Parable of the Empress and the Merchant Princess

The Parable:

Twin girls were born and grew to be lovely young women. The first wedded a powerful Emperor in a far away Empire. The second married a Merchant Prince who was the most wealthy and powerful man in his own land.

The Emperor shortly died. The Wife of the Emperor became the new Empress. She was the most powerful person in the Empire. Yet, misfortune befell her. She had an accident, one that burned her entire face. It scarred and disfigured her. The Merchant Prince also died. The Wife of the Merchant Prince was afflicted with leprosy. There was no treatment; skin and fingers fell off, she developed ulcers and even lost her nose. She was completely hideous, like a corpse. Still, she was the new Merchant Princess. She was the most wealthy and powerful woman in all of her lands.

Despite her disfigurement, citizens of the Empire came to visit the Empress. They professed their love for her and swore they would be forever her subjects. They knew she was perfect and that she was the most beautiful woman alive. She won every beauty pageant in the Empire.

The Merchant Princess was hailed for her beauty in her own lands as well. Her devotees came to supplicate at her leprous feet. Statues were erected – not depicting her as a beautiful woman, but as she was – covered in sores, missing fingers and without a nose. Yet, those loyal to her declared this was true beauty. They knew she was, truly, the most beautiful woman alive.

Citizens of the Empire found the devotees of the Merchant Princess confusing: “Why do they claim this Princes is the most beautiful? Do they not see she is leprous, covered in sores and has no nose?

The devotees of the Merchant Princess felt the same way: “The citizens of the Empire must be blind. Their Empress is a burn victim; her face is hardly human. Is not our Merchant Princess truly the most beautiful?”

The Meaning:

torture victim

A torture victim – Beautiful to Christians

oppressed women

Oppressed women – Beautiful to Muslims

The Empress and the Merchant Princess are Islam and Christianity. The Muslim has no difficulty seeing the flaws in Christianity, yet refuses to acknowledge that identical flaws exist in his own faith. The Christian critiques Islam, ignoring that its own text and history is identical – nay, even more barbaric – in every way. They are able to see the ugliness in the other faith, but have deceived themselves into seeing beauty in their own. Both have told the lie for so long that they mistake what is truly hideous for what is truly beautiful. Both are correct in their perceptions of the opposing faith, but wrong in their perceptions of their own faith.

The Christian justifies accounts of genocide, slavery, oppression and torture – all as a part of God’s divine plan, all in the Bible, all practiced by Christians throughout Christian history. The Muslim, similarly, carries out barbarisms under the banner of Allah. Both assert an inerrant, divine origin for a clearly flawed, man-made text. Both dismiss growth and progress in lieu of religious dogma.

Both coerce with fear; the promise of a divine reward for those who submit and the threat of a divine punishment for those who refuse to do so.

They are the Empress and the Merchant Princess. Belief is propagated by the group. The Empress wields the threat of temporal power to ensure adherence. The Merchant Princess promises gold for her devotees and threatens poverty for those who hesitate to kowtow.


Islamic Art

Die Berufung Mohammeds durch den Engel Gabriel

Die Berufung Mohammeds durch den Engel Gabriel by Theodor Hosemann, 1847

Allah Mohammad Mustafa Rakim

Allah-Mohammad-A-A, Mustafa Rakim Efendi, Turkish, 1757-1826

An example of one of the earliest modern controversies in depicting Mohammad, Die Berufung Mohammeds durch den Engel Gabriel by Theodor Hosemann was published by the German newspaper Der Spiegel in 1999. This resulted in protests, as well as Der Spiegel receiving threats. However, this would only be a taste of things to come. Over the course of the next ten years it would come to pass that dozens had died, thousands had been injured and countless venues of free expression stifled due to the fear of Islamic extremism. And for what? Depictions of Mohammad.

