August 29, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Abiel, Abner, Ahijah, Ahimaaz, Ahinoam, Ahitub, Aijalon, Amalekite, Benjamin, Bethaven, Bible, Bozez, Edom, Eli, Ephod, Ephraim, Geba, Gibeah, Ichabod, Ishvi, Jonathan, Kish, Malchishua, Merab, Michal, Michmash, Mizron, Moab, Ner, Old Testament, Philistine, Phinehas, Saul, Seneh, Shiloh, Thummim, Urim, Zobah
When chapter 14 opens, Saul is hanging out by “the pomegranate tree” near Gibeah (evidently a once-known landmark) with his 600 men. It occurs to me that perhaps the 600, down from the 3,000 he began 1 Sam. 13 with, may be all that are left after the desertions in the last chapter. If so, it makes his decision to proceed with the sacrifice without the tardy Samuel seem quite a bit more reasonable. With his army is Ahijah, the great-grandson of Eli (via Phinehas) and evidently the new high priest as he is said to be carrying the ephod.
I had gotten the impression that the high priest status had transferred to Samuel at Eli’s death because Eli’s sons were corrupt, but it apparently merely hopped that generation. There’s also no hint here of how the priesthood survived the destruction of Shiloh, or if the office has relocated to Kiriath-jearim to be with the ark, if the ark has been moved (it was only supposed to be there for 20 years – 1 Sam. 7:2), etc.
Jonathan and his unnamed armour-bearer decide to sneak out of the camp and assault a nearby Philistine garrison, Rambo-style. They tell no one that they are leaving.
When they reach the outskirts of the Philistine camp, they decide to reveal themselves. If they Philistines tell them to wait there, they agree that they will do so. If they Philistines beckon them over, they will approach. The latter will be taken as a sign that God has delivered the garrison to them, for some reason.
The Philistines chide them, saying “look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hid themselves” (1 Sam. 14:11), referencing 1 Sam. 13:6. It seems that they believe Jonathan and his armour-bearers to be defectors. So the Philistines call them over, promising to “show you a thing” (1 Sam. 14:12). What the “thing” is, or whether it’s part of their teasing, is never revealed, because Jonathan and his armour-bearer go full River Tam as soon as they get near, killing 20 Philistines.
This causes a panic among the Philistines, no doubt fanned by a timely earthquake.
Saul’s watchmen see the Philistines running about, so he orders a headcount and discovers that Jonathan and the armour-bearer are missing. Having apparently figured out what’s going on, Saul decides to press his advantage. He tells Ahijah to bring the ark. Maybe. Apparently, the LXX has Saul call for the ephod here, which makes more sense in context.
Before Ahijah can do anything, they hear the tumult growing in the Philistine camp, and Saul tells Ahijah to “withdraw your hand” (1 Sam. 14:19). This suggests that Saul wanted to go after the panicking Philistines, but he wanted to check in with God for permission first (presumably by using the Umim and Thummim kept in the ephod for divination). When it became obvious that the Philistines were easy pickings, he decided to just go for it.
The battle depiction is rather confusing, but what I take from it is that the Philistines are just completely irrational in their fear and are fighting each other as much as they are fighting the Israelites. The battle is so one-sided that the Israelites who had hidden all come out, and even the Israelites who had joined the Philistines switch back to Saul’s side.
The lack of weapons among the Israelites is, apparently, no longer a concern.
For reasons not given, Saul makes an oath: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies” (1 Sam. 14:24). Here are a few possible reasons for the vow:
- The narrative chronology is muddled, and he actually made this vow before going into battle in the hopes that it would ensure his victory (fasting as a prayer amplifier is far from unknown). The fact that the Israelites are already faint from hunger before the Philistines are defeated suggests that this may be the case.
- I’ve seen it argued that the vow is meant to expunge his earlier faux pas with the sacrifice. This would be ironic since – as we shall soon find out – this too is a rash decision that meddles in cultic matters and will end up backfiring.
