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A Supernatural War Criminal

A Supernatural War Criminal
by Dave E. Matson

God commands his people not to kill, steal or covet other people's property. Apparently, such protection does not apply to outsiders. Yahweh-God directs the Israelites to kill Canaanites and to steal land that the Israelites and their god covet. Under Yahweh's guidance the Israelites slaughter all the Canaanites in Hormah, Heshbon and Bashan (Numbers 21) in order to get their land. At Jericho, they massacre every man, woman, child and baby (Joshua 6:21) except the traitor Rahab and her household (who hid Joshua's spies). Even the donkeys got the sword. Similar slaughters occur at Ai (Joshua 8:25-27), Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir (Joshua 10) and Hazor (Joshua 11). According to the Bible, that is how the Israelites obtained their land.

Let us not forget about Moses and the rape of the Midianites (Numbers 31). Here, following God's instructions, Moses orders the Israelites to murder all men, women, children and babies. However, in this instance they were to keep the young virgin girls alive for their own pleasure: "But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves" (Numbers 31:18). Nice touch, huh? How did they know which teenage girls to rape and which to run through with the sword? Did Moses and his officials finger each and every one? "Okay, honey, just spread those legs and bend over," said the man of God with a sword in one hand!

Some apologists have the gall to suggest that these girls were not really raped, that they became "second wives." However, forced sex with girls who have just had their entire families murdered, who are not the least interested in their captors, is the moral equivalent of rape.

Here are God's instructions as to how an aggressive, holy war-criminal should conduct himself (Deuteronomy 20:10-17):

When you go to attack a city, first give its people a chance to surrender. If they open the gates and surrender, they are all to become your slaves and do forced labor for you. But if the people of that city will not surrender, but choose to fight, surround it with your army. Then, when the Lord your God lets you capture the city, kill every man in it. You may, however, take for yourselves the women, the children, the livestock, and everything else in the city. You may use everything that belongs to your enemies. The Lord has given it to you. That is how you are to deal with those cities that are far away from the land you will settle in.
But when you capture cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you, kill everyone. Completely destroy all the people: the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord ordered you
to do.
(Today's English Version:
Deuteronomy 20:10-17)

Genghis Khan would have approved.
The Bible actually gives a reason for the latter part of the above instruction, where all the people, including children and babies, are killed. It seems that poor, limited God is afraid that any survivors would "contaminate" his precious Israelites and win them over to foreign gods. He couldn't stand the competition, I guess. How children and babies might "contaminate" the chosen people is not made clear. One thing is very clear, however. By modern standards of morality, the above activities constitute war crimes of the first order.

Fundamentalist apologists tie themselves in knots trying to explain why none of the above constitutes immoral behavior. "If God does it, it must be okay," they speculate 3. God, no doubt, also supported the Spanish Inquisition and its torturing of victims. Is there anything that cannot be justified in the name of God? The working brain will have nothing to do with such drivel. It immediately recognizes that a moral god is totally incompatible with the above scenario. Common sense tells us that God, if he were truly powerful and good, could have selected any number of solutions superior to the wholesale slaughter given in the Bible. If you stop and think about it, I'm sure that you, too, could find some improvements on God's supposed solution.

On the brighter side, things may not have been that bad. Archaeological digs have destroyed the idea that Joshua just marched in and took over in a bloody conquest. Even the Bible (Judges) strongly contradicts that idea. It may surprise you to learn that the Canaanite civilization was quite advanced, and as far as language and religion went, they were very similar to the Israelites. The Bible tells us that Solomon hired artisans from Tyre (part of Canaan) to work on God's Temple, because they were able to do the metal-work and other artistic jobs that were beyond the reach of Israelite artisans.

Archaeological work at Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon indicates that its walls had been down 300 years before Joshua arrived on the scene. Joshua would have found, if that, a small, seasonal occupation on part of the site. There were no grand walls for him to knock down! There was no city to conquer! A number of cities in the Moses-Joshua tales have stubbornly refused to show any evidence of existence at the time of their "conquest." Ai, for example, was vacant when Joshua "conquered" it. Most likely, the Israelite take-over of Canaan was by slow settlement and assimilation. The supposed exodus from Egypt, if it ever occurred, involved only a handful of Israelites who left no evidence of their presence in the Sinai. The great majority of Israelites probably lived in Canaan, possibly as part of an outlying population that later became independent. William Stiebing, Jr. will give you a good feeling for the problems scientists and scholars have with the Exodus. Do read his book, Out of the Desert?, which was published by Prometheus Books in 1989.

3. The theologian has not demonstrated that God, in fact, has done these deeds. He or she is merely proposing that God did them because the Bible says so. However, if the Bible attributes questionable deeds to God, then it undermines its own credibility.
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