Pages 7-11: winter 1993
SUFFER, LITTLE CHILDREN
If you couldn't believe what you were seeing while reading the foregoing
article, you probably have no background in Christian fundamentalism. A
Christian writer who believes that the massacre of entire civilian populations
in time of war, even to the point of genocide, is morally good! Is it possible
that anyone living in a modern civilized society could really believe such a
thing? Well, I assure you that your eyes weren't playing tricks on you.
Bible fundamentalists really do defend all the bloody deeds that were presum-
ably ordered by the Hebrew god Yahweh. Standing by this ancient war-god,
even to the point of defending his commands to massacre babies, is an
albatross that they must wear around their necks or else surrender their
belief in Bible inerrancy. Apparently unable to bear the thought of life
without their Bible-inerrancy security blanket, they choose to take a stand
for killing babies.
Mr. Lavender, of course, played down the fact that babies were slaugh-
tered in the conquest of Canaan. He twice made passing mention of "chil-
dren" who were killed, but if the conquest actually occurred as recorded in
the book of Joshua, untold thousands of babies had to have been included in
the civilian populations that were systematically massacred. As I respond to
Mr. Lavender's article, I will focus on the children and babies who were
victims of the Israelite massacres, but as I do, the readers should bear in
mind that, if the stories are true, there would have also been thousands of
women and elderly, as well as children, who were killed.
An idea of the kind of numbers we are talking about can be otained from
the story of the slaughter of the Midianite captives in Numbers 31. Upon
hearing that his army was returning from the Midianite campaign with women
and children captives, Moses went out to meet his officers and commanded
them to "kill every male among the little ones" and to "kill every woman that
hath known man by lying with him" (v:17). "But all the women-children that
have not known man by lying with him," Moses went on to say, "keep alive
for yourselves" (v:18). The purpose of this article is not to discuss sexual
abuse but the massacre of captive children, so the only comment I will make
about Moses' orders to keep the virgin girls "alive for yourselves" is to urge
the readers to keep in mind that belief in Bible inerrancy ultimately forces
one to defend not just the massacre of children but also their sexual abuse.
What kind of god would allow his inspired spokesman to tell his soldiers to
kill women and children but keep the virgin girls "alive for yourselves"? The
answer to that, of course, is the god of the Bible that Mr. Lavender and all
his inerrantist cohorts defend.
The matter of numbers involved in such massacres as this one is indicated
in the fact that 32,000 virgin girls escaped execution on this occasion (v:35).
If there were that many virgin girls among the captives, we can reasonably
assume that at least this many, and probably more, male children and nonvir-
gin women were put to the sword. Thus, when Mr. Lavender and his iner-
rantist cohorts speak about "children" who were killed in these military cam-
paigns, they aren't talking about just a few but THOUSANDS of children--all
killed in the name of Yahweh, the god whom he and every fundamentalist
Christian worship and serve.
Isn't Yahweh's bloody history at least a little embarrassing to Mr. Laven-
der and his likeminded cohorts? Not at all. They defend it as absolute
truth. "Objection to the fate of these nations," Mr. Lavender said, "is really
an objection to the highest manifestation of the goodness of God" (p. 6).
Notice again what he said: THE HIGHEST MANIFESTATION OF THE GOOD
NESS OF GOD! That is exactly what Bible fundamentalists believe about the
many Yahwistically ordered massacres in the Old Testament.
Such statements as this may shock some of our readers, but they do not
shock me. I have heard them too many times to be shocked anymore. In my
first oral debate on the inerrancy issue, my opponent said that the massacre
of the Amalekites was his "favorite story in the Bible." What happened in
this massacre? Yahweh commanded Saul, the first king of Israel, to "utterly
destroy" the Amalekites "and spare them not, but slay both man and woman,
infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Sam. 15:3).
This debate materialized because my opponent, a Presbyterian minister,
had led a local effort to boycott the controversial movie The Last Temptation
of Christ. He thought this movie was obscene yet had the audacity to de-
scribe an incident that involved the massacre of "infants and sucklings" as
his favorite story in the Bible. There has to be something fundamentally
obscene in such a position as this.
