Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 10: Child Sacrifice

Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 10: Child Sacrifice May 19, 2020

DEFENSE #1 FAILS

Here are the defenses of Jehovah and Joshua to which I am replying:

Joshua’s MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of the Canaanites (and Jehovah’s command to perform this slaughter) was MORALLY JUSTIFIED because:

1. The people in the Canaanite towns were given the chance to flee, before Joshua and the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED men, women, and children in the towns.

2. The people in the Canaanite towns belonged to a culture where some people did “some pretty disgusting things” like burning children to death.

3. The people in the Canaanite towns belonged to a culture that engaged in “some pretty disgusting things” like burning children to death for a period of 400 years.

We have seen that Defense #1 FAILS for a number of reasons:

First, providing advanced warnings to the inhabitants of a town prior to attacking it and MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERING every single human person in the town is NOT a moral justification for this great moral wrong, but is a pathetic example of BLAMING THE VICTIM.  Warning someone that you are going to murder them unless they leave their home and their town does NOT in any way excuse or justify murdering that person.

Second, providing advanced warnings to the inhabitants of a town prior to attacking it and MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERING every single human person in the town is MUCH LESS MERCIFUL than it initially appears, because (a) young children and babies have no real choice in whether to flee the town or not, (b) it would be an extremely difficult choice for teenagers to leave their town, parents, and siblings behind, if their parents decided to stay put, (c) elderly people might not be able to walk the long distance required to get to safety, (d) mothers and fathers who were also responsible for one or more elderly parents would in many cases have a very tough choice between staying and trying to protect their elderly parents or leaving town and abandoning their parents to be MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED, in order to protect the lives of their children.

Third, there is no indication in the stories about Moses leading the Israelites to attack some towns east of the Jordan river, that Jehovah demanded that advanced warnings be given to those towns to allow people to leave town and thus avoid being MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED, nor is there indication that Moses commanded that advanced warnings be given any of the towns, nor is there indication that any of the towns were in fact given advance warnings before Moses and the Israelites attacked them and MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every living person in a town.

Fourth, there is no indication in the stories about Joshua leading the Israelites to attack towns of the Canaanites in the Promised Land, that Jehovah demanded advanced warnings be given to those towns to allow people to leave town and thus avoid being MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED, nor is there indication that Joshua ordered such advanced warnings be given to the towns that he and the Israelites were about to attack, nor is there indication that any of these towns was in fact given advanced warning so that the people in the town could leave town and thus avoid being MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED by Joshua and the Israelites.

Fifth, given the clear commands of Jehovah to MAKE NO PEACE AGREEMENT with the towns of Canaanites in the Promised Land, and to EXTERMINATE, ANNIHILATE, and UTTERLY DESTROY the people in these towns, and to LEAVE NO SURVIVORS ALIVE, and to SHOW NO MERCY to the people in these towns, providing advanced warning to the people of these towns in the Promised Land prior to attack, so that those people could leave town and avoid being MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED would clearly involve DISOBEYING Jehovah’s clear commands.

 

EVALUATION OF DEFENSE #2

Here, again, is Defense #2 of Jehovah and Joshua:

Joshua’s MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of the Canaanites (and Jehovah’s command to perform this slaughter) was MORALLY JUSTIFIED because:

2. The people in the Canaanite towns belonged to a culture where some people did “some pretty disgusting things” like burning children to death.

 (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster)
Offering to Molech

There is an immediate problem of ambiguity here, which is very similar to a problem I have dealt with concerning the historicity of Moses and the Exodus and Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan.  There probably was no Moses and no Exodus either.  There probably was no Joshua and no Conquest of Canaan either.  So, my moral objections to these stories are not really about actual historical events.  I view these stories as legends and as fiction. My objections are based on the fact that Jesus, and many Christians and many Jews over the centuries believed these stories to be historical, to be reliable accounts of actual events.

Although many modern Christians and Jews do NOT believe that Moses and the Exodus are historical, and do NOT believe that Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan are historical, they are aware that many other Christians and Jews have over the centuries, and even now, viewed these stories as descriptions of actual historical people and events.  So, such enlightened Christians and Jews have a responsibility to clearly and publicly denounce the evil words and actions of Jehovah, Moses, and Joshua, as characterized in what they take to be basically works of fiction and legend.

Because Jesus and many Christians and Jews over the centuries have viewed the stories about Moses and Joshua as reliable accounts of historical events, their failure to condemn the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of civilians, including elderly men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, teenagers, children, and babies, constitutes a moral failure.

Because Jesus himself was an admirer of Moses and Joshua and because Jesus promoted worship and obedience to Jehovah, and because Jesus gave no indication of having any objection to the MERCILESS SLAUGHTERING that Moses and Joshua led and that Jehovah commanded, this shows that Jesus was a morally flawed person.

