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Did God Command Joshua to Commit Genocide?

Of course not, and it is possible to say so while maintaining the highest possible view of Scripture. The key, as is so often the case, is to pay attention to literary genre—in this case, the conventional literary tropes ancient leaders used to describe their military victories.

If you’d like a clear and compelling demonstration of how this may be done, check out Matt Flannagan’s two-parter on Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites. Here’s his summary:

(a) the picture of total conquest and annihilation of populations is incompatible with what is said elsewhere in Joshua and Judges;
(b) this is obvious to anyone who reads the narrative straight through without artificially dividing the text into chapter divisions and verses;
(c) the redactors or authors would not have been so mindless as to accidentally put obviously contradictory accounts into one narrative;
(d) the annihilation language appears stereotyped and formulaic whereas the other passages read like more down-to-earth history;
(e) the kind of formulaic language used in Joshua is a common form of rhetorical hyperbole for describing a victory in ancient near eastern accounts;
(f) Joshua is written in accord with the literary and rhetorical conventions typical of such ancient near eastern accounts;
(e) the rhetorical use of “finished destroying” and “completely destroyed” is attested to elsewhere in the book of Joshua.

You really need to read the whole thing, though.



  1. Shaun Kell says:

    We were just talking about this earlier in the week! I always want to engage the Torah texts honestly and without committing the error of dismissing them as irrelevant just because they are situated in “wilder” historical context. I hope this will open the conquest narratives up for me again.


  2. Gordon says:

    Special pleading much?


  3. Shaun Kell says:

    So, Gordon, is that an invitation to dialogue or a troll?


  4. Matt says:

    Thanks for the link. I am currently co writing something on this and will present a paper on it at the EPS in November.


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