Nevertheless, it is a position as common as belief in Bible inerrancy. In
my debate with the Church-of-Christ preacher Mac Deaver at Southwest Texas
State University, Deaver publicly took the position that the massacre of
Amalekite babies had been a morally good thing. In my oral debate with
Jerry McDonald, who in his articles published in TSR has offered some rather
bazarre solutions to Bible discrepancies, I submitted to him a true or false
question that forced him to say that if he had lived in the time of King Saul,
he would have participated in the Amalekite massacre by willingly killing
women, pregnant women, children, and babies. So there is nothing at all
unusual in Mr. Lavender's description of the Canaanite massacres as "the
highest manifestation of the goodness of God." To this, I can only say what
I said about my Presbyterian opponent's opinion of the Amalekite massacre:
there has to be something fundamentally obscene about a position that leads
one to proclaim the massacre of babies as "the highest manifestation of the
goodness of God."
Mr. Lavender accused those who question the "ethics of God" in the
destruction of the Canaanites of failing to "take into account six things."
The "ethics of God"? The ethics of God! He has the audacity to imply that
the massacre of children and babies is compatible with divine ethics? Indeed
he does, because nothing can be too ridiculous or too embarrassing to keep a
fundamentalist from offering it in defense of the Bible. Hence, those who
question the morality of killing babies for purely ethnic and religious reasons
are questioning the ethical conduct of God. Lavender would never put it that
candidly, but that is what it amounts to.
So what are "the six things" that we fail to consider when we question
the "ethics of God" in this matter? Well, it seems that the Canaanites were
so grossly immoral that they just had to be exterminated "to prevent Israel
and the rest of the world from being corrupted" (p. 6). The only problem
with this theory is that the Israelites weren't exactly paragons of virtue
themselves. After they went in to possess the land they had taken from the
Canaanites, their nation became as corrupt as any of the nations they had
driven out. In fact, the story of their wilderness wanderings on the way to
the promised land is filled with incidents of rebellion, idolatry, and orgy (Ex.
16:2-3; 32:1-20; Num. 11:1-2; 14:1-3; 16:1-35; 20:1-9; 21:4-9; 25:1-15).
Their morality didn't improve after they entered into the promised land.
They still practiced idolatry (Judges 10:6; 1 Kings 11:4-8; 12:28-30; 16:30-
33), offered human sacrifices (2 Kings 21:6; 23:10; Ps. 106:37-38; Jer.
32:34-35; Ezk. 16:20-21), indulged in orgies and abominations (Jdgs. 19;
Ezek. 16:44-52). These, of course, are just partial listings that could be
greatly expanded if space permitted, for the history of Israel from the time
of its entry into the promised land until it fall to Nebuchadnezzar was, by
the Bible's own account, a history of moral profligacy. What Mr. Lavender is
arguing, then, is that the Canaanites were so wicked that God had to exter-
minate them so that their land could be possessed by a people who were just
as profligate. It is an argument that makes sense only to a Bible inerrantist.
"When it became clear that they [the Canaanites] were past redemption,"
Lavender said in another of his points, "their destruction occurred." Fur-
thermore, he said in still another point, "The justice of God demands punish-
ment for sin." So we wonder if this is why God was constantly sending the
Israelites into bondage after they displaced the Canaanites (Judges 3:7-8;
4:1-3; 6:1-6; 10:7-8; 13:1). Was God, in keeping with his perfect justice,
just punishing them for their sins? If so, did he ultimately destroy the
national identity of Israel and send them into Babylonian captivity because "it
had become clear that they were past redemption"? If so again, then why did
the inscrutable Yahweh destroy the Canaanites in the first place only to fill
their land with a people equally as wicked?
This last question poses a serious problem for Mr. Lavender's position
that I will address later, but first let's notice that another of his points
was that one would have to be "equal with God" before he could accuse God
of wrong in the Canaanite massacres. This is a variation of the old God's-
ways-are-higher-than-our-ways argument, which is a catch-all dodge that
inerrantists use whenever their arguments make no sense. A major flaw in
Lavender's application of it is the obvious fact that it assumes without proof
that God was actually involved in the Israelite conquest of Canaan. A more
probable interpretation of this aspect of Hebrew history is that they merely
thought that their god Yahweh was directing their conquest of the land.
Even today nations have a tendency to think that God is on their side in time
of war. That belief was even more prevalent in biblical times. Each nation
had its god(s) that the people thought rewarded them with victory when they
were "good" and punished them when they were "bad."
