March 4, 2016
13. Amos, Bible, Old Testament
Ammonite, Amorite, Amos, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Benhadad, Beth-eden, Bible, Bozrah, Carmel, Damascus, Edom, Egypt, Ekron, eroboam, Gaza, Gilead, Hazael, Israel, Jerusalem, Joash, Judah, Kerioth, Kir, Moab, Nazirite, Old Testament, Philistine, Rabbah, Syria, Tekoa, Teman, Tyre, Uzziah, Valley of Aven, Zion
Amos opens with a thesis statement in the third person: “The words of Amos […] which he saw concerning Israel” (Amos 1:1).
This statement is mixed in with some biographical information, telling us that Amos was among the shepherds of Tekoa, and that he saw the words when Uzziah was king in Judah and Jeroboam son of Joash was king in Israel, two years before an earthquake.
With regards to his profession as a shepherd, the particular word used is only used in one other place: 2 Kgs 3:4, in reference to the king of Moab. The king of Moab, of course, would hardly be some lowly peasant. Given that Amos was apparently literate, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to see him as the same category of shepherd – the owner of a large flock that was tended by employees.
Claude Mariottini discusses Amos’s occupation in more detail in a blog post.
The section proper begins with a verse that reads almost like an incantation:
The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds mourn,
and the top of Carmel withers.
If the verse is original to Amos, the fact that the geographical markers are all from the southern kingdom seems rather odd. There’s something just so Deuteronomistic about Jerusalem as the place from which God is roaring. According to Collins, that’s one reason why this verse is considered by many to be an addition from after the Babylonian exile (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.159).
The use of the term “Zion” is interesting as well, since it’s not a word that’s come up a whole lot in our readings so far. We saw it a fair bit in Lamentations, which is dated to the Babylonian exile. Other than that, we’ve only seen it used a sprinkling of times in Kings and Chronicles, and once in 2 Sam. 5:7, which Wikipedia gives as the earliest use of the word. This seems to be fairly compelling evidence in support of Collins’s assertion.
The condemnations themselves follow a pattern:
- It begins with the phrase: “Thus says the Lord.” According to Claude Mariottini, this phrase is frequently found in prophetic books, and would have been used by royal messengers speaking on behalf of a king to a designated individual (as in the case with Rabshakeh, envoy from King Sennacherib of Assyria to King Hezekiah of Judah in 2 Kgs 18:19).
- “For three transgressions of [transgressor], and for four, I will not revoke punishment.” The phrase likely means something along the lines of “three transgressions would have been bad enough, but you’ve gone and had four of them!” (Except, of course, with the specific numbers being literally figurative.)
- This is followed by a surprisingly brief explanation of their crimes…
- And a surprisingly brief explanation of the punishment that awaits them. This largely involves a fire that will consume their walls and strongholds (except in the case of Israel).
- Closing each condemnation (except for those of Tyre and Edom), Amos concludes with: “says the Lord God.”
Target: Damascus, Syria
Transgressions: They threshed Gilead, which we read about in 2 Kgs 10:32-33.
Punishment: God will send fire down on the house of Hazael, and it will devour the strongholds of Benhadad (both Hazael and Behadad were kings of Syria). The people of Syria will be forced into exile to Kir. This will indeed happen when the Assyrians take Damascus in 2 Kgs 16:9. Also of interest is that Amos himself seems to believe that the Syrians originated from Kir (Amos 9:7).
Russian icon of the prophet Amos, from the Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, in Karelia, Russia, 18th cent.
Target: Gaza, Philistia
Transgressions: For carrying a whole people into exile, and for selling them to Edom.
Punishment: God will send fire onto the wall of Gaza, destroying her strongholds. The inhabitants will be cut off from Ashdod and the one who holds the scepter of Ashkelon. God will turn his hand against Ekron and the last of the Philistines will die. This all happened when Assyria took over in a series of campaigns (Gaza fell to Tiglath-Pileser in 734BCE, Ashdod to Sargon in 711BCE, and Ashkelon and Ekron to Sennacherib in 701BCE).
Transgressions: For selling people to Edom, and for forgetting the covenant of brotherhood (this latter likely a reference to the close relationship between Tyre and Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon, as per 2 Sam. 5:11 and 1 Kgs 5:1).
Punishment: God will set fire to the wall of Tyre and devour its strongholds. This prophecy also came true, this time when Tyre became a tributary to Assyria and then fell to Nebuchadnezzar 585BCE, after a lengthy siege. It was then destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332BCE.
Transgressions: For having pursued his brother with the sword, without pity. Edom was perpetually torn by anger and wrath.
Punishment: God will send fire down on Teman, and it will devour the strongholds of Bozrah. This prophecy also came true, as Edom was destroyed by the Babylonians in the 6th century BCE.
Target: The Ammonites
Transgressions: For having ripped up pregnant women in Gilead to enlarge their borders. This war against Gilead doesn’t seem to have been recorded anywhere else.
Punishment: God will send fire down to the wall of Rabbah, devouring its strongholds. This will happen with great shouting in the day of battle, and with a tempest in the day of the whirlwind. The Ammonite king and princes will be taken into exile.
Transgressions: For having burned to lime the bones of the Edomite king. This is an interesting complaint. While the crimes of the other foreign nations can be read as offenses against Israel (the big Israel, the one that includes Judah), this is a crime against another foreign nation. As Collins puts it, “this is a crime of one Gentile against another and can only be viewed as a crime against humanity. Amos operates with a concept of universal justice, such as we often find in the wisdom literature” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.156).
Punishment: Fire will rain down upon Moab (though not, at least, it’s walls) and devour the strongholds of Kerioth. Moab will die amid uproar, shouting, and the sound of the trumpet. Its ruler and its princes will be slain.
