A Hyperbolic Reading of Joshua ~ Copan and Flannagan

  • War texts (as a genre) include hyperbole and exaggeration.

I did not put the footnotes into this excerpt… you will have to purchase the book to follow through. I left out a few pages (104-107) that are titled three implications of this reading. Very interesting and again the book is worth a read. Chapter 9 is titled “Objections from the Biblical Text to the Hyperbolic Interpretation.” So for the skeptical, again, the entire book is worth your attention. This is posted for a pastor and for a professor I know… enjoy. (BTW, here is a quick synopsis of Jericho referencing Copan’s great book, Is God a Moral Monster, at Tough Questions Answered.)Did God Command Genocide Copan Apologetics

  • Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 84-104, 107-108.

7 ~ The Question of Genocide and the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Joshua

Earlier, we noted philosopher Raymond Bradley’s quoting from Joshua 6-12, in which we read that Joshua “utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old,” that “he utterly destroyed every person who was in it,” “he left no survivor,” and “there was no one left who breathed.” We have cited Bradley’s assessment of Israel’s/God’s “geno­cidal policies.” We’ve also noted that thinkers such as philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and zoologist Richard Dawkins cite Joshua to make the same argument. Bradley, Sinnott-Armstrong, and Dawkins do have a point when they say that if we read such verses in isolation from the rest of the narrative and do so in a straightforward, literal way, it appears that Israel committed genocide at God’s command, slaughtering every last inhabitant of the land of Canaan.

There are, however, good reasons why these passages should not be read in a straightforward, literal way. Nicholas Wolterstorff, who taught philosophi­cal theology at Yale, puts forward two strong arguments for rejecting the kind of literalistic reading that Bradley and his atheistic comrades-in-arms promote. First, it’s quite implausible that those who authorized the final form of the text were affirming that all Canaanites were exterminated at God’s command. Second, the accounts that appear to say otherwise are utilizing extensive hyperbole and are not intended to be taken literally. In this chapter and the next, we’ll develop and defend these arguments. If Wolterstorff’s arguments are correct—and there are a number of biblical scholars who take this view—then the author(s) of the biblical text aren’t affirming that God commanded genocide.

An Argument against Literalism

Wolterstorff’s first argument rejects a literalistic reading of these Joshua texts: “A careful reading of the text in its literary context makes it implausible to interpret it as claiming that Yahweh ordered extermination.” What is this literary context? “Joshua as we have it today was intended as a component in the larger sequence consisting of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings…. I propose that we interpret the book of Joshua as a component within this larger sequence—in particular, that we interpret it as preceded by Deuteronomy and succeeded by Judges.” Jews and Christians accept the final form of Joshua as part of a sequence in a larger canonical arrangement. When reading it this way, certain features of the narrative become apparent. The first feature is that a tension exists between early chapters of Joshua and the opening chapters of Judges, which is the literary sequel to Joshua: Joshua 6-11 summarizes several battles and concludes with, “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (11:23). Scholars readily agree that Judges is literately linked to Joshua. Yet the early chapters of Judges, which, incidentally, repeat the death and burial of Joshua, show a different picture:

After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” Judah said to his brother Simeon, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; then I too will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. Then Judah went up and the LORD gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they defeated ten thousand of them at Bezek. (Judg. 1:1-4)

On the surface Joshua appears to affirm that all the land was conquered, yet Judges proceeds on the assumption that it has not been and still needs to be.

Similarly, Joshua 10-11 appears to state that Joshua exterminated all the Canaanites in the land. Repeatedly, the text states that Joshua left “no survivors” and “destroyed everything that breathed” in “the entire land” and “put all the inhabitants to the sword.” Alongside these general claims, the book of Joshua identifies several specific places and cities where Joshua exterminated “everyone” and left no survivors. These include Hebron (10:36), Debir (10:38), the hill country, the Negev, and the western foothills (10:40).

In contrast, the first chapter of Judges affirms eight times that the Israelites had failed to conquer the land or the cities; they could not drive the inhabi­tants out. The narrator states that the Canaanites lived in the Negev, in the hill country (v. 9), in Debir (v. 11), in Hebron (v. 10), and in the western foothills (v. 9). Moreover, they did so in such numbers and strength that they had to be driven out by force with great difficulty. These are the same cities noted in Joshua 10, which claims all inhabitants had been annihilated with no remaining survivors. The opening section of Judges finishes with the angel of the Lord at Bokim rebuking them for failing to drive out the inhabitants of these areas (Judg. 2:1-5).6 And further along in the text, the affirmation that Joshua did not destroy all the Canaanites in the land becomes even more explicit: “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died”; the text continues: “The LORD had left those nations, not driving them out at once, and had not handed them over to Joshua” (vv. 21,23 NRSV). Contrast this with the sweeping affirmation made in Joshua 11:23: “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Thus the land had rest from war” (NASB).

We see other passages that seem to suggest extermination—only to be told shortly afterward that nothing of the sort happened:

INSERT chpt 7

At the end of the book, Joshua refers to “these nations . . . which remain among you” (23:7 NASB), and he warns against clinging to “the rest of these nations” (v. 12 NASB).

So, on the surface, Joshua appears to affirm that these cities were conquered and their inhabitants completely exterminated. Judges proceeds, however, on the assumption that they are yet to be conquered and the Canaanites still live there in significant numbers, although Joshua gives indications of this as well. Yet Joshua and Judges sit side by side in the biblical canon, the latter being a continuation of the narrative of the former. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay makes this observation: “While Joshua does speak of Israel’s utterly destroying the Canaanites, even these accounts can give a misleading impression. When a city is in danger of falling, people do not simply wait there to be killed; they get out. . . . That may be one reason why peoples that have been annihilated have no trouble reappearing later in the story; after Judah puts Jerusalem to the sword, its occupants are still living there ‘to this day’ (Judg. 1:8, 21).”

Finally, the account of what God commanded differs in the two narratives. Joshua states: “He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded” (Josh. 10:40) and “exter­minating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses” (11:20). However, when this command is retroactively referred to in Judges 2:1, there is no mention of genocide or annihilation. Instead we read of how God had promised to drive them out and of God’s commands not to make treaties with the Canaanites but to destroy their shrines. This silence is significant in the context. If God had commanded genocide, then it is odd that only instruc­tions concerning treaties and shrines were mentioned (a theme we also see in Deut. 7:1-6). So there are obvious tensions between a surface reading of Joshua and Judges (a sequel to Joshua). However, these tensions do not merely occur between Joshua and Judges. The same tension occurs within the book of Joshua itself. Chapter 11 finishes in this manner: “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (v. 23). Note that the conquered region is the same land that is later divided among the Israelite tribes.

However, when the text turns to giving an account of these tribal divisions only a chapter (or so) later, God says, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over” (13:1). Then, in the next five chapters, it is stressed repeatedly that the land was not yet conquered, and the Canaanites were, in fact, not literally wiped out. As we have seen, when we examine the allotment given to Judah, we see Caleb asking permission to drive the Anakim from the hill countries (14:12), describing how he has to defeat the Anakim living in Hebron, and, after this, marching against the people “living-in Debir” (15:13-19).

Similarly, it is evident with several of the other allotments that the people still had to drive out Canaanites entrenched in the area and were not al­ways successful in doing so. We read, for example, that the Ephraimites and Manassites “did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim” (16:10). Similarly, chapter 17 states, “Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely” (vv. 12-13). We read that “when the territory of the Danites was lost to them, they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor” (19:47). Here we see the same land said to be subdued and conquered by Joshua in battles where he exterminated and left alive nothing that breathed. This land was yet to be occupied by the tribes of Israel and was still occupied by Canaanites, who were often heavily armed and deeply entrenched (17:16-18).

So a surface reading of the passages that Bradley and Sinnott-Armstrong cite not only seems to contradict Judges, but also the preceding chapters of the book of Joshua itself.

Biblical scholar Brevard Childs notes the apparent contradiction:

Critical scholars have long since pointed out the tension—it is usually called a contradiction—in the portrayal of the conquest of the land. On the one hand, the conquest is pictured in the main source of Josh. 1-12 as a unified assault against the inhabitants of the land under the leadership of Joshua which suc­ceeded in conquering the entire land (11.23; 18.1; 22.43). On the other hand, there is a conflicting view of the conquest represented by Judges 1 and its paral­lels in Joshua (15.13-19, 63; 16.10; 17.11-13; 19.47) which appears to picture the conquest as undertaken by individual tribes, extending over a long period beyond the age of Joshua, and unsuccessful in driving out the Canaanites from much of the land.

More recently, Kenneth Kitchen has taken issue with Childs’s picture of Joshua 1-12. He notes that, when one takes into account the rhetorical flour­ishes common to ancient Near Eastern war accounts of this sort, a careful reading of Joshua 1-12 makes it clear that it does not portray Israel as actu­ally occupying or conquering the areas mentioned. Kitchen notes that after crossing the Jordan, the Israelites set up camp in Gilgal “on the east border of Jericho” (Josh. 4:19). He points out that after every battle in the next six chapters, the text explicitly states that they returned to Gilgal:

The conflict with Canaanite city-state rulers in the southern part of Canaan is worth close observation. After the battle for Gibeon, we see the Hebrews advance upon six towns in order, attacking and capturing them, killing their local kings and such of the inhabitants as had not gotten clear, and moving on, not holding on to these places. Twice over (10:15, 43), it is clearly stated that their strike force returned to base camp at Gilgal. So there was no sweeping takeover and occupation of this region at this point. And no total destruction of the towns attacked.

Kitchen continues:

What happened in the south was repeated up north. Hazor was both leader and famed center for the north Canaanite kinglets. Thus, as in the south, the Hebrew force defeated the opposition; captured their towns, killed rulers and less mobile inhabitants, and symbolically burned Hazor, and Hazor only, to emphasize its end to its local supremacy. Again Israel did not attempt to immediately hold on to Galilee; they remained based at Gilgal (cf. 14:6).

Kitchen notes that “the first indication of a real move in occupation outward beyond Gilgal comes in 18:4.” This is “after the first allotment (14-17) of lands-to-be-occupied had been made,” and as we saw above, the Israelites did not find occupying these allotments easy. He concludes, “These campaigns were essentially disabling raids: they were not territorial conquests with instant Hebrew occupation. The text is very clear about this.”

Joshua as we have it today, then, occurs in a literary context in which the language of “killing all who breathed,” “putting all inhabitants to the sword,” and “leaving no survivors” is followed up by a narrative that affirms straight­forwardly that the Canaanites were not literally wiped out or exterminated in this manner. Moreover the text of Joshua itself mixes and juxtaposes these two pictures of the entrance into Canaan. If one reads the whole narrative as a sequence, these are not subtle contrasts; they are, in Wolterstorff’s words, “flamboyant” ones.

It is worth emphasizing how “flamboyant” these tensions are. Joshua 6-11 rhythmically and repeatedly emphasizes that Joshua “put all the inhabitants to the sword” and “left no survivors.” It additionally spells out specific places this occurred. The section finishes in this manner: “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war” (11:23). Yet, at the same time, after every battle it is stressed that Israel returned to base camp at Gilgal. So there was no sweeping takeover and occupation of this region at that point.

Then, in the next five chapters, it is stressed repeatedly that the land was not yet conquered, and the Canaanites were, in fact, not literally wiped out. Furthermore, the very same regions were still occupied by the Canaanites who remained heavily armed and deeply entrenched in the cities. This is then followed by the opening chapters of Judges, which affirm eight times (in a single chapter) that the Israelites had failed to conquer the land or the cities and had failed to drive the inhabitants out. As we noted earlier, the account finishes with the angel of the Lord at Bokim rebuking them for failing to drive the inhabitants out. While one might contend a human author could make an editorial error, it is unlikely that an intelligent editor or arranger would have missed something this blatant. Wolterstorff concludes: “Those whose occupation it is to try to determine the origins of these writings will suggest that the editors had contradictory records, oral traditions, and so forth to work with. No doubt this is correct. But those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence were not mindless; they could see, as well as you and I can see, the tensions and contradictions—surface or real—that I have pointed to. So what is going on?” Wolterstorff’s point is that regard­less of what sources or strata of tradition are alleged to be behind the final form of Joshua, those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence would have been well aware of the obvious tensions in the passages mentioned above. Moreover, they were not mindless or stupid. Consequently, it is unlikely, when read in this context, that those who authorized the final form of Joshua were using the text to assert literally that Joshua carried out an extermination of all the inhabitants of Canaan at God’s command. Evidently, something else is going on.

The Use of Sources and Not-So-Intelligent Editors

Some critics have objected that this argument from Wolterstorff relies on the uninformed claim that if an editor put two contradictory sources together, the editor was either truly intellectually challenged or not affirming both in a literal sense. These critics object that Wolterstorff offers an utterly false dichotomy.

Consider, though, what the objector is implying by this “false dichotomy” charge. The critic suggests that the final editors of the text could be affirming both that Israel killed every single person in Canaan and that Israel did not do this, which, of course, makes no sense.

