Warrior Prophet: Moses or Muhammad?
The video of anti-Muslim bigots jeering at mosque-goers in Orange County has now gone viral. Amongst those who sponsored the hateful event were two extremist Zionist Jews, namely Pamela Geller and Rabbi David Eliezrie. It was also sponsored by ACT! for America, a fervently pro-Israeli group with heavy Christian Zionist overtones. The link between Zionism and Islamophobia is well-established.
As can be seen from the video, one of the principal ways these “Israeli-firsters” try to hurt Muslims is by insulting Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. In particular, they criticize Muhammad as being warlike and violent. The fact that their religious founder was belligerent explains why Muslims today are, or so the argument goes.
Yet, Moses–the prophet of Judaism and the principal figure of the religion–was far more warlike and violent than Muhammad. We know this from the Hebrew Bible, which is considered Judaism’s most sacred scripture and respected by Christians as the Old Testament. (The Biblical verses we will examine will also show us why the Bible is far more violent than the Quran.) Could the violent nature of Moses explain the belligerence of the modern day state of Israel and its supporters?
According to the Bible, a Jewish prophet by the name of Moses arose in Egypt. He liberated his people from bondage, and together they fled Egypt to the “promised land.” The promised land was a place called Canaan (Palestine). This journey from Egypt to Canaan was known as the Exodus.
It might help to glance at a map:
So the Hebrews fled Egypt and traveled to Canaan.
But they hit a small snag. There were already people living in Canaan. These natives are referred to in the Bible as “The Seven Nations.” (Not to be a stickler, but there were actually more than seven nations.) Here is what the tribes looked like before the Israelites arrived:
To resolve this dilemma, God ordered the Israelites to exterminate all the inhabitants of Canaan (men, women, and children) and to take their land. The God of the Bible commanded Moses and his followers:
Deuteronomy 20:17 You must utterly destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you.
The God of the Bible threatened the people of Palestine/Canaan with catastrophe (nakba):
Exodus 15:14 The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestine.
15: 15 Then, the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the might men of Moab, trembling shall take hold on them, all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.
15:16 Terror and dread shall fall on them; by the greatness of your arm they shall be as still as a stone; till your people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which you have purchased.
15:17 You shall bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance.
In other words, God “purchased” the land that the natives lived on, and He would give it as “inheritance” to the Israelite conquerors. It should be clear that the words “all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away” refers to genocide, a point which we will subsequently be made clearer.
The Aradites were one group of peoples that inhabited Canaan, the land which the God of Israel had promised the Israelites. The Israelites marched towards them:
Numbers 33:40 At that time the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev in the land of Canaan, heard that the people of Israel were approaching his land.
One Biblical commentary explains that the Aradite king “heard of the coming of the children of Israel, towards the land of Canaan, in order to possess it, and he came out and fought with them.” The king had some initial success:
21:1 He attacked the Israelites and captured some of them.
Ancient Israel responded with even more brutality than the modern day state of Israel does:
21:2 Then Israel made this vow to the LORD: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.”
21:3 The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah [Utter Destruction].
The word Hormah literally translates to “Ban”, because it means that there is a ban on all living things. As we shall see, the Israelites slaughtered men, women, children, cattle, sheep, donkeys, and anything that breathed. The word “Hormah” is often translated by Biblical commentators as “Utter Destruction.”
After annihilating the Aradites, Moses and the Israelites then turned their attention to the Amorites. The God of the Bible commanded the faithful to conquer the Amorite land of Heshbon:
Deuteronomy 2:24 Then the LORD said, “Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land.
2:25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”
The Israelites requested King Sihon to pass through his land. Sihon naturally refused, as he had heard reports of what the Israelites had done to his neighbors. When Sihon refused the request, the order was given to attack him:
2:30 But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.
2:31 The Lord said to me, “See, I have begun to deliver Sihon and his country over to you. Now begin to conquer and possess his land.”
Of course, every nation-state has a right to deny entry of foreigners into its territory. If, for example, the Iranian army requested permission to pass through Israel, would Iran have justification to attack Israel if the request was refused? King Sihon’s denial of the request is all the more reasonable when we consider that (1) the king knew that the Israelites were bent on conquering his land, and (2) the peoples of that region had “hear[d] reports of you [Israelites]” that made them “tremble and be in anguish.”
In any case, after furnishing themselves with a moral justification to invade Heshbon, Moses and the Israelites proceeded to kill the king of Heshbon and all his people:
2:33 The Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army.