- Or the point is just to show that Saul keeps doing stuff that fall under religious jurisdiction without consulting the proper authorities, reinforcing the rationale for denying him his dynastic posterity.
Unfortunately, Jonathan doesn’t get the memo. If we accept the explanation that Saul made his vow before going after the Philistines, it could be that Jonathan is still returning from his Ramboing and, therefore, didn’t hear it.
This is important, because the army finds a honey field (a forest with honey, according to my translation, but I’ve seen arguments that the term for “forest” could also mean hives. It’s possibly, then, that they stumbled upon an apiary). Jonathan pokes at a honeycomb with his staff and has a taste. Much like me when I eat chocolate, Jonathan’s “eyes became bright” (1 Sam. 14:27).
A companion tells him about Saul’s vow, but Jonathan seems not to interpret this as a danger to himself. Rather, he argues that the vow was a bad idea because now the soldiers are so hungry that they are too weak to slaughter the Philistines. In his argument, Jonathan says that it would have been “better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found” (1 Sam. 14:30).
The argument seems strange given the prohibition on taking spoils during a holy war (a prohibition illustrated in Joshua 7, though one that has already been applied inconsistently elsewhere). Still, the story seems to mirror the story of Jephthah’s vow, and Jonathan seems to highlight that it is not a good idea to make rash oaths.
The soldiers are so starved (after only a day, albeit one of battle) that they “flew upon the spoil” (1 Sam. 14:32). Unfortunately, in their hurry, they eat the Philistine livestock with the blood – prohibited in Gen. 9:4, Lev. 19:26, and Deut. 12:16. Additionally, it seems that they are slaughtering the animals as they find them, rather than having priests do it on altars.
Saul tries to remedy the issue by having a rock brought, making a an altar for the people to bring the livestock to for slaughtering. With that, the issue seems resolved.
Saul then suggests a night attack on the Philistines, but the priest says that should be hanging out with God instead. Saul calls on God, asking him if they should proceed against the Philistines, but God does not answer him. They assume that this is a result of some unknown sin.
Using the Umim and Thumim, they first ask whether the sin is in either Saul or Jonathan, or in the people. The Umim is drawn, indicating that it is either in Saul or Jonathan. The stones are drawn again, revealing that the sin was in Jonathan. This prompts Jonathan to confess to the honey-eating.
It seems that the story about the soldiers eating livestock without draining the blood was an insert, or else the chapter loses narrative continuity. Presumably, it was intended to explain the origins of an altar associated with Saul.
Both Jonathan and Saul agree that Jonathan should be put to death, but the people protest. According to my New Bible Commentary, this shows Saul to be “an insecure king outvoted by his troops” (p. 294). Surprisingly, God is apparently okay with the people ransoming Jonathan’s life, presumably by substituting an animal as in the story of Abraham’s son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.
Saul’s deeds and family
The chapter closes with a brief summary of Saul’s deeds and a listing of his nearer relatives.
We are told that he fought enemies on all sides: The Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Philistines, the Amalekites, and the kings of Zobah.
We are told about his children: his sons Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua, and his daughters Merab and Michal.
Saul’s wife is named Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. His army commander is his cousin, Abner, the son of Ner (Saul’s uncle).
August 25, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Benjamin, Beth-horon, Bethaven, Bethel, Bible, Gad, Geba, Gibeah, Gilead, Gilgal, Jonathan, Jordan, Michmash, Old Testament, Ophrah, Philistine, Samuel, Saul, Shual, Zeboim
The chapter opens with something of a mystery. According to John Hobbins’s translation, the opening line reads: “Saul was a year old when he became king, and he was king over Israel for two years.”
Clearly, Kish didn’t send his one-year-old out to fetch donkeys, and I think we can assume that a one-year-old can’t have a son out leading armies (we will be meeting his son Jonathan shortly). Even if we accept the possibility of a narrative jumbling – in which case the events in which Samuel is clearly an adult may have taken place after his coronation – it would be too unusual for an infant to be a dynasty founder without it getting a mention.
