Review: Lost World Canaanite Conquest

The book was a sheer joy to read. It was accessible yet maintained the highest rigors of scholarship.  John and John Walton affirm the historicity of the conquest narrative, yet they avoid “easy” answers often given by evangelical apologists.  They invite us to enter the thought-world of an ancient Hebrew. They do so by outlining 21 propositions (see below)See the source image

Walton’s propositions:

  1. Reading the Bible consistently means reading it as an ancient document.
  2. We should approach the problem of the conquest by adjusting our expectations about what the Bible is.
  3. The Bible does not define Goodness for us or tell us how to produce goodness, but instead tells us about the goodness God is producing.
  4. The bible teaches clearly and consistently that affliction by God cannot be automatically attributed to the wrongdoing of the victim.
  5. None of the usual textual indicators for divine retribution occur in the case of the Canaanites.
  6. Genesis 15:16 does not indicate that the Canaanites were committing sin.
  7. Neither the Israelites nor the Canaanites are depicted as stealing each other’s rightful property.
  8. The people of the land are not indicted for not following the stipulations of the covenant, and neither is Israel expected to bring them into the covenant.
  9. Ancient law codes such as Lev. 18-20 are not lists of rules to be obeyed, and therefore the Canaanites cannot be guilty of violating them.
  10. Holiness is a status granted by God; it is not earned through moral performance, and failing to have it does not subject one to judgment.
  11. You can’t make a comparison between the Canaanites expulsion from the land and the Israelites’ exile.
  12. The depiction of the Canaanites In Leviticus and Deuteronomy is a sophisticated appropriation of a common ANE literary device.
  13. Behaviors that are described as detestable are to be contrasted with ideal behavior under the Israelite covenant.
  14. The imagery of the conquest account recapitulates creation.
  15. Herem does not mean utterly to destroy.
  16. Herem against communities focuses only destroying identity, not killing people of certain ethnicities.
  17. The wars of the Israelite conquest were fought in the same manner as all ancient wars.
  18. Rahab and the Gideonites are not exceptions to the Herem.
  19. The logic of the Herem in the event of the conquest operates in the context of Israel’s vassal treaty.
  20. The OT, including the conquest account, provides a template for interpreting the NT, which in turn gives insight into God’s purposes for today.
  21. The application of Herem in the New Covenant is found in putting off our former identity.

Examination of his Propositions

P(1) – (2) should be noncontroversial.  The Bible is an ancient semitic document and it should read like one.  It has different assumptions on “what is the worst that could happen?” For us, the worst that could happen in life is genocide or famine.  For a Hebrew it was an improper burial and being forgotten (Ecclesiastes).

P(3) is problematic in how it is stated, though I know what they are getting at. The Bible isn’t a manual for ethics or law, but I do think it gives more detail about “goodness” than they allow.  But they do raise a good point about justice and goodness: justice in the ancient world is tied to order, not so much about “getting what is owed me.”

P(4)-(8)  In many cases, this is John 9.  Walton’s argument is that the Canaanites aren’t simply being driven out of the land “because they are bad.”  I think they are much worse than Walton makes out, but his point holds. The Canaanites are losing their land because God promised the land to Israel.

But what about God’s saying that he will expel/vomit Israel out like he did the Canaanites?  True, Walton downplays that objection. ~8. “No nation other than Israel is ever reprimanded for serving other gods” (79). That kind of makes sense, since Yahweh had disinherited the nations in Genesis 10 and given them over to the beney elohim.

P(10) Good reflection against Pelagianism.  Holiness (qds) Doesn’t mean my good behavior that I have accumulated.  Objects and land in the OT are holy, yet they aren’t moral agents.

P(12) That might be true, but if the Canaanites were guilty of these actions, and if there were demonic Nephilim and Rephaim in the land, then full-scale slaughter was warranted.

P(13) His argument is that the Hebrew ra is relative to the covenant, and not an absolute standard. Nevertheless, one hopes that bestiality and child sacrifice is universally evil.

Demons and idolatry: demons were extraneous to the ANE ritual system.


“The etymology of the words enforcest he unworldly aspects of the enemy, similar to the monstrous bird-men of the Cuthean legend” (148).

“The Rephaim are most commonly associated with the spirits of dead kings, specifically” (149).

Emim: comes from the root word “ema” which would therefore mean “terrible ones” (cited in Eugene Carpenter, “Deuteronomy,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament, I:432.

P(14) This was a beautiful chapter.  The conquest narrative is much more than a typological recapitulation of creation.  In being such it shows Yahweh’s victory of chaotic cthonic forces.

P(15)-(16) Herem does involve a lot more killing than modern readers are comfortable with, but that isn’t the point of herem.  It was killing an identity. And it can’t mean total destruction. While gold and metals are herem, Bronze Age technology simply couldn’t destroy and un-atomize these metals.

However, Walton failed to note that most of the cities targeted were those with a heavy presence of Anakim and Rephaim.

Notes on Heiser’s Supernatural

This is a cliffs-notes version of his longer Unseen Realm.

Key argument: “In at least some cases, God decrees what he wants done but gives his supernatural agents freedom to decide what it means” (23).

Image of God

Genesis says God says “Create in our image” and it says God created in his image.”  Since God is speaking to the Divine council and not the Trinity, this means that the Council and God (and presumably we) have something in common (29). We are to image God’s rule on earth.

