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Did God Really Command Genocide?

I just completed a review of the book Did God Command Genocide? I have to say that it is a wonderful book that I would recommend for any student of the Bible, specifically for those that are more advanced in their research. I am attaching the text of my review below:

Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God. Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014. 351 pp.

The questions of killing and dying have been regarded as two of the most important questions any soldier faces. As an infantryman who has faced combat in the Middle East, the question of killing was weightier. Not only is this question relevant to those, like myself, who have been in combat, but to those who wonder whether or not God did in fact give such a command.

In their book, Copan and Flananagan attempt to tackle this difficult question without hiding from the facts. They move through four distinct portions of the question of genocide in the Old Testament texts, including the problem of scriptural authority, commands, texts, and massacres, the killing of innocents, and religion and violence.

The authors work through, most likely, every example of the “genocide” texts, citing both the biblical text as well as quite a few philosophical, theological, and even cultural responses to these—ranging from problems with ancient killing to modern. At the end of each chapter, after laying out their arguments, they give a very helpful and in-depth summary of both their arguments as well as the opposition. Perhaps to most lay readers, the final chapters are most valuable as they discuss a comparison of the Yahweh wars to modern Jihadists and even the Crusades.

Concerning problem points, at first glance, Copan and Flannagan appear to give a troublesome response to the command to kill “all” Canaanites;. they argue that many of the commands were in fact hyperbolic. They follow this assertion with biblical examples, often within the same passage, of what first seem like double standards but then appear to be true examples of hyperbole. The authors do a good job of making these points clear, showing that God did not indeed call for the killing of every single Canaanite but for the removal of the Canaanites from the land. As someone who previously ignored the hyperbolic argument, this reviewer now finds the argument quite fascinating.

One of the more common arguments for the allowance of killing is the hideous nature of the Canaanite cult. The authors, quite superbly, identify these stuck points, showing the true nature of the often anti-Yahwist beliefs of those living in Canaan. While they do a good job showing these, perhaps they could have done a better job giving a history to what lead the Canaanites to giving up El worship in favor of Ba’al, and thus informing the audience as to what the original audience already knew—that the Canaanites withdrew from worship of the “creator” god (and somewhat compatible with Yahweh) in favor of the storm god who, perhaps, promised more.

In discussing this killing, Copan and Flannagan approach the issue that one opponent raises with tact, i.e., the “bludgeoning of babies.” While these very words impress upon the reader a mental image that should cause any reader to cringe, they compare this to modern incidents that, this reviewer believes, make it allowable within the theological framework of New Testament Christianity.

Though there is that one, small, area for improvement, the authors masterfully engage the subject and the reader in a textbook style manuscript. The pages are easily read, though the subject matter can be difficult to understand. They wage battle with the issues at hand, and conquer their enemies. This book would be a wonderful text for graduate level courses, but perhaps a bit too deep for undergraduate students. As far as those who might have actually had to pull the trigger on the enemy, the answer is certain. Sometimes killing is necessary.

—Justin Singleton, PhD student, Institute of Archaeology, Andrews University

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