Ethnic Cleansing is Sanctioned by the God of the Old Testament

gaza_explosionWhile Israel is engaged in a program of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, and Ann Coulter and other conservatives, including House Republicans, embrace the idea of a similar program here, through deportation if not outright slaughter, we would do well here to recall that this is not the first time Israel has engaged in these activities.

There is, for example, the Hasmonean Jewish treatment of Pagan minorities within their borders in the late second century BCE: ethnic cleansing, expulsion (1 Macc 13.47) which often goes unremarked in the historical record: forced conversion, etc., events which must have been well-remembered in Tacitus’ day (these conquests were also noted by Strabo, Geography 16.2.37).

The Bible, of course, condones ethnic cleansing. It is an activity ordered by God himself on numerous occasions. Remember, the “Promised Land,” when the Jews arrived out of the desert (according to the Bible’s account) was owned by somebody else when they arrived. The Jewish response was ethnic cleansing: killing, ejecting, and forcibly converting the Canaanites in order to create a Jewish state. Today’s modern Canaanites, the Palestinians, are now in the way and are discovering first-hand that Israel is still for Jews only.

Ancient Israel was, after this early ethnic cleansing, itself under the dominion of foreign powers and suffered greatly, but no more so than others suffered under Israel when it had the upper hand. Once the Hasmonean dynasty got into a position of power about a century-and-a-half before the birth of Jesus, it was the turn of the Gentiles to suffer once more. Why? Because of ancient promises that come allegedly from Israel’s god, that Israel, no matter who else might live there, belongs to the Jews.

And yes, this is relevant. History, because it informs the present, it always relevant:


As Lee I. Levins of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem writes of the Hasmoneans,

[A] much more expansive understanding of Eretz Israel became a new reality under the Hasmoneans, with enormous ideological and social implications.

The Hasmoneans saw themselves as successors to Israel’s biblical leaders, particularly the judges and kings of the First Temple era. This self-perception is made very clear in I Maccabees, a book written under their auspices and in the style of which is reminiscent of the biblical books of Judges and Kings.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.

As we know, wishes aren’t reality and no more than is Netanyahu’s Israel was the rule of the Maccabees/Hasmoneans (165-63BCE) a return to the fabled Golden Age of Solomon and David. Yet it marked a resurgence of sorts in the fortunes of Israel. The reigns of John Hyrcanus (reigned 134-104) and his son Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai), who reigned 103-76 BCE, was a period of dramatic expansion for the Maccabean kingdom and it was in this period that both Galilee and Idumea (ancient Edom) were added to Judaea.

Hasmonean Conquests - or Gentile loss of land
Hasmonean Conquests – or Gentile loss of land

Their conquests, noted by Strabo (Geography 16.2.37), are seen as glorious from the Jewish perspective, but resulted in great hardship for the non-Jewish populations of these areas and many cities were abandoned or destroyed, their Pagan populations fleeing, and many others were conquered. Hyrcanus forced the Gentile populations to convert to Judaism, and claims made by some that this represents the “only forcible mass conversion in the history of Judaism” [1] ignores the forced conversions of polytheistic Jews and Gentiles by Hezekiah and Josiah and down through the post-exilic period.

In both the second and first centuries BCE the Hasmonean rulers “forcibly circumcised Gentile peoples after subduing them in battle.” [2] The joy of the cities of the Decapolis at their liberation by Pompey speaks volumes.

No doubt well aware of the above appeal (and the divine mandate at Deut 7.1-6), Mattathias, leader of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, is said to have gone “around destroying the illicit altars and forcibly circumcising all the uncircumcised babies they found within the boundaries of Israel” (1 Macc 2.46).

The Hasmonean rulers followed this injunction in their conquests, practicing forcible conversion in both Galilee (Ant. 13.318) and Idumea (Ant. 13.257-258) as Josephus tells us and burning cities, for example Pella (Ant. 13.397) that refused to convert, and there is no reason to suppose that if the rebels of 66 would have gotten the upper hand against the Romans that they would not have done likewise, as their record and their rhetoric indicates.

Our literary sources bear this out: 1 Maccabees is implacably hostile to Gentiles, putting them on a par with the ancient Canaanites. 2 Maccabees amends this view to one which, to paraphrase General Sherman, would amount to “The only good Gentiles I’ve seen are converted.” We’ve seen rhetoric like this come out of Israel today, with the enemy now not Canaanites or Gentiles but Palestinians.

