Copan on the Canaanite Genocide

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Paul Copan's "Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?" presents what struck me, on my first exposure to it, as a relatively novel (to me, anyway) thesis defending God as presented in the Hebrew scriptures from the charge of genocide. He claims that the commands to wipe out Canaan and not leave anyone standing, including women, children, and even livestock are hyperbole and that such expressions were commonly used to indicate a severe attack but did not literally mean that no one at all would survive.

I was a bit hesistant to rely on such a view, because it seemed to be to require more evidence than Copan gave, and there are certainly some occurrences when the expression in question simply cannot mean what Copan wants it to mean, e.g. when Saul is roundly condemned by Samuel in I Sam 15 for not fully carrying out the wiping out of the Amalekites. Saul's failure in that chapter was precisely his willingness to leave some alive, as Wes Morriston pointed out in the comments on Robert Gressis' Prosblogion posting on this last year. That objection struck me as decisive.

It occurred to me very recently, however, that Morriiston's objection doesn't quite do it. I'm still a little skeptical of Copan's thesis without more evidence than I've seen, but I'm not sure anymore that Morriston's objection really defeats the thesis. Consider the following version of Copan's claim. There's the literal meaning of the expression to wipe out everyone and everything. Saul did not do that. He spared Agag and the best of the livestock. Copan could then come along and point out that the passage doesn't include in Saul's failure that he spared women and children, for example. So it's compatible with what the text says that (a) Saul did wipe out all the women and children (and spared just Agag and the best animals) and that (b) Saul didn't wipe out all the women and chilfdren (but never was supposed to kill all of them, just all of the animals and King Agag).

So I'm not sure anything in I Sam 15 disproves Copan's thesis. Saul did sin, according to I Sam 15, by sparing Agag and the best livestock. But it may well have been that Agag and the livestock should have been killed according to the correct Copan-modified translaton or paraphrase of whatever the hyperbolic command really insisted on. In other words, Saul really should have killed Agag and these animals according to the command of God, but that doesn't mean he literally was expected to wipe out the whole Amalekite people. So I don't think I Sam 15 is really a counterexample to Copan's proposal.

[cross-posted at Prosblogion]

51 Comments

Score one for my old professor!

The trouble is that this would still leave 1 Samuel 15 implying that God commanded a very deadly sort of scorched-earth policy. It might not literally be genocide, but it's still a highly questionable sort of total war, unlikely to comfort most people who are uneasy about these divine commands.

I think Copan could say that the text only faults Saul for not killing Agag and for keeping some animals for himself. That means it need not have implied killing all the people, just the combatants (and just not taking animals as booty). I wouldn't call that so scorched-earth, not in the light of what generally happened in that cultural milieu.

The text really doesn't allow for that reading, though. The initial evidence of Saul's sin is leaving animals alive to bleat and moo. Then Samuel takes Saul to task for failing to "completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; [to] make war on them until [he] have wiped them out." Instead of wiping out the Amalekites completely, Samuel says, Saul "pounce[d] on the plunder." Agag hardly enters into the discussion at all.

I'm not seeing the problem. If Copan is right that the "destroy those wicked people" language means fighting them in combat and killing the combatants, then the mere fact that he should have killed any livestock booty rather than using it doesn't show any incompatibility between Copan's view and the text.

Go to the blog linked below and ask the Flannagans. Matt Fannagan is the source of the argument you are attributing to Copan.

http://www.mandm.org.nz/

I don't see why it really matters if Yahweh is supposed to have ordered them to murder everyone in those cities or just some of the people in those cities. Do we let Hitler off the hook because he sent some Jews to concentration camps instead of gas chambers? (Yes, I went there.)

Anon, I'm pretty sure sort of view is older than either Copan or the Flannagans. Christopher Wright mentions it (and seems favorably disposed to it) in his 1996 commentary on Deuteronomy. Copan's paper and the Flannagans' blog are both much later than that. The reason I used Copan's version of the argument is because the Wes Morriston objection that I was responding to appeared in a discussion of Copan's paper at the Prosblogion post I linked to. I was claiming that Copan was the only person ever to hold such a view or that he was even the first, just that he does hold the view. I'm not sure why you think it's bad to attribute an argument to him when he does present that argument in a published work.

Paul, I'm not sure I disagree with you. If it's wrong to do what even Copan concedes God was endorsing and commanding, then it's not much better for the Christian apologist than it would be if God did what the traditional view takes God to have done. I'd deny the premise, of course. I'm not clear why it's supposed to be so wrong for God to institute a process by which sinners are judged when it comes about by human agents when it's not supposed to be so wrong to do it by means of natural disasters or sickness. But if you do insist that it's wrong in the way that the people Copan is responding to do, then I'm not sure his position fully handles the kind of worry they raise in a way that satisfies the false premises that their argument relies on.

Hi Jeremy, Paul and I are co-writing an article at the moment which should provide some more evidence, I also have a couple coming along the same lines for upcoming books.

I think the Amalekite story cannot be taken literally. The text states “ Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword” (15:7-8) if this is taken literally, all the Amalekites from Shur to Havila were killed except Agag, who is executed by Samuel in v 33, and so there were no Amalekites left at the end of chapter 15. The problem is David raids occupied Amalekite towns in chapter 27, which are said to be in the land extending to Shur. In chapter 30 hundreds of the Amalekites raid Ziklag. David pursues them, strikes them down for a 24 hour period and 200 escape. An Amalekite also takes credit for Saul's death in 2 Samuel. So taken literally the rest of the narrative affirms they were not wiped out. It seems to me that if a person affirms inerrancy ( as I do) they cannot claim the text teaches that Saul genocided the Amalekites in v 15.

As Moristons specific objection ( which was made in response to me on Prosblogion btw :-))I I think your response is interesting, you write “ it may well have been that Agag and the livestock should have been killed according to the correct Copan-modified translaton or paraphrase of whatever the hyperbolic command really insisted on. In other words, Saul really should have killed Agag and these animals according to the command of God, but that doesn't mean he literally was expected to wipe out the whole Amalekite people.” One possible way of getting to this conclusion is to look at the original command, which states

“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy {cherem]everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.' "

Wright notes that the word cherem , which is rendered destroy in the NIV, often has the sense of renounce or repudiate. Hence the original command could be read so as to be both a command to renounce all plunder ( everything that belongs to the Amalekites) and a hyperbolic command to put all of them to death. That links with what Samuel says in “Why did you not obey the LORD ? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD ?" there is nothing in this rebuke about failure to kill Agag Sauls sin is said to be taking plunder.

A second possible solution is suggested by T L Thomson (whom normally I would disagree with). Thomson identifies with ANE war accounts Genre of "the great king" where a skirmish is written up in totalistic hyperbolic rhetoric typical of ANE war accounts. One example is the Moabite Stele which uses language very similar to Sam 15, Thomson suggests the function of this Genre is not to describe what actually happened but to portray the king as a faithful servant of the Gods. in a through away comment he notes that Sam 15 fits this Genre quite well. If this is correct, then what the author is using a doing in Sam 15 is saying that in his victories Saul was not a faithful follower of YHVH. This fits with the overall point of the story in the narrative and explains why the author feels no problem with affirming the Amalekites are alive in the next few chapters. If this correct, it allows some of the language in Sam 15 is literal but that it occurs within a particular Genre which does not purport to describe precisely actually happened and so cannot be pressed to say that the text affirms genocide.

But Samuel does kill Agag, which makes me hesitate at your first solution. That's some evidence that he didn't take the command in the first way.

The second approach is compatible with inerrancy, but it renders much historical material as non-historical, which I think is too much. It threatens the perspicuity of scripture.

Jeremy, thanks for the fair response.

"I'd deny the premise, of course. I'm not clear why it's supposed to be so wrong for God to institute a process by which sinners are judged when it comes about by human agents when it's not supposed to be so wrong to do it by means of natural disasters or sickness."

I think there are several reasons I don't have time to type about, but some of them are plain when you ask yourself, "if my pastor told me God demanded that I go on a rampage and slaughter a thousand families including children and pets, would I do it?" Or course you would not.

I would not indeed, but it's not because I have an a priori commitment to the wrongness of human beings carrying out God's judgment on evildoers. It's because I have a robust sense of how the old covenant and new covenant in the Bible interact and how Christians stand in the long period of redemptive history during which God interacted with human beings in different ways at different times. I certainly don't think it's wrong for a state to carry out justice on individual evildoers within a society, and I don't think it's wrong for a state to carry out justice on another nation when the other nation is so corrupt that there's no chance of reform from within.

So it can't in principle be wrong to be the one carrying out justice on someone who deserves punishment. That means the things Western society now frowns on of this sort (which frowning I would argue has come about largely because of the Christian tradition) are wrong only because of the particular way God has chosen to act now, allowing nations to develop their own governments without one government instituted directly to constitute God's people, with God's people scattered around all nations to seek what's right in other ways.

‘I would not indeed,’

So glad to hear that!

‘but it's not because I have an a priori commitment to the wrongness of human beings carrying out God's judgment on evildoers.’

I wonder how human beings can tell what God's judgment on other human beings is, or that it falls to them to carry it out. Are you trying to rationalise 9/11?

‘It's because I have a robust sense of how the old covenant and new covenant in the Bible interact…’

Which sense Abraham certainly lacked.

‘I'm not clear why it's supposed to be so wrong for God to institute a process by which sinners are judged when it comes about by human agents when it's not supposed to be so wrong to do it by means of natural disasters or sickness.’

