Suffer, Little Children SUFFER, LITTLE CHILDREN Farrell Till If you couldn't believe what
Suffer, Little Children
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 presumably 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
slaughtered in the conquest of Canaan. He twice made passing mention
of "children" 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
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
. 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" ([ref002]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" ([ref003]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
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 ([ref004]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 nonvirgin women were put to the sword.
Thus, when Mr. Lavender and his inerrantist cohorts speak about
"children" who were killed in these military campaigns,
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. Lavender 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 GOODNESS 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"
([ref005]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 describe 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
; [ref008]Num. 11:1-2
). Their morality didn't improve after they entered into the
promised land. They still practiced idolatry ([ref014]Judges 10:6
; [ref015]1 Kings 11:4-8
), offered human sacrifices ([ref018]2 Kings 21:6
; [ref020]Ps. 106:37-38
; [ref021]Jer. 32:34-35
; [ref022]Ezk. 16:20-21
), indulged in orgies and abominations ([ref023]Jdgs. 19
; [ref024]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 exterminate 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." Furthermore, he said in
still another point, "The justice of God demands punishment
for sin." So we wonder if this is why God was constantly
sending the Israelites into bondage after they displaced the Canaanites
). 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
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 [ref030]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. 48).
If one were to ask Mr. Lavender if he believes that king Mesha
had actually 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
explanations 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 superior 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 Jehoshaphat. Now when the Bible
says that "Yahweh was with Jehoshaphat" and "established
the kingdom in his hand" ([ref031]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" his kingdom?
This way of looking at the situation certainly plays havoc with
Mr. Lavender's points that were based on the assumption that God
directed the Canaanite 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 rational 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 disappointment 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 establish
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 nations 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)unishment
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 ([ref032]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" ([ref033]v:14
). Among the final instructions that Moses gave to the Israelites
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 hindmost 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 ([ref034]Dt. 25:17-19
, ASV with Yahweh substituted for Jehovah). 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 ([ref035]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 permanent 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" ([ref036]Dt. 7:6
Of all the attempts that fundamentalists make to defend the inerrancy
of the Bible none is more reprehensible than their insistence
that the Old Testament Yahwistic massacres were morally justified
and even "the highest manifestation 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..."
). 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 commendation 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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