I Dug Deeper and No Longer Believe Joshua is a Book About Genocide

For the longest time, I struggled with the Book of Joshua. I thought it was a book about genocide mainly because that’s how most people, even many Christians, described it. One of the most complex parts of the book is how violent it is and how this reflects on God’s character. After all, it was in Leviticus (19:18) that God commanded Israel to love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus reiterates this too, so how do we face the rampant violence in the book?

I am wholly unsatisfied with Reformed theology’s explanation of the matter–the sovereignty of God and how we shouldn’t question what he does. Well, even that’s not biblical. People throughout the Old Testament question God, not to challenge his authority, but to understand.

I’ve read that “God so loved the world,” and “God is love.” That doesn’t seem very loving at all. That’s the kind of thing Zeus or Mars would have done. That sounds like a schizophrenic person. The first thing I admitted was that God IS love and that I must be misunderstanding the matter. Rather than laying my emotions on God, I put them on myself and decided I was wrong. That led me to a deeper study.

First, if we consider that Abraham lived around 2100 BC, we can place the mercy and longsuffering of God within a 700-year period. God promised the land to Abraham, but when he did, the sins of the Amorites weren’t complete (Gen. 15:16). God’s judgment/conquest of the land wasn’t something that he just planned at the last minute. He, in his omniscience, knew it would come to this. Yet, 700 years should be enough time for people to get their act together (cf. Deut. 9:5). Sadly, they did not, so God ordered their utter destruction (Deut. 7:1–2; 20:16–18). 

Second, we observe that God would preempt removing people from the land. He didn’t intend those folks’ complete extermination or annihilation, and Scripture states as much. God promised to send pestilence to the land before the conquest to drive them out little by little (Exod. 23:28–30; Deut. 7:22–24). He wanted to drive them out (Deut. 9:4), but if any remained, they would be destroyed. 

Third, archaeology has demonstrated something: cities like Jericho and Ai weren’t civilian centers but military outposts. Archaeology also discloses that the towns and cities in Canaan were nearly uninhabited in the period we believe the conquest occurred—the thirteenth century. Plus, after the “conquest,” we observe Canaanites living among the Israelites. The book of Judges points out how this cohabitation was problematic for Israel.     

Fourth, Israel was commanded to offer peace terms before battle (Deut. 20:10–13). Only the Hivites of Gibeon accepted the peace terms, but everyone else did not (Josh. 11:19). 

Fifth, not everything we read should be taken literally. This is often an error when reading the Bible, but ancient battle narratives were not written like modern books of history. Ancient war narratives contained battle idioms. When someone says, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” we know not to take that literally. The understanding is that the rain is heavy. Another part of ancient battle narratives is an exaggeration. While we expect a level of accuracy that conforms to journalistic standards, ancient writers wrote for literary effect. We might think of it, sometimes, as talking trash. Another example is how Joshua uses language to state that they took all the land, defeated all the kings, and utterly destroyed the Canaanites. The point was that God had exerted complete control over the land. As you read through Joshua, he often says that Canaanites still lived in the land.

Why Do Some Translations Have Extra Verses That Others Don’t?

Depending on your Bible translation, you will either have or lack Matthew 17:21; 18:11; 23:14; Mark 7:16; 9:44, 46; 11:26; 15:28; Luke 17:36; 23:17; John 5:3b-4; Acts 8:37; 15:34; 24:6b-8a; Rom. 16:24; 1 John 5:7b-8a. Older translations contain them, such as the King James and New King James. Newer versions, however, do not. Since the KJV and NKJV are among the oldest English translations, they are often pointed to as the standard of English translations. Yet, just because they are “older” English translations doesn’t mean they are the best.

The very first Greek New Testament to be comprised was by Erasmus in 1516. He used 12th-century manuscripts of the New Testament. Remember that we’re focusing on the New Testament, translated from Greek. There was a Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, in Jesus’ day. Nevertheless, at Erasmus’ time, the oldest manuscript was from the 10th century, but he opted for those from the twelfth century. As time passed, scholars made revisions that echoed Erasmus’ text. Most English translations through 1880 used the same Greek New Testament, called Textus Receptus (“received text”). 

By the 1700s, many more manuscripts had been discovered. Some were six to nine centuries older than what Erasmus had available. These older manuscripts lacked the passages mentioned earlier. A common belief was that a scribe may have mistaken an explanatory marginal comment for a correction and copied it into the text, which accounts for why older English translations have a few more verses. A new Greek New Testament was made and appeared in 1831. Since the manuscripts were older than Erasmus used, they omitted the sixteen passages to construct a more ancient version, reflected in many English translations today.  

