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Difficult moral issues: Genocide of the Canaanites
Difficult Moral Issues: The Genocide of the CanaanitesLaindon 25 January 2012
“So Joshua returned, and all Israel withhim, to the camp at Gilgal.” (Josh 10:15)
Identifying the Israelites Destruction of religious artifacts: “The temples and their elaborate paraphernalia that are so typical of Late Bronze Age Canaanite society simply disappear by the end of the 13th century (p126), … at Hazor there were six or seven Egyptian statues that must have been deliberately mutilated. Heads and arms were chopped off, the chisel marks still visible on the torsos.…the Israelites were responsible…there are currently no better candidates (p67)”
Identifying the Israelites • Joshua 11:11 “Such acts in the Amarna period were clearly religiously motivated, and, as such, are an isolated phenomenon in the Bronze Age. They are exceptional in terms of this early date, since they reflect a monotheistic concept of only one God, to the exclusion of all others. As a rule, religiously motivated iconoclasm makes its appearance only with the establishment of nation-states in the first millennium BCE and the introduction of monotheism, whose adherents believe that there is only one "true" God.”
Identifying the Israelites Only four groups active at the time could have destroyed Hazor: (1) one of the Sea Peoples, such as the Philistines, (2) a rival Canaanite city, (3) the Egyptians or (4) the early Israelites. As noted above, the mutilated statues were Egyptian and Canaanite. It is extremely unlikely that Egyptian and Canaanite marauders would have destroyed statuary depicting their own gods and kings. In addition, as to another Canaanite city, the Bible tells us Hazor: "was the head of all those
Identifying the Israelites kingdoms," and archaeology corroborates that the city was simply too wealthy and powerful to have fallen to a minor Canaanite rival city. So the Egyptians and the Canaanites are eliminated. As far as the Sea Peoples are concerned, Hazor is located too far inland to be of any interest to those maritime traders. Further, among the hundreds of potsherds recovered at Hazor, not a single one can be attributed to the well-known repertory of the Sea Peoples. That leaves us with the Israelites.
Was this genocide?“And they smote all the souls that were therein with theedge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there wasnot any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire.” (Josh 11:11)“So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of thesouth, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all theirkings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed allthat breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.” (Josh 10:40)God’s command: Deuteronomy 20:16-17
Idolatry and Morality For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse… …who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… …God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness… (Romans 1)
Canaanite religionUgarit Tablets1500-1200 BC 1350-1300 BC
Baal & Anath Baal: the bringer of rain Anath: war and fertility Cult prostitution Incest/homosexuality Gang rape Bestiality
Under the influence of Canaanite mythology, so the argument runs,many Israelites had come to see the processes of nature as the result ofthe relations between gods and goddesses. Divine intercourse wouldlead to abundant harvests and an increase of cattle. Cultic prostitution,performed by humans, was a form of imitative magic by which the godscould be moved to engage in similar activities, with all the ensuingbeneficial results. Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary
Molech• Gods of the dead• Communicating with those in the afterlife• Child sacrifice
Effect on Israel• Golden calf: “they rose up to play”• Balaam: “people began to commit whoredom, they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods”• Jereboam: “there were male cult prostitutes in the land”• Josiah: “brought out the Asherah…broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes”
Some Conclusions• God has moral authority and exercises it• Humans are able to understand their moral responsibility• Idolatry justifies and legitimises the setting aside of moral responsibility• Canaanite religion and society illustrated this• Israel’s morality repeatedly affected by idolatry
Not racism or xenophobia• Promise to Abraham “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)• Treatment of foreigners in the Law “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34)
Was it a massacre?“So Joshua conquered all the land: the mountain countryand the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes,and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterlydestroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel hadcommanded.” (Josh 10:40)“Then Horam king of Gezer “And they did not drive out thecame up to help Lachish; and Canaanites who dwelt inJoshua struck him and his Gezer; but the Canaanitespeople, until he left him none dwell among the Ephraimitesremaining. (Josh 10:33) to this day and have become forced laborers. (Josh 16:10) Josh 10:29-40 <> Judges 1:9-11
Was it a massacre? • After each victory the Israelites returned to the camp at Gilgal • “these campaigns were essentially disabling raids: they were not territorial conquests with instant Hebrew occupation. The text is very clear about this.”
Was it a massacre? The type of rhetoric in question was a regular“The rhetoric of total conquest, completethe second and feature of military reports in first millennia, as others have made very clear.annihilation and destruction “Israel is enemy,his seed is not” Merneptah: of the wasted, killingeveryone, leaving no survivors, etc, is a commonMitanni, Tuthmosis III “the numerous army ofhyperbolic way of describing a victory inhour, annihilated was overthrown within the ancient totally, like those now non-existent”near eastern histories of “Israel has utterly perished for always” Mesha: the same period” Ramses II: “His majesty slew the entire force of the wretched foe from Hatti, together with his great chiefs and all his brothers, as well as all the chiefs of all the countries that had come with him, their infantry and their chariotry falling on their faces one upon the other.” It is in this frame of reference that the Joshua rhetoric must also be understood.
Was it a massacre?• We can also read this interpretation back to God’s command in Deut 20:16-17• This hyperbolic language is consistent with: “I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land”, says the Lord; “I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of the heavens, the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land,” says the Lord.” (Zeph 1:2-3) “I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without inhabitant.” (Jer 34:22) “the king of Babylon will certainly come and destroy this land, and cause man and beast to cease from here” (Jer 36:29)
Some more conclusions• Joshua’s campaign battles disabled the Canaanites’ military power• They did not immediately occupy the whole land• Both God’s command and the record of decisive victories uses the hyperbolic military language of the time.• The command did not mean to commit genocide (in the modern sense) and the Israelites did not do this.
What’s the point?• God was revealing himself through Israel to the surrounding nations (Deut 4:7)• Israel & its Law was one step in God’s purpose a road, suitable for the times, but still morally distinct from the practice of surrounding nations• The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24)
What’s the point?• God still has moral authority and the intention to exercise it: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)