On those very rare occasions when God displays His judgment within human history, it is very sobering and one which we find genuinely disturbing--it reminds us that "ethics" is not just another branch of philosophy!
And even though each recorded case--regardless of scale--SHOULD 'trouble us', the case of God's alleged ordering the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites has always been particularly disturbing to our 'status quo' of sensibilities. So, I frequently get a letter like this:
The entire concept of a God of justice and mercy ordering the slaughter of thousands of people (many patently innocent) on many occasions I find abhorrent.
This is an issue I have always had profound trouble with and one I suspended judgment on when I began to believe. Lately, though, it has started haunting me again, and I have been searching and praying for an answer or insight. The responses to this problem I have seen so far (God did them a favor, they were like cancer, or God's justice is beyond ours) seem to me to be lame or inappropriate.
Or, in a less conciliatory tone--
The Old Testament paints a picture of a God who is extremely bellicose, giving repeated instructions to "his people" to exterminate other nations, (because he is giving them their "promised land"), and giving them practical assistance on the battlefield.
It is easy to believe that such writings could be the attempted self-justification of a territorially minded people, who excuse their aggression and genocide against other nations as "divine instructions". It is almost impossible to believe that such writings are an accurate description of a God who has infinite love for people of all races.
And finally, a more pointed accusation:
"Is the God of the OT merely sanctioning genocide (nay commanding it)?... isn't this "god" merely an invention for the Jews' own political land-gaining ends?
So, let's look at the passages involved:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations -- the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you -- 2 and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, 4 for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. 5 This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. (Deut 7.1-5)
However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them -- the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites -- as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God. (Deut 20.16ff)
These are the kings of the land that Joshua and the Israelites conquered on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir (their lands Joshua gave as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel according to their tribal divisions -- 8 the hill country, the western foothills, the Arabah, the mountain slopes, the desert and the Negev -- the lands of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites):
9 the king of Jericho one the king of Ai (near Bethel) one
10 the king of Jerusalem one the king of Hebron one
11 the king of Jarmuth one the king of Lachish one
12 the king of Eglon one the king of Gezer one
13 the king of Debir one the king of Geder one
14 the king of Hormah one the king of Arad one
15 the king of Libnah one the king of Adullam one
16 the king of Makkedah one the king of Bethel one
17 the king of Tappuah one the king of Hepher one
18 the king of Aphek one the king of Lasharon one
19 the king of Madon one the king of Hazor one
20 the king of Shimron Meron one the king of Acshaph one
21 the king of Taanach one the king of Megiddo one
22 the king of Kedesh one the king of Jokneam in Carmel one
23 the king of Dor (in Naphoth Dor) one the king of Goyim in Gilgal one
24 the king of Tirzah one thirty-one kings in all. (Joshua 12.7-24)
At first blush, it looks like YHWH is taking the initiative in the matter,
and ordering Israel to wipe out 7-10 nations--without pity and without
compromise--and that He intends to give these nations' lands to Israel for their
possession. At the end of Joshua's military campaigns, a list of 31 conquered
kings is given. (The Israelites fail to obey the directive, however, and God
faults them for this--and, as He predicted, the Canaanites DO 'entice' Israel
into practicing their religion.)
Obviously, there are a couple of GOOD questions hiding in here:
These are NOT simple or light questions (if your heart is in right!), and so we must be VERY thorough in our analysis of the situation. We will need to approach this issue from a number of different sides, to make sure we have seen it clearly and from a large-enough perspective.
We will use the following question-set in analyzing the issue:
Then, I will try to focus any insights we get onto the opening questions.
There are a few situations in the OT in which something like this either
(1) occurs or (2) is ordered: Sodom/Gomorrah, the Flood, and the Amalekites.
And we will look at one "anti-Example" that might function as 'control data'--Ninevah.
There are several known facts about this situation which might prove relevant. S&G lived in a good land (Gen 13.10-12). Abraham saved their cities once, in a masterful military maneuver (Gen 14), after which Abraham 'witnessed' to them. They were exposed to/had access to the pure message of God through Melchizedek--the priest-king of Salem--(who probably led Abraham to the true knowledge of God!). Nonetheless, they were extremely evil people (and who were proud of it--Is 3.9: The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it.), and their crimes were both against God (Gen 13.13) and against people (Gen 18.20). Some twenty-five years after Abraham/Melky encounter, and several years after Lot had apparently been trying to 'moralize' the people (cf. Gen 19:9), the outcry to God is so great that He sends two angels to destroy the city and its environs (Gen 19.24ff). God had announced His intentions to Abraham in Gen 18, and agreed to spare the city if a few righteous could be found. Apparently, only Lot and his family (less than the required ten!) fit the description adequately, so the entire culture was judged and destroyed by God. The encounter involving Lot, the angels, and the men of the city is a vivid description of the evil of the city (Gen 19), and the NT refers to it as an example of judgment-future (2 Pet 2.6) with a special emphasis on sexual perversion (Jude 7). The fact that 'all the men of the city' were involved in the intended assault on Lot, indicates that the 'outcry' must have come from surrounding areas--hence, the 'international' scope of their evil. The destruction was immediate and total, including the surrounding cities and the vegetation (Gen 19.25), and is even used as an example by our Lord in Luke 17.29.
It is important to note that (1) they had plenty of access to 'truth' (at
LEAST 25 years); (2) their crimes were perverse, public, and the cause of
international protest/outcry to God(!); (3) the annihilation was a judgment;
(4) God was willing to spare the innocent people--if any could be found; (5)
children living in the households of their evil parents apparently died
swiftly in the one-day event (instead of being killed--as homeless
orphans--by a combination of starvation, wild beasts, exposure, and disease;
or instead of being captured and sold as slaves by neighboring tribes, for
the older ones perhaps?); (6) the one innocent man and woman are delivered
(along with their children of the household).
This was the largest annihilation/judgment to date (although it is very difficult to estimate with confidence the population at this time, especially given that 'violence' was at an extreme high and correspondingly would have made homicide rates horrendously high), and involved people, animals, and much vegetation (Gen 6-8). In a very incisive view of God's heart, we see the 'emotions' surrounding this apparent judgment:
5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth -- men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air -- for I am grieved that I have made them." (Gen 6.5ff)
We also see the rather violent nature of the crimes in Gen 6.13:
So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.
