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Genocide

Posted by on Oct. 4, 2012 at 6:29 AM
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Slaughter of the Canaanites

Question 1:

In the forums, there has been some good questions raised on the issue of God commanding the Jews to commit “genocide” on the people in the promise land. As you have pointed out in some of your written work that this act does not fit with the Western concept of God being the big sugar daddy in the sky. Now we can certainly find  justification for those people coming under God judgement because of their sins, idolatry, sacrificing their children, etc... But a harder question is the killing of the children and infants. If the children are young enough along with the infants are innocent of the sins that their society has committed.  How do we reconcile this command of God to kill the children with the concept of his holiness?

Thank you,

Steven  Shea

Question 2:

I have heard you justify Old Testament violence on the basis that God had used Israelite army to judge the cananites and their elimination by Israelites is morally right as they were obeying God’s command (iif would be wrong if tey did not obey God in eliminating the cannanites) . This resembles a bit on how Muslims define morality and justify the violence of Muhammad and other morally questionable actions (muslims define morality as doing the will of God). Do you see any difference between your justification of OT violence and Islamic justification of Muhammand and violent verses of the Quran? Is the violence and morally questionable actions and verses of the Quran, a good arugument while talking to Muslims?

Anonymous

According to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), when God called forth his people out of slavery in Egypt and back to the land of their forefathers, he directed them to kill all the Canaanite clans who were living in the land (Deut. 7.1-2; 20.16-18).  The destruction was to be complete: every man, woman, and child was to be killed.  The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s carrying out God’s command in city after city throughout Canaan.

These stories offend our moral sensibilities.  Ironically, however, our moral sensibilities in the West have been largely, and for many people unconsciously, shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage, which has taught us the intrinsic value of human beings, the importance of dealing justly rather than capriciously, and the necessity of the punishment’s fitting the crime.  The Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.

The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Contrary to the vituperative rhetoric of someone like Richard Dawkins, the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of justice, long-suffering, and compassion.  

You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the orphaned, and so on.  God demands just laws and just rulers.  He literally pleads with people to repent of their unjust ways that He might not judge them.  “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33.11)

He sends a prophet even to the pagan city of Nineveh because of his pity for its inhabitants, “who do not know their right hand from their left” (Jon. 4.11).  The Pentateuch itself contains the Ten Commandments, one of the greatest of ancient moral codes, which has shaped Western society.  Even the stricture “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not a prescription of vengeance but a check on excessive punishment for any crime, serving to moderate violence. 

God’s judgement is anything but capricious.  When the Lord announces His intention to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, Abraham boldly asks,

“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18.25). 

Like a Middle Eastern merchant haggling for a bargain, Abraham continually lowers his price, and each time God meets it without hesitation, assuring Abraham that if there are even ten righteous persons in the city, He will not destroy it for their sake.

So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel’s armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples?  It is precisely because we have come to expect Yahweh to act justly and with compassion that we find these stories so difficult to understand.  How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?

Now before attempting to say something by way of answer to this difficult question, we should do well first to pause and ask ourselves what is at stake here.  Suppose we agree that if God (who is perfectly good) exists, He could not have issued such a command.  What follows?  That Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?  That God does not exist?   Hardly!  So what is the problem supposed to be? 

I’ve often heard popularizers raise this issue as a refutation of the moral argument for God’s existence.  But that’s plainly incorrect.  The claim that God could not have issued such a command doesn’t falsify or undercut either of the two premises in the moral argument as I have defended it:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

In fact, insofar as the atheist thinks that God did something morally wrong in commanding the extermination of the Canaanites, he affirms premise (2).  So what is the problem supposed to be?

The problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false.  Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervor, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not.  In other words, this problem is really an objection to biblical inerrancy. 

In fact, ironically, many Old Testament critics are sceptical that the events of the conquest of Canaan ever occurred.  They take these stories to be part of the legends of the founding of  Israel, akin to the myths of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome.  For such critics the problem of God’s issuing such a command evaporates.

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

I think that a good start at this problem is to enunciate our ethical theory that underlies our moral judgements.  According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.  Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself,  He has no moral duties to fulfill.  He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.  For example, I have no right to take an innocent life.  For me to do so would be murder.  But God has no such prohibition.  He can give and take life as He chooses.  We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.”  Human authorities  arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God.  God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second.  If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit.  How long they live and when they die is up to Him. 

So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives.  The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them.  Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder?  No, it’s not.  Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder.  The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.