Jesus was no worse than other Jews living in first century Palestine, but he was morally flawed nonetheless.  Thus Jesus CANNOT be the divine Son of God, and thus Christianity is based on a FALSE ASSUMPTION.  This all holds true even if Moses and the Exodus is are nothing but legend and fiction, and even if Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan are nothing but legend and fiction.

So, the main question at issue is NOT “Did the actual Conquest of Canaan involve killing people who regularly and frequently practiced sacrifice of children to their god or gods?”  because there probably was no such person as Joshua, and there probably was no Conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.

Since we are talking about people who MISTAKENLY believe that there was an actual Joshua and an actual Conquest of Canaan based on the writings of the OT, then the main question would be: “Does the OT indicate that child sacrifice was a regular and widespread practice among all of the various peoples of the Promised Land?”  My moral critique of Jesus and of many Christians and Jews is based upon their viewing the OT as providing reliable historical information, so to be logically consistent, my moral critique should focus, at least primarily, on what the OT says about child sacrifice by the various peoples who lived in the towns in the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites.

However, many Evangelical Christians ignore the findings of historians and archaeologists and cling to the traditional view that Moses and the Exodus was historical, and that Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan was historical too.  So, when they object that the Canaanites deserved to be MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED because the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice, they intend that to be a factual historical claim.  In response to these ignorant Evangelical Christian believers, it DOES make sense to talk about the historical question: “Did all of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land (prior to the time when it is alleged that the Israelites invaded those towns) regularly and frequently practice child sacrifice?”

NOTE: There is also the complication that some of these towns and peoples might have included people who were actually Israelites or the ancestors of Israelites.  If many Israelites were in fact practicing child sacrifice themselves around the time the Israelites allegedly invaded towns in the Promised Land, then the justification that they were EXTERMINATING evil people who practiced child sacrifice obviously doesn’t work to morally justify their MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of the non-Israelite people in those towns.

 

FIRST: THE HISTORICAL QUESTION ABOUT CHILD SACRIFICE

Here is what I take to be the relevant historical question:

Did the all of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land (prior to the time when it is alleged that the Israelites invaded those towns) regularly and frequently practice child sacrifice? 

According to historians and archaeologists, there was a period of upheaval in the area of the Promised Land around 1250 to 1150 BCE:

Canaan (also referred to as Phoenicia at this time) continued to prosper until c. 1250-c. 1150 BCE during the so-called Bronze Age Collapse. The biblical books of Joshua and Numbers attribute the destruction of Canaan to the Hebrew general Joshua and his conquest but this claim has been challenged by modern-day scholars.

Following the upheaval of c. 1250-c. 1150 BCE, however, the Hebrews (Israelites), to whom Joshua is said to have given the land, populated the region and established the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

[…]

Around 1250 BCE some catastrophic event struck Canaan, demolishing cities and dislocating the populace, which the Bible attributes to an invasion led by the Israelite general Joshua (Book of Joshua and Book of Numbers). Although there is evidence of upheaval in the land, the archaeological evidence does not evenly match up with the biblical narrative and historians are generally cautious in accepting the conquest as historical fact. Even so, elements of the narratives of the biblical books are considered plausible in that some great upheaval occurred in the region c. 1250-c.1150 BCE, aspects of which are interpreted as consistent with a military invasion.

https://www.ancient.eu/canaan/

So, if one is going to take the idea of an historical Conquest of Canaan seriously, it has to be dated somewhere in that time frame.  That means that we are primarily interested in the religious practices of the various peoples who lived in towns in the area of the Promised Land from 1350 to 1250 BCE, the 100 years prior to when the Conquest of Canaan occurred (if it were an actual historical event).

We can now re-state more clearly the historical question at issue:

Did the all of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land between 1350 and 1250 BCE regularly and frequently practice child sacrifice? 

If the answer to this question is “Yes”, then there would be a factual historical basis for the attempted moral justification of the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of the people of the towns of the Promised Land.

Clay Jones is an Evangelical Christian apologist who claims that the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of the people in the towns of the Promised Land is morally justified because they practiced child sacrifice.  Jones provides several pieces of evidence for this historical claim, and I will walk through them one piece at a time.

Let’s begin with the first bit of evidence from his article “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites” (hereafter: WDHS, from Philosophia Christi, Volume 11,  Number 1, 2009):(WDHS, p.61)

Jones begins his case with a quote from the Book of Leviticus.  If Leviticus is to be relevant to the historical question we are examining, then it would need to have been written in the time frame that we are focusing in on, namely 1350 to 1250 BCE, or close to that time.  When was Leviticus written?  It was written much later than that:

The Book of Leviticus … is the third book of the Torah and of the Old Testament; scholars generally agree that it developed over a long period of time, reaching its present form during the Persian Period between 538-332 BC.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Leviticus

This is about nine hundred years later than the time frame we are considering!  This clearly tells us NOTHING of significance about whether child sacrifice was regularly and frequently practiced throughout the Promised Land in 1300 BCE.

