In the first two parts of this rebuttal, I noted that Mr. Copan’s position does not take into account the jumbled chronology of Joshua and Judges. In part three, I would like to draw your attention to the geographical clues in these two books which support the statements that I made in the previous two articles.
Mr. Copan’s claim is that Joshua had to be using hyperbole when he spoke of killing all of the people in the land of Canaan. This claim is founded primarily on a single fact. According to Mr. Copan, the very same nations that Joshua claimed to have destroyed are mentioned later as still being in existence, and this can only be explained by concluding that Joshua did not really kill everyone that he said he killed. Thus, Mr. Copan concludes that Joshua was using typical “ancient Near Eastern hyberbole.”
I suggested in parts one and two of this rebuttal that the people killed by Joshua had relatives in nearby regions who reclaimed the cities that Israel left vacant during the years following the initial conquest of Canaan. I demonstrated that this fits the chronology of the two battles with the Anakim in Kirjath-Arba. But now, let’s consider whether this suggestion is supported by the geographical portions of the text. Of course, studying geography can often be difficult without a map, so let’s begin by considering a map that I created last night of the land which Joshua conquered.
As you can see right away, there are two cities on this map that are in red: Dan and Beer-sheba. These two cities are mentioned at least nine different times in the Old Testament as comprising the northern and southern borders of Israel. I Kings 4:25, for example, tells us that “Judah and Israel dwelt safely … from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.” Now, just above Dan, you probably noticed a blue line, and there is another line to the west of Beer-sheba. These blue lines mark the borders of Israel immediately after the conquest of Canaan, and we can read about those borders in Joshua 11:15-17, 12:7 and 13:1-6 as well as in Judges 3:1-3.
The first of these passages is of particular interest because it encompasses one of Mr. Copan’s proof texts. Verse 15 of Joshua chapter 11 is where we read that Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses,” and Mr. Copan relies on this statement to say that Joshua understood God’s command itself to be mere hyperbole. But let’s set that aside for now and consider what this passage says about the area of land in which Joshua did everything that was commanded of Moses.
In verse 17, we read that Joshua fulfilled the commands which God gave to Moses by conquering the land between Seir and Baalgad which was at the foot of Mt. Hermon. We can now look back at the map and see that Seir is located at the southern edge of the map and Mt. Hermon is just above Dan. Thus, this passage tells us that the nations which Joshua destroyed were situated between these two points, and this is confirmed again in Joshua 12:7.
Then, in Joshua 13:1-6, we find some more details about the regions which were not conquered by Joshua. There we read that Joshua did not conquer the region bounded by Sihor in the south and Ekron in the north. This border is marked on the map just to the west of Beer-sheba. I did not mark the cities of Gaza, Gath and Ashdod which we discussed in the previous articles, but they are all located to the west of this border. Verses 4 and 5 of this chapter mention the cities of Mearah, Sidon, Aphek, Gebal and Baalgad which was at the foot of Mt. Hermon as well as the region of Lebanon. If you’ll notice, all of these cities and the region of Lebanon are located above the city of Dan. This establishes for us that the area of land in which Joshua fulfilled the command to kill everyone was that area which is located between Dan and Beer-sheba.
Now, let’s take a look at Judges 3. In this chapter we read about the conflicts after the death of Joshua between the children of Israel and the nations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, the Jebusites and the Sidonians. These are the very same people groups that Joshua was said to have completely destroyed in Joshua 11. Why are we reading about them fighting the children of Israel again after Joshua’s death? According to Mr. Copan, this is because Joshua didn’t really kill every man, woman and child in the land of Canaan, but look at what the Bible says in Judges 3:3 about the identity of these enemies.
The enemies which came against Israel after the death of Joshua were, first, the five lords of the Philistines. These are mentioned in Joshua 13 as living to the west of the border between Sihor and Ekron. Second, there were the Canaanites and the Sidonians. According to Joshua 13, these lived to the north of the border above Dan and west of Lebanon. Then, there were the Hivites which occupied the region from Mt. Lebanon to Mt. Hermon and northward toward Hamath. And as you can see on the map, this region was also north of Dan.
Now that we have a better idea of the geography of the conquest, why don’t we return to Paul Copan’s claim. Mr. Copan claimed that Joshua had to be using hyperbole because the same nations which he was said to have utterly destroyed are later seen causing trouble for Israel again. Is this claim supported by text of Scripture? No, it is not. When we take the time to map out the geographical clues that God gives us, we can see that Joshua did completely destroy the nations between Dan and Beer-sheba while he left relatives of those people alive in the neighboring regions, and it was the people in the neighboring regions which caused so much trouble for Israel after the death of Joshua and not the nations which he was said to have destroyed.
By the way, if you would like to read my explanation for why the command to kill men, women and children in the land of Canaan was morally acceptable, you can click here to read an article that I previously wrote on that topic.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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