To back up their claim that the final editors are including blatantly contra­dictory materials, critics may appeal to influential positions proposed from within the camp of “source criticism.” The argument states that the ancient editors weren’t bothered by such contradictions in the way we moderns are. The ancient editors’ literary modus operandi—which included political or aesthetic considerations—was to faithfully preserve the source material despite its obviously contradictory nature when taken literally. Consider the political motivation: different groups of people with divergent traditions came together as one group, and so the traditions were woven together not for the sake of consistency but to reflect the unity of the group. The goal was to preserve the distinctiveness of the material and also to unite the people. Ancient editors cared about the material not because they thought it was “inerrant” but because it reflected the different traditions of the various peoples within that group.

Or maybe an editor would take a well-known tradition that was also sub­versive to establishment orthodoxy; he might add elements to it in order to make it conform to the official position. Ecclesiastes could be an example here, where the message of “the Teacher” contradicts long-standing orthodoxy, but a later editor deliberately contradicts its message by adding passages to subvert the original message (Eccles. 12:9-14).

The problem is that even if it is correct that genuine contradictions exist in the text, this charge fails to show that Wolterstorff’s argument relies on a false dichotomy. For one thing, the editor isn’t assuming that both affirmations—say, extermination and nonextermination—are literally true. The editor preserves them to show unity, which doesn’t counter Wolterstorff’s assumption; in fact, Wolterstorff would readily affirm this. The editor clearly has some­thing else in mind in preserving statements that affirm both extermination and nonextermination.

What about the even clearer example of Ecclesiastes, in which we find two “voices”; there is the cynical “Preacher/Teacher” and the godly editor, who in the end exhorts the reader to “fear God and keep His commandments” (12:9-14 NASB). The final editor is not assuming both positions are true. He repudiates the voice of the Preacher, who did say some provocative and even wise things (vv. 9-11). But the second voice stands to affirm a hope-filled stance that is quite distinct from the Preacher’s message of cynicism, empti­ness, and despair.

How indeed could Wolterstorff argue that even a half-intelligent editor would knowingly affirm both that Joshua exterminated every person in Canaan and that after he did so, abundant numbers of Canaanites were still alive? Ancient standards of accuracy or aesthetics are relevant here. Whatever dif­ferences they had from us, it is clear that ancient Near Easterners knew that if an enemy left absolutely no survivor in a city, then the people of that city were dead. It doesn’t make sense to affirm otherwise.

Wolterstorff’s first argument, therefore, appears sound. When the passages Bradley cites are read in context, it seems quite implausible to affirm that the final editor and arranger of Joshua was using this text to assert that absolute (or something approximating) extermination took place at God’s command. Something else is going on.

Summary MAIN chpt 7

8 ~ Genocide and an Argument for “Hagiographic Hyperbole”

If those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence were not using the text to affirm that genocide occurred at God’s command, what then is going on? This brings us to Wolterstorff’s second line of argu­ment. He uses the term hagiography (“holy writing”)—which refers to certain idealized, sometimes exaggerated accounts of events. In the United States, for example, we have a hagiography of the Pilgrims interacting with noble sav­ages, Washington chopping down a cherry tree, and Washington crossing the Delaware—events that may reflect historical realities but are “sanitized” or “air-brushed” to remove any defect, messiness, or nuance. These might have the benefit of teaching a moral lesson, and the storytelling is not intended to tell us exactly what occurred historically. Some literary liberties are being taken.

Nicholas Wolterstorff suggests that hagiography—though properly clari­fied and qualified—serves as a helpful way of looking at Joshua’s exploits:

The book of Joshua has to be read as a theologically oriented narration, stylized and hyperbolic at important points, of Israel’s early skirmishes in the promised land, with the story of these battles being framed by descriptions of two great ritualized events. The story as a whole celebrates Joshua as the great leader of his people, faithful to Yahweh, worthy successor of Moses. If we strip the word “hagiography” of its negative connotations, we can call it a hagiographic ac­count of Joshua’s exploits. The book is not to be read as claiming that Joshua conquered the entire promised land, nor is it to be read as claiming that Joshua exterminated with the edge of the sword the entire population of all the cities on the command of Yahweh to do so. The candor of the opening chapter of Judges, and of Yahweh’s declaration to Joshua in his old age that “very much of the land still remains to be possessed,” are closer to a literal statement of how things actually went.

Wolterstorff alludes to several features and literary figures of speech in the text to support this view. He notes that the early chapters of Judges, by and large, read like “down-to-earth history.” However, he continues, anyone carefully reading the book of Joshua will recognize in it certain stylistic renderings—”formulaic phrasings” and “formulaic convention[s]” —and stylized language like “utterly destroy,” “put to the edge of the sword,” “leave alive nothing that breathes,” and “man and woman, young and old,” as well as “the highly ritualized character of some of the major events described.” “The book is framed by its opening narration of the ritualized crossing of the Jordan and by its closing narration of the equally ritualized ceremony of blessing and cursing that took place at Shechem; and the conquest narrative begins with the ritualized destruction of Jericho.” A related ritualistic feature is “the mysterious sacral category of being devoted to destruction.” However, the most significant is the use of formulaic language:

Anyone who reads the book of Joshua in one sitting cannot fail to be struck by the prominent employment of formulaic phrasings…. Far more important is the formulaic clause, “struck down all the inhabitants with the edge of the sword.”

The first time one reads that Joshua struck down all the inhabitants of a city with the edge of the sword, namely, in the story of the conquest of Jericho (6:21), one makes nothing of it. But the phrasing—or close variants thereon—gets re­peated, seven times in close succession in chapter 10, two more times in chapter 11, and several times in other chapters. The repetition makes it unmistakable that we are dealing here with a formulaic literary convention.

So while the accounts in Judges appear as “down-to-earth history,” the pas­sages in Joshua referring to “leaving alive none that breathes” and “putting all inhabitants to the sword” appear in contexts full of ritualistic, stylized, formulaic language. It therefore looks like something other than a mere literal description of what occurred. In light of these facts, Wolterstorff argues that Judges should be taken literally whereas Joshua is hagiographic history, a highly stylized, exaggerated account of the events designed to teach theological and moral points rather than to describe in detail what literally happened.

Ancient Near Eastern Conquest Accounts

Wolterstorff’s thesis has been substantially confirmed in a study he cites in a footnote. In a comprehensive comparative study of ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, Lawson Younger Jr. documents that Joshua employs the same stylistic, rhetorical, and literary conventions of other war reports of the same period.’ Three conclusions of Younger’s research are pertinent.

The first is that comparisons between the book of Joshua and other an­cient Near Eastern conquest accounts demonstrate some important stylistic parallels. According to Ziony Zevit, “when the composition and rhetoric of the Joshua narratives in chapters 9-12 are compared to the conventions of writing about conquests in Egyptian, Hittite, Akkadian, Moabite, and Ara­maic texts, they are revealed to be very similar.” Younger notes similarities in the preface, structure, and even the way the treaty with the Gibeonites is recorded in Joshua and various ancient Near Eastern accounts. Joshua fol­lows this convention in describing numerous battles occurring in a single day or within a single campaign. Like Joshua, ancient Near Eastern accounts also repeatedly make reference to the enemy “melting with fear.” Even the way post-battle pursuits are set out and described shows similarities with comparable pursuits in ancient Near Eastern literature. Commenting on the structure of the campaigns mentioned in Joshua 9-12, Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen reminds us:

This kind of report profile is familiar to readers of ancient Near Eastern military reports, not least in the second millennium. Most striking is the example of the campaign annals of Tuthmosis III of Egypt in his Years 22-42 (ca. 1458­1438)…. The pharaoh there gives a very full account of his initial victory at Megiddo, by contrast with the far more summary and stylized reports of the ensuing sixteen subsequent campaigns. Just like Joshua against up to seven kings in south Canaan and four-plus up north.

He adds, “The Ten Year Annals of the Hittite king Mursil II (later fourteenth century) are also instructive. Exactly like the ‘prefaces’ in the two Joshua war reports (10:1-4; 11:1-5), detailing hostility by a number of foreign rulers against Joshua and Israel as the reason for the wars, so in his annals Mursil II gives us a long “preface” on the hostility of neighboring rulers and people groups that lead to his campaigns.” Kitchen offers other examples. He observes that the same formulaic style found in Joshua is also used in two of the Amarna letters—a correspondence written in Akkadian between Egyptian administra­tors in Canaan and Amurru and two particular pharaohs, Amenhotep III and Akhenaten (fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC). Similarly, before his major campaigns, “Joshua is commissioned by YHWH not to fear (cf. 5:13-15; 10:8; 11:6). So also by Ptah and Amun were Merenptah in Egypt, and Tuthmosis IV long before him; and likewise Mursil II of the Hittites by his gods (Ten-Year Annals, etc.), all in the second millennium, besides such kings as Assurbanipal of Assyria down to the seventh century.”

Second, Younger also notes that such accounts are “figurative” and utilize what he calls a “transmission code”: a common, frequently stylized, stereo­typed, and frequently hyperbolic way of recording history. The literary motif of divine intervention is an example. Both The 10 Year Annals of Mursil (also known as “Mursili”) and Sargon’s Letter to the God record a divine interven­tion where the god sends hailstones on the enemy Tuthmosis III has a similar story regarding a meteor—or what appears to have been a meteor shower. Younger observes that these accounts are very similar to parallel accounts in Joshua 10 where God rains hailstones on Israel’s enemies. Similarly, Younger points out that in many ancient Near Eastern texts, “one can discern a literary technique in which a deity is implored to maintain daylight long enough for there to be a victory,” which has obvious parallels to Joshua 10:13-14. The numbers of armies and enemy casualties are rhetorically exaggerated. The fact that similar events are narrated in multiple different accounts suggests they are “a notable ingredient of the transmission code for conquest accounts” — that is, they are part of the common hyperbolic rhetoric of warfare rather than descriptions of what actually occurred.

Third and most significantly for this discussion, part of this “transmission code” is that victories are narrated in an exaggerated hyperbolic fashion in terms of total conquest, complete annihilation, and destruction of the enemy, killing everyone, leaving no survivors, etc. Kitchen offers illuminating examples:

The type of rhetoric in question was a regular feature of military reports in the second and first millennia, as others have made very clear…. In the later fifteenth century Tuthmosis III could boast “the numerous army of Mitanni, was over­thrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) non-existent” —whereas, in fact, the forces of Mitanni lived to fight many another day, in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries. Some centuries later, about 840/830, Mesha king of Moab could boast that “Israel has utterly perished for always”—a rather premature judgment at that date, by over a century! And so on, ad libitum. It is in this frame of reference that the Joshua rhetoric must also be understood.

Younger offers numerous other examples. Merneptah’s Stele (thirteenth cen­tury BC) describes a skirmish with Israel as follows, “Yanoam is nonexistent; Israel is wasted, his seed is not.” Here a skirmish in which Egypt prevailed is described in terms of the total annihilation of Israel. Sennacherib uses similar hyperbole, “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.” Mursil(i) II records making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of human­ity).” Mesha (whom Kitchen cited as stating “Israel has utterly perished for always”) describes victories in terms of his fighting against a town, taking it, and then killing all the inhabitants of the town. Similarly, The Bulletin of Ramses II, a historical narrative of Egyptian military campaigns into Syria, narrates Egypt’s considerably-less-than-decisive victory at the battle of Kadesh with the following rhetoric: “He took no note of the millions of foreigners; he regarded them as chaff…. His majesty slew the entire force of the wretched Foe from Hatti, together with his great chiefs and all his brothers, as well as all the chiefs of all the countries that had come with him, their infantry and their chariotry falling on their faces one upon the other. His majesty slaughtered and slew them in their places…; and his majesty was alone, none other with him.” Numerous other examples could be provided. The hyperbolic use of language similar to that in Joshua is strikingly evident. Though instances could be multiplied, but the point is that such accounts contain extensive hyperbole and are not intended to be taken as literal descriptions of what occurred.

Rhetorical Function and Ideology

Some critics will disagree with this hyperbolic interpretation of Joshua, but we should consider the point of hyperbole itself in such contexts. One conclu­sion Younger draws from his study is that the transmission code employed in Joshua 9-12 reflects the same imperialistic ideology as other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. This ideology means “victory must be described in black and white terms since there is only a ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ relationship.” Such rhetoric was used to inspire fear and obedience in those subjects who heard it. If the reader only heard such rhetoric as exaggeration, then the rhetoric would not have had the effect it was intended to have.

This inference is mistaken, firstly, because it is false that hyperbolic rhetoric must be taken literally in order to inspire fear and obedience. Suppose a boxer before a boxing match states that he is going to murder his opponent and make his children orphans. This sort of rhetoric is designed to inspire fear and intimidate. Does it follow that it is intended to be taken literally? Similarly, school bullies tell potential victims that if they “narc” on them, the bullies will “kill them and smash their heads in.” Do the victims have to believe they will literally be killed and have their heads actually smashed in to get the message?

Secondly, this objection fails to grasp the reasons Younger proffers for Joshua 9-12 reflecting the same imperialistic ideology as other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Younger states: “Can one conclude that since the text of Joshua 9-12 manifests the same transmission code as other texts of ancient Near Eastern history writing, it is the product of the same underly­ing ideology? The indications from this study seem to point to an affirmative answer.” Younger concludes that Joshua 9-12 has the same ideology as other ancient Near Eastern accounts because it uses the same rhetorical transmission code—a code Younger documents as containing “extensive use of hyperbole.” He concludes: “Israelite ideology had certain similarities with the ‘Imperial­istic’ ideologies of the ancient Near East,” which included “a similar view of the enemy, the calculated terror, the high use of hyperbole . . . and the use of stereotyped syntagms [linguistic units in ordered words/phrases like “utterly destroyed”] to transmit the high-redundance message of the ideology.’

