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Joshua’s Unholy War

When most of us hear the word “jihad” or “holy war”, we immediately know that a jihad is not what God wants.  Most of us feel the same when we hear the word “crusade.”  Really, does anyone think God wants people to fight in his name?

In the book of Joshua, Joshua claims to be commanded by God to destroy everyone and everything in what is now the land of Israel.

“And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:21

“So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded. And Joshua smote them from Kadesh-barnea even unto Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon.” Joshua 10:40-41

In an interesting twist, the prophet Jonah wanted God to destroy the city of Nineveh, yet God felt those people were to be spared.  Were the Ninevites really more righteous than the Jericho-ites?  Does God command genocide, yesterday, today, or in the future?

My take is that Joshua is a prophet.  He felt he was inspired.  However, I do not feel that God wanted all the inhabitants killed.  I do not think God ever commands genocide, and I feel that this action was wrong by Joshua.  Comments?

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68 comments on “Joshua’s Unholy War

  1. Tara, you’re fine. I love the banter back and forth.

    I intend to respond, but I think this topic has morphed into both Blacks and the priesthood, and Abraham. I plan on addressing both of these in a future blog post, and will more fully address the issues you have raised.

    I’m glad to see you agreed with me on Martin Harris. I think that revelation is much more collaborative between God and Man, than it is uni-directional. Your supposed conversation between God and Moses obviously didn’t take place. I’m sure I could come up with some equally foolish-sounding conversations between Spencer Kimball and God, or Abraham, or any other prophets and God. I don’t think your fictional conversation characterizes revelation very well. One can invent some ridiculous-sounding conversations. Bill Cosby has some funny ones regarding Noah, that I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with.

  2. The point of the fictional conversation was precisely to point out that it isn’t how revelation works. I just cannot see how bias affected this revelation, and the conversation I proposed illustrates what I see as basically having to take place in order for bias to affect revelation in this case.

    One question I still have and cannot seem to find an answer to which makes sense to me is if we allow the fact that Joshua and Moses operated under a lesser law, one which was commanded by God, and taking into account D&C 29:34 which says, “Not at any time have I given you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men,” how can we consider Joshua or Moses to be wrong in their actions?

  3. tara,

    i’ll bet if you agreed with me, that you could imagine a much more reasonable conversation. but, let’s get to your question about the d&c. the problem that we are having is because we are operating under different assumptions. you believe that God commanded the genocide, and therefore it is a spiritual commandment. since, I don’t agree with your assumption, this scripture is not relevant.

    i’ll be on a plane tomorrow and will have more time to write a new blogpost to discuss this topic further.

  4. [...] have had an interesting discussion in a previous blog post on Joshua’s Unholy War. In this discussion, we have discussed the idea as to whether God commanded Joshua (and Moses) to [...]

  5. The Apostle Paul was obviously misguided when he persecuted the Christians. Check out http://thefaithfuldissident.blogspot.com/2008/09/murder-as-bad-as-we-think.html

  6. So, I updated this post as a guest blogger over at Mormon Matters. Check out http://mormonmatters.org/2009/02/07/joshuas-unholy-war

  7. god had nothing to do with it

  8. [...] 3.       joshuas unholy war [...]

  9. Here’s my post to Abraham that I talked so many times about.

    http://www.mormonheretic.org/2009/04/02/jewish-muslim-and-academic-perspectives-on-abraham/

  10. MH:

    Just saw a show that runs on Sunday nights on the History Channel that analyzes Biblical military campaigns from an entirely military (i.e., not theological) point of view. I think it’s called “Exodus Explained” or something pretty close. Then I saw the reference to this thread on your Bushman thread on Mormon Matters and popped over here.

    I don’t know whether God commanded it or not, but the military analysts were positing that Joshua’s terror campaign — and that’s what it was — against Canaan may actually have been the cheapest way in cost of human lives for the Israelites to take Canaan.

    For example, the Israelites entered Canaan with an army of only about 8000 actives, and it took a generation to build that population base after fleeing Egypt. There was no way militarily to garrison those first cities they took to even hold and feed the women and children captives and still retain sufficient fighting power to move further into the land. They couldn’t even take Ai, which was a ruined, depopulated city at the time, from the field army of the Bethelites when they tried splitting their own army at first.

