Clay Jones argues that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), but that this command and the obedience of the Israelites to the command was morally justified because the Canaanites deserved the death penalty for various serious crimes or sins which were violations of the laws of Jehovah (see his article “Killing the Canaanites”). Jones provides a list of the crimes or sins allegedly committed by the Canaanites which were (supposedly) deserving of the death penalty: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.
The Sin or Crime of Child Sacrifice
Of the six sins or crimes that Clay Jones lists as moral justifications for Jehovah’s command to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), this is the ONLY sin or crime that seems to be deserving of the death penalty. None of the other five sins/crimes is serious enough to warrant killing the persons who perform them. In fact, the very idea that Jehovah demanded the death penalty for the other five sins/crimes argues for the conclusion that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, so in pointing to those five sins/crimes as moral justification of the slaughter of the Canaanites, Jones simply adds fuel to the fire that he was trying to put out.
But child sacrifice seems to be a more serious matter than incest, adultery, or homosexual sex. At the least, child sacrifice involves the murder of a child, which is a terrible sin or crime. We cannot help but feel agreement with the sentiment that such a sin or crime is a PERVERSION, because parents are supposed to love and cherish their children and to protect their children from harm and injury. So, when a parent harms their own child or kills their own child, we view that as being the very opposite of what should happen, the very opposite of what is NORMAL, so to speak.
Although it is right and proper to be appalled at the idea of parents harming or killing their own children, we also need to remember that this is all too common an event in this world, even here in the U.S.A. where Christianity has been the dominant religion for over two centuries:
- In 2013 there were about 679,000 children who were victims of child abuse or neglect in the U.S.A.
- About 122,000 of those children were subjected to physical abuse
- About 61,000 of those children were subjected to sexual abuse
- An estimated 1,520 children died in 2013 as a result of abuse and neglect in the U.S.A.
(see report: Child Maltreatment 2013 ,p.ii)
So, before we start throwing stones at the Canaanites who lived a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, we ought to pause and reflect on the actual behavior of the population of our (largely) Christian nation now, more than two thousand years after the birth of Jesus.
The most obvious bit of hypocrisy in appealing to the charge of “child sacrifice” as a justification for the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) is that this is a justification of the slaughter of children, and it also clearly has a religious foundation: the command to slaughter the children supposedly comes from Jehovah, the god of the Israelites.
Jehovah was supposedly angry and fed up with the Canaanites, so the slaughter of the Canaanites by the Israelites would, presumably, help ease the anger of a deity (i.e. Jehovah), and would also, presumably, help to obtain the favor and assistance of that deity (i.e. Jehovah), which is exactly what the religious ritual of “child sacrifice” was intended to accomplish. So, what we have in Jehovah’s command to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) can reasonably be viewed as the command to perform human sacrifices on a MASSIVE scale, including the sacrifice of hundreds or thousands of children:
50. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as punishment for the sin or crime of “child sacrifice”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah was in effect commanding the Israelites to engage in acts of child sacrifice on a massive scale to punish acts of child sacrifice.
The hypocrisy of Jehovah is not limited to commanding child sacrifice as the punishment for the evil of child sacrifice. We view child sacrifice as evil, because we care about the rights and needs of children, but there is no good reason to believe that Jehovah shares our values and concerns about the welfare of children.
For one thing, Jehovah commanded that the death penalty be used against children, when children were disrespectful of their parents:
Exodus 21:17 New American Standard Bible
17 “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
Leviticus 20:9 New American Standard Bible
9 ‘If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him.
Jehovah commanded that the death penalty be used on “stubborn and rebellious” sons who are disobedient to their parents:
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 New American Standard Bible
18 “If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown.
20 They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’
21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear.
Jehovah authorized the death penalty for children who strike their parents:
Exodus 21:15 New American Standard Bible
15 “He who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.
The laws of Jehovah demand the death of a child who curses his/her parents, or who strikes his/her parents, and the laws of Jehovah demand the death of a son who is rebellious and disobedient towards his parents, so we can reasonably conclude that Jehovah was NOT deeply concerned about the welfare of children.
Furthermore, as we saw in previous posts, the laws of Jehovah treat women as property of men, and specifically they treat daughters as property of their fathers. Thus, in the laws of Jehovah there is no prohibition or punishment for a father having sex with his own daughter (see Leviticus chapters 18 and 20).