Younger is clear on his meaning of hyperbole—namely, using “exagger­ated terms for the purpose of emphasis and/or heightened effect,” adding that “more is said than is literally meant.” In fact, even when Younger talks of how victory must be described “in black and white terms,” he cites an ex­ample of the “figurative aspect” of such accounts and part of the “extensive use of hyperbole.”

Consequently, the critic cannot cite Younger’s conclusions (about Joshua reflecting the same imperialistic ideology as other ancient Near Eastern con­quest accounts) as evidence that the rhetoric in these texts was intended to be taken literally. The whole reason Younger concludes that these texts reflect this ideology is because they follow the same rhetorical conventions common to such accounts, conventions that were not meant to be taken literally.

Younger’s study shows quite conclusively that Joshua is written in accord with the rhetoric and conventions of ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Such accounts narrate history in a highly rhetorical, stereotyped, figurative fashion and utilize substantial hyperbole, narrating battles in terms of total annihilation of everyone. To read these accounts as though the author were literally affirming that total extermination had taken place is simply to misread them. Younger states, “It is evident that the syntagms… (they completely destroyed it and everyone in it,’ he left no survivors’), etc. are to be under­stood as hyperbole. Just like other ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, the biblical narrative utilizes hyperbolic, stereotyped syntagms to build up the account.” Younger suggests this misreading has led scholars like Brevard Childs to mistakenly see contradictions between Joshua and the early chapters of the book of Judges. “Thus when the figurative nature of the account is considered there are really no grounds for concluding that Judges 1 presents a different view of the conquest from that of Joshua or that it must be an older account.” And Kitchen states that Old Testament scholars have read into the book of Joshua “a whole myth of their own making, to the effect that the book of Joshua presents a sweeping, total conquest and occupation of Canaan by Joshua, which can then be falsely pitted against the narratives in Judges.” This myth is “based on the failure to recognize and understand ancient use of rhetorical summations. The ‘ails’ are qualified in the Hebrew narrative itself.”

Biblical Hyperbole

Several other considerations can be added to bolster this point. One is the fact that such hyperbolic language is clearly being used within the book of Joshua itself, which we noted earlier. In Joshua 10:20 (NASB), for example, we are told that Joshua and the sons of Israel had been “slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were destroyed.” Immediately, however, the text affirms that the “survivors who remained of them had entered the fortified cities.” In this context, the language of total destruction is clearly hyperbolic.

A similar phenomenon seems to occur in the account of the battle of Ai. After Joshua’s troops feign a retreat, the text states that “all the men of Ai” are pressed to chase them (Josh. 8:16). “Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. hey left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel” (v. 17). Joshua lures the pursuers into a trap “so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives” (v. 22). Then, after noting the capture of Ai’s military ruler (v. 23), the text immediately states: “When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword…” (v. 24). Taken literally, this is patently absurd. If there were no survivors or fugitives, whom were the Israelites chasing?

The account of the battle of Ai ends with the summary, “Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai” (v. 25), yet earlier in the same account it says, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there” (7:3). The text also describes Israel being routed when the men of Ai “killed about thirty-six of them” (v. 5). Clearly the casualty figures cannot be literally correct here. However, they are quite consistent with the conclusions drawn by Daniel Fouts that exaggerated numbers are common forms of hyperbole in ancient Near Eastern battle accounts. Archaeology suggests smaller numbers as well. Old Testament scholar Richard Hess notes that as with the “city [‘ir]” of Ai or other “cities” raided by the Israelites, Jericho was not a population center but a small, strategic military settlement or citadel. It was led by a commander or “king [melek],” also housing religious and political personnel. Jericho probably held a hundred or fewer men. This is why all of Israel could circle it seven times and then do battle against it on the same day!

Even if the numbers are not hyperbolic, matters seem complicated by the Hebrew term `eleph, commonly rendered “thousand.” A possible interpreta­tion is that these numbers may not be as high as our translations indicate. This term can also mean “unit,” “troop,” or “squad,” without specifying the exact number. However, the massive numbers in biblical war texts fit quite nicely within the genre of ancient Near Eastern war texts with many examples of extraordinarily high numbers; thus we consider the hyperbolic numbers to be more plausible.

Similar hyperbole occurs in other biblical books, using the same phraseol­ogy we find in Joshua of “utterly destroying [haram]” populations “with the sword.” First Chronicles 4:41 states: “They attacked [nakah] the Hamites in their dwellings and also the Meunites who were there and completely de­stroyed [haram] them.” But only a few verses later, we read that the survivors fled to Amalek where they were later all “destroyed [nakah]” a second time (v. 43 NASB)!

Later in 2 Chronicles 36:16-17, the author narrates the fall of Jerusalem: “But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.” Only a few verses later, however, the narrator states, “He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power” (v. 20).

Similarly, compare verse 19: “They [the Babylonians] set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and de­stroyed everything of value there.” With verse 18, “He [king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon] carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’S temple and the treasures of the king and his officials.” Taken literally this is absurd. How could they carry off all the treasure from the palaces and temple if everything of value had been destroyed? But this was not intended to be taken literally. This account was written to a post-exilic audience who knew full well that not every one of the Judahites had been killed. They, as the descendants of the survivors, knew that Judah had been exiled and was later restored under Cyrus: a fact pointed out only a few verses later (cf. vv. 21-23).

One finds the same language of killing all inhabitants with the sword also used hyperbolically in Judges. Judges 1:8 states, “The men of Judah attacked Jerusalem also and took it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire.” A few verses later, however, the text states: “The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites” (v. 21).

Similar language is used hyperbolically in the prophetic writings. In the context of the Babylonian invasion and Judah’s exile (sixth century BC), God said he would “lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (Jer. 9:11). Indeed, God said, “I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin” (25:9). Note that this is the same verb (haram) used for “utterly destroying” the Canaanites. In Jeremiah, God threatened to “stretch out My hand against you and destroy you” (15:6 NASB; cf. Ezek. 5:16)—to bring “disaster” against Judah (Jer. 6:19). However, the biblical text suggests that while Judah’s political and religious structures were ruined or disabled, and that Judahites died in the conflict, the “urban elite” were deported to Babylon while many “poor of the land” remained behind. Similarly, in Isaiah God says, “I consigned Jacob to destruction [herem] and Israel to scorn” (43:28). Then in the very next verse (44:1), God tells “Jacob,” whom he has “chosen,” that God will restore his people and bring them out of exile under a new covenant in which he will pour out his Spirit upon them.

As a final example, consider the “covenant curses” of Deuteronomy 28. Verse 20 warns: “The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin.” But this is followed by the threat that “the LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land” (v. 21). And once again we see the language of still further destruction: “The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed…. All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed” (v. 24, 45).

But the text goes on to state that though Israel has been “destroyed,” they will face further perils in exile: “Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known…. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life” (vv. 64-66). Those who were said to be destroyed are alive in exile.

The same kind of language used to describe the fate of the Canaanites is frequently used hyperbolically throughout the Bible. In all these cases, the language of destroying “all” is seen to be qualified by the fact that a significant number (in fact) fled, escaped, and survived. Kitchen notes that in ancient rhetorical summaries of this sort, “the ‘ails’ are qualified by the Hebrew nar­rative itself. In 10:20 we learn that Joshua and his forces massively slew their foes ‘until they were finished off’…, but in the same breath the text states that ‘the remnant that survived got away into their defended towns.’ Thus the absolute wording is immediately qualified by exceptions — ‘the quick and the dead,’ as one might say of pedestrians trying to cross our busy highways!”

Preliminary Conclusions

When we study the evidence, three things emerge. First, Joshua 1-11 occurs in a context where the so-called genocidal language of exterminating all and leaving no survivors occurs alongside a narrative that affirms matter-of-factly that large numbers of people were not killed and many survived. Second, as Wolterstorff comments, “Those who edited the final version of these writings into one sequence were not mindless,” and so it is unlikely they intended to affirm both these pictures as literally true. The biblical author clearly has something else in mind. Third, while Judges reads more like “down-to-earth history” (though not without mention of both destruction and many survivors [e.g., 1:8, 21]), a careful reading of Joshua reveals it to be full of ritualistic, stylized accounts and formulaic language. This third point is supported by research into ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. Such studies show the following:

1 Such accounts are highly hyperbolic, hagiographic, and figurative, and follow a common transmission code;

2 Comparisons between these accounts and the early chapters of Joshua suggest Joshua is written according to the same literary conventions and transmission code;

3 Part of this transmission code is to hyperbolically portray a victory in absolute terms of totally destroying the enemy or in terms of miraculous divine intervention: “such statements are rhetoric indicative of military victory,” not literal descriptions of what occurred;

4 The same language and phraseology has a well-attested hyperbolic use in Joshua and elsewhere throughout Scripture.

Taken together, these points give persuasive reasons for thinking that one should interpret the extermination language in Joshua 1-12 as offering a highly figurative and hyperbolic account of what occurred. It seems sensible to con­clude that the language of “leaving alive nothing that breathes,” “leaving no survivors,” and “put[ting] all inhabitants to the sword” is not meant to be taken literally.

After comparing the figures of speech and rhetoric used in numerous Hit­tite, Assyrian, and Egyptian conquest accounts with those of Joshua, Younger concludes, “The syntagms (…‘they completely destroyed everyone in it’) and (. . .’he left no survivors’) are obvious hyperbole. This is also true for these: (…‘Not sparing anyone who breathed’), and (…‘until they exterminated them’). That these are figurative is clear from numerous ancient Near Eastern texts.” (See such hyperbole in Mark 1:5: Is all Judea/Jerusalem emptied?)


Summary MIAN chpt 8

Does the Bible Support Rape? Deuteronomy 22:28-29

The quick commentary on this swath of Scripture is this:

Concerning the non-virgin bride, there is an element of fraud here. A woman who admitted she was not a virgin was immune from prosecution; only one who pretended to be a virgin bride was subject to execution, and even then, only if her husband accused her. Furthermore, if any man seduced her prior to her betrothal, she needed only publicly confess this fact, and she could require him to marry her and never divorce her. If she was raped in the city, her cries for help would vindicate her. If she was raped in the field, she was presumed innocent and would be vindicated by her own words. Under those circumstances, it is quite reasonable that a woman who married under false claim of virginity was presumed to be guilty of adultery, that is, having sexual relations with someone other than her betrothed during her betrothal.

While this is a response to a particular “meme,” I will be bringing in previous discussions, posts, and ideas to build to a response that should be instructive in approaching other verses or challenges often given to the Christian as evidence that the Bible shows an “evil” God, and thus undermines the Christians reliance on the Bible.

If you want to just go to a refutation of the meme and skip the build-up, you can do so by CLICKING HERE. Otherwise, enjoy the tour through other challenges that end up being the opposite of the claims of the skeptics.

If a man encounters a young woman, a virgin who is not engaged, takes hold of her and rapes her, and they are discovered, the man who raped her must give the young woman’s father 50 silver shekels, and she must become his wife because he violated her. He cannot divorce her as long as he lives. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)


The meme [upper/right] was posted by my son to engender deeper conversation on his Facebook. I began to post a series of responses giving hints to ways to approach ancient documents. One must REMEMBER this as you read… I am not showing the divine nature of the Bible… I am merely pointing out the generally accepted rules of engagement when approaching ancient literature most legal systems in the West and literary critics accept as a guideline[s] to sift through documents [ancient or new]. These rules are not meant to prove the divine nature of anything. They are however meant to engender a level playing field (if-you-will) to help anyone approach weighty subjects, texts, and the like.

By using these “rules of engagement” we will find that the typical atheist/skeptic who refuses to mature in their approach to these issues use shallow thinking by promoting such “challenges,” so-called. The real purpose of such memes are merely to produce an emotional — visceral — reaction, emotive in nature, having nothing to do with good thinking in any way.

This approach, then, not only makes it easy for the believer to show the folly in such positions, BUT SHOULD make the skeptic pause and contemplate how they are making themselves look in a public place. They [the skeptic] should want to make their case full of gravitas, facts, context, and the like so they can garner a level of respect in their own positions. These memes do just the opposite. They make the skeptic look childish.

(As an aside, almost all of the graphics/pics inserted in my posts will be linked to similarly contextual article or posts.)

This is key:

Raising one’s self-consciousness [awareness] about worldviews is an essential part of intellectual maturity…. The right eyeglasses can put the world into clearer focus, and the correct worldview can function in much the same way. When someone looks at the world from the perspective of the wrong worldview, the world won’t make much sense to him. Or what he thinks makes sense will, in fact, be wrong in important respects. Putting on the right conceptual scheme, that is, viewing the world through the correct worldview, can have important repercussions for the rest of the person’s understanding of events and ideas…. Instead of thinking of Christianity as a collection of theological bits and pieces to be believed or debated, we should approach our faith as a conceptual system, as a total world-and-life view.

Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 9, 17-18, 19.

Okay then, I will cut’n’paste much of the posts/discussion from my son’s Facebook below (with some editing/addition).


