Genocide or Hyperbole? Another Look at the Conquest Narrative in Joshua

The references in Joshua 10 and 11 to the extermination of the Canaanites pose a problem for believers, and not just because they are used by atheists to justify their assertion that the God of the Old Testament is a “tribal, vicious, genocidal deity” that no civilised person should respect, much less worship. There is a problem arising from the fact that in the later chapters of Joshua and the early chapters of Judges, we see clear Biblical evidence that far from being wiped off the face of the Earth, the Canaanites were in fact alive and providing considerable opposition to the Israelites. While some Biblical contradictions are the product of a tendentious reading of the text that ignores context and genre, a literal reading of Joshua 10-11 stands in marked tension with the later chapters of Joshua and Judges. This tension in the text itself, let alone the moral problem of exterminating innocent children, is one which requires attention.

Joshua 10 and 11 — in somewhat stereotypical language — reports the utter extermination of a number of Canaanite cities:

Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah, and fought against Libnah. And the LORD gave it also with its king into the hands of Israel, and he struck it and every person who was in it with the edge of the sword. He left no survivor in it. And Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Libnah to Lachish, and they camped by it and fought against it. And the LORD gave Lachish into the hands of Israel; and he captured it on the second day, and struck it and every person who was in it with the edge of the sword, according to all that he had done to Libnah. Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish, and Joshua defeated him and his people until he had left him no survivor. (Joshua 10:29-34)

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Author: Ken Gilmore

Keywords: Canaanites, Canaanite Genocide, Genocide, genocidal, genocidal God, Utter destruction, Annihilation, utterly destroy, utterly destroyed, exterminate, extermination, destroy utterly, totally destroy, total destruction, totally wipe out, wipe out, wipe out the Canaanites, ethnic cleansing, wiping out the Canaanites, violence, violent God, God of love, Racial extermination

Bible reference(s): Exodus 23:23, Num 21:2-3, Deu 2:34, Deu 3:6, Deu 7:2, Deu 13:15, Deu 20:17, Numbers 33:52, Deuteronomy 12:2, Deuteronomy 20:16-17, Jos 2:10, Joshua 3:10, Jos 2:10, Jos 6:21, Jos 8:26, Jos 10, Jos 11, Joshua 16:10, Joshua 17:16, Jdg 1:17, Jdg 21:11, 1Sa 15:3, 1Sa 15:8-9, 1Sa 15:15, 1Sa 15:18, 1Sa 15:20-21, 1Ki 9:21, 1Ki 20:42, 1Ch 4:41, 2Ch 20:23, 2Ch 31:1, 2Ch 32:14

Source: “Genocide or Hyperbole? Another look at the Conquest Narrative in Joshua,” Berea Portal.

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