An Indictment of the Biblical Deity for the Crime of Genocide

Thomas Tandy Lewis


Since World War II, based on information about Nazi genocides, many sensitive persons have asked: Where was God during the Holocaust? How could an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity have allowed these atrocities to have occurred? Some who ask these questions might be surprised to learn that the Holy Bible teaches that the monotheistic and transcendent creator of the universe was himself responsible for a number of violent genocides. According to both the Old and New Testaments, this deity (under the name of Yahweh, the Lord, or God) explicitly commanded and helped the Israelites—his “chosen people”—to conquer the Promised Land of Palestine. He also commanded and helped them to “totally destroy” all the pagans—including men, women, and children—who were living there at the time. The phrase “totally destroy” is a translation of the Hebrew verb herem or cherem (pronounced KHEH-rem).1 Philosopher Michael Walzer has observed: “For the modern reader, the conquest of Canaan, with all its attendant slaughter, is the most problematic moment in the history of ancient Israel,” and this is especially true for “the law of the herem, the ban which consigned entire cities to utter destruction.”2

The divine commandments for herem are especially prominent in the Bible’s fifth book, Deuteronomy, within the context of the Israelites preparing to invade and take possession of their lebensraum. In preparation, their prophet-warrior Moses reminded them that Yahweh had promised that a land “flowing with milk and honey” would forever belong to the descendants of patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. One big problem, however, was that seven Canaanite nations were then residing in this Promised Land. As a “final solution” to the problem, Moses advised: “The Lord your God will destroy all the nations that are on the land that he is giving you. You will force them out and live in their cities and homes. . . . You must not spare anyone’s life in the cities of those nations that the Lord our God is giving you as your property.” This herem was necessary to prevent the Israelites from being influenced by the Canaanites’ idolatrous religions. A secondary justification was the need to punish the Canaanites for their great wickedness. Based on his pious faith, Moses assured the Israelites that they had nothing to fear: “The Lord your God is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies and give you victory” (Deut. 19:1 and 20:16–18). Shades of Gott mit uns!

Moses also reported that the benevolent deity had told him not to order the herem of those nations located in the territories that were near and adjacent to the Promised Land. When approaching a city in these territories, the Israelites were initially to offer its people the opportunity to surrender peacefully. Moses instructed: “If they accept the offer and open their gates to you, then all these people in the city will be made to do forced labor and to work as your slaves.” But any city refusing the generous offer of slavery was to be severely punished: “When the Lord your God hands the city over to you, kill every man in that city with your swords. But take the women, the children, the cattle, and everything else of value as plunder for yourselves. You may possess and use these spoils of war that the Lord your God gives you from your enemies” (Deut. 20:10–15).

Yahweh, according to Moses, had given his permission for the Israelite soldiers to satisfy their sexual desires with the captured women: “If you see a beautiful woman among the captives and have your heart set on her, you may take her as one of your wives.” Before a victorious soldier could enjoy sexual intercourse with one of these captives, however, he was required to allow her to mourn the death of her mother and father for one month. Rather than requiring the soldiers to make a lifelong commitment, Moses stipulated: “If it happens that you are no longer pleased with her, let her go wherever she wants. You must never sell her or mistreat her as if she were a slave, because you have dishonored her by having sexual relations with her.” Nothing is said about any future obligations to provide support for the discarded woman or her children (Deut. 21:10–13).3

It should be noted that these passages in Deuteronomy constitute a portion of the Mosaic Torah (or law), which contains a total of 613 commands (or mitzvah). Of these commands, at least a dozen are directly related to conquest, genocide, and ethnic cleansing.4 Many conservative Jewish and Christian scholars have followed Rabbi Moshe ben Mamon (called Maimonides or the Tambam) in teaching that the entire Torah is of divine origin—immutable and without human error. New Testament writers sometimes teach this doctrine, although they confuse matters by failing to make a clear distinction between the Ten Commandments and the 613 commands.

The writers and editors who produced the Bible gave no direct indications that they found the divine command of herem to be problematic in any way. According to Michael Walzer, however, the great emphasis that they placed on the Canaanites’ wickedness as a justification for herem possibly suggests a rationalization to soothe a “bad conscience.”5 While this interpretation is reasonable, it is impossible to deny the extent to which the Torah assumes ethnic privileges based on inherited ancestry. One of the 613 commands, for instance, prohibits the enslavement of an Israelite, while allowing persons from other ethnic groups to be used as permanent slaves (Leviticus 25:39–45). Ethnic discrimination of this magnitude would appear to merit classification as a form of invidious racism, even if the discrimination was not based on physical characteristics.

