Chapter 19: Defending Divine Genocide
Here, Boyd narrows in on the 'herem' command (the call to annihilate the Canaanites) and how it is 'defended' by, especially, Paul Copan. He starts with Copan's defense of a literal reading of the text and then moves on to Copan's suggestion that the commands were heavily hyperbolic.
Copan argues that 'genocide' isn't an appropriate label for what happened (Copan does believe it happened) since 'herem' was also applied to Israelite towns who fell into idolatry and because some Canaanites were purposefully spared. Boyd thinks these minor points are not enough to overcome the obvious parallels between this motif in Scripture and what we would normally call genocide. He believes defending this violence opens the door to violence today.
Copan suggests God has the 'right' to take lives (being the Creator), but Boyd responds that it's not about God's rights. It's about God's character. It's not whether God 'could' take lives. It's about whether God 'would' command His people to slaughter other people.
Copan says it was necessary to destroy the Canaanites to protect Israel from their idolatry. While Boyd recognizes this rationale is given in Scripture, he points out that it didn't really work (even in the world of the text). Or, in a similar argument, Copan says it was necessary to destroy the Canaanites because they were SO evil. Boyd asks what could be more 'evil' than annihilating an entire people group!
Moving on to Copan's claims for Hyperbole, Copan believes the conquest of Canaan mostly involved the defeat of military strongholds. Women and children were not actually killed. Boyd considers this line of defense much more compelling than the first. But, ultimately, he lists a number of reasons for rejecting it. Perhaps most importantly, the hyperbole interpretation would STILL not be Christlike. Boyd recognizes that ANE people exaggerating the 'numbers' of those killed in military battles, but argues that they didn't exaggerate the 'type' of people killed (women and children really were killed). He questions whether God would happily endorse such violent hyperbole.
But Boyd's lengthiest argument against the hyperbole defense involves the numerous passages which seem to clearly demonstrate that women and children were the victims (in the text, at least) of the 'herem' command.
In the end, Boyd thinks Moses got it wrong. What Moses claimed God said doesn't match up with what we know about God through Jesus. What is needed is not a 'defense' of the violent command, but an 'explanation' for how this violent command may actually reveal (indirectly) the God of the cross. God accommodated the violent worldview of His people in order to stay in covenant relationship with them as He attempted to pave the way to peace.
I don't think Boyd was entirely fair to Copan in this chapter. For instance, on page 922 he says that Copan's view would open the door for people today to practice violence so long as they feel called by God to do so. But in the previous chapter (page 910), Boyd seemed to shut the door on that very way of thinking.
Additionally, I thought Boyd's critique of Copan's insistence that all babies go to heaven was lame. Greg uses the way he has organized the chapter (literal defenses followed by the 'hyperbole' defense), to force Copan into a box that he's not really stuck in (since he doesn't have to separate his arguments like that). I say it is a 'lame' argument because it doesn't actually seem like Boyd disagrees with Copan on this point to any significant degree.
In any case, I ultimately think Boyd is right when he says that Copan has argued in the wrong directon. "Copan should have started with the revelation of God on the cross and then moved on to interpret the defective divine portrait in the conquest narrative in this light." Boyd offers his strongest critique of Copan's strongest claim when he points out that there are some texts in which it seems inarguable that women and children were present on at least some of the occasions involved in the conquering of Canaan.