What About Genocide in the Old Testament?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I’ve mentioned Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God before, but I ran across this video clip where historical Jesus scholar Mike Licona interviews Copan about alleged genocide in the Old Testament.  Copan summarizes some very key arguments from his book during this informative clip.

  • I found out about this book through your blog. Excellent book and I enjoyed the interview above as well. 🙂

  • Wonderful! Good to hear from you, Karla.

  • Todd

    The more apologetics I hear, the more I think it continues to render the bible meaningless. According to the guy on film, we shouldn’t take the bible literally when they say ‘utterly destroy’. Which parts are to be taken at face value?

    In my experience, whenever you question parts of the bible that don’t make sense, are evil, or are contrary to reality the hyperbole begins to spew. It would seem that a typical answer to tough questions is to cry misinterpretation from the literal word of the bible if there is wiggle room, then apologize for it in a way that makes the matter seem good for the christian cause. But if there’s no way to misinterpret a passage, simply fall back on the ‘f’ word – faith.

    Did Jesus come back from the dead? I don’t think one can apologize for this and still be christian. However, its contrary to nature and reality. Instead it seems Christians pretend to believe in zombies. What puzzles me, is why?

  • I agree with Todd. In fact, I read where William Lane Craig believes we should feel sorry for the Israelite soldiers that murdered the innocent and defenseless women and children–because of the effects killing innocent women and children would have on them–how absurd!!

    1 Samuel 15:3
    “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do
    not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and
    sheep, camel and donkey.”

    Clearly–the god of bible is a genocidal monster.

  • Todd,
    The challenge with interpreting the 66 books of the Bible is that they are written in many different literary styles and genres. It takes time and effort to get at the root of all that diversity.

    A lot of people approach the Bible as if all the books were written in the exact same genre and the exact same literary style. They try to read the Psalms in the same way they Revelation, but that is simply a mistake.

    When you see scholars struggling over how to interpret certain passages in the Bible, most of them are not looking for “wiggle room” at all. They are genuinely wanting to know what the original author was trying to say to their contemporary audience.

    All of this debate over interpretation is done in the open so that different perspectives can be debated, but it seems this open debate bothers people like you. Instead of joining in the debate, you stand outside and throw rocks at everyone involved because you don’t take the Bible seriously.

    Am I mistaken about you? Do you really want to know what the original authors intended to say in Bible passages or are you content to cast stones at all those who do?

  • Todd


    As an academic exercise I think its a grand idea if people want to study the bible to find out what the original authors were trying to convey. And if the original authors were trying to convey a meaning that is completely estranged from what they wrote, then perhaps it would be a worthwhile exercise for scholars to try and decipher their code. But since its creation, why then have scholars not come to concensus on the interpretations? Given the amount of time and effort spent on the bible, you would think by now there would be agreement. I would wager because the interpretations can vary from literal to metaphor on a passage by passage basis, that concensus would be nearly impossible to reach. Which is why I contend that the continued interpretation of the passages (without concensus I might amend) renders the passages meaningless; or at best only meaningful by personal interpretation.

    Open debate does not bother me at all. What bother’s me is when someone points out readily apparent inconsistencies in the bible and the point is never agreed upon. I don’t think I’ve heard a christian apologist say, “yeah, it was totally wrong of god to kill everyone in a flood”, or “Jephthah killing his dauther for god was wrong”. In fact, I would imagine that if I compiled all of the evil acts in the old testament, we could find apologetics determined to make each act seem resonable. In fact, the purpose of apologetics is to defend christianity against objections. Unfortunately, I believe that defence comes at the cost of reason.

    When reason is besmirched by apoloigetics, I cast my stones. Which is why I brought up the example of the resurrection. Regardless of how you interpret the text of the bible, the clear intention is to have the reader believe that Jesus was killed, then 3 days later brought back from the dead. It is a central tenant of christianity. For this, I do not think there is room for interpretation, nor is there reason to believe it possible.

    So again, I say we are left with apologetics defending the bible at all costs, even against reason. And I would ask again… why?

  • Todd,
    I think we need to put things in perspective. There are around 31,000 verses in the Bible and the difficult passages that are still debated today amount to a fraction of those 31,000 verses. To put a number on it, Geisler and Howe’s When Critics Ask, which is a comprehensive catalogue of difficult Bible passages, addresses roughly 3,400 verses out of the 31,000 in the Bible. So that’s about 11% of all the verses in the Bible that present difficulties – hardly the entire Bible.

    On those difficult verses, there is still debate, but how is that different from any other field of research or study? We are all human and we all bring biases to texts, so it’s hardly surprising that debate rages on. I fail to see how this counts against the Bible. I would wager to say that virtually every great piece of literature ever written has divergent schools of thought when it comes to interpreting difficult portions of it.

    You claim that reason is besmirched because Christians believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But how? How is reason besmirched? There is nothing logically contradictory about the resurrection. It is fairly straightforward to examine the historical evidence for it (see tomorrow’s blog post), and that evidence is quite compelling.

    Have you ever examined the evidence for yourself? Some of the world’s top philosophers, jurists, historians, and scientists (i.e., people professionally trained to reason) have looked at the evidence and concluded that it is compelling. Are they all lying? Are they all mentally deranged? Are they, every one, suffering from the same bizarre cognitive disorder? What do you make of these people?

    Please note that I am not arguing that the resurrection is true because some brilliant scholars say so. I am trying to challenge your extraordinary claim that the resurrection goes against reason, that there is literally no reason to believe it whatsover, that Christians are basically checking their brains at the door. This is an exceptionally strong view you are taking, which I find unreasonable. You may argue that the weight of the evidence does not favor the resurrection, but you may not say that there is no evidence at all.

  • Lkj

    yes this is very interesting. First thank you. Second, I have been hearing a lot lately (Because I have been thinking about these things) about the exaggerated hyperbolic language of the OT. That would make people second guess their hostility and horror (I am thinking of Dakwins but also of everybody, and even myself) towards the God of the Old Covenant. Isaac I have loved, Esau I have hated. The best is when the bible itself can decode itself. Cf Aionios has to mean age-lasting or else Jonah was in the whale for eternity! That is the gold-standard decryption. Look at how Esau was (not) cursed later in life, I think.

  • gecko

    Jesus, the Messiah had to be born through the lineage of Abraham/Israel. For this to happen, they absolutely had to be away from the idol worshipers as idol worship was an abomination to God. Some of the idol worshipers such as the Amaleks had influenced the Jews to worship their idols, for which God decreed the massacre. However He also told that the virgins should be spared so that the “seed” of idol worshipers be wiped out but not the entire folks. Remember, the world was young then, and God had to teach His people the harsh way so that they wouldn’t go astray. He didn’t even spare His own chosen people. Check the Bible! How many of His own people did He destroy for not keeping the commandements?

  • Common sense

    What do people make such a ruckus over this? The Canaanites were involved in child sacrifice by burning alive, bestiality, and a whole host of other things. God gave them 400 years to repent, and when God judged they call Him “genocidal”.