Arguably the most difficult story in the Old Testament is the killing of the Canaanites. Some have attempted to soften this hard story by saying that certain passages are hyperbole. Perhaps the most prolific purveyors of this theory are Paul Copan and Matthew Flanagan in their book, Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God. In that work, Copan and Flannagan write that some of the more difficult passages should not be read in a “straightforward, literal way.” Instead, the “commands to ‘utterly destroy’ and ‘leave nothing alive that breathes,’” are “hyperbolic (using exaggerated language).” Now, I greatly respect Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, I consider them friends, and I find their work extremely helpful. In fact, I employed their arguments in my last post. But, I see problems with the hyperbole interpretation.
First, the biggest problem with the hyperbole interpretation is that I don’t think Scripture allows for it. Rather, the unforced reading of the text is that God did intend that Israel should kill every man, woman, and child who didn’t flee the land that God had given Israel. I’ll talk more about that in a future post.
Second, I don’t think the hyperbole interpretation accomplishes much because we are still left with two other examples of God killing every man, woman, and child in a particular area: the destruction of the Canaanite cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and the drowning of everyone in Noah’s flood. In fact, Copan and Flannagan agree that these two mass killings are “not hyperbolic.” But skeptics, not surprisingly, also call these events “genocide.” Well, if Noah’s flood and Sodom and Gomorrah aren’t hyperbolic, if God took the life of every man, woman, and child in those judgments, then have we really accomplished much to say that God was using hyperbole when in Deuteronomy 20:16 He commanded that in Canaan they should “not leave alive anything that breathes”? After all, in the Sodom and Noah stories, the Lord, in His considered opinion, deemed it necessary to kill everything that breathed. If that’s the case, then don’t these events establish a precedent and should we be shocked that it could be out of character for God to order the total destruction of those Canaanites who refused to flee?
In my next post I will explain another reason why I don’t think the hyperbole interpretation helps.
 Paul Copan and Matthew Flanagan, Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014).
 Ibid., 84.
 Ibid., 12.
 Ibid., 229. Copan and Flannagan do not address how this might undermine their hyperbole argument.
 For example, Myra Zeph, “Stop arking about: It’s regarded as a cuddly Bible tale for children – but is the story of Noah and God’s ‘genocidal tantrum’ really so appropriate?” New Humanist July 14, 2012. Accessed 12/4/2015. https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4700/stop-arking-about. For another example, there’s the video by The Thinking Atheist, Noah’s Ark, God, Giraffes & Genocide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CccaGaKOlSI. Accessed 12-5-2015. Similarly, University of Queensland lecturer Michael Carden says that what God did to Sodom was the result of His “genocidal rage.” Michael Carden, Sodomy: A History of a Christian Biblical Myth (New York: Equinox, 2004), 193.