Does the Bible Advocate Genocide?
By Alice C. Linsley
November 12, 2016
Some people have observed that God's willingness to use Israel to destroy its enemies is not unlike the ambitions of radicalized Muslims to destroy Jews and Christians. The pertinent passages are found in Leviticus and Joshua. Scholars have noted that the book of Joshua shares the theology of the Deuteronomist. This is evident in comparing the lists of people to be driven out of Canaan by Joshua's army.
In Joshua the people to be driven out are listed in chapter 3 and chapter 24.
Joshua 3:10: This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.
In Joshua 24:11 we find the same names in a different order: Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands.
The Joshua lists parallel the list of Israel's enemies in Deuteronomy 7:1-3:
When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, [and] utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
This list comes from a time long after Abraham and prohibits intermarriage between these peoples, yet the rulers of most of these peoples were related. The Jebusites were a Kushite people with whom Abraham had close interaction. They appear to have had common ancestry.
These passages are the work of the Deuteronomist Historian (DH) whose objective was to secure Judea as a unique place for Jews who returned from Babylon. The Deuteronomist Historian was not advocating the elimination of all non-Jews globally, as are some radical Jihadists. Consider these words of the Islamic theologian Syed Abul A'ala Maududi:
"Islam wishes to destroy all states and government anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam regardless of the country or the nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a state on the basis of its own ideology and program."
It was not the objective of the Deuteronomist Historian to destroy all who did not adhere to the Jewish/Hebrew faith. Rather the objective was to secure centralized worship at the Jerusalem temple, and to reshape national observances such as the Passover and Tabernacles.
The Deuteronomist Historian's concern is theological, religious and Zionist. The DH stresses rejection of images, exclusive devotion to the God called Yahweh, and obedience to his prophet Moses (Deut. 18:18; cf. Mark 6:125; Matt. 16:13-20; John 1:21). The DH also places emphasis on Jewish racial purity.
The DH is the final hand on the Genesis. This perspective represents fundamentalism and iconoclasm and attempts to recast Hebrew history away from the religious practices of Abraham and his ancestors who lived long before the period of the Deuteronomist Historian (Neo-Babylonian Period, about 700-300 BC). Abraham and his ancestors were not Jews and they maintained many shrines and called the Creator by many names.
Further, Abraham's territory was not in Judea. He ruled in Edom (called Idumea by the Greeks) and was related to the Edomite rulers listed in Genesis 36. His half-sister wife Sarah resided in Hebron and this patrilineal cousin wife Keturah resided in Beersheba (note the north-south axis of the wives). Abraham's watering rights extended from Engedi to Gezer (note the east-west axis of his water rights).
At the time of Abraham, Jerusalem was under Jebusite ruler and its ruler-priest, Melchizedek, was a kinsman of Abraham. This is why the high place there was called Yebu/Jebu. In Genesis 21:14 we read that "Abraham called that place...Yiru" and this is significant because the Y is a Canaanite sign that indicated divine appointment and the Ru is probably a reference to the Horite Habiru name for the Creator. Genesis 21:14 identifies Melchizedek as the "King" of Salem. He may have been the maternal uncle of Abraham's wife Keturah.
The DH is not advocating genocide of all non-Jews worldwide. There is not reason to link the Bible to Islamic radicalism. Instead, we are to accept the whole canon as inspired and superintended by the Holy Spirit. We must use our God-given intelligence to sort through the Biblical material, context by context, to discover the various concerns of the Biblical writers.
Alice Linsley is an anthropologist and former university professor
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