Rhetoric and Racism


E.B. White once wrote upon the “the mystique of language”, the beauty of well-crafted sentences, the “ah-ha” that cannot be reformed. Sentences such as “These are the times that try men’s souls,” that cannot find the same meaning and the same force and the same beauty in any other form but that which was discovered by Thomas Paine.

I have tried to explain this in so many ways and on so many occasions, but, alas, it is like explaining to someone the joy of eating hot apple pie and vanilla ice cream. It is found on the corner of a couch listening to a friend play a popular piano piece and  realizing that music is language. It has all the features of being hobbled together or being refined to a point, it can express and it can confuse. And so I have tried to do what I believe is simplest: to ask for you to try a bit of apple pie and vanilla ice cream for yourself.

I’ve tried to color what I can, but, as with any endeavor, much is left out and left inexpressible. The uniformity of metaphor, the continuity of key words, the rhythm of expression. The best I can do to illustrate the problem is to suggest you imagine a point, any point. And imagine a line transposed across that point, and allow us to call that line Philosophy. Now imagine another line, just as vast but also just as limited, intersecting the same point – allow us to call that Physics. Imagine another line, Theology. Another, Chemistry. Mathematics. Music. And imagine a line for each and every subject, and the number of intersections for each and every point.  You can never begin to capture it all at once, but it all can be understood individually and in layers. My endeavor is to attempt to answer the question, “Why do we enjoy language?” It is not merely enough to say that we use it, as we use a wrench to break open a vault, but use it as flourishes and flowers, to woo and to worship, to create and to consume. It transgresses the practical towards the poetical. And I hope this coloring is a small candle-light into a vast subject we have all come to call Rhetoric.

An Excerpt from W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folks

Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked(1) question: unasked(1) by some(2) through feelings of delicacy; by others(2) through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All(2), nevertheless, flutter around it. They approach me in a h(3)alf-h(3)esitant sort of way, eye me c(4)uriously(5) or c(4)ompassionately(5), and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your b(6)lood b(6)oil? At these I smile, or(7) am interested, or(7) reduced the boil to a simmer(8), as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.

(1) Emphasis through repetition
(2) Progression from some, others, all
(3) Emphasis on ‘h’
(4) Emphasis on ‘c’
(5) Emphasis on ‘ly’

(6) Emphasis on ‘b’
(7) Three segments connected by two ‘or’
(8) Unified metaphor

And yet, being a problem(1) is a strange experience, – peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the s(2)hadow s(2)wept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a w(3)ee w(3)ooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous vising-cards – ten cents a package- and exchange(4). The exchange(4) was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused(5) my card,- refused(5) it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a c(6)ertain s(6)uddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and(7) life and(7) longing(8), but shut out from their world by a v(9)ast v(9)eil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in c(10)ommon c(10)ontempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky(11) and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest(11) when I could beat(12) my mates at examination-time(13), or beat(14) them at a foot-race(13), or even beat(14) their stringy heads(13). Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest fromm them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by(15) reading(16) law(17), by(15) healing(16) the sick(17), by(15) telling(16) the wonderful tales that swam in my head(17),-some way. With other b(18)lack b(18)oys the strife was not so fiercely sunny(19): their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy(19), or into silent hatred(19) of the pale world(19) about them and mocking distrust(19) of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry(19), Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls s(20)trait and s(20)tubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable(21) to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation(21), or(22) beat unavailing palms against the stone(21), or(22) steadily(23), h(24)alf h(24)opelessly(23)(21), watch the streak of blue above.

(1) Emphasis from prior paragraph
(2) Emphasis on ‘s’

(3) Emphasis on ‘w’
(4) Emphasis through repetition
(5) Emphasis through repetition
(6) Emphasis on ‘s’ sound
(7) Triplet connected by two ‘and’
(8) Emphasis through repetition
(9) Emphasis on ‘v’

(10) Emphasis on ‘c’
(11) Emphasis through repetition
(12) Each one of the triplet is short than the previous
(13) Emphasis through [loose] repetition
(14) Emphasis through repetition

(15) Each one of the triplet is longer than the previous
(16) Emphasis on ‘b’
(17) Triple Couplets of adjective/noun
(18) Emphasis on ‘s’
(19) Emphasis on ‘ing’
(20) Single word Triplet

(21) Phrase Triplet
(22) Emphasis through repetition
(23)Emphasis on ‘-ly’
(24) Emphasis on ‘h’

After the(1) Egyptian and(2) Indian(3), the(1) Greek and(1) Roman(3), the(1) Teuton and(1) Mongolian(3), the Negro(4) is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with s(5)econd-s(5)ight in this American world(6),- a world(6) which yields him(7) no true self-consciousness, but only lets him(7) see him(7)self through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one‘s(8)(9) s(8)elf through the eyes of others, of measuring one‘s(8)(9) s(8)oul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two(10)-ness,- an American, a Negro; two(10) souls(11, two(10) thoughts(11), two(10) unreconciled striving(11); two(10) warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder(11).

(1) Emphasis through repetition
(2) Emphasis through repetition
(3) Triple couplets

(4) Pulls repetition as emphasis of ‘the x’
(5) Emphasis on ‘s’
(6) Emphasis through repetition
(7) Emphasis through repetition
(8) Emphasis on ‘s’ (a rolling ‘s’)
(9) Emphasis on repetition
(10) Emphasis on repetition
(11) Emphasis by extending each segment from souls to warring

The history of the American Negro is the history of this strive,- this longing to attain self(1)-conscious manhood, to merge his double self(1) into a better(2) and truer(2) self(1). In this merging he wishes(3) neither of the older selves(1) to be lost. He would not(4) Africanize America(5), for America(5) has too much to teach the world and Africa(5). He would not(4) bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes(3) to make it possible for a man to be both a Nero and an American, without(6) being cursed and spit upon by his fells, without(6) having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.