The sixth book in the Bible, titled “Joshua,” might well be subtitled “The Canaanite Genocide.” This book contains the stories of how Moses’s successor, the warrior-prophet Joshua, led the Israelites to invade and occupy portions of land west of the Jordan River. As in the case of Moses, the Bible asserts that Joshua engaged in face-to-face conversations with Yahweh, and like Moses, he reported that Yahweh was insistent on the complete destruction of all the pagans then occupying the Promised Land. The first seven chapters of the book focus on the well-known story of Jericho. In preparing for the attack, the Israelites sent two spies to investigate the city, where they found refuge with a prostitute named Rahab, who apparently had heard rumors about the Israelites’ powerful deity. Because she helped them, the two spies assured the prostitute that the invaders would not kill her or her close relatives. After the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the priests marched around the city with the Ark of the Covenant for seven days, and on the seventh day they marched around the city seven times. Then the priests blew their rams’ horns and the soldiers shouted. As a result, Jericho’s walls miraculously collapsed, and then, according to the biblical account, the soldiers “claimed everything in the city for the Lord. With their swords, they killed men and women, young and old, as well as cattle, sheep, and donkeys.” Joshua, however, commanded his men to “spare the prostitute Rahab, her father’s family, and everything she owned . . . because she had hidden the two Israelite spies” (Joshua 6:21). The Bible is silent about whether or not Rahab continued to practice “the oldest profession.&
rdquo;6

After the Israelites’ glorious victory in Jericho, they attempted to take the city of Ai, but there they suffered a terrible defeat. “Tearing his clothes in grief,” Joshua angrily demanded that Yahweh explain the reason he had failed to keep his promise to assist his chosen people. Yahweh answered: “Israelite soldiers have taken the spoils that I claimed for myself and put them among their own possessions.” Joshua then used divine magic to discover that a soldier named Achan had taken five pounds of silver and a pound of gold. Confessing his great sin, Achan pleaded for mercy to no avail. According to the text, “All Israel took Achan, his sons and daughters, his cattle, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent—everything he owned . . . and all Israel stoned him and his entire family to death.” A pile of stones was then placed over their dead bodies, and “the Lord was satisfied and withdrew his burning anger” (Joshua 7:6–25).

Following these executions, Joshua and his men went to battle against Ai for a second time. This time, Yahweh instructed Joshua: “Hold out the spear in your hand toward Ai because I am handing over the city to you.” Faithfully obeying the command, Joshua “did not lower his hand holding the spear until the Israelites had completely destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai.” In obedience to their tribal deity, the Israelite soldiers killed everyone who was hiding in the fields. Then they returned to kill everyone who had remained in the city, and according to the biblical account, “not one person survived . . . twelve thousand men and women from Ai died that day.” After taking all the livestock and other spoils of war, Joshua hanged Ai’s king on a tree and turned the city into “a deserted mount of ruins” (Joshua 8:18–29).

Following this victory over Ai, Joshua continued to lead his troops on a rampage of genocidal slaughter. According to the text, Yahweh himself enthusiastically participated in the killings. As Joshua faced the five Amorite kings at Gibeon, “the Lord threw the enemy into disorder in front of Israel and defeated them decisively.” When a group of surviving Amorites tried to escape, “the Lord threw huge hailstones at them, and more died from the hailstones than from Israelite swords.” Needing more daylight to complete the slaughter, Joshua prayed to Yahweh, and he then shouted: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon.” In response, one of the most famous of the biblical miracles is said to have occurred: “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and for nearly a day the sun was in no hurry to set. Never before or after this day was there anything like it, a day when the Lord did what a man told him to do. The miracle demonstrated that the Lord was fighting for Israel” (Joshua 10:10–14). The context and literary form make it quite clear that the biblical authors intended for their words to be interpreted literally; they believed the sun really did stand still in the sky for almost an entire day. Interestingly, William Jennings Bryan defended a literal interpretation of this story in his debate with Clarence Darrow during the Scopes Trial of 1925. Although Bryan, a proponent of pacifistic values, warned that disbelief in biblical miracles could lead the country into Prussian militarism, he did not appear to be offended by the biblical accounts of divine commandments for herem.

