the best way of getting out of the whole Canaanite genocide thing, and it comes right from the Bible (but you may not like it)

In past posts (here, then followed up here, herehere, and here) I’ve talked quite a bit about the little problem we have in the Old Testament: God orders the armies of Joshua to kill every single Canaanite so the Israelites can live in their land. Deuteronomy 20 lays this out, and the deed is done in Joshua 7-12.

Most Christians are at least a little bothered by this, and various solutions are regularly put forward to reconcile a good and loving God with the idea of God as a killing machine in the OT—such as:

  • the Canaanites were very wicked and deserved it;
  • killing Canaanites is the good and loving thing to do for all concerned;
  • it wasn’t really that bad;
  • God doesn’t always kill foreigners;
  • don’t worry, God sometimes kills Israelites, too;
  • this is all part of God’s mysterious ways and we shouldn’t question it.

I go through these sorts of explanations in the links above.

My own approach is simply to acknowledge that the Israelites were an ancient tribal people and thought of God the way other ancient tribal peoples did–as a fierce warrior who goes to battle with his people, assured of victory if they are on good terms with the deity but suffering defeat if not. This biblical portrait of God is already critiqued to a certain extent in Israel’s own writings (e.g., the book of Jonah) and is put to rest in the gospel, where Jesus says we don’t kill people to take their land anymore.

I realize, of course, that not everyone will warm up to that approach because it appears to “not take the Bible seriously.” I would protest that I am in fact taking it quite seriously by allowing the text to speak in its historical context rather than bringing to the text my own agenda or twisting to text to ease theological discomfort.

But I digress. For those seeking a more “biblical” way out of having to accept that Israel’s God was an ancient version of Megatron, these passages, straight out of the Bible, may suggest a way forward.

Exod 23:27-31

27 I will send my terror in front of you, and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send the pestilence in front of you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, or the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 

Lev 18:24-28

24 Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for by all these practices the nations I am casting out before you have defiled themselves. 25 Thus the land became defiled; and I punished it for its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants26 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you 27 (for the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled); 28 otherwise the land will vomit you out for defiling it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 

Lev 20:22-23

22 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them, so that the land to which I bring you to settle in may not vomit you out. 23 You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. 

You see it?

In Exodus 23, it looks like a pestilence of some sort (famine? locusts?) by God’s hand is what will drive out the Canaanites: it will throw them into confusion and so they will turn their backs on the Israelites. This process, we are told, will happen gradually. But note there is no word of annihilating the Canaanites by war.

In Leviticus, we see another side to all this. Note the use of the past tense in these passages. Even though these words from God are spoken on Mt. Sinai, i.e., before Israel entered Canaan 40 years later, the expulsion of the inhabitants of Canaan is something God did. The Canaanites are vomited out of the land already.

These passages present an alternate view on how the Canaanites were ousted from the land (expulsion, either already or in the future) than what we find on Deuteronomy and Joshua (annihilation). The Bible carries with it multiple traditions of how the Israelites came into the land. (see also Numbers 33:50-56, which speaks only of “displacing” the Canaanites, not annihilating them).

Note, too, that the gradual displacement of the Canaanites in Exodus 23 coheres somewhat with the picture given in Judges as opposed to the rapid Blitzkrieg victory tour depicted in Joshua 7-12 (e.g., Joshua 11:23, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.”).

On the one hand, this is good news if you want to think of Israel’s settlement of Canaan in biblical terms that also takes the edge of the violence. On the other hand, this is bad news if you want to follow the Bible, since the Bible explains how the Canaanites ceased living in their land in two mutually exclusive ways–i.e., the Bible does not speak with “one voice,” which I know for some is more troubling than the thought of God killing off a population.

You can’t have everything.

If you want to read more about this, see Baruch J. Schwartz, “Reexamining the Fate of the ‘Canaanites’ in the Torah Traditions (pp. 151-70, Sefer Moshe: The Moshe Weinfeld Jubilee Volume : Studies in the Bible and the Ancient Near East, Qumran, and Post-Biblical Judaism, Eisenbrauns, 2004).

  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colon DeLay

    Good of you to reveal that multiple narratives persist on the issue!

    The abuse and killing of innocents is often tied with judgements (driven from land) like these. Maybe it’s more of a Proverbs-type of truism as well rather than some empirical proof of God’s mighty wrath.

    Also in play: The sexual abuse and killing of children appears to be rampant in those times in that region as some recent archeological evidence seems to support. A sick place. (One site has 9 square miles of infant burials of ritualistic death 5 bodies deep. That’s a lot of carnage.)

    (I won’t pretend to have an expert knowledge, being more of a semi-scholar, but if God’s heart is favored toward the oppressed as the chiastic literary structure indicates (I’m a former student of Dr David Dorsey), it could be a story of rescue more than annihilation as some versions indicate.)

    • ThisIsTheEnd

      So to stop the practice of child sacrifice God ordered everybody killed? Including children? If I’d misread you then apologies but I’ve heard similar arguments

    • beau_quilter

      Lisa do you have a reference for an archeological site showing “9 square miles of infant burials of ritualistic death 5 bodies deep”?

      • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colon DeLay

        I wish I had it on hand. It was from a scholarly journal on archaeology (not a simple web link. LOL. But wouldn’t that be nice? No. most of these sorts of journals are esoteric and hardly ever make the light of day for every day readers or web surfers, unless Huffington Post deems them worth or something.) I read it about 4 years ago and it would take some doing to come up with all that, but some research in the field specifically or with someone who studies that currently could do the job if you feel up to it. I do believe it was located in the area of Tyre. good luck.

        • beau_quilter

          Well, I have to confess, I ask because I am dubious that such research exists.

          It is certainly clear that infanticide was a common practice of many if not most ancient cultures, but all of the best known sites revealing multiple infant burials (or burnings) are nothing close to the scope of burials that you describe (dozens at most). The site of an ancient sewer in the 1st century Roman empire has received a lot of attention for the nearly 100 infant burials found (possibly associated with a local brothel), but this is about as high as such numbers go.

          Certainly, all ancient practices of infanticide, of any number, are barbaric to us now; but an archaeological discovery of “9 square miles of infant burials … 5 bodies deep” would not be a matter of esoteric, obscure research – it would be unheard of. I can assure you that no such site exists.

