On The Historicity And Morality Of The Canaanite Conquests (Part 1 Of 2)

  • Discussion:
          -James Bishop created a series of posts explaining what he thinks is problematic with traditional defenses of God commanding the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. This two part series attempts to show that a number of those objections do not hold water when put under scrutiny. Following are a few excerpts from the author along with a critique: 

          "...Wesley Morriston agrees writing that there “is nothing uniquely “Canaanite” about them. All, or nearly all, of these practices—from sexual intercourse during a woman’s menstrual period to homosexual behavior to bestiality—are still common. Is there any real reason to believe that these things were more common among the Canaanites in the ancient world?”

          Some cultures in the ancient world were worse than others. It is not even claimed that Canaanite culture was the worst that ever existed. There are other instances in the Old Testament of societies that were destroyed by God because of their sin (Genesis 19). 

          Genesis 15:16 refers to a point of wickedness at which God has no other choice but to act in judgement. His patience with perverse people wanes according to the degree of their perversity. These people had four hundred years to repent. The real wonder is why God gave them so much time to do so. He does not owe human beings anything.

          "More likely it is that the biblical authors are deliberately depicting their Canaanite enemies in a negative light, thus portraying them in a way that is not entirely fair. One should remember that the Israelites were the supposed exterminators of the Canaanites and we only have their testimony bearing witness to the Canaanites themselves. We have to rely on the killers of the Canaanites to learn about the Canaanites."

          This is not likely given that Jewish culture taught heavily against lying (Exodus 20:16; Psalm 101:7; Proverbs 12:22; Hosea 4:2). The Old Testament contains warnings against modifying the substance of its message (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6), which suggests that honest people wrote it.

          Even if we have only one side of an event presented by a source, that does not necessarily make it untrue or untrustworthy.

          "Evidence of the Canaanite culture, beliefs, and practices appear to leave out much of what the biblical authors say about them. This suggests that the biblical authors had limited knowledge of the Canaanites. For instance, translations of the Ugaritic texts do not suggest the Canaanites being a particularly “debauched” or “cruel” culture (unless one sees the common ancient practice of animal sacrifice as cruel)."

          Archaeological discoveries may be helpful in shedding light on more obscure parts of the Old Testament, but the insight that they provide is limited. How can we be sure that the Ugaritic texts provide us a full picture as to how the Palestinian world was? 

          The biblical authors should not be dismissed on a priori basis until proven correct. It is much more likely that our, not their, knowledge of the Canaanites is limited. The biblical authors were alive thousands of years before us. They would be better suited to speak to these matters than us.

          There could have been other documents further supporting the description of the Canaanites as found in the Old Testament that have since perished. We do not have even a fraction of literature produced from that time period.

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