Brutality, War Crimes, Genocide, and Rape – Should Children Be Reading This Book?
Imagine if the leader of a modern country decided his people required land and then proceeded to invade neighbouring countries. Imagine if in some areas he enslaved entire cities, and in others, he ordered his army to completely annihilate the population, first killing soldiers, then killing non-combatants in cold blood (women, children, even babies). Imagine if in some cities he allowed his men to force women they found attractive to have sex with them. Imagine if in some cities he plundered all the goods he found, while in others he simply burnt them to the ground. Imagine if this leader even went so far as to kill livestock for no purpose other than spite. Imagine if this leader also commanded his troops to desecrate the places of worship in the lands he had conquered. Then imagine if his followers kept records of his campaigns, recording with pride the killing of 12,000 people on one day, and 25,000 on another.
Imagine if, in the society he built, the criminal justice system dictated public execution by stoning or by burning, and if some lesser crimes resulted in the cutting off of a limb. Imagine if slavery was legal, and that a slave owner who beat his slave so hard that after a few days he died of his injuries received no State punishment. Imagine if rapists were not punished, but were simply forced to marry the girl they were caught raping. Imagine if girls who were found to have had pre-marital sex were publicly stoned to death. Imagine if religious freedom was non-existent, and apostates from the State religion were executed. Imagine if the regime encouraged people to inform on members of their own family who secretly adhered to a different faith than that dictated by the State, so that they could be put to death. Imagine if the leader commanded people to kill their own friends and families for disloyalty to the regime, and if, on one day alone, 3,000 people were put to death in cold blood. Imagine if the leader planned revenge on another nation, and if an official publication proclaimed that the babies of that nation would be smashed to death on rocks.
Now imagine if the leader grew angry with his people, believing them to be disloyal. Imagine if he repeatedly launched terror campaigns against his own people. Imagine if he deliberately starved whole swaths of his own nation, so they became so desperate that they resorted to cannibalism, with parents eating their children, and children eating their parents. Imagine if he unleashed germ warfare on his own people, spreading disease throughout the land. Imagine if he hired mercenaries from other nations to attack his people. Imagine if he commanded those mercenaries to kill men, women, children, and babies. Imagine if he commanded them to force men to watch as their babies were killed before them, their wives were raped, and their houses were destroyed. Having seen that horror, imagine if those men were then stabbed to death. Imagine if the corpses were not even buried, but were instead left to rot. Imagine if he commanded not only babies to be killed, put pregnant women to have their stomachs ripped open.
Imagine if all these horrific crimes were recorded in a book. This book would stand forever as a record of grotesque inhumanity, of brutal State violence, of human rights violations, of war crimes, and of genocide. This leader would surely go down in history with the likes of Hitler and Stalin, as a dictator of almost unimaginable sickness and brutality.
Now imagine if, defying all standards of logic and human decency, millions of people throughout the world revered this leader, worshipped him, and declared both his actions, and the book reporting them, to be righteous and infallible. Imagine if children were raised to read that book, not as a record of depravity, but instead as a holy book. Imagine if the leader was proclaimed to be good and just, and if people throughout the world prayed to him, and taught that if only the whole world believed his book to be infallible then all social ills would disappear. Imagine if the President of the United States of America regularly read this book, declared himself to be a follower of the leader, and cited it in public addresses. Surely this would be a world gone mad?
Sadly, this is our world today. The leader I referred to in my narrative above is the God spoken of in the Old Testament, the God of Jews and Christians, and the book recording his actions is, of course, the Bible. The God proclaimed in the Old Testament, were he to be a modern leader, would be indicted for crimes against humanity. Instead, he is worshipped today by millions. This is a tragedy.
The biblical material upon which the narrative above is based is as follows:
Crime and punishment:
God speaking: ‘If a man takes a stick and beats his slave, whether male or female, and the slave dies on the spot, the man is to be punished. But if the slave does not die for a day or two, the master is not to be punished. The loss of his property is punishment enough’ (Exodus 21:20-21).
