Canaanite DNA and the Reliability of the Bible

According to an ABC affiliate in Omaha, Nebraska, “Ancient Canaanites survived biblical wrath, DNA evidence shows,” and “you may even know somebody who derives their ancestry from the group of people.” In other words, the ABC affiliate is saying the ancient Canaanites survived biblical wrath, DNA evidence shows this, and so as a result of that the Bible has to be wrong.

This is fairly tame, of course, when you start looking at what else has been written in this regard. This is a question that has been asked over and over again, and this question is a question that has arisen as a result of what has been written, most of which is very sensationalistic. For example, “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” — The Telegraph. “The Bible got it wrong: Ancient Canaanites survived and their DNA lives in modern-day Lebanese” — Pulse Headlines. “DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites” — Cosmos. Then there is the Washington Post; “Now a study of Canaanite DNA…rules out the biblical idea that an ancient war wiped out the group.”

What is the message here? The message is that the Bible cannot be trusted. The Bible is fraught with error. These stories often cite Deuteronomy 20 as proof. The research study says that “DNA retrieved from roughly 3,700-year-old skeletons at an excavation site in Lebanon that was formerly a major Canaanite city-state shows that ‘present-day Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, which therefore implies substantial genetic continuity in the Levant since at least the Bronze Age.’” Levant being the epicenter of the Middle East.

The bottom line: if all of this holds up, as further research is done, modern-day Lebanese people are descendants of the ancient Canaanites. But, even if that research holds up — it may or may not, but even if it does — the research does not disprove the Bible. It does something very, very different from disproving the Bible. Instead, this new genetic study is simply one more confirmation of the biblical account. All you have to do again is to learn to read in the sense in which it is intended. The Book of Judges explains that the Israelites never drove Canaanites out completely. In fact, if you read the text, there are passages that say the Canaanites will become “thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3 NIV). The dominant biblical language of driving out indicates that extermination passages are not to be taken in a wooden literalistic sense. Driving out or dispossessing is different from wiping out or destroying. You cannot both drive out and destroy at the same time. The point here is that God’s commands to destroy the nations inhabiting the promise land of Canaan should never be interpreted in isolation from their immediate context. The command to destroy them totally, as we see in Deuteronomy 7, is contextualized by the words, “Do not intermarry with them…for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods” (vv. 3–4 NIV). The aim of God’s command was not the obliteration of the wicked but the obliteration of wickedness.

Furthermore, let me say this: God’s martial instructions are qualified by His moral intent to spare the repentant. No greater example of that can be given than Rahab. Remember Rahab was a Canaanite. She was also a prostitute. Probably more well known for being a prostitute than a Canaanite, but Rahab and her whole family were allowed to live among the Israelites (Josh. 2:1–24; 6:1–26). Not only that, but Rahab the prostitute came to hold a privileged position in the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1–17; cf. v. 5), which underscores a very significant point, not only that God unequivocally commanded Israel to treat the aliens living among them with respect and equality (Deut. 24:14–15; 17–18) but that there are blessings for those who repent. Of course, the concern for foreigners clearly demonstrates that the mercy shown to those who by faith repented of their idolatry and were therefore grafted into true Israel is a maxim. It is a principle. Blessing for those who follow and cursing for those who rebel (Deut. 16:1–19; 27:19).

This idea that the Bible has been disproven comes as a direct of result of people not being able to read the Bible in the sense in which it is intended. Here is why I wrote my book Has God Spoken: Proof of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration. In the first half of that book, what I do is demonstrate that the Bible is divinely inspired. It is a trustworthy authority. But, in the second half of the book, I teach people the art and science of biblical interpretation so that these kinds of passages are not used to discredit the Bible but when they are you have an answer. This is one of the things that I lay out in some detail in Has God Spoken.

— Hank Hanegraaff

For further related study, please access the following:

How Can Christians Legitimize a God Who Orders the Genocide of Entire Nations? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s “Divine Genocide” Claims (Clay Jones)

Was Israel Commanded to Commit Genocide? (Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan)

Also consult the following books:

Has God Spoken: Proofs of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration by Hank Hanegraaff

Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan

Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan

In the News, Journal Topics

Biblical Misconceptions?

