When Bible Scholars Dream of Utopia
Posted by NT Wrong on December 2, 2008
“According to Deuteronomy the Israelites are commanded to exterminate all of the Canaanites and not to leave a soul of them living (Deut 7:1-2; 20:16-17). Such a policy, obliging the extermination of the whole population of the land whether fighting or passive, is utopian and is indeed unheard of in the historical accounts of Israel… the command of Herem of all the Canaanites in Deuteronomy is a utopian program that reflects the ongoing bitter struggle with the Canaanite religion and culture from the time of Elijah until the time of Josiah.”
– Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1-11: 52-53
Hmmmmm… surely Moshe Weinfeld must have meant that the idea of killing entire populations in Palestine was utopian to the authors of Deuteronomy. Or could that be his idea of utopia, too? It’s a little bit unclear to me.
But this isn’t just a matter of the absence of qualification (‘to the authors of Deuteronomy this idea of pregnant-mother-slashing, baby-head-smashing, mass carnage must have been a dream come true!’). When Weinfeld does comment on the ‘utopian’ genocide, he seems instead to justify it. This ‘utopian’ genocide is justifiable as some real-life (for Weinfeld) “ongoing bitter struggle” with abominable, non-Yahweh-worshipping Canaanites (53). It’s a good thing, just as the Bible tells me so. Nay, not just ‘good’ — it’s a wet-dream!!
I know there’s a complex interrelationship between utopia and dystopia, and they’re hard to distinguish at the best of times. But I might have thought that a description of the genocide of Palestinian peoples, made in the late twentieth century, might have deserved some further comment in addition to the unqualified “that’s utopia!” Bloody genocide is certainly not what I think of when I get all dreamy and romantic.
But my dreams might be different from most biblical scholars.