The story is familiar: (1) God decides to 'spare the innocent' again and warns Noah to build a boat for him and his household (apparently NOT so innocent); (2) the evil/violence of the people were both against God and against humanity (Gen 6.12) and was VERY EXTENSIVE ("filled"); (3) some of the evil was probably sexual violence or violation (Gen 6.1-2); (4) Noah apparently "preached righteousness" to these people for AT LEAST a hundred years! (cf. 2 Pet 2.5); (5) this long period of preaching was an act of patience on God's part (I Pet 3.20);(6) in spite of the warnings, there were apparently no 'changed minds'.
Let's note again that (1) they had plenty of access to 'truth' (at LEAST
100 years) and at least a year of specific 'flood warnings'; (2) their
crimes were violent and pervasive to God(!); (3) the annihilation was a
judgment; (4) God was willing to spare the innocent people--if any could be
found; (5) children living in the households of their evil parents would
have undoubtedly died swiftly [the Flood was more of a sudden-event a la
tidal waves, than a gradual rising water--cf. Gen 7.11: In the six
hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month --
on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the
floodgates of the heavens were opened.]; (6) the one innocent man and
woman are delivered (along with their children of the household).
This is what the LORD Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'" (I Sam 15.2f)
The situation is thus:
Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19 When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deut 25.17-19).
Kaiser notes in EBC: Exodus 17.8:
Amalek's assault on Israel drew the anger of God on two counts: (1) they failed to recognize the hand and plan of God in Israel's life and destiny (even the farther-removed Canaanites of Jericho had been given plenty to think about when they heard about the Exodus--Josh 2.10); and (2) the first targets of their warfare were the sick, aged, and tired of Israel who lagged behind the line of march (Deut 25:17-19).
But Amalek continues to repeatedly oppress, terrorize, and vandalize Israel for between 200 and 400 more years! And yet, Amalekites were freely accepted as immigrants to Israel during this period.
Let's note again that (1) they had plenty of access to 'truth' (at LEAST 400 years since Jacob and Land-promise), plus enough information about the miraculous Exodus to know where/when to attack Israel; (2) even their war conduct was cruel by current standards(!); (3) the semi-annihilation was a judgment; (4) God was willing to spare the innocent people--and specifically gave them the opportunity to move away; (5) children living in the households of stubbornly-hostile parents (who refused to flee or join Israel earlier) died swiftly in the one-day event (instead of being killed--as homeless orphans--by a combination of starvation, wild beasts, exposure, disease, and other raiders; or instead of being captured and sold as foreign slaves by neighboring tribes, for the older ones perhaps?)--they are victims of their fathers' terrorist and oppressive habits toward Israel; (6) the innocent members of the community (Kenites) and any change-of-heart Amalekites who fled are delivered (along with their children of the household).
[This brief summary above was objected to by a passionate writer, who
the butchering of Amalekite children be considered war crimes? (Feb
19/2000, Part one:159k), and centers mostly on the emotionally difficult
problem of the killing of the children (of Amalekites, but it would extend
generally to the Canaanites and others as well).]
In the book of Jonah, we have an 'averted annihilation'.
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me."
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city -- a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."
The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
"By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."
[Notice that the 'questionable behavior' included "violence"--vs. 8.]
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
So, in this "anti-Example" you have a people, confronted with
truth/warning, who respond and avert the annihilation.
There is an obvious pattern here:
Now, an obvious question comes up here. Do we have ANY EVIDENCE that the annihilation of the Canaanites falls into the above pattern? Do we have any reason to believe it was an exceptional case, a judgment for exceptional violence and evil?
The biblical text gives us several indications that this campaign is such a
Notice that Abraham cannot have the land until the 'sin of the Amorites'
reaches some 'maximum threshold'. This certainly LOOKS LIKE a judgment by
God on the peoples of the Land. Also, notice that the evil treatment by
Egypt of the Israelites (enslavement and mistreatment) are NOT 'evil enough'
to warrant annihilation--only "punishment". We might therefore expect the
'sin of the Amorites' to be more extreme than that of Egypt.
So this annihilation was a judgment...but what was so 'bad' about the
Canaanites (and Amorites)? Which brings us to the next point...
What do we know about the Amorites, and the Canaanites (often used interchangeably)? What data do we have from the sources (archeology, classical writers, ANE literary remains, biblical passages)?
"By the latter part of the Early Bronze Age Ebla (Tell Mardikh) in northwestern Syria had become a city-state of 260,000 people, with lesser "vassal" cities forming a far-reaching empire. It was the center of a vast commercial network, and records of its enterprises contain the earliest mention of such biblical cities as Salim, Megiddo, Gaza, Hazor, Lachish, and Joppa. An indication of the city's sophisticated planning is the audience court of the royal palace, which both architecturally and functionally mediates the space between the quarters with private residences and those with administrative offices." (ISBE, s.v. "City", p.707)
"Sudden and violent destruction occurred throughout much of the ancient world ca. 2300-2100 B.C. Palestinian civilization returned to the village level, with many E.B. sites abandoned and others left unfortified, a situation that continued through the early stages of the Middle Bronze period (until ca. 1950 B.C.). While many factors may have been involved, especially significant were Egyptian raids and mass population movements, at the center of which were the Amorites."(A.C. Myers, ISBE, op. Cit.)
And again, K.N. Schoville (POTW:164):
"The urbanization of Canaan in the Early Bronze Age II (ca. 2900-2700), illustrated by sites such as Arad and Ai, declined during the Early Bronze Age III, which ended about 2300. Walled cities were destroyed or abandoned, and urban culture gave way to a pastoral, village way of life over the next two centuries, Early Bronze Age IV (about 2300-2000). The reasons for such drastic changes are unclear, but three possible causes may be suggested: (1) Egyptian military action, (2) changing environmental factors including overpopulation, or (3) an invading horde of Amorites. The Amorites would have destroyed the urban centers and established the variant lifestyle characteristic of the period until urbanization flowered in the subsequent Middle Bronze Age II."
[There were probably two invasions by Amorite peoples--the one we are
discussing here is the earlier, non-urbanized Amurru--cf.
