The Problem of Holy War
Daniel J. Dyke
Associate Professor of Old Testament
(A Paper in Progress)
Last Revision: March 14, 1998
Introduction to the Problem

The  Biblical account of Joshua's conquest of Canaan in the late second millennium B.C. has brought much criticism against the Bible and anyone who would defend the concepts presented in it.  The problem is that the language used advocates (in the name of God) the genocide of seven nations of people.  Joshua was instructed by Moses and presumably by God to kill all creatures that breathed.  This would include man and animal, male and female, adult and child, child and babe.

The general topic that this discussion falls under is that which is called theodicy (the defense of God's justice).  Is a god, who commands the extermination of a race, worthy of our adoration and praise or do we offer these things out of fear that he will exterminate us if we don't say he is just?

Many avoid this question by saying, "This is the god of the Old Testament, but I worship the god of the New Testament."   A reminder to such people is that the god of the Old Testament is the god of the New Testament.  He is immutable and will not change his nature.  It would seem logically consistent that if he practiced genocide and did so justly and someone calls this act of genocide unjust then he has made himself the judge and accuser of God.  If one does this then he made himself as much an enemy of God as he would if he had attributed evil to him.

The question of the genocide of the Canaanites is not really brought forth as clearly in Joshua as in Deuteronomy.

I. The Question and the Existence of God

II.  The Teaching of Deuteronomy Concerning Holy War and Genocide III.  A Summary of the Book of Joshua's Description of the War IV.  The Concept of Just War as a Partial Justification for Joshua's Actions. V.  The Concept of Holy War
  VI.  Possible Resolutions to the Problem