Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 3: Ten Commandments

Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 3: Ten Commandments May 1, 2020

THE “LOCKER ROOM” TALK  EXCUSE

There is a videotape of Donald Trump saying this:

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

[from a SLATE article, emphasis added:
Trump Was Recorded in 2005 Bragging About Grabbing Women “by the Pussy”]

This video recording made it evident that Donald Trump was a sexist, a Male Chauvinist Pig, to be precise.  But “the Donald” disagreed. His words quoted above were just “locker room” talk, he (and his defenders) protested. However, it was obvious that Donald Trump was indeed a sexist and a Male Chauvinist Pig, and this was clear long before the video tape became public knowledge, because there was already plenty of evidence showing that Donald Trump was a sexist and an MCP.

In the Bible we learn from Moses that Jehovah has commanded the merciless slaughter of every Canaanite:

1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you—
2 and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.  Deuteronomy 7:1-2  (New Revised Standard Version, emphasis added).

According to the book of Joshua, Joshua and the army of Israel followed the above guidance from Jehovah:

19 There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle.
20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.   Joshua 11:19-20 (New Revised Standard Version, emphasis added)

To order that all of the Canaanites be “utterly destroyed” and “exterminated” and shown “no mercy” means that Jehovah ordered Joshua and the army of Israel to kill every Canaanite in the geographic area where the Israelites planned to move into, to conduct mass-killings of civilians including elderly men, elderly women, adult men and women, teenagers, children, and babies who were living in the towns, cities, and areas where the Israelites were moving.

Some Christians and Jews attempt to morally justify this horrible command by Jehovah as being “locker room” talk by Jehovah, by Moses, and by Joshua.  In other words, Jehovah, Moses, and Joshua DIDN’T REALLY MEAN what they said about mass-killings of all Canaanites, including civilians, men and women, teenagers, children, and babies.  They would never even think of doing such a horribly evil thing.

This excuse is based on a highly implausible interpretation of the above passages, and of many other passages, especially in the book of Joshua, but this excuse clearly FAILS for the same reason that this excuse FAILS as a defense for Donald Trump: there was already plenty of evidence that Jehovah was a violent and bloodthirsty tyrant who cared very little about human life.  So, the claim that this was just “locker room” talk by Jehovah, Moses, and Joshua, is preposterous, ridiculous, and outrageous.

Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law – by Rembrandt, 1659

 

SOME EARLIER EVIDENCE REVEALING JEHOVAH’S FLAWED MORAL CHARACTER

Before the nation of Israel arrived at the Jordan river, and before they began to “exterminate” and “utterly destroy” the Canaanites, including elderly men, elderly women, adult men and women, teenagers, children, and babies, Moses led the nation of Israel through the desert, and one of the most dramatic events in that time was Moses going up the mountain to receive from Jehovah the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.

 

Here is a summary of those commandments:

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not murder.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. Thou shalt not covet (neighbour’s house,neighbour’s wife, neighbour’s slaves, animals, or anything else).

For the complete and precise wording(s), see Exodus 20:1–17 and  Deuteronomy 5:4–21.
The above summary is from the Wikipedia article “Ten Commandments“.

If you study and understand the Ten Commandments, and learn how Jehovah wanted those rules to be enforced, you will find that Jehovah was a violent and bloodthirsty tyrant who cared very little about human life.  So, Jehovah’s words and actions BEFORE the “extermination” of the Canaanites already provided plenty of evidence that Jehovah is exactly the sort of person who would command Moses and Joshua (and the army of Israel) to exterminate tens of thousands of civilians, including elderly men, elderly women, adult men and women, teenagers, young boys and girls, and babies.

Jesus was familiar with the Ten Commandments.  He rattles off a number of them in response to a question from a rich young man:

16 Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 
17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 
18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 
19 Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 19:16-19 (New Revised Standard Version)

In this passage Jesus recites five out of the six commandments that are concerned with moral duties towards other people.  Jesus leaves out the 10th commandment:

10. Thou shalt not covet (neighbour’s house,neighbour’s wife, neighbour’s slaves, animals, or anything else).

However, the 10th commandment is unlike the other five commandments about moral duties to other people, because it is talking about an ATTITUDE: coveting.  The 10th commandment is basically psychological advice on how to successfully follow the other five commandments about moral duties to others.  In short, coveting your neighbor’s stuff leads to morally wrong actions like murder, adultery, stealing, and lying.

Instead of giving this negative psychological advice (to avoid coveting), Jesus provides a more positive bit of advice about the attitude we should have towards others: love.  If you love other people, then you will be likely to avoid morally wrong actions like murder, adultery, stealing, and lying.  So, although Jesus skips over the psychological advice in the 10th commandment, he substitutes an alternative bit of advice that serves the same purpose as the 10th commandment.