Far more likely, we have a corruption of the record. It could be that the earliest text had correct figures that were later dropped, or perhaps the original author didn’t know and used these numbers as a place-holder.
Hobbins goes on to mention other variations of the passage that contain more realistic figures:
There are ancient witnesses that supply a plausible age for Saul at the beginning of his reign – the Lucianic recension of the Old Greek has 30 years; the Syriac has 21 – but there are no grounds for thinking that either goes back to an earlier stage of the text in which Saul’s age when he became king was not lacking.
If anything, the presence of different figures suggests, to me, that later scholars were concerned about the absence of realistic figures and included their best guesses – arriving at different conclusions or possibly drawing from different traditions.
If we assume a late composition date, it’s not unreasonable for the author not to have access to the actual figures. Which raises the question of why he would bring up the topic at all. It could be that the point is to indicate that these events aren’t occurring right after the events of 1 Sam. 12. Rather, time has passed, perhaps quite a few years.
Saul at war
Saul selects 3,000 soldiers, sending the remainder home. He keeps 2,000 of them with him at Michmash while his son, Jonathan, leads the remainder in a raid against the Philistine garrison at Geba.
Saul reproved by Samuel for not obeying the commandments of the Lord, by John Singleton Copley, 1798
For all that the Philistines are the baddies in these stories, Saul is clearly on the offensive. When Jonathan wins, Saul blows a trumpet to signal that the tides have turned, and to call the people to Gilgal (raising the question of why he’d dismissed them in the first place).
When they hear of it, the Philistines muster 30,000 charioteers, 6,000 cavalry, and innumerable footsoldiers. They gather at Michmash, where Saul had so recently been.
The number of Philistines has the Israelites quaking in their boots, and many hide “in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (1 Sam. 13:6). In apparent reference to 1 Sam. 10:8, Saul waits seven days for Samuel, but Samuel doesn’t show. Saul, seeing his people starting to desert and having no idea where Samuel is or if he’s even coming, takes matters into his own hands. He orders that a sacrifice be performed without Samuel.
When Samuel arrives, he is furious. He declares that, by crossing the church/state barrier, Saul has broken God’s commandments. “But now,” he says, “your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Sam. 13: 14).
There’s the impression that Samuel may not have taken too well to the loss of his secular authority. We see a hint of this in 1 Sam. 8:7, where God tries to reassure Samuel that it is he who is rejected, not Samuel. Now that we see Samuel so furious, I wonder if it’s not because Saul has attempted to erode his last little corner of power.
Or, if we read in some allegory, it could well be that this story presents a conflict between secular and religious authorities at a time when secular authorities were just forming in the region. It seems that Samuel, as a stand-in for religious authority, is attempted to create and preserve a role for his “team” within the context of the new monarchy.
We now learn that the Philistines have, in their attempt to control Israel, forbidden smithing (not an unknown strategy – when she defeated the Oirats, the Mongolian queen Mandukhai forbade the use of knives even for eating). This indicates a power well beyond that suggested so far. Or, perhaps, it is hyperbole intended to ramp up the suspense of the story.
As a practical detail, we learn that the Israelites have had to turn to Philistine smiths to tend their tools, paying a pim (1/2 shekel) for work on ploughshares and mattocks, and 1/3 shekel for sharpening axes and setting goads.
Only Saul and Jonathan are armed with proper weapons. Which all makes it rather impressive that Jonathan was able to defeat the garrison at Gibeah.