All right; but isn’t such a command contrary to God’s nature?  Well, let’s look at the case more closely.  It is perhaps significant that the story of Yahweh’s destruction of Sodom--along with his solemn assurances to Abraham that were there as many as ten righteous persons in Sodom, the city would not have been destroyed--forms part of the background to the conquest of Canaan and Yahweh’s command to destroy the cities there.  The implication is that the Canaanites are not righteous people but have come under God’s judgement.

In fact, prior to Israel’s bondage in Egypt, God tells Abraham,

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete” (Gen. 15. 13, 16).

Think of it!  God stays His judgement of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability!  This is the long-suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures.  He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgement and calling His people forth from Egypt.  

By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice.  The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18).  God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.

But why take the lives of innocent children?  The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly  related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel’s part.  In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7.3-4).  This command is part and parcel of the whole fabric of complex Jewish ritual law distinguishing clean and unclean practices.  To the contemporary Western mind many of the regulations in Old Testament law seem absolutely bizarre and pointless:  not to mix linen with wool, not to use the same vessels for meat and for milk products, etc.  The overriding thrust of these regulations is to prohibit various kinds of mixing.  Clear lines of distinction are being drawn: this and not that.  These serve as daily, tangible reminders that Israel is a special people set apart for God Himself.

I spoke once with an Indian missionary who told me that the Eastern mind has an inveterate tendency toward amalgamation.  He said Hindus upon hearing the Gospel would smile and say, “Sub ehki eh, sahib, sub ehki eh!”  (“All is One, sahib, All is One!” [Hindustani speakers forgive my transliteration!]).  It made it almost impossible to reach them because even logical contradictions were subsumed in the whole.  He said that he thought the reason God gave Israel so many arbitrary commands about clean and unclean was to teach them the Law of Contradiction! 

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

But then, again, we’re thinking of this from a Christianized, Western standpoint.  For people in the ancient world, life was already brutal.  Violence and war were a fact of life for people living in the ancient Near East.  Evidence of this fact is that the people who told these stories apparently thought nothing of what the Israeli soldiers were commanded to do (especially if these are founding legends of the nation).  No one was wringing his hands over the soldiers’ having to kill the Canaanites; those who did so were national heroes.

Moreover, my point above returns.  Nothing could so illustrate to the Israelis the seriousness of their calling as a people set apart for God alone.  Yahweh is not to be trifled with.  He means business, and if Israel apostasizes the same could happen to her. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”

Now how does all this relate to Islamic jihad?  Islam sees violence as a means of propagating the Muslim faith.  Islam divides the world into two camps:  the dar al-Islam (House of Submission) and the dar al-harb (House of War).  The former are those lands which have been brought into submission to Islam; the latter are those nations which have not yet been brought into submission.  This is how Islam actually views the world!

By contrast, the conquest of Canaan represented God’s just judgement upon those peoples.  The purpose was not at all to get them to convert to Judaism!  War was not being used as an instrument of propagating the Jewish faith.  Moreover, the slaughter of the Canaanites represented an unusual historical circumstance, not a regular means of behavior.

The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God.  If the Muslim thinks that our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, then I agree with him.  But Muslims and Christians differ radically over God’s nature.  Christians believe that God is all-loving, while Muslims believe that God loves only Muslims.  Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners.  Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately.  Moreover, in Islam God’s omnipotence trumps everything, even His own nature.  He is therefore utterly arbitrary in His dealing with mankind.  By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands. 

The question, then, is not whose moral theory is correct, but which is the true God? 

by on Oct. 4, 2012 at 6:29 AM
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Clairwil
by Group Owner on Oct. 4, 2012 at 6:30 AM

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The “Slaughter” of the Canaanites Re-visited

Dear Dr Craig,

You are becoming increasingly known as "the apologist who defends genocide and infanticide in the Old Testament", mainly due to your Q&A response on the question of the Canaanites.

Many people seem to react emotionally, without engaging with the detail of your arguments and without providing their own moral foundations on which their outrage can stand.

However, I've been hearing recently that the Old Testament accounts of these killings used exaggerated language. This was mentioned at an apologetics conference I attended recently, and I'm told it's even in Paul Copan's new book (haven't been able to read it yet, however).

In particular, it's being said that language about "killing all women and children" was typically and culturally "over-the-top", and that it's not necessary to interpret the text to mean that they were all *really* slain.

You, however, defend a more literal account: that God did order the deaths of the women and young children.

How have you made sure that you're not mistaken? Or, to put it another way, is this not an opportunity to avoid burdening yourself with needing to defend the view that God ordered the mass killings of women and children?

