The nation of Israel when it left Egypt was enormous, if the Bible is to be believed. There were 600,000 men—that is, potential soldiers—which suggest close to two million in the entire company (Ex. 12:37).
To get an idea of how many that is, the Sinai peninsula, in which the Israelites spent forty years of exile, is a hundred miles wide. If the Israelites held hands, their human chain could cross the Sinai ten times.
The Exodus and genocide
No archeological evidence has been found for the Exodus. Yes, it happened a long time ago, but deserts preserve things—buried bodies, for example. God declared that all the adults would die in the desert and be denied access to the Promised Land (Num. 14:30). Since the Israelites didn’t cremate their dead, that’s over a million bodies that should be in the Sinai but, despite our searching, aren’t.
We can put this population count to another use. Let’s assume flat population growth so that the Israelites entered Palestine with two million people. Moses says,
When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites [map here], seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally (Deut. 7:1–2).
Seven nations, each bigger than the two-million-strong Israelites? Seven nations to be destroyed totally? Do the math—that puts the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust in perspective.
Of course, you could do what I do and conclude that the Holocaust is history and the Old Testament stories of the exodus and conquest of Canaan are just stories. That removes the moral cloud, but it turns the Bible into just another book of religious fiction, a buffet at which Christians can take or leave according to their fancy.
What Would William Lane Craig Do?
I always like to get an analysis of a cloudy biblical issue from philosopher William Lane Craig. Here’s what he says about God’s genocide.
I think it’s just dishonest when people like Richard Dawkins portray Yahweh … as this moral monster. These highly singular commands [to commit genocide] need to be read against the background of the whole of the Old Testament, which includes the great moral law that is given by god, which is head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral or legal codes like the Code of Hammurabi and so forth. It’s against the backdrop of the prophets, which explain god’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed and the orphans and the widows. (Source: “Richard Dawkins and Driving Out the Canaanites” @ 4:00)
Dishonest? Let’s see who’s dishonest. Consider fun Bible quotes like this one:
So Joshua subdued the whole region. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD had commanded (see Joshua 10:28–40).
The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, written around 1772 BCE, probably preceded the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic law by centuries. In fact, many scholars think that the Code inspired some of the Mosaic law. For example, the Bible’s “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is found there. However, it has nothing like the Bible’s genocide.
Craig will respond that this is cherry picking and that the Old Testament offsets the genocide and slavery with compassionate demands like, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). I agree—looking only at the Bible’s savage side doesn’t give a complete picture—but of course Craig wants to cherry pick in the other direction. A balanced look shows the Bible to be what you’d expect from the blog of an ancient tribe. It reflects the morality of the time. There’s no need to imagine a supernatural source.
This entire interview with Craig is a rich vein of crazy, but let me give just a few highlights.
These Israeli soldiers would be prosecuted for war crimes if this [Canaanite genocide] were to occur today. (5:40)
Yes they would, and what does that tell you? Are you a moral relativist, where you say that genocide is reprehensible from our standpoint but wasn’t from the different perspective back then? Or are you an objectivist who says that genocide is always wrong? In that case, tell me whether our attitude about genocide is wrong today or Israel’s God-given approach was wrong back then.
Craig tries to minimize the damage
If [this] is a good objection, what does it prove? What it would prove would be that the Bible has an error in it, that biblical inerrancy isn’t right, and that would force us to adjust our doctrine of inspiration, but it wouldn’t prove that God didn’t exist, it wouldn’t prove that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead (7:48).
He’s trying to sacrifice the pawn of biblical inerrancy in this chess game to preserve the queen of God’s existence. Great—let’s take that pawn. But no one thought that the queen was under attack. This is clumsy misdirection on Craig’s part. What’s under attack is the bishop of God being a morally perfect being. Craig’s own book tells us that God orders genocide, which makes clear that he’s not. Let’s take that bishop as well.
About God ordering the death of everyone, including the children, Craig says:
God, as the author and giver of life has the authority to give and take life as he chooses (11:10).
So God has no obligation to the people he created, and he can do with them whatever he wants without moral obligation. A human life is then to God what a sand castle is to us, and each of us can destroy our creations without moral error.
Incredible—this is what religion does to good people. It forces them to justify insanity. Like the defense lawyer for a Mafia boss, Craig spins every bit of evidence to fit his presupposition. He removes himself as a credible critic.
As a thought experiment, imagine that I created a hundred jobs. Could I just eliminate them for no business reason because I created them, putting those employees out on the street, without any moral consideration? Or suppose at every performance review, I flipped a coin to see if that person would keep their job. I’m the giver of the job and have the authority to give or take it as I choose, right?
The elementary moral truth that every child knows but that Craig’s religion has forced him to suppress is that there’s a difference between living things (like people) and nonliving things (like sand castles).
Craig could respond that God’s ways are not our ways. That may be, but first we need to conclude that God exists. Given the information that we have, the God of the Old Testament is, like Dawkins says, a capriciously malevolent bully.
Ladies and gentleman, beware of these scamsters—
especially scamsters in religious garb—
quoting the Bible. I mean, run from them.
They are all over the place.
— Pat Robertson
Photo credit: William Pitcher