The LADbible reported on a cool scientific discovery that was made recently.
Their report says the scientific discovery shows that a well known event mentioned by the Old Testament – that Richard Dawkins has famously mocked – did not happen. The event is the Israelite invasion of Canaan.
The LADbible article:
- Reports that Lebanese people share 90 percent of their genetic material today with 5 ancient Canaanite human remains from the city state of Sidon.
- Refers to the Bible passage where Israel destroyed all the Canaanite cities and annihilated its people.
- Suggests that if the Canaanite peoples were annihilated, they could not have directly contributed genetic material to the region’s present-day population. So, the Bible claim is false.
- Suggests if the Canaanite cities were destroyed, there would be archaeological evidence of this mass destruction dated to between the Bronze and Iron Ages. But there isn’t any. Again…the Bible claim is false.
So is the article right; does the science disprove the Bible? Or does it reveal Professor Dawkins’ famous rant to be nothing more than empty rhetoric?
I’m taking my lead here from Paul Copan, PhD. He’s the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Here’s my response:
1.Reports that Lebanese people share 90 percent of their genetic material today with 5 ancient Canaanite human remains from the city state of Sidon.
Ok. It’s incredibly cool that scientists can parse our generic material this way and detect geographic markers in the code. Amazing stuff…I want to read more.
2. Refers to the Bible passage where Israel destroyed all the Canaanite cities and annihilated its people.
I’d like to make 3 points here:
2.1 – The historical Yahweh Canaanite wars were unique for Israel.
The Old Testament records that Israel attacked three Canaanite cities – Hazor, Jericho, and Ai.
Unlike other ancient near eastern nations, Israel was conspicuous for its humane treatment of foreigners. Its neighbours were not normally to be attacked, and foreigners who lived in Israel were respected and had the same rights as the Israelites themselves. They were not known for being a xenophobic people.
The Canaanite attack happened for a specific purpose at a point in time.
Further, scholars believe these three fortified cities were essentially military forts manned largely by soldiers rather than the general Canaanite population.
2.2 The ancient historical setting takes some sting out of the language.
“Joshua…destroyed the Anakites from the hill country…totally destroyed them.”
Yet a couple of chapters later:
“the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified…”
But weren’t the Anakites (a Canaanite tribe) destroyed? Not so much!
There are loads of examples like this thru the Canaanite period.
For example, elsewhere talking about the conquest of Canaan, it says “you must destroy them totally….Do not intermarry with them.” How do you intermarry with people who you have totally destroyed?
Scholar Paul Copan explains that, what’s happening in the Bible text is it is using traditional ancient near eastern language of the time. He calls it hyperbole…a bit like when we say, “Rangers played Celtic at the football today and slaughtered them.” They didn’t literally kill all of them…but they beat them soundly. The Bible’s not misleading or showing Israel up to be inept…it’s just using the language that the other nations used at the time for war. Again, Copan has specific examples of the other nations talking like this.
So, if the Canaanite cities were military bases, then why does it say it was “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” Copan opines that this was a stock phrase that doesn’t imply non-combatants were there, the language was used to mean take the military installation.
2.3 The Old Testament texts of Joshua and Judges do not therefore claim that Israel annihilated everyone in Canaan.
When we read the Bible text all the way through, rather than stop at the difficult bits, we find that while a military engagement did occur and Canaanite soldiers and leaders were killed, these people were not totally wiped out by Israel. As Copan says, “The people’s who had apparently been wiped out reappear in the story. Many Canaanite inhabitants simply stuck around.”
3. Suggests that if the Canaanite peoples were annihilated, they could not have directly contributed genetic material to the region’s present-day population. So, the Bible claim is false.
But who’s saying the Canaanite people were totally annihilated? As we’ve seen, it’s not the Bible. No, it’s Professor Dawkins who says this.
The cool genetic data actually confirms what the Bible has been saying all along, that the Canaanites stuck around and became part of the Israelite nation after they invaded.
If anyone is challenged by the science, it’s actually Professor Dawkins, not the Bible.
4. Suggests if the Canaanite cities were destroyed, there would be archaeological evidence of this mass destruction dated to between the Bronze and Iron Ages. But there isn’t any. Again…the Bible claim is false.
Where’s the evidence of mass destruction? Well – there wasn’t any mass destruction. Israel had very specific battles in three fortified cities. Archaeologists are working to identify these areas and they have some clues as to where they were. But the destruction was minimal and contained.
Copan again – “The archaeological language support the biblical text…minimal observable material destruction in Canaan as well as Israel’s gradual infiltration, assimilation and eventual dominance there.”
Besides, there is other archaeological evidence that Israel was in Canaan at this time. So, the invasion’s not really in doubt historically.
The LADbible are right – the science is disproving something here. But I would suggest it’s not the Bible. The science doesn’t reveal Bible deficiencies, but it does ironically show up Professor Dawkins and his faulty understanding of the Bible. So, can we lay his well-worn, false rhetoric to rest now?
The science affirms the Bible’s claim that the Canaanite people gradually became part of the Israelite nation following Israel’s invasion. God’s not shown to be an “ethnic cleanser” in the Bible.
But does it still bug you that Israel invaded Canaan in the first place? Me too. But, again, Copan has some ideas on that that are worth exploring…
”think along the lines of the Sicilian police invading a Mafia stronghold to remove a corrupting network of crime so that citizens can live in peace, rather than fear.”
Image is Public Domain.
 Joshua 8:18-19, Joshua 9:3, Joshua 11:10-11.
 Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 176.
 Joshua 11:21-22.
 Joshua 14:12-15.
 Deuteronomy 7:2-3.
 Copan, 172.
 Joshua 6:21
 Copan, 176.
 Copan, 171.
 Copan, 185.
 The Merneptah Stele: Earliest evidence for Israel in Canaan? Bible Apologetics, https://bibleapologetics.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/the-merneptah-stele-earliest-evidence-for-israel-in-canaan/, accessed 31st July 2017.
 Joshua 13:1-7.
 Copan, 167.