(1) Emphasis through repetition
(2) Emphasis on ‘er’
(3) Emphasis through extended repetition (first thought and last thought)
(4) Emphasis through repetition

(5) Predicate/Noun becomes inverse Noun/Noun
(6) Emphasis through repetition

This, then, is the end of his striving: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture(1)(2), to escape both death and(2) isolation(1), to husband and(2) use his best powers and(2) his latent genius(1). These powers of body and mind have in the past been strangely wasted(3), dispersed(3), or forgotten(3). The shadow of a mighty Negro past flits through the tale of E(4)thiopia the(5) S(6)hadowy(7) and of E(4)gypt the(5) S(6)phinx(7). Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here(8) and there(8) like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness(9). Here in America, in the few days since Emancipation, the black man’s turning hither(10) and thither(10) in hesitant and doubtful striving has often made his very strength to lose effectiveness, to seem like(11) absence of power(12), like(11) weakness(12)(13). And yet it is not weakness(13),—it is the contradiction of double aims(14). The double-aimed struggle(14) of the black artisan—on the one hand to escape white contempt for a nation of mere hewers(15) of(16) w(17)ood(18) and drawers(15) of(16) w(17)ater(18), and on the other hand to plough and(19) nail and(19) dig(20) for a poverty-stricken horde—could only result in making him a poor craftsman, for he had but h(21)alf a h(21)eart in either cause. By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was t(22)empted(23) t(22)oward(23) quackery(24) and demagogy(24); and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks. The would-be black savant was confronted by the paradox that the knowledge(25) his people needed was a twice-told tale to his white neighbors, while the knowledge(25) which would teach the white world was Greek to his own flesh and blood. The innate love of harmony(26) and beaut(27)y(26) that set the ruder souls of his people a(28)-dancing(29) and a(28)-singing(29) raised but confusion and doubt in the soul of the black artist; for the beauty(27) revealed to him was the soul-beauty(27) of a race which his larger audience despised, and he could not articulate the message of another people. This(30) waste of double aims(31), this(30) s(32)eeking to s(32)atisfy two unreconciled ideals(31), has wrought sad havoc with the courage and(33) faith and(33) deeds(34) of ten thousand thousand people,—has sent them often wooing(35) false(36) gods(37) and(38) invoking(35) false(36) means of salvation(37), and(38) at times has even seemed(39) about to make them(40) ashamed(39) of them(40)selves.

(1) Triplet
(2) Emphasis through repetition and emphasis through elongation (0 and, 1 and, 2 and)(3) Emphasis through past tense
(4) Emphasis on ‘E’
(5) Emphasis through repetition
(6) Emphasis on ‘S’
(7) Couplet
(8) Emphasis on ‘ere’
(9) Extended metaphor
(10) Emphasis on ‘hither’
(11) Emphasis through repitition
(12) Explanation through equivalent inversion
(13) Emphasis through repetition, drawing the thought on
(14) Emphasis through repetition
(15) Emphasis on ‘ers’
(16) Emphasis by repetition
(17) Emphasis on ‘w’
(18) Couplet
(19) Emphasis on ‘and’
(20) Triplet
(21) Emphasis on ‘h’
(22) Emphasis on ‘t’
(23) Emphasis on ‘y’
(25) Emphasis through repetition
(26) Emphasis on ‘y’
(27) Extended Emphasis
(28) Emphasis on ‘a’
(29) Emphasis on ‘ing’
(30) Emphasis through repetition
(31) Emphasis through inversion
(32) Emphasis on ‘s’
(33) Emphasis through repetition
(34) Triplet
(35) Emphasis on ‘ing’
(36) Emphasis through repetition
(37) Emphasis through repetition of same information
(38) Emphasis through repetition
(39) Emphasis on ‘ed’
(40) Emphasis through repetition

If you have managed to read this far, you may notice that the ink runs out… And that is how it is going to be for the time being. I have too much work and if I don’t publish this as it is, I’ll pour too much precious time to finish it at the sake of other assignments that are beginning to stack about my desk. Read. Think. And try to identify the rhetorical pieces for yourself.

Away back in the days of bondage they thought to see in one divine event the end of all doubt and disappointment; few men ever worshipped Freedom with half such unquestioning faith as did the American Negro for two centuries. To him, so far as he thought and dreamed, slavery was indeed the sum of all villainies, the cause of all sorrow, the root of all prejudice; Emancipation was the key to a promised land of sweeter beauty than ever stretched before the eyes of wearied Israelites. In song and exhortation swelled one refrain—Liberty; in his tears and curses the God he implored had Freedom in his right hand. At last it came,—suddenly, fearfully, like a dream. With one wild carnival of blood and passion came the message in his own plaintive cadences:—
“Shout, O children!
Shout, you’re free!
For God has bought your liberty!”

Years have passed away since then,—ten, twenty, forty; forty years of national life, forty years of renewal and development, and yet the swarthy spectre sits in its accustomed seat at the Nation’s feast. In vain do we cry to this our vastest social problem:—
“Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble!”

The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people,—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.

The first decade was merely a prolongation of the vain search for freedom, the boon that seemed ever barely to elude their grasp,—like a tantalizing will-o’-the-wisp, maddening and misleading the headless host. The holocaust of war, the terrors of the Ku-Klux Klan, the lies of carpet-baggers, the disorganization of industry, and the contradictory advice of friends and foes, left the bewildered serf with no new watchword beyond the old cry for freedom. As the time flew, however, he began to grasp a new idea. The ideal of liberty demanded for its attainment powerful means, and these the Fifteenth Amendment gave him. The ballot, which before he had looked upon as a visible sign of freedom, he now regarded as the chief means of gaining and perfecting the liberty with which war had partially endowed him. And why not? Had not votes made war and emancipated millions? Had not votes enfranchised the freedmen? Was anything impossible to a power that had done all this? A million black men started with renewed zeal to vote themselves into the kingdom. So the decade flew away, the revolution of 1876 came, and left the half-free serf weary, wondering, but still inspired. Slowly but steadily, in the following years, a new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power,—a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of “book-learning”; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know. Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of Emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life.

Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings, of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,—darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. For the first time he sought to analyze the burden he bore upon his back, that dead-weight of social degradation partially masked behind a half-named Negro problem. He felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance,—not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of corruption from white adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home.

A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems. But alas! while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defence of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the “higher” against the “lower” races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to so much of this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress, he humbly bows and meekly does obeisance. But before that nameless prejudice that leaps beyond all this he stands helpless, dismayed, and well-nigh speechless; before that personal disrespect and mockery, the ridicule and systematic humiliation, the distortion of fact and wanton license of fancy, the cynical ignoring of the better and the boisterous welcoming of the worse, the all-pervading desire to inculcate disdain for everything black, from Toussaint to the devil,—before this there rises a sickening despair that would disarm and discourage any nation save that black host to whom “discouragement” is an unwritten word.

But the facing of so vast a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self-questioning, self-disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany repression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate. Whisperings and portents came borne upon the four winds: Lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? And the Nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: Be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud,—and behold the suicide of a race! Nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good,—the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the Negroes’ social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.

