Month: May 2015

How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples?

This is a baffling question which continues to trouble me whenever I read Deuteronomy and Joshua, no matter what explanations people come up with.  The November 2005 issue of Presbyterians Today, in the column “Troubling Texts in the Bible,” dealt with this very question.

This column is not available in its entirety online.  Obviously, I cannot copy the article here.  So I will summarize:

  1. In contrast to Yahweh’s (God’s) commandment not to murder–which Jesus Christ expands on by saying that even hating someone is akin to murder–we are told in the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua that Yahweh commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanite peoples–in many cases, even the small children and infants.
  2. But “biblical scholars generally agree” that these accounts were written long afterwards, during a time when Israel was disobedient to Yahweh’s commands (the time of King Josiah, according to The New Oxford Annotated Bible).
  3. Instead of being recorded as a human vow made in hopes of victory in battles, it is recorded as God’s command to get idolatry out of the land.  So the text unintentionally becomes a lesson for us on what can happen when we try to justify killing for our own purposes.

The Jewish Study Bible (edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler) agrees that much of Deuteronomy was probably written during the time of King Josiah, and considers the genocide commands to be “an after-the-fact literary compilation rather than an historical portrayal.”

This is because of major variations in how the Canaanite peoples were listed and numbered, the use of the symbolic number 7 (completion or totality), variations in numbers of peoples listed depending on where in the Bible you look, and the fact that the genocide was not carried out except in “very limited areas.”

The law of the ban, or genocide command,

first arose centuries after the settlement; it was never implemented because there was no population extant against whom it could be implemented.  Its polemic is directed at internal issues in 6th century Judah.  Often the authors of Deuteronomy use the term ‘Canaanite’ rhetorically to stigmatize older forms of Israelite religion that they no longer accept (p. 382-383).

Another explanation put forth recently by archaeologists or scholars is that these stories were actually rumors spread around by the Israelites to keep the surrounding nations from messing with them.  Somehow, they made it into Holy Writ.

This article provides citations for this, stating that most modern scholars agree the stories of genocide are “exaggerated, fictional, or metaphorical.”  This is the explanation I most hope to be true–while noting that it is also most likely to be true.

Of course, to accept such explanations, we also have to believe the Bible is true, but not always historically or scientifically accurate.  This belief is supported not only by moderate and liberal denominations such as the PCUSA, but also by the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

According to Scripture scholar Raymond Brown, the awareness of these so-called historical errors moved the Church at Vatican II to teach that the Bible is free from error only in matters of faith and morals and not in matters of history and science (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1169).

Brown supports this claim by appealing to section 11 of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), which reads, “we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”

The phrase “for the sake of our salvation” is the key reference used to argue that only those things needed for our salvation (i.e., faith and morals) and not history and science, are free from error. –Karlo Broussard, Is Everything in the Bible True?


[Genesis] has nothing to say, for or against, the theory of evolution. Its true lessons are located elsewhere. –Fr. Lawrence Farley (Orthodox), Evolution or Creation Science?


The fundamentalist approach is ideological in that it is inclined to defend an absolute position of the plenary inspiration, propositional revelation, and total inerrancy of Scripture regarding all truth–scientific, historical, and theological–beyond the claims and evidence of Scripture itself.

While the intent to uphold the authority of Scripture is commendable, the extremes to which it has led, including a kind of intellectual sophistry and fanaticism, are indefensible. –Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, Scripture, Tradition, Hermeneutics

Another option is to look at these passages from a Jewish perspective I was fortunate enough to receive:

  • The Israelites did not have the option of peaceful coexistence, because the surrounding peoples were ready to destroy them.
  • The commandments were not meant to be taken literally, and in fact were not.
  • The written Torah was limiting; an oral tradition was passed down from God to Moses to Moses’ successors to rabbis.  This tradition helped to interpret the Torah properly.  The written Torah was not always to be taken literally.
  • The Israelites did not destroy everyone, they often fell into idolatry from the influence of the surrounding peoples (with whom they intermarried), and eventually ten tribes were expelled from Israel, never to be seen again.

