In Part 3 of this series, I raised twenty objections to a Conservative Christian approach to the Old Testament stories about Jehovah commanding the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children). Most of the objections are to the effect that some particular aspect of the slaughter of the Canaanites is evidence that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST.
The particular attempt to show that Jehovah and the Israelites were morally justified in this horrifically violent activity is from an article by the Christian apologist Clay Jones. The article can be summarized as follows:
The “new atheists” call God’s commands to kill the Canaanites “genocide,” but a closer look at the horror of the Canaanites’ sinfulness, exhibited in rampant idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality, reveals that God’s reason for commanding their death was not genocide but capital punishment. After all, the Old Testament unequivocally commands that those who do any one of these things deserves to die. (from the article “Killing the Canaanites”)
I have many more objections to present, and it is unlikely that I will be able to cover all of the remaining objections in this post, so I think my critique of Jones’s defense of Jehovah will extend at least to Part 5 in this series. In the previous post I neglected to mention a fairly BIG and obvious problem, as one reader reminded me:
And how convenient that the owners of the land God wanted to give his people were such wicked people.
Oh yes, there is that small matter of Jehovah commanding the Israelites to wage a war of agression in order to take land away from the Canaanites.
This gives me the opportunity to recommend a favorite book: Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus (hereafter: JAC) by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (Trinity Press Internatinal, 2001). Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is (or was at time of publication) Assistant Professor of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on “some of the many violent and disturbing biblical portraits of God” from the Old Testament (JAC, p.24). Chapter 3 lays out “Seven Troubling Images of God” from the Old Testament, and one of those images is relevant here: “Troubling Image of God 4: God the Land Thief” (JAC, p.28).
The discussion begins with a quote from the Old Testament:
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:18-21)
This quote is then commented on by the author:
God is here depicted as a determined and powerful land thief. As the Reform Jewish writer Regina M. Schwartz notes, “over and over the Bible tells the story of a people who inherit at someone else’s expense.” How would we respond to a group of Mexicans invading the United States and claiming the land as their inheritance based on God’s promises? If that seems far-fetched, then imagine the reverse, which actually happened. We should also recall how our ancestors nearly wiped out native peoples and then continued onward and outward. … A defense of God the land thief is implicit in…the biblical text…: It is OK for God’s chosen people to steal land from pagans because they are pagans. They worship false gods. They, always defined as the other, are savage peoples, barbarians. (JAC, p.28-29)
So, in the background of the slaughter of the Canaanites there are a couple of BIG injustices by Jehovah:
21. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to take the land of the Canaanites, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because when one tribe or nation has settled in a certain geographic area and has been living on that land for a century (or for centuries) and another tribe or nation comes along and takes that land away from the tribe or nation that had previously settled there, then that is an act of land theft.
Furthermore, just as it was morally wrong for Hitler and the Nazis to wage war on other countries in Europe in order to expand the territory and dominion of the German nation, so it was wrong for the Israelites to to wage war on the Canaanites in order to take possession of their land:
22. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to wage war against the Canaanites in order to take possession of their land, then JEHOVAH IS UNUST, because it is wrong to wage a war of agression for the purpose of expanding the territory or dominion of one tribe or nation.
I realize that this is a BIG issue, and that much more could be said both for and against points (21) and (22), but I have many more objections to present, so will not go further into details about these two objections at this time.
In the New Testament, Christians are warned against the sin of partiality:
James 2:1-4 New American Standard Bible
The Sin of Partiality
1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,
3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,”
4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
This guidance from James for Christian believers has roots in the Old Testament:
Deuteronomy 1:16-17 New American Standard Bible
16 “Then I [Moses] charged your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him.
17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s.
According to Moses, Jehovah himself judges in that manner:
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 New American Standard Bible
17 For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.
18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
Both the New Testament and the Old Testament are opposed to the sin of partiality. This is important when it comes to legal matters and especially when someone is accused of a serious crime or sin. The judge (and the jurors) in a criminal trial ought not to take gifts or bribes, either from the prosecution, or the alleged victim, or the victim’s family, or from the defense, or the defendant, or from the defendant’s family.
Someone who is rich or powerful should not be assumed to be innocent, nor should someone who is poor or powerless be assumed to be guilty. Guilt or innocence should be determined by an impartial consideration of evidence that is relevant to the accusations against the defendant. Innocence should be presumed of both rich and poor, both Israelite and Canaanite. Only if there is clear and solid evidence of guilt should a person be convicted and condemned to death.
Imagine that, contrary to some of the previous complaints about injustices by Jehovah, that Jehovah had not been completely unjust and unfair to the Canaanites, and that before condemning them all to death, Jehovah required that specific charges be made against specific Canaanites and that trials were to be held and that witnesses were to testify providing evidence for and against the guilt of each accused Canaanite.
And since the Canaanites were unfamiliar with the laws of Jehovah, an Israelite expert on those laws would be appointed to each Canaanite defendant, to ensure that before any Canaanite was condemned to death or executed, they would first be given a fair trial (just as Jehovah insisted be the case for Israelites who were accused of serious crimes or sins).
Even in this idealistic circumstance, Jehovah cannot avoid serious charges of injustice, because there are a number of problems of partiality or BIAS that remain untouched by all of the above precautions.