So dawned the time of Sturm und Drang: storm and stress to-day rocks our little boat on the mad waters of the world-sea; there is within and without the sound of conflict, the burning of body and rending of soul; inspiration strives with doubt, and faith with vain questionings. The bright ideals of the past,—physical freedom, political power, the training of brains and the training of hands,—all these in turn have waxed and waned, until even the last grows dim and overcast. Are they all wrong,—all false? No, not that, but each alone was over-simple and incomplete,—the dreams of a credulous race-childhood, or the fond imaginings of the other world which does not know and does not want to know our power. To be really true, all these ideals must be melted and welded into one. The training of the schools we need to-day more than ever,—the training of deft hands, quick eyes and ears, and above all the broader, deeper, higher culture of gifted minds and pure hearts. The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defence,—else what shall save us from a second slavery? Freedom, too, the long-sought, we still seek,—the freedom of life and limb, the freedom to work and think, the freedom to love and aspire. Work, culture, liberty,—all these we need, not singly but together, not successively but together, each growing and aiding each, and all striving toward that vaster ideal that swims before the Negro people, the ideal of human brotherhood, gained through the unifying ideal of Race; the ideal of fostering and developing the traits and talents of the Negro, not in opposition to or contempt for other races, but rather in large conformity to the greater ideals of the American Republic, in order that some day on American soil two world-races may give each to each those characteristics both so sadly lack. We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are to-day no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes; there is no true American music but the wild sweet melodies of the Negro slave; the American fairy tales and folk-lore are Indian and African; and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness. Will America be poorer if she replace her brutal dyspeptic blundering with light-hearted but determined Negro humility? or her coarse and cruel wit with loving jovial good-humor? or her vulgar music with the soul of the Sorrow Songs?

Merely a concrete test of the underlying principles of the great republic is the Negro Problem, and the spiritual striving of the freedmen’s sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this the land of their fathers’ fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.

*    *    *

And now what I have briefly sketched in large outline let me on coming pages tell again in many ways, with loving emphasis and deeper detail, that men may listen to the striving in the souls of black folk.


The Panda Express Test

Coming down the grape-vine we always happen to stop for lunch at In-N-Out. However, on our last trip, when the question was asked, all my siblings shouted from their seats, “Panda


Express!”And in an even more bizarre fashion, we drove to Panda Express without a challenge. We ordered our food, ate it quite quickly, and did what we always do  – take turns cracking the fortune cookies to see who’s is the best. But after reading them aloud, I began to ponder, “What makes a fortune cookie a fortune cookie?” What stops customers from jumping from their seats and chucking every last one of them at that poor and helpless cashier? Why do we all seem to enjoy them so much, yet give them so little value?

My first thought, and the one that lasted for the rest of my lunch, was this: Are the fortunes in fortune cookies written so that they are always true? Like the Oracle of Delphi’s prophecy to Croesus, King of Lydia, when he consulted her about going to war with Persia, said, “If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed.” Interpreting it favorably, he attacked Persia. However, it was his kingdom that was destroyed and not Persia’s. Was the prophecy not merely true, but inevitably true? If Persia had lost would the prophecy still have be equally true? What if neither kingdom fell, but years later, as by some perceived result or loose connection of that conflict, some other great kingdom which had arisen fell? Would the prophecy still have been considered fulfilled? Lunch had ended, so we packed up and continued our drive home.

This topic was recommenced when a friend of mine, over a cup of hot chocolate, asked me, “What do you think of the gift of prophecy?” I replied, “I don’t have anything theologically against it at the moment, but am yet to see it used properly. People who claim to speak prophecy over people speak things that are not merely true, but inevitably true. Imagine a person who says, ‘You have unfulfilled potential.’ To what person is this not true? Imagine another person who says, ‘You will go through trials, but God will be with you.’ To what Christian, or, as a matter of fact, to what individual is this not true? Imagine a person who comes to you and says, ‘I feel God wants me to tell you that He’s not finished with you.’ To what can a Christian say but, ‘Amen, for it is already written, to live is Christ and to die is gain?’  We have forgotten a prophet didn’t speak of things that were inevitably true, but were particularly true – with dates, and times, and parting knowledge that could be seen as true or false depending upon particular statements.”

We are mistaking the gift of prophecy for the practical kindness of encouragement and telling someone that there is room to grow in their life or that life is tough and you’re not alone. We are betraying a title in the Old Testament, a gift in the New Testament, for the mere satisfaction of our own emotional longing to be relevant in our kindness and peace in knowing that we cannot be wrong. We have taken away all the thrills of speaking to an individual on their terms, and therefore being responsible for what is said, and sought out the mundane of speaking on no one’s terms. In attempting to be more emotional, we have become less intimate.

I believe we have traded the practical beauty of speaking to one another for a mystical omen for which we have no understanding of its value because there is no value to be understood. We have forgotten that the Good Samaritan was good not because he carried four people out of a burning house, shinning with the brilliance of Superman and leaping out the second story window as the home burst into flames. Nor was he good because he spoke a maxim that was never false in any world. He was good because he reached out and assisted someone who had a need, a particular need, and made sure that need was fulfilled.

Remember when someone is claiming to speak a Word of Prophecy the Panda Express test:

“Is what is said inevitably true, or is it particularly true? Is it something that could be placed in a fortune cookie and be true in any and every instance, or is it something that has a particular meaning for a particular someone imparted for a particular purpose?”


Did God Really Command Genocide?

Did God Really Command Genocide? By Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan
A hyphenated presentation

I. The Big Picture

What I have found to be the mosthelpful in opening a discussion, especially one on an unfamiliar subject, is to begin by asking the big picture questions: “Why is this discussion taking place?”, “What are the problems that made this discussion necessary?”,or, to paraphrase Aristotle, “What are we aiming at and why are we trying to hit it?” So in the spirit of generality, I would like to begin by glossing over the general landscape which has necessitated Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan coming together and addressing the question, “Did God Really Command Genocide?” and then briefly outline their response.

DidGodReallyCommandGenocideTheir book is written to address the Atheistic philosopher Raymond Bradley’s argument that the Bible’s command to “slaughter virtually every living inhabitant of Canaan,”(pg. 17) is morally unacceptable because it violates our most basic moral intuitions of the Crucial Moral Principle – which could be stated as,

“It is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any wrong doing.”(pg. 17)

And it is claimed by Bradely that Christians cannot coherently believe in a Just and Loving God while also believing that God can command unjust and hateful atrocities. It is against this philosophical milieu that has provided the reasons why Copan and Flannagan have written their book, “Did God Really Command Genocide?” However, while the reason for writing this book is to address Bradley’s argument, their aim is to provide good reasons to believe not only is Bradely’s argument flawed, but also that such genocidal commands were never issued. They do this by providing an extended argument which I will briefly outline.