"Canaan", p. 588]
"The Semitic Amorites are the best known: in Mesopotamian sources they are the mar-tu (Sumerian) and amurru (Akkadian), both of which words mean "west," and they are referred to as desert people who "know not grain." In the third millennium B.C. the conquests of Sargon of Akkad (2371-2316) extended to "the upper sea," meaning that he must have marched west to the Mediterranean. In the second millennium the Amorites established their First Dynasty in Babylon in which Hammurabi (1792-1750) was the most famous king; contemporary with that dynasty there were Amorite kings in Mari on the Middle Euphrates. At Jericho and other sites in Canaan cultural changes toward the end of the third millennium suggest the influx of new nomadic tribal people, probably Amorites. According to Ezekiel 16:3 Jerusalem was founded by a combination of Amorites and Hittites. Under Moses the Israelites found the Amorites in the hill country around Kadesh-barnea (Deut. 1:19-20), then conquered two Amorite kings, Sihon and Og, in Transjordan (Deut. 4:46-47). Joshua in turn overcame the Amorite kings of the five cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon (Josh. 10:5). In time Amorites and Canaanites were no doubt so mingled as to be indistinguishable, and the name Amorite was used as a general term for the inhabitants of the land, which could equally well be called the land of the Amorites (Josh. 24:15) or the land of the Canaanites." (Finegan, MM:121-122)
"The second innovation is represented by the Eblaite conception of the divine. In spite of widespread polytheism, it seemed to be coupled with henotheism and an abstract idea of God. Above all, the principal god, Dagan, was raised to a role of superiority that touched upon uniqueness."
Their religious praxis was likewise somewhat refined--relative to the other ANE nations--but somehow got 'changed' into the rather debased practices which we will below see were done in the Canaan of Israelite times. What influenced this cultural shift in praxis?
"Nevertheless, the vicissitudes in political fortunes, after the collapse of the Early Bronze Age civilization in Canaan, were accompanied by the settlement of new peoples (Amorites, Hurrians, and others). These new settlers brought about innovations and changes to the culture of Canaan." (EBLA2:89)
Notice that the problem is NOT SO MUCH the 'other gods', but the religious RITUALS that are so bad.
So, what data do we have about their practices. Let's start with the
biblical data, and check it against any archeological and extra-biblical
The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `I am the LORD your God. 3 You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. 4 You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. 5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.
6 "`No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the LORD.
7 "`Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her.
8 "`Do not have sexual relations with your father's wife; that would dishonor your father.
9 "`Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.
10 "`Do not have sexual relations with your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter; that would dishonor you.
11 "`Do not have sexual relations with the daughter of your father's wife, born to your father; she is your sister.
12 "`Do not have sexual relations with your father's sister; she is your father's close relative.
13 "`Do not have sexual relations with your mother's sister, because she is your mother's close relative.
14 "`Do not dishonor your father's brother by approaching his wife to have sexual relations; she is your aunt.
15 "`Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law. She is your son's wife; do not have relations with her.
16 "`Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother.
17 "`Do not have sexual relations with both a woman and her daughter. Do not have sexual relations with either her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter; they are her close relatives. That is wickedness.
18 "`Do not take your wife's sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.
19 "`Do not approach a woman to have sexual relations during the uncleanness of her monthly period.
20 "`Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her.
21 "`Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
22 "`Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
23 "`Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.
24 "`Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 "`Everyone who does any of these detestable things -- such persons must be cut off from their people. 30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the LORD your God.'" (Lev 18, repeated in Lev 20)
The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Say to the Israelites: `Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. 3 I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. 4 If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, 5 I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech. (Lev 20.1ff)
You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deut 12.31)
10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, (Deut 18.10)
They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. (Ps 106.38--about Israel!)
There were even male shrine prostitutes in the land; the people engaged in all the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. (I Kgs 14.24, cf. also Deut 23.17--No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute.)
So, the list of Canaanite "religious" practices included:
Let's look at some of the scholarly descriptions of the data:
"Its origin (human sacrifice) must be sought, evidently, in Canaanite culture (in the broad sense). Punic and Neo-Punic inscriptions contain the expressions mlk 'mr (transcribed mokhomor in Latin) and mlk 'dm. Very probably, these phrases mean respectively 'offerings of lamb' and 'offering of man', and refer to the sacrifice of an infant, or of a lamb as substitute. This interpretation is supported by a find in the sanctuary of Tanit at Carthage, where archaeologists have discovered urns containing burnt bones of lambs and goats, and, more often, of children. There is, too, a famous text of Diodorus Siculus (Biblioth. Hist. XX 14): in 310 B.C., when a disaster was threatening Carthage, the inhabitants of the town decided it was due to the anger of Kronos, to whom they had formerly sacrificed their finest children: instead, they had begun to offer sickly children, or children they had bought. Thereupon, they sacrificed two hundred children from the noblest families. There was a bronze statue of Kronos with outstretched arms, and the child was placed on its hands and rolled into the furnace. Whether the details be true or false, the story is evidence of a custom to which other classical authors also allude.
"These inscriptions and texts are of late date, but the molk offering is mentioned in two steles from Malta belonging to the seventh or the sixth century B.C. The sacrificial term has not so far been found in inscriptions from Phoenicia proper, but child-sacrifice was practised there: a fragment of Philo of Byblos cited in Eusebius (Praep. Evang. I 10) says that the Phoenicians had an ancient custom--'they offered their dearest children in a way full of mystery' when danger threatened the nation. Porphyry (De abstin. II 56) says that the Phoenician History written by Sanchuniaton and translated by Philo of Byblos was full of stories about child-sacrifices offered to Kronos in times of calamity. These texts furnish the connecting-link with the story told by Diodorus Siculus, and we may mention also the reference to the king of Moab's offering his son as a holocaust when his capital was under siege (2 K 3 : 27).