May 5, 2014
06. Joshua, Bible, Old Testament
Aaron, Abiezer, Achsah, Achshaph, Achzib, Adadah, Adamah, Adaminekeb, Addar, Adithaim, Adullam, Adummim, Ahiman, Aijalon, Ain, Akrabbim, Allammelech, Almon, Amad, Amam, Ammonite, Amorite, Anab, Anaharath, Anak, Anakim, Anathoth, Anim, Aphek, Aphekah, Arab, Arabah, Arba, Archite, Aroer, Ashan, Ashdod, Asher, Ashkelon, Ashnah, Ashtaroth, Asriel, Ataroth, Atarothaddar, Avvim, Azekah, Azmon, Aznothtabor, Baalah, Baalath, Baalathbeer, Baalgad, Balaam, Balah, Bamothbaal, Bashan, Bealoth, Beeroth, Beersheba, Beeshterah, Beneberak, Benjamin, Beor, Beten, Beth-hoglah, Beth-horom, Beth-shaen, Beth-shean, Beth-shemesh, Bethanath, Bethanoth, Betharabah, Betharabahb, Bethaven, Bethbaalmeon, Bethdagon, Bethel, Bethemek, Bethjeshimoth, Bethlebaoth, Bethlehem, Bethmarcaboth, Bethpazzez, Bethpelet, Bethpeor, Bethtappuah, Bethul, Bethzur, Bezer, Bible, Biziothiah, Bozkath, Cabbon, Cabul, Caleb, Canaanite, Carmel, Chepharammoni, Chesalon, Chesil, Chesulloth, Chinnereth, Chislothtabor, Chitlish, Dabbesheth, Daberath, Dan, Dannah, Debir, Dibon, Dilan, Dimnah, Dimonah, Dor, Dumah, Ebez, Ebron, Eder, Edom, Edrei, Eglon, Ekron, Eleazar, Elon, Elteke, Eltekeh, Eltekon, Eltolad, Emek-keziz, Enam, Endor, Engannim, Engedi, Enhaddah, Enhazor, Enrogel, Enshemesh, Entappuah, Ephraim, Eshan, Eshtaol, Eshtemoa, Eshtemon, Esthaol, Ether, Ethkazin, Evi, Exem, Ezem, Gad, Gath, Gath-hepher, Gathrimmon, Gaza, Geba, Gebalite, Gederah, Gederoth, Gederothaim, Gedor, Gershonite, Geshurite, Gezer, Gibbethon, Gibeah, Gibeon, Gilead, Gilgal, Giloh, Golan, Goshen, Great Sidon, Hadashah, Haeleph, Halhul, Hali, Hammath, Hammon, Hammothdor, Hannathon, Hapharaim, Hazar-gaddah, Hazarshual, Hazarsusah, Hazor, Hazor-hadattah, Hebron, Helek, Heleph, Helkath, Hepher, Heshbon, Heshmon, Hezron, Hinnom, Hoglah, Holon, Horem, Hormah, Hosah, Hukkok, Humtah, Hur, Ibleam, Idalah, Iim, Iphtah, Iphtah-el, Iron, Irpeel, Irshemesh, Issachar, Ithlah, Ithnan, Jabneel, Jagur, Jahaz, Jahzah, Jair, Janim, Janoah, Japhia, Japhletite, Jarmuth, Jattir, Jazer, Jebus, Jebusite, Jehud, Jephunneh, Jericho, Jerusalem, Jezreel, Jokdeam, Jokneam, Joktheel, Joppa, Jordan, Joseph, Joshua, Judah, Juttah, Kabzeel, Kadesh, Kadeshbarnea, Kain, Kanah, Karka, Kartah, Kartan, Kattath, Kedemoth, Kedesh, Keilah, Kenaz, Kenizzite, Kerioth-hezron, Kibzaim, Kinah, Kiriath-jearim, Kiriathaim, Kiriatharba, Kiriathbaal, Kiriathsannah, Kiriathsepher, Kishion, Kohathite, Lachish, Lahmam, Lakkum, Lebanon, Lebaoth, Lebo-hamath, Leshem, Levi, Libnah, Lower Beth-horon, Luz, Maacathite, Maarath, Machir, Machirite, Madmannah, Mahalab, Mahanaim, Mahlah, Makkedah, Manasseh, Maon, Maralah, Mareshah, Mearah, Medeba, Megiddo, Mejarkon, Mephaath, Merarite, Michmethath, Middin, Midian, Migdalel, Migdalgad, Milcah, Mishal, Misrephothmaim, Mizpeh, Moladah, Moses, Mount Baalah, Mount Ephron, Mount Hermon, Mount Jearim, Mount Seir, Naamah, Naarah, Nahalal, Naphath, Naphtali, Neah, Negeb, Neiel, Nephtoah, Nexib, Nibshan, Noah, Nun, Og, Old