First, they make the required modifications to Bradley’s philosophical argument by taking into account a more rigorous form of the Christian doctrine of Biblical inspiration. As they claim, “If Bradley’s argument is to carry any weight, it should be directed at a rigorous, philosophically informed perspective on this – not just some Sunday school caricature.” (pg. 23)

Second, they address the perspective they refer to as Marcion’s Deity (pg. 37), or the view that the God of the Old Testament is different than the “loving, nonviolent Jesus”(pg. 37) of the New Testament, by urging us to, “think more deeply about difficult, ethically troubling Old Testament passages rather than gloss over them.” (pg. 41) And therefore, they urge us to consider that a proper response to the Old Testament criticism, if we believe that the whole Bible is the Word of God, is not to distance ourselves from the Old Testament but to equally consider both testaments in our response.

Third, with the established project of unifying our concepts of Old and New Testament morality, they consider the first response to Bradley’s argument. They do this by considering the nature of God’s commands in the Old Testament. If we were to grant Bradley’s argument that God commanded genocide in the Old Testament, would those commands apply to us today?

Fourth, they look into the moral assumption behind Bradley’s argument which states that the Canaanites were innocent. However, as we find out in Leviticus 18, “[T]he Bible does not portray the Canaanites in general as innocent of any serious wrongdoing.”(pg. 61)

Fifth, they explain the nature of the Israelite incursion. Chiefly, they address the overall assumption of a total conquest of Canaan, while showing that it was perhaps more of a raiding party who continually ran into trouble with numerically superior foes.

Sixth, Copan and Flannagan then address the objective of the Israelite Incursion. “The dominate language used in Scriptures is not of extermination but of ‘driving out’ and ‘thrusting out’ the Canaanites.”(pg. 76) They support this claim by showing that there is further context to the words “totally destroy”.

Seven, in continuing their investigation of context of the terms used in Joshua’s account, they begin to look at what appears to be disturbing descriptions of the Israel’s conquest such as, “utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old”, “he left no survivors”, “there was not one left who breathed”. They address these occurrences by showing several negative arguments why a literal interpretation is untenable and several positive arguments for Hegiography, or that certain key phrases ought to be read as hyperbolic.

These seven points would naturally contain the core of Paul Copan’s and Matthew Flannagan’s answer to the question, “Did God Really Command Genocide?” Considering Biblical Inspiration which permits God to offer an occasional command to Israel to take back a promised land from an extraordinarily evil group of people, who were both told to leave and chose not to, and doing so via a raiding party against militarily and economically critical cities which was recorded partially in Joshua (and other books) using familiar Ancient Near Eastern Military Conquest hyperbolic language, the answer is an overwhelmingly no – God did not command, and the Israelites did not commit, Genocide.

II. The Backdrop ~ Clarifying the Philosophical Argument and Addressing Christian Divine Inspiration

A.The Problem Clarified (By clarifying the Philosophical Argument and the Theological Position)

We’ll begin with the philosophical argument as presented by the Atheist philosopher Raymond Bradley: The argument from the violation of the Crucial Moral Principle. The Crucial Moral Principles could be stated as:

“It is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, woman and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing.”(pg. 17)

Given, what many Atheists infamously call the Genocide Texts, which includes references such as Joshua chapters 6, 7, and 12, anyone who claims to be a Christian theist is committed to believing the following four propositions:

1) Any act that God commands us to perform is morally permissible.
2) The Bible reveals to us many of the acts that God commands us to perform
3) It is morally impermissible for anyone to commit acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle
4) The Bible tells us that God commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle.

As one may well suppose, the four propositions, if taken together, forms a contradiction. And that is Bradley’s project – to show the incoherency of the Christian Theist’s position.

However, before we can even begin to respond to Bradley’s argument, a few things must be noted. First, this is a reductio argument. For those who not familiar with reductio-style arguments, the reductio ad absurdum, translated as “reduction to absurdity”, is an attempt to show that, given the internal arguments and assumptions of any position, they form an incoherency. And for most philosophers, an internal incoherency is a knock-out punch. So, in part, Bradley’s philosophical argument is a moral argument against Christians, and also in-part an argument about the coherency of Christian Theism. Second, reductio­-style arguments must assume that the premises in themselves are true for the sake of the argument. For example, many people could contest that the above propositions 2 and 4 are grounded in the Bible but maintain that the Bible doesn’t accurately reveal God’s commands. The problem with making this move is that it would change the reductio argument and turn it into an argument concerning the historical reliability of the Bible.

With that being said, we’ll continue in responding to the above four propositions.

The initial problem we run into is that propositions 2 and 4 do not reflect the goal of the argument. Bradley’s argument isn’t an attempt to show that the Bible contains historical texts that reliably inform us that God issued certain commands, the argument is that we have Divinely inspired texts which reveal that God commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle. Therefore, we would have to modify propositions 2 and 4 as:

2′) God is the author of the Bible
4′) The author of the Bible commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle

However, the term author in 2′ is still ambiguous. While Christians do believe the Bible is Divinely Inspired, Christians also believe human agents wrote the Bible. So one must begin by clarifying the nature of authorship in premise 2′. This can be done by asking the question, “What sort of relationship exists between Divine and Human authorship?”

Plantinga’s view is that we can make the divide between, what he calls, Historical Biblical Criticism, or the study in which theological assumptions are set aside and one attempts to discern the Human author’s intent, and Traditional Biblical Commentary, or the study in which theological assumptions, such as God is the author of the Bible, can be taken and one seeks to understand what God desires us to understand.

The interplay between both fields is perhaps clearly pronounced when Plantinga responds e to Ernan McMullin in saying:

“I think he thinks what is decisive here is what the human author(s) of the text in question had in mind. If that is what he means, I am obliged to disagree with him. In order to understand Scripture, we must know who its author and audience is [sic]. As in the latter, it is the Christian church over the ages as to the former, as Aquinas and Calvin agree, the principle and primary author of scripture is the Lord. (Of course this doesn’t imply any kid of crude dictation theory.) What we really need to know, therefore, is what he intends to teach in the text in question. This may very well be what the human author had in mind in writing that text; but of course it needn’t be. It might be that the Lord proposes to teach us (coming where we do in the whole history of his interactions with his children) something that hadn’t occurred to the person or persons actually composing the text in question. I would concur with those Christians, for example, who see various Old Testament passages (Isaiah and elsewhere) as really referring to Christ, the second person of the Trinity, and making assertions about him; it is unlikely, however that the original author intended to make assertions about the second person of the Trinity. What the original authors had in mind will ordinarily be of importance, but it will not necessarily settle the issue as to how to understand the text in question.” (pg. 21)

Therefore, as Plantinga summarized, there appears to be two specific claims concerning Biblical Inspiration. First, Christians recognize human authorship of the Scriptures. And second, Christians recognize Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures. But since Christians also do NOT adhere to a dictation theory of Scripture, there must be some other way to reconcile the view that there are human authors and divine inspiration. The way Plantinga reconciles these views is to note the epistemic differences between the author’s context and, given the entire revelation of God’s word, the Divine context.