Also, if a young girl is violently raped by an adult man, the punishment was a fine (not the death penalty), which was not to compensate the girl, but to compensate her father for the damage to his property, since he could no longer obtain the full bride price for his daughter given that she was now “damaged goods” (see Deuteronomy 22:28-29), as indicated in this commentary on Deuteronomy 22:
Adultery and rape are seen as offenses against the husband or father of the woman involved. There seems to be no concern for rape as a crime of violence against the woman herself in these laws.
…If the raped woman is not married or betrothed (vv.28-29), the matter is less serious, a clear indication that rape was viewed as a crime against the victim’s husband. In this case it is a crime against her father, and he is compensated for the loss of her bride price (cf. Exod. 22:16-17). (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, p.207)
The laws of Jehovah also recognize that Israelite fathers have the right to sell their daughters into slavery:
Exodus 21:2 & 7-8 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
2 “If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.
7 “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.
8 If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her.
The passage begins with a discussion about rules concerning male Hebrew slaves, that is male Israelites who become slaves, and then goes on to discuss daughters who are sold as slaves by their fathers. These daughters are clearly female Israelites, not only because the passage begins with talking about male Israelite slaves, but also because there is a prohibition of selling such a female slave “to a foreign people” meaning selling her to some people other than Israelites. This prohibition makes no sense unless the female slave in question was herself an Israelite. Thus, this passage recognizes the right of an Israelite father to sell his own daughter into slavery.
It is clear that as far as children are concerned, Jehovah was NOT very concerned about their welfare. The laws of Jehovah show that the motivation behind the prohibition of child sacrifice was NOT a deep concern for the rights and needs of children.
In Leviticus Chapters 18 and 20, we find a prohibition against offering one’s children to the god Molech:
Leviticus 18:21 New American Standard Bible
21 You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.
Leviticus 20:1-2 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “You shall also say to the sons of Israel:
‘Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones.
One further bit of hypocrisy from Jehovah on this matter is that he himself appears to have demanded child sacrifice:
Exodus 13:1-2 New American Standard Bible
1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”
Exodus 22:29 New American Standard Bible
29 “You shall not delay the offering from your harvest and your vintage. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.
These passages from Exodus might well reflect an Israelite practice of child sacrifice to Jehovah/Yahweh, as argued in the article on “Molech” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (emphasis added):
Human sacrifice as more generally referred to in the phrase, “the one who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire,” is frequently and exclusively attributed to Canaanite origins by some biblical writers (e.g. Deut. 12:31). Nonetheless, some form of human sacrifice was apparently part of the Yahwistic cult in preexilic (and perhaps exilic) times. …The “sacrifice of the firstborn to Yahweh” and the Molech sacrifice were probably closely related, if not one and the same cult. Although the former required that the firstborn sons be sacrificed to Yahweh while the latter listed as sacrifices children generally (of both sexes), the fact that daughters could legally substitute for sons as firstborn heirs favors the equation of these two cults (cf. Num. 27:1-8 and the texts from Emar and Nuzi regarding the legal substitution of daughters for sons within the context of inheritance)….Therefore, texts that refer to the sacrifice of the firstborn to Yahweh (e.g. Gen. 22:1-14; Exod. 13:2, 12-13, 15; Mic. 6:6-7) can be related to the Molech cult. Molech’s associations with Baal (rather than Yahweh) in biblical traditions (cf. Jer. 2:23; 19:5; 32:35) are more likely part of the inventive Deuteronomistic rhetorical polemic to “Canaanize” what was formerly a non-Deuteronomistic, but Yahwistic, Israelite practice of human sacrifice.
As added confirmation of the endurance and pervasiveness of the practice, Ezekiel implies that Yahweh had commanded the Israelites to participate in the sacrifice of their firstborn (Ezek. 20:25-26), but qualifies this law as a form of punishment. Similarly, Exod. 22:29-30 (MT 28-29) comprises an unqualified demand to make the firstborn sacrifice to Yahweh; the option to redeem the firstborn is not offered here as in later Priestly texts. In the light of Jeremiah’s condemnation of the practice and Ezekiel’s recognition that Yahweh had once condoned the ritual killing of humans, it is self-evident that for many it was an acceptable form of Yahweh worship. …
In a series of mini-debates captured in the book God or Godless?, the atheist John Loftus argues with the Christian theologian Randal Rauser over various issues and objections concerning atheism vs. Christianity. In addition to the above article on “Molech” from Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, see Chapter 4 of God or Godless?, where Loftus argues that “Child sacrifice was commanded of the Israelites by Yahweh…” (God or Godless?, p.37).