It's a tricky one, and an emotive topic, but I'd love to know what you think especially about these accounts of "exaggerated language".

Many thanks again,

Peter

United Kingdom

I’ve seen those kinds of responses, too, Peter, and find them disappointing because they fail to grapple intellectually with the difficult questions raised by such stories. Emotional outbursts take the place of rational discussion, leaving us with no deeper understanding of the issues than before we began.

I find it ironic that atheists should often express such indignation at God’s commands, since on naturalism there’s no basis for thinking that objective moral values and duties exist at all and so no basis for regarding the Canaanite slaughter as wrong. As Doug Wilson has aptly said of the Canaanite slaughter from a naturalistic point of view, “The universe doesn’t care.” So at most the non-theist can be alleging that biblical theists have a sort of inconsistency in affirming both the goodness of God and the historicity of the conquest of Canaan. It’s an internal problem for biblical theists, which is hardly grounds for moral outrage on the part of non-theists. If there is an inconsistency on our part, then we’ll just have to give up the historicity of the narratives, taking them as either legends or else misinterpretations by Israel of God’s will. The existence of God and the soundness of the moral argument for His existence don’t even come into play.

The topic of God’s command to destroy the Canaanites was the subject of a very interesting exchange at the Evangelical Philosophical Society session last November at the Society of Biblical Literature Convention in Atlanta. Matt Flannagan defended the view put forward by Paul Copan in his Is God a Moral Monster? that such commands represent hyperbole typical of Ancient Near Eastern accounts of military conquests. Obviously, if Paul is right about this, then the whole problem just evaporates. But this answer doesn’t seem to me to do justice to the biblical text, which seems to say that if the Israeli soldiers were to encounter Canaanite women and children, they should kill them (cf. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in I Sam. 15.10-16).

Old Testament scholar Richard Hess took a different line in his paper: he construes the commands literally but thinks that no women and children were actually killed. All the battles were with military outposts and soldiers, where women and children would not have been present. It is, in fact, a striking feature of these narratives that there is no record whatsoever that women or children were actually killed by anyone. Still, even if Hess is right, the ethical question remains of how God could command such things, even if the commands weren’t actually carried out. Whether anyone was actually killed is irrelevant to the ethical question, as the story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates.

So even if Copan is right, I’m still willing to bite the bullet and tackle the tougher question of how an all-good, all-loving God could issue such horrendous commands. My argument in Question of the Week #16 is that God has the moral right to issue such commands and that He wronged no one in doing so. I want to challenge those who decry my answer to explain whom God wronged and why we should think so. As I explained, the most plausible candidate is, ironically, the soldiers themselves, but I think that morally sufficient reasons can be provided for giving them so gruesome a task.

There is one important aspect of my answer that I would change, however. I have come to appreciate as a result of a closer reading of the biblical text that God’s command to Israel was not primarily to exterminate the Canaanites but to drive them out of the land. It was the land that was (and remains today!) paramount in the minds of these Ancient Near Eastern peoples. The Canaanite tribal kingdoms which occupied the land were to be destroyed as nation states, not as individuals. The judgment of God upon these tribal groups, which had become so incredibly debauched by that time, is that they were being divested of their land. Canaan was being given over to Israel, whom God had now brought out of Egypt. If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all. There was no command to pursue and hunt down the Canaanite peoples.

It is therefore completely misleading to characterize God’s command to Israel as a command to commit genocide. Rather it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated. There may have been no non-combatants killed at all. That makes sense of why there is no record of the killing of women and children, such as I had vividly imagined. Such scenes may have never taken place, since it was the soldiers who remained to fight. It is also why there were plenty of Canaanite people around after the conquest of the land, as the biblical record attests.

No one had to die in this whole affair. Of course, that fact doesn’t affect the moral question concerning the command that God gave, as explained above. But I stand by my previous answer of how God could have commanded the killing of any Canaanites who attempted to remain behind in the land.

Clairwil
by Group Owner on Oct. 4, 2012 at 6:30 AM

(source)

William Lane Craig on being “the apologist who defends genocide”

I’m sure most of you are aware of this abomination by William Lane Craig, the article where he states his belief that if God tells you to slaughter women and children, then by gosh that makes it morally right. But Craig also has a follow-up piece that I never read (or looked closely at, I’m not sure) until it was tweeted by Richard Dawkins a couple days ago:

Let’s have a look shall we?:

Dear Dr Craig,

You are becoming increasingly known as “the apologist who defends genocide and infanticide in the Old Testament”, mainly due to your Q&A response on the question of the Canaanites.