It is this view that allows Dr. William Lane Craig to argue that while the Bible allows for human emotion or specific rhetoric to flow through the Biblical text, it does not necessarily asserted the Divine context.

Therefore, we can introduce the finally revised propositions 2” and 4”:

2”) God is the (primary) author of the Bible
4”) The secondary human author of the Bible commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle

B. What Does it Mean to say the Bible is the Word of God?

So far, we have established Bradley’s philosophical argument, and therefore, the thing which we are aiming to respond. We’ve also articulated a Christian Doctrine of Biblical Inspiration that includes God’s primary authorship and human’s secondary authorship. However, we need to do bit more than to say, “There is Human Authorship and Divine Inspiration,” we need to answer the more difficult question, “How does Human Authorship and Divine Inspiration interact?”

To understand this relationship, Copan and Flannagan introduce the Appropriation Model by Dr. Craig and Dr. Wolterstorff. They argue that “Inspiration is a property of the text, not the mode of production.” (pg 24) It is not so much the particular way in which the truths are revealed, but that the truths are revealed.

At first glance, this appears to be a bit vague. For if God is omnipotent, then doesn’t God “bring about” all written texts? And if God brings about all written texts, then why can we not assume that all texts are Divinely inspired?

It is here, I believe, that Dr. Craig’s and Dr. Wolterstorff’s view becomes particularly clear. First, this question fails to make the distinction between what is “God’s truths revealed”(pg24) and “God’s plan of Human History”(pg 24). And the difference between a Divinely inspired text and a non-divinely inspired text is that a Divinely Inspired text isn’t only brought about by God, but it is appropriated by God.

The question now moves from, “How does Human Authorship and Divine Inspiration interact?”, to the question, “How does God appropriate texts?”To answer this question, we’ll have to explain The Appropriation Model of Speech Act Theory.

Wolterstoff, pulling from the works of J.L. Austen and John Searle, applies Speech Act Theory to Divine Inspiration.

According to Speech-Act Theory, speech is an action one performs, and there are three types of action:

1) “A Locutionary Act → The vocal action, or the action of the vocal apparatus which projects sound waves.
2) An Illocutionary Act → Actions such as Asserting, Declaring, Warning, Promising, etc. These are acts which are performed by way of performing locutionary acts.
3) A Perlocutionary Act → The action associated with the intention of performing speech (ie. Persuasion, instilling fear, etc.)” (pg. 25)

So speech is broken into three parts: the physical, the ends for performing the physical, and the reason why we perform the physical. We also know that each one can be performed without the other. Someone can make a loud noise with no prior reason or with not end in mind. Someone can point, which has a clear ends, but no vocal action. Or someone can have a reason to speak, but never end up saying anything. In Wolterstoff’s model, the illocution act is what we mean by God speaks through his Word, it’s the truths for which the Biblical texts are to convey – God’s word has an end in mind and His truths are those ends.

An example of a “double agency discourse”(pg. 26) could be in the job of a secretary. Imagine a secretary performs a luctionary act by drafting some document, then she has the manager sign the document, performing an illocutionary act.

And therefore,

“the Bible as the Word of God to us today is best understood in terms of God’s appropriating various illocutionary acts as his own. In Wolterstorff’s words, ‘All that is necessary for the whole [Bible] to be God’s book is that the human discourse it contains have been appropriated by God, as one single book, for God’s discourse.” (pg. 27)

“[T]his explains how one can affirm that the Bible is God’s Word and that God is the primary author of Scripture without affirming that God dictated it. It also explains how the Bible can simultaneously be the Word of God and the words of humans.”(pg 27)

This is important because it defines how we are to read Joshua and the other Genocidal texts, and informs us that our task is to distinguish what God has and what God has not appropriated.

To do this, first need an underlying fundamental principle which states:

“the interpreter takes the stance and content of my appropriating discourse to be that of your appropriated discourse, unless there is good reason to do otherwise.” (pg. 29)

How do we know what has or has not been appropriated by God?

A) Work out what illocutionary act the human author performed when he authored the text. Discern what the human author is saying. (This is done by reading the Bible as individual parts in their respective contexts.)
B) Ascertain whether we have good reason to think God was saying something different than the Human author. (This is done by reading the Bible as a single literary unit, ie. Prophecies of Christ)

One must make background assumptions concerning God’s Character, Context, and likely purposes… We do this in every other type of interpretation.

Five ways the divine illocution act may differ from the human:
1) Rhetoric ~ Conceptual Structure of Scripture (ie. Referring to God as ‘you’)
2) Distinguishing the author’s point of view from the “way he makes his point.” (ie. Form from content)
3) Distinguishing from what a Human author takes to be literal, God takes to be non-literal. (ie. Paul’s reference to God (ie. Quoting Song of Solomon as an archetype of the church and marriage).
4) To make an illocution to make another. (The story of the good Samaritan)
5) Distinguish a general principles from its particular instances (ie. Building a fence on the roof)

Therefore, to make the claim that God isn’t claiming what the author intends, one must:
A) Interpret God’s appropriation to mean something else.
B) Claim they misunderstood the text.
C) God did not appropriate the text.

As we draw towards a conclusion about a Christian Doctrine of Divine Inspiration is that we need to know how flexible our analysis may be in regards to the Biblical text. And if one is going to criticism truths within the Bible, one will inevitably presume some form of Biblical interpretation. The project of Copan’s and Flannagin’s in articulating such a view is show that it is far from reasonable to attack Christianity with a Philosophical argument from a Sunday School Caricature. If a critic is going to argue against a Biblical passage, one must first demonstrate a type of Biblical Interpretation, and, second, show that under that interpretation it is always wrong to kill innocent people.

