From the Berea-Portal team - The Bible's full of exageration!


The Central Fellowship Christadelphian Berea-Portal team have taken an axe to more Scripture; this time striking at the heart of Christadelphian understanding of the books of Joshua and Judges.

In an article at Berea, (click here for source, or read it in full at the end of this article) B-P admin Ken Gilmore has abruptly dismissed much of the books of Joshua, Judges and part of 1 Samuel as being not true.


"the Israelites attacked (the Canaanites) and defeated them. In memorialising these battles, hyperbolic language was used."

What does he mean by "hyperbolic language"? He means that when the Bible repeatedly reports the wholesale extermination of the Canaanites by Joshua and the Israelites (for example in Joshua chapters 10 & 11) nothing of the sort happened - It was NOT true; the Bible writer was using hyperbole to exaggerate the story. He was making it up. He was telling lies. What he wrote was false. God's supposedly "inspired word" is lying to us.

To quote Ken again:

"The references in Joshua 10 and 11 to the extermination of the Canaanites pose a problem for believers ...........There is a problem arising from the fact that in the later chapters of Joshua and the early chapters of Judges, we see clear Biblical evidence that far from being wiped off the face of the Earth, the Canaanites were in fact alive and providing considerable opposition to the Israelites."

Of course Ken is right; there is a substantial contradiction in the text. And to make it even worse, two different Scripture writers wrote the two contradicting accounts.

- But how wonderful that a Christadelphian writer has the common sense and the nerve to state that the answer to the contradiction is that one of the two writers was lying - he was using "hyperbolic language."

Ken is not content with claiming that the books of Joshua and Judges and the Biblical account of the conquest of Canaan were bunk. He continues:

"One cannot help but recall the taunt “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” and realise that it is quite likely that the ancient Hebrews also employed hyperbole."

- Did you get that? Christadelphian Ken Gilmore just blew up 1 Samuel 18:7. He thinks that's also "hyperbole"! What else in the Bible does he think is hyperbole? If Joshua, Judges and Samuel are "hyperbole" what more in the Bible is invented nonsense? Read the Berea blog by clicking here and see what other parts of the Bible they "reinterpret" because they are not true.

The Foundation of the Christadelphian Statement of Faith reads:

 "THE FOUNDATION.—

That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation".

 
- No mention here of "Hyperbole" and exaggeration!

I urge all Christadelphians who are having doubts about their faith to read both the BEREA blog and also Berea-Portal forum. There you can watch highly intelligent and academically minded Christadelphians (who are still in fellowship) tear the Bible to pieces; denying large sections of its literal truth as they frantically struggle to explain away Bible nonsense.

There you will be told by your own in-fellowship brethren that the creation account in Genesis is not literal, the talking snake never happened, Evolution is true, humans are descended from a common ancestor with the Chimp, Noah's flood was not global, the Sun did not stand still while Joshua slew the five kings, the Old Testament is riddled with hyperbole and even the Matthew 27: 53 story of hundreds of people being raised from the dead at the resurrection of Christ, is not literally true.

So fervent are those Berea-Portal brethren in denying the literal truth of sections of the Bible that they mock their own brethren and sisters for being "Literalists" and "Fundamentalists" in accepting the Foundation clause in the Christadelphian Statement of Faith as being literally true. On his Facebook page, Berea-Portal admin Ken Gilmore calls Young Earth Creationist Christadelphians "Asinine" for believing in the literal truth of the Genesis account.

So how about that my Christadelphian brethren and sisters? The B-Ps think that much of the Bible is not literally true and the rest is hyperbole. They call you "Asinine" for believing mainstream Christadelphian teaching!
 
- What a wonderful religion you have!
..............................................................................................

Genocide or Hyperbole? Another look at the Conquest Narrative in Joshua – 1

By Christadelphian Ken Gilmore

The references in Joshua 10 and 11 to the extermination of the Canaanites pose a problem for believers, and not just because they are used by atheists to justify their assertion that the God of the OT is a “tribal, vicious, genocidal deity” that no civilised person should respect, much less worship. There is a problem arising from the fact that in the later chapters of Joshua and the early chapters of Judges, we see clear Biblical evidence that far from being wiped off the face of the Earth, the Canaanites were in fact alive and providing considerable opposition to the Israelites. While some Biblical contradictions are the product of a tendentious reading of the text that ignores context and genre, a literal reading of Joshua 10-11 stands in marked tension with the later chapters of Joshua and Judges. This tension in the text itself, let alone the moral problem of exterminating innocent children, is one which requires attention.