Many people seem to react emotionally, without engaging with the detail of your arguments and without providing their own moral foundations on which their outrage can stand…

Blah blah blah… okay, you get the point. What Craig’s fan said here isn’t really the point, I’m mainly quoting this because it’s amusing to see even a dedicated fan notice that Craig is becoming known as ”the apologist who defends genocide,” and that Craig would feel the need to quote this observation in an article on his website. On to Craig himself:

I’ve seen those kinds of responses, too, Peter, and find them disappointing because they fail to grapple intellectually with the difficult questions raised by such stories. Emotional outbursts take the place of rational discussion, leaving us with no deeper understanding of the issues than before we began.

Wow. First the hypocrisy of this: Craig would never let an opponent get away with dismissing, say, his moral argument as an “emotional appeal.” He’d take that as proof that his opponent didn’t understand him and was, in fact, incompetent.

But more importantly, trying to dismiss objecting to genocide as “emotional” is obscene, as should be obvious from a second’s thought about more recent genocides. Just imagine someone complaining about “emotional” reactions to the Holocaust (or perhaps a bit more plausibly, the Armenian Genocide) by saying that “they fail to grapple intellectually with the difficult questions” it raises.

Back to Craig:

I find it ironic that atheists should often express such indignation at God’s commands, since on naturalism there’s no basis for thinking that objective moral values and duties exist at all and so no basis for regarding the Canaanite slaughter as wrong. As Doug Wilson has aptly said of the Canaanite slaughter from a naturalistic point of view, “The universe doesn’t care.” So at most the non-theist can be alleging that biblical theists have a sort of inconsistency in affirming both the goodness of God and the historicity of the conquest of Canaan. It’s an internal problem for biblical theists, which is hardly grounds for moral outrage on the part of non-theists. If there is an inconsistency on our part, then we’ll just have to give up the historicity of the narratives, taking them as either legends or else misinterpretations by Israel of God’s will. The existence of God and the soundness of the moral argument for His existence don’t even come into play.

Notice that there is no actual attempt at an argument here. Not that there usually is when Craig is making his moral “argument,” but here Craig doesn’t even bother insisting there are tons of atheists who agree with him. He just quotes Wilson, a fellow evangelical who’s also a slavery apologist.

The topic of God’s command to destroy the Canaanites was the subject of a very interesting exchange at the Evangelical Philosophical Society session last November at the Society of Biblical Literature Convention in Atlanta. Matt Flannagan defended the view put forward by Paul Copan in his Is God a Moral Monster?that such commands represent hyperbole typical of Ancient Near Eastern accounts of military conquests. Obviously, if Paul is right about this, then the whole problem just evaporates. But this answer doesn’t seem to me to do justice to the biblical text, which seems to say that if the Israeli soldiers were to encounter Canaanite women and children, they should kill them (cf. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in I Sam. 15.10-16).

Old Testament scholar Richard Hess took a different line in his paper: he construes the commands literally but thinks that no women and children were actually killed. All the battles were with military outposts and soldiers, where women and children would not have been present. It is, in fact, a striking feature of these narratives that there is no record whatsoever that women or children were actually killed by anyone. Still, even if Hess is right, the ethical question remains of how God could command such things, even if the commands weren’t actually carried out. Whether anyone was actually killed is irrelevant to the ethical question, as the story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates.

Okay, it’s nice that Craig isn’t going to take refuge in dubious interpretation. I guess.

So even if Copan is right, I’m still willing to bite the bullet and tackle the tougher question of how an all-good, all-loving God could issue such horrendous commands. My argument in Question of the Week #16 is that God has the moral right to issue such commands and that He wronged no one in doing so. I want to challenge those who decry my answer to explain whom God wronged and why we should think so. As I explained, the most plausible candidate is, ironically, the soldiers themselves, but I think that morally sufficient reasons can be provided for giving them so gruesome a task.

Yup, Craig thinks slaughtering children isn’t necessarily wronging them.

There is one important aspect of my answer that I would change, however. I have come to appreciate as a result of a closer reading of the biblical text that God’s command to Israel was not primarily to exterminate the Canaanites but to drive them out of the land. It was the land that was (and remains today!) paramount in the minds of these Ancient Near Eastern peoples. The Canaanite tribal kingdoms which occupied the land were to be destroyed as nation states, not as individuals. The judgment of God upon these tribal groups, which had become so incredibly debauched by that time, is that they were being divested of their land. Canaan was being given over to Israel, whom God had now brought out of Egypt. If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all. There was no command to pursue and hunt down the Canaanite peoples.

