The Joshua Delusion?: Rethinking Genocide in the Bible

By Douglas S. Earl

A challenging analysis of the Book of Joshua, exploring the theological insight gained by seeing the genocidal slaughter by the Israelites as myth not history.

ISBN: 9780227173763


Many Christians wrestle with biblical passages in which God commands the slaughter of the Canaanites – men, women, and children – and the book of Joshua in particular showcases the genocidal violence which saturates the Old Testament. The issue of the morality of the God portrayed in these passages is one of the major challenges for faith today, leading many Christians to cast doubt over what, if any, theological value can be gleamed from such accounts and how they can even be called Holy Scripture.

In this bold and innovative book Douglas Earl grasps the bull by the horns and guides readers to new and unexpected ways of looking at the book of Joshua. Drawing on insights from the early church and from modern scholarship, Earl argues that we have mistakenly read Joshua as a straightforward historical account and have ended up with a genocidal God. In contrast, Earl offers a theological interpretation in which the mass killing of Canaanites is a deliberate use of myth to make important theological points that are still valid today.

Christopher J. H. Wright then offers a thoughtful response to Earl’s provocative views. The book closes with Earl’s reply to Wright and readers are encouraged to continue the debate.

Additional information

Dimensions229 × 153 mm


Trade InformationJPOD

About the Author

Douglas Earl did his PhD on the book of Joshua at the University of Durham. He is author of Reading Joshua as Christian Scripture.

Christopher J. H. Wright is an Old Testament scholar and the Director of the Langham Partnership.


Foreword by Walter Moberly

1. If Jericho was Razed, is our Faith in Vain?
     Facing the historical problem: If Jericho was not razed, is our faith in vain?
     Facing the ethical problem: If Jericho was razed is our faith in vain?
     The Joshua Delusion?
     Remembering the forgotten pathways: Listening to Origen

2. On Wearing Good Glasses: The Importance of Interpretation
     Turning to Anthropology for help
     Joshua, identity construction and
     Joshua as revelatory Scripture
     How do we know it’s true?

3. Clearing the Ground: Understanding Joshua as an Ancient Text
     The composition of Joshua
     Is Joshua a ‘conquest account’?

4. Reading Joshua
     Joshua 1-12: the conquest
     Joshua 13-22: the land
     Joshua 23-24: Israel’s ongoing response

5. Reading Joshua as Christian Scripture
     Reading old texts in new contexts: Joshua in the canon
     The Interpretation of Joshua in the Christian tradition
     Taking the tradition forward
     Reading Joshua alongside the gospels
     Joshua and openness to ‘the other’
     Joshua and genocide

6. So what?
     Joshua and history
     Joshua and salvation history
     Joshua and miracles

Response to Douglas Earl
Response to Christopher J.H. Wright



Endorsements and Reviews

There is no doubt that the Bible – and the God of the Bible – are saturated with reams of violence … and nowhere more frontally than in the book of Joshua. Douglas Earl wades boldly into the problem of reading Joshua theologically. He brings to the task the rich resources of the Christian tradition and the best of current hermeneutical possibilities. The outcome is a rich, suggestive approach that invites deep rethinking of how we read such texts responsibly. His book is a welcome voice in an important, vexed, unfinished conversation.
Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

This sophisticated but plainly written study is eye-opening even for highly practiced readers and teachers of Scripture. Taking on one of the most difficult cases in the Bible, Earl offers guidance for discovering the truth of Scripture without sacrificing critical acumen on historical and ethical matters.
Ellen Davis, Duke Divinity School

Douglas Earl aims to revive ‘spiritual’ or symbolic readings of Joshua, going back to Origen, but refined in the light of modern anthropological understandings of myth and symbol. This is a timely and illuminating book, written with the highest regard for Scripture, and I commend it warmly to all who are exercised by the problem of violence in the Old Testament.
Gordon McConville, University of Gloucestershire

The fruits of Earl’s approach are not dissimilar to the result of reading the book of Joshua as ‘story’. His originality lies in the way he conscripts Turner and Kunin to bolster his case for reading it as myth. Readers who are prepared to follow him on the journey will find this a challenging and stimulating book, even if they disagree with him.
John J. Bimson, in The Expository Times, Vol 124 (1)

These books (The Joshua Delusion? along with Reading Joshua as Christian Scripture, by the same author) are definitely worth reading. Earl’s treatment of myth is useful, and his discussion of the narrative of Joshua is also quite helpful. … Also to be commended is his willingness, particularly in JD, to address issues which can be somewhat sensitive within his own Evangelical Christian community.
Anthony Milner, in Gregorianum, Vol 93