Review: Lost World of Canaanite Conquest (John Walton)

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RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
The book was a sheer joy to read. It was accessible yet maintained the highest rigors of scholarship. John and John Walton affirm the historicity of the conquest narrative, yet they avoid “easy” answers often given by evangelical apologists. They invite us to enter the thought-world of an ancient Hebrew. They do so by outlining 21 propositions (see below)

Walton’s propositions:

  1. Reading the Bible consistently means reading it as an ancient document.
  2. We should approach the problem of the conquest by adjusting our expectations about what the Bible is.
  3. The Bible does not define Goodness for us or tell us how to produce goodness, but instead tells us about the goodness God is producing.
  4. The bible teaches clearly and consistently that affliction by God cannot be automatically attributed to the wrongdoing of the victim.
  5. None of the usual textual indicators for divine retribution occur in the case of the Canaanites.
  6. Genesis 15:16 does not indicate that the Canaanites were committing sin.
  7. Neither the Israelites nor the Canaanites are depicted as stealing each other’s rightful property.
  8. The people of the land are not indicted for not following the stipulations of the covenant, and neither is Israel expected to bring them into the covenant.
  9. Ancient law codes such as Lev. 18-20 are not lists of rules to be obeyed, and therefore the Canaanites cannot be guilty of violating them.
  10. Holiness is a status granted by God; it is not earned through moral performance, and failing to have it does not subject one to judgment.
  11. You can’t make a comparison between the Canaanites expulsion from the land and the Israelites’ exile.
  12. The depiction of the Canaanites In Leviticus and Deuteronomy is a sophisticated appropriation of a common ANE literary device.
  13. Behaviors that are described as detestable are to be contrasted with ideal behavior under the Israelite covenant.
  14. The imagery of the conquest account recapitulates creation.
  15. Herem does not mean utterly to destroy.
  16. Herem against communities focuses only destroying identity, not killing people of certain ethnicities.
  17. The wars of the Israelite conquest were fought in the same manner as all ancient wars.
  18. Rahab and the Gideonites are not exceptions to the Herem.
  19. The logic of the Herem in the event of the conquest operates in the context of Israel’s vassal treaty.
  20. The OT, including the conquest account, provides a template for interpreting the NT, which in turn gives insight into God’s purposes for today.
  21. The application of Herem in the New Covenant is found in putting off our former identity.
Examination of his Propositions

P(1) - (2) should be noncontroversial. The Bible is an ancient semitic document and it should read like one. It has different assumptions on “what is the worst that could happen?” For us, the worst that could happen in life is genocide or famine. For a Hebrew it was an improper burial and being forgotten (Ecclesiastes). Or maybe being driven from the land.

P(3) is problematic in how it is stated, though I know what they are getting at. The Bible isn’t a manual for ethics or law, but I do think it gives more detail about “goodness” than they allow. But they do raise a good point about justice and goodness: justice in the ancient world is tied to order, not so much about “getting what is owed me.”

P(4)-(8) In many cases, this is John 9. Walton’s argument is that the Canaanites aren’t simply being driven out of the land “because they are bad.” I think they are much worse than Walton makes out, but his point holds. The Canaanites are losing their land because God promised the land to Israel.

But what about God’s saying that he will expel/vomit Israel out like he did the Canaanites? True, Walton downplays that objection. ~8. “No nation other than Israel is ever reprimanded for serving other gods” (79). That kind of makes sense, since Yahweh had disinherited the nations in Genesis 10 and given them over to the beney elohim.

P(10) Good reflection against Pelagianism. Holiness (qds) Doesn’t mean my good behavior that I have accumulated. Objects and land in the OT are holy, yet they aren’t moral agents.

P(12) That might be true, but if the Canaanites were guilty of these actions, and if there were demonic Nephilim and Rephaim in the land, then full-scale slaughter was warranted.

P(13) His argument is that the Hebrew ra is relative to the covenant, and not an absolute standard. Nevertheless, one hopes that bestiality and child sacrifice is universally evil.

Demons and idolatry: demons were extraneous to the ANE ritual system.

Repahim:

“The etymology of the words enforcest he unworldly aspects of the enemy, similar to the monstrous bird-men of the Cuthean legend” (148).

“The Rephaim are most commonly associated with the spirits of dead kings, specifically” (149).

Emim: comes from the root word “ema” which would therefore mean “terrible ones” (cited in Eugene Carpenter, “Deuteronomy,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament, I:432.

P(14) This was a beautiful chapter. The conquest narrative is much more than a typological recapitulation of creation. In being such it shows Yahweh’s victory of chaotic cthonic forces.

P(15)-(16) Herem does involve a lot more killing than modern readers are comfortable with, but that isn’t the point of herem. It was killing an identity. And it can’t mean total destruction. While gold and metals are herem, Bronze Age technology simply couldn’t destroy and un-atomize these metals.