However, the Book of Leviticus “developed over a long period of time”, so perhaps parts of Leviticus are very old and originated around 1300 BCE.   Chapter 18 is from the portion of Leviticus called the “Holiness Code” by critical scholars:

The Holiness Code is a term used in biblical criticism to refer to Leviticus chapters 17–26, and is so called due to its highly repeated use of the word Holy…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holiness_code

Did the Holiness Code originate back around 1300 BCE?  Nope.  It was far more recent:

A generally accepted date is sometime in the seventh century BC, when it presumably originated among the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem.[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holiness_code

Here is the reference supporting the date of the Holiness Code:

 3. Coogan,Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 126.

The seventh century BCE means 700 BCE to 600 BCE.  So, the Holiness Code was developed around 650 BCE, which is about 600 years after the time frame on which we are focusing.   Thus, the first piece of evidence provided by Jones is a piece of CRAP.  Leviticus is IRRELEVANT to the historical question at issue here.

Since the very first point that Jones makes is clearly IRRELEVANT, I suspect there is a lot more CRAP to come in his case for the practice of child sacrifice being common in the towns of the Promised Land prior to the time of the alleged Conquest of Canaan.

For his next piece of evidence Jones gives us a quote from Plutarch:(WDHS, p.61)

Did Plutarch live around 1300 BCE? Nope.  Did Plutarch live in the Promised Land? Nope.  When did he live?  Where did he live?  Here is some basic information about Plutarch:

Plutarch (… AD 46–after 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist philosopher, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo.

Plutarch was born to a prominent family in the small town of Chaeronea, about 80 kilometres (50 mi) east of Delphi, in the Greek region of Boeotia.

He lived most of his life at Chaeronea, and was initiated into the mysteries of the Greek god Apollo. For many years Plutarch served as one of the two priests at the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the site of the famous Delphic Oracle, twenty miles from his home.

Plutarch spent the last thirty years of his life serving as a priest in Delphi.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutarch  (above are excerpts from this article)

And you thought it wasn’t possible for Jones to come up with a piece of evidence that was even more IDIOTIC than his quote from Leviticus.

Here we are expected to draw historical conclusions about people who lived around 1300 BCE in Jericho, for example, based on a quotation from a Greek philosopher and priest who lived in Chaeronea in the first century!  So, the writings of Plutarch are about 1,400 years later than the time frame on which we are focusing, and he was living in Chaeronea, Greece, about 845 miles away from the city of Jericho, if one traveled by boat across the Mediterranean sea:

Satellite image of the Mediterranean Sea at night

Sorry, this kind of mind-numbing stupidity might go over well with Evangelical Christian sheep, but I’m not buying the idea that a philosopher and priest writing in Greece in the first century provides us with solid historical information about the religious practices of people who lived nearly a thousand miles away in Palestine about 1,350 years before he was born.  I’m just NOT that gullible.  So, the second piece of evidence from Jones is another piece of CRAP.

Here is a third piece of evidence from Jones:(WDHS, p.61)

Here, at least, Jones references a modern scholar who has studied the subject of child sacrifice and published scholarly books and articles on that subject.  But Jones missed a BIG clue here, namely the TITLE of the book he is quoting from: Late Carthaginian Child Sacrifice….  Do you notice the word “Late”?  How about the word “Carthaginian”?  It looks like we might have yet another problem in terms of date and location.  That would be the third such blunder in the case by Jones, so far consisting of only three pieces of evidence.

The word “Carthaginian” of course, refers to the city of Carthage, which, by the way, is NOT a city in the Promised Land.  In fact, Carthage is EVEN FURTHER away from Jericho than Plutarch’s hometown of Chaeronea:

Satellite image of the Mediterranean Sea at night

Carthage is 1,469 miles from Jericho, and that is if you travel by boat across the Mediterranean Sea.  If you travel by land, it is about 2,000 miles from Carthage to Jericho.  So, we are being asked to infer the religious practices of people in Jericho based on the religious practices of people who lived about 2,000 miles away!

What about the time frame?  The evidence used as the basis for inference to the practice of child sacrifice in Carthage is a large “Trophet” that was discovered one hundred years ago:

“Tophet” is a term derived from the Bible, used to refer to a site near Jerusalem in which Canaanites and Israelites who had turned away from the Judaic religion sacrificed children. It is now used as a general term for all such sites with cremated human and animal remains.