C. The God of the Old Testament versus the God of the New Testament

However, there is one important sub-point that we are required to make. We began by clarifying Bradley’s philosophical argument, we presented a Christian Doctrine of Biblical Interpretation between Human and Divine authors, we presented a theory of how Human and Divine authors interact with each other, and then we showed how the divine appropriates the locutionary acts of humans. Now we must address the question, “Is the Bible a single, over-arching text or, almost quite literally, divided down the middle – between Old and New Testaments?”

Just as today, people in the early church had trouble with reconciling the Old Testament God with the New Testament Jesus, taking note that “[t]he killing of the Canaanites, plagues and other divine judgments, imprecatory (pray-curse) psalms, and harsh laws in the Old Testament seem to be of a different spirit than the ‘loving, non-violent Jesus’ of the Newt Testament.” (pg. 37)

People such as Marcion (born 100) interpreted the Old Testament passages literally. He then argued that the God of the O.T. Is different from the God of the N.T. In response, he wrote the Evangelikon and Apostolikon. Others, such as Origen (185-253/4), on the other end of the spectrum, allegorized all the troubling Old Testament Passages. But in either case, we are still left with the question, “Are we forced to pick between the Old Testament and New Testament Gods?”

One way to reconcile them have been offered by Peter Enns and Eric Seibert. They believe the Old Testament and New Testament do not portray different Gods, they simply portray God differently. However, as Copan and Flannagan point out, not only are there ethical or historical suggestions against Enss and Seiber’s view, but, if one is to adopt there view, they would be required to collect only certain texts when one appeal’s to Christ’s authority. For example, we would have to overlook violent New Testament passages such as Matthew 21:12:

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling

John 2:15:

“And he made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the
oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;

and Matthew 18:6:

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Or those passages which affirms the Old Testament such as Matthew 5:7:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

and Matthew 5:18:

“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

and we would perhaps be required to cross out all of the Book of Revelation. As Copan an Flannagan have both argued, the question isn’t, “Do we accept the Old Testament or the New Testament,” but we should ask, “How does God relate to violence?

III. Responding to Bradley’s Argument

We’ve clarified the Bradley’s reductio argument; we’ve introduced core aspects of a Christian Doctrine of Biblical Inspiration by acknowledging Human Authorship and Divine Inspiration; we’ve articulated, through Wolsteroof’s Speak-Act Theory, a way in which Human Authorship and Divine Inspiration can function together; and we have also looked at why we ought to consider the Biblical text as a unified document and not a “one half or the other”. Now while we have not provided a direct response towards Bradley’s argument, what we have done is set the contextual framework to go about with an appropriate response towards Bradley’s argument. It’s, if you will, the backdrop the stage. With that backdrop set, we can now begin to respond to Bradley’s argument.

This section will address proposition 4”:

“The secondary human author of the Bible commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle”

First, we’ll ask the question, “Does the text really command us to kill the innocent?” with emphasis upon, “Does the text really command us?” In other words, what is the scope of God’s command in the “genocidal texts” – is it a general command or an occasional commend? And then we’ll again address the question, “Does the text really command us to kill the innocent?” with emphasis upon “kill the innocent.” Or, in other words, does the text really portray the Canaanite people (or other) as innocent people?

A. Does the Bible Command Us?

The initial problem with Bradley’s argument in dealing with the question, “Does God really command us?” is that Bradley’s argument relies upon commands given to Joshua and Moses. It doesn’t follow that we are commanded to kill the innocent because a text makes a command nor does it explain why an Old Testament command to Joshua and Moses could be applied to us.

Richard Mouw makes the point,

“We must also insist that not all commands which are found in the Bible are to be obeyed by contemporary Christians. For example, God commanded Abram to leave Ur of the Chaldees, and commanded Jonah to preach in Nineveh; it would be silly to suppose that it is part of every Christian’s duty to obey these commandments.” (pg. 53)

Other examples would include God’s command for Moses to speak to the rock (Exodus 17:6) or the command for the Levites to carry the ark of the covenant (Deut. 10:8 and Exod. 25:14).

It would appear that the Bible does contain commands directed at specific individuals or groups for specific times. From this we may conclude that the mere existence of a command in the Bible doesn’t automatically imply a duty for everyone at all times to follow it. We would call these commands occasional commands. However,

“Alan Donagan makes the general observation: ‘While the whole Torah [ie. The law of Moses] does not purport to be binding on all mankind, part of it does. Even in biblical ties, the Jews had come to distinguish from mere heathens those gentiles who recognized that part of the Mosaic Halachah [the Jewish Talmud’s laws and their interpretations] which applies to gentiles and Jews alike.” (pg. 54-55)

But, to the contrary, it does appear that there are things forbidden to all people. An example would be in Amos chapters 1-2, “where we see how gentile nations surrounding Israel are condemned for basic moral violations – breaking treaties, delivering vulnerable refugees into the hands of their enemies, ripping open pregnant women to expand national borders.” (pg. 55) So on the one hand we know there are occasional commands directed for certain people and there are certain practices that are forbidden to all people. This distinction appears to be held firm by the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) that argued “gentile believers are not required by God to follow Israel’s food laws.”(pg. 55)

So how can we tell if a command is an occasional command or a more general command? And how do we know how they play into each other? Well, there appears to be two ways. First, one can ask why such a command was isssued. And second, one can ask for the qualifications of those commands.

To the former, we could ask, “Why was Israel commanded to dispossess Canaanites?” The biblical texts provide two answers. In Deuteronomy 7:6-8, we are told:

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous that other people, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

So one part for God’s reason for commanding the Israelites to dispossess the Canaanites, we because God was fulfilling the promise he gave to Abraham in Genesis. The second reason can be found in Deuteronomy 9:5:

“It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Again, we notice the element of promise for Israel, but, furthermore, there appears to be a motivating reason for acting now versus some other time in dispossessing Canaan. Later, I’ll explain what were the sins of the Canaanites, but, for now, the two reasons for Israel to dispossess the Canaanites was to finally take the land that was promised to them by God and also to judge the Canaanite nations.

As to the latter question, “What are the qualifications of the commands given by God?”, one could answer that the Biblical text is clear that Israel is only to dispossess the nations within the borders that God has given them.

Deuteronomy 2:2-6,9, 19; 23:7 provide example as to the explicit area and peoples that Israel is to not disturb and are outside the domains of their dispossession.

We can therefore, reasonably conclude that not only are the Isrealites being commanded to dispossess a nation for particular reasons (ie. Promised land and judgment), but also limited in scope to those nations dwelling within the land of Canaan.

B. Kill the Innocent?

If we were to cut the argument here, the best Bradley’s argument could say is that God doesn’t command us to violate the Crucial Moral Principle, but that there was one recorded instance where God, in what would appear to be an exception, commanded Joshua to violate the Crucial Moral Principle. But allow us to continue.

