Marking, steers and the slaughter of Canaanites

Our four steers

Today I am marking, for a break later I’ll take some of the mowings from the weekend to the steers. They love the partly dried grass clippings, it’s like giving lollies to kids. Though since they have been in the paddock for a week I’ll need to be careful where I tread ;)

All of which leads to a hilarious collection of comments about the “slaughter of the Canaanites” that our local Theology Geek quotes. It is hilarious stuff, do read it, if not then just watch out for those copulating rocks! As I’ll be avoiding the steer droppings.

Over at Driving the Peterbilt: Bible Critique by Ryoga M, RyogaM  had written a sarcastic rendition of the battle of Gibeon, which is found in Joshua 10. Here are some highlights of that rendition:

[Asterisks not original]


Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem: Well, now, let’s see. I suggest we attack…holy ****! What’s that?!

Hoham king of Hebron: That’s a big f***ing rock!

Piram king of Jarmuth: And it’s falling on our heads!

Japhia king of Lachish: Run away! Run away!

Debir king of Eglon: Well, this is going to suck.


Messenger: Message for Joshua!

Joshua: Yes?

Messenger: God has attacked with big f***ing rocks, sir. He’s slain them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goes up to Beth-horon, and smote them to Azekah, and to Makkedah. he’s killed a lot of them, sir. Squished like bugs.

Joshua: Well it’s about time he did something useful. I guess we should kill everyone left, huh?

Joel Watts commented that RyogaM was being excessively literalistic in his reading of the text and referred RyogaM to Matt’s Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites series. RyogaM was not impressed he made several points of critique which he posted on his blog and repeated on ours. I will repeat the relevant parts below:

The purpose of my blog is to explore what the Bible actually SAYS, not what one wishes it to say, not what one would expect it to say if one presupposes the existence of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-power god, not what one can rationalize away because the concept of slaughtering every inhabitant of a town, including every old man, woman and child, goes against every enlightenment value we have.

And the reason I do this is because even your average, non-fundy, modern Christian takes certain parts of the Bible literally. I assume, for example, Christians take literally the idea that Jesus Christ was the son of god, that he died and rose again. Which is as equally absurd, if not even more absurd, idea, than the idea that Joshua and his people engaged in total warfare against the country he and his people invaded at the command of god. I hope, by taking the Bible literally, and pointing out why to do so is absurd, Christians such as yourself feel free to reject the entire concept of reading any part of the Bible literally and free themselves from superstition.

Now, looking at your blog, I think you are one of those selective literalistic, Christian. You presuppose that no god who calls himself just could ever order the slaughter of innocent old men, women and children, and you are right. So, you have to assume that god didn’t really mean what he very clearly said. Then you choose other parts of the Bible which are clearly in contradiction and think it resolves the question to say it’s all hyperbole….You refuse to accept what it says on its face and instead engage in mind-reading of the authors.

Matt’s response to these particular comments caused me to erupt into fits of laughter (and apparently caused shutters to fall from Jónathan’s wife’s eyes),

RyogaM, you state that I am a “selective literalist” and that not even “non-fundy, modern Christians takes certain parts of the Bible literally.”I agree. I read some parts literally and other parts non-literally. That’s a sensible approach to any form of communication.

Another sceptic told me they thought that “the Bible was bull****, because it was full of contradictions.” No sensible person would interpret this entire passage literally, to do so would mean it would be easily refuted. One could show that most bibles are composed of thousands of pages of ink and paper. One could note that ink and paper are a different substance to bovine faeces this is because the term “bull****” is, in English, a metaphor for falsehood. Similarly, no one would interpret this passage as entirely figurative; the reference to the Bible, for example, is not a metaphor nor is the reference to contradictions.

The sceptic is literally referring to the Bible and literally attributing contradictions to it and metaphorically describing it as bull**** in the same sentence. A sensible interpreter who is honestly trying to interpret the sceptics’ comments will interpret “bull****” figuratively and the rest literally. This is for two reasons: (a) taken literally, the comment is clearly absurd and it is unlikely an intelligent person would mean it to be taken this way; (b) the word “bull****,” in English, is a well-attested metaphor for falsehoods in contexts like this. This same two reasons are precisely what we see present in Joshua: (a) taken literally, the statements are absurd (they contradict the rest of the text); (b) the language is well-attested in ANE writing of this sort as hyperbole for victory.

Most literature and communication involves both literal and figurative language and any sensible communicator will attempt to discern both. If you disagree with me then I think your own blog post is easily refuted. You, after all, talk in your own post about “big f***ing rocks.” Now this is clearly stupid, rocks cannot engage in sexual intercourse and only a complete moron with no knowledge of reproduction would say this. On the face of it, you clearly stated that rocks “f***.” Of course you could contend (sensibly) that the word “f***ing” in this context should not be taken literally, that you used the word “f***ing” in a hyperbolic manner to emphasise the size of the rocks and the might of God. But then you are a selective literalist, you clearly do not want me to take everything on your blog as figurative. To do so would involve me “reading your mind,” it would involve me assuming you would not intend to say something obviously stupid. Seeing you think people should not do that then I have to conclude that you are a moron.

Please learn a bit more about sexual reproduction and its relationship to rocks before you write in future.

3 comments on “Marking, steers and the slaughter of Canaanites

  1. Andrea Candy

    Very clever! If people frequently use scatological and copulatory humour (nonliterally of course) for effect, can we infer anything about their character? Similarly if God speaks figuratively through humans, using hyperbole of a particular sort, what can we infer about his character (or theirs)? In other words, once you’ve got past working out which language is literal and which is figurative, there’s still the question of WHY use that kind of language in the first place?

  2. tim

    Indeed! And in the light of the phrasing of your question WHO is using that language also. These accounts raise also sharply (at least for me) the question of how/where we locate the divine voice in Scripture.

  3. hrld

    The young are so intelligent now-a-days. It’s hard to refute them and such a command of language. Shakespeare could hardly be more picturesque.
    Someone did a study on emotional intelligence and decided that the average person has the emotional intelligence of a six year old. It would be higher, but I suppose men bring it down a bit. What worries me is the people below average. Could some still be in their terrible twos?
    I see you have spent a lot of time studying the bible. I always hate it when religions people don’t believe in the texts. That’s confusing. I sort of believe that it condenses all eternity into a thousand pages or so, depending on whether you are using the large print or not. Am I imagining things or am I right again?
    I also don’t understand why people think it takes no understanding to understand what you read or hear. I suppose it has always been that you have to read something three times to really get it, if it has any substance at all. Especially in an age when we are so spoon fed with videos at nine. No one can think for themselves anymore or meditate on much.