Genocide in Joshua (Part 1)

Genocide is charge often brought against the Bible by its critics. The destructive campaign in Canaan, they say, is evidence that the God of the Bible is nothing but a bloodthirsty god of war. Such a god is not worth our consideration or our worship since there can be no excuse for the disastrous war crimes perpetrated against the Canaanite people.

This attack is particularly impactful in our day and age due to the relatively recent genocide perpetrated against the Jews in the holocaust. Nazi Germany hunted down innocent Jews, stole their belongings, and systematically exterminated them. The holocaust is well known and widely accepted as one of the most evil campaigns perpetrated in the 20th century. It is the horrible event of the holocaust that colors our understanding of the term “genocide”. We think of a stronger and established nation targeting an innocent people for no reason other than their race and then systematically killing them with the ultimate goal of extermination. This understanding is perhaps reinforced with our description of the campaign as the invasion of Canaan by Israel. The language itself seems to imply some sort of race war. We can recognize that this is a valid issue to raise and that it is worthy of an answer from Christianity.

We should understand that this issue is an in-house issue. If one presumes that God does not exist, then the question of the conquest of Canaan becomes irrelevant. One ancient people group slaughtered another ancient people group. It may have been evil, but it does not matter. If one is going to say that this is a challenge to Christianity, then one has to make the claim that there is an internal contradiction in the Christian worldview (namely that it is contradictory to say that God is “good” and that God ordered the conquest of Canaan). It is for this reason that we should look at these events from the Christian perspective to see if there really is an internal inconsistency.

There are a number of concerns here worth addressing. First, we will see that the circumstances surrounding the conquest of Canaan were nothing like the circumstances surrounding the holocaust. We will see that the chief orchestrator of the conquest of Canaan (God) is not at all equivalent with the chief orchestrator of the holocaust (the Nazis). Finally, we will see that neither the holocaust nor the conquest of Canaan can pose a challenge to the existence of God.