T Nation

Israelite Genocide of Canaanites

I originally dealt with this question on my blog in a discussion with a CAIR associate named Nadir Ahmed, who claimed in a debate with Sam Shamoun that Jesus (because he is God) advocated the killing of babies so on. I wrote the response to a Christian audience. Nadir later claimed that I never answered his charges, but I’ll let my audience judge. I’ve partially reprinted it here to deal with the comparisons between jihad and the violence mandated in the Old Testament:

In order to avoid re-inventing the wheel, I’ll allow this apology of the conquest of Canaan to do the heavy lifting in this discussion:
http://reformedbaptistfellowship.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/god’s-command-to-exterminate-the-canaanites-a-biblical-apology/

In order to fill in a few things Gonzales left out in the above article, I’ll add this by further way of justification for God’s divinely sanctioned herem (holy war) against the Canaanites:

[quote]"As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. [b]And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.[/b]" Genesis 15:12-16[/quote]

Later on in redemptive history*:

What were these detestable practices? Mostly child sacrifice and rampant homosexuality. The Canaanite god Molech is mentioned numerous times in Scripture as being a god that required human sacrifice. (Sounds kind of like the American god “Choice”, doesn’t it?) Other gods, such as Baal and Ashtoreth, are also mentioned in Scripture, including Baal and Asherah worship by Israelite men. Baal and Asherah also demanded, in addition to child sacrifice, fornication and homosexuality as the gods of fertility:

So we can clearly see that the Canaanites were engaged in the same detestable practices as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, whom the Lord destroyed by fire. The Israelites were to kill every Canaanite man, woman, and child as tools of God’s divine judgment.

Divine judgment is a recurrent them throughout Scripture, evidenced by the Flood, Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, the conquest of Canaan, and the various conquests of the Israelites by heathen peoples as a sanction against Israel’s wickedness. These Old Testament judgments serve a typological purpose, to wit, they point ahead to the coming day of judgment. Jesus gave various warnings about this during his time on earth and in John’s Apocalypse (Revelation). Christians today don’t engage in herem because Jesus fulfilled the redemptive purpose of Israel as THE true Israel:

[quote] As Bob Strimple (the former president of Westminster Seminary California, and now professor emeritus of systematic theology) points out in a lecture he often gives on this very topic, there are a number of reasons why Israel’s role in the Old Testament was preparatory to the coming Christ, and can therefore cannot serve as the hermeneutical center of Scripture. The fact is that Christ comes to fulfill (literally) all of the Old Testament promises, not to temporarily put them aside, only to return to them in a future millennium. Strimple bases his view that Christ is the true Israel on the following biblical arguments:

1). Isaiah's servant songs have a double referent that has long baffled Jewish commentators. On the one hand, they refer to Israel, God's chosen one and servant (41:8-9; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 49:3). On the other, they seem also to refer to some individual (42:1-4). These prophesies are interpreted by the New Testament as referring to Christ (Matthew 8:17 and Acts 8:30-35)

2). Matthew sees a double referent in Hosea 11:1, ("Out of Egypt I called my son")

3). Paul identifies Christ, not physical Israel, as Abraham's seed (Galatians 3:16). Galatians 3:7 and Romans 4:11, 16, moreover, identify the church as Abraham's offspring.

4). Henceforth, we are in Christ the true Israel: Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 2:28-29, and Philippians 3:3.

5). The Old Covenant is obsolete, having been superseded by the New: Hebrews 8:8-12 identifies the new covenant with Israel (Jeremiah 31:33-34) with the covenant instituted by Christ with the church. Most importantly, Hebrews 8:13 declares the old covenant obsolete and passing away. This makes impossible the dispensational view of Ezekiel 40-48 as a reinstitution of temple sacrifice.

6). The upshot is that the Old Testament did not see how its own prophesies were to be fulfilled - indeed, it could not prior to Christ. The New Testament authors were able to interpret the Old Testament in the light of His coming of the new covenant that He instituted. So should we.

[/quote]

So the redemptive purpose of Israel has been fulfilled in Christ, whereby people of all nations have been brought into God’s covenant through Jesus. The purpose of Israel has now expired, as have the commands to engage in herem. Ultimately, the herem waged by Israel in the Old Testament will find its fulfillment in the day of judgment, where Christ will return to “judge the living and the dead.”

The Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues afflicting the Egyptians, and the invasion of Canaan, and the later invasions of Israel by various other peoples serve the purpose of foreshadowing Christ’s second coming and the day of judgment, which is why Christians no longer take the commands to wipe out the Canaanites literally.