          Perhaps you are confusing archaeology with a passage of ancient apocalyptic literature, in which exaggerations of doom are often found.

  • Yuri

    Outside the Torah, Amos 2:9-10 might reflect a similar tradition in which God deals with the Canaanites first (v. 9) and then brings the Israelites to the land (v. 10).

    • peteenns

      Good point.

  • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

    The truth is that these ancients Jews were a tribal people in desperate circumstances. They were by no means perfect morally. They were intelligent enough to come up with some interesting and novel ideas about the divine. Unfortunately they antrophormized “God” which included some of their own bad traits which include, anger, wrath, and the justification of genocide which not only included the men of war but the women, children, and babies, right down to the animals, trees and houses. It was at times a scorched earth policy.

    Later on supposedly Gods heart softened and virgins were allowed to lived and be taken as concubines and wives after they were allowed to grieve the deaths of their fathers at the hands of the these ancient Jews. How generous of him and them. Wouldn’t we all want to be forced to have sex with the killers of our family and culture.

    The Divine in reality never asked for this but these books in the OT were but a tribal teatise to rally them together. What better to give them psychological strength and will to do difficult things than to say God is behind you and has commanded these things.

    In reality there is no moral justification for such actions only explanations of a primitive people acting as savages would, albeit a bit more sophisticated than some savage behavior. Nevertheless this behavior should never be touted as God’s will else what can we expect in the future from those who do. If you can justify horrible activities then it’s not a far stretch in history repeating itself.

  • jimgetz

    Nice points. To dovetail with what you are saying, there’s also the whole canonical structure of the Deuteronomisitc History (Joshua-2Kings for layfolk). That mega narrative is written from the the perspective of exile. The people who are writing and reading this account are sitting in Babylon asking “what did we do wrong?”

    The Torah ends with the people still outside the Land. Reading Joshua as the beginning of the journey to exile rather than the end of the exodus provides quite a different perspective.

  • Joel Hamme

    Hi Professor Enns,

    The early church fathers, such as Origen and Augustine, said it never really happened and that it is so disturbing so we would stop and use brainpower and spiritual insight to solve the problem, thus pay close attention to Scripture. Because every word is the word of God, every detail should be interpreted allegorically to get spiritual meaning. Notice our ancient Spiritual ancestors did not have a problem with Scripture not being literal and still being the word of God.

    I don’t know if I agree with Origen and Augustine, but it is something to think about when we approach Scripture.

    • peteenns

      I think this is a valuable point, Joel. It can be reorienting for some today to be aware of how some of the earliest Christians handled these sorts of theological problems. I know the matter is more complex but I remain convinced that allegory arose largely to address the “problem of the Hebrew Scriptures” in view of the gospel (plus a little apologetic pressure vis-a-vis Jews).

      • Joel Hamme

        Augustine and others thought all Scripture should be interpreted to support the doctrine of the Church. Sometimes they had to get a little inventive.

    • Seraphim Hamilton

      That’s Origen (who was later condemned as a heretic) not Augustine.

      • peteenns

        You’re not an Origen basher are you? It’s hardly my area of work, but I’ve read enough where Origen got a raw/political deal, and later Greek theologians continued his thinking in different ways.

        • Seraphim Hamilton

          I’m not an Origen “basher”, but I am extremely careful with using Origen to demonstrate anything about early Christian doctrine, because of how unique he is. The Cappadocians picked up Origen’s work, but (with the exception of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s apotokatasis), refined his work to fit the consensus of the Church.

      • Joel Hamme

        In fact it is Augustine, too. In either On Christian Doctrine, or in The Enchiridion of Faith, Hope and Love. I think the former, but am not for sure.

        • Seraphim Hamilton

          I see. If you come across it, I’d be interested in seeing a direct quote.

          • Joel Hamme

            Very good. I will point you to where it is.

            Joel

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    This is more of a Hebrew question, but is there a sense in these examples from Exodus and Leviticus that God is about to do something, even if there’s a mix of future, present, and past tense in the English translations? I may be reading back into this passage the “already not yet” tension of God’s Kingdom from the New Testament, but could God be speaking of these events as “already having happened” even if they haven’t? I could be tripped up by the limitations of translation here and I’m no Hebrew scholar, but there seems to be a mess of verb tenses, and I’m curious how much we should read into that.

    All that to say, I’m not too disturbed by there being two traditions. I mean, you’ve got to pick your poison on a topic like this!

    • peteenns

      That doesn’t strike me as viable, Ed.

      • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

        I have no problem with that, but I am still curious why, for instance, Leviticus 18 mixes present and past tense verbs, and then Leviticus 20 uses present verbs again. That jumps keeps jumping out at me as I reread this post. Am I over-thinking this? What am I missing here?

        • Roy Blizzard III

          Hebrew has no “tenses”, what they have are aspects. This is a very complicated system that has thoroughly confused translators and readers alike. To the Hebrew mind there is no problem mixing what we call tenses.

  • Jeff Martin

    I just wanted to add a couple of things. One, the reason why God picked on Canaan as opposed to other nations is because God specifically claimed that land and picked it out for Abraham to inherit, but it was always God’s. Also it is interesting that Deut. 7:3 talks about not marrying them, which is strange to say if they would have killed everybody.

    • peteenns

      Good point about 7:3, Jeff–which introduces yet another point of tension, this with Deut 20.

      A more common way of reading the references to Canaan in Genesis is later political propaganda–see esp. the curse of Canaan for something Ham did.

  • aricclark

    Another advantage of this alternate reading is that the “driving out” of the canaanites can be seen as a natural consequence of their behavior. If they have “defiled the land” by overfarming/hunting, for example, then a famine is a very plausible consequence. God’s agency can be seen as being a step removed such as when God “removes God’s hand of protection” and allows natural consequences of bad choices result.

    Ultimately, though we can be relieved that in fact there never was a genocide or conquest of canaan. The Israelites always lived among various peoples (or there would have been no need for commands not to intermarry let alone constant concern with high places and idolatry). The archaeological record shows no sign of conquest. The whole Torah, and most definitely Joshua, are later propaganda of the House of David. Whew, glad there is no reason we are forced to read the Bible in such a way that God is clearly a monster.

  • Matthew Hamilton

    You said that later OT texts and the Gospels put to rest the view of God as “a fierce warrior who goes to battle with his people,” but I cannot help but wonder whether the divine warrior motif is more than (or completely other than) violence.

