Why divine violence is in the Bible

The Bible contains many areas of mass violence and slaughter. Perhaps the most infamous one being the cherem of the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua. Don’t attempt to explain this away as a punishment for the depravity of the Canaanites, there is no real evidence from archaeology that the Canaanites were any more wicked than the Israelites. In fact ‘cherem’ appears to be a form of human sacrifice itself. And let’s not even try to defend the ‘historicity’ or lack thereof of the narrative.

So why is the Book of Joshua in the Bible? I agree with Thom Stark and James Bishop that it is in the Bible ‘because’ it is so bad, not in spite of it. The Bible is at it’s heart a story of what it means to be human, in this case the book shows how we should ‘not’ behave, not how we should behave. As James Bishop says:

These texts, as product of both God and man, thus mirrors our humanity. They demonstrate what and who we can be, capable of both significant good and evil.

It has just occurred to me that there is another passage which explicitly demands human sacrifice, Exodus 22:29

Here are two thoughts (first one, thanks to @Marshall) :

The second is a review you might appreciate by Thom Stark:

Could it be, after all my worrying, that Genesis 1:28 is another one of these passages?

I have not looked at every war in the bible, but I would add a different perspective here. First off, we do not have the original version of the OT to go from, but we do have broader research to draw from. For example, when God sent His angels to kill the firstborn of Egypt, what was He thinking of?

At the time of Moses, it was common practice in Egypt to present the young women to the temple when they reached womanhood. These young women were ceremoniously raped. It was Satan himself who possessed the priests or the pharaoh to rape these young girls. The firstborn of Egypt were literally Satan’s children. So, when God killed the firstborn of Egypt, He was killing Satan’s children, sending him the message that this behavior would not be tolerated.

To my knowledge, some of the mass killings were God’s assistance in establishing enlightened pockets of people by reducing the threats against them. This was the case in the flood, where God helped to end cannibalism and allow a farming (nurturing) culture to be established.

The other thing to consider, is that the OT is inspired work and not all of the stories are taking place on Earth. The large numbers given in the bible may not be all humans, they may include the spiritual battle going on in the background. Here is a quote from my third book:

When Troy was discovered some of Homer’s descriptions did not make physical sense, and thus tending to be treated as legend and not history. For example, in Homer’s Iliad he describes fifty thousand men and their horses on a physical piece of land that could not possibly hold them.

As when the stars shine clear, and the moon is bright-there is not a breath of air, not a peak nor a glade nor jutting headland but it stands out in the ineffable radiance that breaks from the serene of heaven; the stars can all of them be told and the heart of the shepherd is glad-even thus shone the watchfires of the Trojans before Ilium midway between the ships and the river Xanthus. A thousand campfires gleamed upon the plain, and in the glow of each there sat fifty men, while the horses, champing oats and corn beside their chariots, waited till dawn should come. (Homer, and Samuel Butler. “VIII.” Iliad. USA: Barnes & Noble, 1995. 126. Print.)

From Franchezzo’s explanations, it becomes clear that any war in the material world would be joined by the blood thirsty ethereal beings that he describes in the lower reaches of the ethereal world. They would certainly be cheering on the fighters to kill each other to satisfy their own blood lust. Whenever large numbers of people are referenced in inspired texts, we should be careful to consider in which of the two worlds they are resident.

Physically, 50,000 men could have fit on the parcel of land discovered outside of Troy, sitting around 1,000 camp fires. It was more like 1,000 men and 49,000 spirits in this battle. The spiritual battles that rage behind the scenes end up in the inspired works, because the prophets can see them, but we cannot.

Pete Enns says that it’s because Israel wanted to justify their history–isn’t that right? And they used it to create national sense of consciousness by the same pictures that the other tribes did.

Greg Boyd believes that we have a better picture of God through Christ, and that He would never have commanded Numbers 31, etc.

This is cuckoo banana-pants, as far as I am concerned. No recognized OT or Egyptology scholar says this, by the way.

You don’t need to explain your ideas further. I just wanted to register my reaction to them, lest anyone was confused and thought that they were ideas from Christian biblical scholarship instead of self-published speculation.


These are English translations from the following German publication: Strauli, Robert, Von Adam zu Mose, 1989. How well have the scribes and theologians served humanity? I thought that bringing science into theology was the idea here. Are you not aware of the human sacrifice in Egypt? Why is rape to hard to understand? It was commonplace and therefore historians disregard it like they disregard slavery. With slaves it is not called rape I guess.

