Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 12: Playing For All the Marbles

Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 12: Playing For All the Marbles May 28, 2020

WILLIAM CRAIG ON THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN

Before I examine the question of whether the Old Testament clearly indicates that ALL of the peoples living in the towns of the Promised Land regularly and frequently practiced child sacrifice in the decades prior to the (alleged) Conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites, I’m going to take a look at what William Lane Craig says about the significance of the issue of the command of Jehovah to Joshua and the Israelites to MERCILESS SLAUGHTER every elderly man and woman, every husband and wife, every mother and father, every teenager, every child, and every baby in every town in the Promised Land.

Back in 2007, William Lane Craig, a prominent Christian apologist, argued that what was at stake in this issue was the belief of most Evagelical Christians that the Bible is without any errors (biblical inerrancy):

So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel’s armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples? … How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?

Now before attempting to say something by way of answer to this difficult question, we should do well first to pause and ask ourselves what is at stake here. Suppose we agree that if God (who is perfectly good) exists, He could not have issued such a command. What follows? That Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? That God does not exist? Hardly! So what is the problem supposed to be?
[…]
The problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false. Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervor, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not. In other words, this problem is really an objection to biblical inerrancy.   

( from: #16 Slaughter of the Canaanites, by William Craig, emphasis added)

Craig makes it clear that the most basic Christian beliefs are left untouched by this objection against the morality of the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every single human person in every single town in the Promised Land:

The question of biblical inerrancy is an important one, but it’s not like the existence of God or the deity of Christ! If we Christians can’t find a good answer to the question before us and are, moreover, persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature, then we’ll have to give up biblical inerrancy. But we shouldn’t let the unbeliever raising this question get away with thinking that it implies more than it does.

( from: #16 Slaughter of the Canaanites, by William Craig, emphasis added)

Game of Marbles, Karol D. Witkowski

I’M PLAYING FOR ALL THE MARBLES

Craig is wrong.  This skeptical objection is NOT simply an objection to the belief of many Evangelical Christians that the Bible is without any errors.  This objection provides a good reason to REJECT CHRISTIANITY as a FALSE RELIGION.  In other words, with this objection skeptics are playing for ALL the marbles, not just for the one marble of biblical inerrancy.  If Christian believers and apologists loose this game, then they loose all the marbles, and the Christian faith is destroyed, or at least very seriously damaged.

 

THAT GOD CANNOT ISSUE SUCH A COMMAND DOES NOT SHOW THE STORY OF THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN TO BE FALSE

Let’s start with a key claim made by Craig:

The problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false.

I disagree.  There is a very clear possibility in which it could be the case that BOTH (a) God could not have issued such a command, and yet (b) the biblical stories about the Conquest of Canaan are true.  The fact that Craig FAILS to recognize this possibility casts doubt on his line of reasoning about the significance of the OT story about the Conquest of Canaan.  Here is how BOTH (a) and (b) could be the case:

Jehovah really did command Moses and Joshua and the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single person in every single town in the Promised Land, and Joshua really did lead the army of the Israelites to carry out this command.  However, Jehovah is NOT God.  Jehovah is a DEMONIC spirit.  Since, Jehovah is NOT God, it could well also be the case that God (who is perfectly good) would never even consider issuing such a horrible command to anyone.

(Alternatively, Jehovah could be a finite deity, like Zeus, who has some serious moral flaws, anger-management issues, and a strong tendency towards violence and bloodshed.)

In the above described scenario, the OT accounts about Jehovah commanding MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of the Canaanites, and Joshua and the Israelites carrying out this command, would be completely accurate historical accounts of actual people and events.

So, Craig FAILED to notice this fairly obvious possibility, and thus his initial premise appears to be FALSE.  Craig seems to have confused the claim that “God commanded the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER…” with the claim that “Jehovah commanded the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER…”

 

EITHER THE INCIDENTS NEVER HAPPENED OR THE ISRAELITES FALSELY CLAIMED TO BE FOLLOWING GOD’S COMMAND

Here is the next key claim made by Craig:

Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervor, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not.

