Friday Bible Blogging - Joshua 1 to Joshua 10
This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
I apologize that my Friday Bible Blogging entry is being posted on a Tuesday, but I've been rather busy. This is only the second time I've missed the schedule, but I expect it won't be the last.
This week's entry covers the first 10 chapters of Joshua, including the famous story of Jericho and the collapse of its walls.
Joshua is the first of the Historical Books. Although, as I discussed some in a previous entry, the traditional groupings of books probably aren't the original groupings. The first four books of the Pentateuch were probably one collection, while Deuteronomy probably served as an introduction to a more extended historical account. But since the main subject of Deuteronomy was Moses and the Law, when these two collections were brought together, Deuteronomy was grouped with the other books that dealt with Moses, probably with a bit of rearrangement to move the death of Moses to the end of Deuteronomy. So, while Joshua is the first in the now traditional grouping of the Historical Books, it probably wasn't to begin with.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) cautions against reading the Historical Books as actual history. Actually, I'll quote a bit of their introduction to Joshua.
The book should not be read as straightforward history - it telescopes and simplifies what was a long and complex process of occupation of the land by the Israelite tribes. Some details are lacking (e.g. how the Israelites came into possession of Shechem, 8.30-35), while the other events narrated in the book are selectively arranged to heighten the book's message. Thus the book's presentation of reality does not necessarily reflect the course of events. For example, a main theme of the book is a swift and complete conquest of the land, while most archaeological evidence suggests its gradual settlement. Consequently, archaeological excavations, together with sociological and anthropological analyses, must be used to understand the early history of Israel in the land.
With the death of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy, it's now time for Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan. The first chapter was mostly an introduction - repeating the promise of giving the Israelites the land, telling them to be 'strong and courageous', to follow the Law and be faithful to God, etc. Joshua went to all the 'officers of the people' and commanded them to be ready to march in three days, with the three days possibly being of some ritual significance. He also reminded the tribes who had taken land east of the Jordan for their cattle that they had promised to fight alongside the rest of the Israelites.
Joshua sent two spies ahead to Jericho. For some reason, they decided to visit with a prostitute in the city, Rahab (though the text doesn't describe whether or not they used her services). When soldiers of Jericho came looking for the two Israelites, Rahab sent them on a wild goose chase outside the city while she hid the Israelites on her roof. She later explained to the Israelites that all the inhabitants of Jericho were terrified of the Hebrews after hearing of what they'd done to other cities. In exchange for her kindness, the two spies promised to spare her when Jericho was attacked, under the condition that she hang a crimson cord from her window, and that she keep all her family inside her house during the attack. After that, Rahab let the two men out her window to escape the city (she lived on the wall).
It was finally time for the people to cross the Jordan. The priests were to lead the way carrying the Ark of the Covenant, with the people following at least 2,000 cubits behind. The Jordan River was flooded at the time, but as soon as the priests' feet touched the water, the waters upstream "stood still", reminiscent of Moses and the Red Sea. The priests stood on dry ground in the middle of the river bed while all of Israel crossed over.
The Lord told Joshua to pick a man from each tribe to take a stone from where the priests were standing and to carry it to where they would camp that night, and to arrange them in a monument for future generations. At the same time, Joshua arranged twelve stones around where the priests were standing, as a future underwater monument. Once everyone else had finished crossing and all the work was done with the stones, the priests themselves left the river and the water began flowing again.
This chapter was kind of choppy. It bounced back and forth quite a bit, repeating similar actions. According to the NOAB, this is most likely due to blending several different versions of the story.
The beginning of Chapter 5 was a conclusion to the story from the previous chapter. All the kings of the area were disheartened and afraid of Israel after hearing of the miracle at the Jordan.
After that came a new declaration from God to circumcise all the Israelite males with flint knives. Apparently, none of the males of the new generation after leaving Egypt had been circumcised. It seems this must be coming from a different tradition from earlier books, since I thought previous passages such as Leviticus 12 made it clear that all males were to be circumcised. The Israelites stayed at their camp long enough for the males to heal and then to celebrate Passover.
The end of a chapter has an interesting passage that marks the beginning of the 'Central Campaign' in conquering the promised land. To me, these few verses in Chapter 5 seem like an insertion of a fragment from another version of Joshua's story. The start of the story is part of what makes it seem different, "Once when Joshua was near Jericho..." It told of Joshua being visited by the "commander of the army of the Lord", all decked out in armor and with a sword. However, after introducing himself and telling Joshua to remove his sandals since he was on sacred ground, there was no more mention of this character.
This is the famous story of Jericho. There was a lot of repetition of the number, seven. For the first six days, the army of Israel was to be led by "seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark" walking around Jericho. On the seventh day, they were to walk around seven times. Then, all the men of the army were to shout out at Joshua's command. The Israelites followed these commands, and once the army had shouted, the walls of Jericho fell. The Israelites promptly attacked and massacred every living thing in the city, "both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys", save for the prostitute, Rahab, and her family. The Israelites were warned not to take "any of the devoted things", lest they corrupt the Israelite camp, bringing down God's wrath.