2:34 At that time we took all his cities and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.
2:35 But the livestock and the plunder from the towns we had captured we carried off for ourselves.
Multiple cities and their populations were completely annihilated:
2:36 From Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the city in the gorge, even as far as Gilead, not one city was too strong for us. The Lord our God gave us all of them.
King Sihon and his people, the Amorites of Heshbon, were ethnically cleansed. The Israelites then moved on to King Og and his people, the Amorites of Bashan. The God of the Bible commanded the Israelites to “do to him what you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites”, i.e. annihilate them:
Numbers 21:34 The LORD said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of Og, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites who reigned in Heshbon.”
21:35 So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was none left to him alive, and they possessed his land.
Moses and the Israelites then massacred the inhabitants of sixty different cities:
Deuteronomy 3:3 So the Lord our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors.
3:4 At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan.
3:5 All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages.
3:6 We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city—men, women and children.
3:7 But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.
In fact, the Bible repeatedly sanctions the genocide of natives:
20:16 In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.
20:17 You must utterly destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you.
The next verse explains why “you must utterly destroy” them:
20:18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.
The Bible advocates genocide of the adherents of other religions, due to the fear that the believers may convert. This becomes very clear when we consider the way Moses and the God of the Bible deal with the Mobaites and Midianites. Some women from the Moabites and Midianites partook in consensual sexual relations with Israelite men. After cohabitating with idolatrous women, the Israelite men were affected by the Moabite and Midianite religion and culture. Eventually, these men started worshiping Ba’al Pe’or, the local god of the Moabites and Midianites. This earned the Israelites the wrath of God:
Numbers 25:1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women,
25:2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods.
25:3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.
God then sent a plague down upon the people of Israel, which was only lifted after one of the Israelites murdered a Midianite woman:
25:6 Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
25:7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand
25:8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them—through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped;
25:9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
25:10 The Lord said to Moses,
25:11 “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them.
25:12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.
25:13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
In verse 25:15, we learn that Cozbi was the name of the Midianite woman who was murdered. This “honor killing” placated God’s anger, and God blessed the killer and his descendants with “a covenant of lasting priesthood.” God did, however, command Moses and the Israelites to massacre the Midianites:
25:16 The Lord said to Moses,
25:17 “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them,
25:18 because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.”
The above verse makes it clear why God commanded Moses and the Israelites to kill the Midianites: because of the “affair of Peor” (i.e. the idolatrous women having consensual sexual relations with the Israelite men and the subsequent idol worship) and Cozbi (the woman who had sexual relations with an Israelite man).
And so God commanded Moses to attack the Midianites:
31:1 The Lord said to Moses,
31:2 “Avenge the people of Israel of the Midianites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
31:3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them.
31:4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.”
31:7 They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man.
31:8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
31:9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder.
31:10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps.
31:11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals,
31:12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest…
The Jewish followers of Moses killed every man, and took the women and children as slaves. They then returned to Moses, but he became upset at them for not killing the women and children as well. Only the young virgins fit to be sex slaves were to be kept alive:
31: 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.
31:15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them.
31:16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.
31:17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,
31:18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Then God discusses how to divide up the spoils of war:
31:25 The Lord said to Moses,
31:26: “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured.
31:27 Divide the spoils between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community.
31:28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the Lord one out of every five hundred, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep or goats.”
This last verse seems to justify human sacrifices to God “as tribute for the Lord.” The next few verses bear this out:
31:32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep,
31:33 72,000 cattle,
31:34 61,000 donkeys
31:35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
31:36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep,
31:37 of which the tribute for the Lord was 675;
31:38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72;
31:39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61;
31:40 16,000 people, of which the tribute for the Lord was 32.
As for the Moabites, they avoided the wrath of Israel for a short period of time before they were ultimately decimated. That task was carried out by David, one of Moses’ divinely chosen successors (and a prophet of Judaism in his own right). The faithful massacred two-thirds of the Moabites and took the remaining one-third as dhimmis perpetual serfs:
2 Samuel 8:2 David also conquered the land of Moab. He made the people lie down on the ground in a row, and he measured them off in groups with a length of rope. He measured off two groups to be executed for every one group to be spared. The Moabites who were spared became David’s subjects and paid him tribute money.
Some Biblical commentaries argue that two-thirds of the Moabite population was slaughtered while others argue that only the soldiers were. In any case, the Moabites were subjected to dhimmitudeperpetual serfdom and were forced to pay jizya tribute. But eventually the Moabites revolted against this tributary tax:
2 Kings 3:4 King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder. He used to pay the king of Israel an annual tribute of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams.
