Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites: Divinely-Mandated Genocide or Corporate Capital Punishment? Response to Critics

In the next issue of Philosophia Christi, I will be revisiting the topic of Yahweh wars and the killing of the Canaanites. This article appears with two essays critical of the divine command to kill the Canaanites. This journal’s issue also contains articles discussing the topic of the moral status of Canaanite society and its religious practices as well as the alleged negative influence of religion. (To see abstracts of the articles, go here.)

The abstract for my article is as follows:

The divine command to kill the Canaanites is the most problematic of all Old Testament ethical issues. This article responds to challenges raised by Wes Morriston and Randal Rauser. It argues that biblical and extrabiblical evidence suggests that the Canaanites who were killed were combatants rather than noncombatants (“Scenario 1”) and that, given the profound moral corruption of Canaan, this divinely-directed act was just. Even if it turns out that noncombatants were directly targeted (“Scenario 2”), the overarching Old Testament narrative is directed toward the salvation of all nations–including the Canaanites.

My article is available here.

57 Responses to “Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites: Divinely-Mandated Genocide or Corporate Capital Punishment? Response to Critics”

  1. Just glanced at your article; didn’t really see in that glance though, the 1) sense of marked and even shocking contrast between this God, and the God of the New Testament. Between a God that – in one possiblity that you acknowledge – slaughters thousands of innocent women and children. Versus even the OT God that acknowledges the importance of a grain of sand, or the falling of a sparrow; or the NT Jesus that is quite forgiving and does not “judge.”

    By the way too: 2) did you consider the related discussion (with Lot?) on the destruction of Sodom? Where the whole issue of God destroying Sodom – and perhaps killing innocents – was discussed. It being proposed there, that God would not kill Sodom if there were say a hundred innocents in it; or 50; or finally, God (as I recall) agrees he would not destroy it if there were only 10 innocents in the town. Here to be sure, God does not (if I recall) go below 10; though still, he seems quite loathe to kill innocents.

    3) Indeed too the idea of a corporate responsibility – that everyone in a bad nation, women and children included share responsibility – seems to go against the whole logic of “Free will,” self-determination. (Cf. also the “sins of the fathers”).

    Related to that, assigning corporate guilt, nationwide, implies too that we ourselves are often not free, to be good; without anything from others, holding us back. The Sin of Adam having been at least partially – or even wholly – expunged, according to some theologies. But now to be replaced by … bad national association?

    Where are we responsible for our own lives .. and free to choose or not chose evil? Here, it is chosen for us; by our fathers, our nations; even God.

  2. rayner markley May 9, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Fortunately, in my opinion, the Israelites did not carry out the extermination completely. In fact, they themselves probably became so brutalized from slaughtering innocents that they couldn’t continue. Yes, the spared Canaanites did eventually lead them astray from the Lord, as had been warned, but what choice did they have?
    With all His resources, God could have resolved the situation much differently and preserved His people. We are so blessed that Jesus lays no such dilemma upon us. We simply have to follow Him and lay down our lives if it comes to that.

  3. Firstly, God sets the moral law, those things He does and commands cannot be immoral by definition. He’s like an atheist in that respect.

    Secondly the Canaanites had 400 years to mend their ways, and didn’t.

    The ancient world was dominated by the collective mindset. People were responsible for the actions of their leaders. In the same way that Adam’s sin led to the punishment of death for his descendants, so too the activities of the pagan kings led to the destruction of their people.

    Any Canaanites who abandoned their homes and left Canaan would have been spared. God’s mandate of destruction was to dispossess the land so Israel could live there, and through Israel could come Messiah.

    Buzz, the Jesus who you claim doesn’t judge taught more about hellfire than a modern evangelical preacher and stated categorically that even some who claim to have followed him and worked miracles in his name would be cast into the outer darkness. Meanwhile in the first testament God was willing to spare Sodom if He’d found ten righteous people. That He still destroyed Sodom testifies to how bad the place was. If there are ten righteous people in America He probably won’t destroy it… though I’d avoid trying to irritate Him. ;-)

    Rayner, stop reading modern intestinal weakness into the ancient world. It’s doubtful that any Israelites lost sleep over the number of people they had to kill.

  4. rayner markley May 10, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    God set the moral law at creation, and it doesn’t change. He doesn’t set it anew for various situations. But God does not always act by the moral law. Sometimes, as a pragmatist, He may act according to local human standards. Of course, nowadays we suffer from ‘modern intestinal weakness’, an annoying side effect of the Sermon on the Mount.

    Actually, the whole conquest situation might have been avoided if Jacob hadn’t taken his family to Egypt. A short term solution turned into a long term nightmare—slavery, expulsion, wilderness, warfare. If Israel had endured the famine as the others did, they would already be in possession of the land and they could have had a positive influence on their neighbors in the meantime. The promise made to Abraham was that his descendants would be a blessing to all nations. It was a mixed blessing at best.

  5. Jason C:

    You like to cite the severe God of the Old Testament; and to suggest that his rule is still in force; and will be in force, in the end. But here is a summary on some initial remarks that I made about that position, in another part of this blog.

    That is: 1) many people feel that the rather severe Old Testament God moderated himself, with Jesus; who “fulfilled” the old severe “law”s of God, with a gentler “new covenant.” One that did not demand the death penalty for cooking food on a Sabbath for example.

    Do 2) you really still support the wrathful God that … enforces a death penalty, or executes people, for cooking on a Sunday?

    Are you really entirely comfortable with that?

    But especially: 3) would you like to be “judge”d yourself, in the end, by the same standards yourself, that you advocate for others? As Paul suggested you might be?

