Fundamentalist Christians and Zionist Jews vociferously proclaim the ‘Divine right’ of the Jews to statehood in Palestine, and are willing to joyously support all manner of Jewish atrocities done in order to kick others out of that land and keep them out. It was the support of western ‘Christian’ nations that originally (following World War 2) ‘granted’ the Jewish people the right to supplant the Palestinian Christians and Muslims who were at that time inhabiting the land. (Christian supporters of Israel conveniently overlook the fact that a large portion of Palestinians are in fact Christians; they’re not all ‘evil’ Muslims, whom some Christians love to hate). Any opposition to any Zionist Jewish acts, no matter how atrocious, is considered opposition to God and His purpose and Word.
So what is the basis of this supposed Divine right of Jews to the land of Canaan? Well, of course it is to be found in the promise of God to Abraham found in Genesis 17:8 – “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” This is taken to be a true historical event, and is to be interpreted literally (according to our fundamentalist Christians, and Zionist Jews). And of course it is pointed out that this covenant is ‘everlasting’.
Now first of all, the word ‘everlasting’ means ‘for an age’; that is, for a long time – not ‘forever’ the way we think of it. (See this article for a discussion of words like ‘everlasting’, ‘eternal’ and ‘forever’ in the Bible). And secondly, despite this ‘everlasting’ covenant, the Hebrew Scriptures themselves warn that if the Jewish descendants of Abraham violated the terms of the covenant, God would ‘curse’ them and drive them out of the land (see Deuteronomy 28 and 29 for instance). According to these Scriptures, God even warned that he would violate His own promise due to their disobedience: “The LORD will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again” (Deut. 28:68). The curses and threats in Deuteronomy were fulfilled by the Babylonians and Assyrians; and then finally, after warnings by the Jewish Prophet Jesus and his followers, it was fulfilled by the Romans in 70 C. E. Jesus even said (Matt. 21:43): “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” That word ‘people’ is the Greek word “ethnos” which is frequently rendered as ‘Gentile’ and ‘heathen’; it means a non-Jewish people or nation. From a Christian viewpoint (and Muslim as well) this means that the kingdom of God is now to be found in people of every nation and tongue in whose hearts God reigns supreme, who hear and obey His word. It includes Jews who love and serve the One God, but they are only a part of God’s people, not a ‘chosen nation’ any more (if they ever were such). That of course was in fact part of that original covenant promise to Abraham: that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in him. Who can imagine that God would ‘go back’ to a former predominant concern with the Jewish nation (if He ever had such a predominant concern) now that He is blessing the whole world?
If it be objected that in Deuteronomy 30 God said that He would bring back the Jews to their land, from whatever part of the world in which they had been scattered, it should be noted when such a return would occur: “When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, THEN the LORD your God will restore your fortunes…” (Verses 1-3). Will any thinking person (particularly our fundamentalist Christians) say that such was the case in 1948, or any time since? I don’t think so! A good portion of Jews are atheists today; how many of those who are not atheists love God with all their heart and all their soul I wonder? Would it not be fair to say that most non-atheists are still just nominal Jews, fulfilling rituals but not heartfelt lovers of God? Well, who am I to judge, right? There are certainly at least some Jews who are truly devout, anyway. But surely our fundamentalist Christians, who are such avid supporters of Israel, won’t be willing to admit that any but Christian Jews would truly fit into the category of those who fulfill those verses quoted above. Therefore, Jews don’t have any claim to the fulfillment of that prophecy yet; and current support for them based on that promise is without foundation.
Having said all of that, though, the real question to be examined is whether or not the events depicted in the ‘historical’ books of the Hebrew Scriptures are indeed genuine history, and to be understood literally. We really need to know who wrote those accounts, and whether or not they can be trusted as having given us accurate historical accounts. It has traditionally been believed that the first 5 books of the Bible (the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) were written by Moses; and the next book – Joshua – was written by Joshua. Conservative Christians still defend this idea, but it won’t hold up to examination. First of all, nowhere in the Pentateuch is it ever claimed that Moses was the author of the books, and Joshua doesn’t make any claim that Joshua was its author. Secondly, the books are all written in the 3rd person about the characters in those books, just the way one would expect in a ‘history book’. Moses did such and so, and Joshua did this or that; not “I did” or “I said”. Now if the books made claim to being written by Moses or Joshua, one could acknowledge that a person could write about himself in the 3rd person; but absent such a claim to authorship, there is simply no basis to assume this.
There are so many more plain proofs that these books were not written by Moses or Joshua, though – rather they were written by some other unknown person or persons several hundred years later. Would Moses have said about himself: “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3)? Such a claim by Moses himself would prove the claim was untrue! How could Moses write about his own death and burial in Deuteronomy 34? Note the account of Moses’ death and burial is written in the 3rd person, past tense (as one would naturally expect). Whoever wrote this lets us know that he is writing a long time after the events, because he said: “to this day no one knows where his grave is” (verse 6); “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses” (verse 10); and “For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (verse 12). These statements, and others like them in the Pentateuch and Joshua, show that the writer lived a long time after the events being described. (In Joshua 24, the death of Joshua is reported, so the same question applies as did to Moses’ death: can we really be expected to believe that Joshua wrote about his own death?)
