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God and the Genocide of the Canaanites

Students in my CHR 101 class might appreciate this discussion from Matt Flanagan of the book of Judges and the morality of God’s commands to “exterminate” the Canaanites before we delve into the Settlement of Canaan next week.


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.