    Keep in mind, you are supporting the Death penalties of God. Since you support that view of God … will you be equally enthusiastic about asking for those standards to be applied to you, yourself, in the End?

    Or mightn’t it be better, to support the New Testament idea? Of a kind, gentle Jesus?

    Perhaps after all, 4) Jesus is good enough to save us all? So that though the severe penalties that you seem to love, will still be in force, they will be, say, moot. That is, there will be no one to enforce them on.

    To be sure, 5) this might not be the “letter of the law” that you seem to love. So if you insist on the letter of scripture, then … let’s take a look at that, next. One by one.

  6. Jason C:

    Or rather 6) let’s note that you (and Copan in fact) defend this genocidal side of God, partially on the grounds that after all, this is part of the “collective mindset” of ancient Middle-Eastern cultures; they did this all the time.

    But in this case, aren’t you “defending” God, by …suggesting that his rules reflect the culture of the time? So what is the standard of truth here? ;)

  7. Phil McCheddar May 11, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Is there a real difference between, on the one hand, women & children being the explicit objects of herem by Yahweh’s command, and on the other hand, women & children suffering as collateral damage under God’s ultimate control of all events by his providence?

    Little children suffered when God sent the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem in 587 BC. “Children and infants faint in the streets of the city… as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms” (Lam.2:11-12) The curses with which God threatened Israel for their disobedience in Deuteronomy 28 included having their children taken into exile. Babies and children suffered dreadfully in God’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Luke 21:23, Luke 23:28-29).

    If our time on earth was all our lives consisted of (in other words, if there wasn’t a future life of greater duration and significance), such collateral damage would be more difficult to understand. But we know God is mindful of the plight of individuals even when innocent people suffer at random in the mass suffering of a whole city or nation (eg. 1 Kings 14:12-13, 2 Kings 22:19-20, Jeremiah 39:15-18, etc.) And we know God is concerned about the principle of restitution (Leviticus 22:1-4, Luke 6:20-25, Luke 16:25, etc.) so it is probable God will compensate in the next life for any injustices in this life. Therefore I feel the critics of the alleged indiscriminate destruction of the Canaanites may have been overly influenced by an unbiblical and unhealthy modern attitude towards suffering & death. Previous generations were much more acquiescent about it, as expressed in Thomas Nashe’s “Litany in Time of Plague”

  8. Phil McCheddar May 11, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I warmly recommend another article by Paul Copan here:
    It takes time and patience to study such a long article but he deals with some of your objections. Maybe the article contains some angles on the issue which you hadn’t considered before?
    Best wishes

  9. 1) Everyone dies eventually. You yourself have a 100% chance of dying…from something. Does this mean that God enforces a death penalty, or executes people?

    2) “So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.” FROM:

  10. BUZZ / Dr. G (I like the new name). It doesn’t seem to me that you read Copan’s article very closely, as Copan does not say that God is genocidal.

    The story of Sodom is interesting–if babies are innocents, why weren’t they included amoung the counting. However, if cities at that time are like those discussed in Copan’s article, they didn’t have babies in them because the babies with their parents out in the countryside. The “cities” were admin. places (I suppose like the downtown cores of modern cities).

    Your comments stray from the points raised in Copan’s article. Copan is not talking about any alleged discrepancy between a NT god and an OT god (your point 1), he is only writing about the morality of the killing of Canaanites. Copan is also not discussing the direction destruction of people by fire from heaven and not Israel’s army (your point 2). Copan is also not raising issues of free will (your point 3).

    More relevant would be to discuss whether his (and other authors’s) discussion of middle eastern language usage at that time is correct (i.e., “children” was part of the stock expression but not part of the particular intent), or whether it is possible or reasonable to expect that post this life experience and reward will compensate will for this life suffering.


  11. JOHN

    The problem is precisely, that Copan has “framed” his argument, delimited it, in such a way as to avoid the major issues.

    As poststructuralists/sociologists note, this “framing” is a sly rhetorical strategy, that we need to oppose; by looking at precisely, those very pressing issues that the frame seeks to exclude.

    Narrow focus, is extremely useful at times; other times though, it amounts to simple narrowness, tunnel vision, and/or being in Denial of other issues.

  12. Shane Lambright May 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    There are no innocent human beings. Human beings are totally depraved before a Holy God and deserve death. God is under no obligation to His creation and can kill whomever He so desires.

  13. The bloodthirstiness of our Jahweh advocates here, is a little offputting, even shocking. Where do they teach this stuff? In the Army, just before combat? Or in the CIA, just before torturing terrorism suspects?

    I’m hearing stuff like:

    1) “Everybody dies” … so killing is OK.

    2) Genocide is OK if God – or his self-appointed friends – do it.

    3) And we have no moral culpability; since God orders it.

    4) And “collateral damage” is OK. (Where does God say this? I think I heard it in an Army training film … but not the Bible).

    Some try to apologize for this by saying:

    5) The Old Testament often called for killing “every man and child”; but that was just God talking; just rhetoric.

    My God!


    1) God promised “life.”

    2) After God, came Jesus – to intercede for people. And probably, to prevent genocide.

    3) You want to make very, very sure that God is ordering such things, before you yourself go out cheerfully killing lots and lots of people; which many here seem prepared to do. Likely God is not – after the New Testament – ordering such things much today. Don’t try this out on your own block, kids.

    4) God never used the phrase “collateral damage”; again, don’t confuse an Army or CIA training manual, for the Bible.

