Judges 1-2: Introduction to the judge cycle

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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.

Judges 1 - Chariots of IronThen 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!

Joshua 13-21: Land allotments, oh my!

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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.

ChariotsBecause 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.

The Remainder

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:

  1. Kedesh in Naphtali’s territory
  2. Shechem in Ephraim’s territory
  3. Kiriatharba (Hebron) in Judah’s territory
  4. Bezer in Reuben’s territory
  5. Ramoth in Gad’s territory
  6. 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.

Joshua 11-12: The king(s) in the north

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Having heard of, but not learned from, the Israelite conquests in the south, Jabin king of Hazor decides to form a new defensive pact with Jobab king of Madon and the unnamed kings of Shimron, Achshaph, the northern hill country, the Arabah south of Chinneroth, the lowlands, and Naphothdor. Altogether, he calls in Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Hivites, and they all encamp “at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel” (Josh. 11:5).

God gives Joshua a quick pep talk, reminding him not to be afraid, oh and also to make sure that he hamstrings all the enemies’ horses and burns their chariots. Joshua and his army barely have to lift a finger until after the battle is over because God rushes ahead and smites all their enemies, scattering whatever survivors remain. Then Joshua and his men spring into action, hamstringing all the horses (seriously?) and burning all the chariots.

These seem like strange details to add, especially given how many times they are repeated. I still don’t understand why the horses needed to be hamstrung rather than, say, simply killed, but Victor Matthews provides some possible explanation for the burning of the chariots:

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)

On to Hazor

Having removed the feet of the king of Hazor (get it? defeated? de-feeted? Oh, I slay me!), Joshua turns his sword toward the city itself – killing all its inhabitants and burning it down to the ground.

On Hazor, my study Bible indicates that it “was one of the largest cities of Galilee. Excavations have impressively demonstrated its importance in antiquity and confirmed the fact that it was captured at about the time indicated in this narrative” (p.277).

On the subject, Collins writes:

Similar results were obtained at Jericho and Ai, the two showpieces of the conquest in Joshua. Neither was a walled city in the Late Bronze period. Of nearly twenty [page break] identifiable sites that were captured in the biblical account, only two, Hazor and Bethel, have yielded archaeological evidence of destruction at the appropriate period. Ironically, Hazor is said to be still in Canaanite hands in Judges 4-5. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.96-98)

With Hazor out of the way, they move on to a bunch of other cities. These, however, they do not burn  to the ground. Rather, they kill all the people but keep the stuff for themselves. As if to fudge over that this is a clear violation of the rules governing holy war laid out in Deut. 20, the narrator tells us that in doing this, Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (Josh. 11:15).

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, by Nicolas Poussin, c.1625

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, by Nicolas Poussin, c.1625

I also noticed that the narrative construction seems to flip-flop between this God>Moses>Joshua chain and the Moses>Joshua chain that we get, for example, in Josh. 11:12 (“[…] as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded”).

We are told that God “hardened” the hearts of the enemies so that they should seek to fight rather than make peace as Gibeon did, but I have to wonder, whose hearts did he harden, really? According to God’s instructions to the Israelites, they are forbidden from making peace, and have done so only when tricked into it. The consistency of the natives’ hearts seems somewhat irrelevant, given that God has already commanded that they all be slaughtered.

As a final note, we are told that Joshua also managed to kill most of the Anakim (except those in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod), fulfilling the promise made in Deut. 9:3. If you’ll remember, the Anakim were first met by the Israelite scouting party way back in Numbers 13.

That done, Joshua was finished “and the land had rest from war” (Josh. 11:23). With that, I am given to understand that the narrative portion of Joshua is essentially over. Booo!

Summaries

According to Collins, the Deuteronomistic Histories favour certain narrative devices, such as speeches and narrative summaries (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.94-95). We’ve seen this, of course, in Deuteronomy. Most notably, all of Deut. 1-3 is a recap of Moses’s story.

The summary begins with Moses’s exploits on the eastern side of the Jordan, describing his defeating of King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan, because we cannot ever be allowed to forget that Moses beat these two guys. Like, ever. These lands, we are told once again, were given over to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh.