After Joshua executed the five Amorite kings, he and his soldiers then invaded the city of Lachish. At this point, the accounts of slaughter in the book of Joshua become very repetitive: “The Lord handed Lachish over to Israel. Joshua put the city to the sword and totally killed everyone in it.” This victory was followed by invasions of the cities of Eglon, Hebron, Debir, Hazor, and others. For each of these cities, the story is basically the same: “So Joshua captured all these cities and their kings. He claimed them for the Lord by destroying them. . . . The people of Israel carried off all the plunder and livestock from the cities. They put all the people to the sword until they completely destroyed every living thing that breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded” (Joshua 10:36–40 and 11:13–14).

When Joshua was very old and ready to die, he called for a final conference with religious and political leaders. In his speech, he first reminded the assembly that “the Lord has helped you by driving out great and powerful nations; to this day no person has been able to withstand your power.” To continue to enjoy this divine favor, Joshua warned the Israelites not to have any relationships with the foreign pagans still remaining in the conquered lands—especially not to bow down to the graven images of their gods. If the Israelites ever disobeyed these divine commands, Joshua predicted: “You may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out the nations before you. Instead . . . the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you” (Joshua 24:19–20). Subsequent Old Testament books claim that whenever the Israelites failed to follow Joshua’s instructions, they were defeated in battle. Again and again, the military defeats motivated the Israelites to repent, and whenever they returned to the teachings of the Torah, Yahweh helped them to prevail on the battlefield—at least this is what the Bible claims.

Probably, a majority of twenty-first-century Christians and Jews find it embarrassing, even shocking, to learn that the Bible explicitly teaches that God commanded conquest, holy war, and genocide. Any person giving such commands today would unquestionably be guilty of a crime under international law and subject to severe punishment. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) broadly defines genocide as any action “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.”

Throughout history, the memory of past racial and ethnic atrocities has motivated groups to take revenge, thereby resulting in new cycles of genocide. In the case of the Amalekites, the Bible teaches that God explicitly ordered revenge-motivated genocide, placing this ethnic group under a permanent herem because they had attacked the Israelites during their wandering in the Sinai wilderness. The divine curse was placed on every man, woman, and child of that ethnicity—with no possibility of reconciliation. Moses commanded: “When the Lord your God gives you peace from your enemies in the land that he is giving you as your property, you must not forget to eliminate every trace of the Amalekites from the earth” (Deut. 25:17–19). In this particular story, herem is not said to be a practical necessity in order to protect the Israelites’ religion from pagan contamination. Rather, all the Amalekites were to be killed because Yahweh was determined to carry out the curse he had placed on them as punishment for their prior aggression against his chosen people.

The first book of Samuel tells about the genocidal fate of the Amalekites. After the Kingdom of Israel had been established, the prophet Samuel instructed King Saul that Yahweh had decided that the time had arrived for a “final solution” to the Amalekite question. Samuel commanded: “Now go and attack the Amalekites. . . . Do not spare them; put to death all the men and women, children and infants, as well as their cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys.” Partially following this command, Saul organized a military campaign, and “he claimed all the Amalekites for God by destroying them.” But Saul and the soldiers did not entirely obey Yahweh’s command, for they committed the sin of taking possession of the b
est sheep, cows, lambs, and fattened animals. Saul also failed to obey the command to kill King Agag. According to the biblical story, Yahweh was furious about this disobedience and complained to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul the king because he has not carried out all of my instructions.” Thus, Samuel went to see Saul, and rebuking him for not following instructions, he declared: “The Lord now rejects you as king of Israel.” He then instructed Saul to bring him King Agag, and when this was done, the pious prophet took his sword and “cut Agag to pieces in the presence of the Lord at Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:1–33).

In the modern world, almost all jurists reject the notion of the “collective guilt” of an entire ethnic group for crimes committed by individual members of the group. Yahweh’s permanent curse against the Amalekites is clearly an example of attributing guilt to an entire ethnic community for acts committed in the past—a cultural practice that apparently was common in the ancient world. Other expressions of ethnic animosity can be found in the Bible. For instance, when the tribe of Judah was taken into captivity in Babylon, the unknown author of one of the Psalms expressed his bitterness in a prayer: “You evil and destructive people of Babylon, blessed is the person who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes their little heads against the rocks” (Psalm 137:8–9). One cannot help but wonder how such an expression of ethnic hatred made its way into a book that millions of intelligent and morally upright people consider to be holy writ.