    There are many good reasons not to follow God in his genocidal impulses. Though to be sure, I would reject the following defense:

    5) If God, when he constantly called for killing “every man, woman, and child,” was just throwing Ancient Middle East phrases and rhetoric around … then this would mean that the Bible is not quite true, after all; is just rhetoric. So that this last argument, is not a good Biblical defence.

    The other above defences against the manyviolent, self-appointed executioners of God, are probably better.

    Far too many people have been killed in the name of God in the past, to let this kind of bloodthirsty thread pass without comment, or very, very serious censure or qualification.

  14. No question begging please May 12, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Genocide = murder

    Murder = God’s law for humans

    God = not human

    Destruction of the Caanites = not murder

  15. No question begging please May 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Regarding the “argument by outrage” please see here:

    Regarding NT vs. OT, is this the same NT that includes the destruction of half of the world’s population (Rev 6:8; 9:15) as well as the awful fate those who do not know Christ (Rev 14:10-11; 20:11-15)?

  16. The problem here is that – not to beg the question – 1) even if you accept that whatever God does is right … so that killing lots and lots of people is good if God does it, still, there are still two more problems:

    1) Is it still OK to do this?

    2) Can you do it?

    3) But especially, whatever happened in the PAST: didn’t Jesus intercede for us, with another different, gentler, “New covenant” or agreement with God? Which a similar mass killing would now violate?

    4) Do you yourself really want to see the Old Testament God back in full force? Including his death penalty for gathering food on a Sabbath/Sunday? Would you like this God enforced on your, yourself?

    As per BUZZ, #5 above, especially.

  17. No question begging please May 12, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    1) OK for who? For God, yes. For humans…it’s not OK until we recieve revelation from God, which Scripture indicates won’t come until the End Times, and even then, it’s not clear who will actually perform the slaying (Rev 6:8; 9:15) and (Rev 14:10-11; 20:11-15).

    2) Don’t know. Never been asked. I don’t think Christians would be asked, based on Jesus’ character.

    3) Did you read the verses I cited from Rev. above?

    4) God, Father-Son-Spirit, is the same God. You and I are still under His wrath. As noted above, we all die, God can take us whenever He pleases. It’s silly to “blame” God for death. Further, my concern is my salvation, not trying to cling to this life of sin.

  18. JJ,

    No one in any place in this comment thread that I have seen has recommended or even hinted that any one now should go out and kill a bunch of people like was ordered by God in the OT.

    So why do people here get accused of being willing to do that very thing?

  19. CHERYL

    The reason that I might caution people here, about going out and killing lots of people – is that you’re already half there! You all seem absolutely, perfectly OK with the concept, first of all.

  20. No question begging please May 12, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Henry is being both illogical and rude. His paranoid position says more about himself than others.

    We Christians have a clear divine command to not murder.

    We also have commands to not slander, which Henry obviously doesn’t feel bound to.

  21. It it “rude,” to be shocked at people who are sanguine about mass murder or mass killings?

    I’m glad you disapprove of “murder” as such. And you don’t want to do it.

    But keep in mind, you’ve just said that however, if someone feels that God has ordered such killings, it is not murder.

    So all there is between you, and a mass murderer? Is a maybe subjective theological perception: is God ordering you to do it or not.

    And in fact, many mass murders and killers have said variously that “demons” – or in some cases, “God” – was telling them to do it.

    So … what’s the check on that awful scenario? Which you seem just inches away from today? Hopefully, it would be following Jesus as some of you said. But … some of you seem to feel that Jesus is all but irrelevant here: you’re going to take your orders straight from the Old Testament God.

  22. No question begging please May 12, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    It’s about how I “feel” — It’s about the very definition of murder. There is nothing subjetive about it.

    And I know the source of this definition, it’s written down as clear as crystal, you can get in several modern English translations. How about you? Where does YOUR definion come from? An objective, moral source, or from your own subjective opinions?

    Many mass murders and killers have said variously that “demons” – or in some cases, “God” – was telling them to do it. But it’s because they were following their own subjetive opinions, and not the unbreakable Law of God.

    I put it right back at YOU: What’s YOUR check on that awful scenario? Which you seem just inches away from today (based on your paranoia — will you claim it’s “self defense” or a “premptive strike” before you go after the hated Christians?)

    In case you haven’t heard the Good News: Jesus IS God.

  23. No question begging please May 12, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    “you’ve just said that however, if someone feels that God has ordered such killings, it is not murder. ”

    I never said this, liar.

  24. My own check against becoming a mass killer, would be in fact emulating the mildness of Jesus.

    But that check, which exists for me, would not really fully exist for some here. Most of the people here (which to be sure, might not include Mr. or Mrs. “No Question,” here, but which almost certainly includes one or more of the other correspondents above) have said that they are not really thinking of or following the mild Jesus. What the people here like and have constantly quoted is the Jesus or God, that kills lots and lots of Caanaites. Or the Jesus or God that throws people into eternal fire, at the end.

    So it would seem that the milder Jesus, which might restrain me from doing such things, is not really there as a restraint for many others, here.

    Which is the problem. Particularly, note that many of you above feel that mass killing is perfectly OK if God orders it. So 1) if you really believe what you have said in this blog, then note that you are halfway to mass killings. In that you don’t mind them in principle. Then worse, 2) many of you here, evidently don’t really have the image of a gentle Jesus to restrain you.

    All that is between people with such a violent theology – I hope you are not one – and a mass murder, is that 3) they would do it only if God commanded you. And yet this is the real problem: how do you know, or not know, whether God is ordering it? Given the fact that many people say many different things about God. And you (many of you above) have said that God in fact orders such killings. And since you (many of you) like the violent side of Jesus.