Transgressions: For rejecting the law of God and failing to keep his statutes. For having been led astray by their lies, in the way their fathers walked. This passage is sometimes considered to have been added by a later editor, in large part because of how closely the writing resembles that of the Deuteronomical books.
Punishment: God will bring fire down on Judah devour the strongholds of Jerusalem. Of course, this came to pass in 2 Kgs 24-25.
Turning to Israel
While the authenticity of certain passages is in question, the rhetorical flow works quite well. First, Amos lures his readers/listeners in by raging at the other guy. Then he moves a little closer with the next batch, raging at nations considered ‘cousins’: Edom is mythically descended from Jacob’s brother (Gen. 25:19-34), while the Moabites and Ammonites are descended from Lot (Gen. 19:36-38). Circling ever closer, Amos turns to Judah.
And then Amos pounces, throwing the sins of Israel into their faces.
The sins of Israel are many:
- They sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. This is likely a reference to bribery in the justice system, rather than a real buyer’s market in the slave trade.
- They trampled the heads of the poor into the dust. This seemed fairly self-evident to me, but the New Bible Commentary made it all about real estate, saying that they were begrudging the poor even the small amount of dust that they put on their heads when mourning (p.731). This could be a translation issue, or perhaps I’m just not getting it, but it’s certainly a powerful image.
- A man and his father have sex with the same woman, thus profaning God’s holy name. This is generally prohibited in Lev. 20:11, but it seems that many commentaries read this as a condemnation of cultic prostitution (which would explain the reference to God’s holy name). The man and the father would therefore not necessarily be literal, but an indication that the whole of the community is involved in this sin. Of course, once interpretation does not exclude the other, and a double meaning may have been intended.
- They lay down beside every altar (clearly, Israel wasn’t quite monotheistic enough), upon garments taken in pledge (likely a reference to the same string of laws that gave us Deut. 24:17, prohibiting the taking of a widow’s clothing in pledge).
- They drink the wine of those who have been fined in the house of their God. The idea that enforcement agencies might profit from greater fines for smaller infractions is certainly still a problem.
Amos breaks the pattern by reminding his audience that God destroyed the Amorites for them – even though the Amorites were as tall as cedars and as strong as oaks. God brought them out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness, then gave them the Amorite lands to call their own. He raised prophets and Nazirites (a person who voluntarily makes a vow, as discussed in Num. 6) from among them, and yet… And yet they have made the Nazirites drink wine and commanded the prophets not to prophecy (a sore point for Amos, I’m sure).
Apparently, the authenticity of this passage about prophets and Nazirites (Amos 2:11-12) is in question, and it’s not hard to see why. It does break the pattern of the condemnations.
In punishment for all of this, God will press them down. Flight will perish from the swift, strength will vanish from the strong, even the mightiest won’t be able to save themselves from the coming punishment. It will be so bad that even the stout of heart will flee naked. Harsh times, indeed.
So, did Amos’s prophecies come true? Well, yes, but given a large enough time frame, foreseeing the doom of just about any nation is a sure bet. One possibility I’m seeing is that of a late authorship – if the book was written during the Deuteronomic reforms or into the exile, the events Amos is predicting would already have been known, and perhaps setting them in the mouth of Amos, or setting Amos in the time of Jeroboam, served a different purpose. Sifting through the arguments for either side is well above my pay grade, but the commentaries I tend to trust the most seem unanimous in the idea that Amos is largely authentic with some possible late additions.
April 6, 2015
10. 1-2 Kings, Bible, Old Testament
2 Kings, Ahab, Ahaziah, Baalzebub, Bible, Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, Ekron, Elijah, Israel, Jehoram, Jehoshaphat, Judah, Moab, Old Testament, Samaria, Tishbite
This is a strange chapter that seems to have been cobbled together from multiple sources. It begins by telling us that war broke out between Israel and Moab after Ahab’s death. Moab isn’t mentioned again in the chapter, so it seems our chapter separator with shoddy aim strikes again.
The chapter begins for real when Ahaziah falls out of a window. Bedridden, he sends messengers to ask Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, if he will recover from his injuries. It’s clear from his use of the name “Baalzebub” that the story has been the subjected to at least a little fictionalizing (“Baalzebub” meaning “Lord of the Flies” – a nickname that is clearly meant to poke at the rival god). The proper name was Baal-zebul, which, according to my study Bible, means something like “lord of the divine abode” or “Baal the prince” – far more fitting designations.
We know from 1 Kings 18 that there was a tradition of Baal prophets in Israel, even if the individuals in that chapter would have needed replacing (and with Jezebel in court, it seems unlikely that they wouldn’t have been). So why send all the way to Ekron? It seems that there was a particularly noted sanctuary to Baal there, and perhaps it’s a testament to the severity of Ahaziah’s injuries that he sent out for prophecy (there’s a sense in which the act of prophecy is both a foretelling and a curse/blessing that alters the future, as we saw in 1 Kings 22, when Ahab neglected to ask for Micaiah’s prophecy because Micaiah never prophesied anything good – so there may have been a sense that going to a more powerful source would be more likely to bring about a desired outcome).
Unfortunately for Ahaziah, his messengers are intercepted by our old friend Elijah, who asks them why they would be sent all the way to Ekron rather than a “God in Israel” (2 Kings 1:3)? The criticism here is two-fold: Firstly that Ahaziah would seek his prophecy outside of Israel, which I suppose would acknowledge the primacy of an external shrine. Secondly, it hints at Yahweh as the “God in Israel,” reducing Baal – despite a clear local presence – to a foreign interloper.
Also, adds Elijah, there’s no need to go so far. Ahaziah is definitely going to die.
The messengers are convinced to turn around, and report the incident to Ahaziah. Once they describe the prophet as wearing a haircloth garment (presumably fur clothes, rather than a cilice popularized later on) with a leather belt, Ahaziah recognizes Elijah.