Turning back the original question, “Did God command us to kill innocent people?”, and having addressed the the first part (ie. The question, “Did God command us?), we now turn to the latter part of the question, “to kill innocent people?”Or, put another way, were the Canaanites innocent people? To answer this question one can look over two features of the Canaanite incursion: Land Ownership and the Sins of the Amorites. (Note: There is a third feature, the risk of assimilation, however, due to the length of this paper as it is, it would be best for me to reference you to the original paper for further details).

Feature 1: Land Ownership

In Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy, one can find two types of land ownership that the descendants of Abram were committed. First, they have the land given to them buy God. We can find evidence of this in the following verses:

Deut 20:16-17 “Only in the cities of these people that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that brethes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you.”

Gen 12:1-2: “Go forth from your counry, And from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you’ and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing.

Exodus 13:5 “It shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that yo shall observe this rite in this month.”

And the second type of land ownership is personal possession, purchased by Abram. Evidence could be found in the following verses:

Gen. 23:17-20 “So Ephron’s field, which was in Machpelah, which faced Mamre, the field and cave which was in it, and all the trees which were in the field that were within all the confines of its border, were deeded over to Abraham for a possession in the presences of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the ate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field at Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it, were deeded over to Abraham for a burial site by the sons of Heth.
Gen 33:19-20 “He bought th piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the had of the sons of Jamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.”

From the above verses, it appears that one could argue that God gave the land to Israel as a promise. This promise is also emphasized by the fact that Israel was prohibited to provoke any nation outside that land(ie. The reason often given is that that land wasn’t given to the Israelites). The Canaanites were squatters.

Feature #2: The Sins of the Amorites

When we read Genesis 15:13-16, we notice two particular things:

“[K]now for certain that for four hundred years your descendents will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendents will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

As Copan and Flannagan point out, “First, the nation of Israel will gain possession of the and only after they have been oppressed in Egypt for several generations.” (pg. 67) “Second, in spite of having a legal title and a divinely approved claim on the land, Abram and his descendants could not take immediate and total occupation of the land.” (pg. 67) They had to wait until it could be said, in the words of Revelation 18:5, “for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.”

Leviticus 18 “[C]hronicles incest, adultery, bestiality, ritual prostitution, and homosexual acts; and, most significantly, Deuteronomy 12:29-31 singles out child sacrifice as particularly abhorrent.”(pg. 67)

Furthermore, they point out, “most of these practices are illegal today, even in Western nations, and no religious group that practiced incest, ritual prostitution, bestiality, or human sacrifice would be tolerated even in contemporary liberal societies with freedom of religion laws…. [in the] United States, adults who engage in child sacrifice could face the death penalty.” (pg. 68)

Again, “Gaza and Tyre are condemned for taking captive whole communities and selling them into slavery (1:6,9); Edom is condemned for stifling compassion against his brother Israel by pursuing him to the death (1:11). Ammon is condemned ‘because he ripped open the pregnant women of Gilead in order to extend his borders’ (1:13)”(pg. 58)

In both of these considerations, I believe it is extraordinarily difficult to argue that the Israelites were commanded to kill innocent people. However, some have respond that the text isn’t accurate, it’s a justification from the winning side. There are two problems with this response. First, they presumes the text is unreliable because of the command to exterminate. But to say the text is unreliable is to give up the argument that the extermination is reliable (also found in the same text). And second, as we noted in the beginning of my presentation, the nature of the philosophical argument is a reductio-style argument. The internal assumptions must remain fixed or else we shift the argument away from internal coherence to that of historical reliability.

C. The Israelite Mission: Thrusting Out, Driving out, and Dispossessing, not annihilating.

In response to the question, “Does God command us to kill innocent people?”, we have address both the former and the latter segments. We can return to the more general question and ask, “What was Israelite’s mission concerning Canaan?”

However, to begin with, “What was the Israelite’s mission concerning Canaan,” is to already bypass what was going on before they began to move in. God told them He would send forth a hornet to drive people out of the land. Presumably this was the record of the events in Egypt – miracles that instilled fear of the neighboring tribes. We see this in Exodus 23, vv. 27-31

“I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their back and run. I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittite out of your way. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you

So before the Israelites moved into Canaan, God had said he was send forth a hornet. The effects are confirmed in Joshua 2:9-11:

“and said to the men, “I know that that Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of
Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”

and again, in Joshua 2:24

“They said to Joshua, “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the  inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.”

Therefore it seems, contrary to how Bradley and other atheist philosophers and Biblical critics, it was not a command to destroy all of the tribes in Canaan, but to destroy those who remain. Furthermore, in tying together the sins of those in Canaan, the dispossession, and the total destruction, it would be worth looking at Leviticus 18:24-28:

“Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defiled the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.”

Notice how this isn’t being drawn out as a one-way transaction – the Israelites dispossessing and destroying Canaan. They are also being told that if Israel does the same, they will witness the same effects as the those in the land of Canaan. Of course, without going into much detail, we read in 1 Chronicles 9:1b, “And Judah was carried away into exile to Babylon for their unfaithfulness

Most people, in response, quote Deuteronomy 7:2:

“And when the Lord they God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.”

What they don’t quote, are the contextual verses,1 and 3-5:

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to posses and drives out before you man nations – the Hitties, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger that you;….(continuing to verse 3)… Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for yoru sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you (note: God’s warning to the Israelites is the same that is given to the former occupants of Canaan). This is what you are to do to them (note: this is the mission): Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.”

Two things to note. First, it appears that those nations have already been driven out by God, therefore, the remaining people are those who refused the flee with the others. And second, the utter destruction seems to be pointed not towards the killing of the people, but towards their altars, images, and other sacred objects – it’s a destruction of their culture.

Again, we can look at Deut. 12:29-30:

“The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.”

In both verses, there is little concern about the killing of the people as there is against the Israelites adopting their culture of, as Mr. Bywater has remarked on several occasions, “Idolatry, Immorality, and Injustice.”

D. The Question of Genocide and the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Joshua

But even if we do adopt the view that the Israelite attack upon Caanan was intended to drive people out, we still have the question, “Then why do verses in Joshua, and other books, indicate that everything was destroyed?” So now, quite naturally, we look at the nature of the language that is used in the text. First, we’ll provide negative arguments as to why we cannot read these versus as literal descriptions. The second, we’ll provide positive arguments as why we should adopt a hyperbolic reading of the same texts.