God speaking: ‘If a man commits adultery with the wife of a fellow-Israelite, both he and the woman shall be put to death’ (Leviticus 20:10).
God speaking: ‘If a man has sexual relations with another man, they have done a disgusting thing, and both shall be put to death. They are responsible for their own death’ (Leviticus 20:13).
God speaking: ‘If a man marries a woman and her mother, all three shall be burnt to death because of the disgraceful thing they have done’ (Leviticus 20:14).
On a man who cursed God during a quarrel: ‘The LORD said to Moses, “Take that man out of the camp. Everyone who heard him curse shall put his hands on the man’s head to testify that he is guilty, and then the whole community shall stone him to death. Then tell the people of Israel that anyone who curses God must suffer the consequences and be put to death. Any Israelite or any foreigner living in Israel who curses the LORD shall be stoned to death by the whole community”‘ (Leviticus 24:13-26).
‘Once, while the Israelites were still in the wilderness, a man was found gathering firewood on the Sabbath. He was taken to Moses, Aaron, and whole community, and was put under guard, because it was not clear what should be done with him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must be put to death; the whole community is to stone him to death outside the camp.” So the whole community took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD had commanded’ (Numbers 15:32-36).
God speaking: ‘Suppose a man has a son who is stubborn and rebellious, a son who will not obey his parents, even though they punish him … Then the men of the city are to stone him to death, and so you will get rid of this evil’ (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).
God speaking: ‘But if the charge is true and there is no proof that the girl was a virgin, then they are to take her out to the entrance of her father’s house, where the men of her city are to stone her to death. She has done a shameful thing among our people by having intercourse before she was married, and while she was still living in her father’s house. In this way you will get rid of this evil’ (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).
God speaking: ‘Suppose a man is caught raping a girl who is not engaged. He is to pay the girl’s father the bride price of fifty pieces of silver, and she is to become his wife, because he forced her to have intercourse with him’ (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
God speaking: ‘If two men are having a fight and the wife of one tries to help her husband by grabbing hold of the other man’s genitals, show her no mercy; cut off her hand’ (Deuteronomy 25:11-12).
God speaking: ‘Do not make any treaties with the people of the country into which you are going … Instead, tear down their altars, destroy their sacred pillars, and cut down the symbols of their goddess Asherah’ (Exodus 34:12-13).
God speaking: ‘In the land that you are taking, destroy all the places where the people worship their gods on high mountains, on hills, and under green trees. Tear down their altars and smash their sacred stone pillars to pieces. Burn their symbols of the goddess Asherah and chop down their idols, so that they will never again be worshipped at those places’ (Deuteronomy 12:2-3).
Death for apostasy:
God speaking: ‘Even your brother or your son or your daughter or the wife you love or your closest friend may secretly encourage you to worship other gods, gods that you and your ancestors have never worshipped. One of them may encourage you to worship the gods of the people who live near you or the gods of those who live far away. But do not let him persuade you; do not even listen to him. Show him no mercy or pity, and do not protect him. Kill him! Be the first to stone him, and then let everyone else stone him too. Stone him to death!’ (Deuteronomy 13:6-10).
God speaking: ‘When you are living in the towns that the LORD your God gives you, you may hear that some worthless men of your nation have misled the people of their town to worship gods that you have never worshipped before. If you hear such a rumour, investigate it thoroughly; and if it is true that this evil thing did happen, then kill all the people in that town and all their cattle too. Destroy that town completely. Bring together all the possessions of the people who live there and pile them up in the town square. Then burn the town and everything in it as an offering to the LORD your God. It must be left in ruins for ever and never again be rebuilt’ (Deuteronomy 13:12-16).
God speaking: ‘Suppose you hear that in one of your towns some man or woman has sinned against the LORD and broken his covenant by worshipping and serving other gods or the sun or the moon or the stars, contrary to the LORD’s command … If it is true that this evil thing has happened in Israel, then take that person outside the town and stone him to death’ (Deuteronomy 17:2-5).