    Can that picture of God be retained without promoting violence (or, as I sub-titled my SECSOR SBL/AAR paper in march, “Promoting Peacemaking without Taming the Divine Warrior”)? I believe that the divine warrior motif tells us some very important things about the way in which the Israelites viewed God; if I believe that God has intersected history at various points, particularly with the Israelites, I have to believe that their image of God, although certainly distorted through human experience, is pointing towards the real thing. God, therefore, I believe, has some of the attributes of the divine warrior. He protects, he fulfills covenant, he even acts against covenant-breakers. This doesn’t mean we have to embrace the violent aspect of the motif, but instead we should look beyond it to the aspects of the divine warrior that are shared with the God revealed elsewhere in scripture, particularly the Gospels, and throughout the Christian experience since the NT was written.

    • peteenns

      I’m good with that idea, Matthew. The warrior image is transformed, like so much else of the OT.

      • Seraphim Hamilton

        At the same time, the OT sometimes depict Israel’s God at war with the other members of the divine council for the sake of worldwide justice. Therein, I think, lie the OT roots of the NT idea.

        • Matthew Hamilton

          I don’t know that God is presented as being at war “with the other members of the divine council” at all, let alone for the sake of worldwide justice.

          Where do you find this idea?

          • Seraphim Hamilton

            The Psalms, mostly, which also contain the most “universalistic” portions of the Hebrew Bible. Ps. 82 in particular comes to mind.

  • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike Barlotta

    You present two views (both in Scripture) on how the Canaanites were “ousted from the land”:
    1) expulsion via famine etc.
    2) annihilation via war

    You present these as “two mutually exclusive ways”. Why do they have to be exclusive of each other?

    Why couldn’t God have been working through famine etc. to drive out the Canaanites (like he also did with Abram and later Jacob and his sons so they would go to Egypt), which would be a merciful way of dealing with them.

    And for those that did not/would not leave, then they faced war and conquest.

    The latter option would not be unlike the Assyrians/Babylonians taking the land from Israel due to disobedience. Specifically Jeremiah 24 seems to fit. God blesses the Israelites that go into captivity but promises war and destruction for those that stay.

    • John W. Morehead

      I appreciate the effort here, but it does not address two major problems. First, the ethical issues surrounding a God who commands genocide, and second, the archaeological and textual data on the Conquest narratives.

      • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike Barlotta

        I was not attempting to address these problems directly, I was addressing Enns’ claim that the two views are mutually exclusive. I don’t see any logical reason to require that assertion.

        • John W. Morehead

          Granting your intent on critiquing Enns’ argument on mutual exclusivity, you offer an argument that entails God’s mercy in famine and then war (genocide really). Serious ethical issues are related to the latter, if not the former as well. The broader problem that Enns has devoted a series of posts to attempts to tackle this and related textual and archaeological problems.

    • beau_quilter

      How is famine merciful?

      • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike Barlotta

        God had decided to give the land to the Israelites and to remove the Canaanites (and their culture/example) from the land. He also chose to judge their sin (by forcing them out of the land, which He also did with His own people). It would be merciful (would it not) to first prompt them to move (using the famine as the driver) and then when some chose to stay have them deal with war.

        • beau_quilter

          Well, even today famine generally involves malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and mortality – especially to the weakest in society, infants and children.

          So, the clear answer is … no. It would not be merciful to inflict famine on a society.

          • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike Barlotta

            Yes, living thru the famine (or whatever event God used) would be horrible. But the famine would have been used to make people want to leave the land.

            The biggest problem to the famine option might be that the spies found the land producing well when they went in. So it would seem to have to occur prior to that event, which leaves the opportunity for people to return as the land recovered.

            Just a quick question, in what way do you think it is ethical for God to judge? How do you asses the flood (local or global), wiping out the first born in Egypt, driving Israel out of the land via Assyria/Babylon, the famine during the time of Elijah (no rain), and Jesus’ future judgment of sheep/wheat from goat/tares to list some of the times when God judged.

            Are we to read any of narratives as actual events and are we to see God’s hand in any of it?

          • beau_quilter

            To answer the question “in what way do you think it is ethical for God to judge?”, I have to respond that the sorts of judgments one finds in the flood narrative, the killing of the first born of Egypt, the decimation of the Canaanites, etc. are horrific by any modern standard of morality. Such a “God” would be a monster.

            Fortunately, these are clearly just legends espoused by ancient warring middle-eastern tribes whose ancient sense of morality was barbaric and ethnocentric.

    • peteenns

      Mike, I do appreciate the question. It is a good one to ask. But this is not a matter of taking these statements in isolation and determining if they CAN be made to be logically compatible. It is a matter of seeing the character of Scripture, esp. in the Pentateuch, as repeatedly–even pervasively–presenting various voices.

      One COULD, for example, take the Passover law in Exodus 12:8, which says the lamb is to be roasted rather than boiled, and Deut 16:7, which says to boil it (English translations won’t help here), and find some way “logically” to make them compatible, but then you’d have to do this many, many times, to the point where the hopelessness of that approach becomes self-evident. What I am pointing out here with the Canaanite problem is not an aberration that needs to be brought into an otherwise univocal Scripture, but simply another example of Scripture’s “manifold witness” (as John Franke puts it).

      • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike Barlotta

        Pete Enns

        I appreciate your response and understand where you are coming from. I wouldn’t disagree that there are areas in Scripture where we have “various voices”. But I think you may have overemphasized “various voices” in this example.

        I still would hold that in this case there are solid and logical reasons to see this as (1) and (2) – with Jeremiah 24 providing some verification that God worked like this in the past – then (1) or (2).

        • peteenns

          You would need to demonstrate these solid and logical reasons, Mike. (I don’t mean here, but in general).

          • http://deadheroesdontsave.com/ Mike Barlotta

            Fair enough. But I would add that you could also demonstrate why the reader should see these as exclusive options. If you did this in another post, can you post that link. Thanks.

  • herewegokids

    Hmm….I guess for me I would really like to approach it similarly to yourself Peter, ie, the Israelites simply did what the other cultures of that day did, live their lives and assume God was directing, *much like the fundygelicals of today* (perhaps you’ve read ‘And God Said Billy’ by Schaeffer which would be an example of this.) A type of wishful thinking. Where I struggle with that is wondering, does this mean we have to rethink all the narratives that record that God Said thus and so? Some of it seems to be intended as literal. Or not.

