Independent Online: Science ‘disproves’ claim the Bible doesn’t actually make

On 27 July 2017 the Independent Online scored a spectacular journalistic fail, by claiming that

“Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon”

“Wow!” you say — “this must be a game-changer for Christians who’ve mistakenly believed the Bible was a historical record for twenty centuries!” Indeed, hordes of people on social media were not slow in gleefully pointing this out.

Except — wait for it — the Bible doesn’t actually claim that the Canaanites were ever wiped out by the Israelites. Oops.

The substance of this article was summarized in the following paragraphs:—

“A new genetic study has found that the Canaanites actually managed to survive this purge of their traditional homeland, passing on their DNA over the centuries to their numerous descendants in modern-day Lebanon.

“Scientists managed to extract enough DNA from the remains of five people – found in the former Canaanite city state of Sidon and dated to about 3,700 years ago – to sequence their entire genome.

“They then compared this to 99 modern Lebanese people and discovered they had inherited about 90 per cent of their genetic ancestry from their ancient forebears.

“A paper about the study in the American Journal of Human Genetics said that there had been ‘uncertainties’ about the fate of the Canaanites.”

The Independent article’s strap-line read:

‘You shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them’

This unattributed quotation comes from Deuteronomy 20:16-17, and is part of the laws and commands which God gave to Israel in the wilderness. It is a pity that the Independent Online either can’t find the screen space to write “Deut. 20:16-17” or else doesn’t want to help people find the reference themselves so that they can check the Independent’s facts.

I ought to say at this point: The biblical books of Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges should probably come with some sort of health warning. So if you’re of a particularly sensitive disposition, you may wish not to scroll down farther.

The Deuteronomy quotation above shows us that the Israelites were commanded to destroy utterly the Canaanites, as well as the other peoples mentioned in verse 17.

However, there is a world of difference between saying that something was commanded to be done, and that that thing actually was done.

The Bible is clear that the Israelites failed to follow through on the above command.

Let me prove it to you with a couple of passages from the books of Joshua and Judges:—

“Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labour, but did not utterly drive them out.”
(Joshua 17:12-13)

“So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods.”
(Judges 3:5-6)

In fact, depending on whom you read, the conquest of the land of Canaan is said to have happened between about 1425 and 1200 BC. And yet, more than a millennium after these conquests, we even have the mention of a Canaanite woman in the New Testament!

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’”
Matthew 15:21-22

So the Independent’s headline is plain wrong and flatly misleading — the Bible never claims that the Israelites ever did wipe out the Canaanites.

Nor did the Independent Online even attempt, at the time, to ‘prove’ their assertion. Aside from the unattributed quotation mentioned above — which, I remind you, only says the Israelites were commanded to do something — there was not one shred of biblical evidence provided.

Either the Independent Online is very badly informed on Bible matters — or else they believe that you, the reader, will just be very badly informed and will therefore expect you to take what they say without question.

Do not trust everything you read in the press!

Belatedly — and no doubt in response to reader letters such as mine — the Independent Online amended their article to defend their indefensible position, by adding a ‘proof’ of their headline from Joshua 10:40; 11:15:—

“And, according to a passage in the Old Testament’s Book of Joshua, they did just that:

“‘Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded…. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.’ (Joshua. 10:40, 11:15)”

See the screenshot below. The left-hand side is a detail from the Independent Online article on 28th July 2017 (the day after publication); the right-hand side is the same section of the article on 12th September 2017. Spot the difference?

A detail from the Independent Online article, (l) accessed on 28/07/2017, the day after publication; (r) accessed on 12/09/2017.
A detail from the Independent Online article, (l) accessed on 28/07/2017, the day after publication; (r) accessed on 12/09/2017.

This ‘proof’ does not affect my point one bit. It is but one small excerpt, belatedly served up by the Independent Online, and one which (read it in context) is only stating what Joshua did to those cities which he conquered.

The whole picture of the Bible — as I have shown above — is that the Israelites failed to wipe out the Canaanites; and thus over a thousand years later Jesus can say to a Canaanite woman,

“‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”
Matthew 15:28

Well thank-you very much, Independent Online! With this appalling piece of gutter journalism you have succeeded in setting up a ‘straw man,’ and then demolishing him with your scientific discovery.

But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good story?


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Scripture quotations (other than those excerpted from the Independent Online) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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