Because there’s meant to be a Day of Judgement which hasn’t dawned yet, maybe? Myself, I’m not clear that God needs either human or natural agents to achieve anything. Or why you take natural disasters and sickness to be a judgment on sinners: In Job’s case it was ostensibly about settling a bet. Anyway, aren’t we all sinners deserving punishment, in your view? You’re explaining too much or too little it seems to me.

We're talking about an omnipotent being here, so I don't think we should eliminate the very possibility of such a being making it clear to someone that it really is God doing the talking.

Yes, I'm trying to rationalize 9/11. I'm trying to explain how it's perfectly all right for Muslims to do something that it's wrong for Christians to do. I can see how you would get that out of this conversation. Maybe you could fill in the details for everyone else here, who surely won't be able to figure out how you got to that from anything I've said, though.

Abraham wasn't in the new covenant. He wasn't even in the Mosaic covenant yet! All he had was how God interacted with him.

Yes, we're all sinners deserving judgment, and no, not every instance of suffering is because of a particular sin someone committed to deserve it. Both of those are clearly taught in the Bible. What's also taught is that God does work through natural disasters, sickness, or other human beings to do various things, including judgment. Sometimes the agents used for judging do their acts immorally, as the king of Assyria is presented in Isaiah 10. Sometimes it's through rightly carrying out judgment on criminals by a state, as in the discussion of capital punishment in Romans 13. In Job's case, it was about his character, not just a mere bet. He was demonstrating his own righteousness.

On one level, there's judgment in this life that is never sufficient (and in some cases to achieve other purposes than judgment), but that doesn't mean it's never judgment. On another level, all scales are evened at the final judgment. I'm not sure how that explains too much and too little. If God's patience is a major element of why no immediate judgment sometimes and God's patience having limits explaining why judgment occurs sometimes in this life, then we have a two-level view that seems to me to explain both phemenona, not too much or too little. Unless I'm missing what you mean by explaining too much and too little, I'm not sure it's taking into account what's supposed to be explained by these different elements.

It is important to remember that the “need” to defend God’s decision to end the lives of a large group of people is radically alien to Hebrew or Ancient Near Eastern thought. This is a modern preoccupation that ignores the fact that for the ancient Israelite (or in the ANE in general with their gods), God as creator gave life and had the right to take it back from His creatures when they displeased Him. Be alive was not a right but a privilege granted by the deity.
Additionally, the distinction between the “guilty” males and the women and children is an artificial distinction that ignores the biblical concept of corporate solidarity (for example, the sin of Achan, an individual was imputed to whole nation in Joshua 7 and the whole nation became accursed and was defeated by her enemies). It is reasonable to assume that God saw the Canaanite nations as corporately guilty and thus as deserving corporate judgment.

Besides the fact that nothing in the text suggests that it was meant to be taken as hyperbole, the reason why this view must be rejected is the fact that it fails to explain the rationale for the divine command. Deuteronomy 20:17-18 clearly states that the Canaanites in the Promised Land needed to be utterly destroyed (lit. to ban) “so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God”. As such, exterminating the Canaanites living in the direct vicinity of the Israelite would prevent said Canaanites from being a negative example and teach the chosen nation their depraved and idolatrous ways. The point Moses is making fails if he is merely using hyperbolic language and only referring to a reduction of the Canaanite pollution because the survivors (and they would be numerous under the hyperbole view) while shaken by the “severe attack” would still be able to lead the Israelites astray; thus defeating the purpose of the ban in the first place.

Additionally, the hyperbole view does not make sense because the same passage differentiates between what is to be done to Israel’s immediate neighbors (total ban) and how to punish more distant nations (sparing women and children). Numbers 31:9-19 shows how selective capital punishment was applied. The fact that only a category of women and the children were spared and the rest executed indicates that hyperbole is not in view here. Even when women and children were spared, it was not because of some concept of “innocence” but because they were given to the soldier as spoil of war.

The same overall concern is reflecting in Deut 7:1-6 where Moses instructs the nation to utterly destroy (again the idea of the “ban”) not only the people but also their cultic infrastructure in order to prevent idolatry and Israel’s own destruction. Hyperbole does not work here too since the people is to be destroyed just like the places where they worship.

If the “complete” ban was not total but merely hyperbolic, what criteria would be used to determine that it was not fulfilled? More importantly, if the removal of the “cancerous” neighbors was partial, how could it accomplish its stated purpose?

While the hyperbolic view might satisfy the uneasy modern mind, it creates theological issues that undermine the theological point of the ban.

Exaggerations of Biblical Proportions, Hyperbole, Genocide and Paul Copan

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/10/exaggerations-of-biblical-proportions.html

(hat tip: Matt Flannagan, MandM, Jeremy Pierce, to name a few)

Alain: But Copan takes the ban to be separation rather than total destruction, and that undermines those arguments. If it's separation, then it allows for a command not to take any booty but to remain separate even if you don't kill everyone and everything. Then those that allow for the sparing of women if they become wives (I would call them booty given the high standards required of anyone wishing to become their husbands) allows for a distinction between separation and marriage rather than death vs. marriage.

I think you're right that this isn't the best way to take the texts we've got, and I'm not sure the evidence that this hyperbolic meaning is the standard idiom that Richard Hess, Christopher Wright, Paul Copan, Matt Flannagan, and company. There may be details of the text in various places that make it much harder for the view to work, and you may have identified some of them. I'm not as sure as you are that it's a devastating, knock-down refutation, though.

I'm not going to get into a debate with Edward Babinski on his blog, but there are so many things wrong with that post that it's hard for me to resist some kind of response. The basic argument is:

1. Some expressions using "all-language" in the Bible are idiomatic and do not mean all but just mean a large number.
2. Therefore, all uses of "all-language" in the Bible are hyperbolic and do not mean all but just mean a large number.

Sorry but I don't find that argument all that convincing, even aside from all the liberties that post takes with ignoring conservative scholarship about most of these matters, e.g.:

1. the arguments of Douglas Stuart and others that the numbers in Exodus really are plausible

2. the huge differences between ANE myth in general and its parodic use in the OT

3. the possibility (that Babinski either rules out a priori or just ignores) that some of these accounts were existent throughout the time before Abraham but were co-opted and altered to become the accounts we find in, say, Babylon

4. the different sort of narrative setting and different principles behind the Torah as compared with codes like that of Hammurabi

5. the fact that no one, and I mean no one, takes the census to be worldwide in the sense we would mean but that everyone, and I mean everyone, recognizes that it means the Romanized-Hellenized world

It would take me forever (there we go with a hyperbolic exaggeration that everyone understands to be so in such contexts) to make an exhaustive list of all the question-begging and straw-man statements in that post, but those are a few of the more obvious ones.

Well, it’s precisely because we’re talking about an omnipotent being here that it would be striking if the good services of mere humans were needed: We’re not talking about an officer who must rally troops to accomplish tasks. But what is it like for an omnipotent being ‘making it clear to someone that it really is God doing the talking’? From a finite, fallible being’s point of view I mean. That was the question.

I’m not sure what to make of your second para. I sense some irony; right? If you can see how I would get to where I got to, you don’t need me to fill in the details. Or would it be for the benefit of others, who may not be on our wavelength?! Anyway, it’s not clear to me what you’re insinuating re 9/11: That it would be wrong for a Christian person to be used by God to pass judgment on other people? That God would only use non-Christians to pass judgment? Or that the actions of non-Christians cannot be God's judgment on others?

You’re right about Abraham, of course: Perhaps he just got things wrong, lacking your ‘robust sense’. Or perhaps your ‘robust sense’ would get in the way of ‘how God interacted’ with you and you’d get things wrong.

It seems odd to think of God’s patience (or anything else divine) as having ‘limits’; God may be unpredictable, or whimsical. I’m certainly no authority on what’s ‘clearly taught’ in the Bible. It sounds fine to say that ‘not every instance of suffering is because of a particular sin someone committed to deserve it’. But can we tell the instances of suffering which are because of some sin from the instances which aren’t? And on what grounds? Since ‘we’re all sinners deserving judgment’. Unless you can tell for any instance of suffering if it’s an instance of divine judgment or not, it seems to me you explain nothing.

Whether divine judgment is or isn’t involved in an instance of suffering seems to make no difference to anything anyway. It’s not as if those judged in this life will suffer any less later, is it? A criminal might be meting out divine judgment on a victim: Would it be right for the state to punish crime if it were ‘God’s work’? Natural disasters seem too indiscriminate. You could say that they represent divine judgment on some but not all of the victims even though you can’t say on whom or why, which makes for a rather vacuous explanation.

I guess all this is all right if you’re just doing metaphysics; but if you attempt to draw any particular epistemic/moral inference you’d be on very thin ground.

Jeremy P: “But Copan takes the ban to be separation rather than total destruction, and that undermines those arguments. If it's separation, then it allows for a command not to take any booty but to remain separate even if you don't kill everyone and everything.”

But, as Alain correctly noted, Deut. 20:10-18 already makes a distinction between separation and total destruction. The “total destruction” command thus cannot simply be an exaggerated way of calling for separation. Instead it is presented as a categorically different way of dealing with a different situation–how to deal with the people in the land which God will give them (vv.16-18).

I guess I appreciate the detailed exegetical arguments involved in Matt’s post and yours--even if the hyperbole theory doesn’t really convince. Why would God or the biblical authors use such language in the first place?

I can see why Mesha and other ANE warlords use hyperbolic language as an after-the-fact boast in victory monuments. I can’t see why the OT would use the same language as a non-literal command before a literal battle. I’d have to read the papers Matt cites in detail, but the parallel between modern sports metaphors and ancient descriptions of actual warfare does not seem to hold. Being told to “slaughter” your opponents in a football game is easily understood to be metaphorical. Being told to “slaughter” you all of your enemies and their families and property in battle is just as easily open to confusion.