In Genesis 14:14 we read: “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan”. The problem with that statement is that the city named ‘Dan’ did not go by that name in the time of Abraham or Moses. It was not named Dan until after the death of Samson, several hundred years after the time of Moses. Judges 18:27-29 tells us when that town came to be named Dan: “Then they [the Danites] took what Micah had made [idols], and his priest, and went on to Laish, against a peaceful and unsuspecting people. They attacked them with the sword and burned down the city. There was no one to rescue them because they lived a long way from Sidon and had no relationship with anyone else. The city was in a valley near Beth Rehob. The Danites rebuilt the city and settled there. They named it Dan after their forefather Dan, who was born to Israel – though the city used to be called Laish”. So whoever wrote Genesis could not possibly have done so before the Danites destroyed Laish and renamed it Dan.
In Genesis 26:31 there is this statement: “These are the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned…” Of course, the first Israelite king to reign was Saul, so whoever wrote Genesis at the very least had to have written after Saul became king. The city of New York used to be called New Amsterdam; the name was changed in 1644. Anyone who writes about events in New York, calling it by that name, by that very fact indicates that he is writing after 1644 even though the writer does not identify himself or tell us when he was writing. So it is with the writer of Genesis. Even though the writer is anonymous, and does not tell us when he wrote, the fact that he says those Edomite kings lived “before any Israelite king reigned” unquestionably tells us that he was writing after Israelite kings began to reign.
This is only a small portion of the evidence available that Moses and Joshua were not the authors of those books traditionally attributed to them. What’s the point, though? The point is that we have no idea who the author was, so we know nothing about his character and trustworthiness. The events happened many hundreds of years before he wrote, and we don’t know what sources he used for his accounts (and the trustworthiness of those sources). Any claim of the Jewish people to the land of Canaan, based on the Biblical story of Abraham, Moses, and Joshua, is worthless because the validity of those accounts is utterly unprovable! They are stories compiled and edited by scribes relatively late in ‘Old Testament’ Israelite history, and as ‘histories’ they are just examples of prejudiced Jewish propaganda designed to validate themselves as a nation with a country to inhabit.
However, I seriously doubt those stories were ever intended to be taken literally as ‘histories’, but were intended to be understood as metaphors and allegories to teach spiritual truths. In fact, I believe many of the stories were deliberately made unbelievable so that we wouldn’t be taken in by the ‘letter’, but would seek out ‘the spirit’. Besides such stories as those of a talking donkey, or Joshua successfully commanding the sun to stand still in the sky, consider the deplorable morality of some of the stories. For instance, Numbers 31:13-18 – “Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army – the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds – who returned from the battle. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. ‘They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Or consider Deuteronomy 20:16 and 17: “However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…” That is precisely what Joshua did to the city of Jericho, as recorded in Joshua 6:21. What person who has any feelings for the honor of the God of love, mercy, compassion, justice and righteousness would ever be a party to such slanderous lies against God by believing such examples of moral depravity in the name of God? We must either believe they are outright lies, or that the writers intended us to know from their loathsomeness that these stories were allegories and myths to teach some higher truth. (See my article on “The Bible and Evolution” for some quotes from very early Christian literature about the ‘falsehoods of the Scripture’ and the allegorical interpretation of Scripture).
An indication of what the higher truth is can be found in the great ‘faith chapter’ of Hebrews 11 in the “New Testament”. In verses 8-10 we read concerning Abraham: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” This city is then further explained in verses 13-16: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – A HEAVENLY ONE. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them”.
The “land of Canaan” is not a material, earthly territory, but is a ‘heavenly one’. The story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son (whether it was Isaac, as in the Bible, or Ishmael as in the Qur’an) is an allegory teaching us that we must be willing to let go of even the dearest earthly attachments if they hinder our pursuit of God and His kingdom. In our struggle to inherit the heavenly Canaan, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” –those ‘Old Testament’ accounts of combat are simply allegories of the heavenly struggle – “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world [age] and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The Arabic word “jihad” means “struggle”; so the true Muslim, as well as the true Christian and Jew, will recognize here the definition of the true ‘jihad’ as being a spiritual one.
Those Zionist Jews and fundamentalist Christians who promote Jewish occupation of the earthly Canaan, and building of a material Temple in earthly Jerusalem, have entirely ‘missed the boat’. The true Jerusalem is the one which ‘comes from above’, and the true Temple is the people of God, not a building. The true Canaan is the ‘heavenly country’ which God has prepared for those who love Him. Don’t ‘miss the boat’. And when you see or hear about despicable atrocities being done by anyone ‘in the name of God’, denounce them for the hypocrites and impostors they are, whether they’re Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or Hindus (or anyone else).