We Don’t Hate Sin. So We Don’t Understand What Happened To The Canaanites
Richard Dawkins was recently challenged to a debate with William Lane Craig. He declined. Craig, he said, was a “deplorable apologist for genocide” with whom he would not share a platform. The genocide in question is that of the Canaanites in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy (see link).
One of Richards more famous quotes from “The God Delusion” on this issue is:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
One of the biggest problems that many people have with God as detailed in the Bible, which Richard has so clearly demonstrated above, is that of His judgment against nations like the Canaanites. One only has to read Biblical history to find God commanding the slaughter of the Canaanite men, women and children. Not even the livestock are spared. So what are we make of this? Is God a moral monster?
Paul Copan has attempted to answer this challenge in his book “Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God.” His answer to the charge that God commanded the genocide of the Canaanites is that this was not the genocide that it appears to be from a simple at face value reading of the text; that the text is hyperbolic and an exaggeration of what actually happened; that these were more like disabling raids of the military bases/cities and religious centers and not the leave no survivors destructive conquest that one might assume from a face value reading of the text. The passages on the women and children are just sweeping language being used as a disabling metaphor where central structures are undermined so that the Canaanite influence is disabled. For a more thorough explanation you can check out this interview (3rd hour) with Greg Koukl on his radio show at STR or their blog. Otherwise you can get his book.
While Paul Copan’s explanation on the issues of slavery, bigamy, child sacrifice and the treatment of women in the Old testament seems sound to me, I think Clay Jones comes to the correct conclusion on the issue of the “divine genocide” of the Canaanites. He argues in his treatise, “We Don’t Hate Sin. So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites”, that the face value interpretation of the text is the correct interpretation. Clay also appeared on Greg Koukl’s radio show in an interview that can be found here (3rd Hour) which is where I got most of his answers for the rest of this blog post.
The first thing that needs to be examined is the culture and behavior of the Canaanites to see if there could be any justification for their obliteration as described in the Old Testament. Archeologist William Allbright tells of an ancient Canaanite poem where the Canaanite God Baal, rapes his sister while she is in the form of a calf 77 even 88 times. We have here rape, incest and beastiality in the same act. Baal also has sex with his mother and daughter. If this is who the Canaanites worshiped, if this is their God whom they emulate, then according to Jones, this is certainly what they themselves are doing. And these acts are borne out with further study of Canaanite culture. God outlaws these practices in Leviticus and this sin is punished when both the Canaanites and Israel committed them. And that punishment was harsh. Sodom and Gomorrah were examples of Canaanite cities who were judged by God with good moral justification.
So how does Clay Jones answer the complete destruction passages of the Canaanites in the Old Testament? Clay starts off by making an observation of our own culture. We seem to have been inoculated to sin. Average people just does not care anymore about many sins. Our culture does not even recognize them as sin, let alone understand what the term sin actually means. We have become so Canaanite-like in our own culture to the point where, as Clay put it, “Studying these things over the years has led me to wonder if the Canaanites might stand up at the Judgment and condemn this generation”.
Why kill all the livestock? You do not want to be around animals that are used to having sex with people. In Clay’s article he gives an example of a female gorilla sexually attacking a psychologist.
If you want to erradicate these practices from a culture, then why would you leave women who were just as guilty and as equally dangerous as the men in participating in these practices.
Yes the children too. Firstly what age do you start separating children from adults? 18? 12? Clay tells of fostering children because he and his wife could not have their own children. They learned that kids coming into your house at from as young as 4 years old were bringing their culture with them. Now, what if you had killed their parents? What would teenage rebellion look like for those children who were spared. Certainly they were exposed to a highly sexualised culture and were very much likely to have been molested by that time.
So how do you stomp out that culture in order to prevent if from affecting the Israelites adversely? If you want to erradicate the sinfullness of the Canaanites, how else can you do it?
But wait, I hear you say, the Bible talks of the continued Canaanite presence in the region after this “divine genocide” occurred. How does Clay answer that? Clay directs our attention to those “divine genocide” texts and points out that Gods command was only for a specific region. There was still a Canaanite presence outside the region that the Israelites were to inhabit and that’s why there were commands still in place not to take wives from outside the Israelite culture etc. But as we read further into the text, the likes of Kings David and Solomon did not uphold these commands perfectly (by taking wives from outside the Israelite community) and thus the Canaanite culture was reintroduced into the Israels culture and corrupted them to the point where God then dealt harshly with the Israelites via the Assyrians and Babylonians.
So in conclusion, I think we can accept the text at face value. The question that remains is what do you think of God for commanding such a thing? Does God have a right to do with His creation as He pleases? If you have a problem with the selective judgment of the Canaanites then how do you feel about the almost complete destruction wrought by God of the whole world during the Flood? And how do you feel about the impending destruction of everything at Armageddon?