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The Annihilation of the Canaanites Reassessing the Brutality of the Biblical Witnesses Markus Zehnder The Annihilation of the Canaanites Reassessing the Brutality of the Biblical Witnesses Markus Zehnder

1. Introduction n It is often taken for granted that Joshua and some passages 1. Introduction n It is often taken for granted that Joshua and some passages in the Pentateuch, especially parts of Deuterononmy 7 and 20, condone or command a ‘genocidal’ attitude towards the pre-Israelite inhabitants of the promised land, or a kind of ‘ethnic cleansing’, with both YHWH and the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership assuming an active role in the murderous plot. 2

1. Introduction n Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 280: The ethnic cleansing begun 1. Introduction n Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 280: The ethnic cleansing begun in the time of Moses is brought to bloody fruition in the book of Joshua, a text remarkable for the bloodthirsty massacres it records and the xenophobic relish with which it does so. p. 292: Joshua‘s action [i. e. the killing of the Canaanites] was a deed of barbaric genocide. 3

1. Introduction n n The term ‘genocidal’ is in itself problematic, since its exact 1. Introduction n n The term ‘genocidal’ is in itself problematic, since its exact delimitation is disputed and many different definitions are found both in the judicial, political, and scholarly arenas. A useful definition: 4

1. Introduction n n n ‘Genocide’ is an attempt to the complete violent annihilation 1. Introduction n n n ‘Genocide’ is an attempt to the complete violent annihilation of all members of a defenseless religious or ethnic group, in a context that is in principle independent of a previous warlike conflict, fully initiated by the perpetrators, in a premeditated systematic manner, unprovoked by specific actions of the opponents previously targeted at the perpetrators, and directed at each individual of the opposing group disregarding his or her personal attitudes. 5

1. Introduction n The basic issue, however, is not dependent on an agreed understanding 1. Introduction n The basic issue, however, is not dependent on an agreed understanding of the exact definition of the term ‘genocide’. Rather, it has to do with the more general question of how brutal or violent the conquest should be or was according to the biblical sources, and how the character of this violence can be assessed in the context of these sources and the broader culture of the ancient Near East in general. 6

1. Introduction n n Thesis: A ‘genocidal’ reading of the biblical texts dealing with 1. Introduction n n Thesis: A ‘genocidal’ reading of the biblical texts dealing with the conquest of Canaan is. . . 7

 Wrong well, at least until someone comes up with a better explanation. 8 Wrong well, at least until someone comes up with a better explanation. 8

2. The corpus of relevant texts n n n n The main relevant texts 2. The corpus of relevant texts n n n n The main relevant texts embedded in the legal collections of the Torah dealing with the Israelites’ attitude towards the peoples living in the promised land are the following: Exod. 23 -33 Exod. 34. 11 -16, 24 Num. 33. 52 -56 Deut. 7. 1 -5, 16 -26 Deut. 20. 1 -20 As far as reports of (the beginning of) the occupation of the promised land are concerned, the books of Joshua and Judges have to be taken into consideration. 9

3. What is YHWH expected to do? n 3. 1. Lethal violence? n Only 3. What is YHWH expected to do? n 3. 1. Lethal violence? n Only one potential candidate! Exodus 23. 23: khd (hif’il) Some supernatural blow that YHWH is going to strike against the Canaanites to break their resistance. It includes a clear element of violence, but not on a genocidal scale. n n 10

3. What is YHWH expected to do? n n n 3. 2. Non-lethal actions 3. What is YHWH expected to do? n n n 3. 2. Non-lethal actions The main role of YHWH is described with the verb ntn (give), followed by different kinds of direct objects. The respective texts expect YHWH to be active in the process of the occupation of the promised land by delivering the Canaanites or their land into the hands of the Israelites. 11

3. What is YHWH expected to do? n n All texts agree that YHWH’s 3. What is YHWH expected to do? n n All texts agree that YHWH’s delivery of the enemy is the foundational act on which the Israelites will build. All subsequent actions wrought by the Israelites are based on YHWH’s preceding act of ‘giving’. The conquest, therefore, in all its warlike ramifications, is ultimately not a project that is based on independent human decision making. 12