Testament, Ophni, Ophrah, Othniel, Parah, Perizzite, Philistine, Pisgah, Rabbah, Rabbith, Rakkath, Rakkon, Ramah, Ramoth, Reba, Rehob, Rekem, Remeth, Rephaim, Reuben, Rimmon, Salecah, Sansannah, Sarid, Sepher, Sexacah, Shaalabbin, Shaaraim, Shahazumah, Shamir, Sharuhen, Sheba, Shechem, Shema, Shemida, Sheshai, Shihor, Shihorlibnath, Shikkeron, Shilhim, Shiloh, Shimron, Shion, Shunem, Sibmah, Sidonian, Sihon, Simeon, Socoh, Stone of Bohan, Taanach, Taanath-shiloh, Tabor, Talmai, Tanaach, Tappuah, Taralah, Telem, Timnah, Timnathserah, Tirzah, Tyre, Ummah, Upper Beth-horon, Valley of Achor, Valley of Jazreel, Wadi Arnon, Wadi Kanah, Wadi of Egypt, Wilderness of Zin, Zaanannim, Zanoah, Zebulun, Zela, Zelophehad, Zemaraim, Zenan, Zer, Zerethshahar, Ziddim, Ziklag, Zior, Ziph, Zorah, Zur
Always a bit of a Debbie Downer, God begins by telling Joshua that he’s getting old and that there is still much land to be conquered. He then proceeds to list these lands in Josh. 13:2-6.
The narrator follows up by describing the boundaries of the land under Israelite control on the east side of the Jordan, reminding us once more about how Moses defeated King Og and King Sihon (will he ever stop going on about that?). We are told that the Israelites had failed to drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites, who still live within Israel “to this day” (Josh. 13:13).
The actual allocation sections are a little scattered, so I’ll deal with the content out of order. In Josh. 18, Joshua tells the tribes who still require lands to each send out three men to scout the land and write descriptions of it. When they return, Joshua will use a lottery system to divide it among the tribes. This all takes place at Shiloh.
Because the place names are extremely boring, I will just list verse references plus any detail that happens to attract my interest. Here are the tribal allocations:
Judah: Josh. 15:1-12, 20-63. Though God had promised to Joshua that no one would be able to stand against him (Josh. 1:5), the people of Judah were not able to drive out the Jebusites, who were the people living in Jerusalem. Because of this, “the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Josh. 15:63).
Reuben: Josh. 13:15-23. Amid the listing of territories, we are reminded that the Israelites killed Balaam, “who practiced divination” (Josh. 13:22). This was, if you remember, a totally awkward twist from Numbers 31.
Gad: Josh. 13:24-28. In Josh. 13:27, we are told that Gad gets “the rest of the kingdom of King Sihon. This conflicts with Josh. 13:21, where we are told that Reuben is to receive “all the kingdom of King Sihon.” The biblical penchant for exaggeration is all well and good, but probably a terrible idea when relating tribal land allocations…
Manasseh (eastern half/Machir): Josh. 13:29-31, 17:3-6. In Josh. 17, we are reminded of Zelophehad’s daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – who are to receive an inheritance in their own right. Here, the women are given their lands.
Manasseh (western half): Josh. 17:7-13. Once more, the Israelites are unable to kill off all the native inhabitants, so that the Manassites have to wait until they strong enough to enslave the Canaanites.
