One of the things that really bothers me as a Christian is seeing other Christians attempt to explain away the troubling passages of Scripture. This past Saturday, I had the privilege of hearing Paul Copan speak about his book Is God a Moral Monster. I’ve been very slowly reading through Mr. Copan’s book for some time now, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to hear this particular presentation. My hope was that hearing him in person would alleviate some of the concerns that I had developed while reading his book. Unfortunately, that hope did not come to fruition.
One of the greatest concerns that I have for Mr. Copan’s thesis is his apparent lack of consideration for the context of some of his proof texts. A good example of this flaw can be found on page 171 where Mr. Copan uses the accounts of the Anakim to prove his claim that Joshua was using “ancient Near Eastern hyperbole” whenever he spoke of utterly destroying some particular foe. Here is the quote from that section of Mr. Copan’s book which I find to be so troubling:
Some might accuse Joshua of being misleading or of getting it wrong. Not at all. He was speaking the language that everyone in his day would have understood. Rather than trying to deceive, Joshua was just saying he had fairly well trounced the enemy. On the one hand, Joshua says, "There were no Anakim left in the land" (Josh. 11:22); indeed, they were "utterly destroyed [haram]" in the hill country (11:21). Literally? Not according to the very same Joshua! In fact, Caleb later asked permission to drive out the Anakites from the hill country (14:12-15; cf. 15:13-19).
This seems to be a perfect example of the very type of hyperbole that Mr. Copan is arguing for, but take a moment to read what is actually said in Joshua 11:21-22:
And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained.
Now, this gives us a slightly different picture of the Anakim than we found in Mr. Copan’s book. Here we see that Joshua was not using hyperbole at all, but rather he was very careful to mention that he only destroyed the Anakim in the mountains of Israel. He did not destroy the Anakim in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod (this is why we later read of a giant from Gath named Goliath). But why did Mr. Copan leave this out of his book? If we consider that there were Anakim left in the neighboring regions, does this not open up the possibility that these remaining Anakim would attempt to reclaim some of their losses?
This is an important possibility to consider. In the first verse of Joshua 13 we read that the Israelites did not take possession of all the land immediately after the conquest. Joshua had successfully led them into battle against the inhabitants of the land, but we find that many years later, when “Joshua was old and stricken in years,” the Israelites still had not completely claimed all the territory that they had won in those battles.
Now, imagine for a moment that you are a young man from Kirjath-arba, one of the cities of the Anakim in the mountains of Israel, and you’ve just gotten married to a young lady from Ashdod. Your new father-in-law offers you a job overseeing his fields, so you pack up your belongings and move to Ashdod. Then, several years later, you receive news that your entire family has been wiped out by a raiding band of marauders. Of course, you want revenge, so you begin to gather a band of other men who had family members in Kirjath-arba, and you send out a few spies to see just how difficult it would be to retake the city and punish its new owners. Now, imagine your surprise when the spies reported back that the city was completely empty with crops still in the field, fruit on the vines and wares in the storehouses. And what of the marauders who had killed your family? Well, they’ve gone off in search of other foes and have never returned.
What would you do in such a case? Would you not at least consider the possibility of leading your band of men back to your homeland and reclaiming the land of your fathers? Of course you would. Anyone would. It is only natural for men to want to reclaim a heritage that they think has been lost. Then, at a later time, when the children of Israel finally returned to take possession of the town, they would find it once again occupied by a substantial force. But why is this possibility excluded from Mr. Copan’s consideration? I confess that I do not know, but the fact that it is so completely excluded is very troubling.
Tomorrow, I will mention another perplexing fact about Mr. Copan’s handling of this passage, but for now, let me encourage you to take some time today to read chapters 11 through 24 of Joshua in their entirety. These chapters are far more than just a chronological list of anecdotal events, but I’ll give you a chance to read them before mentioning more in tomorrow’s article.
Click here to read part 2.
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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