This is one reason why people who say they are skeptics really are not all that skeptical… because they do not do the yeoman’s work to know how to accept or reject their own beliefs well nor those beliefs of whom they are challenging. It does a great disservice to themselves AS WELL as others… and really shows a disregard for a world religion that I have not seen shown to the other great religions of the world. Some even will defend these other Religions without knowing the religions own stated positions.

This is the first of a few points I will make.

This is an issue that has many depths to it. And when atheists or skeptics reject the Bible for such verses, they do a disservice to good thinking. And mind you, one of the most important aspects of this debate is how do we approach ancient texts in a fair way. FIRST and FOREMOST, the idea that the writers of the Bible were robotic in their transmission, called in occultism, “automatic writing,” is not what we see here – where the writer gives over control of himself to write [word-for-word] what is being relayed to him or her. Geisler so aptly words the issue this way:

The [biblical authors] who wrote Scripture were not automatons. They were more than recording secretaries. They wrote with full intent and consciousness in the normal exercise of their own literary styles and vocabularies. The personalities of the [biblical authors] were not violated by a supernatural intrusion. The Bible which they wrote is the Word of God, but it is also the words of men. God used their personalities to convey His propositions. The [biblical authors] were the immediate cause of what was written, but God was the ultimate cause.

(See references for this and Aristotle quote to follow, here)

So the idea that the Bible is a word-for-word dictum is NOT the case. The idea that the Bible is not something akin to “automatic writing” has no bearing on if this is the Divine Word of God however. Rather, the Christians concern should be to show the viable nature of the Bible in its internal context. There are techniques to help the truth seeker to do just that. In fact, our courts today incorporate some help in how they approach documents submitted as evidence, and literary-textual critics employ these Grecian helps that Aristotle and others formulated well.

The internal test utilizes one Aristotle’s dictums from his Poetics. He said,

They [the critics] start with some improbable presumption; and having so decreed it themselves, proceed to draw inferences, and censure the poet as though he had actually said whatever they happen to believe, if his statement conflicts with their notion of things…. Whenever a word seems to imply some contradiction, it is necessary to reflect how many ways there may be of understanding it in the passage in question…. So it is probably the mistake of the critics that has given rise to the Problem…. See whether he [the author] means the same thing, in the same relation, and in the same sense, before admitting that he has contradicted something he has said himself or what a man of sound sense assumes as true.

So are there rules that apply to approaching subjects in a fashion that maximizes the best conclusion on the text/topic that is the subject? Yes there is, this list is also from the Greeks and is summed up in these 8-points are summed up well in a short handout to a class I taught at church dealing with how believers should approach Scripture:

1) Rule of Definition: Define the term or words being considered and then adhere to the defined meanings.
2) Rule of Usage: Don’t add meaning to established words and terms. Ask what was the common usage in the culture at that time period.
3) Rule of Context: Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.
4) Rule of Historical background: Don’t separate interpretation from historical investigation.
5) Rule of Logic: Be certain that words as interpreted agree with the overall premise.
6) Rule of Precedent: Use the known and commonly accepted meanings of words, not obscure meanings for which there is no precedent.
7) Rule of Unity: Even though many documents may be used there must be a general unity among them.
8) Rule of Inference: Base conclusions on what is already known and proven or can be reasonably implied from all known facts.

(These are more fully explained in the outline I wrote for that teaching here)

This is always helpful to the believer to fall back on when skeptics take a single Scripture out of context and uses it as an example of why they reject the Bible. (The same would be said if something was done in similar fashion to such works as Homer’s Iliad, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, a play from Shakespeare, or the like.) These people not only try to show the Bible in a certain light, but take a leap to say Scripture is not divine in how the Christian or Jew think it is. This is a leap that the text does not warrant. Again, the conclusion they make is not warranted by properly approaching the text… in other words they destroy any warrant they feel they have or have shown by sloppy thinking. By creating this “straw-man” they come to a conclusion that is really a non-sequitur, effectively making their position incoherent.

I will talk about two such texts in the next post.


Over the years I have been challenged with many verses. While I have responded to this in the past, Dennis Prager’s critiques is hard to beat. This challenge has to do with Deuteronomy 21:18-21. The Scripture and argument go something like this:

“If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. 20 “And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear of it and fear,” (Deut. 21:18-21).

BEFORE getting to Prager’s rebuttal… let us deal with some qualifications one need to know and apply to a text in order to maximize a skeptical look at said text.

This seemingly harsh punishment for rebellion has been used by the critics of Christianity to infer the moral backwardness of Old Testament ethics. It is easy to throw stones from the comfort of our 21st-century perspective. If you apply our own understanding to this situation… then yes, I would agree with the skeptic. But this is not how thoughtful people approach ancient texts. For instance… there are many gaps from our 21st-Century post Judeo-Christian, Western culture that one should account for.

Some are:Hand 3 400


✦ …Consider how confused a foreigner must be when he reads in a daily newspaper: “The prospectors made a strike yesterday up in the mountains.” “The union went on strike this morning.” “The batter made his third strike and was called out by the umpire.” “Strike up with the Star Spangled Banner.” “The fisherman got a good strike in the middle of the lake.” Presumably each of these completely different uses of the same word go back to the parent and have the same etymology. But complete confusion may result from misunderstanding how the speaker meant the word to be used…. We must engage in careful exegesis in order to find out what he meant in light of contemporary conditions and usage.

We speak English, but the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek (and a few parts in Aramaic, which is similar to Hebrew). Therefore, we have a language gap; if we don’t bridge it, we won’t fully be able to understand the Bible.


If we don’t understand the various cultures of the time in which the Bible was written, we’ll never comprehend its meaning. For example, if we did not know anything about the Jewish culture at the time of Christ, the Gospel of Matthew would be very difficult to grasp. Concepts such as the Sabbath, Jewish rituals, the temple ceremonies, and other customs of the Jews must be under¬stood within cultural context in order to gain the true meaning of the author’s ideas.


A failure to be familiar with geography will hinder learning. For instance, in I Thessalonians 1:8 we read, “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith [toward] God is spread abroad.” What is so remarkable about this text is that the message traveled so quickly. In order to understand how, it is necessary to know the geography.

Paul had just been there, and when he wrote the letter, very little time had passed. Paul had been with them for a couple of weeks, but their testimony had already spread far. How could that happen so fast? If you study the geography of the area you’ll find that the Ignatian Highway runs right through the middle of Thessalonica. It was the main concourse between the East and the West, and whatever happened there was passed all the way down the line.


Knowing the history behind a passage will enhance our comprehension of what was written. In the Gospel of John, the whole key to understanding the interplay between Pilate and Jesus is based on the knowledge of history.

When Pilate came into the land with his emperor worship, it literally infuriated the Jews and their priests. So he was off to a bad start from the very beginning. Then he tried to pull something on the Jews, and when they caught him, they reported him to Rome, and he almost lost his job. Pilate was afraid of the Jews, and that’s why he let Christ be crucified. Why was he afraid? Because he already had a rotten track record, and his job was on the line.

Consider something known as the psychology of testimony. This refers to the way witnesses of the same event recall it with a certain level of discrepancy, based on how they individually observe, process, store, and retrieve the memories of an event.

One person may recall an event in strict chronological order; another may testify according to the principle of the association of ideas. One person may remember events minutely and consecutively, while someone else omits, condenses, or expands. These factors must be considered in comparing eyewitness accounts, and this is why history expects a certain amount of variability in human testimony. For example, let’s say that twelve eyewitnesses observed the same event–a car accident. If those witnesses were called to testify in a court of law, what would the judge think if all twelve witnesses gave the same exact testimony of the event, with every detail being identical? Any good judge would immediately conclude they were in collusion and reject their accounts. The variations of the observations of the eyewitness testimonies actually add to the integrity of their recall.

These are just a few of the many examples one needs to seriously consider when approaching ANY ancient text – especially ancient religious texts.


  • Law is “God’s law,” they are the expressions of His sovereign will and character. The writings of Moses contain a lot of Law. God provided the Jews with many laws (619 or so). These laws defined the proper relationship with God to each others and the world (the alien)….
  • History. Almost every OT book contains history. Some books of the Bible are grouped together and commonly referred to as the “History” (Joshua, Kings & Chronicles). These books tell us the history of the Jewish people from the time of the Judges through the Persian Empire…. In the NT, Acts contains some of the history of the early church, and the Gospels also have History as Jesus’ life is told as History….
  • Wisdom Literature is focus on questions about the meaning of life (Job, Ecclesiastes), practical living, and common sense (Proverbs and some Psalms )….
  • Poetry is found mostly in the Old Testament and is similar to modern poetry. Since it is a different language, “Hebrew,” the Bible’s poetry can be very different, because it does not translate into English very well….
  • Prophecy is the type of literature that is often associated with predicting the future; however, it is also God’s words of “get with it” or else. Thus Prophecy also exposes sin and calls for repentance and obedience. It shows how God’s law can be applied to specific problems and situations, such as the repeated warnings to the Jews before their captivity….
  • Apocalyptic Writing is a more specific form of prophecy. Apocalyptic writing is a type of literature that warns us of future events which, full meaning, is hidden to us for the time being….


Approaching portions of Scripture (or ANY ancient text) knowing even the genre is helpful to dissect it well.

DENNIS PRAGER exemplifies how to approach Deuteronomy 21:18-21 by explaining much of what we have talked about already plus more:

Moving on…


In an ongoing discussion at an atheist’s website, I was challenged with how evil God is to kill children with a Bear (2 Kings 2:23-25). I mean children? Here we have proof that God killed innocent children. Or so a light reading would express as much.

This is a post I can truly pat-myself-on-the-back for… because I offered a twist on this that other apologists have not. Let me explain after this verse is read:

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. (2 Kings 2:23-25)

It looks like we are seeing God killing kids for essentially – and just as cutely – as a young child gets frustrated and calls a friend “poopy head.”

However, if you come at this ancient text taking the Grecian examples of the credibility afforded a text, and step out of our 21st-Century post Judeo-Christian “Western” culture and ask if there are gaps in our knowledge (historical time periods, who was this written to, who wrote it, does understanding geography help us in understanding this tough verse, does understanding the culture of the writer help [how are the two cultures different], are there hint in the Hebrew that will help us as well, etc) Using this we can ask like any CSI detective:Hand 4 400

  • Who;
  • What;
  • When;
  • Where;
  • Why;
  • And How It Happened.

…as well as does the text…

  • Emphasize something;
  • Does it repeat a theme in the larger text;
  • Is it related or unrelated;
  • Is it alike or similar to other portions of the text or cultures in the area;
  • Is it true to our modern life in some way.

By doing so we can find out that:Hand 2a 400

✔ The crowd was in their late teens to early twenties (NOT CHILDREN, but military age, and this is known from other parts of the Bible where the Hebrew is used AS WELL AS from other ancient documents and cultures in the area of the Middle-East);
✔ they were antisemitic (this is known from most of the previous passages and books as well – also historical anthropology and other ancient texts);
✔ they were from a violently cultic city (ditto);
✔ the crowd was large (large enough to do the following….

(Here is my “pat-on-the-back” coming up)

this large crowd had already turned violent and riotess.

I can say this because as the pictures of cultural customs from this time-period [key!] show on my in-depth response to this by using drawings of historical figures from Israels history: priests, prophets, spiritual leaders, and even Flavius Josephus.

What did you notice above in the cover to an A&E documentary to the right? Yup, a turban as well as a cloak which covers the heads of the priests and prophets. Take note of the below as well.

I will post continue with a snippet from the aforementioned post:

I posted multiple images to drive a point home in our mind. The prophet Elisha would have had a couple cultural accoutrements that changes this story from simple name calling to an assault. He wouldn’t have been alone either, in other words, he would have had some people attached to him that would lay down their lives to protect him. And secondly, he would have had a head covering on, especially since he was returning from a “priestly” intervention. So we know from cultural history the following:

  • He would have had a head dressing on — some sort of turbin; and he would have had an entourage of men to dissuade any attack or mistreatment of a priest of Israel on a journey.

One last point before we bullet point the complete idea behind the Holy and Rightful judgement from the Judge of all mankind. There were 42 persons killed by two bears. Obviously this would require many more than 42 people. Why? What happens when you have a group of ten people and a bear comes crashing out of the bushes in preparation to attack? Every one will immediately scatter! In the debate I pointed out that freezing 42 people and allowing the bears time to go down the line to kill each one would be even more of a miracle than this skeptic would want to allow. So the common sense position would require a large crowd and some sort of terrain to cut off escape. So the crowd would probably have been at least a few hundred.

Also, this holy man of God was coming back from a “mission,” he would have had an entourage with him ~ as already mentioned, as well as having some sort of head-covering on as pictured above ~ as already mentioned.

So, what do these cultural and historical points cause us to rightly assume?

That the crowd could not see that the prophet was bald.

Which means they would have had to of gotten physical — forcefully removing the head covering. Which means also that the men with the prophet Elisha would have also been overpowered. So lets bullet point the points that undermine the skeptics viewpoint.

✔ The crowd was in their late teens to early twenties;
✔ they were antisemitic (this is known from most of the previous passages and books);
✔ they were from a violently cultic city;
✔ the crowd was large;
✔ the crowd had already turned violent.