Here Craig is attempting to construct a dilemma, where we are forced to choose between two alternatives.  But there is vagueness in both lemmas, and this vagueness makes it difficult to evaluate the truth of this alleged dilemma.  Everything hinges on the meaning of his phrase “the incidents never really happened” as contrasted with the equally vague phrase “or else, if they did…”.  Unless we can clarify the meaning of these vague phrases, it is not possible to rationally evaluate this key claim in Craig’s reasoning.

One of the “incidents” that Craig might have in mind is that “God commanded them to commit these atrocities”.  In other words: “God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single person in every single town in the Promised Land”.  We have already seen that this claim is ambiguous, or rather, that it is unclear which of two alternative claims is asserted by the OT stories:  “Jehovah commanded Joshua….”  vs.  “God commanded Joshua…”.  (And, it is possible that both of these claims are made by the OT.)

There are also the “incidents” of Joshua and the army of the Israelites carrying out this (alleged) command by Jehovah.  We can summarize those various incidents into one statement: “Joshua and the army of the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every single person in every single town in the Promised Land.”

So, we now have at least three different “incidents” (or claims about incidents) to keep in mind, as what Craig might mean by the phrase “the incidents never really happened”:

(GC) God commanded Joshua and the army of the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every person in every town in the Promised Land.

(JC) Jehovah commanded Joshua and the army of the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every person in every town in the Promised Land.

(J&I) Joshua and the army of the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every person in every town in the Promised Land.

Suppose that Craig has all three of these “incidents” in mind. In that case, there are at least eight different logical possibilities*, different combinations of truth and falsehood for these three claims or “incidents”:

Craig narrows the possibilities by engaging in hypothetical reasoning, by making the supposition that (GC) is NOT the case, and then determining what are the logical implications of this supposition:

The problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false.

If God, because of the perfect goodness of God, could NOT have issued a command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single person in every single town in the Promised Land,  then clearly it is NOT the case that God did in fact issue a command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single person in every single town in the Promised Land.  In other words, (GC) would be false.

This would eliminate all of the logical possibilities where (GC) is true:

That leaves us with just four possibilities: #4, #6, #7, and #8.

According to Craig, if we suppose (GC) to be FALSE, we are left with just two alternatives:

Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervor, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not.

Because the second disjunct in this EITHER/OR statement is clearly focused on (J&I), on the occurrence of the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites, I think that the first disjunct should be interpreted primarily in terms of the “incidents” that constituted that conquest.  On this interpetation, the above claim can be re-stated as “Craig’s Dilemma” (CD):

CD: Either (J&I) is FALSE; or else, if (J&I) is TRUE, then the Israelites claimed that (GC) was TRUE, when (GC) was actually FALSE.

However, we are not interested here in what the Israelites claimed; we are interested in what the OT stories claim, in particular the OT stories related to the Conquest of Canaan.  In talking about what the Israelites claimed, Craig intends to say something about what the OT claims concerning the Conquest of Canaan:

CD1: Either (J&I) is FALSE; or else, if (J&I) is TRUE, then the OT claimed that (GC) was TRUE, when (GC) was actually FALSE.

But there is a more fundamental claim here that is clearly a true dilemma, which should be separated out from the rest of Craig’s reasoning:

CD2: Either (J&I) is FALSE, or (J&I) is TRUE.

Either it is FALSE that Joshua and the army of the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every person in every town in the Promised Land, or it is TRUE that Joshua and the army of the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every person in every town in the Promised Land.  That is what logicians call a tautology:  Either P is TRUE or P is not TRUE. 

Craig then considers each of those two possibilities:

(J&I) is FALSE.

(J&I) is TRUE.

In both cases, he concludes that the OT accounts about the Conquest of Canaan would include at least one significant FALSE claim, thus implying that the Bible does contain at least one significant error, and that biblical inerrancy was an incorrect view of the Bible.

Let’s consider each of these disjuncts of Craig’s Dilemma (CD2), one at a time.

