This article is part 6 of LoonWatch’s Understanding Jihad Series. Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?
In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), anti-Muslim Catholic apologist Robert Spencer calls the Quran a “book of war” that is “violent and intransigent.” In contrast, he argues, “there is nothing in the Bible that rivals the Qur’an’s exhortations to violence.” This view is held by the general public as well; in the words of Prof. Philip Jenkins:
In the minds of ordinary Christians – and Jews – the Koran teaches savagery and warfare, while the Bible offers a message of love, forgiveness, and charity.
This viewpoint is used to promote bigotry against Muslims and Islam, and to fan the flames of Islamophobia. Fortunately, we’ve “utterly destroyed” this viewpoint (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this Series), and have categorically shown that the Bible is far more violent than the Quran. As Prof. Jenkins puts it:
In fact, the Bible overflows with “texts of terror,” to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery.
The Bible sanctions genocide, something that one simply cannot find any equivalent of in the Quran. In the Bible are verses calling for the slaughter of civilians, with explicit calls for the butchering of women, children, and even babies. Even the most violent-sounding passages in the Quran do not come close to saying this.
The “Descriptive vs. Prescriptive” Defense
Keenly aware of the fact that the horribly violent verses in the Bible sound far worse than anything in the Quran, Robert Spencer and other anti-Muslim ideologues have to explain why these Biblical passages “don’t count” (whereas the violent sounding Quranic verses always “count”). This follows an important rule of thumb employed by Islamophobes, as we explained in a previous article:
All violence in the Quran “counts” whereas whatever is peaceful in the Quran “doesn’t count”, and whatever is violent in the Bible “doesn’t count” and whatever is peaceful in the Bible “counts”. Heads I win, tails you lose.
Islamophobes argue that the violent passages in the Bible “don’t count” because “the Biblical verses are merely descriptive, not prescriptive like in the Quran.” In other words, the Bible only records and describes the violence committed by Judeo-Christian prophets, without prescribing believers of today to carry these acts out.
According to this view, the God of the Bible only commands war against the people of the Seven Nations, who simply do not exist any more. Since they don’t exist any more, those Biblical verses are effectively dead letters. This is how the pro-Christian argument goes anyways.
The ultra-conservative Catholic organization The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property summarizes Spencer’s argument in a sympathetic review of his book:
Biblical references record God’s commands to specific people to wage war against certain groups for a particular purpose and a limited time period. These passages are a historic account of God’s dealings with His people. Conversely, the Koran’s more numerous violent passages call upon Muslims of all times to fight unbelievers with impunity and spread Islam with the sword.
And in Robert Spencer’s own words (found on pp.28-31 of his book):
Islamic apologists more often tend to focus on several Old Testament passages:
* “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you. And when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)
* “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).
* “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves” (Numbers 31:17-18).
Strong stuff, right? Just as bad as “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” (Qur’an 9:5) and “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them” (Quran 47:4) and all the rest, right?
Wrong. Unless you happen to be a Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, or Jebusite, [the Seven Nations] these Biblical passages simply do not apply to you. The Qur’an exhorts believers to fight unbelievers without specifying anywhere in the text that only certain unbelievers are to be fought, or only for a certain period of time, or some other distinction. Taking the texts at face value, the command to make war against unbelievers is open-ended and universal. The Old Testament, in contrast, records God’s commands to the Israelites to make war against particular people only. This is jarring to modern sensibilities, to be sure, but it does not amount to the same thing.
Robert Spencer reproduces Biblical verses to prove his claim when in actuality these verses are all the proof needed to refute his claim. One does not need to go further than his own page in his own book to see how fallacious his basic argument is!
The first passage is Deuteronomy 7:1-2, which orders the believers to “utterly destroy” the people of the Seven Nations:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you. And when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)
The believers are forbidden to sign a peace treaty with the people of the Seven Nations (“you shall make no covenant with them”), and they must be ethnically cleansed (“you shall utterly destroy them”).
The next passage Spencer cites explains what to do with all nations other than the Seven Nations:
When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).
In his book, Robert Spencer completely omitted the verse in red above. Notice how the words in red (Deuteronomy 20:15) simply do not appear in Spencer’s rendition of the passage. Take a look for yourself (click on the image to view):
This time, Spencer didn’t even bother using those ever so strategic ellipses to manipulate the meaning of a passage. One wonders at the convenient omission of Deuteronomy 20:15 and whether or not this is a mistake or deception. It is certainly a very helpful “mistake”.
Furthermore, Spencer didn’t reproduce 20:17 either:
20:17 But you shall utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD your God has commanded you.
Whatever the case, the Biblical passage (the one that Robert Spencer uses as a proof) is actually saying that the general rule is that heathens are to be offered terms of “peace”, which entails being reduced to “forced labor” (perpetual servitude). (This is the Bible’s version of “peace”, and the same type of world “peace” that Jesus, the “Prince of Peace”, will bring during his Second Coming.) If the heathens reject these terms of “peace”, then in that case they are to be attacked and every single man (including non-combatants) is to be killed. Meanwhile, the women and the children are to be enslaved, and the animals and all property are to be taken as booty.
After stating this general rule, the God of the Bible clarifies that this does not apply to the people of the Seven Nations, who must be “utterly destroy[ed]“. The women and children cannot be taken as slaves because the believers “shall not leave alive anything that breathes.” In other words, Spencer’s rationalization could be applied to Deuteronomy 20:16-17 (the genocidal verses advocating “utter destruction”) but not to Deuteronomy 20:10-15 (the verses advocating perpetual servitude of heathens).
The Bible thus advocates genocide against heathen residing inside the Promised Land, and perpetual servitude of heathen outside of it. Genocide is the rule for the Seven Nations (Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites), whereas perpetual servitude is the rule for all heathens other than this. The enforcement of this Biblical rule (genocide inside the Promised Land and slavery outside of it) can be seen in the story of Gibeon. As infidels, the Gibeonites were forced to choose between genocide and slavery (both options requiring forced conversion); we explain this story here [pdf document].
The Battle Psalms
Above have we refuted the argument that the Bible calls for holy war against the Seven Nations exclusively. But the juiciest Biblical verses are actually found in the Book of Psalms, including this doozie:
Psalms 149:5 Let godly people triumph in glory. Let them sing for joy on their beds.
149:6 Let the praises of God be in their mouths, and a two-edged sword in their hands,
149:7 to execute vengeance on the heathen and punishment on the people,
149:8 to bind their kings with chains, and their leaders with iron shackles.
There’s much more in the Book of Psalms, and that’s up next…
Editor’s Note: Due to the length of this article, it will be split into four pages, the next page to be published tomorrow.
Update I: Page 2 is now available here.
Update II: Page 3 is now available here.
Update III: Page 4 is now available here.