A captain and his fifty
Ahaziah sends a captain with fifty soldiers back to deal with Elijah, whom they call “man of God” and order him to come out from his hiding spot. To this, Elijah replies that if he truly is a man of God, may fire come down from heaven. Predictably, it does, killing the soldiers.
So Ahaziah sends another captain with another fifty, and the same thing happens.
When Ahaziah sends a third group, it becomes rather clear that he’s a slow learner. Not so the soldiers, though, who try a different approach. Rather than ordering Elijah down, the captain falls on his knees and begs for their lives. Elijah responds to this new approach and comes down. He repeats his earlier prophecy that Ahaziah will die, but this time he says that Ahaziah’s injuries will kill him because he sought to consult with Baalzebub.
As predicted, Ahaziah does die, and he is succeeded by Jehoram – his brother, since he had no sons. Jehoram is not to be confused with King Jehoram of Judah, in whose second reigning year Jehoram of Israel ascended the throne.
September 8, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Abinadab, Abner, Azekah, Bethlehem, Bible, David, Ekron, Elah, Eliab, Ephesdammim, Ephrathite, Gath, Goliath, Jerusalem, Jesse, Judah, Old Testament, Philistine, Saul, Shaaraim, Shammah, Socoh
It’s so obvious that this chapter offers up a different story for David’s entry into the royal circle from that of the last that even my New Bible Commentary offers up only a half-hearted attempt to explain away the multi-document hypothesis. In the last chapter, we find a shepherd boy David who is brought into the royal court because his music playing helps Saul deal with his tormenting evil spirit. He becomes well-loved and is soon made Saul’s armour-bearer. Here, however, shepherd boy David finds himself on a battlefield and defeats the Big Baddie of the Baddies, thus becoming introduced to Saul.
The strongest argument I can see that these are meant to be part of a single narrative is that we’re dealing with some time-skipping and flashbacks. As evidence, we might cite 1 Sam. 16:18, where David is recommended to Saul as a “man of war,” even though in 1 Sam. 17, he is clearly inexperienced in that area. So the proper narrative chronology may be that David is anointed by Samuel, walks onto the battlefield to slay Goliath, becomes known to Saul as a fighter, then is recommended to Saul as a musician as well, ending up as Saul’s armour-bearer. Will not entirely far-fetched, there’s really no indication in the text that this was the intended narrative.
My New Bible Commentary tries to argue that when Saul asks who the heck that kid who just killed the giant is, what he actually meant was “what’s his last name?” His first name being already known since he is already a musician in Saul’s court.
To further complicate things, even this chapter may not be from a single source. According to Collins:
There are actually two stories here. The first is found in 17:1-11, 32-40, 42-48a, 49, 51-54. The second is in 17:12-31, 41, 48b, 50, 55-58; 18:1-5, 10-11, 17-19, 29b-30. The verses that make up the second story are missing from the Old Greek translation. It is generally agreed that in this case the Greek preserves the older text. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.120-121)
A valley divides them
The chapter opens with those big bad Philistines amassing near Socoh, in Judah. Saul musters his own army in response, so each side camps atop a mountain, a valley running between them.
Every day – for forty days – a Philistine champion by the name of Goliath of Gath comes out to call for single combat. Whichever champion wins, his side wins the war.
The description we get of Goliath is an imposing one, despite the lack of agreement. According to Deane at Remnant of Giants, there are two major possibilities, depending on the manuscripts one chooses to read:
In some manuscripts of 1 Samuel 17, Goliath is 4½ cubits, which at approximately 18 inches or 45cm per cubit (as general estimates) is 6 feet 8 inches or 2.02 metres. In other textual witnesses, Goliath is 6½ cubits, that is, 9 feet 7 inches or 2.93 metres. Texts in which Goliath’s height is only 4½ cubits are also missing many of the verses found in most modern translations of 1 Samuel 17 (with the notable exception of Codex Alexandrinus) . The missing verses are 1 Samuel 17.12-31 and 55-58, and almost only appear where Goliath’s height is given as 6½ cubits.
A height of 6’8″ is certainly tall, but not what we could consider giant today. However, Deane adds that that “the average height of people in this region in the late centuries B.C. was about 3½ cubits (a little over 5 foot).” At the time, then, even our low option would be fairly impressive (albeit within the range of human possibility).
The assumption, then, is that the figure was impressive to begin with, but apparently not impressive enough for a later editor. If you’re wondering how Goliath stacks up against other giants in the Bible, Deane has another post up comparing both possible heights to an estimated height for King Og of Bashan (based on the size of his bed/coffin described in Deut. 3:11). At an estimated 11’10”, King Og cuts a far more impressive figure than even the tallest Goliath.
(And if you’re interested in how the Bible has influenced later literature, Deane also has a post comparing David and Goliath to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.)
Highlighting Goliath’s impressiveness, we’re given a list of all his armour and weaponry. This seems to be making the Deuteronomist theological point that victory in battle stems form God’s approval, not might or skill.
The shepherd boy
We turn then to David, who is described as “the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah” (1 Sam. 17:12), as though we hadn’t just spent a chapter learning that. He has seven brothers, though the same three are named as in 1 Sam. 16: Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah. Tradition apparently forgot the names of the other four, or perhaps the number of brothers was rounded up to give David an auspicious number of male siblings.
Goliath’s head, from the Grimani Breviary, 1515-1520
Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah are all fighting in Saul’s army, while David goes back and forth from battlefield to Bethlehem so that he can feed his father’s sheep. One day, Jesse, David’s father, sends David to the battlefield with food for his brothers and for the commanders of Saul’s army. Apparently concerned about the wellfare of his sons, Jesse asks David to bring back some token from his three brothers, proving, I suppose, that they are well.