"The sacrifice of children, then, by burning them to death probably made its way into Israel from Phoenicia (note: the main transmitter of Canaanite culture) during a period of religious syncretism. The Bible mentions only two specific instances, and they are motivated by the same exceptional circumstances as the Phoenician sacrifices: Achaz 'made his son pass through the fire' (2 K I6: 3) during the Syro-Ephraimite War, and Manasseh did the same (2 K 2I: 6) when confronted with some Assyrian threat which is not mentioned in the Books of Kings but which may be alluded to in 2 Ch 33:11f. Yet the custom must have been fairly wide- spread to have deserved the condemnations uttered by Deuteronomy, Leviticus and the Prophets. Though Phoenician texts properly so called do not mention the word, it is possible (we say no more) that the sacrifice was called molk in Phoenicia, as in Carthage, and that it came into Israel under this name." (AI:445-446).
Archeological evidence is firm and growing. Child sacrifice burial grounds are called tophet in the literature, and they occur throughout Palestine and the Phoenician empire. Ahlstrom mentions sites "at 'Atlit, Tell el-Far'a (S) and Tell el 'Ajjul in Palestine" (HAP:688, n.2). He gives a description of one monument depicting child sacrifice (HAP:op. cit.):
"The archaeological excavations at Punic Pozo Moro in Spain show a monument with a ritual scene with a god (with an animal head) on a throne and a table in front of him. He holds with one hand a pig lying on its back and in the other hand he has a bowl with the head and the feet of a little child (?) sticking up. He holds this bowl in front of his mouth. To the right there is another bowl, and a god with an animal head (horse?) holding a knife in his right hand above the bowl ready to slaughter the child. The scene (in a neo-Hittite style) shows both animal and child sacrifices as food for the gods."
New sites recently found include Gezer, Tyre, and numerous 'high places' (POTW:171, Is 57.5-7).
These child sacrifices were practiced not only during religious ceremonies (as most of the above were), but also during times of crisis (esp. warfare) and as dedication offerings at the building of cities/houses (i.e. "foundation sacrifices"; cf. AI:442). So Stern (ZPEB, s.v. "war, warfare" p. 895):
"Further, to secure God's aid, the troops would make sacrifices prior to battle--sometimes even human sacrifices...This custom seems also to have been taken from earlier Canaanite traditions, for in many Egyp. reliefs from the late kingdom, depicting the capture of towns in Pal., the besieged are shown throwing their children from the walls in seeking the gods' favor."
Notice that unlike so many other aberrant practices (e.g. sorcery) of
the Canaanites, THIS WAS NOT widely shared by the other ANE cultures--it
was a rarity. This evil was specifically Canaanite/Amorite. [Pushback:""But,
hey, what about Abraham?!--Didn't God order HIM to sacrifice his kid?
Isn't this a little inconsistent, pal?!"]
Incest was likewise NOT an acceptable ANE practice. For example, the famous Laws of Hammurabi contain several sections on this issue (Para 154-158; LCMAM:110-111) as do the Hittite law codes (laws 189-191; LCMAM:236).
The only external data about Canaanite practice we have here (you can imagine how difficult it would be to leave archeological traces of this around!) comes from the religious myths and 'role models' of their gods. [It must be remembered that the religious rituals of ancient cultures were generally 'reenactments' of divine activities. For example, when a religious myth would have one god impregnating another--producing "spring"--the humans would "re-enact" this with the cultic prostitutes.]
For example, in the Ugaritic corpus (Canaanite), there is the story of an incestuous El:
"The second myth is often called 'The Birth of the Good and Gracious God.' It opens with a banquet at which wine flows freely. The text is divided into sections, the tenth being the last and most crucial. El is about to create two women who will become either his wives or daughters, depending on his ability to impregnate them. He creates these females and seduces them, and they both become pregnant. One bears a child called Dawn (Shahar), and the other a child called Dusk (Shalim). Later, El makes love to these same women and they produce seven sons between them. These sons are 'the good and gracious gods.' They are destined to be gods of fertility, and are first suckled at the breasts of 'the Lady' (Asherah, wife of El?)." (NIEBF: 130).
With such deities to emulate, there is little wonder that God
described this Canaanite practice as being very, very real.
Here we have the same situation as above--it is forbidden in other ANE codes (e.g. Hittite laws 187-188; LCMAM:236), but shows up in the Canaanite mythology, with Baal as the role model this time.
Baal is generally pictured in human form, and is often accompanied by a bull or rides upon a bull. (He is sometimes pictured as a bull as well, but this is in drawings, not in literary texts.) In one Ugaritic text, Baal, on his way to the underworld, has sexual relations with a young heifer (NIEBF:129; ANET:p139):
Puissant Baal complies.
He desires a calf-cow in Dubr;
A heifer in Shihlmemat-field;
Lies with her times seventy-seven,
[See also the summary statement in
s.v. "Crimes", where it is linked to "certain pagan rites and
This appears to be an issue unique to Israel. Homosexual practice was generally not outlawed in the ANE, and certainly tolerated in the ANE in private life (MWR:190-192). It was also part of cultic practice (which we will treat below).
But Israel's God condemned this behavior in EVERY culture in which it was mentioned (!): ANE (i.e. Sodom), Canaanite and Egyptian (i.e. Lev 18:3), Israelite (Lev 18, 20), Roman (Rom 1), Hellenistic (I Tim 1.9), and Greek (I Cor 6.9). [I have always found the claim that Judeo-Christianity's lack of acceptance of homosexuality as a morally legitimate sexual expression was merely a cultural stance--not 'timeless' or 'transcultural'--to be a bit weak, in light of the above list of cultures. The range of times/cultures included in the list above--many of which ACCEPTED it as 'okay'--would certainly count as very strong evidence for a moral 'universal/transcultural' conviction against the practice.]
What IS interesting about this though, is that of all the practices
we have in the list above, this is the ONE practice that is NOT
represented in the religious literature. So Bottero, in
"in mythology and theology we have not the slightest certain example of
homosexual relations between gods."
" The Bible and the Canaanite texts at Ugarit use the words qadesh and qedesha which mean 'holy one'--the first masculine, the second feminine. At Ugarit these 'holy ones' were homosexual priests and priestesses who acted as prostitutes.
"We find strong Hebrew reaction against this 'cultic prostitution' in passages such as Leviticus 19:29, 'Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore,' and Deuteronomy 23:17, 'There shall be no whore(qedesha) of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite (qadesh) of the sons of Israel.' One of Josiah's reforms was 'to break down the houses of the sodomites' (2 Kings 23:7)."