These points caused God in his foreknowledge to protect the prophet and send in nature to disperse the crowd. Nature is not kind, and the death of these men were done by a just Judge. This explains the actions of a just God better than many of the references I read.

Your welcome.


So when I see something like this meme… it is just that. A very badly “exegeted” point. VERY RARELY do I meet a skeptic that does the yeoman’s work of heavy lifting and making a case well enough that they explain their disbelief in a manner that would demand a decision by other’s by engendering an informed dialogue. But this is why Trump — pivoting here to make a point — does so well among conservative because rather than pausing to see if their emotional response is rooted in more that a rejection based on “no-knowledge” and driven by reactive feeling to the opposing political party.

This is how Obama was elected as well.

Skpetics and liberal leaning persons deride the religious or conservative folks for being shallow and not thinking well, but in fact these rejections of BIG IDEAS and ancient text are done by doing just that — low information positions. which is why I ask people to pause and to think more deeply on their own positions. To learn their position better as well as to know better without making straw-men type arguments the position they are rejecting. In-other-words, Know what you reject, and why you reject it.

AGAIN, bringing this to current examples in our political lives, and repeating myself in a way:

Very rarely do you find someone who is an honest enough skeptic that after watching the above 3 short videos asks questions like: “Okay, since my suggestion was obviously false, what would be the driving presuppositions/biases behind such a production?” “What are my driving biases/presuppositions that caused me to grab onto such false positions?” You see, few people take the time and do the hard work to compare and contrast ideas and facts. A good example of this is taken from years of discussing various topics with persons of opposing views, I often ask if they have taken the time to “compare and contrast.” Here is my example:

I own and have watched (some of the below are shown in high-school classes):

  • Bowling for Columbine
  • Roger and Me
  • Fahrenheit 9/11
  • Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
  • Sicko
  • An Inconvenient Truth
  • Loose Change
  • Zeitgeist
  • Religulouse
  • The God Who Wasn’t There
  • Super-Size Me

But rarely [really never] do I meet someone of the opposite persuasion from me that have watched any of the following (I own and have watched):

  • Celsius41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Dies
  • FahrenHYPE 9/11
  • Michael & Me
  • Michael Moore Hates America
  • Bullshit! Fifth Season… Read More (where they tear apart the Wal-Mart documentary)
  • Indoctrinate U
  • Mine Your Own Business
  • Screw Loose Change
  • 3-part response to Zeitgeist
  • Fat-Head
  • Privileged Planet
  • Unlocking the Mystery of Life


Just as an afterthought. A skeptic who rejects God and accepts naturalism cannot say rape is wrong like the theist can say this:


  • theism: evil, wrong at all times and places in the universe — absolutely;
  • atheism: taboo, it was used in our species in the past for the survival of the fittest, and is thus a vestige of evolutionary progress… and so may once again become a tool for survival — it is in every corner of nature;
  • pantheism: illusion, all morals and ethical actions and positions are actually an illusion (Hinduism – maya; Buddhism – sunyata). In order to reach some state of Nirvana one must retract from this world in their thinking on moral matters, such as love and hate, good and bad. Not only that, but often times the person being raped has built up bad karma and thus is the main driver for his or her state of affairs (thus, in one sense it is “right” that rape happens).

An example from an “evangelical” atheist:

★ Richard Dawkins: My value judgement itself could come from my evolutionary past.
★ Justin Brierley: So therefore it’s just as random in a sense as any product of evolution.
★ Richard Dawkins: You could say that, it doesn’t in any case, nothing about it makes it more probable that there is anything supernatural.
★ Justin Brierley: Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.
★ Richard Dawkins: You could say that, yeah.

In other words they have to BORROW FROM ethics the worldview that they are trying to disprove.

For more on this, see my post noting many more atheist/evolutionary (philosophical naturalism) positions followed to their logical conclusions here:


Here are some questions from a person trying to figure out what I have been getting at. At first they seem like “snarky” comments, but end up in a good honest question.

S.C. said:

So when you say rape was “okay then and not now”, you mean that it was ok according to the people, or according to God? (Or both?)

I say this is snarky because the questioner either was not aware (or on purpose) formulated the question which would only allow for a response that “damned” the responder.

In a very neat book meant to dumb down big ideas in logic, we read the following example that will surely persuade the reader who dislike “Dubya’s” rhetoric:

A false dilemma is an argument that presents a limited set of two possible categories and assumes that everything in the scope of the discussion must be an element of that set. Thus, by rejecting one category, you are forced to accept the other. For example, “In the war on fanaticism, there are no sidelines; you are either with us or with the fanatics.” In reality, there is a third option, one could very well be neutral; and a fourth option, one may be against both; and even a fifth option, one may empathize with elements of both.

Ali Almossawi, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Learn the Lost Art of Making Sense (New York, NY: The Experiment, 2013), 16.

To backtrack just a bit, I am sure S.C. missed the previous two point response to the meme specifically in the original post on Facebook. So I will post these here for clarity and then pick back up with the convo

Back Tracking

I linked to a post on Dr. William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith site explaining some of the issues. Here is an excerpt of the challenge… followed by an excerpt of the response:

…you believe that the Bible is the revealed word of God, as you seem to regarding the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, then how do you find child rape so abhorrent when there is nothing in the Bible condemning it? Indeed, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT says that if a woman (regardless of age) is raped, the rapist must pay her father 50 silvers and marry the woman, which hardly seems a punishment to the rapist. This, of course, excludes engaged women, for whom the punishment for being raped is death if they don’t cry for help (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NAB). The only instance in which it is only the rapist who is punished is if the victim is engaged (possible but not likely if they are a child), and they cry for help (again, a child would very likely be intimidated into not calling for help, and therefore, by Biblical law, be killed)….

Dr. Craig responds in full, but here is the point I wish to zero in on:

Moral Argument – The Old Testament as a sufficient framework for morality

But do your examples even do that? The immorality of rape is immediately given in the seventh of the Ten Commandments “You shall not commit adultery.” Any sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage is proscribed by the Bible. So rape is always regarded as immoral in the Bible. That puts a quite different perspective on things. What your complaint really is is that the penalties for rape in the passages you cite seem unduly lenient. You think that the criminal laws against rape needed to be even stronger than they were in ancient Israel. Well, maybe you’re right. What does that prove? There’s no claim that Israel’s laws were perfect or adequately expressed God’s moral will. Jesus himself regarded the Mosaic law on divorce as inadequate and failing to capture God’s ideal will for marriage ( Matthew 5.31-2 ). Maybe the same was true for rape laws. Israel’s criminal statutes were not timeless truths for all societies but were intended for Israel at a certain specific time in its history. Moreover, these statutes are examples of case law: if such-and-such happens, then do so-and-so. These were idealizations which served as guides and might admit all sorts of exceptions and mitigating circumstances (like a child’s being afraid to cry for help).

In any case, Spencer, how much effort have you really made to understand these laws in the cultural context of the ancient Near East? None at all, I suspect; you probably got these passages from some free-thought publication or website and repeat them here with little attempt to understand them. By contrast, Paul Copan in his Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker: 2010) deals with these passages in their historical context, thereby shedding light on their meaning (pp. 118-119). Copan observes that there are three cases considered here:

1. Consensual sex between a man and a woman who is engaged to another man, which was a violation of marriage ( Deuteronomy 22.23 ). Both parties were to be executed.
2. Rape of a woman who is engaged to another man ( Deuteronomy 22.25 ). Only the rapist is executed; the woman is an innocent victim.
3. Seduction of a young woman who is not engaged to another man Deuteronomy 22.28 ; cf . Exodus 22.16-17 ). The seducer is obliged to marry the young woman and provide for her, if she will have him; otherwise her father may refuse him and demand payment of the usual bridal gift (rather like a dowry) anyway.
In short, rape was a capital crime in ancient Israel. As for Leviticus 20.13 , this verse prescribes the death penalty for consensual sexual intercourse between two men; that you interpret this passage to condemn a child who is assaulted by a pedophile only shows how tendentious your exegesis is.

If anything, then, the Bible is far stricter in its laws concerning sexual behavior than we are today. So even though appeal to the Bible is no part of my argument for (2), what the Bible teaches about the immorality of rape is right in line with my claim that objective moral values and duties exist.

Another good — short — response is this “cool as Colt 45” response to the same topic incorporating the language and context used in these verses:

So the main challenge is dealt with quite handily herein. However, continued discussion will always ad to the understanding of such a tough topic.


Remember I am still responding to S.C.’s challenge that was a false dilemma, but try to steer the convo to what I know he means. Keep in mind, things do not fall into place easily, so repeating the same thing multiple times ~ just differently or with additional information ~ will often times make a subject click with an individual. I am hoping this will be the case here.

I respond:

Again, “rape” is not part of that verse. The Bible was the first book to legally codify for an entire culture the punishment of the rapist.

…Let’s compare this with ANE law. Copan writes,

Middle Assyrian laws punished not a rapist but a rapist’s wife and even allowed her to be gang-raped. In other ancient Near Eastern laws, men could freely whip their wives, pull out their hair, mutilate their ears, or strike them –a dramatic contrast to Israel’s laws, which gave no such permission.

(Evidence Unseen)

The previously posted link to a video uploaded to my YouTube of parents being able to kill their children for disobedience is another oft misquoted verse to make a point without any depth of real understanding 12-minutes long):

You see, these verses do the exact opposite of what the meme says they do. The meme says they support rape… in their full context they are protecting the woman from rape by making death the punishment for the rapist.

AGAIN, for CLARITY purposes:

In Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is appears as if a rape victim is to marry the rapist, the verse is as follows:

  • “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

This issue is, however, addressed in another verse from Exodus in the laws of social justice:

  • “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.” (Exodus 22:16–17)

Copan explains that “In each case, the man is guilty. However, the critics’ argument focuses on verses 28–29: the rape victim is being treated like she is her father’s property. She’s been violated, and the rapist gets off by paying a bridal fee. No concern is shown for the girl at all”.

He goes on to say that “The girl’s father (the legal point person) has the right to refuse any such permanent arrangement as well as the right to demand the payment that would be given for a bride, even though the seducer doesn’t marry his daughter (since she has been sexually compromised, marriage to another man would be difficult if not impossible). The girl has to agree with this arrangement, and she isn’t required to marry the seducer. In this arrangement, she is still treated as a virgin”.

So, rather than undermining women this law instead emphasizes their protection…


…So, I don’t think that these verses are condoning rape. Instead these laws were in place to protect the vulnerable, such as women, should undesirable circumstances arise. No, the Bible nor God condones rape.

(James Bishop)


S.C. is now understanding a bit more about the context, culture, language, the intended audience, the author, etc. I say this because even if he does not admit it, when you start to ask good questions it means you are becoming invested and interested in an outcome. The real challenge is to get beyond one’s presuppositions and reach a conclusion that may be as minimal as this, “wow, maybe I was wrong in coming at this topic in the past… what can I do to better treat the subject as well as respecting others beliefs.”

Respecting others can often times be respecting friends or family.

So here is the question from S.C.

There seems to be a lot of assumptions made there. Where in the text does it say anything that gives us the idea that “The girl has to agree with this arrangement, and she isn’t required to marry the seducer. In this arrangement, she is still treated as a virgin”?

Some of the answer is already dealt with in detail above. We are incorporating many of the points from the “8-Rules,” Aristotles dictum, Israels cultural mores in a lawless time period as well as the surrounding nations cultural mores. In fact we have used in this post many of the points discussed.


One we will focus on here is Context:

3) Rule of Context: Avoid using words out of context. Context must define terms and how words are used.

  • Many a passage of Scripture will not be understood at all without the help afforded by the context; for many a sentence derives all its point and force from the connection in which it stands. (Biblical Hermeneutics, Terry. M. S.. p. 117. 1896.)
  • [Bible words] must be understood according to the requirements of the context. (Thayer’s Greek?English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 97.)
  • Every word you read must be understood in the light of the words that come before and after it. (How to Make Sense, Flesch, Rudolph, p. 51, Harper & Brothers. 1959.)
  • [Bible words] when used out of context… can prove almost anything. [Some interpreters] twist them… from a natural to a non?natural sense. (Irenaeus, second?century church father, quoted in Inspiration and Interpretation, p. 50, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1957.)
  • The meaning must be gathered from the context. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Interpretation of Documents. V. 8, p. 912. 1959.)

A good rule of thumb in life is to remember that Context is King.

So using the language and context of the text in question, remembering these key points (pic to the right), we begin to have the tools to answer the issue ourselves by investigating the language, context of the book itself, history, and the like. Here, Apologetics Press has done precisely that (also noted in what I called the “smooth as Colt 45” video):Hand 2a 400

…The truth is, however, the Hebrew word in this case translated “seizes” (tapas [see more below on this]) can mean many things. Here are some examples of the way it is translated in Deuteronomy 22:28 in several different English translations:

  • “lay hold on her” (ASV)
  • “taking her” (DRA)
  • “and takes her” (NLV/NAB)
  • “and hath caught her” (YLT).

By looking at other passages that use the word, we can see that the word tapas sometimes has nothing to do with force, and therefore nothing to do with rape. As Greg Bahnsen has written:

The Hebrew word tapas (“lay hold of her,” emphasized above) simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for “handling” the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer. 46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for “taking” God’s name (Prov. 30:9) or “dealing” with the law of God (Jer. 2:8). Joseph’s garment was “grasped” (Gen. 39:12; cf. 1 Kings 11:30), even as Moses “took” the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17)… [T]he Hebrew verb “to handle, grasp, capture” does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force (italics in orig.).

