Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Creach and the Command to "Utterly Destroy": A Second Glance

I decided to see what Greg Boyd was up to today . . . more trouble. His blog entry, Creach and the Command to "Utterly Destroy," summarizes and concords with Jerome Creach's recent work on Deuteronomy. Creach argues for an allegorical interpretation of God's command to the Israelites to place the Canaanites under the ban (Hebr. herem).

The allegorical view these two support is that of Origen, the Church patriarch from Alexandria. They conclude that the true meaning of the ban was not to kill the Canaanites, but to see the Canaanites as examples of their own spiritual sin. Their sin was what must be destroyed. They have propped this claim up with evidence that is suspect at best. Their use of Scripture is horrendous. An examination of their evidence is required. The points have been written by Boyd. I will respond to each. Please note, this is a very long, but important theological post.

1) "There are a number of passages in Deuteronomy that reflect a much more humane treatment of foreigners than a [literal] reading of herem would suggest. For example, Deuteronomy 15 instructs the Israelites to be generous and merciful to foreigners, and 21:10-14 gives instruction to Israelite men requiring them to treat with decency Canaanite women they want to marry. Verses 24:17-18 instruct the Israelites to be kind to foreigners in need, and so on. How are these instructions consistent with the command to completely slaughter all Canaanites?"

Boyd claims that Deut. 15 teaches generosity and mercy to foreigners, but in actuality the only direct reference to foreigners is in v. 3, "You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your brother owes you." The next problem is the use of 21:10-14 to refer to Canaanite women. The context of the passage is of Moses writing instruction to the Israelites before they enter the land concerning what they should do after conquering it. Therefore, the Canaanites would be (if the Israelites had been faithful) completely wiped out. These women, then, are from the other enemies that surrounded the land of promise. Sadly, the last text is mis-cited as well because Boyd equates "foreigners" with Canaanites. Instead, these foreigners or "aliens" are sojourners in the land from other lands (drawn in by Israel's holiness), after the conquest would be complete. These theologians have completely misrepresented these texts.

To answer Boyd's question, God intended to give the land solely to Abraham's offspring, removing the people who previously inhabited the land. (Deut. 15:1-21) How will the Lord give that land and remove the sinful people who stand opposed to him? Through the ban. (Deut. 20:1-18)

2) "Joshua 11:19 presents the Israelites as trying to make peace with various Canaanite cities, though only the Gibeonites accept their offer. Only when cities rejected peace did war ensue. Other passages treat Israelite warfare as a defensive response to Canaanite aggression as well. Creach argues that this theme is interwoven throughout the Conquest narrative (reflecting concerns by those who redacted the final version of this book). This motif hardly seems consistent with the understanding that the Israelites were to slaughter them carte blanch."

I wonder if these men ever read Joshua 11. In Joshua 9, The Israelites had recently defeated two city-states (Jericho and Ai), when the Gibeonites came to them and falsely claimed to be from a distant land, seeking a peace treaty. Only after the treaty was struck in the name of Yahweh (thus, binding) was the subterfuge discovered. It is only on account of their concern for the name of Yahweh that the Israelites spared the Gibeonites. The Israelites made no attempt to make peace with the surrounding cities. Israel's battles during this period were not defensive, but offensive. Creach is not only wrong, his statements are in direct contradiction to Scripture. Boyd's note of inconsistency is correct, but the inconsistency does not come from the text or the idea of the ban, but rather from Creach's contravention of Scripture.

3) "The fact that Rahab (Joshua 2) and the Gibeonites are spared -- and even held up as models of faith -- is hard to reconcile with a literal interpretation of herem."

Rahab, and not the Gibeonites, are held up as a model of faith. Rahab was granted grace on account of faith, a grace that is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments. When any person responds in faith to the gospel (the revelation of God), that person is spared. This Canaanite woman of faith would be incorporated into the community of faith, Israel. What we can see, then, is that the ban has little to do with bloodlines, but with a spiritual state. The Canaanites are the seed of the serpent, while Israel is supposed to be the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). Rahab would become a part of the bloodline of David, and Joseph, the step-father of Jesus.

4) "Engaging in redaction arguments that are too complex to go into here, Creach argues that Joshua 1-12 presents an idealized account of the Conquest. There is some evidence for this in the text itself. For example, Joshua 11:23 says Joshua 'took the entire land' and that there was a rest from war. But 13:1 depicts 'large areas of land' that had not yet been taken over when Joshua was an old man. Moreover, the beginning of Judges describes how various tribes worked to secure their territories (Judg. 1:1-3, 6). On top of this, Creach argues that archeology supports the gradual conquest model much more than the idealized model of chapters 1-12 of Joshua. This also suggest that the “conquest” was not as militant and annihilationist as a literal reading of herem (and a straight forward reading of Josh. 1-12) would suggest."

