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Does the God of the Bible command genocide? Are the armies of Israel immorally responsible for the genocide of Canaanite populations at the command of their God? Let's talk.

Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby Gallus » Tue Sep 19, 2017 4:58 pm

Was it just for the Amelikites to resist their slaughter?

In the bible God commands the Israelites to slaughter the Amelikites. Even though the bible paints them as pretty bad guys I don't think it would be unjust to resist ones own death. So, it follows that God can command an action that it is morally valid to resist and oppose.
Gallus
 

Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby jimwalton » Tue Sep 19, 2017 4:59 pm

There was no genocide happening.

1. The first thing you need to know about is the rhetorical warfare bravado language of the ancient Near East. There are many historical examples (outside of the Bible, dug up by archaeologists) of language of "kill 'em all, men women and children, kill the animals, leave nothing breathing." Scholars have found that it was their rhetoric, not their command or behavior. The meaning behind it was, "Let's win a great victory," not "Let's slaughter all the innocents!" This has been soundly established. It was conventional warfare bombast, and was never (except in a few exceptional cruel cases) taken literally. It was certainly not taken literally by the Israelites. You'll remember that last week Kim Jung Un said he would "sink Japan" and "reduce the U.S. to ashes and darkness." It's just warfare rhetoric. No one takes it at face value.

2. Here we find that the Amalekites remain as a people group (1 Sam. 27.8; 30.17-18). They weren't wiped out either. Genocide was never the point. Samuel is using the same rhetorical warfare bravado that was their cultural frame. The Amalekites were even still around 250 years later during the time of Hezekiah (1 Chr. 4.43). Even Haman in the story of Esther (Esth. 3.1) was an Amalekite descendant. So we know that the Amalekite hostility continued for almost 1000 years afterward. God had told them never to let up on their opposition to the Amalekites (Dt. 25.15-17) because of their false religion and the fierce ways. Unlike other Canaanites and Canaanite groups, the Amalekites couldn't (wouldn't) just be assimilated into Israel life.

3. Another fact that's helpful to know is that the cities of the ancient Near East were mostly military strongholds and governmental centers. The general population mostly didn't live in the cities, but only traded there on occasion or went there for governmental business. Small businesses were also in the cities to service the political and military populations there, but they were largely inhabited by professional personnel. (This is confirmed by the Amarna letters.) When the command was given to attack a city, what was being attacked were not the innocents, but the perpetrators: the governing officials and their armies. Still, the call to "kill 'em all" was language of victory, not of genocide.

4. Saul's target would have been the Amalekite strongholds, not the population centers. 1. The Amalekites were a nomadic group spread over a large geographic area. They were not concentrated in cities, and most of them didn’t live in cities (more than 90% of the ancients did not live in cities. The number may have been higher for nomadic groups). "Totally destroying" the Amalekites was not logistically or militarily possible. The sweeping words "all," "young and old" and "men and women" were stock expressions for totality, not brutality. They would use those words even if women and children weren't present. The idea here was to punish concentrated populations of military power and regional leadership, not to destroy an entire people group. To make an analogy, they were like the "al Qaeda" of their day. You can't just attack and wipe them out.

5. You'll even notice in 1 Sam. 15.5 that specific action was taken so that innocents didn't get caught up in the violence and killed along with the guilty.

6. 1 Sam. 15.5: The city of Amalek was the target of the attack: their governmental and military center, and the persons who have been set up as leaders of the people group. It’s like the U.S. military taking out the al Qaeda leaders. You don’t set an ambush in a ravine for a nomadic people scattered over an entire region.

7. Verses 7-9: Saul conquered the city and chased the governmental leaders and the soldiers through the desert to kill them. He took the king captive, most likely let the animals go, and kept the best animals for himself and his men. The idea was not that everything be slaughtered, but that none of it be taken by the soldiers as plunder.

8. Verse 12: If Saul were going to "utterly destroy" all of the Amalekites, spread out from the Brook of Egypt to Havilah, a nomadic group all over the Negev and the area of Edom, he could not possibly have accomplished this all in one night. All he did was conquer a small city.

9. Verse 13: Saul felt that he had done what was expected: "kill them all" (meaning win a decisive victory). He did conquer the city, kill the perpetrators, take the king captive, and scatter everything else. This shows us what he felt the expectations to be.

Therefore, it just is not true "that God can command an action that it is morally valid to resist and oppose."
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Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby Participial Phrase » Wed Sep 20, 2017 1:56 pm

The original poster's argument doesn't depend on the command to commit genocide being interpreted literally. Wouldn't anyone be justified in resisting warfare against them? Are they guilty just for opposing the Israelites? Did they do something wrong besides resisting assimilation?
Participial Phrase
 

Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby jimwalton » Wed Sep 20, 2017 1:57 pm

> Did they do something wrong besides resisting assimilation?

Yes. When Israel was first migrating from Egypt to Canaan the Amalekites came and attacked them (Ex. 17.8). They were a fierce nomadic people of showed no concern for Israel merely passing through the land to another place, and they were relentless in their goal to destroy Israel. The continued in their aggressions for generations (Judges 3.13; 6.3-5, 33; 7.12; 10.12, etc.)