What is important for us to note here is that this sacred prostitution was NOT unquestioned by the surrounding cultures. Remember that in the paradigm cases of annihilation we looked at, the culture was UNIFORM--ALL the people (save a handful) were proponents and transmitters of the "values" of that culture. There were no rebels, or dissidents, or minority voices.
However, in THIS situation we have the Canaanite culture TOTALLY SOLD OUT to religious prostitution, but NOT SO the entire ANE! Von Soden, cited above, points out in footnote 36 that there was major dissent about such practices:
"Inscriptions of the kings Merodachbaladan II and Nabonidus of Babylonia, as well as the Erra myth..., contain references to a type of revolution in Uruk around 765, during the reign of the king Eriba-marduk. This revolution was not caused by social conditions alone, but rather was directed against the cultic practices of the temple of Eanna and the cult prostitutes there; it had only temporary success."
There was no such recorded "protest" in Canaanite--but rather, an
'evangelistic' posture in favor of it that reached (successfully) deep
"By 1400 B.C. the Canaanite civilization and religion had become one of the weakest, most decadent, and most immoral cultures of the civilized world. Many of its repulsive practices were prohibited to Israel in Leviticus 18. In view of the sexual perversions listed, it is more than likely that venereal diseases ravaged a large part of the population. Hence stern measures were required to prevent decimation of the Israelites by the spread of these and other diseases such as malaria and smallpox. Contagion would be possible by sudden fraternization before immunity could develop. (ZPEB: s.v. "Joshua", p. 707).
We have a few more pieces of data--most of it bad--about these city-nations.
In surveying the historical mentions for the name "Canaan", Schoville points out that the 2nd mention of the name occurs in a derogatory context (POTW:158):
"An eighteenth-century letter from Mari provides the next evidence for the name in a phrase that connects 'thieves and Canaanites'"
Although some understand this pejorative reference being to 'rebellious soldiers' (HAP:58), others note that "commonly in Hebrew the root means 'to be abased, put down, subdued,' etc." (ECIAT:168n192). Latter meanings of the root and close-derivatives center around "merchant" (e.g. Job 41.6; Prov 31.24; Is 23.8) [ISBE: s.v. "Canaan", p.585]. In collocation with 'thieves', it MIGHT connote "cheat"--a meaning that would fit well with their deceptive practices in Joshua 9!
A textual piece of data to support this "cheat" understanding, might be the actions of the Hittite group in Genesis 23. (Remember, the scattered Hittite groups in Palestine at this time were subsumed under the term 'Canaanite' as is evident from comparing Gen 27.46 with 28.1.) In Gen 23, Abraham's wife Sarah has died, and he needs to buy a burial field. Ephron the Hittite takes advantage of Abraham's grief and need to secure burial property quickly, and charges him an incredibly exorbitant 400 shekels of silver for a field (cf. Jer 32.9), AND saddles him with the 'property taxes and dues' that went with "whole-lot" land ownership. (Abraham had only wanted to buy a 'cave'--not the whole field.) If this was the typical 'merchant ethic' of the Canaanites, then no wonder they were grouped in with 'theives'!
Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites: 22 "Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king's highway until we have passed through your territory." 23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the desert against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel. 24 Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. 25 Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements.
This was simply an unprovoked attack (with his ENTIRE army?!) on Israel. Notice also that Sihon the Amorite had taken this territory from Moab by force already (Num 21.26)!
So, even the additional available data supports a very negative and abusive view of the Canaanites, Amorites, and Company...
The story of Melky is given in Genesis 14. He is a king-priest of Salem (Jerusalem) and imparts additional theological knowledge to Abe! Awesome figure in biblical history. What is interesting is that he was right in the middle of the Amorite presence, and would have been quite a beacon to those peoples.
But also very intriguing is the notion that he could quite possibly
have been an Amorite himself. In Ezek 16.3, the prophet rebukes the
Jebusites of Jerusalem with these words: `This is what the Sovereign
LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the
Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. (and
again in 16.45). This would argue that Melky was either Amorite or
Rahab had heard about the Exodus (some 40+ years earlier), the conquest
of the Amorite Kings Sihon and Og (a few months earlier), and the
land-grant promise by YHWH(!)--given 400 years earlier. News traveled fast
back in those days, so they probably had at least 40 years notice of
Israel's coming. [Remember that Amalek knew of the Exodus WITHIN DAYS and
There was an abundance of information for these people--perhaps even MORE
THAN the other nations around them had!--but they did not respond
appropriately. (The other nations in the ANE seemed to respond to
'available' truth with a degree of moderation and correspondingly did not
develop the ruthless, cruel, and degenerate practices of their Canaanite
Summary: These nations show up in archeology and literature as a
uniquely evil and destructive civilization, whose culpability is increased due
to the abundance of truth and religious warnings which they were confronted
with, and had access to. In contrast to the vast majority of surrounding
nations, the Canaanite/Amorite cultures would not act responsibly and
prudently, in matters of foreign relations and domestic practice. The result
was a destructive and malignant force, in an already difficult ANE historical
setting. If the nations of that day could have had a vote on who to 'destroy',
they all would have voted for the Canaanite/Amorite culture.
First, I want to look at the limits placed on the Israelites--the
boundary-statements. What limits did God place on these marching orders? How
exhaustive was the command-set? What implications might we draw from these?
Give the people these orders: `You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. 5 Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. 6 You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.'"
[Notice that Esau 'got' that land the same way as Israel did--by conquest
(Deut 2.12, 22; Josh 24.4).]
Then the LORD said to me, "Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession."
When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot."
The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the LORD your God. 26 Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Utterly abhor and detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.
10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
[Scholars have noted that this was an unparalleled benevolence toward
women, in ANE warfare.]
So, this obviously was NOT a war of unrestrained lust, greed for expensive
goods, or even "empire-building"--God did NOT tolerate those attitudes. For
example, in Joshua 7, an Israelite DID take some of the expense idol pieces,
and God held the entire community responsible for this breach.
Second, I want to look at the EXACT CONTENT of the instructions.
What EXACTLY was ordered? What were the possible responses available to the
Canaanites & Co.?