3:5 But after Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
The Israelites, with the blessing of Elisha (another Jewish prophet), mobilized three large armies to stamp out the rebellion. The people of Moab attempted to defend themselves:
3:21 Now all the Moabites had heard that the three armies had come to fight against them; so every man, young and old, who could bear arms was called up and stationed on the border.
The Moabites were vanquished and slaughtered:
3:24 The Israelites invaded the land and slaughtered the Moabites.
3:25 They destroyed the towns, and each man threw a stone on every good field until it was covered. They stopped up all the springs and cut down every good tree. Only [the fortress of] Kir Hareseth was left with its stones in place, but men armed with slings surrounded it and attacked it as well.
The Israelites then called off the siege with the result that a few Moabites survived. The Moabites were finally destroyed altogether in 2 Chronicles 20, although the actual narration is a bit difficult to follow.
The Biblical Moses was thus responsible for the massacre and genocide of several populations. These included the people of Arad, Heshbon (and her surrounding cities), Bashan (including at least sixty cities), and the Midianites. Before he passed away, Moses was very disappointed that he couldn’t complete the ethnic cleansing of the land. He wanted to take part in the genocide of those living past the Jordan:
3:23 At that time I [Moses] pleaded with the Lord:
3:24 “O Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?
3:25 Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.”
God rejected Moses’ plea and declared:
3:28 “But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.”
And so, the job of genocide was divinely passed on from Moses to his successor, Joshua.
The wars of Muhammad will be addressed in a subsequent part of the Understanding Jihad Series, which will directly refute chapter 1 (Muhammad: Prophet of War) of Robert Spencer’s book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).
However, it would be helpful to point out the most striking difference between Moses and Muhammad in this regard. Moses targeted and killed civilians–women, children, babies, and the infirm elderly. Moses ordered his soldiers: “Kill all the boys[,] and kill every woman” (Numbers 31:17), an order which is an oft-repeated imperative in the Bible. Meanwhile, Muhammad explicitly forbade targeting civilians on numerous occasions, saying: “Do not kill an infirm old man, an infant, a child, or a woman.” (Sunan Abu Dawood, book 14, #2608)
It could be argued that the life and wars of Moses are of questionable historicity, and that secular scholarship would doubt the accuracy of Jewish scriptural sources. Yet, this argument is nullified by the fact that the life and wars of Muhammad are similarly subject to questionable historicity. The primary sources of Muhammad’s life and wars come almost exclusively from the Islamic scriptural sources and tradition, namely “(1) casual allusions in the Qur’an and (2) oral traditions”. More neutral non-Muslim sources from the seventh century are scant, and at most confirm the existence of Muhammad and very basic data. Writes Professor Solomon Alexander Nigosian on p.6 of Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices:
The attempt to separate the historical from the unhistorical elements in the available sources has yielded few, if any, positive results regarding the figure of Muhammad or the role he played in Islam. The predicament faced by modern scholars is perhaps best stated by Harald Motzki:
At present, the study of Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim community, is obviously caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, it is not possible to write a historical biography of the Prophet without being accsued of using the sources uncritically, while on the other hand, when using the sources critically, it is simply not possible to write such a biography.
In order to construct narratives of Muhammad’s wars, one must rely on the Islamic scriptural sources and tradition (the same ones which Islamophobes use to criticize Islam). It seems only reasonable and fair then to compare Muhammad with the Moses derived from the Jewish scriptural sources and tradition. And in this light, Moses does not stack up well against Muhammad.
Those who are familiar with my writing know very well that the intent here is not at all to “bash” Moses or Judaism, but rather to give the haters a taste of their own medicine in order that they realize the error in their ways. In particular, the goal is to show that the absurd standard Islam is held to–or anything related to Islam (Muhammad, Allah, the Quran, Sharia, Muslims, Muslim-majority countries, etc.)–is unfair, a fact that becomes painfully obvious when applied in a similar way to a Jewish/Christian/ analogue.
Many of the counter-arguments raised by our opponents will be addressed in further editions of this series. I initially had planned on releasing the entire Understanding Jihad Series as one mega-article. Having realized that this would be well over one hundred pages long, I decided to heed the advice of LW readers who requested that my articles be split into parts so as to be easier to digest. This decision comes with the regret that many of my responses to the trite counter-arguments I know the Islam-bashers are itching to use will be published at a later date.