In truth, we use English words in this way on a regular basis. For instance, a brief look at the English word “take” illustrates the point. You can take someone’s cookie, or take a person’s wife, or take a bride to be your wife. The idea of force is not inherent in the word at all. If you take a person in your arms, what have you done? Or if a young man takes a young woman to be his wife, is there force involved? No. Also, think about the English word “hold.” You can take hold of something in a number of ways. We often say that a woman will holdthe child in her arms, or a bridegroom takes a bride to “have and to hold.” The Hebrew wordtapas is acting in exactly the same way as the English words “hold” and “take” are.

In addition, it is clearly evident from the immediate context of Deuteronomy 22 that rape is not being discussed in verses 28-29. We know that for two primary reasons. First, verses 25-27 give a clear instance in which rape is being discussed. In that case, a man raped a woman, she “cried out” (v. 27), but she was in the country and no one was there to help her. The text says that the man who committed the crime “shall die” (v. 25), but the Israelites were supposed to “do nothing to the young woman” since “there is in the young woman no sin worthy of death” (v. 26). It is of great interest that in this clear case of rape, the text uses a completely different word. The word translated “forces her” in verse 25 is the Hebrew word chazaq and yet in verse 28, the verb has been intentionally changed to tapas (see Shamoun, 2015). Second, the natural reading of verses 28-29 makes it evident that both parties are guilty of at least some of the blame. Notice that at the end of verse 28 the text says, “and they are found out.” When the passage discusses the obvious case of rape, the text specifically only mentions the man in verse 25 when it says “then only the man who lay with her,” and conspicuously leaves out any indication of “they” being involved in the sin. Dr. Bahsen compares Deuteronomy 22:28-29 to Exodus 22:16, which reads, “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife” (1992). Notice that in this verse in Exodus, there is no force and both parties shoulder some of the guilt.

The practical value of God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is easy to see. A man has sexual intercourse with a young woman who is not betrothed to anyone. There is no force involved, and it is not rape. But their action has been discovered. Now, who in the land of Israel wanted to marry a young girl who has not kept herself pure? The man cannot walk away from his sin. He has put the young woman in a very difficult life situation, in which there would be few (or no) other men who would want to marry her. Since it was often the case that women had an extremely difficult time financially without the help of a husband, this would be even more devastating to the young woman. God holds both the parties accountable, instructing them to get married and stay together, both suffer the shame, and work through the difficulties that they have brought on themselves. Nothing could be more moral, loving, and wise than these instructions. Once again, the skeptical charge against God’s love is without foundation.


Just to repeat an important note:

Again, “Nothing could be more moral, loving, and wise than these instructions in that area and culture.” Why? Because it, for the first time in the ancient world, stripped the power of choice away from men and allowed for choice in the woman’s decision. Sexual abuse, including rape, are prohibited in Scripture. In a Blaze article addressing modern myths regarding the Bible and various sexual behaviors, Rabbi Aryeh Spero and Rabbi Moshe Averick (and others) bring clarity to the argument that the Bible requires a woman to marry her rapist:

Averick addressed Deuteronomy — the book that is most targeted by biblical critics.

“The ‘rape’ that is talked about in Dvarim (Deuteronomy), is obviously not criminal rape; it is talking about a case where a relationship between a young man and woman got out of hand,” he said. “Sexual relationships in a Torah society are strictly forbidden before marriage — dating is only for purposes of marriage in the Orthodox community.”

Averick also pointed out that in Jewish law, women cannot be forced to marry against her will. If a man does not fulfill his duties as a husband, the woman is “entitled to initiate divorce proceedings.” The “rapist,” or fornicator, is not allowed to initiate such proceedings but is obligated to fulfill spousal duties.

This requirement that a “rapist” marry the violated woman, Bock noted, was enacted in order to protect the woman whom he defiled with his sexual advances.

“His act has rendered her unacceptable as a wife for others,” he explained. “So this law was designed to indicate responsibility in the sex act for the person in a patriarchal context where women had little power and where the women if left to the event would be on her own.”

Nettelhorst acknowledged that in a modern context, the situation mentioned in Deuteronomy “sounds awful,” and it was not ideal at the time it occurred either, but the idea was to, again, protect the woman and discourage sexual immorality.  By marrying her, the “rapist” was accepting the consequences of his actions, paying her father a restitution and taking on the responsibilities of a husband to provide protection and security.

Spero added that a rape victim could “opt out” of marrying her rapist if she so desired, for, “if not, men could forcibly bring to altar any single woman he desired simply by raping her.”


BTW, the penalty was 10-years wages, AND marriage to provide for and feed, house, and raise children with this wife… IF SHE SO DESIRED! Which often times she did, considering that the “rape” spoken of here isn’t violent but a more consensual fling. And considering the importance placed on virginity in that time period. One author notes:

…it could be viewed as merciful to the woman, who, because of the rape, would be considered unmarriageable. In that culture, a woman without a husband would have a very difficult time providing for herself. Unmarried women often had no choice but to sell themselves into slavery or prostitution just to survive.


That punishment consisted of two parts: he must pay the woman’s father fifty shekels of silver and he must marry and support the woman for the rest of her life. Fifty shekels of silver was a very substantial fine as at that time a shekel was a measurement of weight and not an actual coin. Some scholars believe it could have represented as much as 10 years of wages for the average person. The fact that a man was in any way punished for rape was revolutionary for that period of time in history. No other ancient legal system punished rape to anywhere near the degree outlined in Deuteronomy 22:22-29. While it is unrealistic to say that because of this command rape never occurred, hopefully the severity of the punishment was a strong deterrent to the exceedingly evil act of rape. …

That should explain WELL the verse [verses] used out of context to engender emotive responses based in just that, feelings.

NOT TO MENTION that no where in Israels ancient writings, rabbinical tradition and writings [etc.], did the position taken in the meme ever get recorded historically. Showing that how the people of the time understood exactly what was meant by this codified law. This is another clue to show the skeptics grasping at straws to build a straw-man position and attack it.


I understand that the earlier verses in the chapter are referring to consensual sex, but to me passage 28 specifically cannot be about consensual relations when it uses the term “seize” (or “lay hold”, depending on which translation you are using). A Strongs concordance search of this shows that this term was used to show the taking of something, or someone, without consent, in multiple passages throughout the Bible.

I respond as well as a person in an apologetics group I am a part of (thanks to Z.E. Kendall for his insight… I was on the same track with …USE SKILLFULLY)

No, you have it backwards… the earlier verses talk about rape, the later talks about a more consensual relation.

✦ A primitive root; TWOT 2538; GK 9530; 65 occurrences; AV translates as “take” 27 times, “taken” 12 times, “handle” eight times, “hold” eight times, “catch” four times, “surprised” twice, and translated miscellaneously four times. 1 to catch, handle, lay hold, take hold of, seize, wield. 1a (Qal). 1a1 to lay hold of, seize, arrest, catch. 1a2 to grasp (in order to) wield, wield, use skillfully. 1b (Niphal) to be seized, be arrested, be caught, be taken, captured. 1c (Piel) to catch, grasp (with the hands). ~ James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995).

“Taphas” is the Hebrew word for “Lay hold on her”, and it can mean “to catch, handle, lay hold, take hold of, seize, wield, USE SKILLFULLY…”. It doesn’t necessitate a wrongful handling, or laying hold of. This verse concerns seduction, not rape. In no way is rape condoned in any part of the Bible, a simple reading of the larger context of Deuteronomy 22:25-29 easily confirms this. Notice that verse 25 gives the Law regarding rape, but uses an entirely different word than that in verses 28-29. The word used in vs 25 is chazaq- “to force”. In the other stories of the Bible that recount rape, none of them use the expression “taphas Shekahb” as in the Deuteronomy 22:28-29 passage.

(via Scripture Under Fire)

Here is Kendall’s addition:

…As for Deut. 22:28-29, interesting other uses closer to the meaning of Hebrew 8610 in the passage are likely such that the man in the passage “plays her like a harp,” as it were, or “uses her like the bow.” (Genesis 4:21 and Amos 2:15). So yeah, I’d say that enticement or the like is in view there.

The passage is connected with the immediately preceding passage, of course not through the concept of rape but rather, through the concept of outcomes that the parents/father wouldn’t desire.

Good stuff Maynard. And remember the context of the verses leading up to 28-29 dictate this is a woman deceived by a man’s promises, played like a harp. The primitive root meaning of the word means “to manipulate.”

Answering Islam has a good two paragraph section out of their larger post on the topic of rape:

The Hebrew word tapas (“lay hold of her,” emphasized above) simply means to take hold of something, grasp it in hand, and (by application) to capture or seize something. It is the verb used for “handling” the harp and flute (Gen. 4:21), the sword (Ezek. 21:11; 30:21), the sickle (Jer. 50:16), the shield (Jer. 46:9), the oars (Ezek. 27:29), and the bow (Amos 2:15). It is likewise used for “taking” God’s name (Prov. 30:9) or “dealing” with the law of God (Jer. 2:8). Joseph’s garment was “grasped” (Gen. 39:12; cf. I Kings 11:30), even as Moses “took” the two tablets of the law (Deut. 9:17). People are “caught” (I Kings 20:18), even as cities are “captured” (Deut. 20:19; Isa. 36:1). An adulterous wife may not have been “caught” in the act (Num. 5:13). In all of these instances it is clear that, while force may come into the picture from further description, the Hebrew verb “to handle, grasp, capture” does not in itself indicate anything about the use of force.

This verb used in Deuteronomy 22:28 is different from the verb used in verse 25 (chazak, from the root meaning “to be strong, firm”) which can mean “to seize” a bear and kill it (I Sam. 17:35; cf. 2 Sam. 2:16; Zech. 14:13), “to prevail” (2 Sam. 24:4; Dan. 11:7), “to be strong” (Deut. 31:6; 2 Sam. 2:7), etc. Deuteronomy 22:25 thus speaks of a man finding a woman and “forcing her.” Just three verses later (Deut. 25:28), the verb is changed to simply “take hold of” her – indicating an action less intense and violent than the action dealt with in verse 25 (viz., rape).


AFTER Discussion

My son asked Sari (the woman I am talking to in this post) to continue on with the conversation to its conclusion, to which I pointed the following out to my son for clarity:

It’s simple Dominic, when I bump into someone in Starbucks and they ask me about this verse, I open up my Bible and find these notes (my Bible is to the right || right click on image and choose “open link in new tab” to fully enlarge). When Sari is at Starbucks and pulls out her Bible [insert laugh track] when someone asks about this verse, she has these notes (hers is to the left || right click on image and choose “open link in new tab” to fully enlarge):

Rape - Deut 22 CLEAR 330 Rape - Deut 22 330

Romans 8:7 simply states: “For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.” (see some commentary below). I can only give so many “helps” to apply to a proper hermeneutic:

  • original language,
  • Aristotle’s Dictum,
  • Greek rules of interpretation (which the courts in Western culture use),
  • other verses (the Bible interpret’s the Bible ~ Aristotle’s Dictum),
  • cultural and historical keys to the Hebraic culture,
  • as well as the others surrounding Israel… etc.

J.C. Ryle said in “Fire! Fire!,” this,

“Beware of manufacturing a god of your own: a god who is all mercy but not just, a god who is all love but not holy, a god who has a heaven for everybody but a hell for none, a god who can allow good and bad to be side by side in time, but will make no distinction between good and bad in eternity. Such a god is an idol of your own, as truly an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple. The hands of your own fancy and sentimentality have made him. He is not the God of the Bible, and beside the God of the Bible, there is no God at all. Beware of making selections from your Bible to suit your taste. Dare not to say, ‘I believe this verse, for I like it. I refuse that, for I cannot reconcile it with my views.’ Nay! But O man, who art thou that repliest against God? By what right do you talk in this way? Surely it were better to say over EVERY chapter in the word, ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.’ Ah! If men would do this, they would never deny the unquenchable fire.”

To use the laws of logic and reason, to rightfully divide the Word (2 Tim 2:15), to apply laws in the universe discovered by the Greeks — like Newton discovered the law of gravity, it had always been there, it was merely codified.

  • Men do not make laws. They do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest on the eternal foundation of righteousness. ~ Calvin Coolidge

All this [and more] in application to the faith in the construct of the Christian-theistic worldview is something non-regenerate men and women have deep lasting trouble with. For they cannot even see [again, even see] the Kingdom of Heaven (John 3:3)… because regeneration brings a new sight, a new awakening to the soul (1 John 2:29; John 3:6; James 1:18). In other words, Sari HAS fleshed (pun intended) it out to its logical conclusion (Psalm 146:8; Luke 24:31), that is, blindness, rebellion, in the sight of something so evident (2 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Kings 6:17).

It is like saying “look at that ‘fast’ car,” contrasted with “look at that ‘slow’ car.” The car stays the same… the word preceding it defines it’s context… and in our culture it could denote a Pinto [a junker piece of shite!] or a Marzoratti [an expensive sports car].

