In his post, Grasping at Straws Part Five–Evangelicals Defend Genocide, ex-fundamentalist Ken Pulliam interacts with a paper by Christian apologist Glenn Miller on the Israelite conquest of Canaan. According to Miller, God’s aim was dispossession of the Canaanites, not annihilation. I guess Miller’s thesis is that God ordered the annihilation only after the Canaanites refused to leave.
I responded as follows to Ken’s post: I once used Glenn Miller’s argument while teaching a church Bible study. It made sense to me at the time. I think one area where it’s valuable is that it highlights the existence of different traditions on the Conquest in the Hebrew Bible (although that probably wasn’t his intention). In one tradition, the Canaanites are slowly and gradually dispossessed (Exodus 23:28ff.). In other traditions, such as Deuteronomy 20 and the passages you quote, the Israelites slaughter the Canaanites in one fell swoop. Some scholars have even argued that the Israelites offered the Canaanites terms of peace (which is one way some of the rabbis handled the issue), as Deuteronomy prescribes for the cities outside of Canaan, since Joshua 11:19 stresses that there was not a Canaanite city that made peace with the Israelites, except for the Hivites of Gideon. Then there’s the tradition that the Israelites didn’t even slaughter all of the Canaanites, and this crops up in Judges.
My reading today of John Van Seters’ A Law Book for the Diaspora gave me more information on the diversity of the Conquest traditions, though, surprisingly, I learned that they’re not as diverse as I thought. In Exodus 23:28ff., God says that he will send hornets before the Israelites, yet God won’t drive out the Canaanites in one fell swoop, for that will leave the land vacant for beasts. Rather, God will drive out the Canaanites little by little.
I thought that the hornets tradition was unique to Exodus 23:28, but, actually, it’s not. It shows up in Joshua 24:12-13, which says (if I’m understanding it correctly) that God sent hornets before the Israelites to drive out two Amorite kings, thereby giving Israel cities that they did not build, fields that they did not plant, etc. And the passage affirms that this occurred without Israel’s sword and bow. Yet, there are other passages in which Israel defeats the armies of Sihon and Og, kings of the Amorites, in battle (Numbers 21, Deuteronomy 1-3). Are these different traditions? Or could God have sent hornets and helped the Israelites in battle, meaning that they couldn’t take full credit for their sword and bow, yet their fighting played some role in defeating the Amorites?
Another example of the hornets traditions occurs in Deuteronomy 7:20, and Van Seters interprets this verse to mean that God will send the hornets to wipe out the remnant of the Canaanites, preusumably after the Israelites slaughter a bunch of them.
Another point: While Glenn Miller takes dispossession to mean that God drives the Canaanites from their land rather than annihilating them, dispossession can actually carry both connotations. On page 78, Van Seters cites passages in which dispossession is expelling the Canaanites from their land so that they go someplace else (see Deuteronomy 6:19; 9:4; Joshua 23:5; see also Leviticus 18:24 and 20:23), and also passages in which it means annihilation (Deuteronomy 7:17-24; 9:3-5; 31:3-4). I guess that dispossession can entail annihilation, since the Israelites possessed the Canaanites’ land after they had slaughtered them.
As far as I can see, Van Seters argues that the tradition of annihilation preceded that of expulsion in date. That allows the dispossession by hornets motif in Exodus 23:28 to date after some of the annihilation stuff in Deuteronomy. One of Van Seters’ theses is that the Covenant Code dates after Deuteronomy.