You see, Islam has a theological belief in aniconism. This essentially means “no images,” from the Greek εικων and the prefix an, meaning no. As in no pictures of Mohammad. Like the one right here or any of the following. Yes, no pictures of Mohammad indeed. While this is a pervasive belief in Islam, it is not found within the Qur’an itself, but rather in the hadith, such as the Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. A depiction of Mohammad is a sin on two accounts – it is blasphemy and it is idolatry. This is why you will rarely find depictions of Mohammad within Islamic history and art (although there are a good number of exceptions, particularly within Sufism). You will rarely even find artwork depicting animals or other living creatures. Instead, Islamic art often takes the form of geometry or calligraphy. A classic example is the name of Allah and Mohammad on the left, by Mustafa Rakim.

And then we have Submission, Part I, by the late Theo van Gogh and the ever beautiful Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

If Theodor Hosemann’s benign depiction of Mohammad being visited by Gabriel was too racy for the Islamic world, Submission was definitely pushing it. In 2004, Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali created this short film. The film depicts four Muslim women who have been victims of abuse common in Islamic society, permitted by Islamic law (some of which Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself was a victim of, and witnessed among family members, as she wrote in her autobiography Infidel). Theo van Gogh was subsequently assassinated; shot in broad daylight along with two innocent bystanders, van Gogh was partially decapitated and a letter, threatening Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was pinned to his body with a knife. Subsequent presentations of Submission, Part 1, such as that planned in support of freedom of expression at the Rotterdam Film Festival, were canceled due to fears of violence. Submission, Part II was never made.

In 2005, Flemming Rose, an editor for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten commissioned twelve cartoons satirizing Mohammad to protest a difficulty finding artists to illustrate a book about Mohammad. Illustrators were refusing work due to fears of violent reprisal. The publication of the twelve cartoons above resulted in violent protests worldwide, death threats and even terror plots. A Pakistani political party allegedly offered a $10,000 reward to kill any one of the cartoonists. The Iraqi Mujahideen Army made a call for terror attacks against Danish targets. Multiple arrests were made over attempted attacks and terror plots in response to the cartoons. These included plans to use a remote controlled car rigged with explosives and an attempt to murder Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists, in his own home with an ax.

Mohammad's severed head, a scene from Idomeno

Mohammad’s severed head, a scene from Idomeno

In 2006, the Deutsche Opera Berlin canceled a performance of Mozart’s opera Idomeneo, re di Creta due to what was described as an “incalculable security risk.” In the opera, King Ideomeno displays the severed heads of Neptune, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad. Anonymous threats followed the first production of Ideomeno, resulting in the cancellation of following performances.

Arifurr Ahman Cartoon about a Cat

Arifurr Ahman Cartoon about a Cat

In 2007, Bangladeshi cartoonist Arifur Rahman published a short cartoon strip in the Bengali-language Prothom Alo. The dialogue says verbatim, “What is your name?” “Babu.” “It is customary to put Mohammad before your name. What is the name of the cat?” “Mohammad the cat.” Although Mohammad was not depicted, it was viewed as severely offensive to call a cat Mohammad. Raham was arrested and Muslims around Bangladesh called for the death penalty, the traditional punishment for blasphemy. This also resulted in multiple violent protests.

Charlie Hebdo - Charia Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo – Charia Hebdo

In 2010, French newspaper Charlie Hebdo had its office firebombed and it website hacked for releasing a satirical picture of Mohammad. A similar cartoon run by Charlie Hebdo, under the title Intouchables 2, proved the assertion. When Charlie Hebdo released a “halal” comic book about the life of Mohammad, one worked upon by various Islamic scholars, this too was condemned. The idea being, again, that Mohammad’s life itself was too sacred to depict and that to do so would be tantamount to blasphemy.

The depiction of Mohammad on the left was the first presentation of Mohammad in Charlie Hebdo, titled Charia Hebdo as a play on sharia, or Islamic law. Incidentally, it is the common interpretation of sharia, Islamic law, that prohibits the depiction of Mohammad. A difficult conception may be that while we tend to distinguish between religious and secular laws in most of the Western world (aside from fundamentalist zealots of all religions), this distinction is far less pronounced in Islam.