Witness the reception history of Joshua. The Irish under Cromwell, the Native Americans who met the Puritans, and the Vietnamese at Mai Lai--violent assaults against each group were justified by appeals to war commands in Joshua. So, even if the original meaning was just hyperbole, can we dismiss this history as simply a misreading of the text? If you want to say those were sinful actions justified by an illicit appropriation of Scripture, you’ll at least have to allow that the texts themselves are ambiguous on precisely that point.

Eric

EO: Yes, it would be pretty dumb to claim that God couldn't do things without people's help. That's not the claim. A comprehensive theodicy would include some explanation of why God doesn't just carry out judgments directly but involves people. But presumably the answers would be related to the answers usually given for why God works through people for other things rather than simply doing everything himself. If involving human agents in the process of fulfilling God's plan involves further goods, then you have an explanation. So there would need to be an argument both that the acts are good and worth doing and that it's good to involve human beings in doing so. It wouldn't need to say why God is forced to include human beings as agents.

On the second paragraph, that was indeed a sarcastic response to a sarcastic statement that doesn't deserve a real response. I'm not going to pretend to know what line of reasoning goes from anything I said to justifying 9/11, which as far as I know has never been endorsed by any mainstream Christian as a good act (on the part of the terrorists, anyway; lots of people have taken it to be part of God's plan, just carried out by evil people, and I wouldn't have any problem with that).

I don't share the extreme epistemological skepticism about whether an omnipotent being could create an internal mechanism for authenticating a communication from God if that would be required to convince someone that God is really speaking to them. In Abraham's case, though, we have a faithful worshiper of God who had received visits of a pretty otherworldly sort several times and experienced miraculous works several times that couldn't be explained by naturalistic means. It's not as if the command to sacrifice Isaac came in a vacuum, and it's not as if Abraham didn't have reason to think Isaac wouldn't end up dead by the end. Isaac was promised to him by this being, and it occurred in such a way that it couldn't be doubted to have come from this being, but the promise was of a nation being born from him. That means the promise had to have been about a living Isaac, and if he sacrificed him the result couldn't be a dead Isaac. The author of Hebrews says that Abraham thought Isaac would be resurrected, whereas what the Genesis account says is that God just prevented the sacrifice by providing a ram instead once it was clear that Abraham was willing to go through with it. Given all of that, it's nothing like the scenario of someone simply hearing a message from God to do something that sounds wrong and then doing it.

The idea of God's patience having limits is biblical. The judgment on the Amalekites goes back to Genesis, during Abraham's time, but God says it won't take place until their evil gets to a significant enough level. II Peter says Christ's return is delayed primarily because God is patient and is giving time for more people to repent and follow Christ, but it also says that that very patience will have a cut-off point. I don't think of it as a literal limitation but more a genuine good that God enacts that's in competition with other goods, and eventually the other goods need to be realized at the expense of continued patience preventing judgment.

When sickness or troubles are a judgment, it's not unknowable. For example, if a difficult time brings out in me a recognition of some evil within myself that I then repent of and turn toward a renunciation of such ways, then I can conclude that God intended to use it to bring about such a change in me. In a sense it's a disciplinary measure to bring me back in line. When it comes to other people, I would remain very skeptical, especially when pronouncements of judgment come from those who like to harp on particular sins that they aren't tempted to commit, e.g. when two well-known Christian leaders claim that 9/11 was God's judgment on the U.S. because of homosexuality and abortion. If I had to guess about any judgment involved in 9/11, I'd be more likely to expect it to be directed toward materialistic pursuit of wealth at the expense of more important things and toward Babel-like pride, since the main targets had to do more with that sort of thing, but I'd never presume to pronounce such a thing as a definite statement.

Nevertheless, when doing theodicy I don't think it explains nothing to say that there are bunch of potential explanations that could cover various kinds of evils that occur. If one reason is punishment of the never-repentant, another is discipline of the eventually-repentant, and a third is to demonstrate how messed-up a fallen world is in order to motivate people to repent, then I think you do have a fairly comprehensive account right there, even if you're not going to be lining up particular instances with particular explanations. The punishment theodicy has a bad rap among philosophers nowadays who write about the problem of evil, and I think that's a mistake. I think it's actually the most powerful theodicy among the traditional explanations of evil that Christians have given.

I don't think the issue of what a legitimate human authority should do when someone claims divine sanction is really all that much of a problem given the standard Christian view on this. The only times when this sort of thing even occurs in the Bible are when the legitimate authority in Israel is told to carry out God's judgment, so there's never an issue of individual people claiming to be agents of God when it's not sanctioned by the government.

Hi Jeremy, there is a lot packed into your response.

First, you don’t appear to address my first point. Taking, Sam 15 as a literal description of what happened contradicts what the is said to literally happen elsewhere in the same narrative. After this passage, the text affirms in several places that the Amalekites were not wiped out. David raids Amalekite towns (ch 27). Amalekite armies attack Ziklag, David pursues them, fights against them, defeats them and 200 horseman escape (ch 30) and so on. The Amalekites are recorded as still being a threat at the time of Hezekiah and Haman is said to be an Agagite in the book of Esther. Taken literally these other passages tell us that the Amalekites were not totally destroyed In contradiction to a literal reading of Sam 15.

Your response to my second point is to affirm “But Samuel does kill Agag, ...That's some evidence that he didn't take the command in the first way.” I fail to see why? True Samuel executes Agag in v 33 for crimes he had committed. But nowhere is Saul’s sparing of Agag condemned in the text. The condemnation is given by Samuel

19 Why did you not obey the LORD ? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD ?"

Here (note the Semitic parallel) disobedience of Gods command is spelled out in terms of taking plunder not in terms of sparing Agag. In fact, as I noted above the narrative tells us in fact Saul had not literally wiped out all the Amalekites, but this is not condemned. In fact , with the exception of bleating sheep, nowhere does Samuel contest Saul’s claim that he had .

Finally you respond to me second suggestion by claiming “ it renders much historical material as non-historical, which I think is too much. It threatens the perspicuity of scripture.” But I don’t think this follows, first, if there is a Genre whereby skirmishes are remembered in hyperbolic totalistic rhetoric ( which there appears to be) which is designed to make a theological point about the kings fidelity to gods, and if Sam 15 is this Genre, it tells us only that Samuel 15 is this Genre, it does not tell us about the rest of the Samuel narrative. Old testament historical narratives often have individual pericopes which are not like this. Having a song after the parting of the red sea is an example as is Davids lament for Saul and Jonathan, here historical events are recounted in song.

Second, its not clear to me this Genre does threat historicity real historical people and real skirmishes are referred to. It of course cautions us on how we understand the nature of the historical writing in question, and aware of the conventions under which such events were expressed and recounted. But I don’t think that in itself questions historicity.

Third, I don’t find the perspicuity issue compelling. If perspicuity entails that people can never be mistaken about a passage like Sam 15 then its implausible. Christians disagree over the Genre of early Genesis, they disagree over the millennium passage in Revelation. They disagree over infant baptism and how to understand Paul's reference to predestination in Romans 8-10, there is divergence on how to interpret apocalyptic language in Revelation. Perspicuity normally means that the central message of scripture is clear, and I don’t think the issue of whether Sam 15 is hyperbolic really effects this.

Let me make a final point, while I am aware of some apparent shortcomings of this position. I would simply note the issue here is whether the hyperbolic hagiographic reading is more plausible than a literal one. Even if some features of Sam 15 appear to contradict a hyperbolic interpretation, I and others have pointed out a large number of passages which contradict a literal one. I don’t think a person can sensibly claim that this language is not hyperbolic because it contradicts something they see in Sam 15, and then put forward a literal passage which contradicts all the passages in Joshua that claim the Canaanites are still in the land, contradicts the opening account of Judges which says that the cities that Joshua destroyed are still living and which contradicts, much of what Samuel says about the continued existence, of the Amalekites after Saul’s campaign. I also would want to know how the literalist responds to the parallels between these passages and other ANE accounts which are known to be hyperbolic and hagiographic. In otherwords I’d want to know whether a literal interpretation does a better job of explaining all the facts than a hyperbolic one. Simply pointing out a hyperbolic one has some problems does not really do this.

Eric, Deuteronomy makes a distinction between enslaving everyone in a city and putting that city under the ban. If the latter means killing all combatants and enslaving the rest (say), as would be one way of applying Copan's interpretation, then it's still distinct from enslaving all of them. So I don't think that completely rules out the distinction Copan wants to make. This might be a consideration against the position among all the considerations in play, but I don't see it as a knock-down argument.

As to why God or the biblical authors would use such language, I think the answer would simply be that this is a common idiom. We use such idioms all the time in English. We say, "If you do X, I'm going to kill you" when no one thinks we'll actually kill the person. We say, "The Yankees totally destroyed the Braves" when we don't think any killing took place, and no one takes there to have been any destruction. If Copan is right, then the language in these passages is like that, and it's only confusing to us because we don't know the idiom. The fact that someone unfamiliar with the idiom might take it literally doesn't change the point that if language exactly like this isn't what you'd use to indicate literal slaughter then nobody would take it that way except someone unfamiliar with the culture and language of the day. There are plenty of such known idioms in the Bible that weren't known for all of the history of interpretation, so it's not as if we could argue that such misinterpretations don't happen from time to time and even last for centuries before being discovered. Again, this might be a consideration against the position among all the considerations in play, but I don't see it as a knock-down argument.