    The massacres committed in the early stages of the conquest led directly to the alliances with the hill tribes to guard logistical supply lines and swell the Israelite ranks to the point that Gibeon surrendered without a fight, and allied itself with Israel. The Amorite kings coming out to battle at that point was in direct response so they would not be overwhelmed one by one.

    If you’ll concede for the sake of argument, that it was best for humanity that the Israelites, not the Amorites, take root in Canaan, then these military analysts are suggesting the possibility that the terror campaign may have shed less blood than any other method. And they don’t have a pro-Bible ax to grind in the argument.

    My point is that something can be called an atrocity only in comparison to the other available alternatives, not in comparison to ideal alternatives not available. Sometimes the best option is still a terrible one.

  11. FireTag, that sounds incredibly interesting. I usually purchase stuff like this, so I’m going to see if it is on iTunes or Amazon. I’m sure Morgan would be really interested in this too. I’ll send him an email.

  12. I’m attending my residency in VT as part of the graduation ceremonies so I don’t have a great deal of time. But thanks for the email, after dealing with a great number intolerant pedants around the bloggernacle its nice to actually have an invitation for comments.

    After reading through all the comments I can say that I fall on Tara’s side of the debate. There are many things I do not understand and upset me but I am weary of disqualifying a prophets actions from (about) 4000 years later. The context of the day must be taken into account and using modern words with loaded connotations such as “genocide” makes it needlessly harder to discuss. (Thats why I would also disagree with the History channel calling Joshua’s campaign one of “terror”- its just baiting for ratings that over simplifies a complicated issue as it really detracts from a detailed study of the time) From my limited reading and understanding of the social and political and contexts Joshua acted within the accepted boundaries of warfare and contemporary conventions in issuing his/God’s orders. God often deals with the understanding of the people serving him, and I feel its rather arrogant to disqualify those commandments based on our modern sensibilities. I’m not trying to rehash the whole debate, but when asked for my opinion I feel I should give you the most comprehensive answer possible.

    Firtags comments is great. The pro Joshua argument sounds very similar to the argument used in defending the dropping of the Atom Bomb. It saved lives, was actually the best choice, in context was not all that revolutionary or evil etc. A good book on the subject is Richard Gabriel’s Miltary History of Ancient Israel. Although he does not spend much time defending the morality of Joshua’s actions, he does spend a great deal of time describing Joshua’s strategic and tactical choices within context.

    I’ll try to check on this again, but my school has a million activities planned and my new job just sent me a ream of paperwork that they want done ASAP. Plus there is the all important networking time that I can’t ignore. Thanks again for the email, and I appreciate all your posts. I think you and Mormon matters do a far better job of including and respecting diverse opinions than many of the Mormon sites that claim to.

  13. Thanks Morgan. I am curious what you think of the History Channel’s contention that there were only 8000 active military in the Israeli army. If we go on the Genesis counts, there should have been 700,000 to a million men, and that number is supposed to undercount women.

  14. MH:

    That should be checkable rather quickly (how much water do a million human beings consume in the Sinai per day? Where does the water come from away from the Nile? For that matter, how does the city of Jericho hold off a million troops for even seven days?

  15. So, FireTag, how much of the Bible story do you believe? If you don’t believe it was that great, is the Bible just exaggerating?

    I mean there is no evidence of a million people traveling anywhere in the Sinai peninsula, so some people consider the Exodus story as invented (or myth). Where do you stand? Is the million people merely a mistranslation?

  16. FireTag,

    Does this look like the show you were talking about?

    http://www.history.com/shows.do?action=detail&showId=180013

  17. [...] it is about war.  Some of the worst religious wars include Islamic Jihad, Christian Crusades, and Joshua’s Unholy War.  I wish Mormons didn’t have anything to be ashamed of, but I’ve been reading The [...]

  18. [...] a post about Abraham for a long time. People often reference Abraham when talking about things like Joshua’s Unholy War, the Priesthood Ban, or polygamy. Usually the reference is to the sacrifice of [...]

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