The rest of the chapter covers Joshua’s exploits, who are helpfully listed:

  1. The king of Jericho
  2. The king of Ai (which we are told once more is next to Bethel)
  3. The king of Jerusalem
  4. The king of Hebron
  5. The king of Jarmuth
  6. The king of Lachish
  7. The king of Eglon
  8. The king of Gezer
  9. The king of Debir
  10. The king of Geder
  11. The king of Hormah
  12. The king of Arad
  13. The king of Libnah
  14. The king of Adullam
  15. The king of Makkedah
  16. The king of Bethel
  17. The king of Tappuah
  18. The king of Hepher
  19. The king of Aphek
  20. The king of Lasharon
  21. The king of Madon
  22. The king of Hazor
  23. The king of Shimron-meron
  24. The king of Achshaph
  25. The king of Taanach
  26. The king of Megiddo
  27. The king of Kedesh
  28. The king of Jokneam in Carmel
  29. The king of Dor in Naphath-dor
  30. The king of Goiim in Galilee (which my study Bible tells me is Gilgal’s Greek name)
  31. The king of Tirzah

Joshua 10: And then a bunch of other stuff happened…

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Now that we’ve gotten through the brief digression with the Gibeonites, we can get back to the five kings. Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem, is getting pretty nervous hearing about the falls of Jericho and Ai, so he decides to call in his buddies to form an alliance. Hohan king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish, and Debir king of Eglon all join in.

They are particularly concerned about the alliance with Gibeon, because “all its men were mighty” (Josh. 10:2), not to mention clever in a Bugs Bunny sort of way! Marking quite a change from the slavery curses of Joshua 9, here the Gibeonites couldn’t be on friendlier terms with the Israelites, they “had made peace with Israel and were among them” (Josh. 10:1).

The five kings move their armies to attack Gibeon, and the Gibeons appeal to the Israelites for help. Joshua, bound now by his allowance, moves his own army out from Gilgal to meet them.

The Israelite army marches all night and launches straight into battle (a detail possibly intended to be read as a miracle by anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter and had to go to work in the morning).

The five kings are routed and, as their armies flee, God does his part by pelting them with “stones” or  “hail-stones” from heaven (Josh. 10:11).

Then there’s the bit about the sun standing still, but I’ll cover that in its own section.

Back to the five kings, they make it all the way to Makkedah, where they hide in a cave. Cornered, they are easy enough for Joshua’s army to catch. Joshua displays his Alpha Male status by having all his leaders put their feet on the kings’ necks, then kills them (the kings, not his own leaders), and hangs their bodies from trees for the rest of the day. In the evening (in compliance with Deut. 21:23), the bodies are cut down and shoved back into the cave, the mouth of which is sealed with great stones “which remain to this very day” (Josh. 10:27).

Since he’s in the neighbourhood, Joshua decides to make a quick stop to cross Mekkedah off his Conqueror’s To Do List. He treats the king of Mekkedah “as he had done to the king of Jericho” (Josh. 10:28). Unless I am mistaken, however, I don’t believe that his treatment of Jericho’s king was every explicitly narrated.

The day the earth stood still

The miracle of the sun standing still really surprised me. This is a story that I thought I was very familiar with, since it’s so much in the popular culture.

What I was expecting was a narration of a battle where the Israelites were outnumbered or otherwise at a disadvantage. If night fell while the battle was still on, they would be overpowered. So, at the height of the battle, God makes the sun stand still, keeping it day and light until the Israelites are victorious.

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, by Joseph-Marie Vien

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, by Joseph-Marie Vien

What I got instead seems embarrassingly mundane. The armies of the five kings are running away, and Joshua tells the sun to stand still at Gibeon and the moon to stand still in the valley of Aijalon. They do so while the Israelites “took vengeance on their enemies” (Josh. 10:13). What they are taking vengeance for is not specified.

So the miracle is that the sun “did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (Josh. 10:13). I hate to break it to my Sunday School teacher but…. that’s what it does every day. In fact, that’s kind of how we measure days…

We are also told that this “miracle” is confirmed by the Book of Jashar, which we obviously have no extant copies of.

The passage is also fairly ambiguous – what does it mean to say that the sun stood still? Does it mean that the sun, itself, stood still? Did the rest of the galaxy stop as well, or did we fall behind in the rotation? Or did the sun only stand still from an earth viewer’s perspective? In other words, was it that the earth stopped spinning?

If we’re even talking about a “standing still” as my Sunday School teacher would have it, the cascade of consequences seems somewhat endless.

But Claude Mariottini argues that the passage might not even refer to the sun standing still at all:

In Hebrew, the word translated “stand still” literally means “be silent.” In this context, Joshua was commanding the sun “to be silent,” that is, to keep from shining. Since the sun was rising in the east, his command to the sun was that it refrains from shining.