Notice that there is a HUGE difference (at first blush) between
"annihilate" and "drive them out"! These seem almost contradictory. This
warrants a closer look.
This is striking--it looks more like God is planning on "moving" a
nation, than on "destroying a people"...Let's see if the evidence continues
to support this...
The answer comes in recognizing the intent of the 'punishment'. God was destroying a culture and its carriers--not necessarily all the individuals in it. Roughly, it was the 'nations' that were destroyed, and it was the 'individuals' who were driven out. With the national and cultic centers destroyed (along with the staunchest, die-hard defenders of that culture inside those cities), the culture would simply dissipate and evaporate in the Land. As OTHER cultures absorbed individual Canaanite families and groups, the Canaanite cultural depravity would not have had the critical mass to perpetuate itself. [Remember, Canaanite was a 'bad word' in the ANE.] The culture would have simply "died from starvation".
And with Canaan, this might have been the only way to do this--cf. ECIAT:192-193:
"In Canaan, however, it was at once realized by the Egyptians that native political institutions could not be easily replaced, as they partook of a degree of sophistication (thanks to their origin among the Amorites of North Syria and Mesopotamia) comparable with that of Egypt itself."
The Canaanite culture was strong and proved to be powerful in working
against Israel from WITHIN.
After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there. 33 Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei. 34 The LORD said to Moses, "Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon." 35 So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.
Notice that the Amorites in the villages (i.e. surrounding settlements in
v.32 were 'driven out'; but the royal bloodline and national army were
destroyed in v.35).
But this 70,000 is against a base of close to 2 million people! (Israel was approximately 1.6 million at the time, and these nations are said to be 'more numerous' than Israel in a number of places--e.g. Deut 7.1,7.) This amounts to approximately 3.5% of the 'target population'. The Israelites were specifically told to execute those who remained in the cities (Deut 20.16) and those who hid in the Land--and therefore did NOT migrate out--Deut 7.20. Granted the Israelites were less than thorough in their warfare, but this small percentage is a bit ridiculous! This doesn't seem like serious genocide to me--what's going on here?
Let's put a few facts together:
What this would strongly suggest is that the punishment on the
Amorites/Canaanites is NOT extermination but rather total expulsion from the
"`Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 "`Everyone who does any of these detestable things -- such persons must be cut off from their people. (Lev 18.24-29; also Lev 20.22)
Notice in verses 28-29, God holds Israel to the same standard--both as a nation (vs.28) and as individuals (vs.29)! He didn't intend to annihilate them (when they later 'went pagan'), but he warned them of 'expulsion from the Land' in the SAME WAY He did the Canaanites! For this comparison to work in the verse, the punishment ("vomit") MUST mean expulsion.
But WAS it the same way?
Not only were the warnings that God gave Israel about covenant treachery the flip-side of what they were to enjoy in Canaan (e.g. houses and vineyards given to others -- Deut 28.30-33), but the actual experience of Judah before her "expulsion" to Babylonia was essentially the same.
When Judah had begun to practice the same cruel and destructive practices of the Canannites--including child sacrifice (Is 57:5; 2 Kgs 17.17), ritual prostitution (Jer 13.27), cultic homosexual prostitutes (I Kgs 15.12; 22.46; 2 Kgs 23.7), and widespread social violence (cf. Ezek 45.9; Is 59.6-10)--God judged them to be expelled from the Land. He sent the Babylonians to 'drive them out'. They were SUPPOSED to obey God and go into exile--the prophets told the people to surrender to 'dispossession' to AVOID BEING KILLED!
Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, "This is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: `If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live. 18 But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be handed over to the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from their hands.'" (Jer 38.17ff)
"This is what the LORD says: `Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. He will escape with his life; he will live.' 3 And this is what the LORD says: `This city will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.'" (Jer 38.2)
"Furthermore, tell the people, `This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. 9 Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; he will escape with his life. 10 I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the LORD. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.' (Jer 21.8)
If the residents of Judah had surrendered to the Babylonians, they would have simply been deported (read: "expelled from the Land"!) to Babylon--just like the Northern Kingdom had been 'migrated forcibly' to other lands. This is basically the same motif--'migrate or be executed'. The number of people actually killed in the attacks of Babylonia would have been small, but the number transplanted out of the Land would have been considerable.
It is interesting to note that the Assyrians 'drove out' Israel and USED the deportation/transplantation strategy to basically 'annihilate' a culture, without killing the mass of people--they knew that a dispossessed people would be assimilated into larger social groups, as basically happened with some of the northern ten tribes. The Assyrians did this routinely (HAP:601,638), as did the Egyptians (ECIAT:168), and the Babylonians practiced a modified version of it. Deportation as a military practice has been documented as early as the 3rd Dynasty of Ur, 2112-2004 BC (AM:367n33). So ZPEB: s.v. "exile":
"The deportation of communities was usually practiced in the ancient world for political reasons, frequently to destroy the power of a nation considered an enemy..."
"It has been seen how the growing power of Assyria...not only became a real threat to the nations of Syria and Palestine, but exterminated some and deported their peoples, thus breaking their power."
Notice that the above quote makes a similar distinction to my argument here--the nation is 'exterminated' but the people are 'deported'.
Interestingly, a dispossession of Canaanite population appears to be a more 'humane' way of reducing the international impact of an already internationally-despised culture, without having to kill the majority of the carriers of that culture.
The main differences between the expulsion of Israel and the expulsion of Canaan was in the (1) 'execution' of it; and (2) in the 'regulation' of it.
From an 'execution/implementation' standpoint, in the case of Canaan, the deportation must occur BEFORE Israel showed up for battle; in the case of Judah, the 'migration' (initiated by surrender) would occur before Babylon actually attacked the city. [Babylon and Assyria could afford to do this--they had adequate resources and structures to move huge populations around. Post-wandering Israel would have had no such option. God used 'early warning' messages to the Canaanites to get large portions of them (apparently) to migrate north, and even gave the less-urban community more time--the "little by little" aspect of the conquest (cf. Deut 7.22).]
From a 'regulation' standpoint, the Canaanite migration would have been
much less regulated. The migrating peoples could essentially have had some
choice over their destinations, be able to migrate without the harsh
treatment of captors (not at all an insignificant benefit!), and generally
settle closer to familiar lands/languages than occurred under captors.