  • John W. Morehead

    “the Bible does not speak with “one voice,” which I know for some is more
    troubling than the thought of God killing off a population.”

    I had never realized this before, but that is the state of affairs among Evangelicals, and a startling one at that in terms of priorities of difficulty.

    • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

      Or opposing gay marriage is far more important than putting an end to atrocious inequalities between poor and rich children.

    • peteenns

      Indeed, John. The lengths some go to defend these descriptions of God, preferring a God like this in order to protect a view of the Bible is revealing.

      • Paolo Stefano Fratianni

        Indeed, I had a long conversation with a door to door baptist evangelist, very rare in relation to Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons. When the subject of genocide of the Canaanites came up he uncomfortably tried to defend. I told him not only was there no good defense but that if he keep down that road it would harden his heart. Furthermore it besmirches God’s good name to attribute such commandments to him. Well let’s just say I gave him a lot to think about before he left. Some people have been indoctrinated and can only use the version of the bible they have been preached by to promote only one narrow particular interpretation and that is it. It is not really their fault as they have been taught what to think not how to think.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I have tried to lay out the different ways such terror texts can be interpreted:

    and think I might offer a complementary perspective to that given by Dr. Enns, though I morally and theologically completely agree with him on that issue.

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/moral-indignation-and-divine-genocides-moralische-entrustung-und-gottliche-genozide/

    Once month ago I was aked by a (very nice) German atheist about this issue and this is what prompted me writing the post.

    It is pretty depressing that so many Evangelicals hold fast on condoning an atrocity because they are persuaded their whole faith hinges on it.
    A young reformed pastor told me once that if I deny the slaughter of the babies there, I might as well deny the resurrection.
    He was entirely serious. Words failed me…

  • labreuer

    Pete, have you seen Glenn Miller (christianthinktank.org)’s article, How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites?? He argues that the goal was ‘culture destruction’, and that not a single Canaanite had to die in order for this to happen. They did have to be displaced from their land, though, as this would be the best way to destroy their culture.

    I’ve also been struck by the fact that the Israelites had bunch of military victories before they even got into the Promised Land—they kept getting attacked by people whose land was not in the borders specified in Numbers 34. Jericho knew about the Israelites’ defeat of the most powerful nation known—Egypt. There’s no indication that inhabitants of Jericho were prohibited from leaving during the six days of circle-marching. It’s almost as if Yahweh were providing plenty of evidence of Israel’s military prowess, such that people really would flee in terror! Then again, Achan exposed a chink in the Israelites’ armor: if they weren’t going to be obedient to God, God wasn’t going to ensure their military victories. And thus, there was less terror of them and things got messy.

    Who knows if the above is correct, but it’s at least interesting to think about.

  • rvs

    “Two mutually exclusive ways” is only a problem if we embrace the law of contradiction, an Aristotelian law for which I find little or no biblical evidence. Great post–thanks.

    • Chris

      Because no one should believe in the law of contradiction?

      • rvs

        I’m just saying that the law of noncontradiction is over-rated, not to mention regularly misused in apologetics.

    • peteenns

      Yes, RVS, as I responded to another commenter, this is not a matter of taking these statements in isolation and determining if they CAN be made to be logically compatible. It is a matter of seeing the character of Scripture, esp. in the Pentateuch, as repeatedly–even pervasively–presenting various voices.

      One COULD, for example, take the Passover law in Exodus 12:8, which says the lamb is to be roasted rather than boiled, and Deut 16:7, which says to boil it (English translations won’t help here), and find some way “logically” to make them compatible, but then you’d have to do this many, many times, to the point where the hopelessness of that approach becomes self-evident. What I am pointing out here with the Canaanite problem is not an aberration that needs to be brought into an otherwise univocal Scripture, but simply another example of Scripture’s “manifold witness” (as John Franke puts it).

      • rvs

        I like this phrase “manifold witness”–it has a nice multiverse type of ring to it. Bahktin’s analysis of Dostoevsky also comes to mind–”polyphonic.”

  • Chris Van Allsburg

    The literalists of Joshua’s campaigns would not take the past tense of the Levitical descriptions as literal, and the literalists of the past tense of the Levitical descriptions would not take Joshua’s campaigns as literal.

  • JJJK

    I honestly want to know why we even keep the Book of Joshua in the Bible…it doesn’t seem inspired, just dangerous jingoistic propaganda to support ethnic cleansing…other books of the Bible can be used for bad ends, but I don’t see how you can use this book for a good end without being disingenuous, like Origen or St. Augustine

  • James

    God is praised as much for his acts of judgment as for his salvation. These are two sides of the same glorious coin that make Israel’s God famous in all the earth (and sea). I just read Isaiah 26 as a typical example. Clearly, we moderns are missing something important when we feel constrained to go through scripture (yes, even the New Testament) and cut out all those passages on divinely inspired violence. Yet nearly all biblical writers and Christians up to (say) the 18th century nourished their souls on this stuff–the heroic exploits of their Warrior King, mighty to save. Isaiah 27:1 caps it off: “On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.” Back to the hermeneutical drawing boards?

    • peteenns

      James. Yikes. The earliest Christians allegorized the violence b/c they knew it was incompatible with the cross.

      • James

        Really? I don’t see Jesus/NT writers doing much of that. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” Surely the Christ event focusses the wrath of God but it doesn’t negate the OT stories of it. No, we are dealing with the pre-modern mind in both Old and New Testaments–correct me if I’m wrong–and it isn’t nicely civilized like ours is supposed to be. Thankfully God reveals himself through Christ (often subtly) in many contexts.

      • Justin B.

        Dr. Enns,

        I’d be interested in seeing some examples of this, if you have the time. I’m very interested in how the early church interpreted these texts in light of the cross!

      • Seraphim Hamilton

        Not quite, though this is a common claim for people to make, especially with respect to the Greek Fathers. In fact, in most of the Fathers, the allegorical is seen as a dimension of the text that adds depth to but never obliterates the literal.

        • peteenns

          But they considered the plain/literal sense as at a level for the spiritually immature.

    • labreuer

      James, have you ever seen the result of war, up-close?

