Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, October 25, 2010

Looking at the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, Part 1

Skeptics often object to God's character in the Old Testament, and one event that is often mentioned is God's order that the Israelites conquer Canaan.

As a thought experiment, I thought I would make a list of conditions and see whether people think that the conquest of Canaan would have been OK for God to order if all the conditions I'm about to mention were perfectly fulfilled. This list heavily borrows from an article by someone called Glenn Miller who runs 'A Christian Thinktank', available here.

I admit that it requires turning the dial on the benefit of the doubt given to God up to 11, but it arguably makes sense as Glenn Miller points out. In a later article I might argue for how the Bible can support this interpretation, but first I want to see whether people agree that these conditions would make it OK for God to order the invasion if they were perfectly satisfied. Glenn Miller does a much better job at that than I would anyway.

1. God ordering the Israelites to conquer Canaan is not an act of favouritism towards the Israelites, or 'dis-favouritism' towards the Canaanites. That is, the conquest was supported by God according to an impartial set of criteria that need not refer to any specific group or persons.
2.1 If it's possible for a cultural group to 'earn', somehow, getting forced out of their homeland because of morally bad practices (both as a judgement and as a way of reforming that culture). There are morally bad practices that can do this.
2.2 The Canaanites had extraordinarily bad moral practices. So basically the Biblical portrait isn't a caricature but somehow real. E.g. child sacrifice, sex slavery, if they were a 'war culture' that periodically destroyed neighbouring cultures as well as suffering a lot of internal fights, etc.
2.3 The Canaanite culture threatened neighbouring cultures so much that stopping their raiding and attacks on other groups would have had a huge protective benefit for the area.
3.1 If the Canaanites were given a lot of warnings from God before the Israelites came that their practices were not OK and that they needed to change their behaviour or there would be serious consequences.
3.2.1 If God was willing to cancel the invasion of Canaan if the Canaanites had changed their behaviour based on clear warnings, and...
3.2.2 The warnings were clear, and...
3.2.3 God gave them plenty of time to change.
4.1 If when the invasion happened the Israelites had to offer peace first before attacking a city and it is only on the condition that a city rejected peace that it was attacked.
4.2 If the city accepted peace, then 'tolerable' conditions were placed upon its inhabitants.
4.3 'Tolerable' conditions include a conquered city's inhabitants acknowledging the authority of Israel, paying annual tribute, and being able to be called on to perform works of public service in times of need (e.g. repairing city walls) (see Gill's commentary here).
4.4 Deuteronomy 20:10-16 does not contradict point 4 because God was willing to apply point 4 to the central Canaanite cities and did not do so only because God knew that they would reject any negotiation with the Israelites under the terms above. So God wanted to apply point 4 to them, but God's awareness of how the Canaanites would react made that pointless (see Clarke's commentary here).
5.1 If a city was attacked, almost all of the people who were killed were combatants/soldiers who had chosen to stay and fight...
5.2 Because the Israelites were not to pursue people who ran away and...
5.3 Civilians/non-combatants could easily run away, resettle in another area, and escape the Israelite conquest because of their somewhat nomadic style of civilization and...
5.4 Had plenty of time to resettle in another area and knew for a long time that it would be a sensible thing to do, because they had known for a long time that the Israelites were coming and were given plenty of warnings about their great power and intentions to conquer the land...
5.5 Partly because the Israelite conquest of Canaan was quite slow and gradual, and...
5.6 Civilians/non-combatants did run away. So civilians, or non-combatants, were rarely subjected to violence because they could easily flee and did so.
5.7 Although it's not highlighted in the Biblical verses, this is something that went on all the time 'behind the scenes'.
6.1 If God's purpose was not to kill Canaanites but to drive them out of that area, to push their culture and society out of that area and...
6.2 In fact this is what happened - not genocide but relocation, as reflected in the overall balance of Biblical verses on the conquest and descriptions of what actually happened written after the event in other parts of the Bible, i.e. the Canaanites are still around for a long time afterwards.

So if this is what was going on and you can read the Bible as saying this, then is God in the clear?

The persuasiveness of this sort of defense of God depends a lot on how one judges God. Does one give God a defense or justification as long as that defense hangs together as a coherent idea that could hypothetically be true? Or not make that assumption?

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