Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 14: More OT on Child Sacrifice

Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 14: More OT on Child Sacrifice July 5, 2020

WHERE WE ARE

The final question at issue that I discussed in the previous post is this:

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

I examined the Old Testament passages that were potentially relevant to the above question:

  • Deuteronomy 12:29-31 
  • Deuteronomy 18:9-10 
  • 2 Kings 16:2-4 
  • 2 Kings 17:7-8 & 16-17 
  • 2 Kings 21:1-6 
  • 2 Chronicles 28:1-4 
  • 2 Chronicles 33:1-6 
  • Psalm 106:34-38 

Based on a review of these OT passages, I reached the following 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. 

So, the answer to the final question at issue is: NO!

Therefore, the attempt to provide a moral justification for Jehovah’s command to the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, teenager, child, and infant in the towns of the Promised Land cannot be justified by the claim that the OT states that ALL of the nations and peoples who inhabited the towns in the Promised Land (prior to the Conquest of Canaan) REGULARLY practiced child sacrifice.

The weaker claim that only SOME of those nations and peoples SOMETIMES practiced child sacrifice would clearly be insufficient to justify issuing such a horrible command. Furthermore, as I have previously argued, even if ALL of the nations and peoples living in the Promised Land REGULARLY practiced child sacrifice, that still would NOT provide a sufficient moral justification for Jehovah to issue that horrible command.

 

EXAMINATION OF OTHER OT PASSAGES CONCERNING CHILD SACRIFICE

There are other passages in the OT that mention or appear to mention child sacrifice, but they are (mostly) NOT relevant to the question at issue:

==================
Genesis
22:1-18
Leviticus
18:21 & 20:1-2
Judges
11:4-11 & 30-40
2nd Kings
3:26-27, 17:29-31, 23:10
Jeremiah
7:30-31, 19:4-5, 32:35
Ezekiel
16:21, 20:31, 23:37-39
==================

Genesis 22:1-18

In this passage Jehovah demands that Abraham kill his son Isaac as a child sacrifice to Jehovah.  This passage says nothing about child sacrifice being a practice of any nation or people living in the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan.  It does show how Jehovah was a complete hypocrite, for ordering Abraham to sacrifice his own child, and then later tells Moses and the Israelites that the practice of sacrificing children to a god is “an abomination”.

Leviticus 18:21 (New Revised Standard Version)

21 You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

This is a command of Jehovah to the nation of Israel, so it does not assert that the pagan nations in the Promised Land practiced child sacrifice. However, a later verse in this chapter does make a reference to those pagan nations:

26 But you shall keep my statutes and my ordinances and commit none of these abominations, either the citizen or the alien who resides among you 
27 (for the inhabitants of the land, who were before you, committed all of these abominations, and the land became defiled);

Leviticus 18 prohibits a long list of sins and abominations, so it would be unreasonable to read this claim as implying that ALL of the pagan nations in the Promised Land REGULARLY practiced ALL of the many sins and abominations spelled out in Leviticus 18.

The claim is rather that ALL of these various sins and abominations were SOMETIMES practiced by AT LEAST SOME of the pagan nations in Promised Land.  So, the most we can infer from verse 27 is that AT LEAST ONE of the pagan nations in the Promised Land SOMETIMES practiced child sacrifice. (Because of vs. 27, I now see this passage was relevant to the question at issue, but, like the passages examined in the previous post, it is insignificant.)

Leviticus 20:1-2 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 
2 Say further to the people of Israel:
Any of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone them to death.

This is a command by Jehovah to the nation of Israel, and it does not assert anything about the activities and practices of the pagan nations who lived in the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan.

However, as with the above passage from Leviticus 18, there is a comment later in this chapter that mentions the practices of the pagan nations in the Promised Land:

23 You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them.

I have the same comments about this verse as for Leviticus 18:27 (see above).