Jesus also spoke of “the greatest and first commandment”:

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 
35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 
37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 
38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 
39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:34-40 (New Revised Standard Version)

This commandment to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” is not one of the Ten Commandments.  However, it is, like the 10th commandment and like the commandment to “love your neighbor” a bit of advice about an attitude that will help one to keep the Ten Commandments.  More specifically, love for God helps to ensure that one will fully and consistently obey the first four of the Ten Commandments.  Those four commandments are religious in nature; they are concerned with how people should relate to God, with the duties of humans towards God:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

(The above summary of the first four commandments is from the Wikipedia article “Ten Commandments“.)

When Jesus talks about love for God being the “first” commandment, he doesn’t mean the first commandment in the list of the Ten Commandments, he means that this is the MOST IMPORTANT commandment.  So, from Jesus’ point of view, and from the point of most Christians and Jews, the duties of humans to God, especially those spelled out in the first four of the Ten Commandments, are MORE IMPORTANT than the duties of humans towards each other, specifically the duties spelled out in the next five commandments.

The Ten Commandments are really best thought of as the NINE COMMANDMENTS:

4 commandments about human duties towards God. 

PLUS

5 commandments about human duties towards other humans.

On top of these NINE COMMANDMENTS, we get some advice about attitudes, advice that is meant to help us to fully and consistently follow those NINE COMMANDMENTS:

1. Love God (in order to fully and consistently obey the first 4 commandments)

2. Love your Neighbor (in order to fully and consistently obey the next 5 commandments)

and also this bit of advice from the 10th “commandment”: 

Avoid coveting your neighbor’s stuff, so that you won’t be tempted to disobey the 5 commandments about duties towards other people. 

 

THE FIRST FOUR COMMANDMENTS

There are two problems that immediately arise, at least for me, concerning the first four commandments.  First, it is WRONG to make these the most important commandments.  (For the second problem, you will have to wait for the next post in this series.)  God has everything he/she needs.  God is self-sufficient.  God does not need anything from anybody.

So, why should we make a big freaking fuss about our “duties” towards God?  Is God going to feel sad if we don’t worship him every day or every week? Will God’s feelings be hurt if we stop believing in him/her?  Will God be harmed in some way if we violate the Sabbath day by washing a car or cooking a nice meal?  Nope.

We are puny finite creatures with very limited power.  God, if God exists, is infinite in knowledge and power.  We cannot hurt or harm God.  God does not need anything from us.  If God wants to make a universe, God can instantly make a universe, without breaking a sweat.  If God wants to make a billion universes, God can do that too, before you can even manage to blink your eyes.

God is kind of like a billionaire.    A billionaire doesn’t need me to give him/her money or food or clothing or anything else.  A billionaire already has all the money he/she needs, and that money can buy all the food or clothing or houses or cars that the billionaire wants to have.

If a particular billionaire, however, happens to like and admire me, then I might have some power and influence over that billionaire.  If I snub or insult such a billionaire, that would probably make the billionaire feel sad; that might even make him/her depressed.  But God doesn’t have psychological needs like humans do.  If I snub or insult God, that is NOT going to make God feel sad, and I certainly don’t have the power to make God depressed, no matter what I do.

God, if God exists, is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good person.  No such person could ever be under the influence of a puny, finite, human being.  We cannot make God feel happy or sad or worried or distressed.  God is above the influence of feelings and emotions.  We clearly cannot harm God.  God is eternal and immortal, so God cannot die or be killed.  God is a spirit, so we cannot wound or harm God in a physical way.  God is literally untouchable.

God needs nothing from human beings, including our respect, admiration, love, or worship.  Failing to love God, failing to admire God, and failing to worship God, will in no way harm God or make God feel bad.  But we can harm other people, and we can make other people feel sad or worried or afraid or terrified.

We can seriously harm other people physically.  We can blind others, and destroy their ability to hear sounds.  We can cut off their hands or feet, so that they have difficulty walking or moving objects.  We can cut off their legs, so they cannot walk or run.  We can cut off their arms, so they cannot lift or move objects.  We can strike people in the head with a club and cause damage to their brains, so that they cannot think straight or remember things properly.  We can strangle or shoot people, or thrust a sword through their chest, so that they die and cease to be able to do anything at all.

We can seriously harm people emotionally.  We can mistreat and abuse and insult people and make them feel sad and depressed.  And we can bully, threaten, and terrorize others, making them feel anxious and afraid.  We can demean and humiliate people, making them feel shameful and worthless.

Since we cannot harm God, or hurt God’s feelings no matter what we do, and since we can fairly easily physically harm other people and hurt the feelings of others or harm them emotionally and intellectually, it seems rather obvious that our duties towards other humans should be treated as of MUCH GREATER IMPORTANCE than our duties towards God.

So, the Ten Commandments, or rather the NINE (actual) COMMANDMENTS are ASS BACKWARDS.  The four commandments concerning human duties to God should be at the end of the list, and the five commandments concerning human duties to other humans should be at the front of the list.

This is the first bit of evidence (from the Commandments) that Jehovah is a SELFISH JERK.  He puts our duties to him at the front of the list, when he needs absolutely nothing from us, and he puts our duties to others at the end of the list when we have great power to harm others and to ruin their lives, and even (if we are truly evil) to “utterly destroy” them, to “exterminate” them.

To Be Continued…

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