Is it ever ok to use the Bible to justify territorial conquest and mass dispossession?
Is violence ever mandated by God?

I have been worrying about this question for a few years, inspired partly by my study of Jesus’ teaching and of the Apocalypse (i.e., the final book of the New Testament which features several visions of divine violence), and partly by experiences in the Middle East where religiously-motivated violence and claims of divine sanction are not uncommon.


I gave this lecture a year ago, sponsored by Westmont Downtown, in Santa Barbara, California.

The title is “Reading Joshua in Palestine.”

I’m asking the question: What happens when you read the biblical story of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan on location, in Canaan (otherwise known as Israel and Palestine), where memories of recent conquest and dispossession are still very much alive?

This recent article follows a similar approach, and asks how postcolonial (from-below) reading strategies might help us recover glimpses of the vanquished in a story written by the victors.

Bruce N. Fisk, “Canaanite Genocide and Palestinian Nakba in Conversation: A Postcolonial Exercise in Bi-directional Hermeneutics,” Journal of Holy Land and Palestine Studies, 18 (1, 2019): 21-49.

Here’s the article abstract:

David Ben-Gurion’s attempt to forge a collective Israeli identity rooted in the biblical conquest myth adopted a bi-directional hermeneutic: biblical text and modern reality were mutually illuminating. While Ben-Gurion read Scripture ‘from above’, with the eyes of the IDF, Edward Said called for readings ‘from below’, with the eyes of the Canaanites. Following Said, this paper reads the Conquest narrative and the Nakba bi-directionally, tracing four themes: (1) Depopulation and dispossession, (2) Traitors and Tricksters, (3) Spoils of War, (4) Incomplete expulsion. The exercise cautions those who see both narratives as zero-sum games only one side of which merits moral consideration.

Contact me if you’d like the article as a PDF.