Friday, April 19, 2013

Contextualizing Biblical Warfare

I thought this was a very insightful understanding of ancient warfare and the Old Testament contrast to it.


  1. "By contrast, OT holy disincentivized warfare for personal aggrandizement. Israelites did not wage holy war for plunder. They were denied the conventional spoils of war."

    Really? What Bible are you two reading?

    Numbers 31:9-12 "The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho."

    I'm making no commentary about this. Spin it how you want. I'm just saying that his statement is patently false.

    1. James is raising a patently ignorant objection. He fails to distinguish between the laws governing holy (i.e. herem) warfare and the laws governing conventional warfare. That distinction is drawn in Deut 20.

      On the one hand were the laws of governing the conquest and occupation of the holy land, involving siege warfare. In that situation, Israelite soldiers were not allowed to take plunder in the form of slaves or livestock. Therefore, holy war didn’t have that pecuniary incentive. At that’s the type of war that 1 Sam 15 is describing.

      On the other hand were the laws governing the post-settlement situation. Unlike herem warfare, where Israel went on the offensive, this was defensive warfare, designed to defend the preexisting borders of the holy land against neighboring invaders.

      Unlike other ANE cultures, Israel didn’t go on annual military expeditions to expand her borders or plunder other nations. Israel’s borders were fixed by divine allotment. So that’s unlike the Vikings.

      If, however, Israel had to wage a defensive war, then her soldiers were entitled to the spoils of war. But that was not the incentive, for we’re dealing with a defensive war rather than unprovoked aggression to secure more wealth or annex territory.

      And even in the very passage James quotes, Israelites soldiers were only entitled to half the booty. So that’s a disincentive. You assume all the risk, but you only get half the booty. You have to share the other half with civilians. That suppresses the profit motive.

      BTW, the war against the Midianites was just reprisal, as the chapter explains.

  2. Oh, I forgot this passage: Numbers 31:32-35 "The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man."

    How do you suppose that, in the heat of battle, they determined which women were virgins or not?

    I shudder to think of it ...

  3. I think he's referring to the herem passages, where there is more than just plunder for plunder sake. The remaining plunder is to give to Israel what is needed to survive, as I have said many times before. They were poor in Egypt, so now they need to increase in number and prosperity. That's very different than just plundering to indulge in destruction or advance an already stable empire and/or society.

    "How do you suppose that, in the heat of battle, they determined which women were virgins or not?

    I shudder to think of it ..."

    You imply that they raped all of the women. I could go on speculating about your life too. Would you like that? It would be easy to determine virgin women, as they were young and under their father's households, rather than being the heads of their own.

    But, of course, you would have just let the virgin women die from lack of provision of a husband or father, because that's just the sensible and modern compassionate guy you are.