3. What is YHWH expected to do? n n The main focus, besides the 3. What is YHWH expected to do? n n The main focus, besides the element of ‘giving’, lies on the expulsion of the pre. Israelite inhabitants of the promised land. In Exod. 23 -33 (and Deut. 9. 1 -6) it is YHWH and not Israel who plays the most important role in the occupation of the land. Elements of brutality are absent, and the whole stress lies on the expulsion of the Canaanites, not their extermination. 13

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n 4. 1. Lethal violence? 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n 4. 1. Lethal violence? Outside the deuteronomic texts: Nothing, rien, niets! 14

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n n The picture is 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n n The picture is more violent in Deuteronomy. Deut. 7. 2: The combination of hrm (‘ban’) with nkh (‘strike’) and lo‘ hnn (‘not pity’) makes an interpretation that points in the direction of extermination highly plausible. 15

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n The commandment to ‘ban’ (hrm, 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n The commandment to ‘ban’ (hrm, hif’il) the inhabitants of Canaan is also found in Deut. 20. 17. The preceding verse states that the Israelites must not leave alive anything that breathes. This phrase can hardly be interpreted in any other way than as aiming at the annihilation of the inhabitants of the cities that are in view, together with their livestock. 16

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n On the other hand, it 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n On the other hand, it is important to note that there is no general commandment in Deuteronomy 20 to go to war against the Canaanites in general or their cities in particular; rather, the chapter opens with a circumstancial phrase ‘when you go to war’. 17

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n It goes generally unnoticed that 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n It goes generally unnoticed that the commandment found in Deut. 20. 16 -17 only concerns cities, not the land of Canaan and its population at large. 18

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n Perhaps Deuteronomy 20 makes 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n Perhaps Deuteronomy 20 makes explicit what is assumed implicitly in Deut. 7. 2: The ban relates to the inhabitants of the cities, not to the Canaanite population in general. For those not living in the cities, the prohibition not to enter in any type of covenantal or marital relationship applies. 19

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n This squares well with the 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n This squares well with the observation that all instances in the books of Joshua that speak about the Israelites’ ban of the Canaanites are related to cities, with the exception of the generalizing summary in Josh. 10. 40 and the unspecific theological comment in Josh. 11. 20. 20

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n Deut. 7. 24 contains a 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n Deut. 7. 24 contains a commandment to make the name of the Canaanite kings perish from under the heavens. Since only the kings are in view in Deut. 7. 24, any genocidal scope is missing. 21

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n n Summary: The rhetoric 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n n Summary: The rhetoric of (potentially) lethal violence is limited to Deuteronomy, and with one possible exception (Deut. 7. 2) limited even within Deuteronomy to specific targets. One can, then, clearly not speak of a broad current of (potentially) genocidal commandments in the Torah. Statistically, extermination rhetoric is a peripheral element. However, it is not totally absent either. 22

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n n 4. 2. Non-lethal 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n n 4. 2. Non-lethal actions Basically three categories: - no covenantal or marital relations; - expulsion of the Canaanites; - destruction of the Canaanites’ cult objects. 23

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n Expulsion of the Canaanites 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n n Expulsion of the Canaanites plays an important role in the description of the Israelites’ activities related to the occupation of the promised land. The main responsibility of the Israelites is the abstinence from any covenant with the Canaanites and, especially, the destruction of all Canaanite cultic objects and installations; their violence must be directed first and foremost against these specific material targets, not against human beings. 24

4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n The prohibition against closer relations 4. What are the Israelites expected to do? n The prohibition against closer relations with the Canaanites casts serious doubt on a rigid genodical interpretation of the commandments, since a general / sweeping extermination of the Canaanites would render such an admonition redundant. 25

5. The combination of lethal and non-lethal terms in Deuteronomy n n In Deuteronomy 5. The combination of lethal and non-lethal terms in Deuteronomy n n In Deuteronomy 7, the potentially most violent chapter, phrases expressing extermination and phrases expressing expulsion are mixed. The commandment to ‘ban’ the Canaanites in Deut. 7. 2 is preceded by the phrase that YHWH will expel them (Deut. 7. 1) and followed by the prohibition not to enter into covenant or marriage relationship with the Canaanites (Deut. 7. 2 -3), obviously presupposing the continued existence of some of them. 26