This was all part of a process that has been called by one scholar, “Judaization,” [3] and by another “internal colonization” [4] which are both happy terms for what was, in essence, a holy war, or to use a modern term, ethnic cleansing, as the capture of Akra by Simon in 141 BCE demonstrates. The account of the city’s capture in 1 Maccabees 14:49-52, and that of Gezer (14:43-48) leaves us in no doubt as to the motivation of the Hasmonean Reconquista. [5] The religious purity demanded by God requires not just rejection but ejection.

That this was not a happy situation for Pagans living either within Israel’s borders or in neighboring areas scarce needs be said. The best the Pagan population could hope for was expulsion (such as at Acre, Gezer, Joppa, and other cities whose entire Pagan populations were expelled); at the worst, death or forced conversion.[6] Indeed, the Greek version of Esther 8.17 in the Septuagint admits that “many of the pagans were circumcised and became Jews out of fear of the Jews.”

1 Macc 13.47 celebrates an event in which Simon (d. 135) expelled the inhabitants of Gezer and repopulated it with “men who observed the Law.” This was apparently part of Simon’s general policy of removing idolaters from Israel (1 Macc 14.36) and archaeology seems to confirm it.[7]

Those who were not expelled sometimes fled: Tel Anafa, some 10-12 km north of Lake Huleh, was abandoned by 75 BCE”perhaps due to the flight of its pagan population after the incorporation of the area into the Hasmonean kingdom.”[8] Richard Horsley makes much of the Roman destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE and the fate of Corinth in the same year, as actions that “bore ominously on the fate of other peoples that they were to conquer in the future”[9] but takes no notice of Hasmonean Jewish imperialism and what can only be called ethnic cleansing of Pagan population centers.

French scholar Maurice Sartre suggests that the abandonment of “Gezer, Bethzur, Shechem, Bethshan, Lachish, possibly Bethel, Dothan, Shiloh, Tell Zakariyeh, and less important sites…not to mention cities whose destruction is well known, such as Samaria, Marisa, Adora, and Beersheba” was due to “imperialist Hasmonaean policy.”[10] The campaigns of Antiochus VII Sidetes in the 130s, culminating in a negotiated settlement in 132 BCE, temporarily put an end to Hasmonean ethnic cleansing (Ant. 13:245-248), but the death of the Seleucid king in 129 while on campaign against the Parthians saw its resumption under John Hyrcanus.

The beacon of a Greater Israel ever beckoned, and with it, the conversion of the “Nations” – the Pagan world.[11] As we are seeing with our own horrified eyes, that beacon of a Greater Israel beckons still.

The Jewish historian Josephus alludes to the forced circumcision of Gentiles during the Jewish revolt of 66 while he was in charge of Galilee’s defenses (Life, 113) and it is possible that Bar Kokhba in the revolt of 132 may also have practiced forced circumcision.[12]

The Jews of the Second Temple period were quite capable then of following the injunctions of these various biblical texts, which John J. Collins characterizes as “programmatic ideological statements”:

We can no longer accept them as simply presenting what happened. Whether we see these texts as reflecting expansionistic policies of King Josiah or as mere fantasies of powerless Judeans after the exile, they project a model of the ways in which Israel should relate to its neighbors. In this perspective, ownership of the land of Israelis conferred by divine grant, not by ancestral occupancy or by negotiation, and violence against rival claimants of that land is not only legitimate but mandatory, especially if these people worship gods other than YHWH, the God of Israel.[13]

This was also the Israel that the Fourth Philosophy and the Essenes hearkened back to, an Israel ruled by God and unpolluted by Gentiles (Pagans), back to the days of the Maccabees and beyond, just as the Maccabees had hearkened back to the zeal of Phinehas (Num 25.10-15): Mattathias “burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri, the son of Salu” (1 Macc 1.26). Horsley can argue that all the violence and all the terror was done by the Romans to the Jews, but as John J. Collins and others have shown, these biblical texts have served to “legitimize violent action.” It was also ancient texts which legitimized the expulsion of Gentiles from Judea and their forced circumcision.[14]

For some radical Jews and our own Religious Right, we can see that it legitimizes the expulsion of Palestinians today.

As we are seeing in America today, letting ancient religion dictate domestic policy, let alone global politics, is a recipe for disaster. The state of Israel is today repeating crimes of which it has often been victim, and as we have seen here, not for the first time. There was no court of global opinion in the second century BCE and kingdoms and empires could get away with barbarous behavior. This is a lesson applicable not only to Israel, but America under Bush and Russia under Putin.