Joshua 10 and 11 – in somewhat stereotypical language – reports the utter extermination of a number of Canaanites cities:

Then Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Makkedah to Libnah, and fought against Libnah. The LORD gave it also with its king into the hands of Israel, and he struck it and every person who was in it with the edge of the sword. He left no survivor in it. Thus he did to its king just as he had done to the king of Jericho. And Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Libnah to Lachish, and they camped by it and fought against it. The LORD gave Lachish into the hands of Israel; and he captured it on the second day, and struck it and every person who was in it with the edge of the sword, according to all that he had done to Libnah.

Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish, and Joshua defeated him and his people until he had left him no survivor. And Joshua and all Israel with him passed on from Lachish to Eglon, and they camped by it and fought against it. They captured it on that day and struck it with the edge of the sword; and he utterly destroyed that day every person who was in it, according to all that he had done to Lachish.

Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron, and they fought against it. They captured it and struck it and its king and all its cities and all the persons who were in it with the edge of the sword. He left no survivor, according to all that he had done to Eglon. And he utterly destroyed it and every person who was in it.

Then Joshua and all Israel with him returned to Debir, and they fought against it.He captured it and its king and all its cities, and they struck them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed every person who was in it. He left no survivor. Just as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir and its king, as he had also done to Libnah and its king. Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. [1]

A plain reading of the conquest narrative in Joshua 10-11 describes the complete extermination of the Canaanites. The problem not only is the moral dimension of genocidal behaviour, but the contradiction with the rest of Joshua and Judges which plainly refer to a strong Canaanites presence in the areas which Joshua 10 and 11 claim were utterly destroyed:

Josh 15:63Now as for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the sons of Judah could not drive them out; so the Jebusites live with the sons of Judah at Jerusalem until this day.

Josh 16:10But they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites live in the midst of Ephraim to this day, and they became forced laborers.

Josh 17:16-18 - The sons of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the valley land have chariots of iron, both those who are in Beth-shean and its towns and those who are in the valley of Jezreel.” Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, “You are a numerous people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the hill country shall be yours. For though it is a forest, you shall clear it, and to its farthest borders it shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron and though they are strong.”

Furthermore, when one reads the opening chapters of Judges, one is struck by the fact that those Caananites which according to a literal reading of Joshua 10-11 had been utterly destroyed were alive and providing stubborn resistance. The NZ theologian and philosopher Matt Flannagan notes:

The problem is that chapters fifteen to seventeen record that the Canaanites were, in fact, not literally wiped out. Over and over the text affirms that the land was still occupied by the Canaanites, who remain heavily armed and deeply entrenched in the cities. Astute readers will note that these are the same regions and the same cities that Joshua was said to have “destroyed all who breathed”, left “no survivors” in just a few chapters earlier. [2]

The opening chapters of Judges do not describe a land whose inhabitants had largely been exterminated as one would imagine from reading Josh 10-11 as straightforward narrative. Judges 1v29 is representative of this fact:

Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who were living in Gezer; so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.

Compare this with Josh 10v33:

Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish, and Joshua defeated him and his people until he had left him no survivor.

In short, the areas of Canaan which Joshua 10-11 state had been left with no survivors were very much filled with Canaanites. A literal reading of Josh 10-11 leaves one with the moral question of whether utter extermination of the Canaanites is indeed genocide, while the later passages in Joshua and Judges when read as narrative appear to contradict Josh 10-11.

