Bible Review 3:3, Fall 1987

War, Peace and Justice in Early Israel

By Paul D. Hanson

“I simply cannot take seriously a God who commands the slaughter of babies and entire civilian populations!” This outburst of a Harvard undergraduate describes the feeling of many thoughtful people, as they read passages like 1 Samuel 15:2–3:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘… Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’ ”

For some, the solution is straightforward: The Bible is simply consigned to the category of primitive, violent literature, without value for the morally sensitive modern individual.

For others, the matter remains more complex: That the Bible provides the foundation for important religious beliefs and moral values cannot be denied, and thus the juxtaposition of lofty ideals and crude accounts of divinely ordered slaughter leads to perplexity. Can biblical scholars be of any help?

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