It is therefore completely misleading to characterize God’s command to Israel as a command to commit genocide. Rather it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated. There may have been no non-combatants killed at all. That makes sense of why there is no record of the killing of women and children, such as I had vividly imagined. Such scenes may have never taken place, since it was the soldiers who remained to fight. It is also why there were plenty of Canaanite people around after the conquest of the land, as the biblical record attests.

No one had to die in this whole affair. Of course, that fact doesn’t affect the moral question concerning the command that God gave, as explained above. But I stand by my previous answer of how God could have commanded the killing of any Canaanites who attempted to remain behind in the land.

Oh wait, Craig is taking refute in dubious interpretation after all. Since few of Craig’s readers are unlikely to do the work of actually looking up the relevant passages themselves, it’s worth going over them in detail.

Before I do that, it’s worth emphasizing that the word “genocide” was never intended to mean “trying to kill every last member of an ethnic group, and only that.” Here’s how Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word genocide, defined the term in an early article on the subject:

New conceptions require new terms. By “genocide” we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group… Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.

Under that definition, there’s no question that the destruction of the Midianites described in Numbers 31 qualifies. Here’s the story: the Israelites go to war against the Midianites, kill all the Midianite men, and capture the Midianite women. Moses, however, is mad the fact that the women were allowed to live, and orders the Israelites to kill all the women and young boys, but to “save for yourselves” all the virgin girls.

The Bible doesn’t explicitly say the command to kill was carried out. Instead, it skips straight to listing all the “plunder” the Israelites got from their war against the Midianites, giving numbers for how many thousands of sheep, cattle, donkeys, and virgin girls the Israelites got from their war.

In a different, but still undeniably genocidal vein, in the Old Testament God seems to have a real grudge against the Amalekites specifically, out of all the Canaanite tribes. In Exodus 17:14, God memorably promises to “utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” Deuteronomy 25:19 uses similar language, except that the Israelites are commanded do the blotting out on God’s behalf.

And you know David, the great Israelite king whose killing of Goliath is taught to all Sunday school students everywhere? He got to be king because the previous king, Saul, disobeyed God by letting one Amalekite, the Amalekite king Agag, live when God had commanded him to kill them all. (The prophet Samuel fixed this mistake by personally hacking Agag to pieces.)

Now, it’s true that there are passages in the Bible that “merely” talk driving people out of their land. Yet even these can be kind of genocidy. Here, for example, is Deuteronomy 20:16-17:

As for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded.

When God here says “You shall annihilate the Hittites” (etc.), He doesn’t actually qualify that He only means the ones in the land He gave the Israelites, but you can argue that based on the previous sentence it should be read that way. However, there’s no actual mention of giving the Hittites etc. a chance to get out.

Compare that to the previous verses of Deuteronomy 20, where God says that when you make war against a far away city, you should give them a chance to be your slaves before you kill all the men and enslave the women and children (a passage I already noted here).

In any case, remember what I said about the definition of genocide earlier. It doesn’t have to mean killing every last member of a group. I suppose you could argue that on Lemkin’s definition, driving out the Hittites etc. wasn’t genocide because their “essential foundations of the life” could have survived being “driven out.”

But if you want to argue it wasn’t technically genocide, consider this slightly broader definition that’s been given for “ethnic cleansing”: “the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.”

Deuteronomy’s program is pretty clearly ethnic cleansing by that definition. And while “ethnic cleansing” was originally a euphemism used by those who committed it in Yugoslavia, it has since fallen off the euphemsim treadmill and–rightly–come to be seen as morally equivalent or at least near-equivalent to genocide.

In fact, I feel a bit dirty indulging Craig’s semantic hair-splitting as far as I have, given how closely it resembles the rhetoric of apologists for non-mytholigical atrocities, including the Armenian Genocide, which some (mainly the Turksih government) have tried to argue wasn’t technically genocide, even though it was one of the things Lemkin specifically had in mind when he coined the term “genocide.”

AdrianneHill
by Member on Oct. 4, 2012 at 10:49 AM
I've only read a part of it thus far and it does seem like some extreme mental gymnastics are required to keep god, morality, and a moral god in the same place. He just nods and says well god says so he must exist. If he didn't say it, that would mean god didn't exist. But god did say and if god didn't say so, it would be bad to do those things. But if god had not given the command, then god couldn't exist somehow.
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AdrianneHill
by Member on Oct. 4, 2012 at 11:11 AM
The last one just ended.
I was expecting more holes poked in the argument.
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