I recently picked up Richard Elliot Friedman's Commentary on the Torah at the local library. If you don't know who Friedman is, he is a professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the U of C (San Diego) and one of the leading proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis. Friedman says at the outset that his commentary is focused on the text itself and not on the history of Bible scholarship. He therefore does not comment on the Torah's authors and sources, but rather attempts to write a commentary in the tradition of the classical commentaries. But don't be so quick to bring this book into shul - there is still a lot of juicy stuff (read apikosus) in it, largely because Friedman relies heavily on the archaeological revolution of the last 200 years. For heaven's sake, at the very least put a fake cover on it (perhaps a suitably trimmed photocopy of the Artscroll Chumash); you are bound to run into folks that know of REF and you'll therefore avoid some major stares.
In last weeks parashah, Ekev, Friedman set my mind to ease with his comment on verse 7:2 which reads [his translation]:
When YHVH, your God, will bring you to the land to which you're coming to take possession of it and will eject numerous nations from in front of you - the Hittite and the Girgashite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite - seven nations more numerous and powerful than you, and YHVH your God, will put them in front of you, and you'll strike them; you shall completely destroy them!
Yuck, wholesale destruction of man, woman, and child. Pretty awful huh? Well here is what Friedman has to say: "Many people have been troubled by the idea of commanding the annihilation of the Canaanite residents of the land. The archaeological evidence is that such a destruction never took place. This passage in the Torah was written long after the period of the Israelites' settlement in the land, and so it is ironic that the author of this text conceived of a degree of violence that appears never in fact to have happened, and then people are troubled by this degree of violence in Israel's history".
So don't be angry at God because you believe "He" condoned genocide. This was simply an after-the-fact explanation for how the Jewish people became so populous in Israel to the exclusion of other peoples. The author was just not bothered by the concept of destroying entire nations, such was the mindset of the time.
And to all of those folks who denigrate the Torah for its genocidal policies, I just have this to say: Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!