Since 1611, the King James Bible has reigned as the preeminent English translation. However, because of the newer Greek New Testament, a Revised Version was commissioned in England in 1881. The Revised Version would later birth the New Revised Standard Version, which would later birth the English Standard Version. When the Revised Version appeared, there was a considerable uproar since the long-dominant KJV had set the standard. The omission of the verses was seen as blasphemous, and people cited Revelation 22:19 to those who upheld the Revised Version. Revelation 22:18 is more relevant if you want to argue the point. 

Translations that omit these added verses usually contain a footnote or marginal note explaining that they appear in later manuscripts. Modern translations do not leave these verses out per se any more than the older ones added them. They are simply the product of the information available at the time. Now that we have older information, the translations that omit them should be more commonly used.

More recent translations utilize a vast amount of sources. The standard for most English translations is the Masoretic text of the Hebrew called Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia; the Greek New Testament used is Novum Testamentum Graece. Translators often consult, alongside these sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch (Law of Moses), the Syriac Peshitta (Syriac Bible), the Latin Vulgate, and other sources that may help shed light on texts that may be difficult to translate. 

The Sordid History of Daniel 4-5

*In my haste to publish this, I neglected to mention that one of my sources is my friend, Michael Whitworth’s book, The Derision of Heaven: A Guide to Daniel (Bend, Oregon: Start2Finish, 2013).

My Wednesday Bible class has been studying the book of Daniel. We’ve concluded the first six chapters and will begin chapter seven this evening. Our focus has, thus far, been on how Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah lived faithfully to God while living in a society unfriendly to their religion. Furthermore, we have noted and discussed how we as Christians can live faithfully to God while living in our own Babylon–be that our nation, workplace, home, or where ever. Yet, when we arrived at chapters four and five, the history of Daniel did not align with other document histories.

Something that always catches my attention is when Scripture and secondary sources disagree. This usually leads me down a rabbit hole of historical investigation. I’ve always believed that when Scripture and any other authority are at odds, I’ve misinterpreted one or both. Chapters four and five have information that historians point out as non-historical, at best, or manipulated to fit into the various prophetic schema of Israel, at worst. 

Nabonidus was the king when Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great, so why are Belshazzar and Darius the critical figures in chapter five? For so long, historians had dismissed the book of Daniel as folklore that spun together various prophetic passages to Israelite favor. Yet, in 1854, British explorers uncovered the temple of Ur, finding cylinders from Nabonidus’ reign. Moreover, listed among a prayer for the king was the inclusion of his son, Belshazzar. Since then, extensive documentation has corroborated this information to the extent that it’s common knowledge and doesn’t require citation. 

Folks have also remarked that the madness of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter four was misplaced because Nabonidus was known to have had a mental breakdown for about a decade. However, Eusebius of Cesarea (4th century CE) quotes Greek historian Abydenus (c. 250–200 BCE), whose history of the Assyrians is preserved in quotations from various later historians—the writings, aside from these quotations, are lost in history. Abydenus quotes from a historian whose work was closer to the period than his, Megasthenes (c. 350–290 BCE). Eusebius quotes, 

[Megasthenes] subsequently relates from the Chaldeans’ [accounts] that when [Nebuchadnezzar] had returned to the royal court, some deity took control of his mind and spoke in this manner: ‘Oh brave Babylonians, I, Nebuchadnezzar, I predict that grief will befall you.’ He continues on in this vein for a while and then the historian [tells us] that after this eloquent speech he suddenly disappeared from sight. Then [his] son, Amilmardochus [Evil-morodach in the Hebrew Scriptures; Amul-Marduk in history], ruled. (Chronicle 1.11)

Nabonidus was the last Babylonian king, but he lived in exile because of his favoritism towards the moon god, Sin, while Marduk was the city’s chief god. During this exile, Belshazzar was co-regent. When the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, conquered Babylon, Belshazzar was killed, and his father exiled once more. Another detail is that Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as Belshazzar’s father (Dan. 5:2, 11). Nabonidus was Belshazzar’s father, who led a coup to take the throne, being no son of Nebuchadnezzar. 

Belshazzar is regarded as king in this chapter because of his father’s absence, and he acts as a regent in his father’s absence. Nebuchadnezzar may be described as Belshazzar’s father because the latter succeeded the former. This designation is seen in other literature when no direct relation existed. One possible explanation for Darius the Mede may be that he was Gobryas (Greek), the general who captured Babylon on Cyrus’ behalf. He was governor of Gutium in Media. Another possible explanation is that in Daniel 6:28, the text could read, “The reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus.” Kings often had multiple regnal names (cf. 1 Chron. 5:26). Cyrus took over the Median Empire, having a Median mother. Therefore, it wouldn’t be implausible that he would be called the king of the Medes. Yet, this is my best attempt at setting the record straight.  

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