved;
  • He commanded the Israelites to accept and assimilate any immigrants from these nations, clearly showing God was not interested in genocide;
  • He sought not to destroy individual people, but to destroy the religious and cultural centers that promoted their particular evil;
  • He exercised lex talionis (a principle which says that punishment cannot exceed the crime).

As the first two points have been addressed, we are ready for  the third point – the question of the war itself.

The “obliteration language” is certainly daunting. If God is truly a bloodthirsty tyrant who orders the killing of women and children, he would have a hard time explaining how he is different from the gods of the Amalekites. I believe an understanding of the language of hyperbolic semitic “war texts” offers a plausible context from which we see a very different image of God emerge.  Read carefully, the historical accounts show that God’s intent was to get rid of destructive cultural influences and world views, but not necessarily the people in them.

The hyperbolic exaggeration of war texts is recorded in many documents of other Ancient Near East cultures of the time (all examples cited from Historical Backgrounds of Biblical History, by Jack P. Lewis).

  • An Egyptian monument commemorating Merneptah’s conquest of Canaan noted, “Plundered is the Canaan with every evil…Israel is laid waste; his seed is not.”
  • The Babylonian Chronicle makes this claim of Nebuchadnezzar: “…the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat and to non-existence beat them” – and then goes on to talk about what they did to all the soldiers in the army who escaped.
  • Esarhaddon once claimed that he led Sidon’s people into exile, “teeming subjects which could not be counted.”
  • When Mesha secured a Moabite victory of Israel, he claimed, “Israel has perished forever.”
  • When Shalmaneser defeated Ahab, he penned this commentary: “I spread their corpses everywhere, filling the entire plain with their widely scattered soldiers…I made their blood flow down…the district. The plain was too small to let all their souls descend into the nether world, the vast field gave out when it came to bury them. With their corpses I spanned the Orontes before their was a bridge.”  

This is a specific type of genre, one understood by the audience then in a very particular way. Continue Reading…

In the previous post, I noted that the war texts show how God implemented justice on a particular Canaanite people group that was outstandingly evil.  (William F. Albright, famed archeologist, described the Amalekite religion as “perhaps the most depraved religion known to man.”)

We may not like that war was involved, but we must enter into the world as it was to to fully understand the big picture. This was a world in which every people group gauged their god’s authority and power by the quality of their own lives. If they were rich and strong, they believed their gods liked what they were doing. If they failed to flourish or were conquered, apparently their god was unhappy or another god was stronger (think of the Ark of the Covenant vs. Dagon in 1 Samuel 5, or the clash between Moses and Pharoah).   You may find this to be simply a lot of superstition, but in the context at that time,  the God of the Israelites was challenging the God of the Amalekites  in a manner that was understood by both cultures.

However, a key question still remain:  Even if the judgement was justified and the actions were understood, is their punishment defensible?  I am going to argue in the following posts that a clear reading of the Old Testament mitigates agains a God of cruelty and genocide by highlighting four key factors that contextualize and clarify what was actually happening:

  • God waited and warned the people groups involved;
  • He commanded the Israelites to accept and assimilate any immigrants from these nations, clearly showing God was not interested in genocide;
  • He sought not to destroy individual people, but to destroy the religious and cultural centers that promoted their particular evil;
  • He exercised lex talionis (a principle which says that punishment cannot exceed the crime).
    Continue Reading…

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. Continue Reading…