Genocide and Noncombatants

23 Feb

from Google Images

Despite what I have argued up to this point, some may insist that my position is a stretch, that a more simple reading of the text—not taking context into consideration—is the best way to understand what is written. What if all is not hyperbole (exaggeration)? What if all means the whole race or people—all the Canaanites, every last man, woman and child? Apologists are simply biased, looking for and readily grasping at a more palatable moral solution to the Canaanite question. Is this so? Should we throw out context and literary tools such as hyperbole in order to seize a more simple reading of the text? I believe such an argument is ridiculous, but let’s look at what my arguments do tell us so far.[1]

First of all, I believe I have shown by referring to later places in the Bible, having to do with the people with whom Israel waged war, that genocide did not occur—not for the Canaanites, the Amalekites or the Midianites. It seems a more cursory read is flawed both in the critics accusation of genocide and in the amount of bloodshed that actually occurred. All cannot mean “every last man woman and child” in the text. It must be hyperbole, and certainly hyperbole was used in ANE records for other nations’ kings and their battle campaigns.

What if the women (the Midianite women—cf. Numbers 31:14-17) should not be understood as combatants? Are they, therefore, innocent? I hardly think so—24000 Israelites died as a result of the behavior of these women (cf. Numbers 25). Even if we don’t consider the magnitude of the promiscuity that had to have occurred to have affected 24000 Israelite males (cf. Deuteronomy 4:3) or the effect such promiscuity should have had upon their own families in Midian, there were still 24000 Israelite males who engaged in sexual activity with these women and died. Certainly every effect must have a cause. If the women should not be understood as combatants, how should we understand the 24000 deaths that occurred due to their behavior?

What about the children? Some may still remain unconvinced that the children had to die. It is indeed a tragedy that children die. There has never been a war where children and other innocents don’t die. To believe such a horrible thing as war could be so innocuous is taking naiveté to the extreme. Nevertheless, a very naive person might believe war can be waged without killing innocent children. No war is good, but war is part of mankind’s reality, and people suffer due to this reality.

This doesn’t justify the killing of the children during Israel’s march from Egypt to the Promised Land, but it does create a context in which the innocent died. There were no modern relief organizations that could have taken in the children. There were no orphanages or places that could care for them. The Israelites were on the move and war was in the making. Supplies were limited and among the available options killing the children who no longer had parents or relatives to care for them was the option that may have been the most humane. Certainly it was the option many ANE peoples preferred, and history concludes that it is the option that Israel preferred for itself when faced with a similar fate.[2]


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

[2] Consider Philo’s account of the Jews’ preference to die (males killing their families and committing suicide afterward) rather than see their faith destroyed by the Romans. That is, the Roman general, Petronius, was poised in Caesarea and on his way to Jerusalem to place a statue of Gaius Caesar within the Holy Place of the Jews’ Temple (Gaium 236). Moreover, rather than surrender to the Romans to be tortured and enslaved, the Jewish males at Masada killed their families and then committed suicide (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 7, chapter 8, paragraphs 6 & 7 [320 to 388]).

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Posted by on February 23, 2016 in apologetics


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