    So you are predisposed to violence. And now, how do you know what God is ordering or not ordering you to do? You might say that it is not just a “feeling.” Hopefully in fact, much more than that is involved. However most of you here don’t seem against apparently God-ordered killings in principle. So your theology is predisposed to accept a perception that God is commanding you to kill; your God, even your Jesus, is extremely violent after all (according to many people’s quotes above).

    So most of the people here, are not that far from violence – if we can believe their approving statements about mass killings above. And they are predisposed possibly, to believe that God might order such a thing again (in the End, etc.). As some have said.

    So that many here, are far, far too close to the edge.

    Remember, many have made this mistake: Muslims believe God orders killings. And now unfortunately, we have a “Christian” theology here, that would allow Christians to do the same it seems. Suggesting that our Christians have ironically been infected by their enemies, and their violent theology.

    So what is the remedy? It is for me to ask you to return to the mild, gentile, forgiving Jesus.

  25. Henry,

    Your assertion that Copan is engaging in a rhetorical strategy of framing his argument to eliminate relevant issues is incorrect. He was not writing a book, but an article specifically directed at certain points of view. In order to make your assertion stick, you’d have to define what exactly was excluded by rhetoric and then demonstrate that it was the use of rhetoric that did cause its exclusion.

    Ironically, I find your use of “mild Jesus” to be a rhetorical strategy that accomplishes exactly what you accuse Copan of. The use of the word “mild” implies a distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, and between God the Father and God Jesus. It also asserts that Jesus is only mild and peaceful directs attention away from forceful acts of Jesus such as his cleansing of the temple or the cursing of the fig tree and away from his teaching such as turning family members against each other or about judgment.

    Further, you seem to be missing the points argued both by Copan and the writers he interacts with: that God did not command the killing of innocents, or if he did, that there were particular justifications that support the action.

    You also jump, anachronistically, straight from God’s work with a particular nation that he was the head of (Israel as a political theocracy), to christians as children of God in the New Testament and later. God is no longer leading a particular national political entity nor establishing a specific limited geographical area for them to live in. Hence, there is no longer the possibility of God ordering christians to wipe out another national entity; such a task no longer fits within God’s plans for his followers.


  26. John:

    A nicely-reasoned argument in defence of Copan; if you are not already an academic writer on theology, you are very near there already.

    And thorough and careful as your defence or apologetic is, it deserves a far more thorough response than I have time for. But I will offer some quick points (which to be sure are inadequate for now).

    1) Copan notes a small aspect of the bigger picture; as one has to in a monograph. Yet to be sure, most of us like to write things of more general significance; to find a piece of reality that reflects on larger points. In this case, Copan has chosen a misleading piece. It will lead many to think that it is say, OK to be violent; God OK’d it.

    2) Whereas that piece, that frame, fails to take into account the more gentle Jesus.

    3) Who was indeed, more gentle than the OT God. Jesus beat people, and did turn them into arguing; but he himself did not “judge,” or physically kill anyone in his lifetime. As God did.

    4) While as for Revelation? The acts of violence, in original translation, were probably undertaken by “God,” not Jesus. Who told us earlier that not he, but God, would “judge,” etc., in the end.

    5) As for Copan’s assertion that God never did those violent things? I did not address that, because it is so obviously sophistical. a) Reading the article, Copan has to quote example after example, where God orders the killing of all “men, women, and children” (paraphrasing). Then b) tries to topspin all that, by suggesting that this language was just an ANE convention. But in that case, C. is suggesting that God borrowed and used merely rhetorical (half false) language in the Bible; and got it from mere human beings. SO that God and the BIble here, are implicitly, false, or subservient to human beings. Which makes C’s argument simply … self-undercutting.

    6) THen if you suggest that the OT – especially attacks on “nation”s – has no relevance today? Of course, a) most of Christianity thinks much of it does. Granted, b) much of the OT seems superceded by the NT. But c) much of it is taken to be relevant by all too many. Especially when we attacked the “nation” of Iraq, say.

    So that indeed, though C may attempt to hide in a frame, and suggest he will not engage or be responsible for larger issues? In fact, he will inevitably be taken into them.

    While even his more definted and delimited points, are simply, clearly, false.

  27. Phil McCheddar May 13, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I was the one who used the expression “collateral damage”, and on reflection I don’t think it was wise because it implies unintended harm to innocent bystanders. However, I went on to say that even though warfare usually involves apparently accidental and random suffering of non-combatants (including wars instigated by God such as the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC and in 70AD), God’s governance of the universe in even the smallest details such as the fall of a sparrow means that no-one actually suffers anything accidentally. I am sure that in his inscrutable wisdom and moral perfection and undoubted love for the world God has a good purpose in all he does, and also that our eternal state will settle any outstanding injustices in our earthly circumstances.

    I echo Paul Copan’s closing remarks in his article:
    “We may find ourselves left with a puzzling gap between what we clearly know of God and what seems to be a harsh exception … Having tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8), we should deal with such questions in the context of a loving, compassionate, and just personal God who has the long-term good of even his enemies in mind.”

    On the question of whether the divinely mandated destruction of the Canaanites was racist or nationalist, I think it is useful to remember that God also mandated the civil war recorded in Judges chapters 20 and 21 when the Israelites almost wiped out the tribe of Benjamin. See especially Judges 20:18, Judges 20:23, Judges 20:28, and Judges 21:15.

  28. Especially troubling is C’s argument that God constantly referring to killing “men women and children,” was just a bit of falsehood. ANE rhetoric. That undercut the Bible itself; suggests that it is mere rhetoric. Or even, falsehood.