War crimes and genocide:
On the towns of King Sihon of Heshbon: ‘[W]e captured and destroyed every town, and put everyone to death, men, women, and children. We took the cattle and plundered the towns’ (Deuteronomy 2:34-35).
On the towns of King Og of Bashan: ‘We destroyed all the towns and put to death all the men, women, and children, just as we did in the towns that belonged to King Sihon of Heshbon. We took the cattle and plundered the towns’ (Deuteronomy 3:6-7).
God speaking: ‘When you go to attack a city, first give its people a chance to surrender. If they open the gates and surrender, they are all to become your slaves and do forced labour for you. But if the people in that city will not surrender, but choose to fight, surround it with your army. Then, when the LORD your God lets you capture the city, kill every man in it. You may, however, take for yourselves the women, the children, the livestock, and everything else in the city. You may use everything that belongs to your enemies. The LORD has given it to you. That is how you are to deal with those cities that are far away from the land you will settle in. But when you capture cities in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, kill everyone. Completely destroy all the people: the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, as the LORD ordered you to do’ (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).
God speaking: ‘When the LORD you God gives you victory in battle and you take prisoners, you may see among them a beautiful woman that you like and want to marry. Take her to your home … Later, if you no longer want her, you are to let her go free. Since you forced her to have intercourse with you, you cannot treat her as a slave and sell her’ (Deuteronomy 21:10-14).
On the city of Jericho: ‘With their swords they killed everyone in the city, men and women, young and old. They also killed the cattle, sheep, and donkeys’ (Joshua 6:21).
‘Then they set fire to the city and burnt it to the ground, along with everything in it, except the things made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron, which they took and put in the LORD’s treasury’ (Joshua 6:24).
On the city of Ai: ‘The Israelites killed every one of the enemy in the barren country where they had chased them. They then went back to Ai and killed everyone there. Joshua kept his spear pointed at Ai and did not put it down until every person there had been killed. The whole population of Ai was killed that day – twelve thousand men and women. The Israelites kept for themselves the cattle and goods captured in the city, as the LORD had told Joshua. Joshua burnt Ai and left it in ruins. It is still like that today. He hanged the king of Ai from a tree and left his body there until evening. At sunset Joshua gave orders for the body to be removed, and it was thrown down at the entrance to the city gate. They covered it with a huge pile of stones, which is still there today’ (Joshua 8:24-29).
‘Joshua ordered the people of Gibeon to be brought to him, and he asked them, “Why did you deceive us and tell us that you were from far away, when you live right here? Because you did this, God has condemned you. Your people will always be slaves, cutting wood and carrying water for the sanctuary of my God”‘ (Joshua 9:22-23).
Joshua attacked the cities of Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, and surrounding towns (Joshua 10:28-39). In each case, ‘He spared no one; everyone was put to death. This was what the LORD God of Israel had commanded’ (Joshua 10:40). ‘Joshua conquered all these kings and their territory in one campaign because the LORD, Israel’s God, was fighting for Israel’ (Joshua 10:42).
‘But they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived among the Ephraimites to this day, but they have been forced to work as slaves’ (Joshua 16:10).
‘The Israelites had the army trapped, and without stopping they pursued them as far as a point East of Gibeah, killing them as they went. Eighteen thousand of the best Benjaminite soldiers were killed. The others turned and ran towards the open country to the Rock of Rimmon. Five thousand of them were killed along the road. The Israelites continued to pursue the rest to Gidom, killing two thousand. In all, twenty-five thousand Benjaminites were killed that day – all of them brave soldiers. But six hundred men were able to escape to the open country to the Rock of Rimmon, and they stayed there four months. The Israelites turned back against the rest of the Benjaminites and killed them all – men, women, and children, and animals as well. They burnt every town in the area’ (Judges 20:43-46).