      In terms of end times, we acknowledge that some people may choose to violently oppose Jesus, and that he will end up slaying them with a sword which comes out of his mouth. It’s almost as if he’ll merely speak and not actually use a metal sword…

  • Bryan Hodge

    This is a common suggestion, but we might also view it traditionally without issue.

    If the Bible speaks with one voice, and the annihilation language, that is common in the ANE (Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts), isn’t literal–thus, leaving Canaanites in the land who are gradually driven out, then these texts describe both killing and expulsion (it’s not as though they’re mutually exclusive–people are driven out of a land by other groups primarily by violence). That seems to be what we see in the biblical narrative, so that seems to make more sense of the descriptions that refer to the final expulsion of the Canaanites from the land.

    It ends up being a matter of how you view the Bible more than what the Bible says, as we’re all putting that together in accordance with the way we view it in the first place.

    The reason why most Christians won’t accept solutions that tend toward overemphasizing the human voices in the Bible to the point of diminishing the One voice is (1) because there is no need to do so when the texts make sense in terms of seeing it as one voice among the many, and (2) it presupposes a view of God that is inconsistent with the historic Christian view. For instance, read texts like the Apocalypse of Peter and we very quickly see that we are no longer assuming the God of the early Christians. Most Christians today are in continuity with those early Christians in terms of how they perceived God. So there are numerous assumptions in adopting the hermeneutic you are suggesting that I think need to be explored and somehow shown to stem from a Christian metaphysic and epistemology rather than one that seeks to negate it.

    • peteenns

      I understand what you are trying to do here, Bryan, but if things were this simple there wouldn’t be a discussion, would there? Also, your first paragraph above, beginning “If”, is problematic on numerous levels.

      As for “a Christian metaphysic and epistemology” I wonder which one you have in mind and where you got it from. Does your metaphysic solve to your satisfaction all issues of theological diversity in Scripture (like the synoptic problem in the OT)?

      • Bryan Hodge

        Thanks Dr. Enns. Good to talk to you.

        “I understand what you are trying to do here, Bryan, but if things were this simple there wouldn’t be a discussion, would there? Also, your first paragraph above, beginning “If”, is problematic on numerous levels.”

        But is it complicated due to a discussion that is created when an alternate religion attempts to read the Bible, or is it a discussion that has come about as a result of historic Christian assumptions? I think that’s really the issue. The Canaanite genocide has always been discussed by Christians, but the solution was never to see a canon inside of the canon which contradicts that larger canon. In order to get there, we have to have a different God, Jesus, soteriology, eschatology, and bibliology than the one the Bible in its entirety presents to us (You yourself have said before that it seems like you have a different God than some of your reformed interlocutors, and I think there is a reason for that). That, in essence, seems to say that the best solution to read the Bible is to read it through the lens of a different religion than what, not only has been traditional accepted, but from what the Bible itself presents as a whole.

        I think that is what creates the reading of Scripture that atomizes it into segments, removes the implicatures gained from that context, and then reinterprets them in light of our own contextual implicatures. Once done, we can then say that there is contradiction between the texts. The cognitive dissonance is created by other ultimate beliefs and assumptions interpreting the text.

        “As for “a Christian metaphysic and epistemology” I wonder which one you have in mind and where you got it from.”

        I’m referring specifically here to how we know what we know in terms of what the Bible is. It seems that when we say that the Bible is a bunch of human opinions that may or may not reflect God correctly, we end up begging a question concerning how God inspires the Bible and the end result of such an inspiration. This is an a priori commitment on both sides. For historic Christianity, regardless of how the solution was brought about, there was always an assumption that the Bible was one Word with One author presenting Himself accurately through many human authors. But this new suggestion that has become popular rejects that idea, largely, so it says, because of what it finds in the Bible itself. But that simply isn’t the case. The historic position has always taken that same data honestly and reads it as ultimately complimentary and qualifying. What’s to decide how we read it if not the precommitment of what the nature of the Bible is in the first place? If it is all truly One voice, then it must cohere in some way. If it is all truly many voices, then it, in all probability, does not ultimately cohere.

        That then leads to our epistemology and discussing how we know what we know about the Bible. How do we go about interpreting it? With what measuring stick will we measure it? That too begs certain questions of authority and infallibility in whatever standards of a worldview is being used. We’re always using some sort of standard of comparison that we think is true in order to judge other things that claim to be true. That’s why we just have to believe one and move on from there; but that then causes us to ask the question from whence does that assumption come? Who gave us that assumption? The Church or the culture. Both? The Spirit or the devil? Surely, not both.

        So if I were to try to pinpoint the logical conclusions of what you’re saying, I would say that you mean to argue that some of the Bible isn’t the Word of God in the sense that God is presenting an accurate picture of Himself through those passages, but rather may be only using such human ideas to show what He is not like (what Thom Stark and many others before him have suggested). And, hence, it functions as the Word of God in terms of displaying people’s experiences with God that may be true or falsely presented, so that others with experiences with God must decipher which is which with their own experiences. Is that accurate to say?

        But how would one ever know that if there are multiple voices that have no continuity with one another? How does one know which voices to listen to and which ones present a wrong view of God? What is true for the OT is true for the NT. If we say Christ is the standard, which Christ would that be? The Christ of Matthew, or Paul, or John? Or, like Thom, is it a mixture of them, and again, how do we go about knowing which voice to follow? It seems that our modern religion of the zeitgeist is always the answer, even if almost never admitted.

        But that brings out the problem I suggested to Carlos on another thread. Are you really discussing the Bible, biblical religion, or Christianity anymore, or are you simply presenting a more comfortable and civilized religion created by our modern, self-inferential world using the Bible as your chosen starting point, simply because its the particular religion in which you were brought up? If that is the case, isn’t the Bible really just as good as the Book of Mormon, Shakespeare, or Harry Potter? After all, we are the ones saying this text portrays God accurately and this text does not. Many texts throughout the world have truth and good in them as well as falsehood and evil. Even the serpent’s words in Genesis 3 have some truth in them. Is his an inspired and sacred word too?
        We are the standard for saying what goes and what stays as God’s Word. The Jesus texts have to be interpreted like the rest, so we can’t claim that we’re just following Jesus.

        In historic Christianity, even if someone had a hard time with a passage, he still affirmed it as God’s Word that he likely just didn’t understand. But reading it with the governing assumption that it is not God presenting Himself accurately through men, and therefore, not One voice seems to beg a different assumption about what the Bible is long before one can possibly conclude what the text is doing. Hence, that’s a theological view that either illumines or hinders your interpretation of the text. There is no way around that.