    But now look at other examples:

    7) C. claims that maybe God’s people attacked just “cities”; which he says, were just purely military garrisons, so that God was killing only combattants. But is not even true to Ancient Near East facts; the fact is, even ancient Armies were continually in company of servants, concubines, and family.

    8) Likewise his claim that God never really exterminated whole cities, because some time after, people were are found in those cities. Here, note, his logic is again, simply false. Often the population of cities were wiped out, or forced to flee – but then when the danger was over, people returned to the cities, from the countryside.

    C’s apologetic arguments are purely sophistical; and not based on good logic or facts. Worse, they are dangerous; in that they will inevitably be taken to justify violence.

  29. Joe, there’s not much point in interacting with you if you don’t take time to read Copan’s article carefully, and instead assert things that Copan never states. For example, you state, “C’s argument that God constantly referring to killing “men women and children,” was just a bit of falsehood.” Copan did not at any point say that the phrase “men women and children” was a false statement in the Bible. Copan argued that it was a stock phrase that had a particular meaning that was not obtained by breaking the phrase into parts. A stock phrase like saying “he hit it out of the park” to mean that someone did a good job or made a good presentation. Copan states, for example, that it is “a standard expression of military bravado in ANE warfare”.

    By misquoting and incorrectly paraphrasing Copan you merely create a straw man for you to knock down. Furthermore, you continually imply or assert that Copan affirms the killing of innocents such as babies, when Copan in fact takes pains to show the opposite. He argues against “Morriston [who] too hastily concludes that Israel assumed human sacrifice as morally acceptable before Yahweh.” And, for example, he talks about the fact that within “herem” it is possible to show mercy and not kill everyone, as in the story of Rahab.


  30. Does any one but me think there seems to be multiple “reincarnations” going on here in the last couple of days??

  31. Yes, evidently someone is having an identity crisis. They can’t decide who they are. A case of multiple personalities, perhaps?

  32. Phil McCheddar May 14, 2009 at 6:53 am

    Some people expect the Bible to avoid the colloquialisms of everyday language and to be written in a clinically precise version of English where each word is woodenly and literally true. I wonder why they don’t ever expect that in other documents? When my desk calendar tells me that sunrise occurred at 5:47am today, I don’t assume the maker of the calendar really believes the sun revolves round the earth!

    I understand from Paul Copan’s article that “men women and children” is a stock ANE expression which does not mean absolutely every person. I also understand that it was conventional in those days to embellish and exaggerate accounts of military success.

    However, when the Israelites attacked the Benjaminites in Judges 20 and 21, they really did kill all the women and children. Judges 21:16f says: “With the women of Benjamin destroyed, how shall we provide wives for the men who are left? The Benjamite survivors must have heirs so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out.”

    So it seems there were no Benjaminite women left for the 600 Benjaminite male combatants to procreate with, and there were no Benjaminite children left as heirs, which is why they had to steal women from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh for the 600 men to marry. Whatever did or did not happen to the Canaanite women and children, it seems the Israelites at that time were not squeamish about the principle of killing such people.

    And for the record, I have never posted anything on this blog under any name other than Phil McCheddar!

  33. Phil,

    Just to clear up something. Your posts are great. We were talking about a certain individual who seems to be changing his name to several other identities because he has been sabotaging some of the threads. I think if you read the above posts and some on the other threads, you can see who we mean, by the similarities in the writing styles, and what is said. It seems to be a game with this individual, and a rather tiresome one at that.

    God bless.

  34. JOHN:

    1) According to the helpful data above, from Phil, it did happen that women and children were killed. Therefore, C’s first scenario, that this did not happen, either in this case (or by implication, ever?) appears unlikely.

    2) Then too: note, C. himself argues that killing “men women and children” (paraphrased; from several related quotes), is found in much of the Bible. So the Bible does not support his claim.

    3) C. then tried to claim, to be sure, that when the BIble spoke of such things as killing women and children, even “all” of them in a village, this was a “stock” Ancient Near East phrase, that didn’t really mean what it appeared to say.

    But some of us have argued several times, that the reality behind these phrases was brutal enough. First a) Phil confirmed above, that such things did appear in the BIble; and suggested they were often literally true?

    Then too b) we know historically such things often happened in many cultures.

    c) C’s attempted counterexamples – the assertion that people were later found in villiages that had been extirminated … failed to take into account the fact that villages were often re-populated from the countryside.

    But especially: d) to say that “killing every man, woman and child” or some such (paraphrased; summarizing several Biblical quotes from C’s own article), is just ANE rhetoric, of course thereby calls into question the authority of the whole Bible.

    In this argument, we are told explicitly that the BIble – that we thought was the “Word of God” – is full of “stock” phrases, rhetoric. Which is to say, statements that are not really, fully, true.

    And if the Bible is not really true? But just rhetorical? Or just metaphorial? Then … the game is over. Let’s stop talking about it as holy.

    And if it has God speaking from, borrowing from flawed human phraseology? Then … it is also silly to continue to defend the Bible as the word of “god.” Rather, its the words of people.

    4) The author a) might not consciously or explicitly advocate killing babies, as John notes. But I argue that b) his main “scenario” – that there was no genocide or such killing, as allegedly proven by his linguistic analysis – was not established; since he made several fundamental errors in his logic and factual excavations. While c) his other “scenarios” as he calls them, try to argue that perhaps it did take place. And was simply justified; since God kills people in order to save the survivors. Or some such.

    So that C pursues several scenarios – one of which defends such killings. Even as his basic argument finally, throws it all away, by just suggesting the Bible itself is partially false.

    All of which strongly suggest that there is not much point in discussing any such “apologetics” articles very much more. Especially if you’ve read one or two of them fairly closely.