Although the Torah contains many commandments supportive of genocide, it is equally true that some parts of the Torah command the Israelites to “love the aliens in their midst” and to treat them with hospitality and respect (Exod. 22:20 and Deut. 10:19). These aliens (or “strangers”) would certainly have included members of the Canaanite nations, perhaps even a few surviving Amalekites. Apparently these contradictory commands resulted from the way in which the first five books of the Bible were compiled by a variety of individuals and groups who had differing religious ideologies, using a variety of written and unwritten sources that were put together over a long period of time.7

When modern conservative Christians read about the commands for genocide in “Moses’s Torah,” a common reaction is to declare that the New Testament does not advocate any such practice. Certainly, it would be impossible to deny that Jesus’s altruistic teaching about the Golden Rule and helping the poor are fundamentally at odds with genocide. But the canonical Gospels also quote Jesus as speaking favorably of Moses and his Torah. Conspicuously, Jesus never condemns the violence associated with the conquest of Palestine. The authors of the Epistles in the New Testament, moreover, discuss the conquest explicitly—and always favorably. In chapter 11 of The Letters to the Hebrews, which has been called the “roster of the heroes of faith,” the unknown author praises the faith and resulting actions of Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Sampson, David, Samuel, Rahab, and Jephthah, among others: “Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and took possession of the Promised Land.” To this author, role models of faithful behavior included almost anyone who helped the Israelites accomplish their genocidal wars of conquest—including even Rahab and Jephthah. Based on a modern understanding of Christianity, it appears rather shocking that a New Testament Epistle praises the example of Jephthah, the military leader who sacrificed his daughter as a “burnt offering” in order to fulfill his oath to Yahweh (Heb. 11:29–33). Perhaps the author was impressed by his faithful adherence to Moses’s command to keep such vows without exception (Num. 30:2).

St. Paul, sometimes called the “second founder of Christianity,” declared that the Mosaic Torah “is holy; that its commandments are holy, righteous, and good” (Rom. 7:12). In this context, Paul specifically mentioned only the items in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, but it appears clear that he was referring to all of the 613 commands. Certainly, he never criticized anything in the Torah, including the command for herem. Since he claimed to be an educated Pharisee, he must have been familiar with the genocidal nature of the conquest. In the book of Acts, Paul is quoted as saying in a speech: “The God of the Israelites chose our ancestors and made them a strong nation. . . . He used his powerful arm to bring them out of Egypt. . . . Then God destroyed seven nations of Canaan and gave their land to his chosen people as an inheritance” (Acts 13:17–19). Although most contemporary scholars do not consider the book of Acts to be entirely consistent with the theological ideas in the Pauline Epistles, the book is an established part of the orthodox New Testament canon, and as such it demonstrates the thinking of a significant portion of the early Christians.

These and other New Testament writings fail to provide any clear and explicit explanation about which of the 613 commands should be recognized as normative for Christians. It is well established that the very notion of a New Testament canon did not emerge until the second century.8 The Christians of the first century used the Old Testament books as their scriptures, and the author of 2 Timothy wrote: “All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking corrections and training in righteousness” (3:16). This letter gives no reason to think that its author intended to exclude Moses’s command for the destruction of the seven Canaanite tribes and the Amalekites.

An interesting recent book, Show Them No Mercy (2003), contains essays about the conquest written by Christians with different points of view. Rev. C. S. Cowles, a moderately liberal Christian, argues that the nature of God is revealed in Jesus’s message of love and benevolence, and based on this premise he argues that the ancient Israelites were simply mistaken about God’s nature—a view that requires rejection of traditional doctrines of biblical infallibility and inerrancy. In contrast, Eugene Merrill, a conservative Old Testament scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary, finds that the description of the violent god of the Old Testament is entirely consistent with his image in the New Testament, especially in view of the terrible fate that awaits unsaved sinners at the time of the Second Coming. He is not embarrassed to write that the extreme wickedness and idolatry of the Canaanites required their extermination in order to preserve the pure religiosity of God’s chosen people.9