> Were they justified in resisting warfare against them?

It's natural for anyone to resist warfare against them, but they should have surrendered when given the chance (Dt. 20.10).
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Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby Gallus » Wed Sep 20, 2017 2:03 pm

This seems like a stock reply that ignores the content of my question. I am not using this part to paint the god of the old testament as evil. I am asking the theological question that given positive commandments to fight such and such a group would it not still be morally valid for the attacked to resist?
Gallus
 

Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby jimwalton » Wed Sep 20, 2017 2:05 pm

The first part of your question assumed a command of genocide, so I was addressing that first. As far as the main part of your question, I think it was unjust for them to resist. They should have seen God's presence in the people of Israel (as did Rahab in Josh. 2.9-11; also the Gibeonite deception of Josh. 9.9-10) and joined with the Israelites. To resist them was to resist God, which makes it unjust to resist.
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Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby Hazel » Wed Sep 20, 2017 2:47 pm

Just some food for thought, as I've heard these defenses before, and personal don't think they hold up. Addressing them by number...

> "It was just the language of bravado."

These words are presented in the Bible as having come from Yahweh himself, not some politician (like Kim Jong Un). Even if we accept the comparison of Yahweh to Kim Jong Un, the command itself is still despicable (i.e., if Yahweh says "Rape all the women!", but he's only exaggerating, it's still a disgusting thing to say). Finally, having heard this response several times, let me suggest that the archeological defense of this is much weaker than you make it out to be. It's true that military leaders often over-exaggerated their conquests, or left alive survivors while claiming to have 'destroyed everyone'. This only shows that they were overly boastful, not that everyone understood this language to be hyperbolic. If Yahweh is simply being overly boastful here, there's no evidence that the Israelites understood this.

> "The Amalekites Survived"

Survival of a group does not imply a lack of genocide. There are Armenian survivors of the Armenian genocide, and Jewish survivors of the Shoah.

> "The cities were probably military strongholds."

The Bible explicitly contradicts this, by pointing out that there livestock in the city, and heavily implying the presence of "young and old", "man and woman". Of course, this (and other defenses) amounts to "The Bible's description of the events is false", which is correct, but does not stop the Bible's description as being barbaric. If the Biblical authors had wanted to clarify the cities as being entirely populated with warring soldiers, they could have easily done so.

> "The Amalekites were nomadic."

This seems, again, to be suggesting that Amalekite cities could not have had "young and old", "man and woman", in them. Again, it is true that the Bible's depiction of these events is not historically accurate... but it is still true that the command is immoral and repugnant. Saying "Kill all the babies in this village" is still an immoral command, even if you later claim that there were no babies in the village. Finally, the claim that these outposts could not have had "young or old", "man and woman" is simply false: soldiers camps often had young and old, men and women, etc. On this point: >The sweeping words "all," "young and old" and "men and women" were stock expressions for totality, not brutality.

Total destruction of "young and old", "men and women", is both total and brutal. Being one does not stop it from being the other.

> "Saul took action to protect the innocents."

If you read only one verse further (1 Sam 15:6), you will see that this had nothing to do with protecting innocent people. Rather, Saul spared the Kenite tribe, because of the actions of their forefathers hundreds of years before. Reading the beginning of the chapter (1 Sam 15:2) also explicitly says that the Amalekites are being punished because of the actions of their forefathers, hundreds of years before. In both cases, the decision to kill or spare has no connection to the actions of the victims: it is explicit tribalism of the most horrific and immoral kind.

> "The city of Amalek was the target, not the people."

Saul did start with the city of Amalek, but the command from Yahweh is explicitly against the people, and does not mention the city (1 Sam 15:2-3). The violence also explicitly extended beyond the city "all the way from Havilah to Shur" (1 Sam 15:7) and although Saul took the king alive, he "totally destroyed all his people with the sword" (1 Sam 15:8).

> "Saul only chased government leaders and soldiers. He probably let the animals go."

These verses make no mention suggesting that only government leaders or soldiers were being chased. This is a detail added into the Bible by apologists. The idea that the other animals were probably let go is very clearly contradicted in 1 Sam 15:9, where Saul "...spared the best of the sheep and cattle... these they were unwilling to destroy completely...". It is very clear in the text that the alternative to being kept was not simply "being let go".

> "The Amalekites could not be destroyed in one night."

1 Sam 15:11 does not say that all these actions occurred in one night, only that Samuel prayed to Yahweh on the night Yahweh spoke to him. But if this passage is taken to mean that the entire affair, from ambush, through Havilah, to the borders of Egypt, took place in one night, then this only confirms that the Bible's description of these events is simply not historical.
"Saul thought he had done what was expected, showing that Yahweh never commanded the Amalekites to all be killed."