I came across a CNN Belief Blog op-ed piece entitled “My Take: The 3 Biggest Biblical Misconceptions” by former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, John Shelby Spong. In it he purports three misconceptions  people have about the Bible that make it hard to understand.

First, he contends “people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it.” One reason Spong offers for this assertion is a liberal presupposition that the Gospels were written late, between AD 70–90, making them subject to mythological corruption. The fact, however, that the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament make no mention of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in AD 70is one of several compelling reasons for dating the entire New Testament prior to AD 70. Moreover, even if we were to grant the liberal dating, there still would be no justification for worrying over the accuracy of the New Testament given the remarkable reliability of the oral culture within which the New Testament was produced to transmit history and teaching accurately.

The second misconception, according to Spong, is “the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense ‘the word of God,’ ” which he bases upon the apparent evil of Yahweh ordering the “genocide” of nations, and a fundamental misunderstanding of Old Testament imprecatory psalms.

Finally, Spong suggests people are under the misconception that “biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging,” which he bases upon the apparent difference between the “tribal deity” in Exodus who orders the death of every firstborn male and the God who commands people to love their enemy. The God of the Bible, however, does not change; rather, He progressively reveals different aspects of Himself in biblical history. He is both just, sending wrath upon sinful Egyptians for their mistreatment of others, but also merciful in teaching His people to love their neighbor.  

Is there any basis for Spong’s assertions? None at all. He is, as Hank Hanegraaff puts it, a “fundamentalist on the left.” Hank addresses and refutes Spong’s claims in his recent book, Has God Spoken: Memorable Proofs of the Bible’s Divine Inspiration (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

— Warren Nozaki

For further refutation of Spong’s claims,  see the following equip.org resources:

Is The Bible Myth?

Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s “Divine Genocide” Claims

Was Revelation Written Before or After the Destruction of the Temple in AD 70?

Moses: The Author of the Pentateuch

How Do We Know That The Bible Is The Word Of God?

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels

Facts for Skeptics of the New Testament

Does Homosexuality Demonstrate that the Bible is Antiquated and Irrelevant?

When Literal Interpretations Don’t Hold Water

Hateful Vindictive Psalms?

We also recommend the following bookstore resources:

Has God Spoken

Is God a Moral Monster?

The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Making Sense of a gracious God within the Old Testament drama

Is God a Moral Monster?Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011)

The Old Testament (OT) at points can be extremely difficult to understand. Complicating matters are remarks made by popular Neo-Atheists like Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris criticizing the OT God as a jealous, angry deity who supports heinous acts like genocide, human sacrifice, ethnocentrism, chattel slavery, and misogyny. Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God offers a well-written lay level response to these criticisms, demonstrating how the redemptive movement of God in Israel’s history puts the proper perspective on difficult OT passages, such as those relating to ceremonial cleanliness, kosher foods, cruel punishment, misogyny, bride-price, polygamy, concubines, slavery, and Canaanite killings.

Copan observes that not only are social aspects of Ancient Near East life alien to moderns, but the ancient social structures were badly damaged by the fall. It is within this context God starts a covenant nation, gives the law, and forms a culture. The OT law, however, was not the permanent ideal for all times and places, but looked forward to “a new, enduring covenant” (59). God met His chosen people where they were at, showed them a higher ideal, but “didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for” but “moved incrementally” (61, italics in original). The Ancient Near East cultures permitted slavery and the brutal treatment of slaves. The OT law permitted slavery but limited the kinds of punishments used on slaves. The New Testament declared masters and slaves as equal, but the ultimate ideal is the “genuine realization of creation ideals in Genesis 1:26-27, in which God’s image-bearers live and work together and are fairly, graciously treated; they are viewed as full persons and equals; and genuine humanness is restored in Christ, the second Adam/the new man” (63).

