Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 13: OT on Child Sacrifice

Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 13: OT on Child Sacrifice June 18, 2020

WHY ARE FICTIONAL OLD TESTAMENT STORIES MORALLY RELEVANT?

There probably was no Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and there probably was no Conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.  These stories are either pure fiction, or they are legends that have only bits and pieces of historical truth in them.  So, if the stories about Joshua leading the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, and child in the towns of the Promised Land are fiction or legend, why get all worked up about the immorality of the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER in these unhistorical stories?

One reason for taking these apparently fictional stories seriously, is that many Christians and Jews have, in past centuries and in the present, believed these stories to be historical, and have believed that Jehovah commanded Joshua to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, and child in the towns of the Promised Land, and yet those Christians and Jews continued to WORSHIP and OBEY this cruel and bloodthirsty monster named “Jehovah”.

Even though it is NOT the case that Jehovah commanded Joshua and the Israelites to engage in such MERCILESS SLAUGHTER, and even though it is NOT the case that Joshua and the Israelites actually engaged in such MERCILESS SLAUGHTER, many Christians and Jews for many centuries have WORSHIPED and OBEYED a god whom they believed had commanded the Israelites to commit this horrible crime of mass murder of civilians.  That is a serious moral failure on the part of many Christians and Jews over many centuries.

Another reason to be concerned about these apparently fictional OT stories is that they are an important piece of evidence for the conclusion that Jesus was a morally flawed person, and thus that Jesus cannot have been the divine Son of God, and thus that Christianity is based on a FALSE ASSUMPTION about Jesus.  As a devout Jew who lived in Palestine in the first century, Jesus was familiar with the two greatest stories of the OT: the Exodus from Egypt led by Moses, and the Conquest of Canaan led by Joshua.

In fact, his name was not the English name “Jesus”, but was rather the Aramaic name “Yeshua”, which was the Aramaic version of the name of the leader of the Conquest of Canaan, which in English translations of the OT is “Joshua”.  In other words, Jesus was named after the man who led the army of Israel to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, and child in the towns of the Promised Land.

But Jesus never expresses any regret about being named in honor of a mass murderer.  Jesus never criticizes Joshua for engaging in mass murder.  Jesus never criticizes Moses for commanding Joshua and the Israelites to engage in MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every man, woman, and child in the towns of the promised land.  Most importantly, Jesus promoted worship and obedience to Jehovah, the god of the nation Israel, who according to the OT (esp. Deuteronomy and Joshua) commanded that the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, and child in the Promised Land.

Jesus promoted worship and obedience to this moral monster who commanded the mass murder of civilians in a war of aggression to steal the land of people who were already settled in the Promised Land.  This provides a powerful reason to conclude that Jesus was a morally flawed person, and thus was NOT the divine Son of God, NOT the sinless lamb of God, NOT  God Incarnate.  God is by definition without any moral flaws.  So, a man who was morally flawed cannot be God Incarnate.

One rationalization that Christians and Jews have used to defend the command of Jehovah to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER men, women, and children by the tens of thousands, is that the inhabitants of the towns of the Promised Land practiced child sacrifice.   I have argued in Part 10 of this series that there is no significant historical evidence to support this claim:

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.

The historical claim upon which this attempted justification of Jehovah is based, is highly dubious.  Nevertheless, because my moral critique of Christians and Jews and of Jesus is NOT based on what ACTUALLY happened, but on what the OT stories claim happened, it is unfair to Christians and Jews and to Jesus to focus strictly on historical FACTS about whether child sacrifice was regularly practiced by the inhabitants of the Promised Land prior to the time of the alleged Conquest of Canaan.

Many Christians and Jews, and certainly Jesus, formed their beliefs about the Conquest of Canaan based on the ASSUMPTION that the OT stories were accurate and reliable accounts of actual events.  So, if the OT stories also contain claims that all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land regularly practiced child sacrifice, then they would have also believed those claims, and thus formed their moral judgments about Jehovah’s command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER the inhabitants of the Promised Land in terms of their belief that those inhabitants regularly practiced child sacrifice (even though that belief was in fact FALSE or HIGHLY DUBIOUS).

Binding of Isaac by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, 1860.

WHAT DOES THE OT SAY ABOUT CHILD SACRIFICE IN THE PROMISED LAND?

One last question thus remains to be answered:

Does the OT clearly claim that all of the people who inhabited the numerous towns and villages in the Promised Land prior to the alleged Conquest of Canaan, regularly practiced child sacrifice?

Before I attempt to answer this question, it is important to note that this is, in my view, a purely academic exercise.   It doesn’t really matter what the answer to this question turns out to be.

Even if the OT clearly does claim that all of the people in the Promised Land regularly practiced child sacrifice, that would NOT morally justify the command of Jehovah to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, and child in the Promised Land, as I have argued in Part 11 of this series.  So, no matter how one answers this question, it is still clear that Jesus was a morally flawed person, and thus that Jesus was NOT the divine Son of God, NOT the sinless lamb of God, and NOT God Incarnate.

