There are three things that make me think the Jews acted violently on their own despite the fact that some of the authors of the Old Testament recorded stories saying that God was telling them to slaughter entire nations.
First is that the prime directive of God to the Jews was to be a people that invited the world to God. And from the very beginning the law told the Jews to love God and others. Even the 10 commandments told the Jews not to kill (it doesn’t say not to “murder” leaving it okay to kill for righteous causes – it says not to kill). So I can’t see God telling the Jews to then kill those who got in their way both because it defeated God’s own prime directive, but also because that meant a human being would have another’s person’s blood on their hands. After working with the PTSD patients at the VA Hospital in Decatur, I can’t see God ever asking someone to harm another person – I think that does something to someone’s soul that is almost unrecoverable.
The second reason is because of what I learned from an orthodox Jew who is a friend of my husband. I admire this man because he still follows the Old Testament laws and that is not easy in our society. One time he and my husband were traveling together and stopped to eat in the airport. Before the man would eat he dialed some sort of Orthodox Jew 1-800 number to find out what he could eat at that particular restaurant. This guy is seriously Jewish! Well, in talking with him, we found out something interesting – that even orthodox Jews don’t believe that the entire Old Testament is holy – just the Mosaic law and the prophets. The rest – all the stories where these vicious acts of violence are recorded – are an important part of their history, but not considered infallible “truth”. This has always been what even the ancient Jews believed. I think they might be right – especially when you consider that there are drastically different accounts of the same battles in different books of the Old Testament.
The third reason is that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. Jesus agreed with the 10 commandments including “Do not Kill” except he took it even further. He said that we murder when we so much as hate. He said we have murdered even if we never took action – just because we hated another person. He taught us to love our enemies. He said not to live by the sword. He went to the cross without a fight. I can’t see Jesus condoning or authorizing genocide. I can’t see how Jesus could be the God described in some of the stories of violence against other nations. I think the writers of those particular stories were attributing something to God that God was not a part of.
Well… there are my two cents. Would love to hear your opinions!!! April
April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.