The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest: Covenant, Retribution, and the Fate of the Canaanites, By John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton
The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: August 15, 2017
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 5184
  • ISBN: 9780830851843

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Biblical Foundations Award Winner

Holy warfare is the festering wound on the conscience of Bible-believing Christians. Of all the problems the Old Testament poses for our modern age, this is the one we want to avoid in mixed company.

But do the so-called holy war texts of the Old Testament portray a divinely inspired genocide? Did Israel slaughter Canaanites at God's command? Were they enforcing divine retribution on an unholy people? These texts shock us. And we turn the page. But have we rightly understood them?

In The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest, John Walton and J. Harvey Walton take us on an archaeological dig, excavating the layers of translation and interpretation that over time have encrusted these texts and our perceptions. What happens when we take new approaches, frame new questions? When we weigh again their language and rhetoric? Were the Canaanites punished for sinning against the covenanting God? Does the Hebrew word herem mean "devote to destruction"? How are the Canaanites portrayed and why? And what happens when we backlight these texts with their ancient context?

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest keenly recalibrates our perception and reframes our questions. While not attempting to provide all the answers, it offers surprising new insights and clears the ground for further understanding.

The books in the Lost World Series follow the pattern set by Bible scholar John H. Walton, bringing a fresh, close reading of the Hebrew text and knowledge of ancient Near Eastern literature to an accessible discussion of the biblical topic at hand using a series of logic-based propositions.

"The conquest of Canaan is arguably the most intractable ethical problem in the Bible, and to date no solution has garnered a consensus. These authors offer a genuinely fresh approach to mitigate the difficulties. Deeply rooted in ancient Near Eastern mores and reconsideration of key biblical words and texts, the arguments challenge many commonly held ideas. While provocative at times, this book deserves careful consideration."

John W. Hilber, professor of Old Testament, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary

"The violence in the book of Joshua has long vexed devoted Bible readers. The father and son authors of this fine volume offer a fresh, more pacific reading of the book in light of what they deem to be relevant ancient Near Eastern parallels. They present their case in a series of propositions that rebut inadequate (in their view) modern solutions and support their alternative view with impressive close rereadings of biblical and extrabiblical texts and illuminating Hebrew word studies. They argue, for example, that the Hebrew verb herem means 'to remove from use,' not 'to annihilate,' and that its application to human communities 'is intended to destroy identity, not to kill people.' Indeed, ancient cultural ideas of order (versus disorder), identity (not ethnicity), and the suzerain-vassal model of what the authors call 'covenant order' drive their argument. Ultimately, they demonstrate that to read the Bible from an ancient (versus modern) perspective may yield a clearer, less distorted understanding of its controversial topics. They have proffered a commendable, thorough, thought-provoking rethinking of violence in Joshua and its implications for Christian identity today."

Robert L. Hubbard Jr., professor emeritus of biblical literature, North Park Theological Seminary

"Into the many recent discussions concerning the ethical and moral problems of the Israelite conquest, Walton and Walton offer a much needed corrective, effectively arguing that to properly understand these troublesome texts one needs to interpret them in light of their ancient context. They boldly challenge common assumptions regarding the conquest, carefully examine biblical and ancient Near Eastern texts, and helpfully guide readers to apply these lessons, using them as a template to make sense of the New Testament."

David T. Lamb, Allan A. MacRae Professor of Old Testament, Biblical Theological Seminary, author of God Behaving Badly and Prostitutes and Polygamists

"The Waltons have a provocative thesis that revises many popular and traditional views. They are attentive students of the Bible and its ancient context, and their argument is detailed. Bible readers who have wrestled with the implications of the conquest will find this work helpful."

James Matichuk, Bible Study Magazine, Jan/Feb 2018



Part I: Interpretation
Proposition 1: Reading the Bible Consistently Means Reading It as an Ancient Document
Proposition 2: We Should Approach the Problem of the Conquest by Adjusting Our Expectations About What the Bible Is
Proposition 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

Part II: The Canaanites Are Not Depicted as Guilty of Sin
Proposition 4: The Bible Teaches Clearly and Consistently That Affliction by God Cannot Be Automatically Attributed to Wrongdoing on the Part of the Victim
Proposition 5: None of the Usual Textual Indicators for Divine Retribution Occur in the Case of the Canaanites
Excusus: The Midianites in Numbers 31
Proposition 6: Genesis 15:16 Does Not Indicate That the Canaanites Were Committing Sin
Proposition 7: Neither the Israelites nor the Canaanites Are Depicted as Stealing the Other’s Rightful Property

Part III: The Canaanites Are Not Depicted as Guilty of Breaking God’s Law
Proposition 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
Excursus: Demons and Idolatry in the Old Testament
Proposition 9: Ancient Law Codes Such as the One Contained in Leviticus 18-20 Are Not Lists of Rules to Be Obeyed, and Therefore the Canaanites Cannot Be Guilty of Violating Them
Proposition 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
Proposition 11: The Expulsion of the Canaanites from the Land in the Conquest Cannot Be Evaluated by Comparison to the Expulsion of the Israelites from the Land in the Exile Because Israel Is Under the Covenant and the Canaanites Are Not

Part IV: The Language and Imagery of the Conquest Account Has Literary and Theological Significance
Proposition 12: The Depiction of the Canaanites in Leviticus and Deuteronomy Is a Sophisticated Appropriation of a Common Ancient Near Eastern Literary Device, Not an Indictment
Excursus: The Invincible Barbarians and the Rephaim
Proposition 13: Behaviors That Are Described as Detestable Are Intended to Contrast with Ideal Behavior Under the Israelite Covenant, Not to Convict the People Who Did Them of Crimes
Proposition 14: The Imagery of the Conquest Account Recapitulates Creation

Part V: What God and the Israelites Are Doing Is Often Misunderstood Because the Hebrew Word Herem Is Commonly Mistranslated
Proposition 15: Herem Does Not Mean "Utterly Destroy"
Excursus: Hyperbole in Conquest Accounts
Proposition 16: Herem Against Communities Focuses on Destroying Identity, Not Killing People of Certain Ethnicities
Excursus: What Is Happening in Deuteronomy 7
Proposition 17: The Wars of Israelite Conquest Were Fought in the Same Manner as All Ancient Wars
Proposition 18: Rahab and the Gibeonites Are Not Exceptions to the Herem, and the Use of Herem Against the Amalekites Does Not Indicate That Herem Is Punishment
Excursus: Ḥerem and the Removal of Impurity
Proposition 19: The Logic of the Herem Event of the Conquest Operates in the Context of Israel’s Vassal Treaty

Part VI: How to Apply This Understanding
Proposition 20: The Old Testament, Including the Conquest Account, Provides a Template for Interpreting the New Testament, Which in Turn Gives Insight into God's Purposes for Us Today
Proposition 21: The Application of Herem in the New Covenant Is Found in Putting Off Our Former Identity and Surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, and Therefore Herem Has Nothing to Do with Killing People

Subject Index
Scripture Index


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John H. Walton

John H. Walton (PhD, Hebrew Union College) is professor of Old Testament, emeritus, at Wheaton College and Graduate School. His many books include The Lost World of Genesis One and Wisdom for Faithful Reading.

J. Harvey Walton

J. Harvey Walton (MA, Wheaton College Graduate School) is a researcher in biblical studies and has contributed to a variety of publications. He is pursuing graduate studies at St. Andrews University.