Although it would still be a 'forced' migration, there were many more
'humane' discretionary elements inherent in it.
Summary: The Israelites had been promised a specific area of land, since the time of Abraham. Most of the local indigenous peoples were either descendants of Abe or very familiar with the traditions of those people. When the "time had come," God judged the Canaanites and decreed for them to be expelled from the Land. Their tenure was up--they were evicted. New tenants were moving in. The Canaanites were given decades and decades of notice--in many ways and at different times. And they understood clearly--all the records we have of their understanding of their plight is TOTALLY in line with the Land-Grant of YHWH.
With the 'eviction notice' published, the Canaanites could decide to either vacate the premises peacefully or deal with military force. If they vacated peacefully, they could choose their locations, mode of travel, and not have to deal with unpleasant military overseers. If they choose to challenge Israel's God and His expressed intentions, then they did so with complete knowledge of His power--as displayed in Egypt.
Even though they were the 'scourge' of the earth at that time--by international consensus--God did not desire to annihilate the people. His expressed intentions were to move them away from His people. He gave them ample opportunity to leave peacefully before Israel arrived, and even allowed the bulk of the 'less institutionalized' to have a little longer. His people were not instructed to hunt them down in neighboring nations at all.
Israel was severely restricted in the Conquest. They were not allowed to be simple 'land grabbers' or 'wealth seekers' or 'self-righteous' or 'land scorchers' or 'international empire builders' or 'captive-abusive'. At the same time, they were to eliminate the threat of Canaanite destructive influence (both spiritual and physical) if called upon.
And God allowed no double standards. When Israel began to look like 'Canaanites', God judged them IN THE SAME WAY...and 'vomited' them from the Land as well. This expulsion was also accompanied by the harsh measures of warfare faced by the Canaanites.
The punishment of the Amorites/Canaanites was thus one of
'deportation'--NOT one of genocide.
Here I want to survey some of the other governance structures that are
present in this issue.
The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
This promise of protection for Abe and his descendants can be seen all
through biblical history--and therefore in the Conquest narratives.
This seems a bit odd, of course, since Israel was being mistreated by the Egyptians during this period, but nonetheless was a present factor--through the influence of the Hyksos. "A dynasty of foreign rulers known as the Hyksos established themselves in control not only of Syria and Palestine but also of Egypt itself during approximately the years 1650-1542 b.c." (MM:128).
Now, if you notice something, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt during this time. I believe in the early date of the Exodus (around the 1400 BC mark), which would make the 400 year Sojourn in Egypt from 1800-1400 bc roughly. One can see then, that all of the Hyksos reign (the New Intermediate Kingdom) would fall into this period. I also understand Gen 15.13 (Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. ) to entail a 'mistreatment' period of several hundred years (as opposed to just the years right before the birth of Moses). According to Exodus, after Joseph died, a new king arose that began the mistreatment. This would make perfect sense if the 'new king' was an outsider--like a Hyksos. This would mean that the long-term mistreatment of Israel was initiated (or at least intensified significantly) by the Hyksos. But why would I bring the Hyksos up in THIS discussion?
"Their name (Hyksos) corresponds to the Egyptian 'rulers of foreign lands,' but was also understood to mean 'shepherd kings.' They were probably preponderantly Semitic Amorites/Canaanites." (MM:128; see also ECIAT:106-107)
So, soon after the Hebrews go into Egypt (as welcomed guests, important contributors, and leaders), the Amorites/Canaanites show up and start "enslaving and mistreating" them, even to the point of programmatic infanticide (Ex 1)!
It is probably around the end of the Sojourn that the 'sins of the Amorites reached a full measure'--international destruction, socially-destructive religious practices, cruel enslavement of an Israelite population that reached close to two million at the time(!), and systematic infanticide.
And the Abrahamic principle--"I will curse them that curse you"--probably
started kicking in here...
This was a principle of law and justice that said that punishment must match/not exceed the crime--in kind (e.g. Deut 19.31). It was not unique to Israel; it shows up in the code of Hammurabi as well (P.197). It was strictly a legal motif for the legal system, and not necessarily to be the rule in personal matters or attitudes.
How would that show up in the Amorite/Canaanite judgment?
The old adage "you reap what you sow" was certainly true in this case...
We saw above that Israel was warned EXPLICITLY not to become like the Canaanites; they DID, and suffered the same fate--deportation.
Not only this, but at the very SECOND BATTLE in the land--that of AI in
Joshua 7--an Israelite kept some of the forbidden sacred images and God
judged him, his family, and the entire nation for this breach of
covenant--just like He was judging the Canaanites...no double standard
here/then, or later in the Northern and Southern kingdoms.
The nature of historical community and "cause/effect" is such that the actions of one member of a group ALWAYS affects the others. The decisions of a parent have consequences for a child--for good or ill. The decisions of a civic leader have consequences for the citizens--for good or ill. The decisions of an army commander have consequences for his soldiers--for good or ill. This 'system' was set up FOR GOOD--that we might bless the lives and fortunes of others--but anything good can be twisted into something destructive.
In the case of parents who had the good sense to migrate, the children benefited. In the case of those parents who chose to stay and fight, their children died too. In the case of city members who decided to act independently of what their 'civic leaders' recommended(!), sanity saved lives. In the case of those who simply 'followed the leaders' instead of the information about YHWH and the Israelites, lives were lost.
The case of Rahab the prostitute is instructive. She 'rebelled' against the civic authority and saved her life AND THE LIVES of those who came into her household (Josh 6.23). The decision of one worked for the good of others--how the system is supposed to work.
It is always difficult to deal with the complex relationships/dependencies within the human family, and although we rarely complain about how 'unfair' it is for a child to be benefited by the integrity and resources of a good parent, we often complain about how 'unfair' it is for a child to be disadvantaged by abuse or poverty of a parent. The two go together--for good or ill. You cannot even have a parent-child relationship without a significant level of REAL and MEANINGFUL (and therefore, potentially REALLY damaging) dependencies. It is simply inconceivable.