I am quite aware that many ancient religions involved weird sex rituals and temple prostitution. I have never heard that it was part of Egyptian religious practice, do you have a citation to something other than your own book? An MSU article on Egyptian sexuality makes absolutely no reference to temple sex and it covers pretty much everything else you could think of. But mainly, it was the part about the firstborn of Egypt in the Bible referring to Satan’s children that is totally made up.

The idea is to harmonize established science with established Christian theology, not to create some new fringe religion to harmonize with speculative pseudoscience, which seems to be what you are most interested in.


My intension here is not to start a new religion. My intension is to shine a light on the parts of Christianity and science that I believe are not Christ-like, and are causing human suffering. Please read my statement in: Scientific Evidence of Reincarnation and Ghost Possession - #62 by tornbetw2worlds

There are 34 million slaves in the world today and many of these are in sex trafficking. Maybe we should be trying something new to stop this epidemic? Isn’t this the area that Christianity is active in? There is a famous quote from Jacob Burckhardt: “The more we study history, we find that humanity doesn’t learn from studying it.” He was one of the few historians whose predictions of the future mostly came true. He actually learned from his method of studying history. This method includes applying a consistent set of ethics to the analysis, which your Egyptian sexuality article fails to do. This leads to culture willing to accept behaviors that are not Christ-like. My favorite is “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” How many christians have used a sex trafficked prostitute? Would’t it be a better message in Christianity to say that was rape in Egypt and God punished it?

I believe the book of Joshua is canonical and inspired and in the original autograph, inerrant. I am at a loss to explain the genocide. My ongoing hope, for which I have no basis, is that in the next life God says “I didn’t expect you to understand it… in fact those who claim to understand it are the ones I worried about.”

It is a mystery. Like why Ps. 14 and Ps. 53 are virtually duplicates.

Struggling with God is what defines believers, as shown by Jacob’s wrestling with God, it is only natural for believers to struggle with these things.

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In order to better understand this issue I would suggest you read the book “Is God a Moral Monster? Making sense of the Old Testament God” by Paul Copan https://www.amazon.com/God-Moral-Monster-Making-Testament/dp/0801072751
It is a good book that helps explain a lot of these issues. To be honest it still boggles me that God would allow this violence (even borderline genocide) to happen but I guess that will be one of the questions I will ask him when I get to Heaven. But regardless a lot of these stories show a reflection and how we aren’t perfect and how God’s chosen people weren’t perfect either and how they messed up form the very start when the covenant was first made (Exodus 32). Its truly amazing that God would still stick with us and put up with our mess despite our constant falling away.

Good for our humility.

I would suggest you read Thom Stark’s response, linked by Pevaquark above.

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there is even more discussion of the difference between Stark and Copan by Randal Rauser (I’ve not read it all yet) here Reflections on the Thom Stark-Paul Copan debate - Randal Rauser

Looks like good area to read. Thanks.

I read that book and have it too. I thought it was very helpful, but I also understand the criticisms and “wait, buts” from what I’ve read of Stark and Enns. Randal Rauser has high respect for Copan, especially noting that he is a very kind man. He even thought about using him for a textbook , though he disagrees with him now.

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Upon looking at Tom Stark’s response it seems okay but it seems borderline atheistic (and yes I know he is a Christian, I guess I’m too conservative in theology in taking this radical approach) in its attempt to make God look like a villain then the moral and all loving God he is in the Bible. I do admit that Copan wasn’t knowledgeable of ANE gods and religions as I have recently been studying on and how the Israelite Yahweh cult would have been (I have been reading Richard S. Hess two books, “Ancient Israel’s History” and “The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction” which have helped me understand the historical and cultural context of the OT and NT). But regardless Tom Stark’s review of the book was interesting never the less though I may have disagrees with him on certain points but I understand on why he took them.

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Rats I think I suffer from FS at times. I’ve read much of Stark’s review and commend it for the insight into the Ancient Near East and Old Testament in context- much of which many Christians are blissfully unaware of where they end up making and believing some of the inaccurate statements that Copan originally made.

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What does FS mean? :slight_smile: Rauser does reject Copan in favor of Stark, but Copan was my first introduction to the wiggle room of understanding that Joshua was not correct at reading from Western eyes.