Several apparent “Tophets” have been identified, chiefly a large one in Carthage, dubbed the “Tophet of Salammbô” after the neighbourhood where it was unearthed in 1921. Soil in the Tophet of Salammbó was found to be full of olive wood charcoal, probably from the sacrificial pyres. … The animals were sacrificed to the gods, presumably in place of children (one surviving inscription refers to the animal as “a substitute”). It is conjectured that the children unlucky enough not to have substitutes were also sacrificed and then buried in the Tophet. The remains include the bodies of both very young children and small animals, and those who argue in favor of child sacrifice have argued that if the animals were sacrificed, then so too were the children. The area covered by the Tophet in Carthage was probably over an acre and a half by the fourth century BCE, with nine different levels of burials. About 20,000 urns were deposited between 400 BCE and 200 BCE, with the practice continuing until the early years of the Christian period. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Carthage

OK.  So the word “Late” in the TITLE of Shelby Brown’s book (which Jones referenced) apparently refers to the period from 400 BCE to 200 BCE, when most of the earns in the main “Trophet” in Carthage were originally deposited.  So, we have some archaeological evidence from Carthage that many scholars INTERPRET as evidence for child sacrifices that took place in Carthage between 400 BCE and 200 BCE.  The earliest such child sacrifices that this evidence could potentially establish would have taken place about 400 BCE, which is nearly a thousand years later than the time frame on which we are focusing: 1300 BCE.

So, Jones is pointing to archaeological evidence that might show that there was child sacrifices happening in Carthage in 400 BCE, but what we are interested in is whether there were regular and frequent child sacrifices occurring nearly a thousand years earlier in 1300 BCE all throughout the various towns in the Promised Land which are about 2,000 miles away from Carthage.  Do you see a slight problem here?  The TITLE of Brown’s book should have been a BIG CLUE for Jones that this evidence is CRAP, but apparently Jones is CLUELESS.

Now for the fourth piece of evidence from Jones:(WDHS, p.61)

Notice how this paragraph begins with the phrase “Kleitarchos says…”.  But there are no quotation marks after that phrase, so this is apparently NOT an actual quote of Kleitarchos.  This is from a comment made on a passage in Plato’s Republic, according to the footnote by Jones.  Who wrote the comment?  Jones doesn’t say.  When was the comment written?  Jones doesn’t say.

What we have here is somebody (we don’t know who) providing a description or summary (we don’t know when) of something that was supposedly written by Kleitarchos, but that may well not be the actual words of Kleitarchos.   So, we are starting off on some rather shaky ground here.  It is difficult to assess the credibility of an informal characterization of something allegedly written by Kleitarchos when we don’t know who is providing this characterization or when they provided it.

But lets set those problems to one side.  Let’s suppose this is a very accurate characterization of something that was in fact written by Kleitarchos.  There are two obvious questions to ask here, (especially since Jones seems oblivious of the importance of these two questions):  WHERE did Kleitarchos live, and WHEN was Kleitarchos writing?  The generally accepted date for the writings of Kleitarchos are the from near the end of the 4th century BCE to the early part of the 3rd century BCE  or around 300 BCE (see the abstract at start of this article about Cleitarchus).

His father was Dinon of Colophon; Colophon was a Greek city near Ephesus.  Kleitarchos also apparently spent a part of his life “at the court of Ptolemy Lagus.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleitarchus) which was in Egypt.  So, Kleitarchos lived part of his life not far from the Promised Land.  But notice that in the passage above what Kleitarchos said is primarily about Carthage “the Phonecians and especially the Carthaginians who honored Kronos…”(emphasis added).  So, it is unclear how much this information applies to the Phonecians in the Promised Land.  (Jones equates “Phonecians” with “Canaanites” in footnote #33, but he does not argue that ALL of the peoples in the Promised Land in 1300 BCE were Canaanites/Phonecians nor that ALL of those peoples practiced the same religion, nor that they ALL worshiped the same god or gods.)

So, Jones has given us a somewhat dubious characterization of something that Kleitarchos might have written, but Kleitarchos was writting about 300CE, one thousand years after 1300 BCE.  This questionable description of a passage allegedly written by Kleitarchos is just one more piece of IRRELEVANT CRAP.

Jones has provided four pieces of evidence to support his historical claim, and they are all, without exception, WORTHLESS and IRRELEVANT pieces of information.  Jones is a Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University.  It is his JOB to find the strongest and best evidence to support his Evangelical Christian beliefs, like the belief that Jehovah is NOT a cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant.  Yet the first four pieces of evidence he provides are basically IRRELEVANT to the question at issue.

This strongly suggests that there is no actual evidence available to support the key historical claim that:

…all of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land between 1350 and 1250 BCE regularly and frequently practiced child sacrifice…

So, I’m going to consider the key historical question at issue CLOSED.

There is probably no significant historical evidence to support the above claim, so it CANNOT be used in an attempt to morally justify the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of thousands of elderly men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, teenagers, young children, and babies of the towns in the Promised Land by Joshua and the Israelites, or to morally justify Jehovah for issuing the command to Joshua and the Israelites to carry out that MERCILESS SLAUGHTER.


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