For a paradigm-shifting and yet scholarly respectable solution to the apparent moral abomination of genocide in Joshua you must read (and other examples of violence in the Bible):
The Joshua Delusion? Rethinking Genocide In The Bible by Douglas S. Earl
Helpful Review by Thom Stark: http://religionatthemargins.com/2010/11/the-joshua-delusion/
(He pretty much agrees with the main thrust of the argument except that the historical situation that spurred the composition isn't as 'rosy' as Douglas Earl paints it according to Stark)
Did God Really Send A Flood To Wipe Out The Entire World? How Are We To Understand This 'Challenging' Text?
Taken from The Evolution of Adam (Peter Enns)
Did God Really Command And Then Actually Slaughter All The Firstborns Of Egypt & Send All Those Other Plagues?
THE OT, the Exile, and Israel’s Self-Definition:
The post-exilic period is the time in which the Hebrew OT as we know it took shape as a final and SACRED collection of texts. This does not mean that Israel didn’t document, record, tell, and retell its story orally and in written form long before the exile, but it does mean that it is unlikely that these early records were thought of as sacred Scripture at the time; that is a later development, and the motivation for it was Israel’s national crisis. The exile was the most traumatic event in Israel’s ancient national history and was therefore extremely influential on how the Israelites thought of themselves as the people of God. The Israelites understood themselves to be God’s chosen people: they were promised the perpetual possession of the land, the glorious temple as a house of worship, and a son of David perpetually sitting on the throne. With the exile, all of this came to a sudden and devastating end; exile in Babylon meant that Israel’s God had turned His back on them; it meant that God could no longer be worshipped in the Jerusalem temple as required; it meant that they had no land, no temple, and no sacrifices. Rather than prompting the other nations to acknowledge the true God, which was Israel’s true calling, Israel was humiliated by these nations. The impact of these series of events cannot be overstated. Since these long-standing ties to YHWH were no longer available to them, the Israelites turned to the next best thing: bringing the glorious past into their miserable present by means of an official collection of writings. Some of these writings were collected and edited at that time, with additions and thorough updating—like the Pentateuch. Others (prophetic, poetic, and wisdom texts) only came into existence or were reshaped then. Either way, the trauma of the exile was a significant factor—if not the driving factor—in the creation of what has come to be known to us as the ‘the Bible.’ Thus, as Brueggeman writes, “…the exilic and/or postexilic location of the final form of the text suggests that the OT materials, understood normatively, are to be taken [understood] precisely in an acute crisis of displacement, when old certitudes—sociopolitical as well as theological—had failed.” The central question the exile and postexilic Jews asked themselves concerned their identity: ‘Are we still the people of God? After all that happened, are we still connected to the Israelites of old, with whom God spoke and showed his faithfulness? Their answer to these questions was to tell their story from the beginning (creation) and from their postexilic point of view—which meant editing older works and creating some new ones.
Monolatry & Theological Embellishment : It is widely recognized that the Exodus narrative is a theological narrative that is not meant to be taken anything like modern historiography which is also confirmed by archaeological evidence (or lack thereof), but to speak this way betrays false expectations. For as the historical background information reveals, the point of these religious traditions was to confirm to the Israelites during and after the exile that they were still the people of God and the Exodus story, along with the rest of the OT is 'embellished' in various ways to make this point. With respect to the Exodus, it is well recognized that the Israelite faith in YHWH was not consistently monotheistic, but rather, the Israelites were monolatrous, at least throughout portions of their history, meaning they worshipped only one God, but they didn’t deny the existence of other gods; indeed YHWH ‘himself’ acknowledges the existence of other gods in Ex. 12:12. This is not rhetoric, it describes the central drama of the book of exodus. Moreover, some scholars see the plague narrative, at least in part, as a battle between YHWH and the Egyptian pantheon to see who will claim the right to Israel. YHWH takes aim not simply at the political powers of Egypt to liberate the slaves but also the underlying religious structure. For example,
1st plague: Turning the Nile to blood. The Nile, Egypt’s source of survival, was personified and worshipped as a god, so by turning the Nile to blood, YHWH is showing mastery over the god responsible for Egypt’s
2nd , 3rd, 4th, and 10th plague: The goddess of childbirth, Heqet, was depicted with the head of a frog, and we see the swarming frogs (second plague) as a foreshadowing of the death of the Egyptian firstborn in the
tenth plague in which by laying claim on the life of all the firstborn of Egypt, YHWH was also showing his power over Osiris, the Egyptian God of the dead. The lack of frogs would have led to an increase in biting insects and flies, hence, showing from another angle the weakness of the goddess Heqet whom was depicted with the head
of a frog.