In our supposedly enlightened present, there is far less excuse, and Israel will have a difficult time presenting itself as a victim if it continues on its current course. The Religious Right will be happy to believe them, as always, that the only deaths have been Jewish, because the Palestinians, after all, are not really people, but we know better. Don’t we?


[1] For example, in Stephen M. Wylen, The Jews in the Time of Jesus (NY: Paulist Press, 1996), 64.
[2] Steven Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision and the Shifting Role of Gentiles in Hasmonean Ideology,” HTR 92 (1999), 37.
[3] A. Kasher, Jews and Hellenistic Cities in Eretz-Israel. Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 21. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 105.
[4] Shimon Applebaum, Judaea in Hellenistic and Roman Times: Historical and Archaeological Essays (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 44.
[5] We are informed by 1 Maccabees that Simon “cleansed the houses in which idols were” and “cast out of it all uncleanness” before settling it with those who observed the Law.
[6] While ethnic cleansing may at times constitute genocide, it can also be distinct from genocide. The United Nations defines ethnic cleansing as activities designed to render an area “ethnically homogeneous”. It cannot be denied that this was the intent of the Hasmonean policies in question. See Final report of the United Nations Commission of Experts established pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992), Annex IV The policy of ethnic cleansing.28 December 1994.
[7] Steven Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision and the Shifting Role of Gentiles in Hasmonean Ideology,” HTR 92 (1999), 43.
[8] Mark Alan Chancey; Adam Lowry Porter, “The Archaeology of Roman Palestine,” Near Eastern Archaeology 64 (2001), 82. See also Andrea M. Berlin, “Archaeological Sources for the History of Palestine: Between Large Forces:Palestine in the Hellenistic Period,” The Biblical Archaeologist 60 (1997), 2-51.
[9] Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 17-18.
[10] Maurice Sartre, The Middle East Under Rome (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 16.
[11] But the victories of these Jewish kings did not restore the glory of David and Solomon, immersed as they were in Hellenistic culture and what emerged was itself a Hellenistic state in the mold of those that had come before. Ironically then, the Hasmonean revolution, as Elias Bickerman observed, “eradicated one kind of Hellenism only to facilitate the growth of another kind.” See Elias Bickerman, From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees. Foundations of Post-Biblical Judaism (New York: Schocken Books, 1962), 178.
[12] Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision,” 43 and n 25. Weitzman suggests the possibility that Roman laws against circumcision might be an outcome of forced circumcisions by Bar Kochba.
[13] John J. Collins, “The Zeal of Phinehas: The Bible and the Legitimation of Violence,” JBL 122 (2003), 11.
[14] Steven Weitzman, “Forced Circumcision,” 43-44 and n 24. Both Genesis 34 and 2 Sam 18.25-7 are examples of anti-Gentile violence the Maccabees, and later, the Hasmoneans, may have hearkened back to, and 2 Bar 66.5 celebrates Josiah as a king who “left no one uncircumcised.”

Map of Palestinian land loss from Jewish Voice for Peace
This article contains material from a previous post

40 Replies to “Ethnic Cleansing is Sanctioned by the God of the Old Testament”

  1. All you need to do is read the book of Joshua, it is full of wholesale slaughter in the name of YHWH. The Israelis killed all the people, even those who tried to get away. I don’t think I want to follow a god that condones genocide.

  2. The “Old Testament God” seems to have quite a few red flags as a psychopathic, genocidal, domestic abuser.

    I wonder if Yaweh wears a Holy Wifebeater?

  3. I think very few Americans have any idea of exactly who the Israelite’s really were and are. They are told to protect their religion. And they are not told of Israels actions in history. They are told John the Baptist and Jesus lived there and its sacred ground. Not so sacred and not so pretty a history.

  4. Tried the link but it says page not available. I heard about this yesterday and read that it was quickly taken down. I guess some folks still don’t understand that once they post something, it is always there.

    I would thumbs up, but my button doesn’t work again.

  5. Agree.

    I have first-hand experience with evangelicals, all my siblings are evangelical baptists. They were raised by my stepfather and mother and when I lived with them I had to go to church at least three times a week.

    I also spent a lot of time living with my father who was an atheist, so I saw both sides.

    Most people don’t read the parts of the bible that disagree with what they say, they just take the preachers word for it. They go through life with blinders on.

  6. Your use of the term ethnic cleansing is repugnant, cruel,inaccurate and just plane wrong. I remind you that it is Hamas that advocates the wiping out of the state of Israel.

  7. Here it is
    When Genocide is Permissible
    Judging by the numbers of casualties on both sides in this almost one-month old war one would be led to the conclusion that Israel has resorted to disproportionate means in fighting a far less- capable enemy. That is as far as what meets the eye. But, it’s now obvious that the US and the UN are completely out of touch with the nature of this foe and are therefore not qualified to dictate or enforce the rules of this war – because when it comes to terror there is much more than meets the eye.
    I wasn’t aware of this, but it seems that the nature of warfare has undergone a major shift over the years. Where wars were usually waged to defeat the opposing side, today it seems – and judging by the number of foul calls it would indicate – that today’s wars are fought to a draw. I mean, whoever heard of a timeout in war? An NBA Basketball game allows six timeouts for each team during the course of a game, but last I checked this is a war! We are at…

  8. We are at war with an enemy whose charter calls for the annihilation of our people. Nothing, then, can be considered disproportionate when we are fighting for our very right to live.
    The sad reality is that Israel gets it, but its hands are being tied by world leaders who over the past six years have insisted they are such good friends with the Jewish state, that they know more regarding its interests than even they do. But there’s going to have to come a time where Israel feels threatened enough where it has no other choice but to defy international warnings – because this is life or death.
    Most of the reports coming from Gazan officials and leaders since the start of this operation have been either largely exaggerated or patently false. The truth is, it’s not their fault, falsehood and deceit is part of the very fabric of who they are and that will never change.

  9. Continue
    Still however, despite their propensity to lie, when your enemy tells you that they are bent on your destruction you believe them. Similarly, when Khaled Meshal declares that no physical damage to Gaza will dampen their morale or weaken their resolve – they have to be believed. Our sage Gedalia the son of Achikam was given intelligence that Yishmael Ben Nesanyah was plotting to kill him. However, in his piety or rather naiveté Gedalia dismissed the report as a random act of gossip and paid no attention to it. To this day, the day following Rosh Hashana is commemorated as a fast day in the memory of Gedalia who was killed in cold blood on the second day of Rosh Hashana during the meal. They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over. History is there to teach us lessons and the lesson here is that when your enemy swears to destroy you – you take him seriously.

  10. Continue
    Hamas has stated forthrightly that it idealizes death as much as Israel celebrates life. What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely?
    News anchors such as those from CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera have not missed an opportunity to point out the majority of innocent civilians who have lost their lives as a result of this war. But anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian. If you’ll counter, that Hamas has been seen abusing civilians who have attempted to leave their homes in response to Israeli warnings to leave – well then, your beginning to come to terms with the nature of this enemy which should automatically cause the rules of standard warfare to be suspended.

  11. Continue
    Everyone agrees that Israel has the right to defend itself as well as the right to exercise that right. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has declared it, Obama and Kerry have clearly stated that no one could be expected to sit idle as thousands of rockets rain down on the heads of its citizens, placing them in clear and present danger. It seems then that the only point of contention is regarding the measure of punishment meted out in this situation.
    I will conclude with a question for all the humanitarians out there. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly stated at the outset of this incursion that his objective is to restore a sustainable quiet for the citizens of Israel. We have already established that it is the responsibility of every government to ensure the safety and security of its people. If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?

  12. in the City of Warsaw,’undesirable’ residents were forcibly moved from their homes to a designated Ghetto by Nazis. Once isolated, residents and their logistics lifeline were forced to enter and exit through guard stations.

    Realizing they were damned if they do, damned of you don’t, the prisoners of the ghetto fought the Nazis, one of the few instances of Jewish armed resistance to ethnic cleansing.

    Israel has recreated the Warsaw ghetto in Gaza.

    Shame on them. shame on us for letting it happen again.

  13. So, part of what he is saying is that if innocent people are forced to stay in harms way, they are fair game, that’s pretty cold-hearted if you ask me. I hope all this finally makes some people take a closer look at the way they support Israel. Everyone has a right to self-defense, but they should defend themselves in a way that takes into account innocent lives.

  14. All one can do is shake your head and think tis is the Jews saying this. I guess that holocaust thing didn’t happen

  15. define ‘Hamas.’

    Xtians write that they won’t be happy until women’s bodies are under control of the government.

    GOP writes that they are going to ‘sue’ the President.

    Israel’s elected leader has sworn to wipe Palestine off the map. And is in the process of doing it.

    Put the ‘Hamas’ boogieman back under the bed. In the light of day, it’s just ugly, not scary.