Nicholas Wolterstorff at Yale rejects literal reading of the “extermination-esque” verses for two reasons. The text doesn’t appear to be affirming that reading, and the language is hyperbolic. In other words, the assumptions of the text doesn’t appear to hold a literal reading, and the language itself is demonstrably hyperbolic in construct.

“The first feature is that a tension exists between early chapters of Joshua and the opening chapters of Judges, which is the literary sequel to Joshua. Joshua 6-11 summarizes several battles and concludes with, “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.” (11:23)

However, when we read in Judges 1:1-4:

“After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the Lord, :Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” the Lord said, “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” Judah said to his brother Simeon, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we ay fight against the Canaanites; then I too will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they defeated ten thousand of them at Bezek.”

What we are seeing between these two sections, if we assume utter destruction as killing everyone, that Israel finally conquered all the lands and killed all of their enemies. However, in the sequel, we read something to the effect, “and the people remained there til this day.” Something doesn’t appear to be correct if we take a literal reading.

Here are a few more examples:

Joshua 10:20a v. 10:20b
“So Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely, but a few survivors managed to reach their fortified cities.”

If defeated completely means killing them all, then who made it back to the fortified cities?

Josh 10:39 v. Josh 11:21:

“They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron.”

“At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns.”

Josh 11:21 (again) vs Josh 15:13-14

“In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak.

If we read Joshua 10:39, 11:21: and 15:13-14 back to back to back, then Israel killed everyone three times.

Judge. 1:18 v 1:21

“Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon and Ekron—each city with its territory. “

“The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.”

Josh 11:23 v. Judge. 2:21-23

“So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.”

“I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did. The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.”

And interesting point here is that Moses and Joshua succeeded in carrying out God’s command, yet not everyone was driven out. So, quite naturally, we should ask, “What was fulfilled if everyone wasn’t killed?”

However, more directly addresses the above series of verses, we can make two possible conclusion based upon the above negative arguments. First, the writers of Joshua and Judges were mindless, being able to write contradictions just mere sentences later. Or second, we have something wrong with how we are reading the text. However, but because these contradictions are so blatant and so close, it makes one wonder if there was something else going on in the text.

E. An Argument for “ Hyperbole”

This would lead us into our positive arguments for a non-literal interpretation of those texts. Two of the positive arguments, which I have chosen to represent from Copan and Flannage, are their appeal to literary repetitions within the text and similar rhetoric found in comparable military conquest reports.

First, to the literary repetitions, Wolterstorff argues,

“Anyone who reads the book of Joshua in one sitting cannot fail to be struck by the prominent employment of formulaic phrasing…. Far more important is the formulaic clause, ‘struck down all the inhabitants with the edge of the sword.’
The first time one read that Joshua struck down all the inhabitants of a city with the edge of the sword, namely, in the story of the conquest of Jericho (6:21), one makes nothing of it. But the phrasing – or close variants therein- gets repeated, seven times in close succession in chapter 10, two more times in chapter 11, and several times in other chapters. The repetition makes it unmistakable that we are dealing here with a formulaic literary convention.”(pg. 95)

While the mere repetition of a clause doesn’t inherently imply a hyperbolic, or rhetorical, function, it does wave a flag for further analysis. Why the repetition? And this is why Copan and Flannagan further their argument by appealing to comparable texts. What we find are similar literary hyperbole. Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen makes an interesting connection with Joshua:

“This kind of report profile is familiar to readers of ancient Near Eastern military reports, not least in the second millennium. Most striking is the examples of the campaign annals of Tutmosis III of Egypt in his Years 22-42 (ca 1458-1438)…. The pharaoh there gives a very full account of his initial victory at Megiddo, by contrast with the far more summary and stylized reports of the ensuing sixteen subsequent campaings. Just like Joshua against up to seven kings in south Canaan and four-plus up north.” (pg. 95)

He continues,

“The type of rhetoric in question was regular feature of military reports in the second and first millennium, as other have made very clear…. In the later fifteenth century Tuthmosis II could boast ‘the numberous army of Mitanni, was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) non-existent’ – whereas, in fact, the forces of Mitanni lived to fight many another day, in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries. Some centuries later, about 840/830, Mesha king of Moab could boast that ‘Israel has utterly perished for always’ – a rather premature judgment at that date, by over a century! And so on, ad libitum. It is in the frame of reference that Joshua rhetoric must also be understood.”(pg. 97)

The connection that is being made between Joshua and Tuthmosis II isn’t the connection that one is fake and other is not, or even that there are reasons to believe that Israel’s move into Canaan didn’t happen, the connection is that there appears to be a potential commonality between the two in their form of exaggerating what actually happened.

But the forcefulness of this argument, to me, appears to be made by how close the contradiction would be if they were not to be taken non-literally. For example,1 Chronicles 4:41-43 reads,

“These, recorded by name, came in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and attacked their tents and the Meunites who were found there, and destroyed them utterly to this day, and lived in their place, because there was pasture there for their flocks. From them, from the sons of Simeon, five hundred men went to Mount Seir, with Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah and Uzziel, the sons of Ishi, as their leaders. 43 They destroyed the remnant of the Amalekites who escaped, and have lived there to this day.”

Notice what happened. Judah attacked and “destroyed them utterly to this day”, however, not more than two verses later, they also say, “five hundred men went to Mount Seir…. They destroyed the remnant.” If they utterly destroyed them, then who were the remnant?

Another example can be found in 2 Chronicles 36:16-20,

“but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy. Therefore He brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or infirm; He gave them all into his hand. All the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia,

An oddity about this text affirms both, “All the articles of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon,” and then, almost without skipping a beat, continues, “Then they burned the house of God and broke down he wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles.” Naturally, we ought to ask, “How do you both carry all the valuables away and yet destroy all of them?”

The conclusion seems to follow that we can’t take all of it as literal, there is some hyperbole running through the text. The point, however, was to show that “utterly destroyed” appears to be hyperbolic and that it becomes clear when we read the Israelite attack in its fullness across Deuteronomy, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. What we will find is that the assumption of the text is hyperbolic.
According to Copan and Flannagan, there is only one overwhelming answer to the question, “Did God Really Command Genocide?” Considering Biblical Inspiration which permits God to offer an occasional command to Israel to take back a promised land from an extraordinarily evil group of people, who were both told to leave and chose not to, and doing so via a raiding party against militarily and economically critical cities which was recorded partially in Joshua (and other books) using familiar Ancient Near Eastern Military Conquest hyperbolic language, the answer is an overwhelmingly no – God did not command, and the Israelites did not commit, Genocide.