You see, sexual assault [rape] stayed the same — because the culture looked on sexual purity as important. But the word preceding it defines it’s context — AS WELL AS the actions taken after the context is spoken. So the assault stays the same… the modifier denotes a willingness of a non-willingness in the action (AS WELL as the punishment following such an action ~ death penalty or a “shotgun wedding”).Shotgun Wedding

A shotgun wedding is a wedding that is arranged to avoid embarrassment due to an unplanned pregnancy, rather than out of the desire of the participants. The phrase is an American colloquialism, though it is also used in other parts of the world, based on a supposed scenario (usually hyperbole) that the father of the pregnant daughter, almost by accepted custom, must resort to using coercion (such as threatening with a shotgun) to ensure that the man who impregnated her follows through with the wedding.

The use of duress or violent coercion to marry is no longer common in the U.S., although many anecdotal stories and folk songs record instances of such coercion in 18th- and 19th-century America. Often a couple will arrange a shotgun wedding without explicit outside encouragement, and some religious teachings consider it a moral imperative to marry in that situation.

One purpose of such a wedding can be to get recourse from the man for the act of impregnation; another reason is to ensure that the child is raised by both parents. In some cases, as in early America and in the Middle East, a major objective was the restoring of social honor to the mother.

(WIKI ~ emphasis added)

This is why leftists can say 1-out-of-4 women are sexually assaulted on college campuses… who would want to send their daughter to such a place like higher education. It isn’t until we see that they define an “unwanted kiss” and “rape” as sexual assault (and everything in-between).

The same idea is applied to these verses ~ Ergo, CONTEXT IS KING!

  • This verse reveals how hopelessly incorrigible and utterly destitute the flesh really is. It is a spiritual anarchist. This demolishes any theory that there is a divine spark in man and that somehow he has a secret bent toward God. The truth is that man is the enemy of God. He is not only dead in trespasses and sins but active in rebellion against God. Man will even become religious in order to stay away from the living and true God and the person of Jesus Christ. Man in his natural condition, if taken to heaven, would start a revolution, and he would have a protest meeting going on before the sun went down! Jacob, in his natural condition, engaged in a wrestling match. He did not seek it, but he fought back when God wrestled with him. It wasn’t until he yielded that he won, my friend. Anything that the flesh produces is not acceptable to God. The so–called good work, the civilization, the culture, and man’s vaunted progress are all a stench in the nostrils of God. The religious works of church people done in the lukewarmness of the flesh make Christ sick to His stomach (see Rev. 3:15–16)….

~ J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: The Epistles (Romans 1-8), electronic ed., vol. 42 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 145.

  • The mind-set of the flesh is death because it is enmity against God. The sinner is a rebel against God and in active hostility to Him. If any proof were needed, it is seen most clearly in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mind of the flesh is not subject to the law of God. It wants its own will, not God’s will. It wants to be its own master, not to bow to His rule. Its nature is such that it cannot be subject to God’s law. It is not only the inclination that is missing but the power as well. The flesh is dead toward God.

~ William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1709.

Old Testament Scholar Joe Sprinkle Examines Deuteronomy 20:10-18

Was the Command to “Utterly Destroy” an Occasional Command?

Not only is the command given to Israel, but it occurs in the narrative as an occasional command. This is perhaps clearest in Deuteronomy 20:10-18, which is worth quoting at length:

“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. “If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. “If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. “When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it [‘et kol zekurah lepiy hareb]. “As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. ‘This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. “However [raq], in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. ‘Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the LORD your God has commanded you. “Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.

The New International Version (NIV) translates “put to the sword [zekurah, from the Hebrew verb nakah]” (v. 13) as a command (the imperative of the imperfect verb). However, Old Testament scholar Joe Sprinkle [book] argues that identical or similar parallels to this verse should be understood as a permissive use of this (imperfect) verb. That is, the verse permits the killing of the men. Thus verses 12-13 would be rendered this way: “Now if it [the city] is unwilling to make peace with you, but instead makes war with you, then you are permitted to besiege it. Now when YHWH your God gives it into your hand, then you may kill any of its men with the edge of the sword.”

Immediately following these verses, a particle (raq)—which the NIV translates “As for”—comes at the beginning of verse 14: “As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city . . .” This particle, Sprinkle notes, typically qualifies or restricts a previous statement. The previ­ous clause in verse 13 indicates what can be done to the “men/males,” and the following raq clause qualifies and clarifies that such a rule does not apply to women, children, and spoil. Verses 13-14 therefore express the principle of noncombatant immunity. If a city refuses terms of peace, one can permissibly kill the men. For those who will be engaging in the combat, however, this permission does not extend to women, children, and spoil; one is prohibited from killing them.

Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 58-59.

Atheists Challenge to Biblical Ethics (2 Kings 2:23-25 – Updated)

~ See near the bottom, Joshua and the Canaanites.

“Cursed them – Nor was this punishment too great for the offence, if it be considered, that their mocking proceeded from a great malignity of mind against God; that they mocked not only a man, and an ancient man, whose very age commanded reverence; and a prophet; but even God himself, and that glorious work of God, the assumption of Elijah into heaven; that they might be guilty of many other heinous crimes, which God and the prophet knew; and were guilty of idolatry, which by God’s law deserved death; that the idolatrous parents were punished in their children; and that, if any of these children were more innocent, God might have mercy upon their souls, and then this death was not a misery, but a real blessing to them, that they were taken away from that education which was most likely to expose them not only to temporal, but eternal destruction. In the name – Not from any revengeful passion, but by the motion of God’s Spirit, and by God’s command and commission. God did this, partly, for the terror and caution of all other idolaters and prophane persons who abounded in that place; partly, to vindicate the honour, and maintain the authority of his prophets; and particularly, of Elisha, now especially, in the beginning of his sacred ministry. Children – This Hebrew word signifies not only young children, but also those who are grown up to maturity, as Genesis 32:22, 34:4, 37:30, Ruth 1:5.”

~ Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible by John Wesley [1754-65] (Source)

I was in a recent [now not so recent] debate about Biblical cruelty/ethics and the person brought up a verse that has not been brought up in conversation with me yet. It provided a fun learning curve on a specific verse and topic that opened up culture and manners of the early Biblical leaders and prophets of Israel. Mind you the person — involved in the debate — could not ground his presumed premise that this act would be morally wrong. In other words, without a Divine Law that both he and I can access to know an act was truly wrong, so I pointed to the idea that rape is really [if this skeptics position was correct] a natural outgrowth of a species surviving. I speak to this a bit in a chapter from my book:

How does the “carnal” person deal with the unnatural order of the homosexual lifestyle? Since it is a reality it is incorporated into their epistemological system of thought or worldview.[1] Henry Morris points out that the materialist worldview looks at homosexuality as nature’s way of controlling population numbers as well as a tension lowering device.[2] Lest one think this line of thinking is insane, that is: sexual acts are something from our evolutionary past and advantageous;[3] rape is said to not be a pathology but an evolutionary adaptation – a strategy for maximizing reproductive success.[4]


Ethical Evil?

The first concept that one must understand is that these authors do not view nature alone as imposing a moral “oughtness” into the situation of survival of the fittest. They view rape, for instance, in its historical evolutionary context as neither right nor wrong ethically.[5] Rape, is neither moral nor immoral vis-à-vis evolutionary lines of thought, even if ingrained in us from our evolutionary paths of survival.[6] Did you catch that? Even if a rape occurs today, it is neither moral nor immoral, it is merely currently taboo.[7]

[1] Worldview: “People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By ‘presuppositions’ we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic worldview, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions. ‘As a man thinketh, so he is,’ is really profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him. He has a mind, an inner world. Then, having thought, a person can bring forth actions into the external world and thus influence it. People are apt to look at the outer theater of action, forgetting the actor who ‘lives in the mind’ and who therefore is the true actor in the external world. The inner thought world determines the outward action. Most people catch their presuppositions from their family and surrounding society the way a child catches measles. But people with more understanding realize that their presuppositions should be chosen after a careful consideration of what worldview is true. When all is done, when all the alternatives have been explored, ‘not many men are in the room’ — that is, although worldviews have many variations, there are not many basic worldviews or presuppositions.” Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1976), 19-20.

[2] Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989), 136.

[3] Remember, the created order has been rejected in the Roman society as it is today. This leaves us with an Epicurean view of nature, which today is philosophical naturalism expressed in the modern evolutionary theories such as neo-Darwinism and Punctuated Equilibrium.

[4] Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), 71, 163. See also: Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 1997).

[5] Nancy Pearcy, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 208-209.

[6] Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 2002), 162-163.

[7] Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 176-180.

Scientism, materialism, empiricism, existentialism, naturalism, and humanism – whatever you want to call it… it is still a metaphysical position as it assumes or presumes certain things about the entire universe. D’Souza points this a priori commitment out:

Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith. Here is Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a priori commitment, a commitment — a commitment to materialism [matter is all that exists, nothing beyond nature exists]. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

Dinesh D’Souza points to this in his recent book, What’s So Great about Christianity (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2007), 161 (emphasis added).

The debater never engaged his a priori assumptions. This being said, I want to deal with the verse at hand we discussed. The important presumptive idea behind dealing with any literary work is to understand how one is to approach a text of antiquity. I deal with this quite well in a paper on the matter, and any apologist should become familiar with this idea (click the latte). Using the principles involved in the Aristotelian dictum, let us try and figure this seemingly horrid verse.

2Kings 2:23-25

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

Here the skeptic posits God’s wrath on 42 children, presumably innocent in that their greatest offense was calling someone a “bald-head.” It would be similar to a guy being called “four-eyes” by a bunch of kids and then whipping out an AK-47 and mowing them down… and then expecting you to view him as a moral agent. In accessing the following books,

✦ The New Manners & Customs of Bible Times;
✦ Manners and Customs in the Bible: An Illustrated Guide to Daily Life in Bible Times;
✦ An Introduction to the Old Testament;
✦ The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament;
✦ Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament;
✦ A Popular Survey of the Old Testament;
✦ New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties;
✦ Hard Sayings of the Bible;
✦ When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties.

I noticed something was missing. That is, a bit more of what is not said in the text, but we can assume using and accessing what any historical literary critic would with the principles that predate Christ — mentioned in the above “latte” link. Mind you, many of the responses in my home library that I came across were great, and, in fact they made me dig a bit further. (I do not want the reader to think that I place myself on a higher academic level that these fine theologians and professors.)

The word Hebrew translated here as “children” (na’ar) often means official or servant and doesn’t necessarily even refer to age at all. Mephibosheth’s servant Ziba is referred to as na’ar (2 Samuel 16:1), yet he has fifteen sons. The man that Boaz has positioned as boss over his fieldworkers is na’ar—not a position one grants to children (Ruth 2:5-6). The word na’ar is translated as “servant” over fifty times (roughly a fifth of the times it appears in Scripture).


Three big points stuck out from texts I reviewed:


“Little children” is an unfortunate translation. The Hebrew expression neurim qetannim is best rendered “young lads” or “young men.” From numerous examples where ages are specified in the Old Testament, we know that these were boys from twelve to thirty years old. One of these words described Isaac at his sacrifice in Genesis 22:12, when he was easily in his early twenties. It described Joseph in Genesis 37:2 when he was seventeen years old. In fact, the same word described army men in 1 Kings 20:14-15…these are young men ages between twelve and thirty.” (Hard Sayings of the Bible)


A careful study of this incident in context shows that it was far more serious than a “mild personal offense.” It was a situation of serious public danger, quite as grave as the large youth gangs that roam the ghetto sections of our modern American cities. If these young hoodlums were ranging about in packs of fifty or more, derisive toward respectable adults and ready to mock even a well-known man of God, there is no telling what violence they might have inflicted on the citizenry of the religious center of the kingdom of Israel (as Bethel was), had they been allowed to continue their riotous course. (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)

The harmless “teasing” was hardly that–they were direct confrontation between the forces of Baal and the prophet of YHWH that had just healed the water supply (casting doubt on the power and beneficence of Baal!). This was a mass demonstration (if 42 were mauled, how many people were in the crowd to begin with? 50? 100? 400?):

“As Elisha was traveling from Jericho to Bethel several dozen youths (young men, not children) confronted him. Perhaps they were young false prophets of Baal. Their jeering, recorded in the slang of their day, implied that if Elisha were a great prophet of the Lord, as Elijah was, he should go on up into heaven as Elijah reportedly had done. The epithet baldhead may allude to lepers who had to shave their heads and were considered detestable outcasts. Or it may simply have been a form of scorn, for baldness was undesirable (cf. Isa. 3:17, 24). Since it was customary for men to cover their heads, the young men probably could not tell if Elisha was bald or not. They regarded God’s prophet with contempt….Elisha then called down a curse on the villains. This cursing stemmed not from Elisha pride but from their disrespect for the Lord as reflected in their treatment of His spokesman (cf. 1:9-14). Again God used wild animals to execute His judgment (cf., e.g., 1 Kings 13:24). That 42 men were mauled by the two bears suggests that a mass demonstration had been organized against God and Elisha.” (Bible Knowledge Commentary)


The chapter closes with two miracles of Elisha. These immediately established the character of his ministry–his would be a helping ministry to those in need, but one that would brook no disrespect for God and his earthly representatives. In the case of Jericho, though the city had been rebuilt (with difficulty) in the days of Ahab (1 Kings 16:34, q.v.), it had remained unproductive. Apparently the water still lay under Joshua’s curse (cf. Josh 6:26), so that both citizenry and land suffered greatly (v. 19). Elisha’s miracle fully removed the age-old judgment, thus allowing a new era to dawn on this area (vv. 20-22). Interestingly Elisha wrought the cure through means supplied by the people of Jericho so that their faith might be strengthened through submission and active participation in God’s cleansing work. (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)


Elisha and the Lads of Bethel
Question…wasn’t Elisha very cruel when he sent those bears against those little kids who were teasing him about being bald?
Positive Atheism – Cliff Walker: Weak Bible Week Poster, part 4 of 7.

All good stuff, but something is missing. During the course of the debate I pieced together some truths, using culture and history as keys to a “crime scene.” Again, I want to stress what some of the habits were in this small town where this group of people came from:

Molech was a Canaanite underworld deity represented as an upright, bull-headed idol with human body in whose belly a fire was stoked and in whose arms a child was placed that would be burnt to death. It was not just unwanted children who were sacrificed. Plutarch reports that during the Phoenician (Canaanite) sacrifices, “the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums so that the cries and wailing should not reach the ears of the people.”

Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 177.

This crowd of persons was older than what is typically posited by skeptics. Secondly, this group was a very bad lot. But didn’t explain why bald-head was egregious enough for God to call 42 scurvy bastards to judgement. To be fair, I sympathize with the skeptic here. That being said, there is more to the story.

I want us to view some artistic drawings of historical figures from Israels history: priests, prophets, spiritual leaders, and even Flavius Josephus.

What did you notice above in the cover to an A&E documentary? Yup, a turban as well as a cloak which covers the heads of the priests and prophets. Take note of the below as well.

I posted multiple images to drive a point home in our mind. The prophet Elisha would have had a couple cultural accoutrements that changes this story from simple name calling to an assault. He wouldn’t have been alone either, in other words, he would have had some people attached to him that would lay down their lives to protect him. And secondly, he would have had a head covering on, especially since he was returning from a “priestly” intervention. So we know from cultural history the following:

  1. He would have had a head dressing on — some sort of turbin;
  2. and he would have had an entourage of men to dissuade any attack or mistreatment of a priest of Israel on a journey.

One last point before we bullet point the complete idea behind the Holy and Rightful judgement from the Judge of all mankind. There were 42 persons killed by two bears. Obviously this would require many more than 42 people. Why? What happens when you have a group of ten people and a bear comes crashing out of the bushes in preparation to attack? Every one will immediately scatter! In the debate I pointed out that freezing 42 people and allowing the bears time to go down the line to kill each one would be even more of a miracle than this skeptic would want to allow. So the common sense position would require a large crowd and some sort of terrain to cut off escape. So the crowd would probably have been at least a few hundred.

Also, this holy man of God was coming back from a “mission,” he would have had an entourage with him ~ as already mentioned, as well as having some sort of head-covering on as pictured above ~ as already mentioned.

So, what do these cultural and historical points cause us to rightly assume?

That the crowd could not see that the prophet was bald.

Which means they would have had to of gotten physical — forcefully removing the head covering. Which means also that the men with the prophet Elisha would have also been overpowered. So lets bullet point the points that undermine the skeptics viewpoint.

✔ The crowd was in their late teens to early twenties;
✔ they were antisemitic (this is known from most of the previous passages and books);
✔ they were from a violently cultic city;
✔ the crowd was large;
✔ the crowd had already turned violent.

These points caused God in his foreknowledge to protect the prophet and send in nature to disperse the crowd. Nature is not kind, and the death of these men were done by a just Judge. This explains the actions of a just God better than many of the references I read.

Your welcome.

I do want to end this post by inviting you to read an excellent treatment of this topic over at TrueFreeThinker: “Positive Atheism – Cliff Walker : Weak Bible Week Poster, part 4 of 7.

Joshua and the Canaanites

This is an update of sorts, and it deals with the idea that God ordered ALL persons to be destroyed (men, women, and children) in the book of Joshua. But is this the directive from God? Scripture does not support this idea as a whole, and we shall take this journey together to find a solution to a seemingly tough subject.

There is a very important principle involved with reading the Bible… it is one of the first things taught to seminarians as well as layman. And it is this:

  • “The Bible interprets the Bible.”

It is that simple. Now of course there are some other basics one must account for as they mature as a Christian, see my post on hermeneutics for instance. But let’s start with that simple sentence above. We will take a short quote from the larger portions that will end this small caveat. The book is by Paul Copan, and is entitled: Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

(May I also recommend this article, a summary of Copan’s three chapters from his book: “How Could God Command Killing the Canaanites?“)

Here is the excerpt with the portion highlighted:

The books of Joshua and Judges suggest that taking the land included less-than-dramatic processes of infiltration and internal struggle. Israel’s entrance into Canaan included more than the military motif. Old Testament scholar Gordon McConville comments on Joshua: we don’t have “a simple conquest model, but rather a mixed picture of success and failure, sudden victory and slow, compromised progress.”

Likewise, Old Testament scholar David Howard firmly states that the conquest model needs modification. Why? Because “the stereotypical model of an all-consuming Israelite army descending upon Canaan and destroying everything in its wake cannot be accepted. The biblical data will not allow for this.” He adds that the Israelites entered Canaan and did engage militarily “but without causing extensive material destruction.”

I will repeat that: “The Biblical data will not allow for this.” Another short excerpt taken from pages 170-171 reads thus:

Notice first the sweeping language in Joshua 10:40: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.” Joshua used the rhetorical bravado language of his day, asserting that all the land was captured, all the kings defeated, and all the Canaanites destroyed (cf. 10:40-42; 11:16-23: “Joshua took the whole land . . . and gave . . . it for an inheritance to Israel”). Yet, as we will see, Joshua himself acknowledged that this wasn’t literally so.

Scholars readily agree that Judges is literarily linked to Joshua. Yet the early chapters of Judges (which, incidentally, repeat the death of Joshua) show that the task of taking over the land was far from complete. In Judges 2:3, God says, “I will not drive them out before you.” Earlier, Judges 1:21, 27-28 asserted that “[they] did not drive out the Jebusites”; “[they] did not take possession”; “they did not drive them out completely.” These nations remained “to this day” (Judg. 1:21). The peoples who had apparently been wiped out reappear in the story. Many Canaanite inhabitants simply stuck around.

Some might accuse Joshua of being misleading or of getting it wrong. Not at all. He was speaking the language that everyone in his day would have understood.

As you read on you will notice that God seems to contradict Himself, so does Joshua. UNLESS there is a cultural explanation that 21st century geeks do not notice. Again, I write more in-depth on this here.

That all being said, here are a few pages from the selected chapter. And may I say that the three chapters on the Canaanites were so enlightening. Why? Because they opened up the Scriptures more by dealing with what seem to be inconsistencies in Scripture but are explained well by Scripture. the following few pages show this to be the case, that is, exegesis (click each page to enlarge… if you right click your mouse and choose, “Open Lin In New Tab,” you will be able to enlarge the text dramatically — for older eyes):

(AGAIN, click to enlarge)

`To Judge, Or Not To Judge` ~ Weiner Opts for the Later


“Most of the problems with our culture can be summed up in one phrase: ‘Who are you to say?’” ~ Dennis Prager.

(This comes via a h/t to Libertarian Republican) I thought this exchange between Weiner and a fellow Jew (who was very wise in his summation), but Wiener’s relativism comes screaming through. Let’s deal with this self-refuting statement first, and then let CARM jump in on the ethics wagon. The question becomes, if looking at Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous maxim, “If there is no God, all things are permissible,”

“If there IS a God, are all things still permissible?”

Even the right to walk the streets without consequences for one’s actions? This aside, let us unpack a bit the challenge with three mock conversations from, Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air, and is taken from a larger paper incorporating a wide variety of sources on this:

First Person: “You shouldn’t force your morality on me.”

Second Person: “Why not?”

First Person: “Because I don’t believe in forcing morality.”

Second Person: “If you don’t believe in it, then by all means, don’t do it. Especially don’t force that moral view of yours on me.”

First Person: “You shouldn’t push your morality on me.”

Second Person: “I’m not entirely sure what you mean by that statement. Do you mean I have no right to an opinion?”

First Person: “You have a right to you’re opinion, but you have no right to force it on anyone.”

Second Person: “Is that your opinion?”

First Person: “Yes.”

Second Person: “Then why are you forcing it on me?”

First Person: “But your saying your view is right.”

Second Person: “Am I wrong?”

First Person: “Yes.”

Second Person: “Then your saying only your view is right, which is the very thing you objected to me saying.”

First Person:You shouldn’t push your morality on me.”

Second Person: “Correct me if I’m misunderstanding you here, but it sounds to me like your telling me I’m wrong.”

First Person: “You are.”

Second Person: “Well, you seem to be saying my personal moral view shouldn’t apply to other people, but that sounds suspiciously like you are applying your moral view to me.  Why are you forcing your morality on me?”


  • “Most of the problems with our culture can be summed up in one phrase: ‘Who are you to say?’” ~ Dennis Prager.  So lets unpack this phrase and see how it is self-refuting, or as Tom Morris[1] put it, self-deleting. When someone says, “Who are you to say?” answer with, “Who are you to say ‘Who are you to say’?” [2]

This person is challenging your right to correct another, yet she is correcting you.  Your response to her amounts to “Who are you to correct my correction, if correcting in itself is wrong?” or “If I don’t have the right to challenge your view, then why do you have the right to challenge mine?”  Her objection is self-refuting; you’re just pointing it out.

The “Who are you to say?” challenge fails on another account.  Taken at face value, the question challenges one’s authority to judge another’s conduct.  It says, in effect, “What authorizes you to make a rule for others?  Are you in charge?”  This challenge miscasts my position.  I don’t expect others to obey me simply because I say so.  I’m appealing to reason, not asserting my authority.  It’s one thing to force beliefs; it’s quite another to state those beliefs and make an appeal for them.

The “Who are you to say?” complaint is a cheap shot.  At best it’s self-defeating.  It’s an attempt to challenge the legitimacy of your moral judgments, but the statement itself implies a moral judgment.  At worst, it legitimizes anarchy.[3]

[1] Tom Morris, Philosophy for Dummies (IDG Books; 1999), p. 46
[2] Francis Beckwith & Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Planted in Mid-Air (Baker Books; 1998), p. 144-146.
[3] Via SCRIBD

Defining Relativism ~ Dr. Beckwith

Dennis Prager, quite a few years ago, points out quite well that what the Left wants is NOT to be judged, in contradistinction to a ethical norm in human behavior:

  • Personal responsibility means you could be judged guilty.

  • We never want to be judged guilty.
  • So we must stop people who make such judgments.
  • We stop them by calling them judgmental.

He continues

We have substituted normal and sick for good and evil, and that, again, means no personal responsibility. How can you be held responsible if you did what you did because you are sick?…. There is no one standard to which all people are accountable any more. And that’s what Race-Gender-Class does. It subverts responsibility.

CARM rightly makes the point that — especially those who believe in the Bible (as Wiener seemingly professes in the above video)

…Without a standard of morality, there is no way to judge what is good or bad. Atheists, for example, might decry what is the behavior of God in the Old Testament when he orders the destruction of people groups. But, by what standard does any atheist have to judge what is morally correct? At best, an atheist would only have the ability to express an opinion since he cannot offer any objective standard of morality.

Religious people can appeal to a higher power from which they can ascertain what is good and bad…. God does and he has communicated his standard of righteousness. This communication is found in the Bible. Take the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20. We see a codification of moral standards. We are told not to lie, not to commit adultery, not to covet, etc.  These are standards given to us by God and though there are other cultures that don’t believe in the biblical God, they might have similar moral codes.  But, for the Christian the Bible is the supreme authority that judges what is moral.

We can only judge what is moral if we have a standard given to us by God, not some standard that is based on emotion, opinion, or the changing morals of society.  Even though atheists, agnostics, Muslims, and non-Christians might not approve of standards found in the Scriptures, we Christians believe that the Bible is the revealed and inspired Word of God and that within its pages are the moral standards by which we are to model our behavior. Therefore, the right to we have to judge what is moral comes from God as is revealed in his Word….

So Wiener’s summation in this back-and-forth show most of all his lack of deep thought on the important issue of public morality… and the consequences of violating it. Becoming a laughing stock!

Even Gay Patriot couldn’t pass this example of narcissism up!

It shows one of life’s classic moral confrontations.

  • The normal person (“normal” just meaning, “takes for granted that there are norms of personal behavior”) expresses a viewpoint like: There are norms; you are aware that you violated them when you repeatedly betrayed and humiliated your wife with your deviance, right? I’m not judging you, you can go home and have a good life, but you really don’t belong in the public eye. Have a nice life, but please stop bothering us here in the public square.
  • While the malignant narcissist expresses a viewpoint like: How DARE you tell me that I don’t belong in the public eye, being adored (e.g., voted for – and given power)?! You small person, you coward, you ignoramus, you self-appointed judge, you [insert names of choice]!

Hat tip, Michelle Malkin.

And Moonbat makes the point that some are attacking Obama’s positions just like they did Bush’s, but the difference this time is the media is ignoring it. Hmmmm… “naw, this isn’t more proof of a media bias” — says lemming: