HEREM (The Ban)

Definition: Herem or cherem means ‘devote’ or ‘destroy’.  It is also referred to as the ban. In the Book of Joshua it meant the total destruction of the enemy and its goods at the conclusion of a campaign.  Most scholars who have studied the history of that region conclude that the biblical accounts of extermination are exaggerated, fictional, or metaphorical. The Book of Judges presents a much slower, piecemeal settling of the land. The Book of Joshua which recounts events from 1240 to 1050 BC was completed after the Northern Kingdom, Israel, had gone into exile (605 BC), and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was being threatened with exile to Babylon (587 BC). In that context, it presented a picture of the triumphs and victories over the Canaanites that had become longed-for glories of ages past. The important message throughout The Book of Joshua is to trust in God rather than in our own powers to defeat the enemy and not to worship false gods, or become immersed in pagan cultures. Revelation throughout Israel’s history expands this message when the prophets see all the nations embracing faith in Yahweh, being joined to Israel, and living in peace with one another. (Is 2:2419:232545:2225Zec 8:2223), and the New Testament teaches us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:4345).

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers additional insights in its summary of the Book of Joshua (


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