 

SUPPOSE THAT (J&I) IS FALSE

We have, along with Craig, previously supposed that (GC) is FALSE, and that supposition reduced the number of logical possibilities from eight down to four: possibilities #4, #6, #7, and #8.  Now we are making a second supposition, namely that (J&I) is FALSE; this eliminates two more possibilities:

Now we are left with only two possibilities:

#6:  (GC) is FALSE, (JC) is TRUE, and (J&I) is FALSE.

#8:  (GC) is FALSE, (JC) is FALSE, and (J&I) is FALSE.

Because the OT does clearly assert that Joshua and the army of the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every person in every town in the Promised Land, it is clear that this OT claim would be FALSE on both scenario #6 and scenario #8, so no matter which of these possibilities we choose,  there would be at least one significant error in the OT, and that would mean that biblical inerrancy was an incorrect view of the Bible.  Therefore, if (J&I) is FALSE, then biblical inerrancy would be an incorrect view of the Bible.

 

SUPPOSE THAT (J&I) IS TRUE

The other horn of Craig’s Dilemma  (CD2), is that (J&I) is TRUE.  If we start with the supposition that (GC) is FALSE, and we add the supposition that (J&I) is TRUE, then we must reduce the number of possibilities remaining:

Now we are left with only these two possibilities:

#4:  (GC) is FALSE, (JC) is TRUE, and (J&I) is TRUE.

#7:  (GC) is FALSE, (JC) is FALSE, and (J&I) is TRUE.

Now if possibility #7 is the case, then I would agree with Craig that the OT makes at least one FALSE claim, namely that (JC) was the case. The OT makes the claim that Jehovah commanded Joshua and the army of the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every person in every town in the Promised Land, but this claim would be FALSE if possibility #7 were the case.  So, if possibility #7 were the case, then the OT would make at least one significant FALSE claim, and biblical inerrancy would be an incorrect view of the Bible.

However, there is also possibility #4 to consider.  On this scenario, the OT claim that Jehovah commanded Joshua and the army of the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every person in every town in the Promised Land would be a TRUE claim.  And claim (J&I) would also be true.  On scenario #4 the OT claim that Joshua and the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every person in every town in the Promised Land would be TRUE.  So where is the problem for the inerrancy of the OT on scenario #4?  As I argued early in this post, if Jehovah was NOT God, then there is no contradiction between (JC) being TRUE and (GC) being FALSE.

Craig might counter that the OT not only claims that Jehovah gave this command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER the Canaanites, but that the OT also claims that God gave this command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER the Canaanites:

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)

Since our first supposition was that (GC) is FALSE, this apparent claim by the OT about God must be FALSE, and thus the OT would contain at least one significant FALSE claim, at least one significant error.  So, on scenario #4, the OT would appear to have at least one significant error, meaning that the view that the Bible was inerrant would be wrong.

In the above quote from Deuteronomy, it is important to note that the word “LORD” is not an accurate translation.  The word in Hebrew is actually a name:  JEHOVAH.  A better translation is found in the American Standard Version:

1 When Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land…

In modern English:  “When Jehovah your God…”  The phrase “your God” suggests a contrast with other gods, who were worshiped by other tribes and nations.  Jehovah was the god of the nation of Israel. This passage from Deuteronomy is about Moses speaking to the nation of Israel, so the word “your” refers not to human beings in general, but to the nation or people of Israel.  Other nations had their own gods:   Amun, Asherah, Baal, Chemosh, Dagan, etc.

So, the phrase “your God” in Deuteronomy might be better translated as “your god” or “your deity”, meaning the god or deity worshiped by the nation of Israel.  But in that case, the above passage does NOT refer to “God” with a capital “G”, but rather to a tribal god or deity.

The problem here is that the word “God”  with a capital “G” is understood by modern Christian believers to designate a particular concept of God, and it is far from clear that the writer of Deuteronomy had the same concept of God as modern Christians, or that the writer of the Book of Joshua had the same concept of God as modern Christians.