As to the reception history of Joshua, I do want to say those are illicit appropriations but not because of this issue. It's quite obvious to anyone who has read the whole Bible that there's no parallel between even a literal command to slaughter the Amalekites by the covenant people of God issuing an explicit judgment by God on people who had done evil against God's covenant people and something not remotely like that in a period when there's no covenant people who form a legitimate government.

Matt, on the fact that Amalekites remain, I don't see how that shows that this wasn't a command to wipe out these Amalekites. There might have been more than one tribe of Amalekites, and the I Sam 15 command was toward the tribe they were dealing with right then but not about other ones who might have been far off. So the fact that there are Amalekites elsewhere later doesn't confirm that this wasn't a command to wipe them all out. It's well recognized that these terms were fluid anyway. Sometimes "Amalekites" is a term for all the peoples in Canaan, as sometimes "Canaanites" is, and sometimes both refer to narrower groups among lists of other groups.

As for the explicit condemnation being about booty, I don't think that's decisive. As I've said, it is one consideration in favor of the view you, Hess, Copan, and Wright have defended. But I don't think it's a knock-down argument that the term can't mean literal slaughter, because Samuel may have just picked up on the most obvious failings of Saul, and the narrator would be assuming we got the rest. The narrator in Judges barely condemns most of Samson's violations of the law (e.g. his diversion through a vineyard when he's a Nazirite, his willingness to touch a corpse of an unclean animal and scoop out honey that he then eats). We just get descriptions of what he does. But any Israelite at the time would have thought them obvious, and the sense that the narrator is condemning his actions would have come through to them. If the thesis you're defending is wrong, I think the same would be so with this passage, so I don't think your argument is going to convince the other side.

Besides, I do think Samuel's killing of Agag is more than just realizing that something should be done that Saul didn't think of. It seems to Samuel that there's an especially good reason to kill Agag, and Saul's reason for keeping booty and his reason for sparing Agag are along the same lines. So I do think there's an implicit condemnation of Saul's sparing of Agag.

I'm not saying it questions historicity. It just makes it harder to know what is historical, and that threatens perspicuity. As I said in my comment to Eric, I don't think this is a knock-down argument, because it's not as if this is the only kind of thing like this, but it's a consideration against it if you're already committed to some level of perspicuity.

I'm not sure the ANE parallels need to be explained. If one language has an idiom that a neighboring language doesn't, it's not as if something isn't explained. There may be an Ockham's Razor kind of simplicity to a theory that has the same idiom in both languages, but it's not as if there's a theoretical implausibility to two neighboring languages not sharing all the same idioms. I think that's the kind of issue that we shouldn't use Ockham's Razor to settle even if it's one consideration to factor in. I'm not sure it's a very strong consideration.

The other major piece of evidence that you think needs explanation is the fact that Joshua and Judges speak both of the enemies being neutralized and the enemies not being neutralized. But the traditional approach has an explanation for this. It's that the genre not of skirmishes but of summarizing conquests over the whole of the land is speaking very generally. The Israelites pretty much occupied the land, even if there were still Canaanites present. One passage highlights general faithfulness on the whole, even if it's not universal. The other highlights the individual ways they weren't fully faithful. They serve different purposes and are saying different things and thus aren't contradictory. You don't need a rethinking of how to take the language in accounts of individual skirmishes to see a consistency between these different accounts in Joshua and Judges. So I'm not sure the kind of coherent account needed to explain all the evidence is lacking with the traditional view.

Yes, I agree that it’s a good thing for people to do what’s good and worth doing; except that, in the context of mass-murder, it sounds perverse. Can’t you think of anything better, like revising some other assumption maybe? It would be good and worth doing.

The sarcastic statement that doesn't deserve a real response wasn’t made by me! I don’t mind your sarcastic response: Sparks of humour on your part are so few and far between; but in this case I was being serious and if you thought otherwise it may be because, for you, ‘God told me to do it’ counts as justification. If you accept premises that make you worry about purported particular instances such as mass-murders, with or without suicides, I may not. But if a good plan can be carried out by an evil person, why can’t a good plan have been devised by an evil person? I see no theodicy here.

I don't share the extreme epistemological skepticism about what an omnipotent being could do either; I just doubt mere humans can tell when the omnipotent being has done what it can! What you say doesn’t quite answer ‘what it’s like’ to be addressed by God; perhaps that’s too personal a question for you, so I withdraw it. What I meant was that expectations of what God might or might not ask one to do, cultural influences, interpretations of texts, religious and philosophical positions etc etc can affect people’s assessment of whether they’re being addressed by God or the Cartesian demon. I think you implicitly acknowledge how ‘background’ comes into play when you say ‘a difficult time brings out in me a recognition of some evil’. (I just hope I’m not giving you such a difficult time as to make you wonder what you’ve done to deserve corresponding with me!)

If your assessment of 9/11 is that it was about perceived ‘pride’ or arrogance in the exercise of US foreign policy, then you’re right it seems more in line with the terrorists’ own compared to the more exotic ones you mention. Whether those terrorists were evil people doing a good thing or good people doing an evil thing or some other combination, they themselves believed they were on their way to heaven; and this I find tragic. Terrorism may show that the patience of humans is limited. Now, God seems to have been far more ‘patient’ with, say, Hitler, than with the zillions of human embryos constantly aborted naturally before anyone knows they’ve been there. So it’s a pity if what you judge ‘the most powerful theodicy’ has a zillion plus one holes in it.

Or would you like to call God ‘patient to a different extent with each human being and so that it’s impossible to tell for any particular human being to what extent God is patient with them because not every instance of suffering is God’s judgment and even though no human being deserves any patience’? I don’t see how to qualify divine patience and divine judgment more elegantly if I'm to capture everything you claim to know about how God works: So do you prefer that qualified-patience-cum-qualified-judgment to calling God ‘unpredictable, whimsical or arbitrary’? I won’t object if I can’t see the difference.

But I’d like to know whether you think it’s an informative explanation to claim that ‘natural evil is divine judgment on some of the victims even though we can’t tell which those victims are or why God’s patience was more limited wrt to them than wrt to the other victims for whom natural evil wasn’t divine judgment and even though all the victims were sinners deserving judgment’. If you claim that ‘every instance of suffering either is an instance of divine judgment or is not an instance of divine judgment’ one could hardly object, of course. But one can’t pretend to be particularly enlightened either; I thought you’d easily recognise that.

So, as far as drawing any interesting or useful epistemic/moral inference from all this - let alone a theodicy - I’d insist that the ground remains very thin indeed.

Jeremy: my point is that Copan (and the rabbis in the Sifrei and other halakhic sources before him who sought to attenuate the force of the text) must disregard the context of the passage ( and the overall teaching of Lev –Deut and Josh) to arrive at their conclusions.
A look at Deut 20:10-18 shows that there were three possible cases when the Israelites engaged a foreign city:
The city (located outside the Promised Land) accepts the terms of peace and surrenders. As a result, the population is used as forced labor.
The city (located outside the Promised Land) refuses the terms of peace and is attacked. As a result, all men are put to death, and the women, children, and goods are taken at spoil.
The city (located inside the Promised Land) is not given the option to surrender. As a result, the entire population is put under the ban.
It is clear from the above that the treatment of the city is increasingly harsher as the cases are presented: in the first case no one dies, in the second case only the men die, in the third case everyone dies.
However, if one takes “ban” to mean separation, the third option becomes the best one (I doubt that these Canaanites would be heartbroken if the Israelites refused to have contact with them.) If it was separation versus forced marriage, option #2 becomes the worse one, something that goes against the progression of the passage.
The “Separation” view does not explain where these Canaanites would go. Would they just pack and leave the land?

Deut 20:16 indicates how the ban is to be understood. The command to put the Canaanites under the ban is explicitly contrasted with the command in the preceding verse “not to leave alive anything that breathes”. One needs major exegetical gymnastic to make “ban” mean “separation” here, unless want means separation from the land of the living … and breathing humans.
Understanding the ban as complete extermination also explains why no offer to surrender is made (however, if it was only separation/ packing and leaving, terms of peace would make sense here since the point of the passage is to avoid unnecessary destruction including the destruction of plant life).
This understanding of Deut 20 is confirmed when Israel actually applies these rules of engagement in the battlefield under When it comes to Jericho, the city is put under the ban and here again the meaning of the ban is indicated in the passage itself (only Rahab and her household are to be left alive—Joshua 6:17 cf. 21-22). The fact that Joshua specifically presents Rahab as an exception to the rule indicates that the command was to be taken literally.
The Gibeonites also understood the three possible outcomes for cities encountered by the Israelites. They knew that option #3(cities located inside the Promised Land) was the worse one and sought to place themselves under option #1.
I would like to see someone demonstrate that in the above instances, the separation view is more compelling or even nearly as compelling as the extermination view.
I am also interested to see how the “separation” unfolded in practice (if the ban is taken to mean extermination then the passages presents the specific means by which Israelites were isolated from Canaanite influence, if ban means something else, we still have to find how it was carried out)

The sarcastic statement I am referring to was:

"I wonder how human beings can tell what God's judgment on other human beings is, or that it falls to them to carry it out. Are you trying to rationalise 9/11?"

Just war theorists have long distinguished between government action in pursuit of justice and individual vigilantes. Even assuming just cause, 9/11 is impossible to justify given a just war theory, something I'm on record for endorsing. The government actions of Israel against the Canaanites that we're talking about would still have to be argued for in terms of just cause and so on, and there are difficulties dealing with non-combatants if the Copan proposal is incorrect, but who does the action is a crucial difference already, even apart from the just cause and non-combatant target criteria. In addition, Christians have long distinguished between the theocratic government of Israel and any other individual or government actor outside that context when it comes to initiating holy wars. So it's extremely perverse to suggest that there are resources within a Christian just war theory to justify 9/11. That's why I can't take that charge all that seriously.