Some Christian and Jewish commentators have tried to soften the account of the conquest by interpreting it as a symbolic allegory or metaphor that actually describes a spiritual or moral struggle. Such a reading of the narrative, while perhaps morally uplifting, would not appear to be consistent with the literary genre and intended message of the narrative. When telling the story of the conquest, the authors clearly seemed to believe that they were talking about real events that had actually occurred in particular time-place contexts, explaining in straightforward prose why they thought that they were entitled to live in the land that they occupied. Although modern readers tend to view most of the stories of the Hexateuch (the first six books of the Bible) as mythological, it appears clear that their authors and editors intended for them to be understood as literal, factual history—wie es eigentlich gewesen.10

A large number of modern humanists have argued that the monotheistic religion of the ancient Israelites
contributed to the development of a violent and aggressive culture. For instance, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer writes that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam will continue to contribute to destructive wars unless and until they repudiate the violence in their “sacred texts” and develop a nonviolent conception of God.11 Michael Walzer does not entirely disagree, but he finds that there is no “intrinsic connection” between monotheism and the doctrine of holy war.12 Observing that violent conquest and herem were not unusual in the ancient world, he points to the Moabite stone, usually dated at the eighth century BCE, which appears to demonstrate that herem was sometimes practiced by polytheistic societies of Palestine. In this document, Mesha, the king of the Moabites, tells his people that their tribal deity Chemosh commanded the conquest of an Israelite city and that Mesha obeyed. He declared: “I took the city and slew all seven thousand men, boys, women, [girls], and female slaves, for I had consecrated it to Ashatar-Chemosh.”13

Biblical scholars and archaeologists increasingly deny that the conquest and settlement of Palestine took place in the short period of time that is described in the Bible. Rather, the settlement was probably more of a gradual infiltration than a swift campaign of extermination. Respected archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman go so far as to argue that the Israelites never actually resided in Egypt, and that the story of Joshua’s violent conquest was simply an ancient myth. According to Finkelstein and Silberman, the Israelites were made up of various groups of Canaanites who gradually developed into a distinct culture. If this analysis is correct—and Finkelstein and Silberman point to a considerable amount of archeological evidence—then the biblical description of the Canaanite genocide never really happened, at least not on a large scale.14 Although their argument is quite significant from a historical perspective, it does not in any way eliminate the image of a warlike god in portions of the Bible, including the fact that he is frequently quoted as commanding genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Regardless of whether or not the biblical account of genocidal herem is historically accurate, belief in its accuracy has had a significant and unfortunate impact on the behavior of Christians and Jews living in subsequent centuries. A number of American historians, such as David Stannard, observe that the Puritans as well as other European Christians who invaded the Americas frequently referred to the biblical example of the conquest of Palestine.15 Having read that God had ordered his earlier chosen people to practice herem, many Christian invaders, especially those of a Calvinistic persuasion, believed that they were also divinely “chosen” (or predestined) and from this premise logically deduced that God could not possibly object to their applying the biblical examples of conquest and ethnic expulsions in America.

There has been considerable controversy about whether the biblical account was partly responsible for the alleged excesses of modern Zionism. Niels Lemche argues that the European Jews who settled in Israel after World War II equated the Palestinians with the ancient Canaanites—an interpretation that means that “the Bible was the instrument used to suppress the enemy.”16 Historian Benny Morris, based on exhaustive research, has also concluded that the displacement of Arabs from Palestine “was inherent in Zionist ideology.”17 In his precensored memoirs, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin admitted that large numbers of the Palestinians “did not leave willingly.”18 Moderates such as Rabin disapproved of coercive expulsions, but extremist groups such as Gush Emunim appealed to the Hebrew Bible to infer a duty to wage a merciless war against the Palestinians who rejected Jewish sovereignty.19 Rabbi Meir Kahane, the assassinated founder of Kach, was not embarrassed to assert a literal exegesis of the biblical passages promising that Israelites had an exclusive right to the entire land of Palestine, and in his many speeches and published writings, he called for the forceful ejection of the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.20 Yigal Amir, the young Zionist who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, agreed with this point of view, and he became infuriated when Rabin proposed a policy of land for peace and declared that the Bible did not provide “a record of real estate deeds.”