So, a case can be made that the worship of Jehovah originally included “child sacrifice” and that the claim that this practice was merely a temptation for Israelites introduced by the wicked Canaanites, might well be propaganda covering up the embarrassing truth that Israelite worship of Jehovah/Yahweh had included child sacrifice from ancient times:
The lack of extrabiblical confirmation for the existence of a specifically chthonic or netherworld aspect of a deity M-l-k and for his status as patron of a cult of human sacrifice ought to elicit caution as regards a straightforward historical reading of the biblical portrayal of the Molech cult. Moreover, tensions evident in the biblical traditions regarding the nature and extent of human sacrifice suggests another instance wherein Deuteronomistic history employed a strategy of rhetorical polemic. By artificially attributing to Molech patronage over the cult of human sacrifice, the Deuteronomists sought to distance the practice from its origins in the Yahweh cult altogether. The rhetorical character of the Deuteronomistic portrayal finds its clearest confirmation in the fact that non-Deuteronomistic (and non-Priestly) biblical traditions do not distance human sacrifice from the cult of Yahweh (cf. texts preserving the sacrifice of the firstborn). (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, “Molech”, p.913)
Given that there is significant evidence indicating that the Israelites had a history of worshiping Jehovah by means of child sacrifice prior to engaging in the slaughter of the Canaanites, there is a problem of the bias of favoritism in employing the death penalty on a massive scale against the Canaanites:
51. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter thousands of Canaanites in part as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “child sacrifice”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to show favoritism towards the Israelites by ignoring (or even promoting) “child sacrifice” among the Israelites, but then commanding the mass slaughter of other tribes or peoples for engaging in the same sort of activity.
Jehovah appears to have used a double-standard in relation to use of the death penalty for the sin or crime of “child sacrifice”.
In order to be JUST, the laws of Jehovah concerning the sin or crime of “child sacrifice” need to meet the following basic requirements:
R1. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate who falls under the scope of the law concerning “child sacrifice”.
R2. The laws of Jehovah must state explicitly and definitely what conduct constitutes a violation of the laws concerning “child sacrifice” and that such conduct is prohibited.
R3. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate what punishment may be imposed for the sin or crime of engaging in “child sacrifice”.
First of all, as with most of the other sins or crimes in Clay Jones’s list, the phrase “child sacrifice” never occurs in the laws of Jehovah (I checked every instance of the words “child” and “children” in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in both NASB and NRSV translations). Strictly speaking, the laws of Jehovah do NOT prohibit “child sacrifice” because they never once mention “child sacrifice”:
52. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for violating a prohibition against “child sacrifice”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no explicit prohibition of the practice of “child sacrifice” in the laws of Jehovah.
However, there are passages in the laws of Jehovah that have been interpreted to be talking about “child sacrifice”. Two of those passages were already quoted above (Leviticus 18:21 and 20:1-2). Those passages do not prohibit “child sacrifice” in general, they prohibit you from giving “any of your offspring to offer them to Molech”. There is no description or explanation of what is meant by “X offers some of X’s offspring to Molech”.
Killing a son or daughter as a ritual sacrifice to the god Molech would seem to count as offering some of one’s offspring to Molech, but there are other ways to give offspring to a god as well. One might dedicate a son or daughter to become a priest of the god Molech. One might volunteer a son or daughter to serve in the temple of Molech for a month or for a year. One might command one’s son or daughter to work on some project that is believed to further the plans or the will of the god Molech (perhaps doing missionary work to promote belief in, and devotion to, Molech). So, these laws of Jehovah found in Leviticus are VAGUE and UNCLEAR and thus fail to satisfy (R2):
53. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as capital punishment for violation of the prohibition against giving a son or daughter to the god Molech (i.e. Leviticus 20:2), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law should be Void for Vagueness (the law fails to clearly specify the conduct that is prohibited).
Furthermore, Molech was just one particular god, so even if we interpret Leviticus 18:21 and 20:2 to mean that “child sacrifice” for Molech is prohibited, this does not rule out making a “child sacrifice” for some OTHER god. These laws are also are too narrow to outlaw “child sacrifice” in general.
Finally, as I have argued previously, the prohibitions in Leviticus Chapters 18 and 20 are clearly aimed at “the sons of Israel,” at the men of the nation of Israel. So, the laws in those Chapters satisfy (R1), but the Canaanites are NOT included in the scope of those laws:
54. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as capital punishment for violation of the prohibition against giving a son or daughter to the god Molech (i.e. Leviticus 20:2), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the scope of this law is limited to the men of the nation of Israel, and does NOT include the Canaanites.