The New International Version translates this verse with the plural “nations” rather than the singular “nation”.  Here is a comment on this issue:

…Nation seems to be put for nations, for there were seven nations cast out for them; though the Canaanites may be intended, being a general name for the whole: some think the Amorites are meant, who were a principal nation, and notorious for their wickedness: hence we often meet with this phrase in Jewish writings, “the way of the Amorites”, as being exceeding bad, and so to be avoided…    (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)

Because most OT passages reference “nations” (plural) residing in the Promised Land, it is best to understand the singular “nation” in Leviticus 20:23 as referring to several different peoples and cultures, and the fact that such a long list of sins and abominations are ascribed here to the pagan “nation” is another strong reason for interpreting this comment to be about a variety of pagan peoples or nations, not about just ONE specific pagan nation.

Furthermore, if someone insists on reading “nation” literally as referring to ONE specific pagan nation, then this comment would have no bearing on at least six of the seven pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan.

Jephthah’s Daughter by James Tissot c. 1896-1902.

Judges 11:4-11 & 30-40

This is the story of a leader of Israel named Jephthah, who promises to offer the first thing he sees arriving at home as a burnt offering to Jehovah if Jehovah will help him to be victorious in leading the army of Israel in war against the Ammonnites.  The Israelites defeat the Ammonites, but when Jephthah arrives home, his daughter (his only child) is the first thing he sees, so he keeps his promise and offers her as a burnt sacrifice to Jehovah.  This is the story of a leader of Israel engaging in child sacrifice, so this has no relevance to the question about whether the pagan nations in the Promised Land (prior to the Conquest of Canaan) engaged in child sacrifice.

2nd Kings 3:26-27 (New Revised Standard Version)

26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom; but they could not. 
27 Then he took his firstborn son who was to succeed him, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.

This is the story of the king of a pagan nation offering his son as a sacrifice to a god in a time of war and desperation.  There is no reason to believe that such child sacrifice was a common or regular practice of this pagan nation, at least not based on this one story.

Even if we exaggerate the significance of this one incident and conclude that the Moabites  regularly practiced child sacrifice, the Moabites were not one of the seven pagan nations (Joshua 3:10)  that Joshua and the Israelites fought against in the Conquest of Canaan (the term “Moabites” is not found anywhere in the book of Joshua).

2nd Kings 17:29-31

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived; 
30 the people of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the people of Cuth made Nergal, the people of Hamath made Ashima; 
31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.

This passage is about some pagan peoples who were moved into Samaria by the King of Assyria AFTER the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites (see 2 Kings 17:24-28).  The practice of child sacrifice is here ascribed to the Sepharvites.  The Sepharvites are not one of the seven pagan nations (Joshua 3:10) that inhabited the Promised Land when Joshua led the Israelites in the Conquest of Canaan, so this passage says NOTHING about the practices of the pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land back in the time when Joshua was the leader of the Israelites.

2nd Kings 23:10 (New Revised Standard Version)

10 He defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech.

This is one of many actions taken by Josiah, a reformer King of Judah (one of the tribes of Israel that was given a southern area in the Promised Land that included Jerusalem), who destroyed altars and other sacred objects and places used by Israelites in the worship of various pagan gods (see the entire chapter  2 Kings 23). This reformation took place AFTER the Conquest of Canaan, and it concerned the adoption of pagan religious practices by Israelites.

This passage does NOT indicate which pagan nation or nations practiced making their children “pass through fire as an offering to Molech”, or even whether that pagan nation resided in the Promised Land back when Joshua led the Conquest of Canaan.

1 Kings 11:7 calls Molech “the abomination of the Ammonites”, so one might infer that the practice of making children “pass through fire as an offering to Molech” was a practice that the Israelites learned from the Ammonites.  However, the Ammonites were NOT one of the seven pagan nations (Joshua 3:10) that Joshua and the Israelites fought against in the Conquest of Canaan, so even if one concludes that the Ammonites practiced child sacrifice, this would NOT imply that ANY of the pagan nations that Joshua and the army of Israel attacked in the Promised Land practiced child sacrifice.