Ephraim: Josh. 16:1-10. Once again, we are told that they were unable to drive some people out – the Canaanites of Gezer remain and, we are told, have been enslaved.
Benjamin: Josh. 18:11-26.
Simeon: Josh. 19:1-9. Though the apportioning of land was supposed to have been fair, for some reason Joseph had given too much to Judah. So when he gets to Simeon, he doesn’t have enough territory to give and has to carve pieces out from Judah and give them over. Mastermind Joshua strikes again. You’d think he’d have planned ahead a little…
Zebulun: Josh. 19:10-16.
Issachar: Josh. 19:17-23. Excavations began on what is believed to be Anaharath, one of Issachar’s towns, somewhat recently!
Asher: Josh. 19:24-31.
Naphtali: Josh. 19:32-39.
Dan: Josh. 19:40-48. We are told that Dan took land from Leshem, renaming it “Dan” after their ancestor. Unfortunately, they are given Zorah and Eshtaol, which had already been given to Judah back in Josh. 15:33. Poor Joshua just cannot wrap his head around how this stuff works…
Levi: Josh. 21:1-45. Though they get no territory per se, the Levites do get cities, as well as a little pasture land. A portion of the Kohathites are given thirteen towns from Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. The rest of the Kohathites get ten towns from Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh. The Gershonites get thirteen towns from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh. The Merarites get twelve towns from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun. We are told that Caleb had been given the fields and villages of one of the towns now being given to the Levites.
Caleb and Joshua
Caleb: Josh. 14:6-15, 15:13-19. You’ll remember Caleb has the scout who (with or without Joshua) stood against the other scouts in their position that the Israelites should not rush into the Promised Land. I can’t recall if Moses promised him his own land as a reward at the time, but the text here says that he did. And so, while Joshua is drawing all his lots, Caleb approaches and demands his reward. Though he is 85 years old now, he claims that he is still strong enough to fight and, therefore, would like to be granted the hill country where he had initially seen the Anakim (the giants he saw in Numbers 13). Joshua agrees, giving him Hebron – previously named Kiriatharba. The Arba in the name is the “greatest man among the Anakim” (Josh. 14:15). Incidentally, there’s a discussion over at Remnant of Giants about whether “Anakim” here should refer to a specific group of people, or whether it is used more broadly as a term for giants.
We have to wait until the next chapter and half of Judah’s allotment before we find out what happens next. Caleb heads up to Hebron and defeats Anak’s three sons, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. Having now a taste for blood, he heads off to fight Debir, offering his daughter, Achsah, as a wife for anyone who conquers it for him. Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, takes him up on the offer and marries his niece. She tells her new husband to ask her father for a field and they are given some land in the Negeb. Later, while dismounting a donkey (presumably not an unflattering nickname for Othniel), she asks her father for water springs as well. Caleb gives her a few.
It’s a cute story, but we were told in Josh. 11:21 that it was Joshua who had defeated the Anakim in Hebron and Debir.
Joshua: Josh. 19:49-51. Now that all the lands are distributed, God tells the Israelites to give Joshua some land, too. I love this little detail – we are specifically told that the Israelites gave Joshua his land (on God’s command), just in case anyone dared to wonder if perhaps Joshua was skimming a little from the top for himself! Of course, we’re also told that he specifically asked for the town they gave him, so it still feels a little like a stacked deck. Either way, he receives Timnathserah, which is in his tribe’s – Ephraim – land.
In Josh. 20, the cities of refuge are appointed. You will remember these cities from Numbers 35. We had been told that there should be six of them in total, and they are:
- Kedesh in Naphtali’s territory
- Shechem in Ephraim’s territory
- Kiriatharba (Hebron) in Judah’s territory
- Bezer in Reuben’s territory
- Ramoth in Gad’s territory
- Golan in Manasseh’s territory
The latter three had already been appointed in Deuteronomy 4.