However, there are other books with laws of Jehovah that provide somewhat different prohibitions related to “child sacrifice”. In Exodus there is a prohibition against sacrificing ANYTHING to a god other than Jehovah:
Exodus 22:20 American Standard Version
20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto Jehovah only, shall be utterly destroyed.
But the expression “shall be utterly destroyed” does NOT mean “shall be punished by the death penalty”. This might well simply be a threat by God that such a person will face God’s wrath or some calamity caused by God, so there is no clear punishment assigned to this general prohibition. Also, Exodus 22 has the same scope as the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, which is “the sons of Israel” meaning the men of the nation of Israel. So, this prohibition does NOT apply to the Canaanites.
That Exodus 22:20 is addressed to the same audience as the Ten Commandments, namely to the men of Israel, is clear from the fact that Exodus 22:20 is part of a section of laws that starts at the beginning of Chapter 21:
Exodus 21:1 New American Standard Bible
1 “Now these are the ordinances which you are to set before them:
The referents of the pronouns “you” and “them” must be sought in the previous chapter, namely Chapter 20:
Exodus 20:22 New American Standard Bible
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven.
So we see that the pronoun “you” in Exodus 21:1 refers to “Moses”, and the pronoun “them” in Exodus 21:1 refers to “the sons of Israel”, and not to the Canaanites.
In Deuteronomy, there is a prohibition against burning a son or daughter “in the fire to” Jehovah. But it is not clear what this expression means, and there is no description or explanation of what burning someone “in the fire to” Jehovah involves.
Deuteronomy 12:30-31 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’
31 You shall not behave thus toward the Lord your God, for every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.
The conduct that is prohibited is NOT clearly specified, so this law fails to meet requirement (R2):
55. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “burning their sons and daughters in the fire” to Jehovah in violation of Deuteronomy 12:31, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 12:31 should be Void for Vagueness (because it fails to clearly specify the conduct that is prohibited).
The law is clearly addressed to the Israelites, which implies that the Canaanites are not under the scope of this law. Also, since this prohibition concerns how Jehovah should be worshiped, this does NOT apply to the Canaanites, who worshiped OTHER gods, not Jehovah:
56. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “burning their sons and daughters in the fire” to Jehovah in violation of Deuteronomy 12:31, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 12:31 clearly applies only to the Israelites and not to the Canaanites (since the law is clearly addressed to the Israelites).
Finally, this prohibition does not indicate what sort of punishment, if any, may be given to someone for a violation of the prohibition, thus it fails to satisfy requirement (R3):
57. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “burning their sons and daughters in the fire” to Jehovah in violation of Deuteronomy 12:31, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 12:31 does NOT clearly state that the death penalty is to be the punishment for this sin or crime.
There is a similar prohibition later in Deuteronomy against making one’s son or daughter “pass through the fire”:
Deuteronomy 18:9-11 New American Standard Bible
9 “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.
10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer,
11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.
There is no description or explanation of what making someone “pass through the fire” means. Thus, the prohibition in Deuteronomy 18:10 is VAGUE and UNCLEAR and fails to satisfy requirement (R2) for a just law:
58. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “making his son or daughters pass through the fire” in violation of Deuteronomy 18:10, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 18:10 should be Void for Vagueness (because it fails to clearly specify the conduct that is prohibited).
Based on the content of verse 9, it is clear that this law is being addressed to the Israelites, (“When you enter the land which the Lord God gives you…”), and not to the Canaanites. So, although the law satisfies requirement (R1), it does NOT apply to the Canaanites:
59. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “making his son or daughters pass through the fire” in violation of Deuteronomy 18:10, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 18:10 clearly applies only to the Israelites and not to the Canaanites (since the law is clearly addressed to the Israelites).
Finally, this prohibition does not indicate what sort of punishment, if any, may be given to someone for a violation of the prohibition, thus it fails to satisfy requirement (R3):
60. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “making his son or daughters pass through the fire” in violation of Deuteronomy 18:10, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 18:10 does NOT clearly state that the death penalty is to be the punishment for this sin or crime.
As far as I can tell, the laws of Jehovah do not include ANY JUST LAWS that could provide a reasonable basis for employing the death penalty against Canaanites for “child sacrifice” of any sort. The laws of Jehovah on this matter are VAGUE and UNCLEAR, and their scope is limited to the men of Israel, and most of the relevant laws do NOT clearly specify the death penalty as the appropriate punishment.