David’s timing is impeccable, and he arrives just as the Israelite army is heading into battle. He reaches his brothers and is chatting with them when Goliath steps out from among the Philistines and issues his challenge, yet again. David overhears the terrified Israelites talking about how the one who steps up as Israel’s champion and wins will be rewarded with many riches and Saul’s daughter.
I was a little confused about David’s actions here. It seems that he is going around the camp trying to urge someone to step forward, perhaps doing it in a shaming way. Either way, his brother Eliab stops him. He assumes that David has left the sheep unattended so that he could come out and watch the battle, it being several thousand years before TV. David seems to brush him off, arguing that he was just talking, then resumes his call for a champion. If I’ve interpreted this passage correctly, it seems that the narrator wishes to establish that David has some humility – that he stepped up because no one else would, and only after asking everyone else to do it first. This seems reinforced by having Eliab directly accuse him of being a glory hog, so the narrator can show David being conspicuously not one.
There’s also some mirroring going on. Eliab’s rejection of David seems to recall Joseph’s rejection by his older brothers in Genesis 37. It also mirrors the discounting of David’s older brothers from 1 Sam. 16. There, Samuel initially assumes that Eliab must be the future king, but God tells him not to be fooled by appearances. God, we are told, “sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). We see that played out here were David is the only one from among Jesse’s sons to stand up to Goliath.
Saul hears about David going around camp trying to drum up a champion, and he has David brought to him (though it’s unclear why since it seems like everyone is going around saying similar things). Here, for the first time, David volunteers to slay Goliath.
Saul tries to dissuade him, arguing that David is just a kid (despite his description as a “man of war” in 1 Sam. 16:18), whereas Goliath is a seasoned fighter. But David argues that he has loads of experience fighting lions and bears to defend his father’s flock, even going so far as to grab the predators by the beard.
Given that the deal Goliath proposed would have Israel serve Philistia if their champion loses, it seems rather strange for Saul to go for such a Hail Mary candidate. But whatever his reasoning, he gives his blessing.
Saul tries to equip David as best he can, loading him with armour and a sword. However, David “tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them” (1 Sam. 17:39). It seems that the armour is so heavy that David can’t even walk in it! Instead, he goes out with nothing but his staff, a handful of stones, and his sling.
There’s a theological reason for this, of course – the same one that spent so much ink listing Goliath’s amour and weapons. The Deuteronomist shtick is that battles are not won by superior skill, or numbers, or weaponry. Rather, battles are won (or lost) according solely to the will of God. By pushing an unmatched fight to the extreme, the point is all the more strongly made.
According to Victor Matthews, there could also be a historical underpinning to the dynamic:
Although the Philistines and Canaanites began to experiment with an iron-based military technology in the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C., the metal of choice throughout this period remained bronze. Israelites also used bronze weapons, but their lack of metallurgical knowledge, and the Philistine monopoly over the tin trade, probably forced many of their soldiers to use slings and farm implements to defend themselves. Some iron weapons were undoubtedly captured during raids by Israelite forces, but without the knowledge of metallurgy to repair and fabricate new weapons out of scrap metal, they would have become useless eventually. This may explain why the forces under Joshua chose to burn the chariots of the northern coalition of Canaanite kings rather than use them themselves (Josh 11:9). The Israelites could not repair the chariots, and they did not want to leave them behind for Canaanites to use against them in the future. Also, the chariots would have been of little use to Israelite bands operating out of the rugged hill country. (Manners & Customs in the Bible, p.59-60)
When they meet, Goliath and David banter a bit. Goliath makes fun of David for being dressed as a shepherd boy, and David responds: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied (1 Sam. 17:45).
Notice, also, that David’s retort positions him not as the champion of Israel (which is the whole point of the duel – that the battle be resolved by each side providing a champion for single combat), but rather he is the champion of God.
There’s some more posturing, and David’s speech is fairly dripping with Deuteronomistiness: “All this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand” (1 Sam. 17:47).
David then draws his sling and smacks Goliath in the forehead with a stone. The Philistine falls, and then David takes his sword and beheads him. It’s unclear from the text whether it was the stone or the beheading that did the actual killing. Or, rather, both are said to. The important point is that David defeated Goliath while “there was no sword in the hand of David” (1 Sam. 17:50).
His job done, David stows Goliath’s armour in his tent – though we may ask which tent given that David had only just arrived from Bethlehem, and it hardly seems that the armour would be of much use to anyone given the size issue. David then takes Goliath’s head to Jerusalem.
When Saul saw David go out against the Philistines, he asked Abner, his general, who the boy is, and Abner doesn’t know. Once Goliath is dead, David tells Saul that he is the son of Jesse.
August 4, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Abinadab, Amorite, Ashtaroth, Baal, Bethcar, Bethel, Bible, Ebenezer, Ekron, Eleazar, Gath, Gilgal, Jeshanah, Kiriath-jearim, Mizpah, Old Testament, Philistine, Ramah, Samuel
We begin chapter 7 with another attack from the crappy chapter break monster! Taking up from the last chapter, the men of Kiriath-jearim (the Levites of 1 Sam. 6:15 have apparently disappeared) bring the ark to Abinadab. While the ark was in his hands, Abinadab consecrated his son, Eleazar (presumably not the same Eleazar who was high priest after Aaron) so that he could have charge of it.
It doesn’t seem that anyone considers either Abinadab or Eleazar to have been a high priest, yet it seems strange that they should have charge of the ark and not be so. Just as it’s strange that the ark should have sat in Philistine hands for seven months without anyone mounting a rescue, and no one seems to know what to do with it now that it’s back. It seems to me that perhaps the ark was a local cultic object, perhaps from the Shiloh region, and that the rest of the Israelites didn’t really care that much about it. At least at that time.