I'll accept that the epistemological question is important and shouldn't be ignored. As an externalist, I think justification can come simply because God actually is doing the communicating, but you're right to push that I wouldn't necessarily know whether I'm being spoken to by God or Descartes' evil demon even in cases where I'm justified according to reliabilist, externalist means.

But what I was trying to argue was that it seems possible that God could have given a kind of knowledge that carries with it the justification in a way that would be as secure as standard cases of a priori knowledge. I don't know what such knowledge would be like from within, but I wouldn't want to rule it out, and it doesn't seem to me as if it's impossible. I'm not going to assert that it's ever happened, but I'd be surprised if it happens frequently. Abraham would be the kind of person to experience it if anyone did, though. I don't think I need such a claim, but it seems possible to me, and any argument that assumes its impossibility strikes me as unsound.

I don't see holes in the patience theodicy merely because some are given more chance than others. First, it may well be that God has knowledge of what these embryos would do if given a life, and it's less severe for them to die this way or would lead to a worse fate (in terms of being evil people) if they lived. I wouldn't assume such a thing, but I also wouldn't rule it out. More helpfully, perhaps, I'd say that we need to be aware of the various possibilities for what happens to those whose lives are cut short (even aside from the embryo situation). Many Christians think they have an afterlife befitting never having had moral capabilities. So I wouldn't assume that the patience theodicy needs to consider God as being less patient with them than with Hitler.

Then there's the insistence that most Christians would have that it's only in the afterlife that the scales really get evened out anyway. Also, if everyone deserves judgment, and no one deserves patience, then it may be unfair in some strict sense to give some people more time and more chances, but it's not as if those who deserve worse than they get can complain. According to the judgment theodicy (which was the one I thought most powerful, not the patience theodicy), most people suffer less than they deserve. That's why I think it's a more powerful theodicy, not because of anything to do with God's patience or the relative distribution of the effects of God's patience. There are a host of questions that need answering before you can make the judgment that there are holes in this theodicy, and it depends very much on the particulars of the version of it that's being made, something I've been pretty silent on at this point, since I want to claim that a wide variety of views could try to make use of a punishment theodicy.

The arbitrariness charge also assumes that we know more of what's going on than we possibly could. God could have reasons related to what will occur in the afterlife, secret facts about this life that no one or almost no one alive today knows, truths about what individual people would do if they had been presented with certain counterfactual situations, and maybe even intrinsic goods that we don't have much understanding of at our level of development. God might intend certain results and thus allow benefits to someone who doesn't deserve it for reasons entirely apart from whether the person deserves it. I wouldn't expect us to see the difference as to whether this is arbitrary or calculated, but a theodicy isn't supposed to be an attempt to show what actual reasons God has, just what reasons a divine being might have in order to show that the problem of evil doesn't disprove (or make unlikely) God's existence. If there are possible explanations, then it doesn't. If there are likely enough explanations given God's existence, then it doesn't make God's existence unlikely. If what we were going for is an actual explanation, this wouldn't come close. But that's not how the problem of evil's dialectic goes.

Jeremy Pierce wrote: I'm not going to get into a debate with Edward Babinski on his blog.

Hi Jeremy, I don't do long debates either, not usually. But I do want to say that some prominent Evangelicals have argued that the number of Israelites leaving Egypt was highly exaggerated, F. F. Bruce being among them.

And I want to point out that the Laws of Hammurabi preceded the Laws of Moses. And that King Thutmose preceded King David.

I will send you (or other readers of your blog) a copy of my chapter on "The Cosmology of the Bible" that was recently published if you'll email me your snail mail address. My email is leonardo3 {at] msn

Lastly, if you've read my piece on the Exodus that is linked to F. F. Bruce's name above, I also suggest getting a copy of this paper by a well known OT scholar:

ADDE PRAEPUTIUM PRAEPUTIO MAGNUS ACERVUS ERIT:
IF THE EXODUS AND CONQUEST HAD REALLY HAPPENED
By LESTER L. GRABBE University of Hull
Biblical Interpretation 8, ½
Copyright, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2000
ABSTRACT: A lot of "what if' situations in history can be imagined, with interesting results. But an event often taken as history in the past is now regarded as a literary creation: the exodus and conquest. When we begin to see the consequences of taking it as actual history--surprisingly, not done by supporters of this interpretation--it becomes even clearer why there never was such an event. If the exodus and conquest had actually occurred, the outcome could have changed the whole of the history of the Western world, and we would have a completely different Bible today.

Alain is correct. The ANE held to the concept of "collective culpability." This explains why the author of Joshua did not see the moral problem that we do today. This collective culpability is also seen in Paul's connection of the whole human race to Adam's sin.

Copan and Flannagan (and Nicholas Wolterstorff)fail to acknowledge this basic fact from social science. They also fail to adequately come to grips with what the Hebrew word chērem means. Yes it can mean separation but separation to Yahweh. It was something that now exclusively belonged to Yahweh and was to be consecrated to him as an act of worship. Andy Woods writes: chērem, which involved offering the conquered people as well as their possession to Yahweh. As previously explained, this practice usually involved killing every living thing in the conquered territory (Josh 6:21) while offering the possessions that remained to God. Any minor deviation from this practice meant defeat for the nation (Josh 7) while adherence to the practice of chērem meant success for the nation (Josh 8). In sum, the direct involvement of God before, during, and after battle equates Israel’s holy war and the practice of chērem with an act of worship.(Woods seems to rely heavily on Tremper Longman III's chapter, The Case for Spiritual Continuity, in Show Them No Mercy, pp. 159-90).

Susan Niditch in her book, War in the Hebrew Bible explains the concept of chērem:

In a non-war context Lev. 27:28 states that anything a man devotes to God (cherem verb used) from among his possessions--human beings (i.e., slaves), animals or agricultural holdings--cannot be purchased or redeemed. 'Every devoted thing (cherem) is a holy of holies to God." In a similar vein, Lev. 27:21 juxtaposes 'holy to God' with cherem in reference to a person's pledge of land. That which is cherem in these contexts is not a destroyed item or person but a possession devoted and sacrificed, given up for the use of God or his priests (see also Ezek. 44:29). (p. 29).

Thus according to Niditch, in certain cases when the Israelites would go to war they would make a vow to YHWH to sacrifice all the booty to Him in exchange for His help in accomplishing a victory. She cites Num. 21:2-3 as an example:

And Israel vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy (cherem) their cities. And the LORD hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities: and he called the name of the place Hormah.

She also cites Judges 11:30-31 as a parallel passage(p.33).

She argues that since human beings are the most valuable of all the booty, to offer them up to YHWH was an especially strong vow. The Israelites thought that by doing so, they would ensure YHWH's help in securing a victory.

Hi Ken, you write “the ANE held to the concept of "collective culpability." This explains why the author of Joshua did not see the moral problem that we do today.” The problem is the author of the Torah does see a moral problem with “collective punishment” consider, “16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”(Deut 24:16) Moreover, the Torah in terms of its case law, literary conventions has clear parallels with other ANE laws. However, while vicarious punishment is common in laws such as Hammurabi, it is absent from the torah which suggests the Torah actually reflects a conscious rejection of collective punishment.

Second, you claim Copan, Flannagan and Wolterstorff "fail to adequately come to grips with what the Hebrew word chērem means.             the problem is both Copan and Wolterstorff" do show awareness of the term “cherem” and conciously discuss it. But let me make one claim, you argue the term means “devote to destruction” and has a totalistic sense suggesting total destruction. That may well be the case, but it hardly addresses their point. Wolterstorff's point, for example, is that the text uses totalistic language hyperbolically in the context of a Hagiographic history. So pointing out the language has a totalistic meaning really is beside the point. The issue is how this totalistic language functions in the Genre and context in question.
Christopher Wright for example gives a definition of herem similar to yours.  He goes on however to note  

“Now we need to know that Isreal’s practise of herem was not itself unique. Texts from other nations at the time show that total destruction was practised, or at any rate proudly claimed, elsewhere. But we must also recognise that the language of warfare had a total rhetoric that liked to make universal and absolute claims about total victory and wiping out the enemy. Such rhetoric often exceeded reality on the ground”

The Mesha stele is an example, Mesha is praised as a faithful follower of Chemosh, and language of herem is used, its clear however that Mesha is hagiographic and hyperbolic and not a literal description of what occurred. Mesha for example boasts of totally annihilation Isreal as a nation so that it no longer existed. This is clear not what happened, moreover Mesha would have known this and so would his subjects, they after all lived next to an existing Isreal. Moreover the account in Kings of Mesha's revolt shows that while he did narrowly suceed in driving isreal from the field it certainly was not a genocide of every Isrealite. The point is that while the language of cherem does is language of total destruction, the language can be, and often was used hyperbolically in hagiograhic accounts, and so nothing about the use of this language itself tells us that the account in a literal description of what occurred.

Matt,

Deut. 24:16 is in direct contradiction to many other OT passages. Allow me to quote from Hugo Grotius: "God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children" [Ex. 20:5]. "Our fathers have sinned, and we have borne their iniquities" [Lam. 5:7]. For the act of Ham, Canaan is subjected to a curse [Gen. 9:25]. For the act of Saul, his sons and grandsons are hung with the approval of God [2 Sam. 21:8, 14]. For the act of David, seventy thousand perish, and David exclaims, "Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done" [2 Sam. 24:15-17]? So for the act of Achan his sons were punished [Josh. 7:24], and for the act of Jeroboam his posterity [1 Ki. 14:10]. These passages manifestly show that some are punished by God for others' sins ("A Defense of the Catholic Faith Concerning the Satisfaction of Christ against Faustus Socinus" [1617], trans. Frank Foster, in Bibliotheca Sacra, 36 [1879], 272).

