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    Indiscriminate killing – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Though we recoil at the horrific deeds of terrorists, doesn’t the Bible say that when Joshua attacked Jericho, “they utterly destroyed both man and woman, both young and old, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:21)?

    Tissot's "The taking of Jericho"

    A. This story is not a precedent from which general permission for indiscriminate killing can be derived. It was a unique event, required by God because the Canaanites as a group were corrupt.

    But killing is an interim ethic, until the time comes when “they shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9).

    Nonetheless there is a moral problem even if the events described in the Book of Joshua are not a general rule. Even if it happened only once, how can it be justified morally?

    To find an answer we have to look at the context. First, Joshua did not come upon the people of Jericho without warning. Secondly, he did not say or imply, “You are Jerichoites, therefore I am going to kill you”. Nor did he say, “You have the wrong belief system, that’s why I am going to kill you.” The problem was not their identity or theology, but their deeds.

    The Canaanites are reported in the Bible as guilty of depravity and corruption (e.g. Lev. 18:26-28); Hertz comments, “The Canaanites were put under the ban, not for false belief but for vile action; because of the human sacrifices and foul immorality of their gruesome cults” (Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 833).

    A modern scholar adds, “Israel itself is threatened with a similar judgment, in the event of its yielding to the depraved rites and practices of heathendom”.

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