There was a passage that showed God to be remarkably worldly, "19 But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.' " It makes you wonder why God would want precious metals.
At the end of the Chapter, Joshua cursed anyone who would try to rebuild Jericho. I don't know if the Bible will mention anyone being punished by this curse, but of course, Jericho exists and is populated today.
According to the NRSV, Jericho was probably an unfortified village during the 13th century BC when this story was supposed to have taken place. According to Wikipedia, the history of walls at Jericho is a bit complicated. There is evidence of a series of walls at the site, some probably having been destroyed by earthquakes, others by invaders. The village at that site had a wall as early as the Neolithic, but the article quoted a "statement by [Carl] Watzinger that 'in the time of Joshua, Jericho was a heap of ruins, on which stood perhaps a few isolated huts'."
Chapter seven started by informing the reader that one of the Israelites had broken the command not to take any 'devoted things', so that "the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites." This set up what was to follow. A few spies went to scout out the city of Ai. It was small, and they figured it would only take two or three thousand men to capture it. But since God was angry, when the force attacked Ai, the soldiers of Ai were victorious, killing some of the Israelites.
After Joshua questioned why God would allow such a thing to happen, God informed Joshua of the man who had broken the rules. To atone for this, the people were to sanctify themselves, and then, with the Lord's help, the guilty man would be found, "And the one who is taken as having the devoted things shall be burned with fire, together with all that he has, for having transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and for having done an outrageous thing in Israel."
So the next day, apparently by casting lots, the guilty party was narrowed down by tribe, then clan, then family, then household, then finally the guilty man. He was made to confess, and once the stolen goods were found in his tent, he and his possessions, "the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, with his sons and daughters, with his oxen, donkeys, and sheep, and his tent and all that he had" were taken out to a valley. Then, "all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, 26 and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day."
This story is so cruel on several levels. First is the extreme punishment out of proportion to the offense. Then is the fact that all of Israel was punished for one man's actions. Then was the fact that the entire man's family, including children, was put to death for his crime, not to mention that his children were considered his property.
Now that the corrupting influence had been purged from their presence, God was back to supporting the Israelites. They attacked Ai again, this time with God's blessing, and utterly destroyed it. God instructed them on the tactics to use, luring the soldiers out with a small force, and then ambushing them with a larger army. While Ai's forces were thus occupied, more Israelite troops invaded the now defenseless city and set it ablaze. The Israelites killed all of the inhabitants and soldiers of Ai except for the king, who was brought back to Joshua to be hanged on a tree until evening.
After the defeat of Ai, the Israelites built an altar on Mount Ebal, performed all the usual sacrifices, then made the stones with the Law written on them as Moses had commanded. Then the people were blessed by the priests holding the Ark of the Covenant, and then the people were all treated to a recitation of the entire Law. And so came to an end the Central Campaign.
There was another parallel to Moses in this chapter. Just as Moses held his hands aloft when the Israelites fought Amalek and his people, Joshua held his sword aloft during the entire battle against Ai.
Chapter 9 is the beginning of the Southern Campaign. When most of the kings of the area heard of what had happened, they formed an alliance to defend themselves against Israel. The Gibeonites, however, took a different approach. Since they knew that the Israelites were slaughtering all the inhabitants of the promised land, but not from areas outside that, they sent a delegation disguised to look like it had traveled from afar. They had old, worn out clothes, moldy supplies, mended wineskins, etc. They convinced the Israelites to make a treaty and swear an oath to them. Once the Israelites learned the truth, they knew there was little they could do because of the oath. So, they spared the Gibeonites' lives, but made them "hewers of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation," a position they apparently still held when the book was written.
The other kings of the area decided to attack Gibeon. Joshua and the Israelites came to Gibeon's aid, scattering the enemy forces. As the enemy was fleeing, God took a personal role in killing them, "the Lord threw down huge stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the Israelites killed with the sword." To give themselves more time to kill their enemies, Joshua commanded the very sun and moon to stand still.
In the midst of all this killing, the enemy kings all hid together in a cave. The kings were discovered, and a large stone was rolled against the entrance of the cave to trap them. Once the Israelites had slaughtered as many of the enemy as the could, they came back to take care of the kings. Joshua called together all the Israelites, and "said to the chiefs of the warriors who had gone with him, 'Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings.' Then they came near and put their feet on their necks." After that, the kings were killed, and their bodies hung from trees. At nightfall, their bodies were taken down, thrown into the cave where they had hidden, and sealed there.
This scene is so brutal that it's almost literally sickening. It makes you glad it's most likely fictitious. Unfortunately, actions like these were common enough in that era, and I'm sure too many people had to suffer similar fates.
Next came brief descriptions of more towns that Joshua and the Israelites conquered, killing every last man, woman, and child. These cities included, Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish (and the people of Gezer who came to its defense), Eglon, Hebron, and Debir. With this, the Southern Campaign came to an end.
After Deuteronomy, Joshua is a nice change. It gets back to the narrative, and is much more interesting to read. Unfortunately, like so much of the Bible that I've read so far, it's full of brutality and cruelty. Like I wrote above, I'm glad most of the story isn't true. It's just sad to think that these behaviors and treatments were common in that era.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.