The ark remains in Kiriath-jearim for twenty years while the people do a lot of “lamenting” (1 Sam. 7:2), which, in context, likely means something like praying for help against the Philistines.
There are fifty-five chapters in the combined books of Samuel, and chapter 7 already brings us into the titular hero’s dotage.
The ark drops from the story, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that Samuel misses it, or tries to get it back, or sees himself as Eli’s successor in its care, or even knows that it’s back from Philistia. Rather, we just see Samuel yelling at the people for having adopted Baals and Ashtaroth. If only they’d put them away, he says, God would save them from the Philistines. The people, without mention of complaint or hesitance, do so. According to my study Bible, this mention of foreign gods is likely a Deuteronomist addition. Certainly, the narrative flows perfectly well with 1 Sam. 7:3-4 removed.
He then gathers all (all!) the people at Mizpah. We’ve seen this location a few times before, mostly in Judges. It’s where Laban and Jacob swear an oath in Genesis 31:48-50. In Judges, it seems to have been quite strongly associated with mustering armies: It’s where the Israelites mustered against the Ammonites in Judges 10:17, and where the other tribes mustered against the Benjaminites in Judges 20. It is also associated with Jephthah in Judges 11. Now, it’s where Samuel prays over the people and has them perform a sort of cleansing ritual in which they confess to their sins.
Once the people are purified, Samuel turns his attentions to Philistia. Or, rather, the Philistines find out that the Israelites are gathering and assume the (probably accurate) worst. The Israelites are afraid of the approaching Philistines, so they ask Samuel to continually pray for them while they fight. It’s a bit like Moses’s arm waving during the battle against the Amalekites in Exodus 17, except that Samuel makes a “whole burnt offering” (1 Sam. 7:9) – likely meaning that the whole animal is burned up, with no portion saved for human consumption – instead.
It works. When the Philistines advance, God “thundered with a mighty voice” (1 Sam. 7:11), confusing and routing them. Whether intentional or not, this story provides a contrast to the last battle against the Philistines. In both cases, it looks – at least to me – like the sacred is being used fetishistically, in the sense that some object is brought or ritual performed in the belief that it will cause God to grant victory. The only meaningful difference, it seems, is that Samuel is a Good Guy, whereas the last battle had no such leader-hero. Or perhaps there’s some theological nuance that I’m missing.
Having achieved his first victory against the Philistines, Samuel sets up a monument – a stone that he names Ebenezer (or “stone of help”). If that names sounds familiar, it’s because it’s where the Israelites mustered against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4 – the battle that preceded the one in which the ark was lost. Either we have two separate stories of battles against the Philistines in connection to Ebenezer (at least one of which confused the source of the name), or Samuel is being delightfully snarky.
In 1 Sam. 7:13-14, we are told that the Philistines are permanently subdued, and that all the cities they had taken are returned to the Israelites (including Ekron and Gath – two of the Philistine pentapolis). Not only that, but Samuel also somehow managed to bring peace between Israel and the Amorites.
Of course, there’s a problem with that; if Samuel did indeed achieve all of this, then Saul’s career (coming up shortly) makes no sense. So my New Bible Commentary proposes a different reading, arguing that these verses are a summary of Samuel’s entire career, “not just the part of it that preceded Saul’s becoming king” (p.290). In other words, this chapter may be crediting Samuel with what will later be credited to the monarchy. It may be evidence of that ‘judge vs. monarch’ ideological conflict I mentioned earlier.
Closing up, we’re told that Samuel judged in a circuit, moving between Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, and his home in Ramah (building an altar in this last location, a detail that evidently made it passed the editors). I checked out these locations on my study Bible map and they seem to be in a fairly small geographical region. Much smaller than would be expected from a prophet known to all of Israel (1 Sam. 3:20).
August 1, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beth-shemesh, Bible, Ekron, Field of Joshua, Gath, Gaza, Kiriath-jearim, Old Testament, Philistine
Before getting started on the last chapter of our ark-related tangent, I noticed that chapter 5 tends to refer to the ark as “the ark of God” (such as 1 Sam. 5:1), while chapter 6 tends to call it the “ark of the Lord” (such as 1 Sam. 6:1). This and other details that I’ll mention when I get to them leads me to suppose that that the story of the ark’s return was, at one time, independent from the story of its capture. Or, perhaps, the cobbling editor liked the first part of one version and the second part of another.
When we last left the ark, it was being tossed from Philistine city to Philistine city. Though only three were named (Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron), it’s possible to interpret 1 Samuel 6:4 to mean that all five Philistine cities were hit. We’re told that this odd game of Hot Potato lasts seven months (without any apparently attempt at rescue) before the Philistines have had enough. In 1 Sam. 5:11, the Philistines called on their lords to advise them. Here (1 Sam. 6:), they call on their priests and diviners. (If we wish to be charitable, we might read this to mean that they called on their lords first, who then made the executive decision to call on the priests and diviners. More likely, I think that this is more evidence of at least two versions of the story having been stitched together.)
These priests and diviners suggest that the ark be sent back with an appeasement offering of five golden tumours and five golden mice (some translations say ‘rats’), “according to the number of the lords of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 6:4). This is a rather obvious example of sympathetic magic – send away an image of the thing that’s giving you trouble – but I think, as Brant Clements points out, that the juxtaposition of rats and tumours against the lords of the Philistines is another humorous jab at the Philistines. Certainly, these three “adventures of the ark” chapters have been quite comedic!
You may be wondering about the mention of mice/rats here. If the golden tumours are fetishes to send away real tumours, what are the golden mice? Or, depending on the translation you are reading from, you may not see a problem at all. It seems that the Greek Septuagint included the mice in chapter 5, so either they were dropped from the Hebrew text, or they were added to the Greek to harmonize the two chapters.