The tribe of Joseph (composed of Manasseh and Ephraim) complain to Joshua that they are too numerous for the amount of land they were given. Joshua, who sadly lacks a head for numbers, also managed to muck up Judah’s portion (giving them too much) in Josh. 19:9. To solve the problem, Joshua sends them into the forests belonging to the Perizzites and Rephaim to clear some space for themselves.
But, reply Manasseh and Ephraim, those guys have chariots of iron! (Josh. 17:16) Joshua reassures them that they will be fine, and that they will drive out the Canaanites even though they have chariots of iron and are very strong.
April 21, 2014
06. Joshua, Bible, Old Testament
Achan, Ai, Bethaven, Bethel, Bible, Carmi, Jericho, Joshua, Mount Ebal, Mount Gerizim, Old Testament, Sherabim, Shinar, Valley of Achor, Zabdi, Zerah
Joshua is officially the worst at picking spies. If you ever need to choose someone to spy for you, ask Joshua for his advice and then do the exact opposite. Seriously, this guy has not made a single solid decision since he took over leadership. (Perhaps this is all to reinforce that he really, really, really is the leader because of divine mandate and not because of any personal qualities – because look! Look at how inept he is!)
So Joshua picks a couple of spies to go check out Ai. When they return, they go on and on about how puny and weak Ai is, and swear that only 2,000-3,000 soldiers are needed. When Joshua has doubts, they convince him to send few men because it’s just such a burden to trudge a whole army (plus accompanying families and cattle) all the way up to Ai for a larger assault. Playing it safe within the anchoring the spies have set, Joshua sends a full 3,000 soldiers up to take Ai. Just to reinforce the confidence he has in this mission, he sends them off without any battle plan to speak of beyond “just smash yourselves against the city gates until they give up.”
Predictably, the attack fails and 36 Israelite soldiers are wounded.
But wait! This wasn’t because Joshua and his spies totally underestimated their enemy! This wasn’t because they launched an attack with far too few soldiers! And it certainly had nothing to do with the lack of a battle plan! Obviously, it must be because one among them had sinned, and that person’s sin caused God to turn away from the whole nation.
Thus begins an incredibly creepy chapter in which they essentially draw lots to work through which tribe contains the sinner (Judah), which family (the Zerahites), which household (Zabdi’s household), and, lastly, which individual (Achan). It turns out that Achan had kept some booty (a few shekels, a bar of gold, and a mantle) from Jericho, which had been expressly forbidden. To purge his sin from the Israelite nation, Achan, his children, his cattle and flocks, and all his possessions are taken to the Valley of Achor. There, they are stoned, burned, and then stoned again for good measure. This is how the valley got its name – Achor means “trouble.”
If any of that doesn’t sound like human sacrifice then you might not be paying attention.
If the story sounds familiar, there may be a reason. As David Plotz points out:
The rest of the chapter unfolds like Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery.” (In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that “The Lottery” is intentionally modeled on Chapter 7.) Slowly, with an ominous, telescoping rhythm, Joshua seeks the offender.
The whole story is rather strange coming so soon after Deut. 24:16, which is quite clear that “parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents.” It feels like an older story, something from the Exod. 20:5 tradition, that snuck by while our scribe was working a late night.
Of this, Collins says:
The story is presumably older than Deuteronomic law. According to Exod 20:5, the Lord punishes children for the iniquity of their parents even to the third and fourth generation, and this was the traditional idea in Israel, roughly down to the time of the Deuteronomic reform of the Babylonian exile. The doctrine of individual responsibility is an innovation in Deuteronomy 24. It is most strongly articulated in Ezekiel 18. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.102)
There’s some confusion about Achan’s parentage. In Josh. 7:1 and Josh. 7:18, he is Achan son of Carmi. In Josh. 7:24, he is Achan son of Zerah.
The Second Attempt
Achan may be dead, but Joshua is still playing it safe the second time around. Rather than the 3,000 soldiers he sent the first time, he’s now sending a full 30,000 soldiers (to fight a town that only has 12,000 inhabitants, according to Josh. 8:25).