Lars Vilks - Mohammad as a Roundabout Dog

Lars Vilks – Mohammad as a Roundabout Dog

Swedish artist Lars Vilks published three drawings of Mohammad depicted as a dog in Nerikes Allehanda. These were alongside an editorial on freedom of religion. These drawings were referenced as a motivation for the 2010 Stockholm bombings. Additional plots to assassinate Vilks have been uncovered, as well as making Vilks the recipient of numerous death threats. Nerikes Allehanda has increased security due to a high threat level, including hiring personal bodyguards for employees. The governments of Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan have issued official condemnations – not for the violence, but for the act of publishing the cartoons. Multiple art exhibitions have canceled Lars Vilks’s presentations at the last moment, fearing violence.

Prophet Muhammad Preaching: Folio from the Maqtal-i Al-i Rasul of Lami'i Chelebi, Ottoman period (ca. 1299–1923), late 16th century Turkey or Iraq

Prophet Muhammad Preaching: Folio from the Maqtal-i Al-i Rasul of Lami’i Chelebi, Ottoman period (ca. 1299–1923), late 16th century Turkey or Iraq

Later in 2010, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City removed some sixty pieces of artwork depicting Mohammad from an exhibit on Islam, citing fears of violence. The remaining pieces, previously in an exhibit titled “Islamic Galleries,” were moved to a new exhibit called, “Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia” to avoid referencing “art” and “Islam” together at all. In 2012, when the Louvre opened its “Islamic Art” exhibit, it posted armed guards to thwart potential violence.

Joshua and the Genocide of Canaan


Jean Fouquet: The Taking of Jericho, c. 1452-1460.

Jean Fouquet: The Taking of Jericho, c. 1452-1460.

The Plan

The ethnic cleansing of Canaan begins not with Joshua, but with a promise made to Abraham: God would give this land to Abraham as a part of the covenant He made (Gn 17:8; Ex 6:4). This is a very important piece of context, because it reveals two things. The first is that the genocide of Canaan was planned long before the victims of Joshua were even born. The second is that Abraham, as well as his descendants through Moses, were foreigners in the land.

Genesis 7:8 – “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Exodus 6:4 – “I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners.

Regardless of the status of the State of Israel today, the history of Israel, Palestine and so forth – this is not a political point – the ancient Hebrews were not natives to this area. It is land that they resided in, but were foreign to. These were an external invading force. People lived here. In fact, the exact same ethnic groups had been living continuously in Canaan between the time of the Exodus from Egypt, when Moses arrived, and when they returned some few decades later (Ex 33:2; Ex; 34:12-13). Many of the ethnic groups had continuously lived in the area from the time it was promised to Abraham (Gn 14:5-7).

To reiterate the point – this was a planned genocide. It was not incidental or a tactic of last resort. God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to enter into Canaan, drive out all of its inhabitants and destroy their religious monuments (Nm 33:50-56). God specifically commanded that they must be destroyed totally and commanded that Israel make no treaty and show no mercy (Dt 7:2). This is presented by God to Joshua as two specific plans of action, one for the cities at a distance to the promised land, one for the cities that are a part of the promised land. For the cities at a distance, Joshua must march to a city, offer peace and then enslave the population if they accept. If they refuse to be enslaved, Joshua is to kill every man and take the women, children and livestock – as well as all other property – as plunder (Dt 20:10-14). For the cities within the promised land, full genocide:

Deuteronomy 20:17 – “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.”


Victory of Joshua over the Amorites, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1626

Victory of Joshua over the Amorites, Nicolas Poussin, c. 1626

The Victims

Between 300,000 and 2,000,000 killed.