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OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGES ABOUT CHILD SACRIFICE

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Leviticus – 2 passages
18:21 & 20:1-5
Deuteronomy – 2 passages
12:29-31 & 18:9-10
2nd Kings – 6 passages
3:26-27, 16:2-4, 17:6-8 & 16-17, 17:24-31, 21:1-6, 23:3-14(esp. v10)
2nd Chronicles – 2 passages
28:1-4, 33:1-6
Psalms – 1 passage
106:34-38
Jeremiah – 3 passages
7:30-34, 19:3-7, 32:26-35
Ezekiel – 1 passage
20:31

NOTE: Ezekiel 16:21 and 23:37-39 are about the CITY of Jerusalem, and are poetic and metaphorical, so these passages should NOT be read as talking about literal killing of literal children, since a CITY is not literally a woman, and thus cannot literally have children.
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OT PASSAGES THAT MIGHT BE USED TO SHOW THAT PAGAN NATIONS IN THE PROMISED LAND PRACTICED CHILD SACRIFICE

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Deuteronomy 12:29-31 New Revised Standard Version 
29 When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land,
30 take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.”
31 You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.
⦁ This passsage does NOT state that ALL of the nations that inhabited the Promised Land practiced child sacrifice, so it only implies that at least one of the various pagan nations in the Promised Land practiced child sacrifice.
⦁ This passage does NOT state that child sacrifice was a regular or frequent practice of ANY of the peoples who inhabited the Promised Land before the Conquest of Canaan.
⦁ This passage does NOT state that the children were ever burned alive. It leaves open the possibility that the children were killed first, and then burned. Also, there is the possibility that the children died of natural causes (e.g. miscarriages), and then they were burned as a sacrifice.

Deuteronomy 18:9-10 New Revised Standard Version 
9 When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations.
10 No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer,
11 or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead.
12 For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the Lord; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
⦁ The phrase “makes a son or daughter pass through fire” is not necessarily a reference to child sacrifice.
⦁ Does NOT state that ALL of the pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land before the Conquest of Canaan engaged in the practice of making children “pass through fire”. It leaves open the possibility that only ONE of the pagan nations in the Promised Land engaged in this practice.
⦁ Does NOT specify which of the pagan nations had this practice.
⦁ Does NOT specifically state that making children “pass through fire” was a practice engaged in by ANY of the pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land, so leaves open the possibility that NONE of those pagan nations engaged in this practice.

2 Kings 16:2-4 New Revised Standard Version
2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done,
3 but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even made his son pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.
4 He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.
⦁ The phrase “made his son pass through fire” does not necessarily mean that he killed his son or burned his son alive as a sacrifice to a god.
⦁ Does NOT state that ALL of the pagan nations in the Promised Land engaged in making their children “pass through fire”. This passage leaves open the possibility that only ONE of the pagan nations in the Promised Land engaged in this practice.
⦁ Does NOT specify which of the pagan nations had this practice.

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/cambridge/2_kings/16.htm

yea, and made his son to pass through the fire] i.e. To Moloch. Thus introducing into Judah once more, as in Solomon’s days (1 Kings 11:7) the worship of ‘the abomination of the children of Ammon’. The words of this verse might be made to refer only to a passing through flame, as a ceremony significant of purification. But the words of the Chronicler are stronger: ‘he burnt his children in the fire.’ From which it would appear that not one son only was offered. That the children offered in such sacrifices were actually burnt is seen from 2 Kings 17:31; Ezekiel 16:21; and many other passages. But from the words of Ezekiel it may perhaps be inferred that the victims were first slain and then burnt. ‘Thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters whom thou hast borne unto me and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured … thou hast slain my children and delivered them up in causing them to pass through the fire unto them.’

NOTES ON ABOVE COMMENTARY:
2 Kings 17:31 is about the Sepharvites. Those people were NOT among the seven nations listed as inhabitants of the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan, and those people were specifically stated to have been moved into the Promised Land by the King of Assyria AFTER the Conquest of Canaan.
Ezekiel 16:21 is an extended metaphor about the CITY of Jerusalem being a woman and a prostitute. So the reference to this “woman” sacrificing her “sons and…daughters” is a metaphorical claim that does NOT have any clear historical implications about the practice of child sacrifice in Jerusalem:
20 You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. As if your whorings were not enough!
21 You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering to them.

2 Kings 17:7-8 & 16-17 New Revised Standard Version 
7 This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshiped other gods
8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced.
[…]
16 They rejected all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made a sacred pole, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
17 They made their sons and their daughters pass through fire; they used divination and augury; and they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.
⦁ The phrase “made their sons and their daughters pass through fire” does not necessarily mean that they killed or burned their sons and daughters as a sacrifice to a god.
⦁ Does NOT specifically state that making “their sons and their daughters pass through fire” was one of “the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out”, as opposed to being one of “the customs of the kings of Israel”.
⦁ Does NOT state that ALL of the pagan nations in the Promised Land practiced making “their sons and their daughters pass through fire”.
⦁ Does NOT point out any specific pagan nation that practiced making “their sons and their daughters pass through fire”.