However, Walton failed to note that most of the cities targeted were those with a heavy presence of Anakim and Rephaim.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Thanks for the review, Jacob. I certainly could not follow Walton in Props 5-8. Does he even deal with the Amalekites? If the iniquity of the Amalekites was not yet full, and that was a reason to delay the conquest, then certain things follow: 1. the Amalekites are treated generically as representing the rest of the Canaanites; and 2. the conquest could not have started before the iniquity of the Amalekites was full, therefore putting the idea of retribution firmly back on the table. Very interesting idea about destroying the identity, rather than the ethnicity.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Thanks for the review, Jacob. I certainly could not follow Walton in Props 5-8. Does he even deal with the Amalekites? If the iniquity of the Amalekites was not yet full, and that was a reason to delay the conquest, then certain things follow: 1. the Amalekites are treated generically as representing the rest of the Canaanites; and 2. the conquest could not have started before the iniquity of the Amalekites was full, therefore putting the idea of retribution firmly back on the table. Very interesting idea about destroying the identity, rather than the ethnicity.

Amelekites or Amorites?

He does deal with Genesis 15:6. He says it should read--and he does go into the exegesis--that their time wasn' "up" yet. He denies there is a cause-effect relationship between the Amorites' sin and their expulsion. I think that's a half-truth. Even had the Amorites not sinned, they would have been expelled. But their iniquity certainly aggravated the situation, which Walton shrinks from.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
I said Gen. 15:6, I meant verse 16. Walton does make a neat argument, which doesn't prove his larger point, that "fourth generation" doesn't mean a time period of four generations, since Israel was in Egypt longer than 160 years. Rather, it means a complete destroying of that generational line.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
I said Gen. 15:6, I meant verse 16. Walton does make a neat argument, which doesn't prove his larger point, that "fourth generation" doesn't mean a time period of four generations, since Israel was in Egypt longer than 160 years. Rather, it means a complete destroying of that generational line.
Does he state that the Israelites were commanded by God to exterminate them totally, and that they failed by not fully obeying God on His command? As the Canaanites have over 400 years to change their ways, and just kept on going worse and worse into sin, until they threaten to forever pollute Israel and the land?
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Does he state that the Israelites were commanded by God to exterminate them totally, and that they failed by not fully obeying God on His command? As the Canaanites have over 400 years to change their ways, and just kept on going worse and worse into sin, until they threaten to forever pollute Israel and the land?

He does affirm that the Conquest was a historical event and that God did indeed give that command. However, God didn't simply tell Israel to go genocide them. He said they were herem. The application meant that Israel couldn't spare them as slaves or use certain towns--all had to be given to Yahweh.

If a Canaanite converted, like Rahab, then she wouldn't be executed. And the Gibeonites were forced to work for Yahweh. They weren't general slaves, so they were still herem.

What Walton doesn't connect is that the conquest path, beginning with Og of Bashan, was a targeted annihilation of the Rephaim, who were quasi-demon kings. Cities that contained Rephaim were wiped out, so as to not let any Rephaim breed with Israel.

We do know that the Anakim and Rephaim fled to the Philistines, and God didn't require Israel to follow them.

As to the 400 years--Yahweh was going to kick the Amorites out regardless of their behavior. That Land belonged to his people.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
He does affirm that the Conquest was a historical event and that God did indeed give that command. However, God didn't simply tell Israel to go genocide them. He said they were herem. The application meant that Israel couldn't spare them as slaves or use certain towns--all had to be given to Yahweh.

If a Canaanite converted, like Rahab, then she wouldn't be executed. And the Gibeonites were forced to work for Yahweh. They weren't general slaves, so they were still herem.

What Walton doesn't connect is that the conquest path, beginning with Og of Bashan, was a targeted annihilation of the Rephaim, who were quasi-demon kings. Cities that contained Rephaim were wiped out, so as to not let any Rephaim breed with Israel.

We do know that the Anakim and Rephaim fled to the Philistines, and God didn't require Israel to follow them.

As to the 400 years--Yahweh was going to kick the Amorites out regardless of their behavior. That Land belonged to his people.
This area is where many are attacking the scriptures and how God is shown, as the so called new Atheists especially point how how God was an angry and bloodthirsty tyrant to order a genocide against entire group of people, as some even called OT God a Cosmic Hitler.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
This area is where many are attacking the scriptures and how God is shown, as the so called new Atheists especially point how how God was an angry and bloodthirsty tyrant to order a genocide against entire group of people, as some even called OT God a Cosmic Hitler.

Walton does a good job in blunting those claims. Though I would ask the New Atheist why genocide is wrong, if all we are is matter in motion. Maybe genocide is an example of the Israelites' survival mechanism functioning.
 

Dachaser

Puritan Board Doctor
Walton does a good job in blunting those claims. Though I would ask the New Atheist why genocide is wrong, if all we are is matter in motion. Maybe genocide is an example of the Israelites' survival mechanism functioning.
So this would be their version of survival of the fittest then?
 
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