The Moabite stone, for example, contains an inscription in which the
Moabite king Mesha of 2 Kings 3 told of victories that he had won through his
god Chemosh who "saved me from all the kings and let me see my desire
upon my adversaries." Later in the inscription, Mesha said about a victory
his forces had won over Israel, "But Chemosh drove him [the king of Israel]
out before me." Pavement slabs in the temple of Urta at Nimud contained an
inscription by the Assyrian king Assur-Nasir-Pal in which he described the
massacre of 600 warriors and 3,000 captives he had taken in battle "at the
command of the great gods" (Crane Brinton, A History of Western Morals, p.
If one were to ask Mr. Lavender if he believes that king Mesha had actu-
ally been led to victory by the god Chemosh or that the "great gods" had led
Assur-Nasir-Pal in his conquests, he would no doubt openly scoff at the
notion of a pagan god leading an army to victory. How then does he account
for the undeniable fact that inscriptions left behind by these kings clearly do
say that their gods were responsible for their victories? His answer would
probably involve some application of Occam's razor. Chemosh didn't really
lead king Mesha to victory. Mesha just superstitiously believed that it had
happened this way. The "great gods" were not really behind the conquests
of Assur-Nasir-Pal. He just thought that they were.
The rule of Occam's razor says that when there are two or more explana-
tions for a phenomenon, the least incredible one is probably the right one.
To apply this principle to the claims of the pagan kings Mesha and Assur-
Nasir-Pal, two possibilities exist: (1) They won their victories through the
intervention of their gods, or (2) they won their victories by means of supe-
rior military forces and tactics and merely thought that their gods had led
them to win. Of these two explanations, the second one is obviously the less
incredible and, therefore, the one rational people would choose to explain the
military successes of Mesha and Assur-Nasir-Pal.
If I were to ask Mr. Lavender to make a choice in the matter--and I am
asking him to do that--I suspect he would choose the second one. If so, why
can he not apply the same common-sense reasoning to the biblical claims that
Yahweh led the Israelites to victory in their battles? King Mesha was a
Moabite neighbor to the Israelites and was contemporary to Ahab and Jeho-
shaphat. Now when the Bible says that "Yahweh was with Jehoshaphat" and
"established the kingdom in his hand" (2 Chron. 17:3,5), inerrantists like
Mr. Lavender unhesitatingly declare their belief that this was absolutely true,
yet they scoff at a Moabite inscription that says the god Chemosh was with
Jehoshaphat's neighbor, king Mesha, and established his kingdom. Why?
What is the consistency in such positions as these? If the rule of Occam's
razor makes it unlikely that a primitive war-god was leading Mesha to victory,
why wouldn't the same rule make it just as unlikely that the god Yahweh was
helping Mesha's neighbor Jehoshaphat, just a few miles away, to "establish"
This way of looking at the situation certainly plays havoc with Mr. Laven-
der's points that were based on the assumption that God directed the Canaan-
ite massacres. If God had had nothing to do with these atrocities, as the
rule of Occam's razor clearly indicates, then one doesn't have to be "equal
with God" in order to accuse God of wrong in the matter. In fact, the ra-
tional person accuses God of nothing, because he is sensible enough to realize
that "God" was in no way involved in the incidents. The stories simply
evolved in a primitive, barbaric society that believed God was on its side.
So we don't have to be omniscient either "to know that what happened to
the innocent children of guilty parents was not the best thing that could have
happened" (point 4, p. 6). Why, if these children had grown to adulthood
instead of having been slaughtered in the Israelite massacres, they might
have "become malignant blights in the society of men like their parents" (p.
6). God couldn't have allowed that, could he? Why, heavens no, he had to
wipe them off the face of the earth before they could grow up to practice
idolatry and offer human sacrifices, as their parents did, so that their land
could be occupied by another people who practiced idolatry and offered human
sacrifices (as noted above). About the only thing Lavender didn't say that
inerrantists usually say at this point is that God did these children a favor
by ordering their destruction before the "age of accountability" so that they
could go to heaven rather than hell, where they would have gone had they
grown to adulthood. That kind of thinking is so obscene that it deserves no
comment, so I won't offer any.
To return to the serious problem that I skipped above, I have to wonder
about the omniscience of Yahweh. According to Lavender, the Canaanites
were so corrupt that Yahweh just had to vomit them out of the land (p. 6),
yet he replaced them with a people who gave him such grief and disappoint-
ment that he eventually had to destroy their national identity too. Why? If
Yahweh were truly omniscient, wouldn't he have known that his plan to estab-
lish a righteous nation in the land would fail and leave him no better off than
he had been with the corrupt Canaanites?
