JOSHUA IS NOW LIVE on the Casual English Bible website. We just finished the draft of the paraphrase and are about to tackle the 3D maps we need to create.
Though Joshua is live and ready to read, one of the growing concerns of thoughtful Christians reading the book is about the dead.
It’s about God’s apparent order for Israelite ancestors of the Jewish people to exterminate all Canaanites. These were people living on what is now land claimed by:
- Palestinians whose families have lived there for centuries
- and Israelis who have migrated there since the end of World War II, in the 1940s.
There’s uncomfortable irony for those who see parallels between Joshua’s time and today.
That’s a hot-potato topic for another day.
For today, I wanted to let you see Joshua’s Intro Notes about the God’s reported order for Israelites to kill all the people living in what many today simply call the Holy Land.
Genocide in Joshua?
Many Christians say they have trouble believing God had anything to do with one commandment that Moses attributed to him:
“When the LORD your God gives them to you, you’ll need to finish them off. After you defeat them in battle, wipe them out by killing them all. Don’t make any peace treaty with them. Don’t show them mercy” (Deuteronomy 7:2).
Also, the people promised the LORD, “If you will let us defeat those people, we will annihilate all Canaanites and decimate their cities” (Numbers 21:2).
The Hebrew word for “annihilate” is herem. Scholars describe it as a “curse of war” or a “ban.” The “ban” means that when soldiers conquer a city, for example, they are banned from keeping anything for themselves—everything in the city is under the curse of war and must die.
Joshua usually fought by those rules, as the Bible tells it.
Many Christians today struggle with this order, which they say sounds like genocide.
Others say if God ordered the people killed, it’s not our place to question it.
Moses explained why God allowed Israel to slaughter and drive out the Canaanites:
“You’re not getting this land because you’re good enough to deserve it. The locals are losing it because they’re terrible people. You’re getting the land because the LORD promised it to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 9:5).
Yet many seem to doubt that God gave the annihilation order because it sounds more like the devil than Jesus.
Some scholars speculate the order wasn’t a requirement but was intended for use in worst-case scenarios.
Jericho’s prostitute Rahab was a Canaanite who was saved because she believed the Israelites had God with them. New Testament writers put her in the family tree of Jesus and praised her as an example of faith (Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).
Some scholars say they see in that the possibility that other Canaanites could have been acceptably assimilated into Israel and married to Israel’s guys and gals.
Joshua and Moses both portrayed the Canaanites as a serious threat to the people of Israel. But Rahab’s story suggests Canaanites might have been an opportunity, too.
In either case, there seems to be a growing movement among scholars to trust the archaeology, which tells a story that sounds more like one of herders settling peacefully in the land and less like genocide.
And if the story was theological fiction as some suggest—a figurative way to show that God gave the Israelites all the land he promised them—then perhaps little if any blood was shed.
For some Christians, that’s comforting because it blends better with what they know of Jesus and with what they experience of God’s Spirit. For others, it’s unsettling because that’s not the way the Bible reads to them. They might not like what they read or might not understand it, but if it’s in the Bible, they say they believe it.
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Interesting observation regarding “the genocide” of the Caananites. Joshua was commanded to kill them all. How can a Good and Righteous God order such a command? This took me back to the flood in Noah’s day. This Good and Righteous God wiped out all of humanity that existed at that time; men, women and children! So in a sense, this “genocide” is not that different from the flood. Besides, God can do anything He well pleases! 🙂
But they didn’t kill them all. Many Canaanites survived and continued living there and I suspect they assimilated into the body politic and perhaps the religion itself. I am quite sure some cities’ populations were wiped out and decimated. In any event, the Israelites took over the land of Canaan and displaced the Canaanites, and I am quite sure the people who wrote their holy scriptures thought it made them appear not so barbaric if they suggested they, Joshua and his armies, did so at God’s command.