When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you - the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you - and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on Earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
You might think this injunction to commit acts of genocide would be an embarrassment to modern-day Christians, but Ian S. Markham, in his book Against Atheism: Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris Are Fundamentally Wrong, assures us that the key here is "to read the text closely and on a number of different levels." Fine, so that's how it's done. Let's follow Markham's analysis on pp. 89-91.
Apparently the the injunction not to intermarry with them shows the "self-correcting nature of the Hebrew Bible", since such a command shows that God's injunction to destroy them completely had not been carried out at the time when this passage was actually written down in the Book of Deuteronomy. After all, you can't marry them if you've killed them all, right? The real point is not the genocide that God is said in the book to have commanded, but the importance of holiness, in the sense of being separate from other peoples and being faithful to the God of Israel. That's all that was really being commanded. Or something like that.
Moreover, we can deduce that God could not have actually commanded the genocide of these seven peoples, because we can find other verses in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament where God calls on Israel's neighbours to find better ways of organising themselves (see the first chapter of Amos), while elsewhere the faith of an outsider, in this case a Moabite, is affirmed (i.e. the faith of the title character in the book of Ruth).
So, miraculously, the words don't mean what they say. The overall correct interpretation is that God did not order the massacre of the Hittites, etc., as represented here, because, well because he also explicitly ordered no taking of their children for intermarriage, and because there are passages in completely different books of the Bible where God is shown to care for outsiders. The opening passage should be read as saying: "When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you - the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you - and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you do not have to utterly destroy them."
I hope that's all clear. This analysis is held out by Markham as an example of the sort of sophisticated theology that Richard Dawkins and others constantly fail to take into account. Indeed, Markham rebukes Dawkins for not understanding this passage correctly, and for failing to note that the biblical text gives as a reason for this total obliteration of the Hittites, etc. (the command that was not actually given) that they practised infant sacrifice. Markham accuses Dawkins of being lazy in comparing the genocide that was not commanded here anyway with modern day genocides because Dawkins neglects to discuss "the child-sacrifice issue." Right. Oh, and because Dawkins compares the actions ordered by God with those of secular dictators, which apparently isn't a legitimate comparison for reasons that escape me.
Apparently, if we try to follow Markham's logic, Dawkins should have thought carefully about whether or not to reason along the following the lines: "They practise child sacrifice. What will we do about it? Let's kill them all, making certain that we don't save any of their children for intermarriage! That'll solve the problem." Oh, and apparently it would have been better to find a modern example of genocide committed on strictly religious grounds (rather than grounds relating to racial or political ideology) before condemning what the Bible appears to approve of. Don't ask me why: I'm totally lost by this point. Apparently you can condemn the genocides commanded in the Bible only if you can find comparisons with modern-day genocides carried out on strictly religious grounds.
Look, it's always possible to take a text and apply a method of interpretation that turns its plain meaning on its head. Literary critics and lawyers (I'm trained in both of those disciplines) are pretty good at this sort of thing. But there are limits.
And yes, it's easy to see why theologians might want to reinterpret and rehabilitate an offensive text like this. But really, theologians are going to have to do better than that if they are going to take this sort of debate outside their own cloisters. The meaning, in its context within the Book of Deuteronomy, is absolutely plain. The whole conquest of the Holy Land needs to be turned into a metaphor or something; it's no good offering us this sort of weak attempt to claim that black is white.