2 Kings 21:1-6 New Revised Standard Version 
1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign; he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.
2 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, following the abominable practices of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.
3 For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he erected altars for Baal, made a sacred pole, as King Ahab of Israel had done, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them.
4 He built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my name.”
5 He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.
6 He made his son pass through fire; he practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.
⦁ “He made his son pass through fire” is not clearly about killing or burning a child to death as a sacrifice to a god.
⦁ This is specifically about the actions of the king Manasseh making “his sone pass through fire”.
⦁ The passage does talk about “the abominable practices of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel” but it also speaks of MANY such practices and does not claim that ALL of these “abominable practices” were engaged in by ALL of the pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land before the Conquest of Canaan.
⦁ It also does NOT assert that the specific practice of making children “pass through fire” was engaged in by ANY of the pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land before the Conquest of Canaan. It leaves open the possibility that child sacrifice was NOT one of the “abominable practices” of the pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land. This could have been either a pagan practice of the ancestors of the Israelites, or of some pagan nation that resided outside the Promised Land.

2 Chronicles 28:1-4 New Revised Standard Version
1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his ancestor David had done,
2 but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made cast images for the Baals;
3 and he made offerings in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.
4 He sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.
⦁ “He…made his sons pass trhough fire” it is not clear that this is talking about killing or burning children as a sacrifice to a god.
⦁ This is talking specifically about the actions of king Ahaz in Jerusalem after the Conquest of Canaan.
⦁ There is a mention that the practices of Ahas were “according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” But there is no list of the specific nations, and there are several practices mentioned, so it is unclear whether ALL of these practices were engaged in by ALL of the nations that inhabited the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan.
⦁ This passage leaves open the possibility that only ONE of the pagan nations that lived in the Promised Land engaged in this practice of making their children “pass through fire”.

2 Chronicles 33:1-6 New Revised Standard Version 
1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign; he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem.
2 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.
3 For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had pulled down, and erected altars to the Baals, made sacred poles, worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them.
4 He built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem shall my name be forever.”
5 He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.
6 He made his son pass through fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom, practiced soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.
⦁ This is about the practices of the king Manasseh in Jerusalem after the Conquest of Canaan, not about the pagan nations that lived in the Promised Land before the Conquest of Canaan.
⦁ There are several abominable practices mentioned here, so it is NOT CLEAR whether child sacrifice is being attributed to ANY pagan nation that lived in the Promised Land before the Conquest of Canaan.
⦁ “He made his son pass through fire” it is not clear that this is a reference to child sacrifice.

Psalm 106:34-38 New Revised Standard Version
34 They did not destroy the peoples,
as the Lord commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations
and learned to do as they did.
36 They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
38 they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan;
and the land was polluted with blood.
⦁ “They” here is the people of Israel, not the pagans who inhabited the Promised Land before the Conquest of Canaan.
⦁ There is a reference to the Israelites learning the practices of “the nations” that they were supposed to have annihilated, but there is no clear indication that ALL of the pagan nations practiced child sacrifice. So, the implication here is that SOME of the pagan nations SOMETIMES practiced child sacrifice.

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CONCLUSIONS:

Only two OT passages appear to provide relevant evidence concerning the claim that the pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land (prior to the Conquest of Canaan) engaged in child sacrifice:   Deuteronomy 12:29-31 and Psalm 106: 34-38.  

But these two passages only imply that at least one pagan nation residing in the Promised Land (prior to the Conquest of Canaan) occasionally engaged in child sacrifice.  Neither passage states or implies that ALL of the pagan nations residing in the Promised Land (prior to the Conquest of Canaan) engaged in child sacrifice.  Neither passage states or implies that ANY pagan nation residing in the Promised Land (prior to the Conquest of Canaan) REGULARLY engaged in child sacrifice.  Furthermore, neither passage states or implies that the children were ever burned alive as part of this practice, as opposed to being killed first, and then the body burned.

The other passages are irrelevant or unclear for various reasons.  The other passages only talk about making children “pass through fire”, and it is UNCLEAR whether this involved killing or burning those children to death, as opposed to being some sort of harmless magic ritual involving fire or flames.

Does the OT clearly claim that all of the people who inhabited the numerous towns and villages in the Promised Land prior to the alleged Conquest of Canaan, regularly practiced child sacrifice?

The answer to this question is: NO!

The OT  does NOT state or imply that ALL of the nations who inhabited the Promised Land (prior to the alleged Conquest of Canaan) practiced child sacrifice, and the OT does NOT state or imply that ANY of the nations who inhabited the Promised Land (prior to the alleged Conquest of Canaan) REGULARLY practiced child sacrifice.

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OT PASSAGES ABOUT CHILD SACRIFICE THAT CLEARLY DON’T SHOW THAT PAGAN NATIONS IN PROMISED LAND PRACTICED CHILD SACRIFICE

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I will cover these passages in the next post.


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