The Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 3

The Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 3 August 9, 2015

In Part 2 of this series, I began to discuss the Conservative response to the Old Testament stories about Jehovah commanding the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites:

The Conservative Christian response:

The story of the slaughter of the Canaanites is FACTUAL, but Jehovah was morally justified in commanding the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in Palestine.

I also introduced an example of this Conservative approach, namely an article by the Christian apologist Clay Jones. Here is a brief summary of that article:

The “new atheists” call God’s commands to kill the Canaanites “genocide,” but a closer look at the horror of the Canaanites’ sinfulness, exhibited in rampant idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality, reveals that God’s reason for commanding their death was not genocide but capital punishment. After all, the Old Testament unequivocally commands that those who do any one of these things deserves to die.          (from the article “Killing the Canaanites”)

There are so many problems with this attempt to provide a moral justification of Jehovah’s command to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) that I hardly know where to begin.  I have more than a dozen objections to present right now, and I may end up with over two dozen objections by the time I’m finished examining Jones’s attempted justification of Jehovah:

1. If Jehovah commanded the killing of babies as capital punishment for a crime or sin, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to use the death penalty on babies.

2. If Jehovah commanded the killing of babies as capital punisment for crimes or sins committed by the babies, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish a person who is not capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong.

3. If Jehovah commanded the killing of babies as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by their parents (or other adults), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish a child for the sins or crimes of their parents (or other adults).

4. If Jehovah commanded the killing of young children as capital punishment, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to use the death penalty on young children.

5. If Jehovah commanded the killing of young children as capital punisment for crimes or sins committed by the young children, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish a person who is not capable of fully understanding the difference between right and wrong or fully understanding the negative consequences of their wrong actions.

6. If Jehovah commanded the killing of young children as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by their parents (or other adults), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish a child for the sins or crimes of their parents (or other adults).

7. If Jehovah commanded the killing of persons with significant mental disabilities as capital punishment, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to use the death penalty on persons with significant mental disabilities.

8. If Jehovah commanded the killing of persons with significant mental disabilities as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by those persons with significant mental disabilities, then  JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish a person who is not capable of fully understanding the difference between right and wrong or fully understanding the negative consequences of their wrong actions.

9. If Jehovah commanded the killing of persons with significant mental disabilities as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by their parents (or other adults), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish a person with significant mental disabilities for the sins or crimes of their parents (or other adults).

I’m just starting to get warmed up.  You can begin to see already, I hope, that Jones’s attempt to show that Jehovah was morally justified in commanding the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) actually raises a number of  reasons to doubt the moral goodness and fairness of Jehovah.

The objections above concern persons who are not fully morally accountable for their actions (babies, young children, and persons with significant mental disabilities).  There are other objections that relate to normal moral agents, to moral agents who are fully morally accountable for their actions.

Before I go on listing more of the various injustices that Jehovah committed (based on Jones’s veiwpoint), there is one very important injustice that I want to mention now.  From Jones’s point of view, which is shared by Catholics and conservative Evangelical Christians, if a wicked person dies before repenting of his/her sins, then that person will end up being punished eternally in hell for their sins; such a person will be in misery for all eternity.

Given this assumption, when faced with a person who is believed to be wicked and who has not yet repented of their sins, the one thing that one ought to refrain from doing, at almost any cost, is to refrain from killing that person.  That is because in killing such a person we would not merely be ending his or her life and any chances of further pleasure and happiness in this life, but we would be ensuring that he or she would spend eternity in misery.

On the one hand, the idea that Jehovah created hell and plans to put many human beings in hell where they will suffer and be miserable for all eternity is itself a very powerful reason to believe that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST.

But let’s set the injustice of eternal punishment aside for a moment, and assume for the sake of argument that hell could (somehow) be morally justified, this would mean it was cruel and unloving to kill a wicked person, since (based on traditional Christian beliefs) doing so will ensure that the wicked person will have no further opportunity to repent, and thus ensure that the wicked person will spend eternity in hell and eternity in misery.