        “Does your metaphysic solve to your satisfaction all issues of
        theological diversity in Scripture (like the synoptic problem in the
        OT)?”

        It does actually. I don’t truly have the cognitive dissonance that is so often presented here. I’m sure some will chalk that up to being dishonest, but I just think it’s good scholarship to see that a work carries its own context, and since I believe that the canon is a single work now, the entire context is the context of its individual parts. This is the synchronic approach that I think the scholarship you are relying on to make your argument ignores (largely because academia has been fixated on a diachronic approach for so long). The Bible is diverse from a diachronic perspective, but not from a synchronic one. But what Bible we end up with is what Bible we start with, not in theory (i.e., whatever Sunday School view we had of the Bible), but in terms of our assumptions concerning what the Bible is and how we go about discovering what it is. I believe you have to believe what it is first and then move on from there. You cannot discover what it is a posteriori through any method we normally employ, other than believing it to be the case.

        This is why Christians committed to the historic reading of the Bible as One voice won’t likely come to the same conclusion that you do concerning its ultimate plurality. They believe, regardless of plurality, and even using it, it creates an ultimate unity in what it says that doesn’t allow for the interpreter to pick and choose what is true and good in what it communicates, even if they emphasize and deemphasize certain things in their interpretations of individual passages. In fact, that would be to concede, in their minds, to yet another expression of the religion of the self rather than to a higher authority that negates the religion of the self and exalts what God has said over the self.

        What the Bible actually teaches as good and true by its individual parts in the canonical context is another matter, but the assumption that a lot of its teaching is bad and false doesn’t seem to be something that they are likely to adopt because they don’t hold your assumption of what the Bible ultimately is, even if they agree with you about the pre-canonical, individual parts.

        In short, I think that it’s actually your view of love, a central component of our modern zeitgeist, that changes biblical Christianity into modern liberalism, and has placed many into reading the Bible this way in the first place. It’s like the Genesis 1 and 2 of historical criticism. It has birthed reading everything else in the Bible this way because it causes us to read life this way.

        And I’ve said this before, but it’s vital. If you remove the concept of love from the biblical context of exclusivity, and replace your own context with its context, then you end up with our view of love within an inclusive context, which then changes what it means to love. Love is acceptance, doesn’t judge, does not punish, is not vengeful toward everyone. Love doesn’t show partiality between two groups of people. Hence, love would never exclude others from its benefits and actions.

        When that concept is then put back into the Bible, we end up seeing a conflict with our view of love and the biblical presentation of God as wrathful toward sinners, excluding and punishing them, having a lack of regard for their lives over the lives of His chosen group, etc. This, then, creates the idea that the Bible must contradict itself because God is love and these things are, in our newly found definition, unloving. But if love is to remain with its implicatures gained from the biblical context, then we end up with the God, the Jesus, the soteriology, the eschatology, etc. of the entire Bible once again. And I would actually say this if I were an atheist. I wouldn’t believe what the Bible says, but I wouldn’t try to remove it from its context and replace my own if I wanted to truly understand what it was saying, and what religion it was really teaching.

        So I don’t think it’s the Bible creating the problem. I think we are. And this isn’t just a modern problem. People have done this in history as well. Gregory is often cited as an example, but it’s clear that Gregory has done the same thing when you read his work. The difference is that Gregory would still affirm the text as a true depiction of God when seen in a spiritual light (which I don’t think either one of us finds satisfactory, even if the text has an application in that sense).

        Where did I get my metaphysic and epistemology? I think we agree that there is a reciprocal process between tradition, the Bible, reason, etc. I think the issue is which one becomes primary and what traditions are guided by the Holy Spirit. In liberalism, the Spirit guides through everything and everyone directly. In historic Christianity, the Spirit guides through ecclesiastical teaching using the Bible. So I would say that I got my reading assumption of the Bible through orthodox tradition, in terms of believing that the Bible is a canon and to have that as its ultimate context, and my individual interpretation comes from reading the Bible that way as a canon. I think that if you don’t read it that way, there is no canon, and therefore, no Bible. There is just a billion books in the world that need to be scrutinized by our current religion gained from a recontextualized Bible that in turn remains in a thousand pieces from which we choose, using this or that assumption, which pieces we’re going to pick up and say are true.

        This is what actually disappointed me with Thom’s book. He basically argued for this, but then wanted to argue that his view didn’t lead to relativism. That part of the book, I felt, was a bit disingenuous. If we read the Bible in this manner, we have nothing left but what we think is true or good in it, using whatever religion we find fashionable and most pleasing. But that isn’t a religion we got from the Bible itself. It’s a religion we created out of it, as one cuts shapes out of a whole piece of paper.

        • http://littlegreenfootballs.com/pages/freetoken freetoken

          That’s a whole lot of words to basically say:
          (1) The Bible is True Because God Said So (Presuppositional apologetics); and
          (2) Dr. Enns believes in a different God than me, the True Believer.

          • Bryan Hodge

            I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me. I’m not the reference here. I’m merely discussing the approach Dr. Enns has taken with the historic approach, whether I adopt that or not. It serves me right for trying to clarify issues. Let’s all paint ourselves purple and call it green. If anything can be anything, then we can all replace Christianity with another religion and call it Christianity. I would prefer you all just called your “Jesus” “Bob” instead. But then you couldn’t make the claim to being Christian anymore, so I guess Bob remains with the designation “Jesus” for the sake of your religious conscience.

            And why is your approach true? Because you just believe it to be true? There is nothing else to substantiate it without begging the question.

        • peteenns

          I thought of not responding at all, Bryan, but since you took the time to write such a lengthy post, let me do so anyway, with some bluntness. I feel like I am reading a cheap apologetics monologue. None of what you say is new to me or remotely compelling–and it’s not because I need to be tutored in theology or the history of Christianity. To get to the bottom of the misstatements, overstatements, misunderstandings, unexamined assertions, not to mention baiting edginess, in you long post, which I have no intention of doing here, would not be profitable for anyone. I do not mean to sound harsh, and you certainly have the right to believe as you do, but these sorts of speeches will not help.

          • Bryan Hodge

            So essentially you’re saying that what I’ve written above is so below you and worthless in terms of helping move the conversation along, that it is not even worth responding to. I got it.