And, frankly, the alternative to 'dying swiftly with your parents' is NOT "obviously better"--its a close call. In this case, let's suppose the children under fighting age (around 12) were spared but all the adults and livestock killed, and the homes and foodstock taken. With an average age of six, homeless, without shelter, in shock, without food, without nurture, in grief, in terror, without protection from the wild animals, without protection from marauding bands of slave-traders, without protection from each other, without any adult guidance--how long could they last in the wild? The Israelites had no resources to care for them, or to route them to other nations around there. What kind of a slow-death would that be?
Of course, this 'alternative' scenario is only a theoretical exercise, and only meant to show that the issue is very, very complex as to 'what is best'. God chose a different path in most of history. The power of parents--for good or ill--is consistently maintained, and always displayed before the eyes of us who are parents. We must take this responsibility seriously--there are REAL consequences and no 'magic escapes' for those whose lives we touch--family, friends, followers.
Now, let's restate our opening questions and try to summarize the above material in response...
We really didn't go into this side of the question, but we have enough clues in the above data to take a stab at this:
Israel didn't really want to do this AT ALL, so why would they make it up?!
The post-Exodus Israel was a whining (e.g. Num 11.1; Ex 16.2-3), grumbling (e.g. Ex 15.24; 17.3), bunch of folks who wanted to go back to Egypt (Num 14.1-3)! They were constantly afraid of the inhabitants of the Land (e.g. Num 14; Deut 7.19). They never even finished the job (Judges 1.1-3.5). And besides...what good would a forged passage or two in their sacred literature be?! It wouldn't be useful to 'appeal to' in disputes over land. It couldn't have been written centuries later and 'inserted' into the text to give some kind of legitimacy to Israel, because the land descriptions and details are too ancient/obscure to have even be known/made up that later.
No, the data all indicates that IN SPITE OF ISRAEL, the land-grant orders
were authentic and ancient.
Well, first of all, since the land was supposed to be a 'present' to the descendants of Abe, it wouldn't make a lot of sense to have it ravaged by large-scale, ubiquitous earthquakes, or totally scorched by volcanix, or covered in rotting, disease-infested corpses!
Second, we have seen that God intended for most people to simply leave...He didn't want to kill them all.
Finally, He didn't give it to them because they were righteous at all--He
gave it to them because of His promise to Abe...Plus, He had plans to 'grow
them' into righteousness once they got into the Land.
There is a strong possibility that most of the 'innocent' people left the country before the actual battles began in each local turf. Those that stayed behind were the die-hards, the "carriers" of Canaanite culture, the ruling, decadent, exploitative elite. We also saw that only a very tiny minority of people were actually killed in this campaign, relative to most military conquests in the ANE.
I think it should be clear by now that this was neither a (1) "slaughter"; nor (2) "wholesale"! It was a deportation, based upon a judgment that would have found consensus among world leaders of the day! There were elements of mercy THROUGHOUT the entire deal--from the 'early warnings' before the Sojourn in Egypt, to the 'heads up' warnings four decades before Entry, to the 'little by little' invasion tactic for the less-institutionalized, to the careful limits on Israelite behavior. The migration of much of the Canaanite peoples (and religious culture, unfortunately) into Phoenicia is testimony of the scale of this migration.
When we restate the pattern of our 'control data'--judgments that seem to be 'true annihilations'--and correlate that pattern with the Conquest data, we see similarities AND differences:
Pushback: You say that the people of Canaan and the others should have left because the land was promised to Isreal. That's like someone coming to my house and telling me to get out because God told him that he could have it. And then blaming me because he had to kill me to "accomplish God's will." In short, it isn't realistic to expect that people will uproot and leave their home. Even the most peaceful folks will fight when home is what's at stake.
Fortunately, in the ancient world the situation was much more clear than the situation you describe at the doorstep!. Each nation/state/city had their main god that was supposed to protect that specific spot of land. The bigger the country, the bigger and more powerful the god had to be. If a foreign people came to you and said "our god wants to take over your land" the only real was to know whose god was bigger (and therefore which claim was 'legitimate') was to fight. If your god won, then obviously their statement about 'change of ownership' was bogus or irrelevant. If they won, of course, the opposite was true--and off you go (assuming they didn't kill you in the process).
But in some cases there was a short-cut to know whether their god would beat your god--by checking the "stats" and applying the "transitive law". If you knew, for example, that your god A (deity of a local Canaanite city-village), could be easily beaten by god B (the god of Egypt, the mightest nation on the planet), but that god B (Egypt) was recently beaten by a more powerful god C (God of the Hebrews), then you could easily make the A<B<C connection, and know that a head start on moving north to Phonecian might be a good idea. The fact that this had been forecast for centuries earlier, and told around all the nearby city campfires didn't hurt its credibility either...nor did the stories of the Hebrew ancestor Abraham, whose exploits against the 5 Kings were still stories of wide circulation and awe...
In other words, the Israelite claims were not simple "one-off prophetic"
declarations of "mine!"--but had a long history of circulation, and were
substantiated (in their minds) by the awesome victory over the mightiest nation
and pantheon on earth--that of Egypt. Under circumstances like this--given the
way the ancients understood deity--it would be extremely realistic to expect
them to uproot and move their home. There actually would be no better way to
communicate the certainty of that future than by such an
extraordinary event as the Exodus, if well-publicized (which it was). If God was
trying to give them a 40-year 'early warning', this was the most effective way
possible to help them see the reality of that future, and give them almost a
generation to prepare and build a new life/home somewhere else (south or most
Conclusion: Judgment is called God's "strange work" in the OT prophets. What for us humans is the problem of "why does God not do anything about evil and cruel people" is simply the other side of His patience with us. He hopes that we will accept a love of the truth and a commitment to value. In love, He deliberately "believes the best" (I Cor 13).
What started out as the "Unfair genocide of the Canaanites" ended up as the "Less-than-they-deserved punitive deportation from the land"--filled with patience and mercy and 'second chances'. It was nonetheless a judgment, and nonetheless involved death--as it later would be repeated to His people.
Far from being the "genocide of an innocent people for land-hungry Israelites", it was instead the "firm, yet just--and even a little merciful to the masses--removal of a people from a tract of land, mostly through migration."
glenn miller, 2/8/97, Oct 2000