Old Testament heroes were flawed. Abraham lied about Sarah, Moses murdered an Egyptian, and David power raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah; however, Copan points out that one must avoid the “Is-Ought” fallacy, and “the way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior.” The status placed on these OT heroes was not their moral perfection, but their uncompromising dedication to the cause of Yahweh, and trust in His promises (66-67).

Copan spends several chapters addressing the New Atheist criticism that the killing of the Canaanites is tantamount to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Militating against the charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing are the facts that God waited 430 years to judge the Canaanites as “the last resort” when their corrupting moral practices reached their lowest depths (159-160), that God’s command to destroy nations was never meant to be a “universally binding standard for all time and all cultures” (161), that Israel experienced divine judgment when she sinned (163), that Joshua’s use of Ancient Near East conventional warfare language, a form of exaggeration, precludes the literalness of statements about complete annihilation of a particular people group (170-173), that some Canaanites who responded positively to the God of Israel received mercy (175), that noncombatant Canaanites live outside cities like Jericho and Ai, which were government/military installations (176), and that Deuteronomy 20 indicates Canaanite cities could have made peace with Israel (180). The OT was not the ideal, but was part of a redemptive movement to the ideal, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Copan lastly points out that Neo-Atheists can recognize morals and to a certain extent live by a moral code; however, they have not the philosophical foundations to explain why they are rights-bearing, valuable individuals (210-211). People have dignity and intrinsic knowledge of morality because they are created in God’s image, which is a better explanation why moral absolutes exist.

Is Yahweh the moral monster the New Atheists paint him out to be? According to the evidence, nothing could be further from the truth! What are your thoughts?

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Why Atheists Object to Killing the Canaanites

Killing the Canaanites: Was it Biblical?

Atheists grouse about God’s ordering of the destruction of the Canaanites calling it “divine genocide.” But, it wasn’t genocide, it was capital punishment, which I try to show in the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal. In Lev. 18 the Lord details Canaanite sin: incest, adultery, offering children to Molech, homosexuality, and bestiality; and, throughout the Old Testament, God made it clear that anyone who did any of these things should be put to death (of course, that’s a theocracy—now Christians fight in the realm of ideas and in prayer).
Shock-and-awe! The atheist is repulsed by this answer. Why? There are three major reasons. First, most of today’s “enlightened” thinkers, or “brights” (as some atheists like to be called), don’t regard anything as deserving capital punishment—usually, not even for murder. So, obviously, if capital punishment is itself always wrong, then surely God was wrong to order it.
Second, even if the atheist did think capital punishment appropriate for some crimes, it certainly wouldn’t be warranted for committing consensual sexual acts. After all, even if the atheist finds, say, sex with animals personally repugnant, that doesn’t mean that they don’t approve those so inclined. For example, atheist/ethicist Peter Singer wrote that sex with animals is not “an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” And it’s not just Singer. Consider the 2008 movie Sleeping Dogs Lie where a woman tells her fiancé about once having sex with her dog only to have her fiancé break off the engagement. Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote that Sleeping Dogs Lie “possesses a quick wit and an endearing tenderness toward Amy as honesty wrecks her life. It’s sweet, doggone it.” Notice for Travers it wasn’t sex with a dog that ruined Amy’s life, but honesty.
Third, even if atheists were to think that some offenses did deserve capital punishment and even if the things enumerated in Lev. 18 did warrant that punishment, the atheist would still complain that some innocents must also have been killed. But how would the atheist know this? After all, if the God of the Bible really does exist then He does know everything which includes knowing who is guilty and who would or would not repent. This was exactly the point of Abraham’s lengthy dialog with the Lord in Genesis 18 regarding the coming destruction of two Canaanite cities—Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord said He would spare both cities if even ten righteous people were found. But not only could ten righteous not be found, the angels had to all but drag Lot and his family out of the city.
Still, atheists will intuit that what God ordered was all very wrong. And that’s all it is: atheist intuition. But the Christian’s task is to proclaim God’s truth and not be surprised that the atheist hates it. After all, Jesus said that the reason the world hated Him was because “I testify that what it does is evil.”
Clay Jones is an Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. You can read more about Clay by visiting www.clayjones.net.