            That’s not quite the response I was hoping for. I’m sorry you reacted so negatively toward it. I really thought I was giving a rather insightful analysis of your hermeneutic that has been displayed throughout the years on this blog, so that everyone can just get some understanding as to why there is such a rift between you and your reformed interlocutors (I even had a professor email me and tell me he thought it was spot on, but so be it).

            I actually thought you would agree with what I wrote in terms of its description, since you’ve said similar things before here. In fact, isn’t this post about you’re denial that your God is the God of the ancient Israelites? Haven’t you said before that you just have a different God than those who accept these biblical texts as accurately depicting God? And that their acceptance of such a God tells us a lot about these tribal-oriented people (of which, I assume, you are not a part)? So I’m not quite sure why you took such offense to it. Aren’t you essentially saying these things? It’s not like this is the first post I’ve read from you, and have just mistaken a couple blogposts to be saying something that it isn’t. I’ve read you from the beginning. If now you want to correct me in saying that you affirm the God of historic Christianity, I’m happy to hear that. If your Jesus is that of the Church Fathers and Reformers and Puritans, I’m happy to hear it. If you read the Bible as one, canonical voice, as they did, that’s great to hear. If you affirm the exclusivism that sends much of the world to hell, as they did, that places you squarely with them. I’m not sure what all of your critics are making all the fuss about then. You’re just suggesting some minor tweaks here and there that really have nothing to do with a radical shift of their religion. I’d be happy to hear that I was out of line on that. But obviously you believe that we need a complete overhaul of that religion, so with what religion are you overhauling it? The Bible itself? No one approaches the Bible without assuming what it is in order to get there. If that is something you find to be apologetic rather than a basically self-evident fact, then that might explain why you think my comment was so poorly thought out.

            It’s clear that your critics think that whether you call it Christianity or not is really just a matter of nomenclature at this point. If it no longer has much resemblance with what Christianity has historically been (i.e., it has a different God, a different Jesus, a different soteriology, a different eschatology, a different Bible, etc.), then it’s just a name being placed on another religion. Maybe it’s the true religion. But it isn’t what has been historically considered Christianity anymore. That’s all I was trying to point out, and that’s pretty clear from just a logical standpoint. I don’t think that their wrong in this assessment, and I judge that by YOUR own statements, not their caricatures of you. It’s seems to them, at least, to be an attempt to usurp a religion, to which you were once an adherent, with another religion that you find more viable, but you just believe that yours is true Christianity and theirs isn’t. I’m sure you would affirm them as Christians with false views, but their false views aren’t true Christianity in your mind, are they? I’ve seen atheists say similar things to you, but you never address it. Either way, however, the fact that both atheist and traditional Christians alike are saying this to you might be due to the fact that this is the logical conclusion of what you have been arguing as of late.

            You have people here that talk about not leaving the faith, or keeping the faith, even though they had to completely revamp it. I understand that no one wants to depart from the faith in which he grew up, but is staying with the faith really just a matter of keeping the same names for God, Jesus, etc. while denying what these names have historically and canonically designated within historic Christian circles? These Gods and “Jesuses” are significantly different, are they not? So when we interpret the Bible in terms of one versus another, it’s quite a radical shift from one religion to another, is it not? I can see no honest description that would paint it any other way, but maybe you have one and I’d love to hear it to clear it all up. When all Christians throughout history have seen the Bible as the one voice of God through the many voices, and you see the Bible as many voices that may or may not reflect the voice of God, that’s not just a minor tweaking of the religion. That pretty much will move the standard by which we judge all religious claims to something other than the Bible in that whole reciprocal process. What might that be? What will God or Jesus look like after we’ve put this approach into action for generations and the remnant of the historic influence is no longer anywhere to be found? Do we really need to wait that long to see that this is another religion?

            Other religions do this all the time with Christianity. It’s a different religion with the same labels. We can call it just a different take on Christianity, but at what point is it no longer a Christian religion? Maybe they have the true Christianity and what has been historically presented as such isn’t. But to call it “Christianity” and then go on and on about how everything needs to be reassessed and changed is really an adventure in self delusion. If anything is apologetically oriented, it would seem that this idea would be (i.e., I need to keep qualifying God to fit modern standards in order to make the faith more viable, both to myself and to others).

            So I wasn’t attempting to make a speech. I was attempting to throw light on something that you NEVER address, and try and get you to address it (whether to make a good argument in refuting it or to confirm it). You have not addressed it in your books. You have not addressed it on your blog. And yet, you persist as though they are non-issues, and those who bring them up are just a bunch of apologists who don’t get it, and aren’t interested in doing “real” scholarship. It seems from your comments now that you haven’t addressed it because you don’t think what I’ve said is the case. That’s fine, but I’m really confused by the rest of what you’ve written on the blog throughout the years then.

            “To get to the bottom of the misstatements, overstatements,
            misunderstandings, unexamined assertions, not to mention baiting
            edginess, in you long post, which I have no intention of doing here,
            would not be profitable for anyone.”

            1. I wasn’t baiting you with anything. I think you need to stop being so defensive when people question your methodologies. We’re not all out to drown you. I was attempting to pinpoint why there is such a reaction toward you and why you react so emotively to others like myself.

            2. To say that I have unexamined assertions when I read the same literature that you do (and likely more in the area of epistemology than you do to where I read the assumptions of everyone critically), is just an assumption itself in search of an argument. If I have assumptions of which I am unaware, I’d love to learn what they are in order to avoid such a pitfall in the future.

            3. It’s impossible for me to know what I misstated or overstated without any clarification or example of what that might be.

            Finally, what happened to being able to discuss anything without fear of
            retribution or chastisement? Isn’t that what you condemn conservative seminaries for doing? Isn’t it those fearful conservatives who won’t answer questions? Or is that only for liberals who don’t really
            question whether we’re going about this correctly and what needs to be true or false before we proceed? Because I received quite a chastisement above for trying to get to the bottom of questions that I would need
            answered before I consider anything else that you say along these lines,
            since most of what you say here relies on begging the answer to those
            questions that I have yet to see addressed. We all have starting points.
            It would be nice to know yours. And none of us just starts with the
            Bible so that we can say that we’re just going where the evidence leads.
            That’s the modernist delusion.

            But since you find no value in my comments and seem generally annoyed by them, I’ll not burden you or your bloggers with them again.