5. The combination of lethal and non-lethal terms in Deuteronomy 7. 20 also presupposes 5. The combination of lethal and non-lethal terms in Deuteronomy 7. 20 also presupposes the continued existence of some Canaanites in the land, and this expectation is not combined with a command to search them and hunt them down. 27

5. The combination of lethal and non-lethal terms in Deuteronomy n n This means 5. The combination of lethal and non-lethal terms in Deuteronomy n n This means that even the book of Deuteronomy, and within Deuteronomy even chapters 7 and 20, do not envision a complete and wholesale extermination of the Canaanites. What is in view is first and foremost the expulsion of the Canaanites. Commandments to execute the ban are specifically directed at the leaders of the Canaanites and the Canaanite cities, that is, the defenders and strongholds of the Canaanite political and cultural identity. 28

6. The main motivation: prevention of inducement to apostasy n All the relevant passages 6. The main motivation: prevention of inducement to apostasy n All the relevant passages point to the danger which a coexistence between Israelites and pagan Canaanites would pose to the formers’ religious integrity: Remaining pagan Canaanites would be a ‘snare’ for the Israelites by inducing them to abandon their exclusive loyalty to YHWH and embrace Canaanite religion and serve other gods; see Exod. 23. 33; 34. 12; Num. 33. 55; Deut. 7. 16. 29

6. The main motivation: prevention of inducement to apostasy n On the other hand, 6. The main motivation: prevention of inducement to apostasy n On the other hand, ethnic denigration of the Canaanites is not found, nor is an insatiable lust for conquest for booty’s sake or the like visible. 30

6. The main motivation: prevention of inducement to apostasy n n The weight given 6. The main motivation: prevention of inducement to apostasy n n The weight given to the motif of religious integrity can be interpreted as carrying with it an implicit message: If the Canaanites do not pose a danger to the Israelites’ loyalty to YHWH, the main reason for their expulsion or destruction disappears, paving the way for a conditional reading of the commandment to expel or destroy the Canaanites: Only if the Canaanites persist in their religious abominations must any forms of closer connections with them be excluded. 31

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n 7. 1. YHWH’s activities 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n 7. 1. YHWH’s activities YHWH’s activity consists mainly in his ‘giving’, his assistance in the Israelites’ battles and in the expulsion of the Canaanites. 32

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n 7. 2. The Israelites’ 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n 7. 2. The Israelites’ activities in the book of Joshua The verbs nkh and hrm reappear. The first attestation of the verb hrm (hif’il) in the book of Joshua is found in Josh. 2. 10, with reference to Sihon’s and Og’s defeat at the hands of the Israelites. Since the reports in Numbers 21 and Deut. 2. 24 ff. referring to these incidences do not speak of an unconditional war of extermination, but rather of a conventional quarrel escalating into a war that was neither planned nor provoked by the Israelites themselves, genocidal 33 connotations are absent.

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n The root hrm (ban) is 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n The root hrm (ban) is also found in Josh. 6. 17, 18, 21, with respect to the conquest of Jericho. On the one hand, this incident is clearly associated with the notion of extermination, in the context of a war unprovoked by Israel’s opponents. 34

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n On the other hand, 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n On the other hand, it must be noted that Rahab and her house, because of her pro-Israelite action and her confession of the God of Israel, are spared. There is also a hint at the closing of Jericho’s gates in Josh. 6. 1, carrying an implicit message: The inhabitants of Jericho first decided not to submit to the Israelites, and only afterwards is the city destroyed. Both observations speak against a genocidal interpretation of the conquest of Jericho. 35

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n The description of the paralyzation of 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n The description of the paralyzation of the Canaanites’ hearts in Josh. 2. 9, 11 (with respect to Jericho) and in Josh 5. 1 (with respect to Canaan as a whole) as well as the description of the Gibeonites’ attitude in Josh. 9. 3 -11 may point the same way: The inhabitants of Jericho and of Canaan in general were well aware of the Israelites’ move and therefore in a position to decide beforehand how to react to their advance. They did have an option to avoid the risk of being put under the ban by positively acknowledging YHWH’s plans and submitting to the Israelites or by fleeing and leaving the country of which they knew it to be the Israelites’ destination, but – with the exception of Rahab and the Gibeonites - chose otherwise. 36

