the best understanding of Joshua's conquests

I've struggled a long time with language of Joshua's genocidal conquest of the promised land. This explanation is the best I've come across, hyperbolic language.


Here is a snip.
If one takes these passages literally they record the divinely-authorised commission of genocide. But genocide surely is morally wrong. In the light of this, critics of Christian theism often ask a rhetorical question; how could a good and loving God command the extermination of the Canaanites?

One response which goes back to the patristic era is to suggest that the strict, literal reading on which this rhetorical question is based is mistaken. Recently, several, protestant scholars have suggested a hyperbolic reading of the relevant passages.


Part 2 is now published online. Here is a clear example of the hyperbolic language.
In addition, both Kitchen and Younger note that such hyperbolic language is used in several places within the book of Joshua itself. In Joshua 10:20, for example, it states Joshua and the sons of Israel had “finished destroying” and “completely destroyed” their enemies. Immediately, however, the text, affirms that the “survivors went to fortified cities.” In this context, the language of total destruction is clearly hyperbolic. Similarly, the account of the battle of Ai is clearly hyperbolic. After Joshua’s troops feign a retreat the text states that “all the men of Ai” are pressed to chase them. “Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.” Joshua lures the pursuers into a trap “so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives” Then it immediately goes on to assert “When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the desert where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword” they went to the city of Ai and killed all the men in it. Apparently all the men of Ai were killed three times in the battle and in each case they appear alive again. A final example is suggested by Goldingay, in the first chapter of Judges he notes that after Judah puts Jerusalem to the sword, its occupants are still living there ‘to this day’.

Part 3 is now available as well.
Some object that a hyperbolic interpretation does not fit the context, which draws a contrast between sparing “the women, the children, the livestock” in verse 14 and totally destroying them in verse 16 “do not leave alive anything that breathes”. This is mistaken; first the emphasis in verse 14 is not on sparing non-combatants but rather on the permissibility of marrying the women of conquered enemies, adopting their children and using their cattle. Second, the contrast is not between verses 14 and 16, but between verse 16 and the whole set of instructions regarding nations that are far away in verses 10-15. These verses command Israel to seek to make peace treaties first and if they go to war and kill combatants they can marry the women, adopt children and keep the live stock. In other words, as much as possible they are to seek peaceful co-existence with these nations. A command to go to war and drive them out expressed hyperbolically as ‘totally destroy them, leave nothing alive that breathes’ would stand in contrast to this. A final point on this is that the crucial issue is whether the hyperbolic interpretation is more plausible than a literal one, even if a literal interpretation fits Deuteronomy 20 better. Above I have argued that a literal interpretation puts Joshua 6-11 at odds with Judges and the later chapters of Joshua. It would be odd to reject a hyperbolic interpretation because one passage in Deuteronomy 20 does not cohere with it and instead embrace a literal interpretation which creates an even greater incoherence in the text.

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