            Faretheewell

        • Kaz

          I appreciate your comments, Bryan, as they reflect the very sorts of concerns and questions that I’ve had when considering various views, esp. those of liberal Christians. As one example that I’ve mentioned elsewhere, a historical Adam is at the heart of Paul’s soteriology, yet professor Enns and many others feel that we must reshape that teaching in light of the modern scientific consensus. On the one hand, professor Enns does reshape Paul’s soteriology in a way that retains the bits we like, yet once we’ve rejected the accuracy of Paul’s understanding, it seems to me that we are faced with one nagging question: On what basis do we maintain confidence that he got the bits we like correct?

          In other words, why was Tim Keller wrong in observing that:

          “If Adam doesn’t exist, Paul’s whole argument—that both sin and grace work ‘covenantally’—falls apart. You
          can’t say that ‘Paul was a man of his time’ but we can accept his basic teaching about Adam. If you don’t believe what he believes about Adam, you are denying the core of Paul’s teaching.” (The Search for the Historical Adam, Christianity Today, Vol. 55, No. 6), p. 23

          The article also quotes John Collins, who observed that if Adam and Eve didn’t exist, then this would “nullify so many things in the Bible it results in a different story.” (ibid, p. 23)

          So your concern is a valid one, I think. How much of the Bible can one reject or reshape before one ends up with what is essentially a different religion?

  • Mick Pope

    As usual, both very helpful and somewhat disquieting.

  • Alex Grabb

    I just finished read Fight by Preston Sprinkle and was wondering Pete what you think of his treatment of the violence in the OT?

    BTW thanks for always posting things that make you think beyond our comfort zones!

    • peteenns

      Haben’t read it but skimmed some relevant portions on line. I’d probably come out at a different place.

  • Seraphim Hamilton

    Good post. Some real food for thought here. I’d enjoy seeing some more posts from you about how Christians can actually positively appropriate Israel’s story in a more than arbitrary way. Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood your most recent posts (this one being an exception), but the sense I’ve gotten is that “Israel’s story is mostly myth, and the myth that they made up is pretty vile.” Personally, I’ve been soaking myself in the Torah (with the aid of the excellent JPS Commentaries plus Milgrom on Leviticus) and the Prophets lately, and even though I see the NT reconfiguring the OT (just as the OT reconfigures itself), I believe that the roots of that reconfiguration lie in the structural shape and pattern of Israel’s story. Most important for me was recognizing that the resurrection of Jesus IS the return from exile and the restoration of Israel, not just a fulfillment of already completed “types.”

    • peteenns

      I post quite a lot about this sort of thing.

      • Seraphim Hamilton

        I’ve been through a few pages, I only recently started reading regularly. I enjoyed the post about the Christotelic reading of Israel’s story. But what I am curious about is what activity you believe God actually undertook in ancient Israel. Was God at work in Israel as the people of God in a way that He wasn’t with other nations, in your view? (PS this isn’t bait)

  • Jim Watkins

    Thanks for explaining this way of “making sense” of the Canaanite genocide. Later in December, I need to introduce this issue (divine violence, more generally, but also the Canaanite genocide specifically) to a class of 7th graders at the school where I teach. Any thoughts on how to easily explain the view you describe in this post to 7th graders? Or, do you have more thoughts generally on how to talk to 7th graders about divine violence? Anything would be very helpful!

    • beau_quilter

      There are atrocities in the Bible, involving the killing of innocents. Whether one is speaking of the Flood, the first-born of Egypt, the Canaanite genocide, it is unavoidable.

      It seems to me that your options are:

      attempt to “justify” the atrocity,
      call into question a God who would perpetrate such atrocities,
      call into question the Biblical writers and their view of God,

      some combination of the above.

  • thatbrian

    Does God embarrass you Peter?

    I’m no scholar, but in this instance there is no need. Your argument is so frail that a high school dropout could expose and defeat it. Your error is right up front and easy to spot. “Getting out of the whole Canaanite genocide thing”. Why is there any need to get out of it? Did not God make clear, in the garden, what would happen? Sorry, I forgot, Adam, Eve and the whole garden thing is mythology to you. . .

    What’s telling is that the “Canaanite thing” is not a problem for me or for any Christian that I know. I’ve never heard a brother complain about it, but I’ve often heard an unbeliever rage against it. it’s a huge problem for unbelievers, and that make sense. Only a criminal has a problem with a just judge, Mr Enns.

    If you are concerned at the judgement that falls upon the Canaanites, you should be far more concerned about the one that awaits you, but there is a merciful God who offers forgiveness to sinners, if you ever have the need of such a thing.

    • Anna

      Oh not another one who believes that what we believe about the bible has some sort of effect on salvation…

    • beau_quilter

      “Only a criminal has a problem with a just judge.”

      So the killing of children and infants is just?

      You see, the problem is that you are so tightly bound to the idea of an inerrant Bible, you would rather justify atrocities than suppose for a moment that, perhaps, the OT writers had a few misunderstandings about their God.

  • Drew

    One of the things the church ought to admit is the long history of negative effects many biblical texts about God have had on our life together. With all the emphasis on what a text DOES to the reader, we should be absolutely clear: among the things the Bible has DONE is to contribute to the oppression of women, the abuse of children, the rape of the environment, and the glorification of war. Simply to assume that everything the Bible does is good or is good for you serves neither Bible nor church well. one might claim that the problem is due to the distorted readings of sinful interpreters and not to the texts themselves, and that is often the case, but the texts cannot be freed from complicity in these matters. The text THEMSELVES fail us at times, perhaps even often. The patriarchal bias IS pervasive; God IS represented as abuser and a killer of children; God IS said to command the rape of women and the wholesale destruction of cities, including children and animals. To shrink from making such statements is dishonest. To pretend that such texts are not there, or to try and rationalize our way out of them (as I have sometimes done), is to bury our heads in the sand.” Terence Fretheim

  • Tom Schuessler

    Excellent … thank you. Bring in the conflicting views presented by the Bible itself.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    Pete, as you know Kenneth Kitchen disputes that these are “different” pictures, he notes the study of Lawson Younger that the language of “totally destroying” and “leaving no one that breaths” Canaanites is hyperbolic language well attested in literature of this Genre and once that is realised the so called inconsistent traditions evaporate. The two pictures are not affirming different things.

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