There’s also some question about the pairing of mice/rats and tumours. I mentioned in my discussion of 1 Sam. 5 that the tumours may refer to the swellings of the bubonic plague. If that’s the case, either the authors understand the connection between rats and the plague, or they don’t (therefore the concern about the mice/rats likely has more to do with the damage they do to food stores).
Abbie, of Better Than Esdras, points out that there’s a language shift within chapter 6 as well:
Something strange happens at v. 11: the word for “tumors” (עפלים) changes to “hemorrhoids” (טחריהם). But! All previous mentions of “tumors” had an interesting quirk. Basically, the Masoretic text has instructions to read “hemorrhoids” instead of the written “tumors”. This is called Qere and Ketiv, the spoken and the written. I did not know this was used to “fix” textual difficulties like this. Very interesting.
The ark goes to Beth-shemesh
In addition to sending it home with a bunch of golden fetishes, the Philistine priests specify that the ark must be transported on a cart pulled by two dairy cows that have never been yoked, and that the cows’ calves cannot accompany them. They are then to send the the cart off and, if it heads toward Beth-shemesh, they will have confirmation that YHWH was the source of the contagion. If it goes in any other direction, however, they will know that “it happened to us by chance” (1 Sam. 6:9).
The Plague at Ashdod, by Nicolas Poussin, 1630
The use of a new cart and dairy cows probably has to do with ritual purity – dairy cows would not have been used to pull anything worldly, and same goes for a new cart. The separation from the calves is a little trickier, but may have to do with the divination aspect of this ritual – the cows would naturally want to head back in the direction of their calves, whereas Beth-shemesh lays ahead. Therefore, if the cows pull the ark toward Beth-shemesh, it can be assumed that they are being led by the hand of God.
So the Philistines lead the cart up to the border, then set it loose. Sure enough, it heads toward Beth-shemesh, and comes to a stop by a particular rock, which then becomes a landmark.
When they see the cart approach, the people of Beth-shemesh (who were out for the wheat harvest) approached. In an odd sense of sequence, they first break up the cart and use the wood from it to sacrifice the two cows, then the Levites come over and set the ark down. I imagine that it simply hovered in the air at about cart-height while the Levites got their act together.
Speaking of Levites, their inclusion seems to be an editorial insert. As my study Bible puts it, their presence in the story may be “to make the procedure conform to later requirements” (p.338).
At some point during all of this, 70 (or, perhaps, 50,000) Israelites peek into the ark and are killed. If I understand correctly, it seems that the Hebrew text includes both figures, presumably by accident. My snarky study Bible lets us know that this “shows how easily exaggeration could occur” (p.339).
While this portion of the story has the clunky feel of an addition, it serves to reinforce God’s power and his dominion over the ark. It is not merely a weapon against the Philistines, but rather subject only to the will and whim of God – just as likely to kill Israelites as non-Israelites.
So the people of Beth-shemesh understandably want nothing to do with such a finicky and dangerous object, so they send a message to Kiriath-jearim, asking if they’ll have it.
Why not Shiloh? It seems that, in the seven months since the ark has been away, Shiloh was destroyed. At least, that’s what every source I’m looking at is claiming.
And that’s it for the ark’s little side adventure. Next chapter, we’re back to Samuel!
July 28, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Ashdod, Bible, Dagon, Ebenezer, Ekron, Gath, Old Testament, Philistine
After seeing the effect of the ark’s capture on Eli and his daughter-in-law, we now return to its fate. The Philistine bring the ark to Ashdod – one of the five principal cities of Philistia – and set the ark in Dagon’s temple. From their perspective, this was a slight toward the Israelite God, since putting him in Dagon’s temple establishes Dagon’s power over him, and highlights YHWH’s captive status.
But oh! YHWH gets the better of the situation!
In what was, I am certain, intended to be a seen as comedy, the Philistines wake the next morning to find that their statue of Dagon has fallen on its face before the ark. I think the symbolism is rather obvious.
But the Philistines in this story are a little thick, as we saw in their speech in 1 Sam. 4:7-8, so they set Dagon upright and go on as normal. Of course, the next morning, Dagon is down again, only this time his head and hands have been severed and placed on the temple threshold. “This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day” (1 Sam. 5:5).
So why the decapitation? The most obvious meaning is that Dagon has been killed, or at least well and good defeated. In other parts of the world, and perhaps this one, “decapitation derived from ritual and belief. Since the HEAD was the home of the spirit, it needed to be preserved or destroyed, according to whether it belonged to a friend or to an enemy” (The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, p. 281). At the very least, the face (a rather prominent part of the head) is associated with identity. By removing it from the idol, they left little more than a lifeless pillar.
The symbolism of amputating the hands is a bit easier. Later in the very same chapter, the text tells us that “the hand of God was very heavy there” (1 Sam. 5:11). Or, as my Penguin Dictionary of Symbols puts it: “The hand is an emblem of royalty, an instrument of command and a sign of dominion” (p.466). Hands are active agents of the body, it’s power to interact with the world. Removing Dagon’s hands is to make him impotent.
The threshold is a liminal space, symbolically resonant in any situation. It’s even more important in a temple, where the threshold marks the division between sacred and profane space. So it’s no surprise that my study Bible says that “leaping over the threshold was a common practice in primitive religions (Zeph. 1.9), the doorsill being regarded with superstitious awe(compare the modern custom of carrying a bride over the threshold). The origins of the custom are very ancient, hence the explanation given here can hardly be correct” (p.337). Even so, it’s meaningful, I think, that Dagon’s hands and head were placed there.