Divine Rebellions

The Old Testament never says there was an angelic rebellion (37).  Revelation 12:7-12 is talking about the birth of Christ.  There was another corporate transgression, but it was the beings in Genesis 6. Peter and Jude say that these angels are placed in eternal darkness under chains. If we take 1 Enoch seriously (and Peter and Jude) did, then from these beings came the Nephilim, and when the Nephilim died, their spirits became demons.

The physical descendants of the Nephilim are called the Anakim and the Rephaim (Numb. 13:32-33; Deut. 2:10-11; some of these Rephaim show up in the underworld realm of the dead (Isai. 14:9-11).

Cosmic Geography

Deuteronomy 32 Worldview:  Geography in the Bible is cosmic (52).

  • Daniel 9-10: foreign nations are ruled by divine princes.
  • 1 Sam. 26:19: David fears being in a land of foreign gods.
  • 2 Kgs 5: Namaan takes Israelite dirt back
  • Paul uses a range of terms for divine, hostile beings–thrones, principalities, powers

Nota Bene:

  1. Angels don’t have wings.  Cherubim do, but they are never called angels (Heiser 19).
  2. Any disembodied spirit is an elohim (Gen. 1:1; Deut. 32:17; 1 Samuel 28:13; Heiser 20).
  3. God has a supernatural task force (1 Kgs 22:19-23; Ps. 82:1).

Developing an Enochian Worldview

Some of these are inspired by Dr Michael Heiser’s writings, though much of it came from my own working through both the Scriptures and tradition.  Our problem is that we are all students of Dante, whether we admit it or not.  An Enochian worldview, by contrast, sees how “angels” (more on that term later) function within the Divine Realm.

We say things like “we need a biblical worldview” (I used to say “supernatural,” but after talking with some guys on a Reformed online forum, I can’t take that for granted anymore), and we piously nod at the Bible when it says “angels are ministering servants,” but we really don’t let the Bible correct our understanding of Dante.

What Did Dante Say?

You already know this.  If I say “hell,” you think of a fiery underworld.  More to the point, you think there is a class of beings known as demons/devils/fallen angels.  They are either being tortured by fire or torturing others by fire (pop culture tradition isn’t too clear).

But there are some problems with this picture (though it did inspire good music).  The Bible contradicts it in various places.  If you hold that there is one class of beings called angels, which are subdivided into good and bad, with all of the latter in a subterranean realm (or if you are a bit more sophisticated, another dimension), then the following problems occur:

  1. Why is Satan called the prince of the powers of the air (Eph. 2:2) if he is locked underground?
  2. If all the demons are in hell, then why do we wrestle against principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Eph. 6)?
  3. If Ha Shatan is locked underground, then how did he appear before God in Job?
  4. If all the demons are in hell, then how did they possess people in the NT?
  5.  Yet Peter says some were thrust into Tartarus (2 Peter 2:4).
  6. Why does Peter use the word Tartarus when he could have simply said hell or hades?
  7.  Was the spirit in 1 Kings 22:19-23 good or bad?  If he was good, then was God commanding him to lie? If he was bad, then why was he in heaven?
  8. Is God the only kind of Elohim?  You have to say no, because God (singular Elohim) is often speaking to plural Elohim, and even if the latter are just men, they aren’t the kind of Elohim that Yahweh is.

That’s enough for now.  These questions show that the pop worldview about demons is wrong.  Now for my own theses, drawn from Michael Heiser and Derek Gilbert.

1. Sons of God in Genesis 6/Psalm 82:Dt.32:8 refer to elohimic beings, not men.  I won’t argue that thesis at this point. I also think these are what Enoch called the Watchers (alluded to in Peter and Jude; mentioned in Daniel, though those Watchers are good).

2. Their offspring were the Nephilim.

3. Some church fathers and Philo said that the departed souls of the Nephilim were what we call “demons” today.  Maybe.  That might not be provable, but it does remove certain problems.

I am closely following Heiser’s analysis on issues like the Rephaim.

4.  Rephaim: Heiser–”When the term is translated, it is rendered “giants” (1 Chr 20:4 ESV), “shades” (i.e., spirits of the dead; Isa 26:14 ESV), or simply “the dead” (Job 26:5 ESV)”.  Specifically, they are the spirits of dead warrior-kings in the underworld. They are also giants whom the Ammonites called Zamzummim (Deut 2:19–20 ESV).

4a. Og was a Rephaim (Josh. 13:12).

5.  Demons aren’t the same as fallen angels, rephaim, or nephilim.  

  1. They aren’t the celestial ones of 2 Peter 2 and Jude.  Angels are very cautious in the celestial ones’ presence.
  2. With Heiser, I highly recommend questions 72-75 of Doug Van Dorn’s primer on the supernatural.
  3. At this point we see several levels of differentiation:
  4. The corrupt sons of God put over the nations are called shedim, a term of geographical guardianship (van Dorn).
  5. The fallen angels, or Watchers, are imprisoned in Tartarus until the Final Judgment (2 Peter 2 and Jude).
  6. Whatever demons are, they aren’t those above.
  7. A demon, at least in the Gospel exorcism passages, is an unclean spirit.
  8. If Jewish intertestamental literature is to be trusted, demons are the departed spirits of dead Nephilim.  Granted, this isn’t inspired literature, but it was the worldview/social imaginary of those who lived in the apostles’ time.  Jude quoted 1 Enoch, and while 1 Enoch isn’t inspired, Jude acted like it had a lot of truth.