    It’s better to move past Evangelical “Apologetics”; to real, scholarly Theology.

  35. “It’s better to move past Evangelical “Apologetics”; to real, scholarly Theology.”

    As Rob Bowman pointed out on his research site, the link he gave you to read on the other thread, theology doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    You demand scholarly theology, yet you refuse as either Dr. G, Buzz, Joe, GG, JJ, Henry or whoever you decide to be, to give anyone any clue of what your theology is tied to except your own rhetoric.

    I agree with a poster another thread. Aimless, wandering rhetoric that on one hand conveniently uses the Bible to refute someone else’s comment just to play the devil’s advocate, and on the other hand dismisses scripture when it doesn’t suit the purpose isn’t ‘theology’.

    It’s a personal agenda, and does no one reading here trying to follow an otherwise informative discussion any good.

  36. I am not sure how one could define this argument as it depends on what perspective it is from. Certainly we could say it was genocide, if that was the context God made it in. But if that were the case why did God not also command the deaths of every ethnic group and not just the Canaanites?

    The thing we forget is this, in that time it was a matter of fight to live or you were all killed. That is very clear from other contemporary sources. Either you fought to the death or you were taken slave or worse, your family suffered. Any way though life was hard enough and people did exist on a much more alert mindset than now.

    This reminds me of another example..Sherman’s march to the sea in the American Civil War. We can’t judge him today for that decision but perhaps he felt it was necessary. Could it have been such a thing of God showing it would be more merciful in the long run because with all the men dead, all the women and children would have been open targets for other groups who would have killed them? I don’t know, I am not a military expert.

  37. Shane Lambright May 14, 2009 at 11:59 am

    The creator has divine rights over the created.

    Go to Dr. James White’s website,, and watch his youtube
    video where he lays out God’s absolute right to do with His creation as He pleases. You’ll find it in his archives section.

    The problem is that we have played up God’s love so much that we think that it is His only attribute.

    We do a disservice to the church and to the world when we don’t talk about the anger and hatred of God toward sin.

  38. Phil’s data does not relate to a scenario where we have a prima facie statement that appears to be genocidal, i.e., that God has commanded the Israelites to kill “men women and children.” In the Judges accounts re Benjamin, the other tribes are called to go up against Benjamin, but does not indicate who was to be killed. Adult women could be just as guilty as adult men, so that’s not an issue. So leaving the tribe without women is not morally problematic if the women were guilty.

    There is no indication that God intended for the children or moral innocents to be killed. Nor was there a command not to have mercy. So, if killing of innocents occurred, it would have been an overzealous or over the top action or reaction by the other tribes.

    Joe, I don’t get your number “2”. Copan’s point was not about how many times the phrase occurs, but what that the phrase means when it does occur.

    Your point about the repopulation of the villages does not prove that Copan is wrong, it only demonstrates that the facts (same village populated at a later time) have more than one explanation (some people left in City, or City repopulated by other people moving in). Moreover, your point is still consistent with what Copan said. Copan did allow for all the people in the City to be killed (and they were all soldiers or leaders i.e. male) and then the remants of the ethnic group who were living in the countryside would choose new leaders, administrators, soldiers who would then reuse the City. Copan explicitly indicated that people would be left untouched in the countryside (which is were the women and children would primarily live), and that those survinving people would be the reason that the same people group pops up again later in the text.

    Finally, you have not provided an example of “real scholarly theology”, why that sets the benchmark, nor why evangelical theology falls short of that mark. Nor have you provided your own explanation of the data, except for an apparent implication that the God of the OT is not the same as the God of the NT (isn’t that the Marcionite heresy?) or that the Bible is not inerrant (which means we can ignore the text whenever it doesn’t suit us, or remake it in our image), or that it is not holy (meaning either it’s not God breathed, or it’s mere man’s report of a vindictive Thor-like god).


  39. John:

    I myself am not personally arguing that the Bible is not holy.

    I am merely noting that Copan’s argument depends on that assumption. That the Bible is largely, rhetoric.

    And then I am adding this logical conclusion: that if Copan believes that major parts of the Bible are not really the word of God, but are merely ANE rhetoric, then logically, why bother with an apparent “defence” of the alleged genocides? Logically, it could well be wrong; and indeed, the whole Bible could be. And so therefore, there is no point in his defending the biblical genocides … or any other aspect of the Bible at all.

    As for why I note that there are many references to such killings occur in the Bible? Simply noting great numbers, is perhaps not fully persusive it itself; but it is in effect a hint to any who are interested, that there are many, many references to killing women and children, in the Bible; thus, many things to research before pronouncing definitive word on this. While likely, given so many instance, we might well find … God himself ordering, say, at least, mass killings. (If not unjustified genocides). This in itself is not fully persuasive; just a hint at an avenue of future research.

    Note by the way, that you yourself are now suggesting that God did kill women; though you now justify that. So that where we are going, is not that you any longer deny that God kills women and children … but that you simply say that is good.

    Which is a not-impossible, but certainly unattractive position to defend.

    Specifically, you suggest that the killing of woman- and children? – could be defended … in that after all, women (and children?) might not be innocent. But note of course, that it is commonly thought that children are not quite entirely responsible for themselves; and are functionally, “innocent.” Is a two-year-old really responsible for, or a simple extention of, his bad mother? His bad nation?

    I do not think or claim, that my brief, offhand remarks here are scholarly theology; but I do feel that even my brief notes on this blog, would easly serve as the foundation for a full, scholarly – and devatating – critique of Copan’s two related article(s).

