Essay on a Secular Perspective of Israel's Occupation of Canaan
Through Canaanite Eyes
The story of the Israelites' entrance into the Promised Land can be a terrifying one if viewed from the correct perspective. To a Canaanite, the invading Hebrews would have been a hardened desert people, led by a sorcerer of magnificent power. The Canaanite view of the Israelites is clearly portrayed by Rahab of Jericho when she explains to her house guests the fear her people live in at the immanent conflict with the Hebrew people (Joshua 2:9-10). Though the Israelites have traditionally been the heroes of the story, it is easy to see how Robert Allen Warrior developed his perspective on the story in his essay “A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians.”
Warrior downplays the idea of a “chosen people” as he only references the concept once in his paper. His attitude seems to be one that desires not to butt heads with Judeo-Christian tradition, but also desires not to make many of the assumptions Jews and Christians make in regards to the story of Canaan’s conquest. For thousands of years Jews and Christians have simply assumed that God actually told his people to slaughter thousands of indigenous people in a land that He had dictated as belonging to Israel. They believed this simply because it was written down. From a young age Christians are taught that there was an Old Testament God, and he was fierce, but it was still good. Warrior does not wish to argue this notion head on, but rather side steps it and takes a route very common among scholars: he examines the text as it is, without regard for the years of tradition that followed.
Warrior’s downplay of “the chosen people” idea is easy as his main focus is not the morality of Israel’s occupation of Canaan but rather the story’s implications for Native Americans today. He even admits that the Canaanite eradication was not believed by most scholars to be as absolute as the Bible indicates (279) as Deuteronomy clearly gives rules of engagement that are far from absolute destruction of the enemy (Deut 20:10-14) but he emphasizes that it is the story that is important and not the historical facts (280). Warrior’s focus is on the fact that coupling the story of the Israelite conquest in Canaan with the Israelite liberation from Egypt causes a false sense of satisfaction in a manner, be it ever so subconscious. He refers to two Yahwehs acting in these stories—“Yahweh of deliverance” and “Yahweh the conqueror”—and uses these two sides of God to demonstrate the trend for people who have been oppressed becoming so paranoid that it could happen again that they oppress others (284). This obviously draws parallels with the persecuted Protestants of Europe who went on to nearly annihilate the Indian American people in an attempt to secure their land of “liberty.”