10. If Jehovah commanded the killing of thousands of wicked persons, as Jones asserts, then JEHOVAH IS CRUEL and UNKIND, because the killing of those persons (based on traditional Christian theological beliefs) ensures that not only will those persons be deprived of any further opportunities for pleasure or happiness in this life, but ensures that those persons will have no further opportunities to repent and thus ensures they will suffer and be in misery for all eternity.

The obvious alternative to commanding the slaughter of the Cannaanites is that the Israelites should have been commanded by Jehovah to put their own lives at risk, and to sacrifice their own lives if necessary, in order to work as evangelists and missionaries to the Canaanites, to preach and teach and persuade and encourage the Cannanites to repent of their wicked ways and to begin to worship the true God, etc.

Jones provides a list of sins that he believes morally justify the use of capital punishment against the Canaanites, and he notes that  “the Old Testament unequivocally commands that those who do any one of these things deserves to die.”  Of course you cannot actually command that an act become something for which one deserves to die.  You can command that a person be killed for doing such-and-such, but that does NOT mean that doing such-and-such is truly worthy of the punishment of death.

Laws can be unjust by assigning punishments that are too severe or that are too light.  The punishment for a crime, should fit the crime.  The greater a crime or sin, the worse the punishment should be.  Minor crimes or sins should receive minor punishments, and serious crimes or sins should receive more significant punishments.  This is a basic principle of justice.

It is important to note not only what Jones includes in his list of crimes or sins, but what he fails to include as well.  The absence of two crimes or sins, in particular, is of great significance: working on the Sabbath and rape.  Here is what Jehovah’s laws say about working on the sabbath day:

 Exodus 31:14-15 American Standard Version

14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

15 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to Jehovah: whosoever doeth any work on the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

According to Jehovah, the punishment for doing “any work on the sabbath day” was the death penalty.  Did the Canaanites observe the sabbath day?  Did the Canaanites always refrain from doing any work on the sabbath?   I don’t think so.  The Cannanites, no doubt, did some work on the sabbath, and probably did a great deal of work on some sabbath days.  So, based on Jones’s reasoning, the Cannanites all deserve the death penalty for working on the sabbath day, contrary to the Ten Commandments.

So, why doesn’t Jones include working on the sabbath day in his list of horrible sins?  According to Jehovah, this is a sin so grevious that someone who commits this sin deserves to die.  But for some reason this sin doesn’t make Jones’s list.

There are some obvious reasons why working on the sabbath day doesn’t appear on Jones’s list, even though it fits with his line of reasoning.  Nobody would buy Jones’s justification of Jehovah, if it was based on the sin or crime of working on the sabbath.  The problem is that there are obvious objections here that would cast further doubt on the goodness and fairness of Jehovah:

If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of working on the sabbath day, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of working on the sabbath is NOT deserving of the death penalty.

If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of working on the sabbath day, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not work on the sabbath day.

Similar objections can be raised against some of the sins  or crimes that do appear on Jones’s list:

11. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of idolatry (worshipping other gods besides Jehovah), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of idolatry is NOT deserving of the death penalty.

12. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of idolatry (worshipping other gods besides Jehovah), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not worship other gods besides Jehovah.

13. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of adultery, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of adultery is NOT deserving of the death penalty.

14. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of adultery, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not commit adultery.

15. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of homosexuality (i.e. sex between two or more males or between two or more females), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of homosexuality is NOT deserving of the death penalty.

16. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of homosexuality (i.e. sex between two or more males or between two or more females), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not commit the sin or crime of homosexuality.

17. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of beastiality (i.e. sex between a human and a non-human animal), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of beastiality is NOT deserving of the death penalty.

18. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of beastiality (i.e. sex between a human and a non-human animal), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not commit the sin or crime of beastiality.