5th , 6th plague: The mother and sky goddess Hathor was depicted as a cow; hence YHWH sending disease and boils to the livestock.
7th , 8th plague: The hailstorm shows YHWH’s supremacy over the Egyptian gods associated with storms (i.e. Seth). After the hail, the ground would have been soaked which would have created ample breeding grounds for locusts and hence yet another display of YHWH’s power over Seth; or the hail would have wiped out many
crops leading to the locusts swarming together to feast on any remaining crops showing a nasty consequence of Seth’s inability to stop the hail sent from YHWH.
9th plague: The pharaoh was considered to be the earthly representative of the sun-God (Ra), and so when YHWH blots out the Sun he is showing his power of Ra.
So, no, God did not really send plagues and kill the firstborns, but rather, a religious community 'modified' exisitng traditions in light of their historical circumstance to offer themselves identity, hope, and self-definition. Though still an ancient and 'brutal' theological embellishment, the moral offense of this aspect of Exodus dissolves once we understand the purpose and that no such thing took place.
-Taken From The Evolution Of Adam (Peter Enns)
Are The Commandments In The Pentateuch For Us (Prescriptive); Were They Even For The Ancient Israelites?
The following article has strong implications for those early chapters of Genesis where people live for hundres of years; implications that help us understand what was really meant by such years.
Why Are There Contradictions In the Old Testament? Radical Editing: Redaktionsgeschichte and the Aesthetic of Willed Confusion by John A. Miles, Jr.
Link to the article: http://www.jackmiles.com/Home/other-works/on-the-bible/radical-editing
Summary: In this article, Jack Miles questions whether the mixture in many biblical texts of evident attempts at partial harmonization with an apparent tolerance for the residual disunity demonstrates that these authors was operating under quite a different aesthetic from our own. For Miles, the ancient editor’s “proto-logical” aesthetic did not merely involve the application of a looser standard of logical consistency, but instead was one of positively “willed confusion”. The ancient editor may not have gone so far as to seek out deliberately jarring and contradictory effects, but on the other hand, “it didn’t bother him enough for him to eliminate” the inconsistent results, which “must mean that to some extent, he simply liked it.” The ancient biblical redactor evidently had quite different priorities from those of the modern fundamentalist. (Taken from: http://remnantofgiants.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/thom-stark-versus-matt-flannagan/)
Thom Stark says something similar: What source critics understand is that (1) ancient redactors weren’t as bothered by these sorts of contradictions as we moderns are, and (2) for the most part their M.O. was to faithfully preserve their source material, allowing contradictions to stand. (They hadn’t heard about the doctrine of inerrancy yet.) So a few tiqqune sopherim (pious scribal alterations of the text) notwithstanding, scribes were interested in preserving their source material intact. Redactors compiled source materials not as a modern would, in order to weave a seamless, consistent narrative, but rather to bring together various traditions into one body… The redactor’s purpose was not to combine the sources into a coherent, internally consistent narrative, but rather to combine the narratives in a way that allows them to maintain their distinctiveness while at the same time uniting them. Redactors cared about their source material, not because they thought it was “inerrant,” but because the source material reflected the traditions of the peoples.