What About The Gibeonites? -- By: William Ford

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 66:2 (NA 2015)
Article: What About The Gibeonites?
Author: William Ford

What About The Gibeonites?1

William Ford

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This article considers the story of the Gibeonites in Joshua 9-10 in the context of modern theological questions about the conquest of Canaan. It looks at the portrayal and perspectives of the four main groups in the story (kings, Gibeonites, Israel, and Yhwh) and argues that reading Joshua 9 and 10 together shows that the Gibeonites were exempted from ḥerem (destruction) because of their response to Yhwh and Israel. Combined with the story of Rahab, this story suggests that the Canaanites as a whole are not doomed to destruction, but that their response to Yhwh makes a difference.

1. Introduction

The divinely commanded slaughter of the Canaanites2 in the conquest narratives is arguably one of the most difficult problems for any theological or ethical use of the Old Testament in the modern world. Anyone who attempts to do so is likely to come up against some variant of the question: ‘What about the Canaanites?’3

While the destruction of the Canaanites is a problem for many modern (and not so modern) readers, it is not obviously seen as a problem in the text itself. One could say that the problem for the text seems rather to be that the Canaanites are not destroyed, at least not totally.

Thus, there are various brief mentions in Joshua 13-21 of groups of Canaanites who survive ‘to this day’.4 However in Joshua 1-12 two exceptions are given considerable prominence: Rahab and her family in chapters 2 and 65 and the Hivites of Gibeon (henceforth the Gibeonites) in chapters 9 and 10. This article will focus on the Gibeonites.6 This is partly because more has been written on Rahab than the Gibeonites, but mainly because they are the...

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