This defense is, in my opinion, the most brazen, because it seems to explicitly contradict the entire point of this story. In reading the entire story, the moral teaching is obvious: Saul and his men "can't bear to destroy" the cattle that they prize so highly, so they disobey Yahweh's commands by keeping a few alive. Yahweh becomes angry and explicitly says that Saul "...has turned away from me, and has not carried out my instructions." Saul tries to justify his disobedience by claiming that the best of the cattle were kept alive to be used as sacrifice to Yahweh, and Samuel pronounces that "It is better to obey than to sacrifice." In other words, it is explicit and clear that Yahweh commanded the cattle to be destroyed, that Saul disobeyed by keeping any alive, and that saying "Kill them all" was not understood by Samuel OR Saul as simply being exaggeration on Yahweh's part.

Every detail of this moral lesson directly contradicts the apologist claims.
Hazel
 

Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby jimwalton » Wed Sep 20, 2017 3:15 pm

> the language of bravado

Yes, as you say, it was very common in the ancient world. I won't go into the documentary evidence since you seem to be familiar with it. "Kill 'em all! Men, women, and children, and even animals!" didn't mean that.

Another piece of the puzzle that we haven't discussed yet, however, is why YWHW would use such "disgusting" language. I'll add to the discussion: He didn't. The word he used in 1 Sam. 15.3 is *cherem*, a word that Bibles translate as "kill 'em all." A brand new book by Dr. John Walton ("The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest") reveals that *cherem* doesn't mean "kill 'em all," but rather "remove from human use." *Cherem* is used of cities, fields, metal objects, and even abstractions. What God is commanding in the case of the Amalekites is that their identity as a people group be destroyed. This is usually accomplished by conquering their major cities, killing the king and his advisors, and scattering the people so that they no longer identify as Amalekites. While killing is sometimes a part of *cherem,* it's not necessarily so. In the conquest, for instance, all of the cities were declared *cherem,* but only Jericho, Ai, and Hazor were destroyed. Instead, they drove out the inhabitants so that they lost their identity as Canaanites. What God is actually commanding here is far different from what you seem to be assuming.

> Survival of a group does not imply a lack of genocide. There are Armenian survivors of the Armenian genocide, and Jewish survivors of the Shoah.

This is obviously correct, and I agree. But what God intended here is not killing people but destroying their identity. That the target is their identity is specified in Ex. 17.14 and Dt. 25.19 by the idiom "blot out the name..." They were ordered to kill the king because the king was the embodiment and personification of the community identity (Dt. 7.24; 1 Sam. 15.33, further down this chapter). Saul's commission was not to kill ethnic Amalek but to terminate the markers of their community identity.

> "The cities were probably military strongholds" ... The Bible explicitly contradicts this

Archaeology tells us that Canaan was an agrarian society, with less than 10% of the population living in the cities. From what we know about Jericho and Ai in the Bronze Age, they were military strongholds with little or no civilian population. The Amarna letters (14th c. BC) reveal that citadel cities (like Jerusalem and Shechem) were distinct from (and under the control of) their populations. For instance, Jericho, during the days of the conquest, was a small settlement of probably 100 or fewer soldiers. That's why all of Israel could circle it 7 times and then do battle against it the same day.

Saul's destruction of the Amalekites was similar. The target would have been the strongholds, not the population centers. The words "all," "young and old" and "men and women" were stock rhetorical expressions for totality, even if women and children weren't present.

> This defense is, in my opinion, the most brazen, because it seems to explicitly contradict the entire point of this story.

The entire point of the story is that the Amalekites were to be disbanded as a people group, lost to history and time. (Ironically, this didn't happen for another 600 or so years.) Many of the ancient people groups suffered the same fate (where are the Hittites or the Philistines today?). It is highlighted primarily to show Saul's failure as God's representative on the throne, and that his disobedience was the cause of his deposing by God. The moral teachings of the story are

- God rejects Saul as king because he doesn't obey
- God uses those who obey Him
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Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby Gall » Wed Sep 20, 2017 3:46 pm

>God gave a command to the Israelites and not the Amelikites.

In modern Rabbinic Judaism there is a line of thought that basically more commandments=more holiness. To suggest that the Amelikites had a command (to not resist) that the Israelites did not would be to elevate them above the Israelities which would obviously be unacceptable to Rabbinic Judaism.

None of the Noahide laws suggest that one should not defend oneself. The laws traditionally are:

Do not deny God.
Do not blaspheme God.
Do not murder.
Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
Do not steal.
Do not eat from a live animal.
Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to said laws.

Furthermore it is not possible to follow the Noahide laws if one does not live under them. Therefore, living takes precedence over the Noahide laws.
Gall
 

Re: Was it just for the Amalekites to resist the slaughter?

Postby jimwalton » Thu Oct 19, 2017 11:43 am

> God gave a command to the Israelites and not the Amelikites.

Agreed.

> To suggest that the Amelikites had a command (to not resist) that the Israelites did not would be to elevate them above the Israelities which would obviously be unacceptable to Rabbinic Judaism.

I never suggested that the Amalekites had a command (to not resist). All I said is they had eyes to see and brains to interpret, as did Rahab.

> None of the Noahide laws suggest that one should not defend oneself.

Agreed, but the Noahide laws were not written to the Amalekites, as you seem to know

> Therefore, living takes precedence over the Noahide laws.

They weren't under Noahide laws, so it's moot. But if they wanted to live they should have surrendered.


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