Jeremiah 7:30-31 (New Revised Standard Version)

30 For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the Lord; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. 
31 And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

This passage is about “the people of Judah” (one of the tribes of Israel) engaging in child sacrifice.  The passage does NOT assert that any of the pagan nations that resided in the Promised Land when Joshua led the Conquest of Canaan practiced child sacrifice.

Jeremiah 19:4-5 (New Revised Standard Version)

Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah have known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, 
and gone on building the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind;

This passage is about the “kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem” (verse 3) which during the time of Jeremiah were the people of Judah (one of the tribes of Israel).  So, this passage is about one of the tribes of Israel engaging in child sacrifice.  It does NOT assert anything about pagan nations that lived in the Promised Land during the time of the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua.

In Chapter 6 of Judges God complains that some of the Israelites are worshiping “the gods of the Amorites” (Judges 6:10), and immediately after that God orders Gideon to tear down an altar to Baal, used by Israelites to worship that god.  This suggests that Baal was a god worshiped by the Amorites.

One might infer from the above mentioned passage in Judges, that the Israelites learned about the worship of Baal from the Amorites.   So one might infer from the combination of Jeremiah 19:4-5 with Judges 6:10-26 that the Israelites learned about child sacrifice to Baal from the Amorites.

However, the Amorites are just ONE of the seven pagan nations that lived in the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelites, so even if we drew the conclusion that the Israelites learned of the practice of child sacrifice from the Amorites, that does NOT mean that the Amorites REGULARLY engaged in child sacrifice, nor does it imply that ANY of the other pagan nations that lived in the Promised Land (during the time of Joshua) practiced child sacrifice.

Jeremiah 32:35 (New Revised Standard Version)

35 They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination, causing Judah to sin.

This passage is about “The people of Israel and Judah” (see verse 32) practicing child sacrifice to the god Molech.  This passage asserts NOTHING about the practices of the seven pagan nations that lived in the Promised Land back in the time when Joshua led the Conquest of Canaan.

As for the reference to the god “Molech”, see my previous comments on  2nd Kings 23:10.

Ezekiel 16:21  &   Ezekiel 23:37-39

Ezekiel 16:21 and 23:37-39 are about the CITY of Jerusalem as a mother of some children, so these passages are poetic and metaphorical; 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.

Ezekiel 20:31 (New Revised Standard Version)

31 When you offer your gifts and make your children pass through the fire, you defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And shall I be consulted by you, O house of Israel? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be consulted by you.
32 What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, “Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone.”

This passage is about Israelites making their “children pass through fire”, which might or might not be a reference to child sacrifice.  In any case, this passage does NOT assert that any of the seven pagan nations that lived in the Promised Land (prior to the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua) practiced child sacrifice.

 

CONCLUSION

Although some of the above passages did have some relevance to the question at issue, most were irrelevant because they are about the Israelites engaging in the practice of child sacrifice.  The passages that did assert or imply that a pagan nation engaged in child sacrifice were either irrelevant (because the pagan nation specified was NOT one of the seven pagan nations that inhabited the Promised Land prior to the Conquest of Canaan) or they were insignificant (because they only implied that ONE of the seven pagan nations SOMETIMES engaged in child sacrifice).

I have found NO SIGNIFICANT evidence in the OT supporting the claim that:

All of the peoples who inhabited the numerous towns and villages in the Promised Land prior to the alleged Conquest of Canaan, regularly practiced child sacrifice.

This is true even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that the OT provides us with accurate and reliable historical information about the peoples and nations who lived in the Promised Land prior to the time of the (alleged) Conquest of Canaan, an assumption that I reject, and that most OT scholars reject.

Therefore, the attempt to use the above historical claim as a moral justification of Jehovah’s horrible command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every elderly man and every elderly woman, every husband and every wife, every father and every mother, every teenage boy and every teenage girl, every young boy and every young girl, and every baby boy and every baby girl in every one of the towns of the Promised Land when Joshua led Israel in the (alleged) Conquest of Canaan, is a COMPLETE FAILURE.

 

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