Others have also noted that, if the Israelites kept the young children and babies alive, those children could grow up to destroy the Israelites out of revenge for their parents.

It’s a tough part of the Bible to deal with, but needs to be viewed from all angles, not just accepted or discarded without care.

Written between probably 2005 and 2006

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

My First SCA Event–College Memoirs: Life At Roanoke–March 1995, Part 12

On Friday, March 24, Cugan drove me far away to a place about an hour away from Stevens Point, where March Haire Affaire was held.  This may have been Wisconsin Rapids or Marshfield.

We stayed, or “crashed,” at a house with a friendly couple, at least ten or twenty years older than us, with a dog or two, three or four cats that loved me, and pet hair all over the house, even on the towels.  I decided to never have that many pets, because of all the hair.

On the morning of the 25th, I parted my hair in the middle because that seemed more medieval.  I hadn’t done this for several years, and liked doing it again so well that I began to part it in the middle for months afterward.

Middle parts, which seemed to vanish in the 80s in the backlash against all things 70s and hippie, came back into fashion in the late 80s or early 90s.  Nowadays, nobody cares where you part your hair.

But when I had “hippie hair” in high school, one day I looked around and wondered why nobody else had a middle part.  I felt terribly out of fashion, so I tried parting it differently.

I didn’t have my own garb, so Cugan let me borrow some of his.  I wore a white shirt and huge, green “horde” pants.  Cugan tied the legs up with leather thongs, but I felt like I was drowning in the clothes, which were much too big for me and very hot.  I may have worn my own black dress shoes.

I laughed at the absurdity of this costume on me.  Cugan gave me his cape to wear outside, since it was only March and still cold.  We drove about an hour to the event, which was held in a school.

We went into one large room full of merchants’ goods: veils, headdresses, clothing, jewelry, everything a person might need at a non-camping event.  This spoiled me, because for a while I thought every event was like this, and that if I couldn’t afford something this time, I could get it the next.

I found a green, embroidered dress which went over an off-white undertunic.   Cugan said the color looked wonderful on me, and the woman selling the clothes said she could alter them if necessary.

But the size was medium, and when I went into a bathroom and tried them on, they fit me perfectly.  Some of the undertunic showed, but one of the women there told me it was supposed to, unlike a modern slip.

This dress was much cooler and more comfortable.  I went back into the merchant room and showed Cugan, who was amazed.  He even told his fellow shire-mate Donato how amazing it was.

I had no idea at the time that finding perfectly-fitting garb at your first event, and for only about $25, was highly unusual.  Most events don’t have merchants selling full sets of garb.

We then found a metal link chain that looked like gold, and this became my belt.  (I tried wearing it as a necklace, but somebody told me only knights did that.)  I think Cugan also lent me one of his leather pouches.

Ayesha and her husband Donato were both there–and surprised to see me with Cugan.  I don’t think Catherine came.  Cevante also saw me, and hugged me with glee.  I hoped she noticed I was there with Cugan.

As a shy person surrounded by strangers, these familiar faces were welcome.

I think Donato even offered us Coke in cans.  He was selling yarn slipcovers for pop cans, which he made himself and (as I later discovered) he usually sold at events.  They made your pop can look “period,” or like you belonged to the time period the SCA covered: about 600 to 1600 AD (the dates are subject to debate).

(When Cugan and I got married both in real life and then in an informal SCA wedding, Donato gave me a cover with the letter “N” for Nyssa, and Cugan a cover with the letter “C” for Cugan.)

Some of Cugan’s friends from outside the shire, such as from Appleton’s Windhaven, showed up.  Cugan introduced me to them as his lady, and one of them, probably Clyde, said “Oh!” and kissed my hand.

I must have smiled all day.  I was never bored, and had lots of fun.  At one point, Cugan and I went into the foyer and played pente at the tables set up there.