BIAS #1: Geographical Bias
If the point of the slaughter of the Canaanites was to punish wickedness, then there was no good reason to create arbitrary geographical constraints on this mission. The peop0le who lived in Palestine were not the only people who were involved with idols and worship of other gods. They were not the only people who commited adultery. They were not the only people involved with incest. They were not the only people who engaged in homosexual sex. So, if these are truly horrible sins that must be punished by the death penalty, then that is true of people who live outside of Palestine (or the “promised land”) as well as those who lived inside of Palestine. It is unfair to severely punish people who happen to live in Palestine, yet leave completely unpunished people who are doing the same crimes or sins outside of Palestine.
23. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, and child who lived in Palestine (the “promised land”) as the death penalty for certain serious crimes or sins, but not to do this to other tribes and peoples living outside of Palestine, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to distribute serious punishments (such as the death penalty) for certain crimes to people based on their geographic location.
BIAS #2: Ethnicity Bias
If the point of the slaughter of the Canaanites was to punish wickedness, then there was no good reason to create arbitrary ethnic constraints on this mission. The Canaanites were not the only people who were involved with idols and worship of other gods. The Canaanites were not the only people who commited adultery. The Canaanites were not the only people involved with incest. The Canaanites were not the only people who engaged in homosexual sex.
24. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter people who were members of certain ethnic groups as the death penalty for certain serious crimes or sins, but not to do this to other ethnic groups, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to distribute serious punishments (such as the death penalty) for certain crimes to people based on their ethnic group.
BIAS # 3: Bias of Favoritism
Supposedly, the primary purpose of the slaughter of the Canaanites was to punish them with the death penalty for very serious crimes or sins. But the serious sins are not consistently punished when the person doing the crime or sin was an Israelite, especially a leader or ‘hero’ of the Israelites.
One of my readers pointed out some examples of this bias:
Clay Jones states, “the Old Testament _unequivocally_ commands that those who do any one of these things deserves to die.” So far, you’ve highlighted the injustice of punishing non-Hebrews for Hebrew laws of which they are unaware. I would further highlight the injustice of failing to punish Hebrews for Hebrew laws of which they are aware.
- With respect to idolatry, yhwh commands Moses to institute worship of Nehushtan (Num 21:4-9, 2Kings 18:1-7). This is the model by which the author of John suggest that the idolatry of Jeshua worship ought to be understood (JN 3:14-15). Moses is not given the death penalty.
- With respect to incest, Abraham married his half-sister (Gen 20:11-13), a crime worthy of being cursed (DT 27:22). Abraham is not cursed, despite having yhwh’s law within his heart (PS 40:8, Heb 8:10).
- With respect to adultery, David is not given the death penalty for adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (though his newborn son is; 2 Sam 12).
- With respect to child sacrifice, Jephthah is not given the death penalty for sacrificing his daughter to yhwh (JG 11).
I’m not familiar with the example of Moses being involved in idolatry, but most of us are familiar with the story of Aaron creating the golden calf (an idol) for the Israelites to use in worship. Aaron did not receive the death penalty for his involvement with creating an idol and encouraging worship involving that idol (see Exodus 32:1-6).
25. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) as capital punishement for the crimes or sins of idolatry, incest, adultery, child-sacrifice, homosexuality, and beastiality, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish some people with the death penalty for certain sins or crimes when one does NOT apply the same severe punishment to certain people that one likes or favors.
BIAS # 4: Bias of Sexism
We have already seen some evidence of Jehovah’s sexism in the discussion about why RAPE doesn’t appear as one of the serious crimes or sins of the Canaanites. There will be more evidence of sexism coming up in future posts, as I get into details concerning the crimes or sins in the list given by Clay Jones. Just keep this one in mind when you read the next post in this series.
26. If Jehovah commanded the slaugher of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) as the death penalty for the crimes or sins of idolatry, incest, adultery, child-sacrifice, homosexuality, and beastiality, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah’s laws are sexist and at least two of the laws invoked here are sexist (concerning incest and adultery), thus the use of the death penalty in this way is biased against women.
I believe there is also a sexist bias against men involved here, because the death penalty for homosexual sex only applies to men, and not to women (if I remember correctly – I will check on this and do an update in the next post).
BIAS # 5: Bias of Vested Interest
According to the O.T. the Israelites desired to have the land of the Canaanites. According to the O.T. the Israelites had an expectation that they would soon live in and possess the land where the Canaanites lived. According to the O.T. Jehovah had promised the Israelites that they would settle in the land where the Canaanites lived. Given this background, it is clear that both Jehovah and the Israelites had a vested interest in the proposal to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children). If the Israelites were to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), then they could easily take possession of the land that the Canaanites had previously settled and occupied.
No judge or juror would be allowed (in the USA) to hear a capital case in which the judge or juror had such an obvious and significant vested interest in finding the defendant guilty. Thus, even if Jehovah had required trials for each and every Canaanite before condemning any Canaanite to death, those trials could not possibly be fair, because the judge and the jurors would have had an obvious and significant vested interest in the outcome of those trials.
27. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) as capital punishment for certain serious crimes or sins, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust for a person accused of a capital crime to be condemned to death by a judge and jury who have an obvious and significant vested interest in the accused person being found to be guilty.
To be continued…