So, either the Deut. 24 passage is to be taken in a less than absolute sense or all the other OT passages cited above have to be explained in such a way that the innocent people punished were in fact somehow culpable. Or, you could simply recognize the truth that ancient peoples generally thought in terms of collective culpability. Historical studies seem to favor the latter.

With regard to חֵרֶם(cherem), yes it is true that other ANE peoples practiced it as well. I think this helps to explain why the concept is found in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, from my viewpoint the Hebrew scriptures were written by men who were bound by their time and culture (no supernatural revelation) and thus their thoughts about God and worship were similar in some ways to those around them. However, if one believes the Bible is a supernatural revelation, as you do, then you must see more in the genocidal passages than just an imitation of the Hebrew's neighbors. The Hebrew scriptures, in addition, are much more detailed and emphatic about the nature of חֵרֶם(cherem).

The basic concept of חֵרֶם (cherem) involves the offering of someone or something to Yahweh exclusively. It is an act of worship to the LORD (see Tremper Longman III, The Case for Spiritual Continuity, in Show Them No Mercy , pp. 159-90). To withhold something from the Hebrew God that should have been sacrificed to him is an act of wicked disobedience. This is precisely the sin of Achan reported in Joshua 7:11: Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings (ESV). If the command to devote everything to destruction(חֵרֶם; cherem) in Jericho to the LORD (Jos. 6:17) was never intended to be taken literally, then why are Achan and his family punished? Is this story also hyperbole?

Likewise, in 1 Samuel 15, Saul is reprimanded by the LORD and rejected from being King because of his failure to fulfill the command for חֵרֶם (cherem)in totally destroying the Amalekites. Was Yahweh's command to Saul hyperbole? Why was Saul punished for not taking the command literally if it was never intended to be taken literally?

I think the best explanation for these passages is that the author is using the conception of חֵרֶם (cherem) that was common in the ANE and then adding some theological reflection on what happens when one doesn't obey the חֵרֶם (cherem). None of these events took place historically, in my opinion, but were written down as if they were historical events and used to explain theologically why Israel had failed to remain true to Yahweh.

Even if one were to accept the hyperbole interpretation, it does not resolve the moral problem. As John Goldingay explains:

Surely God does not punish whole nations. It would not be fair. It would mean so many "innocent people" getting punished. While a literalistic reading of Deuteronomy and Joshua likely makes this seem a much bigger issue than historically it was, a less literalistic reading does not mean it ceases to be an issue. It is not one peculiar to this particular theological and ethical question. It is a fact of experience recognized by both Testaments that the members of a nation are bound together in their destiny, for good and for ill, like the members of a family. The First Testament has little of the modern instinct to distinguish between combatants and nocombatants, recognizing that these are battles between peoples not between professional armies (Israel's Life, 577-78).

He argues that the reason this was not an issue for the ancients is because they thought in terms of what I call "collective culpability."

Ken, it does remove some moral issues, just not all. You still need to say something to explain why it's all right to punish just the combatants, but just war theorists have tackled that quite a bit even without the theological dimension, so I don't think that's an insurmountable task. But it does remove the particular questions about killing non-combatants, which most just war theories prohibit. Goldingay might be right that no one at the time would have made such a distinction, but that's irrelevant, because we can, and we can evaluate them according to that standard. If it's a good standard, we can be critical of them. If we think God is behind it, it's a criticism of God. So someone defending a divine source for the command is going to want an explanation to remove that charge or justify the command anyway, and the hyperbole view goes the first way.

Thom Stark has weighed in a second time on the Canaanite Genocide over at his blog:

http://thomstark.net/?p=2107

Stark sets up an interesting dialectic, but I'm not sure it's based on a true premise. Has Flannagan really conceded that God would be immoral for doing things according to the traditional interpretation? I don't remember seeing any of the relevant people doing so, but maybe I just didn't see that particular concession made by every single one of them.

Matt said: "Mesha for example boasts of totally annihilation Isreal as a nation so that it no longer existed."

No it doesn't. It says he destroyed an entire city (with 7,000 males plus women and children), not all of Israel.

Ken has already responded to Matt's fallacious claim that the idea of punishing children for the sins of their parents is not found in the Torah. As critical scholars are aware, the contrary view, that children are NOT punished for the sins of their parents, is a later development.

As for Jeremy's not seeing Matt's concession that God would be immoral for killing innocents, he conceded this (implicitly) when he "argued" that there were no children in Sodom because children are innocent and God said there was no one innocent in Sodom. Why would Matt feel obliged to make this (untenable) argument if he didn't realize that Yahweh killing innocents was immoral.

Moreover, Craig has conceded it, as I point out in my book on p. 135.

Ken,

Much of just repetition of points I have already made in correspondence with you.

First, you again give a lexical meaning of herem noting it is a totalistic term. Thats true ( though I would note that other OT scholars do not give the same definition you cite here). But this does not tell us whether the text is used literally or hyperbolically in this particular context. Hyperbolic language functions by using words which are lexically totalistic in a non literal way. So repeating this over and over really establishes nothing. Take the English term "anihilate" if I looked up its lexical meaning I’d see it means to make something non-existent. It does not follow from this that when I say “the all blacks anhilated the springbox in rugby last night” I must be speaking literally.

Second, you cite a series of passages which you claim teaches that innocent people suffer for the sins of their parents. I would dispute your reading of those passages, but suppose for the sake of argument I am wrong. It simply does not follow that because other passages teach that it is Ok to punish innocent people for sins of their parents that this particular passage instructs this. This seems to be a common fallacy that you and Stark make. The principle: If other passages teaches X then the passage I am examining teaches X. Is not terribly plausible. Should I conclude that Matthew’s birth narrative teaches that Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees because another passage teaches this.


Third, you cite the case of Saul and the Amalekites, however I have already addressed this story. I have pointed out a literal reading contradicts the text which states the Amalekites were not literally wiped out. You claim Saul was rejected for failing to follow the command literally. But thats not correct, the text says he had “destroyed” all the people , except Agag, Saul is criticised for taking plunder. Moreover, as I pointed out, Wolterstorff’s position is not that the text is literal descriptive history in every point except for a few phrases (like herem) which are hyperbolic. Its that the text is a Genre of Hagiographic history. Hence the fact that a person is condemned for not taking a command literally, does not mean the author is saying that God actually in the real world did this. Finally, the suggestion that Saul is condemned for not taking the command literally seems to me to be contradicted by a “literal” reading of the very text itself. Note what Samuel says to Agag”.But Samuel said,"As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women."And Samuel put Agag to death before the LORD at Gilgal.” taken literally this implies Agag’s mother was still alive. Odd how you don’t take this part literally isn’t it?

Similarly you ask “If the command to devote everything to destruction(חֵרֶם; cherem) in Jericho to the LORD (Jos. 6:17) was never intended to be taken literally, then why are Achan and his family punished? Is this story also hyperbole?” But if you examine these versus in context you’ll the command in Jos 6:17 that “he city and all that is in it are to be devoted [a] to the LORD” was not intended to be literally. The next verse tells them to spare Rahab and there family moreover in v 18 it states “All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.” So the phrase clearly did not mean destroy everything. Interestingly it was these latter things which were not literally devoted to destruction, despite 6:17, which Achan took. So Achan was not condemned for failing to take the command in 6:17 literally. (Moreover I would add that given Achan had the gold under his family tent its not obvious his family were innocent of the theft , the text does not give us information to draw this conclusion, you and Stark choose to adopt this reading of the situation). I don’t find your selective reading of these texts convincing.

Fourth, you seem to work with a caricatured understanding of biblical inspiration as a kind of dictation view you write “the Hebrew scriptures were written by men who were bound by their time and culture (no supernatural revelation) and thus their thoughts about God and worship were similar in some ways to those around them. However, if one believes the Bible is a supernatural revelation, as you do, then you must see more in the genocidal passages than just an imitation of the Hebrew's neighbors.” . But that's not the model I work with or any theologian I know works with. My view is that the authors expressed Gods word in their own words, idiom, language and so on, hence if they wanted to teach that their leader Joshua faithfully followed Gods commands and lead them to be victorious in a series of raids on Canaanite centres they would do it according to the literary conventions of their time.

Thom, keep your dialectic straight. It's one thing to claim that someone's reconstruction of the narrative composition of the Torah is wrong. It's quite another to argue that the person's view is incoherent, which requires taking their reconstruction as they hold it.

I happen to think the predominant view of Torah composition is so wildly implausible as to be laughable. The so-called evidence of multiple redactors and the supposed timetable are only supportable with circular arguments that usually don't even fit the internal evidence very well. But even if you happen to lend credence to such implausible theories, Matt may not, so it doesn't do to the consistency of his view by claiming that his view doesn't fit well with your own favored view of how the text was reconstructed.

Now I don't have a horse in a lot of these races being debated at the moment, but I do think it's simply inaccurate exegesis to find in the Torah any endorsement of judicial punishment of children for the crimes of their parents. What you find there is a statement not of children being legally punished for their crimes. It says nothing at all about punishments being visited on children. It says the crimes are visited on the children. Most scholars take that to mean the effects continue for generations, e.g. if a father squanders his inheritance it leaves his family in shambles financially for generations. I have wondered if perhaps it's even more literal. Your sins tend to be repeated by your offspring. Either way, it's not judicial punishment of children for crimes they never committed, and in the last option it's not even crimes the children don't commit. However you slice it, it doesn't assume the children are minors, which is what matters for Matt's view.