  • Redemptive history refers to the progressive way in which God intervened in time to redeem man from sin and death. Redemptive history is viewed as complete because of the coming of Christ, and his death and resurrection for our justification. Redemptive history will be consummated at the day of judgment.

[quote]PRCalDude wrote:
The Israelites were to kill every Canaanite man, woman, and child as tools of God’s divine judgment. Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem with the conquest of Canaan, as the Bible describes it, is to believe that God has no right to punish wickedness and to judge sinful men. [/quote]

I’ll be honest, the Canaanite massacre is not something I lose sleep over. But I find that last sentence of yours very odd.

We should have no problem with the way in which the Bible describes - or advocates - the very real invasion of the Canaanites…and yet that precise description is to kill every man, woman and child?

“Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem”…mate, you make it (the historical invasion) sound so perfectly acceptable…

[quote]red bull wrote:
PRCalDude wrote:
The Israelites were to kill every Canaanite man, woman, and child as tools of God’s divine judgment. Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem with the conquest of Canaan, as the Bible describes it, is to believe that God has no right to punish wickedness and to judge sinful men.

I’ll be honest, the Canaanite massacre is not something I lose sleep over. But I find that last sentence of yours very odd.

We should have no problem with the way in which the Bible describes - or advocates - the very real invasion of the Canaanites…and yet that precise description is to kill every man, woman and child?

“Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem”…mate, you make it (the historical invasion) sound so perfectly acceptable…

[/quote]

Yeah. I’ll take that out. That part was originally written to a Christian audience that already believes in the Fall and so on. It was also written with the idea that this Nadir Ahmed guy would be reading it. Muslims don’t have a problem with the concept of divine judgment.

[quote]PRCalDude wrote:
red bull wrote:
PRCalDude wrote:
The Israelites were to kill every Canaanite man, woman, and child as tools of God’s divine judgment. Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem with the conquest of Canaan, as the Bible describes it, is to believe that God has no right to punish wickedness and to judge sinful men.

I’ll be honest, the Canaanite massacre is not something I lose sleep over. But I find that last sentence of yours very odd.

We should have no problem with the way in which the Bible describes - or advocates - the very real invasion of the Canaanites…and yet that precise description is to kill every man, woman and child?

“Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem”…mate, you make it (the historical invasion) sound so perfectly acceptable…

Yeah. I’ll take that out. That part was originally written to a Christian audience that already believes in the Fall and so on. It was also written with the idea that this Nadir Ahmed guy would be reading it. Muslims don’t have a problem with the concept of divine judgment.
[/quote]

No, don’t take it out. Leave it in.

That’s a very telling statement which you wrote and it says a lot about your position.

You are very quick to point out examples of violence, bloodshed and war in classical or pre-classical Islamic history - examples which can never be justified in your eyes.

Yet with regard to the early history of the Israelite faith, you justified similar violence (or an exhortation to such violence) in one sentence - the sentence which you now think is best to omit.

Which is it - in YOUR opinion? Was the Canaanite invasion justified or not? Is the violence of the early Israelites different to that of early or classical Islam?

[quote]No, don’t take it out. Leave it in.

That’s a very telling statement which you wrote and it says a lot about your position.

You are very quick to point out examples of violence, bloodshed and war in classical or pre-classical Islamic history - examples which can never be justified in your eyes.

Yet with regard to the early history of the Israelite faith, you justified similar violence (or an exhortation to such violence) in one sentence - the sentence which you now think is best to omit.

Which is it - in YOUR opinion? Was the Canaanite invasion justified or not? Is the violence of the early Israelites different to that of early or classical Islam?[/quote]

I’ll certainly defend the concept of divine judgment, but I would have to first convince you of the Christian worldview before you would accept such a thing as just.

For example, were women, children and livestock killed in the Flood as well? Certainly. Were they killed in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? Absolutely. I would affirm the right of God to deal with sinful men thusly. But from your standpoint, you wouldn’t affirm such a thing because you probably wouldn’t agree that God would or should engage in such things.

Perhaps I should add something about the right of God to do such a thing. You really can’t decouple that discussion from a discussion on the genocide in Canaan with non-Christians.

