Ethnic Cleansing - the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous. (1993 UN Commission via Wikipedia)
Genocide - the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. Genocide can be considered a subset of ethnic cleansing, in this case through murder. (Wikipedia)
1. Genocide of Jericho (Joshua 6: 17 - 25)
a. Jericho, it’s people and every living thing in the city. “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction” (v. 17)
“Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” (v. 21)
“And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it”. (v. 24)
b. Achan and his entire family, live stock, all his belongings were burned and stoned (Joshua 7: 25 - 26) due to Achan taking and hiding some gold and silver for himself from the Jericho plunder. God’s anger is burning (7:1) and He is only calmed when Achan’s family and all record it its existence is wiped out.
2. City of Ai (Joshua 8)
“And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves.” (v. 2)
“When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction”. (vs. 24 - 26) “So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day.” (v. 28)
3. City of Makkedah (Joshua 10)
“As for Makkedah, Joshua captured it on that day and struck it, and its king, with the edge of the sword. He devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining. And he did to the king of Makkedah just as he had done to the king of Jericho.” (v. 28)
4. City of Libnah (Joshua 10)
“And the LORD gave it also and its king into the hand of Israel. And he struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho”. (v 30)
5. City of Lachish (Joshua 10: 31 - 32). Same. “... as he had done to Libnah”
6. City of Gezer (Joshua 10: 33). Same. “... left none remaining”.
7. City of Eglon (Joshua 10: 34 - 35). Same. “... as he had done to to Lachish”.
8. City of Hebron (Joshua 10: 36 - 37). Same. “He left none remaining...”
9. City of Debir (Joshua 10: 38 - 39). Same. “... every person it it; he left none remaining”.
10. City of Hazor (Joshua 11). “And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire”. (vs. 10 - 11)
11. Other northern cities (Joshua 11). “And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded.” (vs. 12.)
List of kings defeated by Joshua on the west side of the Jordan river (Joshua 12). “... in all, thirty-one kings.” (v. 24)
Review: Yawistic OT Atrocities (Farrel, The Skeptical Review)
Excellent: Did God Command Genocide? (Morriston) Debate Summary
The ultimate near genocide? An entire planet? See discussion here.
By definition, this is God sanctioned genocide, and more than other cases since in some instances not only are women, children, infants, and the unborn murdered but also every living animal (livestock). Many of the cities are burned afterwards so literally this is also a scorched earth policy. If so, not only are the Israelites involved, but God also since 1) repeatedly it is written that God says, “I have given into your hand the king...” and it is doubtful the Israelites could have defeated all of these armies by themselves (see below **), and 2) in at least some instances God hardens their hearts and does not allow them the choice of trying to make peace. “For it was the LORD’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11: 20). Thus, God is directly interferring with free will and preventing them from doing anything other than making choices that will kill thousands.
Possible Objections. (parially from ESV, Introduction to Joshua)
1. God commanded the Israelites to spare no one. Does this not sound like the defense used by the Nazi’s, “I was under orders”? What about Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma? If it is moral only because God commanded it, then anything can be made moral just by appealing to a deity. There are no appeals to standards possible and morality can change at the whim of the next vision or prophet’s pronouncement. No, divine command theory indicates that morality must be separate from God.
2. Yahweh owns the land and he has the right to give it to anyone he pleases. What about the thousands of people and children that are killed in the process? What about the bedridden sick who could only beg as the Israelite soldiers came to thrust their swords into them or chop off their heads?
3. All have sinned. God has the right of divine judgment against the Canaanites through the agency of Israel. Since many are being killed regardless of ethnicity, it is not ethnic cleansing. It's not regardless of ethnicity; the standard is Israelite or non Israelite, the ultimate ethnic test. What about the unborn? What about the pregnant women that were slaughtered inside the cities? Did the animals sin? Why destroy “everything that breathed”. By destroying every living thing are not the Israelites sending a messasge to others of ethnic cleansing in the worst way? Does the appeal to original sin really work; the unborn - is this not a type of divine abortion?
4. Israel is as theocracy. Allowing the Canaanites to remain in the land would contaminate the state. Exactly. Kill them all, especially their children and their unborn. They must cleanse the land and then take it for themselves. But of course, keep the silver and gold for yourselves. By command of God and actions of the Israelites, is not the purpose to cleanse the land of Canaanite civilization so it can be occupied and not influence the new inhabitants? How is this not genocide`?
5. Some exceptions were made (Rahab’s family, Gibeonites) so the way the law was applied showed ethnic cleansing as not the true reason. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, children, the sick, the unborn were slaughtered and because a few were spared the commentators feel this is justification? A few rare exceptions erases the responsibility for hundreds of thousands of deaths?
6. It is a hagiographic hyperbolic interpretation (Wolterstorff via Flannagan and Link). It's figurative boasting, not to be taken literally. [but what does that say about the rest of the Bible's stories? And what about intent, even if not true?]
7. It's been mistranslated (Hess). "ir" can mean fort, "king" can mean commander, "army" can be only a 100 in a small fort, and "destruction of women, children" can mean just warriors as in destroy "all". [In order for this to work, ALL four must have have been mistranslated by hundreds of Biblical scholars before him.] Critical Issues in Israelite History, 2008, The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua, pages 33 - 46
What does it say about apologetics if there are so many attempts to explain this apparent genocide?
** It is even doubtful that the Israelites came to occupy Caanan the way Joshua protrays it. As the Introduction in the ESV discusses, the older conquest "model" has been undermined by subequent archeological work. Other theories include the peaceful infiltration model, the peasant revolt model, and the various endogenous models. It seems to this reviewer that the confusion points out the need to be very skeptical of much that is written. See the movie, this web site review, "The Bible's Buried Secrets." Also, recent genomics studies indicate that Jews and Palastinians are genetically identical. Link
A Brief List of (mostly) religiously-motivated genocide. Link Canaanite FAQ