Furthermore, Deuteronomy and the Book of Joshua are NOT works of theology.  They don’t attempt to provide a careful and in-depth characterization of the nature or characteristics of Jehovah, nor of the “god” of Israel.  Jehovah is viewed as the creator of the world, and as having amazing superhuman powers, but it is far from clear that the authors of these works believed that Jehovah was omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good

So, it is a questionable assumption that the authors of these books had the same concept of God as modern Christians.  When they assert that “God commanded such-and-such”, they might simply mean that “Jehovah, the god of the Israelites, commanded such-and-such”, and their concept of Jehovah does not appear to include the characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness. 

In other words, when passages in Deuteronomy and Joshua are translated using the word “God” with a capital “G”, that translation is misleading, or it is at least is a dubious translation.   Therefore, if scenario #4 is the case, then it is NOT clear that the OT has asserted a FALSE claim about God.  It might well be the case that Deuteronomy and the Book of Joshua make ZERO claims about “God”, because the authors of those books did not view Jehovah as being “God” in the sense that modern Christian believers understand this concept.  So, it is very questionable that on scenario #4, the OT would be shown to have a significant error.  Deuteronomy and the Book of Joshua might well NOT claim that (GC) is TRUE, but only claim that (JC) is TRUE.

 

NOW FOR ALL THE MARBLES

Of course, I don’t believe that the Bible is inerrant, so if Craig wants to believe that (GC) being FALSE would imply that there is a significant error in the Bible, then I won’t spend any more of my time and energy trying to persuade him otherwise.  The Bible is filled with errors, falsehoods, contradictions, and bad advice.  It overflows with errors.

My main objection to Craig’s reasoning is that he thinks that inquiry into (GC), (JC), and (J&I) can, at most, be used to challenge the belief that the Bible is without errors.  He thinks that inquiry into these claims cannot be used to challenge belief in the existence of God, belief in the resurrection of Jesus, or belief in the divinity of Jesus.  But I think he is wrong on all three points.

 

JESUS IS JEHOVAH TO ME

The problem is that Jesus is Jehovah to me.  In other words, the connection between Jesus and Jehovah is too strong to allow for the goodness of Jesus to be judged independently of the goodness of Jehovah.  If Jehovah is clearly a morally flawed person, then Jesus is also a morally flawed person.  My skeptical strategy is to hang Jehovah around the neck of Jesus and then sink Jesus to the bottom of the ocean, by the great weight of that millstone around his neck.

If Jesus is a morally flawed person, then Jesus cannot be the divine Son of God, and God would never have raised Jesus from the dead if Jesus had been a morally flawed person.  For God raising Jesus from the dead would involve God in a Great Deception, by leading the followers of Jesus to conclude that Jesus was the divine Son of God, when that was NOT the case.

Here is my argument in a nutshell:

1. Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person.

2. IF Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person, THEN Jesus was a morally flawed person.

3. IF Jesus was a morally flawed person, THEN Jesus was NOT the divine Son of God and God did NOT raise Jesus from the dead.

THEREFORE:

4. Jesus was NOT the divine Son of God and God did NOT raise Jesus from the dead.

For me, the resurrection and divinity of Jesus depend on whether Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person.  If Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person, then Jesus was morally flawed, and the basic Christian beliefs about Jesus are FALSE, and thus Christianity should be rejected as a FALSE religion.

Jesus was a devout Jew who promoted worship of, and obedience to Jehovah, and Jesus was familiar with the OT stories about Moses and the Exodus and about Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan.  So, Jesus was aware that, according to the OT, Jehovah commanded Joshua and the army of the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every elderly man and woman, every husband and wife, every mother and father, every teenager, every child, and every baby in every town in the Promised Land. 

In other words, Jesus had very good reason to believe that Jehovah was a morally flawed person who did NOT deserve to be worshiped and who did NOT deserve to be obeyed.  Yet Jesus promoted worship of,  and obedience to Jehovah.  Jesus’ promotion of worship of, and obedience towards the clearly morally flawed Jehovah shows that Jesus himself was a morally flawed person.

