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Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites - Page 5

(8) Precedent-setting?

Rauser raises questions about the killing of the Canaanites as setting a negative, brutal precedent for the nation of Israel. As a general response, one could cite Goldingay here: "the fate of the Canaanites is about as illuminating a starting point for understanding First Testament ethics as Gen 22 [Abraham's binding of Isaac] would be for an understanding of the family."[59] 

Here I would affirm Buijs's nuanced discussion of the alleged harm of religion. He makes the salient distinctions asking whether "religion is indeed the cause?or even a cause?of harmful acts" and whether "religion is exclusively harmful or at least more harmful than beneficial in its individual and social consequences."[60] 

Beyond this, let me offer two more specific responses.

First, the killing of the Canaanites was sui generis, limited to this particular period of time of Joshua and shortly thereafter, after whose time Israel's warranted battles ("Yahweh wars") were defensive. That the (rhetorical) language of obliteration was not intended to be precedent-setting is clear from Deuteronomy 20, which applies herem to cities in the land (20:16?18)?not cities far away. In the former case, we are not talking about genocide or ethnic cleansing, but a kind of corporate capital punishment that was deliberately limited in scope and restricted to a specific period of time. Was Israel's warfare in Canaan precedent-setting? In Goldingay's words, "Saul does not seek to devote the Philistines and David does not seek to devote the surrounding peoples whom he did conquer. Neither Ephraim nor Judah took on Assyria, Babylon, Persia, or the local equivalents of the Canaanites in the Second Temple period." He adds that Deuteronomy and Joshua do not set a pattern that "invites later Israel to follow, or that later Israel does follow."[61] 

Second, what is puzzling is that professing Christians (during the Crusades, for instance) inspired by the killing of the Canaanites to justify their actions completely ignored Jesus's own kingdom teaching.[62]  Yet Jesus had informed Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would be fighting" (John 18:36). Again, "all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52). On the other hand, we can confidently say that, precisely because of their commitment to Christ's kingdom not being of this world, the Amish and Mennonite people would most certainly not appeal to Canaanite-killing passages to engage in atrocities. The difference is that some professing Christians are far more obviously consistent in applying Jesus's teaching than others. Buijs's point that we ought to distinguish the "revelatory root of religion" from "its human appropriation in a religious tradition" is well-taken.[63] 

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