Bibliolaters have an answer to that too. Lavender put it like this: "God
was preserving a lineage through which the Messiah would come and all na-
tions be blessed." What he didn't do was explain why it was necessary for
God to "preserve a lineage" through which he could give the world a Messiah.
Lavender can't give one logical reason why, if God wanted to give the world
a savior, he first had to preserve a lineage "through which the Messiah would
come." At any time in human history, God could have selected a Mayan or an
Eskimo or an Ethiopian or any woman of any ethnic orgin to become the
Messiah's mother. It didn't have to be a Jewish woman. If not, why not?
Even if Lavender could logically explain why not, he would encounter yet
another problem. If the preservation of a lineage was somehow requisite to
sending the Messiah, why couldn't Yahweh have preserved a lineage for him
without resorting to massacre and genocide? To argue that he couldn't
preserve the lineage without massacring the Canaanites would be to argue
that God is not omnipotent, because there is at least one thing God can't do.
He cannot preserve a lineage without resorting to
massacre. So what all of Lavender's talk about the preservation of a lineage
really amounts to is nothing but desperation theology intended to explain
away an extremely embarrassing problem for the inerrancy doctrine.
One other point that he made requires comment. He said that "(p)unish-
ment was deserved by the Canaanites, whereas it was not in the case of the
Holocaust--which was only a vendetta by Hitler and the Nazis against the
Jews" (point 6, p. 6). Vendetta? Lavender wants to talk about vendettas?
Well, let's just look at a vendetta that was executed Yahweh style. On their
journey to the promised land, the Israelites were resisted by the Amalekites
(Ex. 17:8-16). This prompted the infinitely merciful Yahweh to order Moses
to "(w)rite this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of
Joshua: that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under
heaven" (v:14). Among the final instructions that Moses gave to the Israel-
ites prior to their entry into Canaan was a reminder of Yahweh's promise to
exterminate the Amalekites:
Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came
out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hind-
most of thee, all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast
faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore, it shall be,
when Yahweh thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies
round about, in the land which Yahweh thy God hath given thee
for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the
remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. THOU SHALT NOT
FORGET (Dt. 25:17-19, ASV with Yahweh substituted for Jeho-
Very well, if what the Amalekites had done to the Israelites on this occasion
warranted total extermination as a nation, it should have at least been done
to the generation of Amalekites who had committed the offense. But it
wasn't. Not until 450 years later during the reign of Saul, the first king of
Israel, did Yahweh give the orders to massacre the whole Amalekite nation:
Samuel also said unto Saul, Yahweh sent me to anoint thee to
be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou
unto the voice of the words of Yahweh. Thus saith Yahweh of
hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid
wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go
and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and
spare them not; but slay both man and woman, INFANT AND
SUCKLING, ox and sheep, camel and ass (1 Sam. 15:1-3, KJV
with Yahweh substituted for the LORD).
I emphasize that this massacre was ordered for something the ancestors of
that generation of Amalekites had done 450 years before! If we could go
back in time 450 years, we would have to wait 65 years for the first perma-
nent European settlement in North America to be established at Jamestown.
Can anyone imagine the moral outrage that would be expressed if our
government should decide to exterminate all Native Americans thought to be
descendants of those who may have in some way resisted the establishment of
the Jamestown settlement? Yet that would be parallel to what was done in the
matter of the Amalekites. So I suggest that if Mr. Lavender wants to talk
about vendettas, he forget about Hitler and the Nazis and give some serious
thought to the vendettas that his god Yahweh executed against the nations in
and around Canaan, who had the misfortune not to have been Israelites,
Yahweh's chosen people "above all peoples on the face of the earth" (Dt.
Of all the attempts that fundamentalists make to defend the inerrancy of
the Bible none is more reprehensible than their insistence that the Old Testa-
ment Yahwistic massacres were morally justified and even "the highest mani-
festation of the goodness of God." Anyone who could take such a moral
position has earned the contempt of all civilized people--and deserves it.
We are told in the New Testament that Jesus once said to his disciples,
"Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me..." (Mt. 19:14).
A rather complex theological doctrine that I won't attempt to analyze states
that Jesus was actually Yahweh in another "person." If so, he merits com-
mendation for the moral improvement in his character over what it was in Old
Testament times. Back then, he seemed to have a different attitude toward
children, which was simply, "Suffer, little children."
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