1. Joshua 10:29-40 New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995),

2. Flannagan M. “Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?” MandM August 1st 2010 http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/08/contra-mundum-did-god-command-genocide-in-the-old-testament.html Accessed 25th February 2013 (I am greatly indebted to Dr Flannagan’s series of posts on this subject)

Genocide or Hyperbole? Another look at the Conquest Narrative in Joshua – 2

Flannagan, advances the thesis that the passages in Joshua 10 and 11 are better understood as hyperbole, a practice common in the ANE. He notes:

At a recent conference at the University of Notre Dame, Philosopher Alvin Plantinga suggested a possible solution is to take this language hyperbolically. He suggested phrases such as, “destroy with the sword … men and women … cattle, sheep and donkeys” are phrases to be understood more like we understand a person who, in the context of watching David Tua in a boxing match, yells, “Knock his block off! Hand him his head! Take him out!” or hopes that the All Blacks will “annihilate the Springboks” or “totally slaughter the Wallabies.” Now, the sports fan does not actually want David Tua to decapitate his opponent or for the All Blacks to become mass murderers. Plantinga suggests that the same could be true here; understood in a non-literal sense the phrases probably mean “something like, attack them, defeat them, drive them out; not literally kill every man, woman, child donkey and the like.” If this is correct then the differences between the different texts is easily explained and more significantly, the texts do not teach that God commanded genocide or that Joshua carried it out. [1]

The presence of hyperbolic elements in the Bible is hardly a new idea in the history of OT interpretation. Another perennial problem in the OT is that of the impossibly large numbers of soldiers killed in battle. A solution to which I have previously been attracted is reading the Hebrew word for ‘thousand’ as ‘unit’ or ‘division’, but this is impossible to do consistently as elsewhere it does mean 1000, and one can easily be accused of lexicographic massaging in order to eliminate a problem.

Evangelical scholar David Fouts has examined the subject of large numbers in the OT, which he acknowledges is a problem, particularly for Biblical literalists:

Those who would challenge an essentially conservative view of Scripture often do so by appealing to passages that involve large numbers. It is therefore necessary that this study be undertaken in order to discover the way that large numbers were used in the OT. Accepting them at face value often leads to internal disharmony with other Biblical passages. There are also the archeological data to contend with. These facts may no longer be ignored by conservative scholars. [2]

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with mainstream OT scholarship would readily agree with Fouts’ concern that the large numbers in the OT pose an acute problem. His solution is that the large numbers are hyperbole, designed to exalt and glorify the king or local deity:

Quite often, large numbers were employed in a hyperbolic fashion in the historiographic literatures of Sumer, Akkad and Assyria, particularly in the royal inscriptional and annalistic genres. The hyperbolic numbers occur in military contexts expressing the number of troops engaged in battle, number of enemies slain or captured, amount of spoil taken, and amount of corvĂ©e labor employed…

In a stone tablet inscription of Shalmaneser I (ca. 1275–1245) concerning the rebuilding of the temple of Eharsagkurkurra “we have the first detailed account of military operations conducted by an Assyrian king.” As such it is somewhat akin to the format of later Assyrian annals. It is full of hyperbolic language:

I slaughtered countless numbers of their extensive army. As for him Sattuara), I chased him at arrowpoint until sunset. I butchered their hordes (but) 14,400 of them (who remained) alive I blinded (and) carried off. I conquered nine of his fortifed cult centers (as well as) the city from which he ruled and I turned 180 of his cities into ruin hills. I slaughtered like sheep the armies of the Hittites and Ahlamu, his allies…

Much of the literature from Ugarit (Ras Shamra) uses the genres of myth, legend and epic. There are economic texts as well, but no royal inscriptions or other historical genres have yet been discovered. In one Ugaritic text, however, is found the largest number encountered in the research for this present work:

Let a multitude be provisioned,
and let it go out.
Let the mightiest army be provisioned.
Yea, let a multitude go out.
Let your strong army be numerous,
three hundred ten-thousands,
conscripts without number,
soldiers beyond counting.

The language of this epic literature is of course hyperbolic. One notes the terms “without number” and “beyond counting” in synonymous parallelism to the specific 3,000,000. This may support the hypothesis of my dissertation that at times the large numbers in other genres are also to be understood as literary hyperbole. [3]

He concludes:

One must wonder what implications the results of this study could have on OT scholarship, particularly in the area of conquest models. As has been noted earlier, the large numbers have often been a stumbling block for accepting the Biblical accounts as legitimate records of history. If the numbers are simply reflective of a rhetorical device common in ancient Near Eastern literature, however, one may no longer question the integrity of the record by use of this argument. The large numbers are often simply figures of speech employed to magnify King Yahweh, King David, or others in a theologically based historiographical narrative. [4]

One cannot help but recall the taunt “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” and realise that it is quite likely that the ancient Hebrews also employed hyperbole.