Attack of the hemorrhoids
Things aren’t so hot outside the temple either. It seems that the ark was a Trojan horse of sorts, and the people of Ashdod (and its environs) are afflicted with tumours – which the King James Version calls “emerods” (an archaic spelling of hemorrhoids), and my study Bible says are likely the swellings of the bubonic plague. For those not content with these explanations, Brant Clements points to an article (sadly behind a paywall) arguing that the affliction could be erectile dysfunction!
Whatever the affliction is, it seems to be the same curse God promised in Deuteronomy 28:27 to those who fail to follow the law.
The Philistines – no longer playing around and correctly identifying Israel as monotheistic – try to get rid of the ark by sending it to Gath, another of the five cities of Philistia. Where the ark goes, the contagion follows, and the ark is quickly sent on to Ekron.
Just as a point of interest, Ekron was given to Judah in Joshua 15:11, but to Dan in Joshua 19:43. It is then captured by Judah in Judges 1:18. Despite this history, it is very clearly in Philistine hands at this point in the narrative.
So the Philistines, feeling that “the hand of God was very heavy” on them (1 Sam. 5:11), decide to send the ark back to the Israelites.
May 16, 2014
07. Judges, Bible, Old Testament
Acco, Achsah, Achzib, Adelbah, Adonibezek, Ahiman, Ahlab, Aijalon, Akrabbim, Amorite, Anak, Aphik, Arad, Asher, Ashkelon, Ashtaroth, Baal, Benjamin, Beth-shehan, Beth-shemesh, Bethanath, Bethel, Bezek, Bible, Bochim, Caleb, Canaanite, Dan, Debir, Dor, Ekron, Ephraim, Gaash, Gaza, Gezer, Gilgal, Harheres, Hebron, Hormah, Ibleam, Jebusite, Jerusalem, Joseph, Joshua, Judah, Judges, Kenaz, Kenite, Kiriatharba, Kiriathsepher, Kitron, Luz, Manasseh, Megiddo, Moses, Nahalol, Naphtali, Negeb, Nun, Old Testament, Othniel, Perizzite, Sela, Shaalbim, Sheshai, Sidon, Simeon, Taanach, Talmai, Timnath-heres, Zebulun, Zephath
Judges opens up with a listing of tribal conquests in the Promised Land. There’s evidence of an editor’s hand in trying to place Judges as a continuation from the Book of Joshua (I assume that’s the Deuteronomist editor, given the way it’s done), but it’s sloppy. Even as a translation, it’s quite clear where the older portions are coming through.
For example, Judges begins with “after the death of Joshua” (Judges 1:1), but what follows is totally its own thing. The language is different, the tone is different. It’s abundantly clear that an editor, trying to upcycle old stories to make his theological point, simply glued that fraction of a sentence onto the beginning of the text to situate it in the broader historical narrative. You can still see the seams, however, as the sentence continues with the Israelites asking God “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” If this were really the work of a single historian taking down the narrative as it was, the people would have no cause to ask this as Joshua was the first to go up against the Canaanites. It’s done, that part of the story should be over.
Well, here, the answer is Judah. Which is another interesting detail – for a couple sentences, Judah is not a tribe but a person, as he was back in Genesis. It was a tremendous lightbulb moment for me as I saw these three separate layers shine, like looking at pysanki. You have the oldest portion of the story, where the tribes are personified as people who have personalities, deeds, familial relationships. Then you have the middling portion where tribes act independently, trying to carve little territories out for themselves. Finally, you have the newest portion, the portion from whatever region where Joshua is a folk hero, and you have his narrative made grander, his tribe’s history made into the history of all the tribes.
Judah asks “Simeon his brother” (Judges 1:3) to help him fight for the land he’s been allotted and, in return, he will help Simeon in his own lands. My study Bible notes that “the tribe of Simeon plays no significant role in the later history of Israel. Not mentioned in the Song of Deborah (5.2-31), it was probably entirely absorbed by Judah at an early day” (p.293). In other words, it seems likely that this story of the two brothers helping each other out likely came out of the memory of their intertwined history.
Together, the brothers defeat Adonibezek, who is apparently some sort of leader among the Canaanites and Perizzites. Having defeated him, the brothers then cut off his thumbs and big toes. This is apparently the thing to do with subject kings because Adonibezek, the very opposite of a sore loser, says that he used to have 70 thumbless and big toe-less kings eating his table scraps and that he is now, himself, brought as low. They bring him to Jerusalem and he dies.
Tribal Conquests (sort of)
The personification of the tribes ends, and the story continues by referring to “the men of Judah” (Judges 1:8). These men fight against Jerusalem (where they, curiously, had brought Adonibezek) and, taking it, set it on fire. They then go after the Canaanites living in Hebron. We start to see how this narrative was once independent of the Joshua account, rather than a continuation of it – Hebron was taken by Joshua in Josh. 10:36-37.
Then Judah goes off and conquers some other people in other places. One of them is the city of Ekron. This city was allotted to Judah in Josh. 13:3, but was also allotted to Dan in Josh. 19:43. Here, it seems to have reverted back to Judah.
The only place where Judah fails, according to the text, is in the plain. Unfortunately, they are not able to defeat them because “they had chariots of iron” (Judges 1:19). You’ll recall, of course, that Manasseh and Ephraim encountered chariots of iron in Josh. 17:16, and had concerns that they might not be able to beat such superweapons. In that story, Joshua reminds them that they have God on their side and therefore even chariots (though they may be of iron!) pose no threat. Clearly, that was a theological insert by our busy little editor rather than a testament to God’s actual power, because Judah is unable to stand against them though that very same Lord was with him (Judges 1:19).