  16. Well the basis of this problem is their religious convictions and understanding,,, the Jewish state was in fact ordered to kill EVERYONE in the land,, including babies, to cut open pregnant women and crush their babies into the rocks, it was ordered BY THEIR GOD,, suppossedly JAHWE,since The Earth and the fullness thereof BELONGS to JAHWE,, and he could do with it whatever he pleased,,In those times according to the scripture the World was under the bondage of sin,, and was given to the enemy of the Invisible God, the USURPER,, the slanderer accusser and slayer…the one who caused a WAR IN HEAVEN..The one who came to STEAL, KILL and to DESTROY, He told Jesus I will give you ALL THIS if you worship me,Jesus rebuked him and by his obedience He become the OWNER of everything, and gave EVERYONE the chance to be born of the ETERNAL INVISIBLE GOD,,whose realtionship is based on love, and pardon, We are under a new covenant and we must change the heart of people with good news not war.

  17. So much for the myth of the God of the Bible is “pro-life”.

    If you read the Prophets, notice that the wonderful peaceful future they predict comes only AFTER ALL THE ENEMIES OF JUDEA/ ISRAEL ARE SLAUGHTERED either by God or by the Jews.

  18. Land Grabs are nothing new? Killing is nothing new? Humans only know one thing” “GREED”~~

    GREED along with VANITY will Destroy MAN? The Earth will reclaim itself my Friend~~Get ready because” IT’S HERE.

  19. Yes, and those Xtian EndTimers have the exact same vision. Jews who do not “convert” will all be slaughtered to bring back their version of Jeebus. There will then be 1,000 years of peace.

    And so it continues. And they wonder why so many are completely turning their backs on religion.

  20. If Israel is engaged ethnic cleansing they need some lessons on how to do it. The US did quite a job on the Indians perhaps the US should show them how to do it.

  21. Israel doesn’t give a damn who they kill as long as they are Palestinians. Ethnic cleansing is what they are about and everything you hear from Netanyahu is Israeli propaganda. The more women and children they kill the less chance there is of more children being born. what they are doing is shameful and disgusting.

  22. Try thinking before you spout AIPAC propaganda. Just how to you think Hamas can “wipe out Israel”? The Palestinians have no army, no navy, no air force, no tanks, no battleships, no attack helicopters, no fighter jets, no missiles, no bombs, no nukes. Israel has all of that, thanks to the American taxpayer who is forced to pay billions to Israel each year while America’s infrastructure and education system and medical care sinks into despair.

  23. And to think the only people in the US who support Israel are the Jewish Israel Firsters and the right wing self proclaimed Christian freaks who seemed to have forgotten that their Jesus despised everything they are doing and saying and promoting and making the American taxpayer pay for. The New Testament is a refutation of the Jewish Old Testament but these so called Christians don’t seem to realize that.

  24. I’m going to presume some of you here including the author of the article do not understand the relevance of allegory and interpretation when it comes writings, especially when it concerns differentiating between myth and fiction. Were that not the case this page wouldn’t a flagrant with fundamentalism.

    Also I’m wondering why I pick today to glance over at the recent news side of the site.

  25. Great article, as usual.

    You just have to read this OT stuff a couple of times to realize it’s a complete horror.

    I actually doubt whether much of what it claims actually happened, though.

  26. Gaza is increasingly resembling the confines of the Warsaw Ghetto, a ghetto of death and dying that was filled with innocent Jews in World War Two. This, as Israel chokes off Gaza today, and destroys both its infrastructure and its inhabitants; Arab inhabitants who have no option or route of escape; trapped residents who are very literally caught, and dying, in the crossfire, in the world’s largest prison. Israel may have a right to “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”….but NOT a right to unleash the repeated killing and maiming of innocent “eyes” , in the name of “self-defense”. When the land and people are left toothless and blind there is no victory. No one wins. If it is to retain its integrity, its very soul, Israel cannot mimic and morph into copies of its past and present enemies. Aren’t you better than that Israel? As Moses led you, it is time for you to lead us to the moral high ground. You, the nation of Israel, of all nations and peoples, should have a…

  27. Just go spend a year over there, naive person. Right now, hamas is killing Christians and Jews and agnostics and atheists, because they’re not islamic. Jews are fighting against Hamas.

  28. So 64 Israelis have died vs. over 1800 of those mooslims. And dumbass post a link where Hamas is killing you Christians.

    Its uninformed idiots like this that elects other idiots that has ruin our country with their stupidity

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