Back to the Bible as literature

We have been looking at controversies and misunderstandings when it comes to the Bible. Right now I’m exploring the idea that the Bible urged and condoned genocide in the Old Testament (see previous blog posts). I will continue the discussion here.


In addition, we have to consider the literary use of hyperbole, which is exaggeration for effect. We see it throughout the Bible. How do we know that it applies to the stories dealing with battles in the Old Testament? Think about the verse I used above from Deuteronomy. If you go just a few chapters later (7:3-5), you encounter this: “… you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.” Now, if all Canaanite inhabitants were dead, there’d be no need for this injunction. Then look at Judges 1:21 where it says the Israelites did not drive out Canaanites who lived in Jerusalem, and, in fact, lived near them for years. Notice Joshua 11: 22, which says there were no Anakim left in the land, and that they were utterly destroyed. But later Caleb asks permission to drive out the very same Anakites from the hill country, so they obviously had not been destroyed by Joshua.


There are a few other things to consider. According to those who have studied this, the ones who were destroyed were political leaders and army combatants, not noncombatants. The towns of Jericho and Ai, mentioned so prominently in the opening attacks by Joshua, were military forts rather than towns full of peaceful people. Some of the battles fought were defensive in nature since many Canaanites had attacked the Jewish people during their wanderings in the desert. There are also verses that tell the Israelites to give the towns a chance to surrender before attacking them. Other verses talk about “driving out” the enemy, not destroying them.


OK, next time let’s move on to another issue involving the New testament.