It is unjust to punish a person for violation of a law that was not published or well communicated and documented.  This is also a basic principle of justice.  So, if Jehovah commanded the Israelites to kill the Canaanites for disobeying Jehovah’s laws (like the Ten Commandements), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah would be commanding that people be punished for violating laws that were not published or well communicated to the Canaanites.

Why is it that RAPE is missing from Jones’s list of horrible sins?  Surely some Canaanites were guilty of the crime of rape, and so that would provide yet another potential justification for application of the death penalty to the Canaanites.  The main reason why rape does not appear on Jones’s list is that it is not a capital offense in the laws of Jehovah:

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 American Standard Version

28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, that is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;

29 then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days.

 That’s right.  If a married woman has consensual sex with a man other than her husband, then Jehovah commands that both the woman and her lover be put to death.  If two adult men have consensual sex, then Jehovah commands that both men be put to death.  If a mother works at cooking a meal for her children on the sabbath day, then Jehovah commands that she be put to death.

BUT if a forty year old man violently rapes a twelve year old girl, the punishment is NOT the death penalty for the man, but a fine of fifty shekels and mandatory marriage to the girl he raped.   That way the man can continue to rape the young girl any time he wants to, with no further punishment.  Clearly Jehovah shows no regard for the basic principle of justice that the punishment should fit the crime.

19.  If Jehovah commands the death penalty for adultery, homosexual sex, and sabbath violations, but let’s a rapist off with just a fine (and permanent access to continue raping the female victim), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because not only are adultery, homosexual sex, and sabbath violations not serious enough to merit the death penalty, but they are clearly less serious than rape, which is always non-consensual sex and often involves significant violence against the victim, and yet Jehovah commands a punishment for rape that is significantly less than the death penalty, and JEHOVAH IS CRUEL and UNKIND, because Jehovah condemns to the victims of rape to be married to their rapist, providing the rapist with permanent access to continue raping the woman or girl.

Before the death penalty is allowed by Jehovah, a general legal requirement must be satisfied:

Numbers 35:30 New Revised Standard Version

30 If anyone kills another, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses; but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of a single witness.

Deuteronomy 17:6New Revised Standard Version

On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness.

So, why should two or three witnesses testify to the guilt of a person in order to condemn that person to death?  Presumably, the point is to be as certain as humanly possible of the person’s guilt before imposing the very serious and irreversible punishment of the death penalty.  It is better to let some horrible crimes go unpunished than to severely punish a person who is actually innocent.  We want to avoid at all costs, imposing the death penalty on an innocent person.

Right now in the USA, the death penalty is being re-evaluated and looks to be on its way out.  One powerful argument for eliminating the death penalty is that it is extremely expensive to prosecute death-penalty cases.  This is because in the USA we want to be very sure that a person has received a fair trial and is truly guilty of a horrible crime before we impose the death penalty on him or her.  We believe that it is better to let some horrible crimes go unpunished than to impose the severe and irreversable punishment of the death penalty on an innocent person.

So, did two or three witnesses testify to the crimes committed by each and every Canaanite that Jehovah ordered to be killed?  Obviously not.  Did at least one witness testify to the crimes committed by each Canaanite that was put to death?  Obviously not.  There were NO TRIALS for any Canaanite.  There were NO WITNESSES who testified to the crimes of any specific Canaanite person who was killed.

Although Jehovah required there be at least two witnesses to testify to the guilt of the accused person before the death penalty could be used on an Israelite, there was no such constraint in this case.  Instead, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Canaanites were summarily condemned to death, without any trials, and without any evidence from any witnesses.

20. If Jehovah commanded the killing of thousands of Canaanites (men, women, and children) as capital punishment for sins or crimes they allegedly committed, and did so without requiring any trials to be held, and without requiring any witnesses to give evidence that any particular Canaanite committed some sin or crime worthy of death, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to condemn a person to death for allegedly committing a horrible sin or crime when no trial has been held to determine whether the person is actually guilty and no evidence of that person’s guilt has been given by witnesses.

To be continued…

 

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