The biblical account of the conquest of Palestine is hardly unique; the history of humanity includes countless instances of violent invasions, ethnic cleansings, and genocide. This does not necessarily mean that humans are genetically programmed to engage in such behavior. Peoples have seldom if ever gone to war for the pleasure of killing one another. Rather, almost all wars have been fought because of the practical need to possess and occupy habitable land. Again and again, the growth of population density has eventually made it impossible for the available land to provide decent standards of living for everyone. Sharon Korman’s excellent book, The Right of Conquest (1996), demonstrates that before the twentieth century, the practice of military conquest had not been condemned in international law. Before then, it was legally permissible for powerful nations to acquire additional lebensraum by means of aggressive warfare.21 On this view, the ancient Israelites, like the Canaanites, were not evil people, but the root cause of their aggression was their need for a place to settle and grow food and raise their children. Their religious beliefs then became a justification for their aggressive behavior.

Nevertheless, even if this is true, a large percentage of persons who are fortunate enough to live in modern industrialized societies find it abhorrent and disgusting to see religious beliefs used as a justification for violent conquest and genocide. In earlier times, even in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a much smaller percentage of persons appeared to think that such justifications were unacceptable.

Notes

1. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon (Artarmon, Australia: Snowball Press, 2010).

2. Michael Walzer, In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 34.

3. Moses earlier ordered the revenge killing of all Midianites, except that the Israelites could “take for themselves” the virgin girls (Numbers 25 and 31, especially 31:1, 16–18).

4. In Maimonides’s standard list of the 613 mitzvoth, genocide is explicitly commanded in 601, 602, 607, 611, and 612. Because they are overlapping, some Jewish scholars disagree about their exact number. See Ronald L. Eisenberg, The 613 Mitzvot: A Contemporary Guide to the Commandments of Judaism (Rockville, MD: Schreiber Publishing, 2005).

5. Walzer, In God’s Shadow, 34.

6. In the New Testament, she is called “righteous because she helped the Israelite spies” (James 2:25).

7. The well-known “documentary hypothesis,” also called the “Wellhausen hypothesis,” posits that the first six books of the Bible, the Hexateuch, were derived from a variety of sources and subsequently compiled into their current form by a number of editors. Even today, there are some fundamentalists who insist that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch, based primarily on New Testament claims about his authorship.

8. For the gradual transition from Jewish Christianity, see Geza Vermes, Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

9. Eugene
Merrill, C. S. Cowles, Tremper Longman III, and Stanley Gundry, Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003).

10. Douglas S. Earl suggests that the religious problem of violence in Joshua might be minimized by interpreting the book as mythological. “Reading Joshua as Christian Scripture,” Journal of Theological Interpretation Supplement 2 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010).

11. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us?: Violence in the Bible and the Quran (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005), 136.

12. Walzer, In God’s Shadow, 35.

13. James Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), 209–10.

14. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman, The Bible Unearthed (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001), especially chapter 3.

15. David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 177. Bernard Bailyn recognizes that Native Americans were also violent but writes that seventeenth-century Europeans were more genocidal in The Barbarous Years: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600–1675 (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2012).

16. Niels Lemche, The Old Testament Between Theology and History: A Critical Survey (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pp. 315–16.

17. Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004), 249, 588, 592, and 599. In subsequent writings, Morris has emphasized Palestinian intransigence.

18. The Israel Censorship Board removed this offensive passage from the published memoirs, but The New York Times acquired and published it. New York Times, October 23, 1979.

19. See Ian Lustick, For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1988), 3, 78, and 131.

20. Clearly expressed in Meir Kahane, They Must Go (New York: Grosset & Dunlop, 1984).

21. Sharon Korman, The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).


Thomas Tandy Lewis is a retired professor of history and editor of reference works on history and the U.S. Constitution. During his youth, he was a theological student and a fundamentalist preacher. The descriptions of God’s malevolent behavior in the Bible, among other issues, caused him to reject fundamentalism and evolve into a secular humanist.

Thomas Tandy Lewis

Thomas Tandy Lewis is a retired professor of history and editor of reference works on history and the U.S. Constitution. During his youth, he was a theological student and a fundamentalist preacher. The descriptions of God's malevolent behavior in the Bible, among other issues, caused him to reject fundamentalism and evolve into a secular humanist.


The god of Moses commanded the Israelites (mythically or otherwise) to undertake a campaign of genocide in Canaan.

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