I always thought this was a medieval game, but Wikipedia says it was invented in 1977.  It’s sort of like checkers, except any number of people can play.  Each player has a set of glass beads in a particular color; you move them around and capture other beads, on a cloth mat with a grid.

Cugan and I played against another couple for a while.  Cugan was red, and I think I was blue or green.  I think we were all beginners.

I won the most games, and was finally matched up against three guys from the other tables who also won most of their games.

One of these was Clyde, who cracked lots of jokes as we played.  One in particular I wish I could remember, because it became a catch phrase; I think it was a line from a song.  One of the guys there seemed cocky, so I hoped he wouldn’t win.

I came in second place at this game, making me nearly the pente champion.

Because of this–coming in as a “newbie,” finding the perfect garb right off, nearly winning at pente, and stealing away Cugan’s heart–I told Brad in a letter that I felt like a cheekish, charmed upstart.

(By the way, it was so sad to have to tell Brad I chose another guy.  Why couldn’t all these guys have shown up sooner?  I could have had a chance to date each one of them.  Maybe I would have had better experiences in college than I had with Peter, Shawn and Phil.  Or maybe I would have had guys to fill up my long “love droughts.”)

I also met Master John Wagner, Cugan’s mentor when he was a newbie.  John was a remarkable man: tall, handsome, 30ish, but no eyes or hands due to being stupid with dynamite when he was about 11 or 12–

–yet able to get around and weave beautiful patterns through touch.

The skin of his forearms was clipped so that he could use the bones as two-fingered hands.  If he greatly honored you by asking you to hold onto the edge of his huge staff and lead him, you could also meet all sorts of people who knew and loved him.  He was so well-liked and respected that if he didn’t like someone, that was quite an indictment.  (He met our shire’s sociopath, described here, and found him “slimy.”)

When Cugan and I crashed at his apartment once, John led me through the hallways.  He was immensely capable.

Unfortunately, he died young, in 2012.  His obituary is up permanently, here.

We sat at a table in the merchant room for a while, with Master John and a man dressed as an Arab.  Once, Cugan turned his head down while talking, and John asked him why.

Cugan, shocked, wondered how the heck John could have known he was looking down.  It didn’t shock me, because I noticed in childhood how the sound of a person’s voice changes depending on how he turns his head and the proximity of a table.

To Cugan, however, John seemed to see without eyes.

Fighting–a bunch of guys and even a young woman in makeshift armor beating on each other with rattan sticks covered in duct tape–was in the gym, but I didn’t want to watch.

That evening, we sat feast in the same room the merchants had used, which may have been a cafeteria.  Along one side was a cardboard? castle for the kids to play in.

There were several different “removes,” or courses, and the meat remove alone included at least two different kinds of already cold chicken.

Cugan’s feast gear had strange-looking three-pronged forks.  I loved eating off wooden plates and bowls and drinking from a wooden or pewter? goblet.  I wasn’t too crazy about most of the food, except for the bread and the custard, which Master John loved.

There was also a naming contest for the mascot, a winged-rabbit puppet.  There were several winged stuffed animals, including cats, at one of the merchant tables; Cugan bought a few.

Cugan won the contest with “Arfur of the Round Tail.”  I think the “Round Tail” idea came from me.  I thought it terribly corny, but he won, and got to keep the puppet, which he later dressed in its own garb.

He also won or bought a stuffed rabbit, which I think he called Lancelot, and also dressed in its own garb.  Winning Arfur made him very happy.  A guy who liked stuffed animals?  What a find!

Outside at his car, I told Cugan he looked good in garb, which he did.  He wore a brown pirate shirt with huge, black “horde” pants, a black tunic-like vest tied with a belt, and black leather boots, which kept him from tripping in the pants.

No one else was at the crash spot when we got back there, so we started to watch Dragonslayer in the living room.  But Cugan was too tired.  As long as we did watch, however, we still wore our garb.  I didn’t want to change because my dress was comfortable, and it was fun to dress like I’d stepped out of the Middle Ages.  In fact, years before I watched Dragonslayer and longed to wear those dresses.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: