and when Jehovah thy God shall deliver them up before thee, and thou shalt smite them; then thou shalt utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them; (ASV)
This can only be described as commanding genocide. Seven ethnicities, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, are to be completely exterminated and their holy places destroyed. And in the Book of Joshua, we are told that the conquering Israelites did the exterminations that they were commanded to do.
I (LP) like to call it "the Final Solution of the Canaanite Question". All for the supposedly terrible sin of squatting in the Israelites' Promised Land.
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I. Were the Canaanites Evil?
What follows should be considered a mere prolegomenon to an adequate response to this significant issue.
“The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen 15:16). According to the Bible, so important was this consideration in God’s economy that he allowed his own people to be oppressed for generations in the interim rather than sanction warfare against Canaanite culture in an untimely fashion. As we read the accounts of Conquest and judgment in the Bible it is easily forgotten that God's ultimate concern is not now, nor was it ever, tribal and/or provincial, but even extends to poor and oppressed among the pagans who have no other champion (e.g. Daniel 4:27).
2nd Millenium BC-146BC: Canaanite Religion (Baal and Company). Canaanite Palestine was a major crossroad from which Canaanite culture and religion had continued to expand for some time. The Canaanites/Phoenicians were far more advanced technologically and militarily than the originally nomadic Hebrews, yet, incredibly it seems, the Bible's Yahweh boldly commanded the Hebrews to "drive them out" (Josh 13:1-6, etc). They had attained great wealth, controlled much of the commerce of the ancient world, were excellent seafarers, and built great cities from the 2nd millennium BC onward (Sidon, Byblos, Ugarit, Tyre, etc. are among the earliest Canaanite cities). The Aegean Canaanites were called Phoenicians (literally "the purple people") by the Greeks, after the purple dye for which they were famous (derived from shellfish). Finds at Ras Shamra (Ugarit), an ancient (6000 year old) Phoenician (Canaanite/Ugaritic) city on the coast of Syria discovered in 1929 cast considerable light on the nature of Baalite/Canaanite religion which continued to engage Israel’s faith in an often life and death conflict for many centuries. 14th century texts recovered there confirm an immense depravity, even by today's standards. “No other people ever rivaled them in the mixture of bloodshed and debauchery with which they thought to honor the deity” -Lenormant, Manual to the Ancient History of the East, vol II, p. 219. The two goddesses Astarte (Heb. Ashtaroth) and Anath “are called ‘the great goddesses which conceive but do not bear… the rape of Anath by Baal formed a standing theme in Canaanite mythology... Snake worship and human sacrifice were rife...” (Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra, p.17). Sacred sex-courtesans (adults and children) and eunuch priests were found everywhere. The erotic aspects of their cult were, though pronounced, nothing compared to the depths of social degradation resulting from their religious glorification of violence and very low view of the value of human life (i. e. no value, except the joy of mutilation, your value to me, etc). Not only Israel recoiled in horror at the unprecedented social nadir to which the Canaanites had fallen; Roman sources attest widespread shock and horror at the depth of Canaanite cultural depravity (at Carthage). It was once suspected that biblical and Roman literature might have exaggerated Canaanite depravity, demonizing the opposition propagandistically. This thesis can no longer be maintained. Before Ras Shamra was discovered, the main source concerning Canaanite religion was Phoenikika by Philo of Byblus, a work which according to Porphyry and Eusebius, contains translations of an earlier Phoenician author named Sanchuniathon (Albright placed him in the period c.700-500 BC), who in turn got material from Hierombalus who lived during the reign of Abibal, king of Berytus, said to have reigned "before the Trojan war." Ras Shamra has disproved suspicions that Philo’s descriptions of Phoenician religion were exaggerated conclusively; the names of the gods, their barbarity, etc. at Ras Shamra are closely parallel to Philo’s descriptions. El, the supreme Canaanite deity terrified the other gods by his bloodthirsty nature; he murdered his favorite son, his brother, decapitated his daughter, and dethroned his father, and is characterized generally by uncontrolled, blood-violent lust. He married three of his own sisters, one of whom later married his son Baal. El was the progenitor of all the other gods of the Phoenician pantheon and human beings. His son and successor was Baal, god of the storm, the bringer of rain, and hence fertility who often appears holding a bolt of lightning. He is slain by Mot (god of Death, drought, and adversity) bringing a seven year cycle of scarcity which ends when his sister Anath recovers his body, slays enemy, and brings him back to life to bring fertility for another seven years. Baal is also called the son of Dagon, god of grain (especially at Ashdod, Ugarit and Gaza: 1 Sam 5:1-7; Judg 16:23). His consorts included Asherah (I Kings 18:19) and his own sister/spouse, Anath. Asherah and Astarte were goddesses of sex and violent murder. Anath delights in gore; she butchers young and old indiscriminately by the thousands, and finds “joy, laughter, and exultation” in wading in their mutilated remains up to her throat, and using numerous severed body parts as adornments for her wardrobe, etc. Prostitution of both sexes, adult and child alike, was an intrinsic feature of the cult of these goddesses (the Bible refers to their male prostitutes as qadesh/”sodomites”; the female prostitutes were called qedeshah; cf. Deut 23:18; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46). Children were found in large jars embedded in Canaanite city walls and home foundations to have been interred alive (clear evidence of struggle and suffocation) as a sacrifice to buy protection of cities and homes from their deities. "...excavators uncovered thousands of urns containing the cremated remains of small children, mostly under the age of two. The lowest strata of the large sanctuary [of Tanit at Salambo, Carthage] consisted entirely of these urns of burnt children's bones... At Canaanite Gezer, similar urns were found, dating to the Middle Bronze Age" (Cornfeld, AOB). One enormous Canaanite-inspired brass idol was discovered with an oven in its belly. After the oven was fired, live children were placed in the outstretched sizzling-hot arms of the god. With such bloodthirsty Canaanite deities as the highest role models for a culture, the worst possible traits were frequently brought out by their devoted societies to the extent that the land itself was said in Leviticus 20:22 “vomit out its inhabitants,” for when life is cheaper it is all the more unbearable. The Hebrews met this challenge with extreme measures. They had no prisons and asylums in which to keep the criminals and the insane a safe distance from themselves and their children. When insanity was Baalism, which spread as wildfire with its incredibly tempting sexual enticements, societies were quickly engulfed, imbibing violent and sexual aspects alike, such that criminally insane might soon the neighbor on every side. As Albright observed, “It was fortunate for the future of monotheism that the Israelites of the Conquest were a wild folk, endowed with primitive energy and ruthless will to exist, since the resulting decimation of the Canaanites prevented the complete fusion of the two kindred folk which would almost inevitably have depressed Yahwistic standards to a point where recovery was impossible. Thus the Canaanites, with their orgiastic nature worship, their cult of fertility in the form of serpent symbols and sensuous nudity, and their gross mythology, were replaced by Israel with its nomadic simplicity and purity of life, its lofty monotheism, and its severe code of ethics. In a not altogether dissimilar way, a millennium later, the African Canaanites, as they still called themselves, or the Carthaginians, as we call them, with the gross Phoenician mythology which we know from Ugarit and Philo Byblus, with human sacrifices and the cult of sex, were crushed by the immensely superior Romans, whose stern code of morals and singularly elevated paganism remind us in many ways of early Israel” (Albright, From Stone Age to Christianity (p. 214). - firstname.lastname@example.org
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