Since Jesus Loves Canaanites was released, I have been asked on several occasions about Michael Heiser’s claim that the Canaanite conquest should be viewed as an attempt to eradicate subhuman descendents of the nephilim. Here is Heiser’s own summary of the view:
“My view is that it wasn’t indiscriminate at all, and that wholesale genocide wasn’t the point of the conquest. Rather, the command of to “devote to destruction” (herem/kherem) was focused on the giant clans (denoted by words like Anakim, Rephaim, and, occasionally, Amorites). That is, I believe the rationale for the herem was to eliminate the Anakim, the vestiges of the nephilim (.Num 13:32-33), since those peoples were perceived to be (and were, in some way, according to the OT) raised up by rival gods hostile to Yahweh (and thus their own purpose was to prevent Yahweh’s people from kickstarting the kingdom of God on earth). Other people were certainly killed, since the giant clans were scattered among the general population, but I contend the conquest rationale was framed by the urgency to eliminate the nephilim bloodlines. This is textbook “mythic history” (actual historical events framed by, and articulated in light of, theological rationale / beliefs).” (Source: “The Giant Clans and the Conquest,” emphasis added)
I make passing reference to Heiser’s view in Jesus Loves Canaanites where I note that it amounts to “a genocide sourced in ontological inferiority.” (p. 174) In this article, I’ll unpack that a bit more.
First, I am happy to concede that Heiser offers a wealth of possible insights into the world of the text and the rhetorical justifications provided for the violent actions described therein. But honestly, where the ethical question is concerned, that’s very weak sauce. It’s akin to pointing out that Hitler claimed the Jews were a subhuman and dangerous “racial typhoid” that needed to be eliminated to secure the health and well being of the German people. The obvious next question is this: what evidence is there that the Jews were a subhuman and dangerous racial typhoid? Likewise, the question before us here is, what evidence is there that the Canaanites were subhuman and dangerous descendents of the Nephilim?
To begin with, I am aware of no fossil evidence from paleoanthropology to support the claim that there was a large group of subhuman giants living in the midst of Homo sapiens in the Near East approximately four thousand years ago.
What is more, the Canaanites could clearly procreate with Homo sapiens given that the Israelites were warned not to intermarry with them. That would certainly support the conclusion that they were human beings.
Finally, the descendents of the Canaanites live today throughout the Near East and they are definitely human. Just look at their DNA.
Human beings have a long history of dehumanizing human out-group populations and seeking to justify that dehumanization by attributing to the out-group a range of circumstantial factors (e.g. “They stole our land!”) and/or ontological factors (e.g. “They are less than human!”). In the most extreme examples, that impulse to dehumanize others expresses itself in acts like genocide (i.e. the attempt to destroy ethnic, religious, and/or cultural identities as such) and ethnic cleansing (i.e. the attempt to forcibly remove individuals of a specific ethnic, religious, and/or cultural identity from a geographic region).
It seems to me that the evidence is overwhelming that the actions described in the book of Joshua provide textbook examples of both genocide and ethnic cleansing, and the strategies of dehumanization invoked in the text to justify those acts are a wellworn and very tired plot-point in the bloody story of human history.