‘So the assembly sent twelve thousand of their bravest men with the orders, “Go and kill everyone in Jabesh, including the women and children. Kill all the males, and also any woman who is not a virgin”‘ (Judges 21:10-11).
‘Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the man who pays you back for what you have done to us – who takes your babies and smashes them against a rock’ (Psalm 137:8-9).
God’s punishments against his own people, the Israelites:
‘Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get out of control and make fools of themselves in front of their enemies. So he stood at the gate of the camp and shouted, “Everyone who is on the LORD’s side come over here!” So all the Levites gathered round him, and he said to them, “The LORD God of Israel commands every one of you to put on his sword and go through the camp from this gate to the other and kill his brothers, his friends, and his neighbours.” The Levites obeyed, and killed about three thousand men that day. Moses said to the Levites, “Today you have consecrated yourselves as priests in the service of the LORD by killing your sons and brothers, so the LORD has given you his blessing’ (Exodus 32:25-29).
‘Because the LORD Almighty is angry, his punishment burns like a fire throughout the land and destroys the people … Everywhere in the country people snatch and eat any bit of food they can find, but their hunger is never satisfied. They even eat their own children!’ (Isaiah 9:19-20).
Isaiah reporting God’s message: ‘Anyone who is caught will be stabbed to death. While they look on helplessly, their babies will be battered to death, their houses will be looted, and their wives will be raped. The LORD says, “I am stirring up the Medes to attack Babylon … With their bows and arrows they will kill the young men. They will show no mercy to babies and take no pity on children”‘ (Isaiah 13:15-18).
God speaking: ‘I destroyed you, my people, I killed your children because you did not stop your evil ways … I killed your young men in their prime and made their mothers suffer … The mother who lost her seven children has fainted, gasping for breath. Her daylight has turned to darkness; she is disgraced and sick at heart’ (Jeremiah 15:7-9).
God speaking: ‘Moab has been destroyed; listen to the children crying. Hear the sound of their sobs … the cries of distress’ (Jeremiah 48:4-5).
‘Look, O LORD! Look at those you are torturing! Women are eating the bodies of the children they loved! … Young and old alike lie dead in the streets … You slaughtered them without mercy on the day of your anger’ (Lamentations 2:20-21).
God speaking: ‘parents in Jerusalem will eat their children, and children will eat their parents’ (Ezekiel 5:10).
God speaking: ‘I will send hunger and wild animals to kill your children, and will send sickness, violence, and war to kill you. I, the LORD, have spoken’ (Ezekiel 5:17).
God speaking: ‘They are going to die in war, by famine, and by disease. Those far away will fall ill and die; those near by will be killed in war; those who survive will starve to death’ (Ezekiel 6:12).
God speaking: ‘Spare no one; have mercy on no one. Kill the old men, young men, young women, mothers, and children … Defile the Temple. Fill its courtyards with corpses. Get to work!’ (Ezekiel 9:5-7).
God speaking: ‘Samaria must be punished for rebelling against me. Her people will die in war; babies will be dashed to the ground, and pregnant women will be ripped open’ (Hosea 13:16).
God’s punishments against other nations:
‘The LORD is angry with all the nations and their armies. He has condemned them to destruction. Their corpses will not be buried, but will lie there rotting and stinking; and the mountains will be red with blood’ (Isaiah 34:2-3).
‘The LORD Almighty says that disaster is coming on one nation after another, and a great storm is gathering at the far ends of the earth. On that day the bodies of those whom the LORD has killed will lie scattered from one end of the earth to the other. No one will mourn for them, and they will not be taken away and buried. They will lie on the ground like piles of manure’ (Jeremiah 25:32-33).
Note: All biblical quotes are taken from the ‘Good News’ version of the Bible, which comes with illustrations, and is a popular gift, especially for children.
Edmund Standing holds a BA in Theology & Religious Studies and an MA in Critical & Cultural Theory. His other articles on this website can be found in the articles archive.