    Regarding one secondary point, finally: Copan might mention repopulation; but then he failed to take it into account in one of his arguments. He claims that he has proven whole cities were not really destroyed, every inhabitant – because later, people were found in those cities. Copan should have looked at his own information. And noted there is another explanation available; all were killed, but then the city was repopulated.

    This explanation moreover is not merely just another explanation among many; it has the very considerable advantage that it is true to the BIble itself. It does NOT have to simply reject whole passages out of the Bible, as mere rhetoric. But in fact, it remains far more respectful of the Bible, than Copi.

  40. Phil McCheddar May 15, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Thank you for your kind explanation in #33.

    John C.T.
    Yes, I think you are right in what you say in #38 about the Benjaminite incident. Thanks for helping me unravel that knot in my understanding.

    The best way to deter trolls is to ignore them, but you made one logical fallacy in #39 (deliberately or naively?) which I want to answer for the sake of anyone else who may otherwise be misled.
    You stated: “If Copan believes that major parts of the Bible are not really the word of God, but are merely ANE rhetoric, then …”
    To be inspired by God down to every jot & tittle does not necessarily preclude human rhetoric and quirky literary styles. Evangelicals do not believe God mechanically dictated his words to the human writers of the Bible (except in a few places*) but rather that he left them free to express their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. The end product consists of God’s perfect Word conveyed through the medium of human words in such a way that everything in the Bible is exactly what God intended to be there but without violating the human writer’s freedom of expression. So evangelicals believe that even 1 Cor.7:12 and 1 Cor.7:25 are inspired by God.
    It is impossible to get your head round that but no harder than accepting that every event surrounding the crucifixion of the Lord was planned and orchestrated by God and yet simultaneously instigated by the wickedness of human beings acting of their own choice.

    * for example, the Ten Commandments

  41. Joe, once again I ask you to read Copan fairly and thoroughly. Copan does not state that the the ANE phrases are not part of God’s word, the Bible. He is saying that such set or stock phrases were part of the language of the day, the language that God used to communicate. Everyone who uses language uses rhetoric (including you); rhetoric refers to the art of using language. Usually rhetoric refers to the persuasive use of language, but it can have other, related meanings as well.

    Consequently, there is nothing “logical” about your conclusions in that regard. Copan is not getting God off the hook (another stock expression of the English language) by claiming the Bible is in error (as some do), but rather he is finding an explanation within the bounds of an assumption that the Bible is entirely true.

    I note that Copan cites several Biblical references of killings; you do not. If you believe that among the “many, many references to killing women and children, in the Bible” there are incidents that Copan or others cannot deal with, please provide them.

    You then claim that I assert that God killed the women. I did not. I said the reference to the lack of women does not imply that God commanded their killing. God told the other tribes to go up against the Benjaminites, but the text does not report whether God told them to kill “everyone”. Presumably, God left it to the other tribes to determine the level of justice to be inflicted on the Benjaminites (since in other circumstances God did so specify).

    Alternatively, I put out the idea that the killing of women is not problematic as an issue of justice. If justice can demand capital punishment, then such punishment could fall on women as well as men.

    Lastly, the text on Benjamin does not indicate that children or other innocents were killed. And I did not write that killing children was good. If you are not going to bother either reading what Copan wrote, or what I or other bloggers have written, there is not much point in interacting with you. There is nothing in your poorly thought out (and poorly spelled) blurbs that is a “devastating” critique, and nothing you have suggested is not more fully developed in the articles to which Copan responds.

  42. John:

    First point: if you and/or Copan refer to parts of the Bible, about killing everyone in a city, for example, as ANE rhetoric, or “stock phrases,”with the implication that this means that God was just talking here, and never did any such thing … then you are saying in effect, that parts of the Bible are indeed, mere rhetoric, just empty posturing – and are not quite, strictly speaking, true. Not as true as many take it to be.

    I firmly believe that Copan is indeed using this argument, to get God “off the hook.” If you read it closely. By the way, read both of his articles.

  43. “I observed in my previous essay that the language of total obliteration (“all that breathes”) is an ANE rhetorical device, an exaggeration commonly associated with warfare. For example, in Deuteronomy 2:34 (“we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed the men, women and children of every city. We left no survivor.”) and 3:6 (“. . . utterly destroying the men, women and children of every city”), we come upon what is a standard expression of military bravado in ANE warfare. In 7:2–5, alongside Yahweh’s command to “destroy” the Canaanites is the assumption they would not be obliterated–hence the warnings not to make political alliances or intermarry with them. That is, we have stock ANE phrases referring to a crushing defeat and utter obliteration in my earlier article, but this is what Goldingay calls “monumental hyperbole.”[30] After all, the books of Joshua and Judges themselves make clear that many inhabitants remained in the land.[31] “While Joshua does speak of Israel’s utterly destroying the Canaanites, even these accounts can give a misleading impression: peoples that have been annihilated have no trouble reappearing later in the story; after Judah puts Jerusalem to the sword, its occupants are still living there ‘to this day’ (Judg. 1:8, 21).”[32]

    OT scholar Richard Hess has written on the Canaanite question, offering further insights on the entire discussion.[33] (Following Hess here, I shall present “Scenario 1,” which argues that the Canaanites targeted for destruction were political leaders and their armies rather than noncombatants.)[34] Hess’s research has led him to conclude that the ban (herem) of Deuteronomy 20:10–18 refers to “the total destruction of all warriors in the battle,” [35] not noncombatants. [36] But does not Joshua 6:21 mention the ban–”every living thing in it”–in connection with “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys”? The stock phrase “men and women [lit. ‘from man (and) unto woman’]” occurs seven times in the OT–Ai (Josh. 8:25); Amalek (1 Sam. 15:3); Saul at Nob (1 Sam. 22:19 [only here are children explicitly mentioned]); Jerusalem during Ezra’s time (Neh. 8:2); and Israel (2 Sam 6:19 = 2 Chron. 15:3). Each time–except at Nob, where Saul killed the entire priestly family, save one (1 Sam. 21:20)–the word “all [kol]” is used. Hess contends that “the phrase [‘men and women’] appears to be stereotypical for describing all the inhabitants of a town or region, without predisposing the reader to assume anything further about their ages or even their genders.”[37]

    (b) The military forts of Jericho and Ai.

