Israelites and warfare

In warfare, were the Israelites any different than others in the ANE?

In terms of killing everyone, this was not considered unusual by their enemies.

William Lane Craig points out killing everyone in warfare was standard practice:

But then, again, we’re thinking of this from a Christianized, Western standpoint. For people in the ancient world, life was already brutal. Violence and war were a fact of life for people living in the ancient Near East. Evidence of this fact is that the people who told these stories apparently thought nothing of what the Israeli soldiers were commanded to do (especially if these are founding legends of the nation). No one was wringing his hands over the soldiers’ having to kill the Canaanites; those who did so were national heroes. … canaanites

Wesley Morriston agrees:

Craig is making two claims here. The first is that life in the ANE was “brutal.” I take it that he means to remind us that in the wars of this period of history, no distinction was made between combatants and noncombatants. Women and children were killed or enslaved. Genocidal attacks were not uncommon, and the concept of corporate guilt was unproblematic. Whole nations/cities/tribes were held responsible for the behavior of individuals.

This is plainly correct. In their historical/cultural context, the ancient Israelites were not more brutal than their neighbors. Israelite warriors who slaughtered women and children would not have been doing anything especially unusual or morally suspect. … nocide.pdf

Paul Copan also agrees:

Furthermore, in the ANE, warfare was a way of life and a means of survival—a situation in which combatant and noncombatant were not always distinguished.

One thing that is different though is they did not use warfare to convert people to their religion.

the conquest of Canaan represented God’s just judgement upon those peoples. The purpose was not at all to get them to convert to Judaism! War was not being used as an instrument of propagating the Jewish faith. Moreover, the slaughter of the Canaanites represented an unusual historical circumstance, not a regular means of behavior. … canaanites

They also did not torture or mutilate the bodies of their enemies to terrorize their enemies.

Unlike Joshua’s brief, four-verse description of the treatment of the five kings (10:24–27), the Neo-Assyrian annals of Asshurnasirpal (tenth century) take pleasure in describing the atrocities which gruesomely describe the flaying of live victims, the impaling of others on poles, and the heaping up of bodies for display.

And as I’ve argued, another difference is the justification for warfare was a judgment on sin and it was not based on race or nationality or geography.

otseng wrote: Mon Dec 18, 2023 8:26 am So, the charge that God committed genocide because of a nationality or race is fallacious. God is not judging people because of their ethnicity or country of origin. God judges people on their sin, regardless of their nationality.

Another difference is they were not an imperialistic nation. After the conquest of Canaan, the Israelites did not go on to conquer other nations. They did not attempt to conquer Egypt or Assyria or Babylon or Persia or Greece or Rome.

First, the killing of the Canaanites was sui generis, limited to this particular period of time of Joshua and shortly thereafter, after whose time Israel’s warranted battles (“Yahweh wars”) were defensive.

In the former case, we are not talking about genocide or ethnic cleansing, but a kind of corporate capital punishment that was deliberately limited in scope and restricted to a specific period of time. Was Israel’s warfare in Canaan precedent-setting? In Goldingay’s words, “Saul does not seek to devote the Philistines and David does not seek to devote the surrounding peoples whom he did conquer. Neither Ephraim nor Judah took on Assyria, Babylon, Persia, or the local equivalents of the Canaanites in the Second Temple period.” He adds that Deuteronomy and Joshua do not set a pattern that “invites later Israel to follow, or that later Israel does follow.”