1. Flannagan M. “Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?” MandM August 1st 2010 http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/08/contra-mundum-did-god-command-genocide-in-the-old-testament.html Accessed 25th February 2013

2. Fouts D. M. A Defense Of The Hyperbolic Interpretation Of Large Numbers In The Old Testament Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (1997) 40:377-387

3.ibid., p 383-387

4. ibid., p 387

 

Genocide or Hyperbole? Another look at the Conquest Narrative in Joshua – 3

The example of hyperbolic numbers of battle casualties employed to glorify the king / deity is closely related to the idea of hyperbole posited to give context to Joshua 10 and 11. Flannagan continues:

Some examples will illustrate this. The Merneptah Stele states “Yanoam was made nonexistent; Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” here the Egyptian Pharoh Merneptah describes a skirmish with Israel in which his armies prevailed, hyperbolically, in terms of the total annihilation of Israel. The Assyrian king Sennacherib uses similar hyperbole, “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.” Mursili II records making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).” Similarly, The Bulletin of Ramses II, an historical narrative of Egyptian military campaigns into Syria, narrates Egypt’s considerably less than decisive victory at the battle of Kadesh with the rhetoric, “His majesty slew the entire force of the wretched foe from Hatti, together with his great chiefs and all his brothers, as well as all the chiefs of all the countries that had come with him” [Emphasis added]. The examples could be multiplied but the point is that such language was hyperbolic and not intended to be taken literally [1].

If we grant this, then another way of reading the conquest narratives emerges:

·     God commanded the Israelites to evict the Canaanites from the land which according to the Bible had been promised to Abraham centuries earlier.

·     The Israelites attacked them and defeated them. In memorialising these battles, hyperbolic language was used.

·     However, they did not complete the task – as the later chapters indicate, the Canaanites were still present and in fact Israel was chided for not prosecuting the task.

The language of Exodus and Deuteronomy is difficult to square with a literal reading of Josh 10 and 11. In Ex 23:22-24 one notes how the Canaanites were to be eradicated:

“But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My angel will go before you and bring you in to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will completely destroy them. You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces.”

Such language does call to mind Joshua 10 and 11. A few verses later, one gets a different picture, one more consistent with what the later chapters of Joshua and Judges indicate. From verse 27:

“I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. I will send hornets ahead of you so that they will drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites before you. I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land. I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

“I will drive them out before you little by little” is impossible to reconcile with utterly annihilating the Canaanites, but easily fits the historical picture given from the rest of Joshua / Judges. Deuteronomy 7 reiterates this pattern of a slow eviction of the Canaanites coupled with an injunction against making treaties and intermarrying:

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you. But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.”

The latter verses in fact have striking archaeological evidence to support this, Glenn Miller cites Ben-Tor’s description of Hazor in the Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Ancient Near East:

“The last LB city at Hazor was violently destroyed. A level consisting of fallen mud brick, debris, ash, and burnt wood (in some places more than 1 m thick) was encountered almost everywhere in both the upper and lower city. It is the best indication of Hazor’s catastrophic end. In areas C and H there is evidence of the [b]deliberate mutilation and desecration of cult objects[/b]. Yadin (the excavator) fixed the date of that destruction in the last quarter of the thirteenth century BCE and tended to attribute it to the conquering Israelites, as described in Joshua 11.10″ [2]

If one accepts the hyperbole thesis (and there is independent support for this in the evidence of hyperbolic use of number in the ANE), then the tension between Joshua 10-11 and the remainder of Joshua and the first chapters of Judges is considerably eased, with the rhetoric of elimination seen less as a ‘war crime’, and more as ANE hyperbole.

1. Flannagan M. “Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?” MandM August 1st 2010 http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/08/contra-mundum-did-god-command-genocide-in-the-old-testament.html Accessed 25th February 2013

2. Miller G “Good question…doesn’t the archaeological record in Palestine TOTALLY CONTRADICT (and hence, DISPROVE) the Bible’s claims about Joshua’s “Conquest” of the Land?! http://christianthinktank.com/noai.html Accessed 25th February 2013

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