A talk for students of the Trinity College Religion Department on what many have seen as the most morally difficult part of the Hebrew Bible: divinely commanded genocides, and trying to figure out how we can respond to them in a way that is moral but not anachronistic.
Those who wish to remind themselves of the worst parts of the Old Testament are invited to glance at Joshua 6-8 and I Samuel 15, which look rather fictional, and compare it to the actual 9th-century BCE inscription of Mesha, king of Moab (also mentioned and fought against in the Bible), who uses precisely the Biblical vocabulary of ritual genocide to claim:
“And I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Kemosh and for Moab. And I brought back the fire-hearth of his uncle from there; and I brought it before the face of Kemosh in Qerioit, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharit. And Kemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel." And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had put it to the ban for Ashtar Kemosh.”
It will draw on the pioneering work of Lauren Monroe, "Israelite, Moabite and Sabaean War-herem Traditions and the Forging of National Identity: Reconsidering the Sabaean Text RES 3945 in Light of Biblical and Moabite Evidence," Vetus Testamentum (2007) 318-341.
As well as Bruce Lincoln's wonderfully challenging little essay, "Myth and History in the Study of Myth: An Obscure Text of Georges Dumézil, Its Context and Subtext" in his Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology & Practice (Chicago, 1991)
And perhaps Michael Taussig's wild, intelligent, loosely-argued but usefully provocative "The Language of Flowers".