    As we look specifically at Joshua’s language concerning Jericho and Ai, it appears harsh at first glance: “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it–men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (6:21); and again, “[t]welve thousand men and women fell that day–all the people of Ai” (8:25).[38] ” – quoteCopan

  44. This is referred to as “stereotypical language.” So that in effect, Copan is indeed implying, that it is not, strictly speaking, accurate.

  45. Joe,

    But, are you not making a whole theological construct out of “stereotypical language” yourself, and making a pretty broad assumption when you say:

    “I firmly believe that Copan is indeed using this argument, to get God “off the hook.” If you read it closely. By the way, read both of his articles.”

    I don’t know whether my reading comprehension is is off or what, but I don’t see that in his articles at all. Perhaps you could point out more specific examples than mere ANE language so we can understand exactly what you are talking about in drawing that conclusion from the facts you have presented above.

    The facts you have presented, while interesting, do not (at least to me) prove your bottom line in precisely the way you have worded it.

  46. John:

    The point is, that Copan, to excuse the people of the Bible from being found guilty of some kind of bad, killing-women-and-children genocide, is taking several tacks. But the one I am interested in here, among others, in the his claiming that to be sure, the Bible, God, used phrases that talked about killing everyone in a town, male and female and child; but when it did, those phrases were just typical MIddle East rhetoric; or in other words, were not quite true. He says that actually, not everyone was killed; and that probably only men were found in the cities spoken of.

    But my main point is that here, Copan is in effect claiming that God was not guilty of killing women and children at all; that he was just speaking hyperbolically, rhetorically; saying things he didn’t really mean.

    Which means that Cop is, in effect – among other arguments – trying to suggest that God never, in the above examples, meant what he said, when he spoke of killing everyone in a town; men, women and children. But this means Copan is exhonorating God of intending a genocide, or supporting a people that commit genocide .. by saying that the when the BIble spoke of such things, it was not really telling the strict truth; just speechifying or spouting off.

    Which means that in effect, Copan is letting the Israelites – and by extention, the God that supports them – off the charge of Genocide, and/or killing women and children, even though they talked about it in the above quotes … by telling us the Bible is not quite accurate; is full of rhetoric, boastfuly hyperbole.

    But this means that ultimately, Copan is defending the people of the Bible … in part by telling us that the Bible wan’t always telling the truth. Which is a hopelessly self-contradictory, self-deconstructive position.

  47. Joe, your response sets out a fundamental misunderstanding of the use of language, and of the Bible’s use of language.

    As I have indicated previously, just as “dog” has a particular meaning in English, so do phrases like, “up the creek without a paddle”. When one uses the latter phrase in English, it does have a specific meaning as a whole, and the meaning is not that someone is near the headwaters of a small stream in an long open top boat with a stick of wood flattened at one end.

    Likewise, the ANE phrase has a specific meaning as a whole, and the Biblical writer used it in that sense. If you can’t, or won’t, agree with that (which is a very basic point in the use of language), then there is no point in reasoning with you. It is such an established point that there is no credible scholar that would disagree with what either Copan or I have stated (I have an honours degree in linguistics, among others, so I am familar with both the scholars and the literature). Indeed, one does not need a linguistics degree to be familiar with or accept the point.

    The ANE phrase is true in what it means, and what it means is that there was extensive victorious killing; it does not mean that children were killed. You seem to believe that God would have the Bible written a certain way, a way that is consistent with your 21st century, western beliefs about how the Bible should be written. However, you have not supported that belief with any evidence or reasoning. Neither I nor Copan agree with you; we don’t think that the Bible needs to be, or has been, written that way. We believe that God breathed inspiration but did not dictate each word, and that he used the wrting styles and language and forms of expression that existed at the time each book was written.

    One has to take the Bible on its own terms, not as we would want it, but as it is; as God gave it.


  48. If the phrases in the Bible don’t mean what they seem to mean?

    Then however God wrote it, in any case the translation that we now have, is in any case, functionally wrong.

    We do in fact expect translations to be accurate

  49. Phil McCheddar June 5, 2009 at 11:07 am

    The phrases in the Bible mean exactly what they seemed to mean to ANE ears. The problem for you and me is that we have 21st century western ears instead. Therefore I am prepared to listen to scholars like Paul Copan who have researched this subject and who then help ordinary folks like me to bridge the cultural gap.

  50. For the record, I don’t have a problem with God deciding who should be killed. I long ago learned that emotional responses are a weakness to be controlled, not indulged.

    The Bible contains the true account of history in the words of the people who wrote it. If they were users of hyperbole then it contains hyperbole, just as it contains simile, parallelism and metaphor. It might require some education in historical context to read it correctly but there are plenty of scholars today who study historical context and put it into layman’s language.

    Hyperliteralism, which seems to be the approach of many sceptical readers of the Bible, was a concept foreign to its original writers and sins against the natural reading of the text. When Jesus says ‘this is my body’ such a person is liable to accuse his disciples of cannibalism.

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