But I have little at stake in the general debate here. Children are certainly not absolutely innocent in scripture, just sometimes innocent with respect to a conflict or innocent with respect to a sin of another person. Just as people sometimes suffer because of an immediate cause having to do with someone else's sin, we're all guilty before God, including children, and sometimes children suffer because of sin in the world, sin which they are as guilty of as anyone else when it comes to matters of justification before God. That's something that I don't think people who hold Matt's view should abandon, and I'm pretty sure Christopher Wright hasn't abandoned it (to name the one defender of this view I've read the most by). His reasons for holding this view aren't because he thinks there's no response to the problem of holy war without it. It's because he thinks this view is correct linguistically, and because he thinks it demonstrates God's mercy in a way that God is not morally obligated. That's the sense I get from his Deuteronomy commentary anyway.

Matt,

1. My understanding of the concept of cherem is not based simply on the lexical meaning of the word. If that were all that was involved, then you would be correct to say the word could be used in a less than literal fashion. The concept is based on the idea that certain things are devoted to the Lord. These things belong exclusively to him. The exclusivity of God's ownership of these things is what makes it absolute. cherem is not something that can be done partially. Thus, the punishment that ensues when it is done partially.

2. It is true that because other passages show that God punishes innocents, it does not necessitate that the Joshua passages be understood this way. However, what it does show is that "the problem of punishing innocents" is not limited to the Conquest. Since God does it in other places, there is no reason to think that he does not do it in Joshua.

3. Regarding the Amalekites, you say: the fact that a person is condemned for not taking a command literally, does not mean the author is saying that God actually in the real world did this . I don't see any indication in the text to think that this is not being presented as real world history . It probably never happened but it is written down as a story to explain why the kingdom was taken away from Saul. Whether it happened in reality or not seems to be besides the point. The theological message to be gleaned from the writing (assuming the writing is inspired and "profitable for doctrine" as 2 Tim. 3:16 states) is that failure to carry out cherem is a very serious offense and results in God's judgment.

Regarding Rahab and her family, she is the clear exception to the cherem and it is because of her faith. As Thom pointed out, if all the women and children were going to be spared anyway, what is the point of her story? To claim that Achan's family was complicit in his act is "eisegesis." There is not a shred of evidence in the text to think this. It is imported into the text because it strikes our moral sensibilities as wrong to kill an entire family for what one member of that did. It didn't strike the ancients as wrong because of the concept of "collective culpability." All of Achan's possessions were destroyed. Were his animals also complicit in his act?

4. You say: My view is that the authors expressed Gods word in their own words, idiom, language and so on, hence if they wanted to teach that their leader Joshua faithfully followed Gods commands and lead them to be victorious in a series of raids on Canaanite centres they would do it according to the literary conventions of their time. Fine, but what is the purpose in showing that failure to carry out cherem brings judgment? This is one of the theological motifs in Joshua--Judges.


Jeremy,

I deal with most of Wright's other defenses of the genocides in my book, in a 50-page chapter.

Ken

1. Already addressed: you note the word “cherem” is absolute and “cherem is not something that can be done partially” But that does not tell us the word cannot be used hyperbolic. Take the english word anhilate, the meaning of this word is absolute, one cannot annihilate something partially (if its partial its not annihilated) it does not mean its not hyperbolic. Hyperbole involves using absolute language.

2. This is a fallacious, granting for the sake of argument your exegsis of these other passages, you argue “Since God does it in other places, there is no reason to think that he does not do it in Joshua.” But the fact that there is no reason to think he does not do it in Joshua, does not mean one has reason for thinking he does do it in Joshua. This is simply a logical slip.

3. You use the same fallacy again you write "I don't see any indication in the text to think that this is not being presented as real world history” but the fact you don’t see any reason why its not presented as real world history does not entail there is reason for thinking it is real world history, so again your argument doesn’t follow.

However, I did give reasons why it can’t be real world history, it contradicts what is said in the real world history presented in the rest of the text. Its unlikely that an author/redactor would affirm as real world history an obviously contradictory narrative. Finally, I disagree with you about the theological point, it seems to me the theological point is that obedience is better than sacrifice, there is nothing in the text that suggests total wars are to be carried out today.

4. Here you again draw a fallicous inference you state To claim that Achan's family was complicit in his act is "eisegesis ." There is not a shred of evidence in the text to think this. But thats not what I said, I said to claim his family was innocent is eisegesis the text does not say they were its silent on their involvement. The claim that this is what is going on is an argument from silence. Like you said there is no evidence for this.

You go on to say “ It didn't strike the ancients as wrong because of the concept of "collective culpability.” But that really is irrelevant. The text affirms that God commands it, god is not an “ancient” human being and there is no reason to assume he shares their opinion. Of course if you assume that the text is not a literal description of what happend, or if it is its false and simply a ANE construction this argument might have merit. But then you can no longer cite passages like this as arguments against the idea that the bible is the word of God to do this would be circular. Moreover, if this is what is assumed the whole issue of genocide is innocous. There is nothing problematic about the fact ANE humans thought God commanded Genocide, the problem only arises when people take these texts as inspired, but if you do that you reject the assumption behind your interpretation. As to what cherem teaches us today. I would take the texts as teaching modern Christians to avoid living with people who are (a) grossly immoral (b) unrepentant and (c) are likely to influence you to copy them. Rather its teaching us to shun such people.

Ken you wrote Regarding Rahab and her family, she is the clear exception to the cherem and it is because of her faith. As Thom pointed out, if all the women and children were going to be spared anyway, what is the point of her story? However, I did not say all the women and children would be spared anyway. I simply pointed out the fact Rahan was spared shows your repeated claim that Cherem is absolute and admits of no exceptions is false. Your assertion here that she was a clear exception shows that these previous comments were false.

Thom wrote"As for Jeremy's not seeing Matt's concession that God would be immoral for killing innocents, he conceded this (implicitly) when he "argued" that there were no children in Sodom because children are innocent and God said there was no one innocent in Sodom."

Actually this is mistaken, if you were familar with my writings you'd know I do not think it is wrong for God to kill people. I don't think God has duties at all so nothing he does can be wrong. I do believe a loving and just person would not permits suffering without some reason like a greater good being brought about or greater evil being prevented. But thats a different question, so this continual claim on your part is false.

What I said to Ken was that in the story of sodom the whole point is that God will not punish the innocent. But thats a different question to whether its wrong to kill them, not all killing is a punishment upon the victim.

Thom you seem very quick to jump to mistaken conclusions about what I do and do not think.

Matt,

1. What I think you are missing about cherem is that it is a technical theological term. The English term "annihilate" is not a technical term and is thus not analogous in this case. The basic idea behind the word cherem is that something or someone belongs exclusively to the LORD. For example in Lev, 27:21, a field is devoted (cherem) to Lord and the Lord's representative, the priest takes possession of it.

But the field, when it is released in the jubilee, shall be a holy gift to the LORD, like a field that has been devoted [cherem]. The priest shall be in possession of it.

If it is property, it is to be handed over to the priests and thus consecrated exclusively to God. If it is a person or an animal it is to be killed (27:26-30).

This is the precise reason why it is such a sin to violate the cherem . If the cherem is not to be taken literally, then how would an Israelite ever know if the person or property involved was devoted exclusively to the Lord or if he were free to take it for himself or leave it>

2. No, it is relevant because the apologists want to deny that innocent children were wiped out in the Conquest or at least God did not order such. The apologists are rightly assuming that it does not reflect well upon their loving God to do such things. My point is that, since he has obviously done so before, what in the text is to make me think he does not order the extermination of innocent children here? Its the character of you God that is being considered. Just as if in a trial, it was shown that a person had committed a certain crime several times before and he was now on trial for committing the crime again, would it not be relevant that he had a past history for such crimes?

3. As far as contradictory material in Joshua and Judges, that really doesn't surprise me, because I see other such contradictions throughout the Hebrew Bible. You feel a necessity to harmonize it all because of your theological presuppositions about the text; I don't. I read it as any other ancient text.

I agree that the text does not order or command these kinds of genocides to be carried out in the future. However, one could certainly draw the idea that if God was in favor of it then, he might be in favor of it again. When Europeans came to America, some of them saw themselves as the Israelites who had just escaped tyranny and crossed a big sea with God's help to a new land. This new land was filled with heathens who had strange religions. For some, they felt they had a biblical precedent for what to do in such situations. You can argue they were wrong but why didn't God make it crystal clear that this was one-time deal never to be repeated, if he cared at all about the sufferings of future generations?

4. Regarding Achan's family, if his wife and children were killed because they were complicit in his crime, what do you say about his animals? Were they also complicit? You are reading a modern version of justice into an ancient text. In the ancient mindset, everything that belonged to Achan had become corrupt and had to be destroyed in order to purify the camp. The ancients could have cared less about individual rights or responsibilities. Since Achan' wife, children, animals, etc were all his property and had become corrupt through his sin, a purification ritual needed to be carried out.

My argument is to show Evangelical Christians who believe the Bible is inspired, that it is much more reasonable to see it as the musings of ancient men. The problem arises when one things that these musings are really revelation from a perfectly good God. Then you have contradictions between what this morally perfect God commands and his supposed perfect character.

Again, whether these genocides actually happened is not relevant. As David Petersen writes:
Such utter violence against both animal and human life strikes many contemporary readers as repugnant. Whether such practice was a religious ideal that was never practiced is, in some ways, beside the point. The ethos it engenders is one that does not encourage respect for life. To explain the notion of such total annihilation as a sacrifice to the deity is, potentially, to offer religious grounds for genocide
("Devote, Devoted," The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible, 107).