Illustration from the Morgan Bible of the Israelites being repulsed from Ai
He’s also going in with a plan. He hides 30,000 men behind the city, ready for an ambush. How one hides such an army is something of a mystery, but let’s just assume that they had cardboard painted “trees” they could each hide behind, and that some lookout from Ai wondered how that forest grew overnight and, hey, did that tree just sneeze?
Meanwhile, Joshua sent 5,000 soldiers to assault the gates as he had in the first, failed attempt. The citizens of Ai, probably thanking their gods for sending them such easy pickings, head off in pursuit. While they chase the decoy army around, the real army marches in through the back door.
Joshua stretches out his javelin, reminiscent of Moses needing to keep his hands raised while Joshua fights the Amalekites in Exodus 17. He keeps his javelin in the air until the battle is over. Unlike Moses’s trick, however, Joshua’s has the plausible effect of signalling to the ambushers that it’s time to attack.
The soldiers of Ai realize their mistake when they turn around to see their city burning and belching out 30,000 Israelite soldiers to catch them in an inescapable pincer attack.
It’s all rather mid-2000s historical epic.
Strangely, Bethel sneaks into the narrative once, when the soldiers of Ai rush out in pursuit of the faux-routing army: “There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, who did not go out after Israel” (Josh. 8:17). Bethel is not mentioned again, and there’s no reason given for their soldiers to have joined in.
According to my study Bible: “Many scholars hold that this story is not really an account of the battle for Ai, but for Bethel, since otherwise the book of Joshua contains no account of the capture of this important site” (p.270).
If that’s true and, perhaps, two separate stories were stitched together, it may be that a confused scribe included Bethel’s army in this one passage because his sources said that Bethel was somehow involved, while making the editorial choice of putting the spotlight on Ai.
As for why the shift to Ai may have happened in the first place, it seems that the story may be an attempt to explain a ruin:
Ai has also proven to be a puzzle. Excavations conducted at this site by Joseph Callaway between 1965 and 1975 demonstrated that the mound was unoccupied from 2400 to 1200 B.C. It is possible that it was used as a military outpost by the nearby city of Bethel, which does show evidence of destruction in the thirteenth century, but there was no settlement at Ai such as that described in Joshua. Its name, which means “the ruin,” may have led the Israelites to attach it to Joshua’s list of conquests. (Victor Matthews, Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.47)
Finishing up, the king of Ai is hanged from a tree until evening, then his body is buried under a heap of stones set at the entrance to the city, a memorial that “stands there to this day” (Josh. 8:29).
In the middle of all this action, we get a sudden veer left into cultic territory, when Joshua decides to fulfil some stuff that Moses had commanded in Deuteronomy 27.
He builds an altar on Mount Ebal, makes a burnt offering and a peace offering, the writes the law of Moses on the altar stones. That done, the people are divided into two groups – one half to stand before Mount Ebal and the other half to stand before Mount Gerizim. Once they are positioned, Joshua reads out the words of the law, including the blessings and the curses, for all the Israelites and whatever sojourners have decided to follow them can hear (rather odd phrasing given that the Israelites are, themselves, still sojourners).
Of this passage, my study Bible says: “Since this section interrupts the narrative of the conquest (note how naturally 8.29 connects with 9.3), it is probably not original here” (p.273).
As Abbie from Better Than Esdras points out:
You may notice that Josh is a bit behind schedule- God said to do it “on that day you cross the Jordan” but they’ve razed two cities before getting around to this. One possibility is that this is a bad editing job: this story should have been placed earlier in the text. (Another possibility is that I’m simply interpreting “on that day” too literally. Must get around to learning Hebrew!)
While I still have the URL in my pasting clipboard, definitely read Abbie’s post about this episode. She goes into quite a bit of detail comparing the text from Deuteronomy 27 and the passage here in Joshua 8, and it’s all very interesting.