Over at Daylight Atheism, Adam Lee tries to understand this passage’s significance in understanding the evolution of religious belief:
On the other hand, it may just be that this verse was written when Yahweh was regarded as a local deity, supernaturally powerful but not invincible. In this respect, the biblical authors might have conceived of him as similar to the ancient Greek gods, who according to the Iliad could be wounded by humans. Iron chariots, in the world of the the Ancient Near East, were the most technologically advanced weapon of war in existence. They seem to have played a decisive role in conflicts like the Battle of Qarqar in 850 BCE, when an alliance of smaller kingdoms (including King Ahab of Israel, whom the Bible’s authors reviled) fended off an invasion by the regional superpower of Assyria.
It’s possible that the Bible’s original authors imagined God as not powerful enough to overcome this technology, and that the dogma of his total omnipotence was a later innovation. (By Judges chapter 4, God seems to have acquired the ability to defeat chariots.) If so, this verse might be a fossil of that earlier belief, preserved in the text like a prehistoric insect in amber. As a part of modern Judeo-Christian theology it’s like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit, but if we take a more rational view of the Bible as a collection of human-written and human-compiled documents, verses like this may provide valuable clues about its origin and evolution.
What follows is something of a change in tone. While Judah gets about half a chapter narrating its various successes (and one failure), the rest of the tribes are not quite so celebrated:
- Benjamin fails to drive our the Jebusites in Jerusalem so that they must live together “to this day” (Judges 1:21) – apparently Judah’s conquest of the city in Judges 1:8 didn’t help.
- Manasseh fails to conquer a bunch of places, but at least the Israelites are later able to enslave those natives (Judges 1:27-28).
- Zebulun likewise fails a bunch, but enslaves the people later (Judges 1:30).
- The same for Naphtali (Judges 1:33).
- Ephraim fails, but has to live with the natives without getting to force them into labour (Judges 1:29).
- Likewise for Asher (Judges 1:31-32).
- Dan is pushed off the plain and into the hills by the Amorites, but Joseph (that would be the combined tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim) come along to harass and enslave them (Judges 1:34-36).
It’s implied that all the tribes had some successes and some failures, yet for some reason much is made of Judah’s successes while none are mentioned for the others. I found this strange, and it only got stranger when I read my study Bible notes and found out that Judah’s successes may actually be the work of our old friend the editor: “The account of their [Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron] capture is almost certainly unhistorical; the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) says specifically that Judah “did not” take them” (p.294).
In light of the theological point being set up by this chapter, it would make far more sense for Judah to receive the same treatment as the other tribes. And yet, they are given many successes (and, possibly, even some of their failures were alter edited into successes). It makes little sense, and it’s hard to imagine why the editor included it at all.
Itty Bitty Stories
The first chapter of Judges includes a few extra stories. The story of Caleb offering up his daughter, Achsah, to any man who takes Debir is taken almost verbatim from Josh. 15:13-19. If you remember, Caleb’s nephew, Othniel son of Kenaz, takes him up on the offer. Once he and Achsah are married, she tells him to petition her father for a field. The granting of the field is skipped over, but having gotten it, Achsah then asks for some springs to go along with it (which she does while dismounting a donkey in both versions, which is a rather random detail to be considered important enough to include in both versions!), and Caleb grants them.
We’re also told that the Kenites, which either includes Moses’s father-in-law or who are descended from Moses’s father-in-law (Judges 1:16 – I’m unclear on how to read the passage), went along with Judah into the Negeb and, there, they settled together. My study Bible notes that “the Kenites were a nomadic tribe closely allied to the Hebrews” (p.294). This is not the first time we’ve heard of them: In Genesis, God tells Abraham that his descendants will be given the land that currently belongs to the Kenites, among others (Gen. 15:18-21). The only other mention I can find of them is in Numbers, where Balak has a weird prophecy that involves a Kenite city being burned and the people taken captive (Num. 24:21-22). This is certainly the first time I’ve ever heard them mentioned in relation to Moses or his father-in-law.
The final story involves the tribe of Joseph (which appears as a whole tribe, not divided into Ephraim and Manasseh) going after a city named Luz. They send out spies who hang around outside the city until they see a man coming out. They accost him, saying that if he shows them how to enter, they will spare him (apparently the gate is cleverly hidden, bear with me). The man agrees, Joseph’s army destroys the city, and somehow it gets renamed Bethel. The man leaves with his family and heads into Hittite territory, where he founds a new city and names it Luz, presumably for good luck. “That is its name to this day” (Judges 1:26).
The moral of the story
If you’re confused as to why we’ve just spent half a chapter hearing about Israelite failures, Judges 2 provides your answer. An “angel of the Lord” (Judges 2:2 – who is also the Lord himself?) appears to someone and says that he brought the Israelites out of Egypt on the condition that they “make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars” (Judges 2:2). Their failure to adequately perform is the reason that so many natives remain among them. Further, the punishment of this is that “their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:3).
It’s all rather silly. They are supposed to need God to destroy the natives, but they didn’t destroy the natives, so they’ll be punished by being unable to destroy the natives. Further, the punishment for fraternizing with the enemy is having lots of temptations to fraternize with the enemy. It reminds me of the Garden of Eden story. It’s clear that this passage is an editorial insert that seeks to a) explain the continued presence of non-Hebrews in Israel despite all the “promised land” rhetoric, b) provide a moral context for the stories that are to follow, and c) set up a pattern to explain any contemporary social ills, particularly in relation to foreign peoples.
So Joshua – who is suddenly alive again, praise the Lord! – dismisses the people and everything is okay until the generation that had seen God’s works died off. The next generation, however, started serving the Baals and the Ashtaroth (Judges 2:13). This begins a cycle in which God turns against the people, selling them into the hands of the enemy du jour, then cools off a bit and raises up a judge save them, then the judge dies and the people return to their wicked ways, so God throws a fit and sells them into the hands of the next enemy. This is, I am given to understand, the pattern we will see repeated throughout Judges.
The backstory out of the way, I believe we should be seeing our first judge on Monday!
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.