The connection with the issue of the existence of God is not quite as strong as the connection with the resurrection and divinity of Jesus, but if it can be shown that Jehovah was a morally flawed person, then this conclusion can be used to seriously challenge the belief that God exists, to cast significant doubt on the belief that God exists.

The belief that God exists is a central belief in the three main western theistic religions:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  So, if it could be shown that all three of these western religions are FALSE religions, then although that would not completely disprove the existence of God, it would seriously challenge the belief that God exists, it would cast significant doubt on the belief that God exists.

God, as conceived of by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, communicates truth and wisdom to humans through prophets and inspired writings.  But if Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all three shown to be FALSE religions, if, more specifically, they were shown to NOT be based on communications of truth and wisdom from God through prophets and inspired writings, then this would strongly suggest that either there is no God at all, or else that God is NOT INTERESTED in communicating truth and wisdom to human beings.

So, if it could be shown that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all three FALSE religions, and that they do not actually have truth or wisdom communicated by God through prophets or inspired writings, then one must either reject theism altogether, or else settle for the watered-down concept of God proposed by DEISM: a creator god who doesn’t care about humans and who doesn’t intervene in human history.

Here is my second argument in summary form:

1. Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person.

2. IF Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person, THEN Jehovah is NOT God.

3. IF Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person and NOT God, THEN Moses was a FALSE prophet.

4. IF Jehovah was clearly a morally flawed person and NOT God, THEN Jesus was a FALSE prophet and a morally flawed person and not the divine Son of God. 

5. IF Moses and Jesus were FALSE prophets, then Muhhamad was a FALSE prophet.

THEREFORE:

6. Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were all FALSE prophets, and Jesus was a morally flawed person and was not the divine Son of God.

7. IF Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were all FALSE prophets, and if Jesus was a morally flawed person and was not the divine Son of God, THEN Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are FALSE religions, and it is likely that either (a) there is no God at all, or else that (b) there is a creator of the universe who does not care about humans and who does not intervene in human history. 

THEREFORE:

8. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are FALSE religions, and it is likely that either (a) there is no God at all or else that (b) there is a creator of the universe who does not care about humans and who does not intervene in human history. 

This is not a complete disproof of the existence of God, but I believe this argument casts serious doubt on the existence of God, especially if God is conceived of as not only the creator, but as a person who cares about humans and who intervenes in human history.

==========================

* NOTE:   HUNDREDS OR THOUSANDS OF POSSIBILITIES

==========================

Actually, if we wanted to be more accurate and precise, we could outline hundreds or thousands of different possibilities, because each of the three claims here could be partially true or partially false to varying degrees.

For example, if Joshua and the army of the Israelites managed to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER about 90% of the people in each of the towns in the Promised Land, then (J&I) would be FALSE, strictly speaking, but it would be “very close to being true”, because 90% is reasonably close to 100%.   Similarly, if Joshua and the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED every person in every town in the Promised Land except for the young virginal girls (following the example of Moses), then (J&I) would be FALSE, strictly speaking, but it would be “mostly true”.

Similarly, the command of Jehovah could have been to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every person in every town in the Promised Land, except for young virginal girls.  In that case (JC) would be FALSE, strictly speaking, but it would be “mostly true”.  Alternatively, Jehovah could have ordered that every person in the towns that the Israelites attacked be MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED, but that only towns where child sacrifice was frequently and regularly practiced would be subject to such MERCILESS SLAUGHTER.  Suppose only 70% of the towns in the Promised Land matched this criterion.  In that case, (JC) would be FALSE, strictly speaking, but it would be “roughly true” or “approximately correct”.

And there are many other degrees of truth that these three claims could each have.  For example, if Joshua and the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTERED only 75% of the people in each town that they attacked in the Promised Land, but they did indiscriminately kill the elderly, parents, teenagers, children, and babies, and they attacked only 75% of the towns in the Promised Land, then (J&I) would be FALSE, strictly speaking, but it would still be “mostly true” or at least “in the ballpark of being true”.

But lets keep things simple for this post, and focus on just the logical possibilities of “true” vs. “false” for each of the three key claims, which means we have only eight possibilities to consider.

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