The Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 7

Clay Jones argues that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), but that this command and the Israelites obedience to the command was morally justified because the Canaanites deserved the death penalty for various serious crimes or sins which were violations of the laws of Jehovah (see his article “Killing the Canaanites”). Jones provides a list of the crimes or sins allegedly committed by the Canaanites which were (supposedly) deserving of the death penalty: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.

The Sin or Crime of Adultery

To avoid the INJUSTICE involved in laws subject to being made “Void for Vagueness”, a law against “adultery” must meet at least these three requirements:

R1. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate who falls under the scope of the law against “adultery”.
R2. The laws of Jehovah must state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes “adultery” and that such conduct is prohibited.
R3. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate what punishment may be imposed for the sin or crime of “adultery”.

The sin or crime of “adultery” is explicitly prohibited in the Ten Commandments:

Exodus 20:14 New American Standard Bible

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

Deuteronomy 5:18 New American Standard Bible

18 ‘You shall not commit adultery.

The Ten Commandments, however, do not specify or define what conduct constitutes “adultery” (R2), nor do they indicate the punishment for “adultery” (R3).

But the Ten Commandments do provide clarity about who falls under the scope of this law (R1).  The word “you” in this commandment has a clear referent in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5:

Exodus 19:1-6 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

1 In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.
2 When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain.
3 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine;
6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 20:1-2 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

1 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deuteronomy 5:1-6 New American Standard Bible

1 Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them:
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.
2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.
3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
4 The Lord spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire,
5 while I was standing between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain. He said,
6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Obviously Jehovah did not bring the Canaanites “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”.  It is clear in both Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5, that Jehovah is giving the Ten Commandments to ISRAEL, more specifically to “the sons of Israel” (because Jehovah was a sexist).  It is clear from the context that the pronoun “you” found in the Ten Commandments refers to “the sons of Israel” and thus the scope of these laws does NOT include the Canaanites. Therefore, although there is a clear specification of the scope of the law against “adultery” (R1), the scope does NOT include the Canaanites, and thus:

38. If Jehovah commanded that thousands of Canaanites be slaughtered as capital punishment for the sin or crime of “adultery”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah’s laws do NOT clearly indicate that the Canaanites fall under the scope of the prohibition of “adultery” (in fact they indicate that the law applies only to “the sons of Israel”).

The book of Leviticus provides some clarification about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (R2) and about what punishment may be imposed for this sin or crime:

Leviticus 20:10-12  New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
11 If there is a man who lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
12 If there is a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

Although verse 10 by itself does not clearly define “adultery,” it does give us a big clue: “adultery” is something that a man does “with another man’s wife” and “with his friend’s wife”.  But just doing something with a “friend’s wife” is obviously not deserving of serious punishment.  If I play checkers with a friend’s wife, it would hardly be just to kill me for playing that game with her.  Verses 11 and 12, however, appear to provide specific examples of adultery, and both involve a man who “lies with” another man’s wife, namely with his father’s wife (vs. 11) or with his son’s wife (vs. 12).  So, based on this passage from Leviticus Chapter 20, one may reasonably infer that in the laws of Jehovah:

Definition of “adultery” (as used in Leviticus)

The sin or crime of “adultery” occurs when a MAN has sexual intercourse with the wife of one of his friends or with the wife of one of his relatives.

This interpretation of “adultery” is confirmed by a sexual prohibition stated in an earlier chapter of Leviticus:

Leviticus 18:20 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

20 You shall not have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife, to be defiled with her.

The first thing to notice here is that this is a SEXIST understanding of “adultery”.  In the English language, the ordinary meaning of “adultery” includes sexual unfaithfulness of either husband or wife, but on the meaning of “adultery” in the book of Leviticus, a husband can have sex with any woman he wants to, so long as she is not already married to another man.   A woman, on the other hand, is prohibited from having sex with any man other than her husband, on pain of DEATH:

