Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Rationalizing Genocide"

Noam Chomsky has observed: “Among the most elementary of moral truisms is the principle of universality: we must apply to ourselves the same standards we do to others, if not more stringent ones...”
The alleged rationale for the Canaanite genocide fails the criterion of extraordinary exceptions, for what could be more extraordinarily exceptional than the claim that one has a special license to bludgeon babies? But it also fails the criterion of common origin as becomes evident when we consider the typical elements in the narratives that are always invoked to justify genocide. There are commonly three elements in such justifications: (1) divide: first you distinguish between an in-group and out-group while attributing a superior authority or ontological status to the former; (2) demonize: next you accuse the out-group of promoting an injustice, inequality, or threat over against the in-group; (3) destroy: finally, you implore the in-group to redress the injustice, often with a divine or transcendent imprimatur.

An obvious flaw in Rauser’s analysis is that, as a matter of fact, the “in-group” (i.e. Israelites) were not exempt from the same liabilities while, on the other hand, the “out-group” (i.e. Canaanites) were sometimes exempted. As one scholar points out to the contrary:

The Israelites are to purge the land of anything that might cause them to sin against God. This, however, ought not to be interpreted as being directed only against the foreign nations living in Canaan; the same attitude was to be adopted towards fellow-Israelites (Deut 13:1-18; 18:9-22; cf. Exod 22:20)
…It is noteworthy that the book of Joshua gives special attention to those non-Israelites who do not come under the herem. For assisting the Israelite spies to escape from Jericho, Rahab and her family are rescued when the city and its inhabitants are destroyed (Josh 2:1-24; 6:25)…Interestingly, the book of Joshua contrasts the non-destruction of these groups with the destruction that befalls the Israelite family of Achan (Josh 7:1-26).
…we should not lose sight of the fact that the Israelites themselves eventually suffer a similar fate at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. So Yahweh can hardly be accused of adopting double standards.

T. D. Alexander, “Beyond borders: the wider dimensions of land,” P. Johnston & P. Walker, eds. The Land of Promise (IVP 2000), 47-48.


  1. Not to mention that Israel was the numeric and technological underdog.

    Deut. 7:1

    Their victories over the nations that the land spewed out because of their wickedness was a testimony to God's covenant faithfulness and hatred of sin, not Israel's natural ability or worthiness to inherit the land.

    Do people like Chomsky and Rauser even read the Bible?

    In Christ,

  2. This reasoning destroys Dan Barker's alleged basis for morality with his healthy/not-healthy distinction and his "if you act on unhealthy ideas, we have police and such that will lock you up". One can only wonder why Rauser didn't pick up on that. Does he hate atheism as much as Biblical Christianity?