Creach again does not look at the context but picks up statements on their own and runs with them, an example of irresponsible hermeneutics. Joshua 11:23 says that Joshua took the entire land (implying the land of promise). And 13:1 is speaking of land outside the land of promise. Here we see a mandate by God for the Israelites to expand their boundaries beyond the area already taken by Joshua. The expansion of the borders would follow the pattern of Deut 20:10-15. Thus it would be militaristic but not necessarily annihilationist. Creach and Boyd should know enough to read the surrounding contexts.

5) "Creach argues that Numbers 21:1-3 suggests that herem was originally something Israelites offered to God; it wasn’t something God himself ordered. To acknowledge that their military victories were acts of God the Israelites vowed to not benefit from it, but to offer up everything as a sacrifice to God. Creach then notes how Deut. 7:1-5 differs from this, for here God himself orders herem and it has a moral dimension to it. The concern in Deuteronomy (but not Numbers) is that Israel will be seduced by Canaanite practices."

Creach gets the context wrong again. Numbers 21:1-3 does not have to do with the land of promise but to the cities of Edom, to the South-East. God gave the Edomites over to the Israelites when they asked him in faith. The situation occurred because the Edomites would not let the Israelites pass through their land and took some Israelites captive. The Numbers passage, then, has nothing to do with the ban within the land of promise.

6) "Creach argues that Deuteronomy 7:1-5 is patterned after Ex. 23:20-33. In this latter passage the Lord told the Israelites he himself would 'wipe out' the Canaanites (vs. 23). But he clearly doesn’t mean by this that he would completely destroy them, for he says he’ll make them “turn their backs and run” (vs. 27). He also says he’ll use hornets to drive them out little by little (vs. 28) because if he did this all at once the land would become destitute and overrun with wild animals (vs. 29). For the Israelites’ part, they weren’t to make any covenants with the residents of the land or with their gods (vs. 32) and were not to let them live in their land because of the possibility that the Israelites would be seduced by their foreign gods (vs. 33). This clearly is not consistent with the idea that God’s intent from the start was to have the Israelites slaughter the Canaanites completely."

In both passages, God promises to drive the Canaanites out of the land before Israel. This does not mean he does not use means and that the Israelites themselves won't have to slaughter their enemies. Both passages actually require that the Israelites wipe out those Canaanites who remain in the land. There is also no immediacy in either timeline. Both passages seem to indicate a period of time given to pushing the pagans out of the land. The alternative to obeying these mandates is apostasy. There is no discrepancy between these texts.

7) "Finally, utilizing the work of R. W. L. Moberly . . . Creach notes that Deut. 7:1-5 is part of an explanation and extension of the Shema ('[Hear] O Israel…' Deut. 6:4-9). It stipulates what it looks like for the people of God to be faithful to Yahweh, and it involves not following 'the gods of the peoples around you' (Deut 6:14) and remembering that Yahweh delivered Israel out of Egypt and drove out their enemies before them (vs. 19). Chapter 7 then adds the command to 'utterly destroy' their enemies (vs. 2) with the stipulations that they are not to intermarry with them (vs. 3) and are to break down all their sacred places and idols (vs. 3). Yet, it's hard to reconcile the stipulation to not follow the gods of the people around you, to remember that the Lord 'drove out' the enemies before you and to not intermarry with the indigenous residents with the understanding that the Israelites were to completely annihilate the Canaanites."

This "difficulty" in reconciling these texts disappears when we remember that the driving out of the Canaanites was to be a process, and therefore a warning to resist apostasy was necessary. Further, we should see that the downfall of Israel was foretold (a truth that Boyd, especially, would like to avoid) in Deut. 30:1-8; 32:1-47.

"Put all this together, and you arrive at Creach’s conclusion that the command to 'utterly destroy' the Canaanites had become a metaphor for complete devotion to Yahweh by the time Deuteronomy was written. The practice of herem perhaps began in Israel as a practice that was close to 'ethnic cleansing,' which is perhaps what we find reflected in Number 21:1-3. But it evolved over time to become a metaphor for something that was not violent."

There are so many problems with the contexts and the use of the texts that it colors any conclusion that is "supported" by them. We have not even covered their view of textual criticism (a whole 'nother ball game). A case may be built for Creach's conclusion within the Christian era, but certainly not in the period of the conquest or at any other point prior to the advent of Christ (the giving of the New Covenant). We must see, instead, that Israel apostatized and failed in their task, leading to their split and the exiles of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

The sheer amount of textual inaccuracy (almost every passage!) makes me wonder if the Scriptures were controverted on purpose to support a shaky argument. If so, Creach's study is an example not of poor scholarship but of something far more malevolent, purposefully misguiding believers away from a right understanding of both God's Law and his nature.


A. B. Caneday said...

Aren't they clever?

Steven Douglas said...

Certainly, as "the serpent was more clever than all the animals of the field." I can appreciate why Boyd would espouse this notion, with his issues concerning the problem of evil, but he has never understood Scripture correctly. Thus his beliefs are skewed.

I realize you understand this far better than I do even, but the comment should stand for others to read. Thanks for stopping by, Dr. Caneday.