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Monday, March 1, 2010

Grasping at Straws Part Six--Evangelicals Defend Genocide

Dr. Andy Woods has a Ph.D. in Bible Exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, one of the largest and most conservative seminaries in Evangelicalism today. Dallas Seminary, established in 1924, has trained some of the more high profile evangelicals in American history.

Woods has written an article entitled, Canaanite Genocide, in which he attempts to explain the nature and purpose of Israel's Holy War against the Canaanites and then to defend it against challenges from skeptics.

He gives twelve reasons in his defense of the genocides.

1. Israel was not the only nation in the ANE to practice divinely sanctioned genocide and their practice of it was more humane than their neighbors.

He explains:

For example, sometimes Israel’s war practices seem more humane when compared with the war practices of its neighbors. Upon comparing Israel’s practice of burning conquered cities with the same practice as employed by the Assyrians, Niehaus makes the following observation: “It is worth mentioning that this practice assumed a more humane aspect in Israelite hands than in Assyrian: The Israelites killed the rebels by stoning them before burning them, whereas Tukulti-Ninurta boasts that he burned a city full of rebels alive"
(cf. Jeffrey Niehaus, Joshua and Ancient Near Eastern Warfare, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 31 (March 1988): 45).

So, the fact that others were doing the same thing and Israel did it in a "nicer" way than her neighbors is supposed to excuse the crime? Is there any wonder that I have entitled my series, Grasping at Straws: Evangelicals Defend Genocide?

Woods goes on to say:
Furthermore, sometimes the practice of a certain group does not seem quite as bleak when it is understood that many other nations were involved in the same questionable behavior. By way of analogy, the existence of slavery in colonial America does not seem quite as offensive when it is understood that this same practice existed in other parts of the world of the time and still persists in some parts of the world today.

Oh really? Tell that to NAACP and see what kind of response you get. The fact that others were doing the same thing does not in any way excuse the crime. In addition, according to the Hebrew Bible, which Woods accepts as divinely inspired and inerrant, it was his omniscient and perfectly good God who ordered the crime. Was his God bound by the time and culture of the late Bronze age? His excuse works if the Bible merely reflects the thinking of its day rather than the perfect word of a Holy God.

2. Israel never engaged in holy war beyond the land that God had given them in the Abrahamic covenant.

I am at a loss to understand how this is supposed to excuse the actions of the Israelites and their God. Apparently, Woods is saying that the armies of Joshua were justified in exterminating the Canaanites because their God had promised them that land. Well, I agree that the Israelites believed that their God had promised them the land but the question remains, was their belief real or imaginary? The other nations, I am sure thought the land was given to them by their gods. Woods would say that the other nations were mistaken but I would say they had just as much right, actually more of a right since they were living in the land, to think the land was given to them by their gods as Israel did to think it was a gift from Yahweh. To me, its makes more sense to understand these battles in a naturalistic sense than it does to insert one or more deities.

In addition, and I will deal with this in a later post, it was immoral for the Israelites to invade a land and steal it from its occupants regardless of whether they practiced genocide or not. A genocide is a more obviously immoral act but stealing is also immoral. I guess it was okay for Yahweh to tell his people to violate one of the ten commandments?

3. Divinely sanctioned genocide was to be imposed not only upon the Canaanites but also upon Israelite cities and individual Israelites if they became involved in idolatry (Deut 13).

Okay, so the Hebrew God is an equal opportunity criminal? How does that excuse his actions? The fact that he would instigate other countries to do the same thing to the Israelites, if they turned away from Him, only excaberates his crime; it doesn't diminish it.

4. God's using human instruments, his chosen people, to eliminate the Canaanites is no different than God using natural means, i.e., hailstorm, pestilence, earthquake, etc., to eliminate them.

Woods quotes Walter Kaiser: …the charge of cruelty against God is no more deserved in this case than it is in the general order of things in the world where all of these same calamities happen. (Hard Sayings of the Bible, 207.)

Here I have to agree with Woods. Yahweh has already demonstrated his repugnant character by drowning infants in the flood, burning infants alive in Sodom and killing the first-born infants in Egypt. So why should we be surprised that, in Canaan, he ordered his "chosen people" to do his dirty work for him? How this mitigates the crime, though, I don't know.

5. The Canaanites were not innocent victims; they were guilty of child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.

Since I have already dealt with this argument in a previous post, I won't repeat myself here.

6. The Canaanite children deserved to be killed.

Woods theorizes:
The rationale for this command lies in the old adage “the apple does not fall far from the tree.” The children simply would have imitated the sin and character of their parents. Kaiser asks, “If the women and children had been spared in those profane Canaanite nations, how long would it have been before a fresh crop of adults would emerge just like their pagan predecessors”(Ibid., 207)? This imitation by children of their parents explains why God placed a curse on Ham’s descendants because of Ham’s sin (Gen 9:20-25). . . . the Canaanite children were not being annihilated merely because of the sin of their parents. Rather, they were eradicated because of their potential (emphasis mine) for imitating the sins of their parents.

Do these apologists read what they write? Its remarkable to me that someone would argue that the children had to be "eradicated because of their potential . . ." So, according to Woods, since these Canaanite children potentially would commit horrific sins, then they must be eliminated. If that is the standard upon which Yahweh operates, then why didn't he have Hitler killed as a child? Why didn't he have Stalin killed as a child? It seems that Woods is merely grasping at straws in his attempt to defend the indefensible.

I will continue this discussion of Wood's paper in the next post.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very powerful series. And thank you again for directing me to Dr. Jason Long's books.