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n The motif of the 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n The motif of the ban appears most frequently in Joshua 10 and 11. In order to understand the implications of the term, it is necessary to take the broader context of events into consideration: In Joshau 10, it is a coalition of five kings, led by Adoni-Zedeq of Jerusalem, who initiate the war. The Israelites only go to war because they are summoned for assitance by the Gibeonites. In the passage Josh. 10. 28 -39 we find the repeated mention of several cities that were banned (hrm, hif’il) -> cities only. 37

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n The situation in Joshua 11 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n The situation in Joshua 11 is similar to the one in chapter 10: In Joshua 11, it is a coalition of kings of the northern part of Canaan who take the initiative to fight against the Israelites (see Josh. 11. 5). Thus, the fight of the Israelites against the Canaanites is a defensive war. 38

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n The remarks in Josh. 11. 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n The remarks in Josh. 11. 12, 15 (‚as YHWH had commanded‘) are important, since they show that hrm is nothing that can be imposed at will, but is fully dependent on God’s decree. It is also clear again that the ban is aimed at cities and their kings only. 39

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n Josh. 11. 19 points 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n Josh. 11. 19 points out that there was not a single city of the Canaanites that made peace with Israel, implicitly holding that making peace would have been a possibility! Joshua 11. 20 goes on to state that YHWH hardened the heart of the Canaanites, so that they would be banned. According to this text, then, the command to kill the Canaanites is conditional, and the fact that killing took place has nothing to do with genocidal intentions on the side of the Israelites, but with the decision of the Canaanites, which in turn is explained by God’s own steering. 40

7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n All these observations concerning 7. From legal passages to conquest reports n n n All these observations concerning Joshua 10 -11 do not support a genocidal reading of the texts concerning the conquest of Canaan. With the possible exception of Jericho and Ai, it is tendencially only those who take the initiative to go to war against the Israelites who experience the ban. Even those peoples who are mentioned as victims of the ban would have had other options than going to war against Israel and running the risk of being exterminated. 41

8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n 8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n n Deuteronomy 13. 16 speaks about the application of the ban (hrm) to an Israelite city in a way that is reminiscent of Deut. 7. 2. There a number of additional lexical links between the two chapters that bind the two texts together. 42

8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n 8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n n n The close connections between Deuteronomy 13 and Deuteronomy 7 shed light on the concept of the ban in Deuteronomy 7 (and 20): The context of cultic aberration by worshipping other gods is underlined. The parallels between the two texts may even be taken further: It is those who instigate the people of YHWH to apostasy who must be annihilated, be they foreigners or Israelites. 43

8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n 8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n This seems to imply that one of the main reasons why the Canaanites must be eliminated is the certainty of their vile intentions to lure the Israelites away from YHWH. 44

8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n 8. The use of the term hrm in its broader context: Deuteronomy 13 n n It also becomes clear – in accordance with the events reported in Joshua 7 – that the ban is not an institution directed at non-Israelites based on ethnic discrimination, since it affects not only Canaanites, but indeed Israelites as well. The applicability of the ban against fellow Israelites contributes to render the label ‘genocidal’ problematic, since a genocide is usually not directed at members of the in-group, even if their behaviour is at odds with the expectations of the mainstream of the respective group. 45

9. The wider context n a) Leviticus 18. 28, according to which the Israelites 9. The wider context n a) Leviticus 18. 28, according to which the Israelites will be vomited out by the land as it happened to the Canaanites before them if they defile the land as the Canaanites had done, in combination with the description of the defeat of Israel and Judah with the ensuing deportation of more or less large segments of the population into exile as found particularly in the books of 2 Kings, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, shows that mass expulsion and not annihilation is seen as the fate that came down on the Canaanites. It is unlikely that Deuteronomy and Joshua differ substantially from this view. 46

9. The wider context n b) There is an important element of silence that 9. The wider context n b) There is an important element of silence that connects the legal passages with the reports of the conquest: In neither case do we find a negation of the human character of the opponents, a claim that the Canaanites are only animals, demons, or the like, as is often the case in contexts of genocide. ¡ n As opposed to what can be found often then and now! Nor is there any sign of God or the Israelites taking any pleasure in the killing of the enemies. 47