God the Original Fascist
Part 4b: Holy Wars—Manifest Destiny in a Biblical Setting
a series submitted by A. Brooks, a reader of REVOLUTION newspaper
Revolution #020, October 30, 2005, posted at revcom.us
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of articles was submitted by a reader who was inspired by Bob Avakian’s writings and talks on religion and, further provoked by discussions and arguments with friends about the Bible, engaged in a systematic study of the first five books of the Bible. These books, which are known as the “Mosaic Books” (and which contain such crucial passages as that outlining the Ten Commandments), lay out the foundation for some of the Bible’s most important themes. After having read these five, Mosaic books of the Bible, the reader was struck even more deeply by how profoundly the essence of the Bible’s message has been distorted and hidden.
As mentioned before, it is not always God himself that articulates the philosophy of conquest—sometimes, he relies on his chief foot soldiers to speak in his name. This is the case in Numbers 14, when Joshua reassures the Israelites returning in awe from a scouting mission of the enemy by saying: “Have no fear, then, of the people of the country, for they are our prey.... Their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us.” (Numbers 14) This passage calls to mind the logic of war architects depicted in Bob Dylan’s “With God on Their Side,” in which Dylan brilliantly captures how all sorts of atrocities have been justified by conquerors on the basis that God has willed it to be so. Quite convenient, this God is!
As the book of Numbers unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that God’s followers are getting the hang of how to properly carry out what God has instructed them to do. Some of God’s people are taken captive while invading Canaan. In response, “Israel made a vow to the Lord, ‘If you deliver this people into our hand, we will proscribe their towns.’ ” (Numbers 21) The footnote in the edition of the Bible that I was reading noted that “proscribe” meant to “utterly destroy.” Numbers 21 goes on to clarify that, not surprisingly, “God heeded Israel’s plea and delivered up the Canaanites; and they and their cities were proscribed.” (Numbers 21)
Later on in that same passage we find another fine instance in which God’s followers implement his “foreign policy” exactly as he would have designed it: The Israelites send a message ahead to the Amorites asking for permission to pass through their land. The Amorites refuse, so the Israelites “Put them to the sword and took possession of their land.... Israel...settled in all the towns of the Amorites, in Hesbon and all its dependencies.” (Numbers 21)
Perhaps no passage in the entire Bible, however, is as open a celebration of unrepentant and merciless conquest as that found in Numbers 31. A little background here first, in order to properly situate the passage: Yet another astounding example of God unleashing tremendous wrath against his own people that was not mentioned in the previous section of this series came in Numbers 25: The story went that some of the Israelites had been seduced by a Midianite woman and had laid with her. Upon discovering this, God became so enraged that he struck down 24,000 Israelites in (any guesses, anyone?)...yes, a plague!
Numbers 31 describes the instance during which the Israelites “took revenge”—not only on the one Midianite woman guilty of seduction, but the entire Midianite community. Numbers 31 is indeed so brutal, its violence so vicious and unforgiving, that were it not from the Bible, there is no doubt that Christian fascists would be lamenting the destructive effect this “immoral” passage would have on America’s youth. But once again, we are reminded: Violence, no matter how brutal, that is committed in the name of God is A-ok:
“They [the Israelites] took the field against the Midianites, as the Lord had commanded, and slew every male....the Israelites took the women and children of the Midianites captive, and seized as booty all their beasts, all their herds, and all their wealth. And they destroyed by fire all the towns in which they were settled, and their encampments. They gathered all the spoil and all the booty, man, and beast, and they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses.” (Numbers 31)
But, as the saying goes...Wait, it gets worse!! Moses, being the compassionate agent of God and liberator of humankind that he was, naturally became enraged at the death and destruction God’s armies had unleashed—because it didn’t go far enough: “Moses became angry with the commanders of the army, the officers of the thousands and the officers of the hundreds, who had come back from the military campaign.” (Numbers 31) And why, one might ask, was Moses angry? Well, here is the answer: “Moses said to them, ‘You have spared every female! Yet they are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor....Now, therefore, slay every male among the children, and slay also every woman who has known a man carnally.’” (Numbers 31)
To any who would doubt that repugnant and supposedly divine-sanctioned violence characterizes the five Mosaic books of the Bible, I don’t know how the above passage could help but remove these doubts. Here is a passage where in essence genocide is committed against an entire people, and yet Moses—again, the chief communicator between God and his followers while he lived—is consumed with rage that the children and the women were spared (except for the women who were virgins—they were to be carried off as concubines—sex slaves)!
In Deuteronomy (once more, a book said to have been written by Moses, who in turn was of course speaking through God) we find this lovely passage where Moses commands his troops: “Up! Set across the Wadi Arnon! See I give into your power Sihon the Amorite, King of Hesbon, and his land. Begin the occupation: engage him in battle. This day, I begin to put the dread and fear of you in peoples everywhere under heaven, so that they shall tremble and quake because of you wherever they hear you mentioned.” (Deuteronomy 2) Thus, Moses is not only admitting that what his troops are engaged in is a bloodthirsty occupation, but he actually brags about and celebrates it!
Similar sentiments can be found one passage later, when Moses recalls: “Sihon with all his men took the field against us at Jahaz, and the Lord delivered him to us and we defeated him and his sons and all his men. At the time, we captured all his towns, and we doomed every town—men, women, and children, leaving no survivor. We retained as booty only the cattle and the spoil of the cities we captured.” (Deuteronomy 3) Once again, it was useful to consult the footnotes in the edition of the Bible I was reading, to grasp even more fully what is being commemorated here: The footnote says that “doomed” is being used to mean “totally annihilated.”
The supposed inferiority of those being conquered is once again used as justification for atrocities committed in Deuteronomy 8, when Moses explains to God’s people: “It is not because of your virtue and your rectitude that you will be able to possess their country; it is because of their wickedness that the Lord your God is dispossessing those countries before you.” (Deuteronomy 8) Thus, we see here another instance when Moses does not even bother attempting to deny that he is leading the occupation and destruction of peoples already on the land; rather, he is celebrating it and deeming it necessary because of their supposed “wickedness.” Think again for a moment about the history of genocide by the U.S. government against Native Americans and the rhetoric that was used to justify it, and then ask yourself: Sound familiar?
Coming next week: Part 4c gets into how the Bible repeatedly speaks about the supposed justifications and necessity for wiping out any people who are not God’s “chosen people.”