Joshua and Genocide: Major Issues for Contemporary Interpretation and Application

I find it ironic that the recent events in France and Kenya coincide, too a certain extent with my reading. Currently I am reviewing Joshua 1-12 by Thomas Dozeman (Yale University Press, 2015) and will being reviewing Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible edited by Saul Olyan (Oxford University Press, 2015). Both of these works relates the issues of violence and genocide.

In Dozeman’s commentary, he cites John Calvin’s commentary on the book of Joshua and notes the following:

“Despite Calvin’s quest for revelation through the literal interpretation of the book, he struggles with the ethics of the ban (God’s permission to completely annihilate all life in the urban center of Canaan). He repeatedly reflects on the inhumanity of the “indiscriminate and promiscuous slaughter, making no distinction of age or sex, but including alike women and children, the aged and decrepit”” (2015, 87, parenthesis added for context).

Calvin’s conclusion is that Joshua had no other approach to claiming the land because God had commanded it. Other traditions, of course, approach the issue in different ways. Calvin, though, was the first to wrestle with the book of Joshua as history. Regardless of the historical nature of Joshua’s historiography, Calvin was a trendsetter. The question(s) he raises must be answered in this generation as well.

Christians must examine how they understand the Bible and why they understand it how they do. What does the Bible justify to them? How does the book of Joshua fit into a peaceful, loving God?

Rather than resorting back to the solutions presented by Origen and other leaders in early Christianity, the current generation must wrestle with God’s command for genocide. And even beyond Joshua, they must wrestle with the violent aspects of the roots of Christians and Jewish history, ranging from the Maccabean revolt, in which non-circumcised people faced circumcision or death, to the justification of war for personal advancement through Biblical literature.


As for everything that happened in France and Kenya, I still feel like I am in shock. I am not sure how to respond. What do I say? I need to let the people of Paris mourn. They must have a voice. This isn’t my oppurtunity to say, “I support Paris and Kenya. Now I will change my Facebook picture”. It’s my chance to say, “I support Paris and Kenya. I hear and support them in their times of lament.”


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