Last time we discussed the problem of the Old Testament’s genocide passages, particularly the ones found in Joshua and 1 Samuel. I summarized the dilemma these verses pose like this:
Either they are accurate, rendering meaningless our definitions of goodness, love and mercy, or they are in some important way false, in which case their “usefulness” has largely been found by those seeking to turn their fictional violence into reality. Further, the second option would also mean the Bible’s own description of God’s thoughts and actions is, in some places, wrong, which opens a whole new set of questions.
Our next step, then, should probably be to determine which of these contingencies we actually face. Are these stories true or not?
Archaeology should be able to confirm some key details for us because what the Bible describes are significant historical events, the type of which are usually recorded and leave tracks – the death of all the firstborn children of a major empire followed by most of its army and its king in the sea, the immigration of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of numerous Canaanite cities by a conquering people.
These all, one would think, would leave at least some trace in the historical record. But they largely do not.
In the case of the plagues and the exodus, there is simply an absence of information. It’s possible the Egyptians simply refused to write about it because there was no way to propagandize it, and it’s possible some sort of exodus occurred but in smaller numbers than the Bible indicates.
But in the case of Joshua and the conquest, there is contradictory evidence, both archaeologically and biblically.
Although there is a city of Jericho, and it did once have walls, the city was already in ruins around the time when Joshua would have been leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. Likewise, several cities described as having been burned to the ground by the Israelites show no evidence of ever having been burned (this according to our professor; sorry I don’t have links).
Further, the Bible itself rejects some of the historical claims Joshua makes.