Why Does God Order the Killing of Canaanite Livestock?

During the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites were sometimes commanded to kill all the domesticated animals living among the Canaanites. Why would God command this? The simple answer is this: the Canaanites were having sexual relations with their animals.

OK, I know this is totally disgusting to us moderns, but that is how it was in the ancient near east. Christian scholar Clay Jones writes about the issue of bestiality among the Canaanites in this blog post and in a paper called “We Don’t Hate Sin.”

Jones first provides evidence of ancient near east attitudes about bestiality:

Hittite Laws 199 states, ‘If anyone has intercourse with a pig or dog, he shall die. If a man has intercourse with a horse or mule, there is no punishment.’

There should be no surprise that bestiality would occur for the Canaanites since the god they worshiped practiced it. From the Canaanite epic poem, The Baal Cycle we learn:

Mightiest Baal hears; He makes love with a heifer in the outback, A cow in the field of Death’s Realm.

He lies with her seventy times seven, Mounts eighty times eight; [She conceiv]es and bears a boy.

Further records from the ancient near east mandate that animals be tied to the bed before intercourse: “At my head a buck is tied. At my feet [a ram is tied]! Buck caress me! [Ram], copulate with me!”

From the Egyptian dream book, Jones notes that it is a bad omen for a woman to dream about sex with various rodents, birds, and reptiles, but it is a good omen for a woman to dream about having sex with a baboon, wolf, and goat.

In short, scholars have confirmed that bestiality was rampant among the nations surrounding Israel. In contrast, the God of Israel mandated the death penalty for anyone caught having sex with an animal (see Lev 20:15). The animal itself also must be killed.

Therefore, since the Israelites would be pushing out the people of Canaan (and killing those who refused to leave), the sexualized animals left behind also had to be killed. These animals, who were used to having sex with humans, could not possibly be allowed to remain around the Israelites, both for practical reasons, and for spiritual reasons.

Jones records the fact that even the ancient Hittites recognized the problems that sexualized animals could cause.

They also needed to point out when humans might not be at fault: ‘If an ox spring upon a man for intercourse, the ox shall die but the man shall not die…. If a pig spring upon a man for intercourse, there is no punishment.’ Notice that even the Hittites, who engaged in sex with animals, realized that oxen who tried to mount people had to die.

Is it the animals fault that humans were having sex with them? No, but Jones argues that the innocent are always impacted by the sins of the guilty. It is a ridiculous notion to think that one person’s sin can be contained and not harm others. Sin always harms others.