Did God Command Genocide?

In Joshua 8:2, Yahweh seems to command the indiscriminate killing of the inhabitants of the city of Ai: “And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” If this were said today, it would widely be regarded as a command to commit genocide.[1] The severity of the command seems validated by what Joshua records about the battle (vv. 24-25):

24 When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. 25 And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai.

This account—and others like it in the Old Testament[2]—are often viewed as problematic for contemporary Christians. How can a God of love command murder? How can the God who says “love your enemies” have ordered their destruction? These are, in my estimation, entirely legitimate questions worth wrestling with.

In what follows, I hope to breakdown some of the key aspects of thinking through the question of whether or not God commanded genocide and (some of) what that means for Christians today. Continue reading

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How to Approach Difficult Bible Passages

As a teacher, I am regularly asked about Bible passages and the theology they convey. Sometimes the questions are straightforward; other times, not so much. Some time back, for example, as I was innocently trying to lead our community group through Romans 8:18-30, I was asked how to interpret verses 29-30 in light of that not-at-all-discussed-among-Christians topic of Predestination and Freewill. It happens.

The vast majority of the time, I am more than happy to dig into a text and explain what I think and why. Having been privileged to study under some brilliant Biblical scholars (and having read many more), I am all too eager to hold forth on the Scriptures, and I genuinely hope that my discussion helps those listening. However, in the past several years I have discovered a more fruitful approach to addressing these questions: walking through Bible passages with people and training them how to read and interpret wisely. Continue reading

Reflections on “Nomadic Text” (Part I)

2370005851562As someone planning a dissertation on “reception history” (albeit it somewhat differently defined and undertaken than Breed), Brennan Breed’s concept of reception history and his application in Nomadic Text offer several potentially fruitful routes forward.

Foremost, Breed offers numerous opportunities for raised awareness of the issues surrounding the field of reception history. First, he rightly highlights the need for a careful definition of reception history and argues for his own take on the application of that definition to biblical studies—“everything is both its own original and own reception” (206). Second, Breed brings his readers into conversation with the semiotic debates and concerns with how to do biblical studies which are informing the development of reception history. His discussions of text, context, and interpretation, even when not directly applicable to my own thought or projects, nonetheless shed light on the flavor and limitations of the field as it is currently constituted. Third, this text helpfully raises awareness of borderlines and their importance in transmission and reception history. For a field which can often unconsciously reify borders and then proceed as if inquiry cannot transcend those limitations, Breed’s engagement with liminality and identifying and traversing borderlines provides a much needed paradigm correction. Finally, the engagement with Hebrew Bible-centered biblical studies provides a much needed expansion of horizons and methodology. For this reader, at least, Breed’s presentation stands as a stark reminder that other (even closely related) fields bring different concerns and practical realities to the table, factors which may fruitfully be brought to inform conversations within our own studies. In all of these ways, Breed rightly raises awareness about the field of reception history in such a way as to better inform the operations of biblical studies and the history of Christianity. Continue reading