In the Ancient Near East and the OT (Lev. 18:20; 20:10; Deut. 22:22) adultery meant consensual sexual intercourse by a married woman with a man other than her husband..  However, intercourse between a married man and another woman was not considered adultery unless she was married. (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.23) 

This understanding of “adultery” is clearly sexist and unfair to women, thus:

39. If Jehovah commanded that thousands of Canaanite women be slaughtered as capital punishment for the sin or crime of “adultery” (as understood in Leviticus 20), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to impose the death penalty on women for doing something that men are allowed to do with impunity (i.e. be sexually unfaithful to their spouses).

The second thing to notice about the above understanding of “adultery” is that it is VAGUE and UNCLEAR.  This law appears to fail to meet the second criterion for just laws (R2). When is someone considered to be a “friend”?

Are all of my neighbors automatically considered to be my “friends”?  What if I have never had a conversation with one of my neighbors, would that person still be categorized as a “friend” just because he lived on my block?  What if I have a long-standing disagreement with one of my neighbors about noisy late-night parties?  What if I hate this particular neighbor?  Is that person still considered, for legal purposes, to be my “friend”?  And if ALL of my neighbors are considered to be my “friends”, how far does my neighborhood extend?  Is it just the people on my block?  If I walk three blocks away from my house, is it OK to have sex with another man’s wife who lives in that area? or do I have to travel to a completely different city? or to a different state? or to another country?

The most plausible interpretation of “friend” (alternatively translated as “neighbor”) is given by a modern translation of this verse:

Leviticus 20:10 Good News Translation (emphasis added)

10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of an Israelite, both he and the woman shall be put to death.

In other words “friend” (alternatively translated as “neighbor”) in this context means “an Israelite man”.  This fits well with my previous point about the SCOPE of this law (and of the Ten Commandments in general) being limited to “the sons of Israel”.  This also fits with a conservative Jewish interpretation of this passage and the prohibition of “adultery”:

 10 And a man who commits adultery with [another] man’s wife, committing adultery with the wife of his fellow the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

 committing adultery with the wife of his fellow: [Thus] excluding the wife of a non-Jew. [From here,] we learn that [the legal status of Jewish] marriage cannot be held by a non-Jew. — [Torath Kohanim 20:105; Sanh. 52b]

(from a Jewish commentary on the Torah available at Chabad.org)

If the legal status of Jewish marriage “cannot be held by a non-Jew”, then it would NOT be possible for a Canaanite man or woman to commit “adultery” unless the Canaanite man was having sex with a married Jewish woman or the Canaanite woman had converted to become Jewish and then married a Jewish man.  Neither of those events was likely or common.

So, we might be able to set aside the problem of the VAGUENESS of this law against “adultery” by interpreting “friend” or “neighbor” to mean “an Israelite man”.  But if we do so, then the prohibition of “adultery” would NOT provide a JUST basis for slaughtering Canaanites, because very few Canaanites would have been guilty of having sex with the wife of an Israelite man (or of being that wife).

40. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “adultery”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because either the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (because of the word “friend” or “neighbor” in the law) or the laws of Jehovah are clear about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (because we interpret “friend” or “neighbor” to mean “an Israelite man”) but this law was violated by only a handful, at most, of Canaanites.

Leviticus does clearly state that the death penalty may be given as the punishment for the sin or crime of “adultery”, so the third requirement (R3) for a just law is satisfied.  We have seen that the law against “adultery” satisfies (R1), but that the law only applies to “the sons of Israel” and NOT to the Canaanites.  We have seen that this law should either be “Void for Vagueness” because of the unclarity of the word “friend” (or “neighbor”), or else we can adopt the most likely interpretation of this word, and understand the definition of “adultery” to be “having sex with the wife of an Israelite man”, in which case very few Canaanites would have been guilty of this sin or crime.  Either way, JEHOVAH IS UNJUST for using this law against “adultery” as the basis for the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children).

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