The comparison between the concepts of herem and jihad breaks down when you consider the fact that the logic of Allah is conventional. In other words, in the time period in which Allah transmitted his revelation to Mohammed, he abgrogated certain statements as time went on:

[quote]
Those Westerners who manage to pick up a translation of the Quran are often left bewildered as to its meaning thanks to ignorance of a critically important principle of Quranic interpretation known as “abrogation.” The principle of abrogation – al-naskh wa al-mansukh (the abrogating and the abrogated) – directs that verses revealed later in Muhammad’s career “abrogate” – i.e., cancel and replace – earlier ones whose instructions they may contradict. Thus, passages revealed later in Muhammad’s career, in Medina, overrule passages revealed earlier, in Mecca. The Quran itself lays out the principle of abrogation:

2:106. Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We {Allah} abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?[/quote]

Thus there is no absolute moral law that everyone everywhere must follow according to the logic of Allah. The law is whatever he makes it out to be at a particular time, and he may have changed it since the death of Mohammed. Unbelievers can hardly be guilty of violating Allah’s will when Allah is so fickle. Unbelievers can hardly be expected to take their lumps, so to speak, from Mohammed’s mujahideen when Mohammed was telling his followers to live peaceably with unbelievers earlier on. A moral law that contradicts itself over time is no moral law at all, thus there can hardly be any justification in carrying it out through jihad, at unbelievers can hardly be held to the bar of a fickle, conventional god.

I believe this is the main difference between divine judgment as meted out in the Qur’an vs. that in the Bible. I can’t go into too much more depth on Biblical ethics without getting into a discussion on the Fall, natural law, and the Mosaic covenant, which would take quite some time (and much more knowledge on my part to summarize accurately). I am glad you pressed me on this issue though.

[quote]red bull wrote:
PRCalDude wrote:
The Israelites were to kill every Canaanite …
We should have no problem with the way in which the Bible describes - or advocates - the very real invasion of the Canaanites…and yet that precise description is to kill every man, woman and child?

“Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem”…mate, you make it (the historical invasion) sound so perfectly acceptable…

[/quote]

I hate to butt in and I will butt out.
There is a problem with the direction of this discussion. The “historical invasion” never happened.

There was no “real invasion” of Canaan as described in Deuteronomy-Joshua and subsequently. The archaeologic evidence is otherwise. Hebrews, before David, were “Hill Canaanites,” disenfranchised kin perhaps of the Coastal Canaanites, and similar in language, writing, artefacts and even religion. What is remembered and recorded in the OT about the taking of Canaan is a fond mythology, and not an historic fact. It was more a civil war of tribal skirmishes and religious reformers.

So if one chooses to read the OT as a true record of carnage, one mistakes obscure religious morality for historic fact. Discuss it as a moral lesson only, subject to interpretation.

[quote]DrSkeptix wrote:
red bull wrote:
PRCalDude wrote:
The Israelites were to kill every Canaanite …
We should have no problem with the way in which the Bible describes - or advocates - the very real invasion of the Canaanites…and yet that precise description is to kill every man, woman and child?

“Really, the only way one could have an ethical problem”…mate, you make it (the historical invasion) sound so perfectly acceptable…

I hate to butt in and I will butt out.
There is a problem with the direction of this discussion. The “historical invasion” never happened.
There was no “real invasion” of Canaan as described in Deuteronomy-Joshua and subsequently. The archaeologic evidence is otherwise. Hebrews, before David, were “Hill Canaanites,” disenfranchised kin perhaps of the Coastal Canaanites, and similar in language, writing, artefacts and even religion. What is remembered and recorded in the OT about the taking of Canaan is a fond mythology, and not an historic fact. It was more a civil war of tribal skirmishes and religious reformers.

So if one chooses to read the OT as a true record of carnage, one mistakes obscure religious morality for historic fact. Discuss it as a moral lesson only, subject to interpretation.[/quote]

That, Dr, depends on whether you are a minimalist or a maximalist, which are religious presuppositions independent of evidence. After reading Hoffmeier and Kitchen, I think there is plenty of evidence for the authenticity of the Bible’s account.

The Bible never claims that the Canaanites were wiped out. Quite the contrary. It says that many remained and the Israelites began promptly syncretizing their beliefs with Baal and Ashtoreth worship within one generation of living in Canaan. As far as I know, archaeological evidence says the same thing.

[quote]PRCalDude wrote:
DrSkeptix wrote:
red bull wrote:
PRCalDude wrote:
…After reading Hoffmeier and Kitchen, … As far as I know, archaeological evidence says the same thing.[/quote]

Thanks for the tip. I have not read this book, which is a rebuttal to (my) revisionist thinking. There is a contrary opinion in a book by William Dever.