by Andy Hanson

by Andy Hanson, October 9, 2014

When I was baptized at the age of ten, I was given a Bible. I was also told that I had assumed the responsibility to take care of it properly, such as making sure that no other book, magazine, or anything else, was ever to be placed on top of it. It was sacred. It was God’s word, and millions of Christians valued its message more than life itself.

That responsibility was kind of scary, and I was relieved when I learned that I didn’t have to read the Bible exactly, and it could remain “safe” on my bookshelf. I could learn what I needed to know in Sabbath School. David was a brave shepherd boy; Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived; Esther was a Jewish girl who won a beauty contest because she had a nice smile; and Jesus died for my sins.

One of my favorite stories was celebrated in a song I sang loudly and lustily when given the chance: Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho. But the pictures in the books and the flannel board illustrations never mentioned what happened after “the walls came tumbling down.”

Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.1

If the unspeakable conclusion of this battle sounds like what happens after an ISIL victory, Christians need to acknowledge that “Islam is rooted in the Abrahamic tradition, and especially with respect to the code of war, the teachings of the Torah invite comparison with Muslim law. In chapter twenty of Deuteronomy some elements of a code of war are given.” 2

When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here.

But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them– the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites— just as the LORD your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you? You may destroy only the trees that you know do not produce food; you may cut them down for use in building siege works against the town that makes war with you, until it falls.

In some instances, the code even sanctioned murder.

Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.”
Agag came to him in chains. And he thought, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”
But Samuel said,
“As your sword has made women childless,
so will your mother be childless among women.”
And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal. 3

I wonder how Samuel killed him? The author doesn’t say.

Today, I read and appreciate the Old Testament as Jewish literature. My favorite books are Proverbs, Job, and Ruth, even though I have a question or two about what happened during the night she spent with Boaz on the threshing floor.

The God of Old Testament history comes across as a malevolent figment of the imagination, and I know that I slept better as a young person because I only began reading the Old Testament when I took a Biblical Literature class from Alice Babcock at Pacific Union College.

PS: Isn’t it obvious why Jesus had to show up?


1 from Joshua 6

2Islam and Just War Theory
Hau Muhammad Legenhausen

3 from 1 Samuel 15