Six people impaled on poles. (Jo 8:26; Jo 10:26)

One man stoned and set on fire (Jo 7: 25)

It is impossible to come up with an exact death toll for the genocide of Canaan. For one, we do not know if these were truly historical events. This is another debate completely. The Bible also does not give us any indication of a full death toll. The city of Ai had a population of 12,000 who were exterminated completely (Jo 8:25). Jericho was said to be larger than Ai. Gibeon, which was subsequently enslaved, was larger than Ai as well (Jo 10:2). The major ethnic groups targeted for extermination – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites – were said to be larger and stronger than Israel (Dt 7:1). The population of Israel upon leaving Egypt was said to be approximately 600,000 men, not including women and children (Ex 12:37; Nm 1:46; Nm 26:5). Based on this estimates of the Hebrew population range between two and six million individuals.

Joshua exterminated all of these groups, save for the Hivites who lived in Gibeon (who were enslaved) (Jo 11:19). Thirty-one different kings were killed (Jo 12:1). If we estimate small city-states, such as Ai, this gives us a number of 300,000. If we go by what Deuteronomy says, the nations being larger than Israel, we can easily exceed two million ethnically cleansed.

The Response

As has been demonstrated, this genocide was planned long before it was put into action. Again, this is important because one must consider that this was not a defensive war. Israel was not defending itself from Canaan; Canaan was defending itself from Israel. When Moses and the Israelites return from wandering in the desert, they request passage to Canaan and are refused by the King of Edom (Nm 20:18-20) in Kadesh. The King of Edom tells Moses that if they attempt to pass through, they will be met with force. Moses and the Israelites invade the borders of Edom, despite the warning, and are eventually forced to go around. Edom defended its sovereign borders and, most likely, did not want to appear to be assisting a hostile invading force, despite its amiable ties with Israel.

This is exactly what played out with the King of Arad (Nm 21:1-3) and the King of the Amorites, Sihon (Nm 20:21-26). However, Israel won. Israel continued through Bashan (Nm 21:33) and then into Gilead (Nm 32:39-42). These are all events that took place before Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, simply to reach the promised land. These nations refused to let a foreign army pass through their borders; the foreign army ethnically cleansed them and settled their land.

Jericho and Ai hid within their walls (Jo 6; Jo 8), were besieged and exterminated. The Gibeonites saw what happened to Ai, were afraid and used deception to seal a peace treaty with Israel. They were spared, but forced to be perpetual slaves (Jo 9:23-24). Adoni-Zedek, the King of Jerusalem – whose name means “God is Righteous” and, incidentally, may have shared an early Hebrew religious tradition – was afraid of Joshua and, along with four other kings, attempted to attack Gibeon. They were defeated and hung on trees as a display (Jo 10:23-26). Many of the nations attempted to flee, but were pursued and exterminated completely (Jo 11:10-11).

Point: Israel was not defending itself. In fact, Joshua went out of his way to hunt down escapees and used techniques, such as impaling enemy kings on poles, more fit for Vlad Tepes than the tool of a righteous God. Joshua repeatedly left no survivors (Makkedah, Libnah, Jo10:30; Lachish, Jo 10:33), totally destroyed everyone in the city (Eglon, Jo 10:35), made sure to kill everyone in the surrounding villages (Debir, 10:39), did not spare anything that breathed (Jo 11:11), carried off livestock and put every person to the sword, “not sparing anyone that breathed” (Jo 11:12-14), and “exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Jo 11:20)

The Aftermath

Eventually Joshua grew old. One might think that after an entire lifetime of invading and ethnically cleansing your neighbors, you could get a little peace. Not so:

Joshua 13:1 – “When Joshua had grown old, the Lord said to him, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.”

Nice work, Joshua, but the genocide train must continue. As the Israelites grew stronger they would continue to enslave the remaining Canaanites where possible (Jo 17:13). And, upon Joshua’s death, the mantle would immediately be passed. This is the very first chapter of the next book, Judges, starts:

Judges 1:1 – After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Canaanites?”