Just as if in a trial, it was shown that a person had committed a certain crime several times before and he was now on trial for committing the crime again, would it not be relevant that he had a past history for such crimes?

Actually, in the U.S. that's not allowed. Maybe it's allowed elsewhere, but it's considered prejudicial here. It's allowed when grand juries consider whether to bring charges, but if it gets heard by the jury they often have to start again with a new jury. You might be right on the epistemological point, but it's not a universal practice.

When Europeans came to America, some of them saw themselves as the Israelites who had just escaped tyranny and crossed a big sea with God's help to a new land. This new land was filled with heathens who had strange religions. For some, they felt they had a biblical precedent for what to do in such situations. You can argue they were wrong but why didn't God make it crystal clear that this was one-time deal never to be repeated, if he cared at all about the sufferings of future generations?

I would argue that he did. Paul says we're not under the law, and that was commanded under the law and never repeated. Instead, we're told to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and to preach the gospel to all nations. It's kind of hard to fit that with killing them because you want to occupy their land.

Jeremy,

In some cases, the judge may allow the jury to hear about past events that could show a pattern of behavior. Whether it would be allowed in a trial or not though, common sense tells us that it does show a pattern.

The Christians who came to America were not dispensationalists. As a matter of fact, the Puritans followed much of the OT and in modern day America, the Christian Reconstructionists do also.

This is to clarify the discussion between Matt and Thom concerning the Mesha Inscription. Here's the background of what they said above:

Matt said, "Mesha for example boasts of totally annihilation Isreal as a nation so that it no longer existed."
Thom responded, "No it doesn't. It says he destroyed an entire city (with 7,000 males plus women and children), not all of Israel."

Matt is correct on this one, and Thom's assertion of "No, it doesn't," is wrong. It's in Moabite (extremely similar to Paleo-Hebrew/Phoenician) and easily read. If you prefer a Hebrew transliteration, one can be found here.

The important phrase come in line 7, where it says, "וארא. בה. ובבתה. וישראל. אבד. אבד. עלמ." The periods serve to transliterate the word dividers, which were standard in ANE texts from the period. Another important feature is that Moabite used a he suffix for the 3rd person masculine possessive as opposed to the standard vav.

Thus, my literal translation would be, "And I saw [my desire] upon him and his house, and Israel was destroyed, destroyed forever."

The interesting parts would be that the initial verb comes from ראה meaning "to see" in biblical Hebrew, but in Moabite could mean "seeing my desires come about" as noted in Hoftijzer and Jongeling's Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions. This is also the translation taken by Shmuel Ahituv in his Echoes from the Past. Interestingly, אבד appearing twice is typical with the first root serving as an infinitive, and the latter being the same form as a Hebrew Qal Perfect.

So Matt is correct in the exaggerated language here, since the claim is that Mesha overcame Omri and his house, and that Israel was destroyed forever.

Furthermore, Thom's other assertion that "it says he destroyed an entire city (with 7,000 males plus women and children), not all of Israel," actually makes Matt's point in the light of the entire inscription. This latter description (from line 16 in the Mesha stele) seems to be the actual description of what happened, whereas he used exaggerated language to describe it when he said, "Israel was destroyed, destroyed forever." Thus, Wolterstorff's claim (via Matt) of "the text [using] totalistic language hyperbolically in the context of a Hagiographic history," seems correct in regards to the Mesha inscription.

Kyle,

Actually, neither of us were correct and both of us were. Matt said: "Mesha for example boasts of totally annihilation Isreal as a nation so that it no longer existed." But the text does not say that Israel no longer existed. Matt overstated his claim. Thus, I was correct to point out that the text does not say what Matt claims it said.

It does say that Israel was destroyed forever, and this is hyperbolic, but what is meant by "Israel" isn't clear here. It could mean every last Israelite, or it could mean the dominion of Israel over Moab. At any rate, I have no trouble conceding the hyperbolic nature of this line. But that's not the issue.

The issue is whether the use of the term herem is hyperbolic, and it clearly is not. The limited destruction of a city and all of its inhabitants is depicted as a sacrifice to Kemosh and the term herem is used to describe it. This is not the hyperbole that boasts of the destruction of the entire nation.

And that's the point. The text is not being hyperbolic when it describes the slaughter of women and children. It is obviously hyperbolic when it claims to have killed everyone in the whole land, but not when it claims to have put a city to the ban. As you yourself concede, the description of the slaughter of the entire city is the actual description. Thus, it's not hyperbolic where it counts (herem), and that vitiates Copan and Flannagan's claim that herem is hyperbolic. They are therefore not justified in their use of the Mesha Stele in support of their hyperbolic reading of herem.

Thom,
Thanks for your response. I'm agnostic on the topic, but think both sides offer some interesting points. Neither have convinced me yet though.

I was responding directly to your comments about the Mesha stele, and wasn't clear that you meant the Mesha stele not in general, but particularly in regards to herem. All that you said in your comment was:

Matt said: "Mesha for example boasts of totally annihilation Isreal as a nation so that it no longer existed."
No it doesn't. It says he destroyed an entire city (with 7,000 males plus women and children), not all of Israel.

Thus, I was showing that the text does say that Israel was destroyed forever. I would go further and say that the only way to take the passage is that it is referring to Israel "as a nation" as Matt said. Ahituv describes the phrase as, "a main clause with fronted subject for emphasis. Not only does Mesha' claim victory over the royal house of Ahab, but also over his nation, thus the fronting of 'Israel.'" He notes that it's a similar construction to Deut. 4:26 "that you shall utterly perish."

אבד of course is much stronger than herem since it denotes their total destruction and their are instances in ANE literature where herem means more to claim for a possession without any hope for redemption...but not necessarily total destruction, whereas abad is pretty clear.

It should be noted though, that although the language in the Mesha stele is characteristic of the activities of herem throughout, the term itself is only used in line 17 where it discusses the slewing of "seven thousand men and boys and women and girls and maidens because I had dedicated it to 'Ahstar-Kemosh." The singular suffix at the end of herem (once again the he 3ms suffix if you don't read Moabite) is interesting. What did he herem? The city in line 11? If so, why change gender? The text isn't clear.

I think your point in your most recent comment that the specific herem section was literally (or more literally) descripritive in line 17 is correct. Although, Wolterstorff and Matt's point concerning totalistic hyperbolic language in Hagiographic contexts is also correct. Also, I'm going to stick by my guns and claim that you were incorrect when you said, "No it doesn't" in response to Matt's claim that the stele boasts of Israel's total annihilation as a nation.

Kyle

My memory what Thom stated re the Mesha stele differs somewhat from his account in here.

As I remember it on his “Flannagan Delusion” thread when he made the claim about my misrepresentation I actually refered him to a online copy of the Stele, cited the line you noted and also provided a verbatim citation form Kitchen. Thom then told me the word destroy was a mistranslation and suggested it should be merely Isreal has been defeated.He insisted that the scholars I cited mistranslated the text. This is very different from his claim in here that he accepts the word as hyperbolic and that he was attacking my loose paraphrase.

Second, Thom’s new position is apparently that Copan, and I can’t use the Mesha stele with regards to herem because, it clearly is not hyperbole a claim Thom simply asserts.

The problem is it fails to address the actual argument I used and Paul used. In my original article I summarised the findings of Lawson Youngers study on ANE conquest account. Younger cited the mesha stele including the herem passage as one of several examples of ANE hyperbole and as evidence that the similar passages in Joshua are figurative ( see p 227-228) similarly in my dialogue with Ken when I referred to the Mesha stele I mentioned the study of T L Thomson who states “use of the ban at both Ataroth and Nebo are clearly part of the totalitarian rhetoric of holy war rather than historical considerations.” (Mesha and Questions of Historicity” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament Vol. 22, No. 2, 249) and Christopher Wright who stated “Now we need to know that Isreal’s practise of herem was not itself unique. Texts from other nations at the time show that total destruction was practised, or at any rate proudly claimed, elsewhere. But we must also recognise that the language of warfare had a total rhetoric that liked to make universal and absolute claims about total victory and wiping out the enemy. Such rhetoric often exceeded reality on the ground….”

Which suggests he also thinks herem in other ANE texts such as Mesha was hyperbolic.

So its not that I miscited the Mesha stele, I refered Thom to the actual line in question and argued on the basis of several secondary sources that it's hyperbolic.

In response to Ken’s apparent suggestion that contending "herem" is figurative shows a misunderstand of the meaning of the term. This misunderstanding appears fairly pervasive, not only are Lawson Younger, Thomson and Wright unable to understand this term and so is Kenneth Kitchen who argues its use in Joshua is hyperbole. Similarly, Duane Christensen, ( Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001),) argues that “totally destroy” the Canaanites “is to be read poetically.” Similarly JMcConville suggest herem is being used in a figurative sense (Deuteronomy (Leicester England ;Downers Grove Ill.: Apollos ;;InterVarsity Press, 2002), 161.), Ralph W Klein ( 1 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983). 150) also believes the pharse is used hyperbolically in 1 Samuel. James Hoffmeier also accepts the reference to herem is figurative in Joshua and accepts the findings of Younger's study (Isreal in Egypt p 42). I could be wrong but it seems to me that Ken’s confident suggestion about herem not being a term that can be used figuratively or hyperbolically is at best disputed by commentators.

Wow that Stark is tricky the way he cheated on Flannagan and pulled his blog entry and then changed his beliefs without letting on.

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