When Joshua came to fight against the Amorites, he came at night and caught them by surprise. Joshua was aided by the darkness caused by a huge storm that produced hail so big that it killed many people. In fact, the biblical text says that more people died from the hailstones than the people of Israel killed with the sword.

Since the hailstorm did not affect the army of Israel, Joshua needed the storm to last so that the hail could continue decimating the army of the Amorites. Consequently, Joshua’s prayer was for more darkness (the continuation of the storm) and not for more light. The reason Joshua’s army did not kill many soldiers was because the storm prevailed most of that day.

The view that Joshua prayed for more darkness is in agreement with the biblical text because the sun stood still (was silent, did not shine) for a whole day. This view also allows for a better understanding of the text without forcing upon it an interpretation that would require the reversal of the laws of physics.

Of course, we’re still left with little more than a creative interpretation of a very ambiguous passage.

Far more interesting is J.R. Porter’s assertion that “Gibeon was an ancient sanctuary, important in later Israelite history, and there is evidence that Shamash, the sun god, was worshipped there. The poem was originally addressed to Canaanite astral deities but was transferred to Yahweh by the Israelites.” (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.65)

This leaves us wondering about the purpose for the scrap’s inclusion. It doesn’t flow with the narrative and (to the extent that such can be determined in a translation) even the style and language use seems to differ from the text surrounding it. It feels stitched into its place.

And all the south

As I read Joshua, I’m struck by how local it feels considering that it’s supposed to narrate the invasion of an entire country. The elaborate stories all seem to take place in a very small territory. Once the narrative moves away from its borders, the story starts to seem rushed, not so much telling a story as simply listing names.

I’ve been theorizing that Joshua was a local “founding figure,” perhaps an analogue to Moses and Abraham. The fact that the richness of his story is so geographically confined would, it seems, support this theory. After all, the denizens of the Jericho/Gilgal/Ai area would hardly waste their time coming up with such detail for stories that take place in locations that the storytellers may have never even seen for themselves.

So Joshua may have been the founder of a particular tribe, for example, and then enlarged as he came to be woven into the narrative of unity and federation.

So the final portion of Joshua 10 tells of Joshua’s conquest in the south, the cities he takes listed with very little interest or creativity on the author(s)’s part: Libnah, Lachish, Gezer (whose king, Haram, comes to Lachish’s defence), Eglon, Hebron, and Debir.

Joshua 5: Is it worse the second time around?

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Gird your loins because this chapter tries to explain a few place names, and there may be some sympathy pains a-coming.

The crossing of the Jordan was apparently quite a bit more spectacular than it reads (maybe it’s one of those “you had to be there” things), because it’s got the kings of the Amarites and Canaanites shaking in their boots.

Mass circumcision

Even though we had all that talk earlier about going on the march in three days’ time, God decides that now is the time to stop and have Joshua circumcise everyone (personally?). The wording is rather unfortunate, as he tells Joshua to do it “again the second time” (Josh. 5:2). Oh myyyy…. what was left?

Modern representation of relief in the 6th Dynasty tomb of the royal architect Ankh-ma-hor at Saqqara

Modern representation of relief in the 6th Dynasty tomb of the royal architect Ankh-ma-hor at Saqqara

But no, it seems that it’s referring to a second generation, rather than a second hacking, as the text later explains that the Israelites who had come out of Egypt were all circumcised, but that circumcisions hadn’t been happening while they were in the wilderness.

There’s no reason given for this neglect. It seems to just be a rather forced explanation to tie some local tradition into the larger narrative. And, indeed, the story seems to be a way to explain how Gibeath-haaraloth (“Hill of the Foreskins”) got its name.

Now, as we all learned back in Genesis 34 when Jacob’s sons defeat the Shechemites by tricking them into circumcising themselves so that they’d be unable to fight when attacked, a mass circumcision ritual is a pretty silly way to inaugurate a military campaign.

Throwing that whole “we leave in three days” thing complete out the window, the army now has to wait around until everyone has had a chance to heal.

While we wait, we get the story of how Gilgal gets its name. It is named, says God, because the day of mass circumcision marks when he “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Josh. 5:9).

My study Bible objects: “The Hebrew verb meaning rolled away is from the same root as Gilgal, but the etymology is far-fetched; the true meaning of Gilgal is ‘circle [of stones]'” (p.268). In other words a megalith. It seems to me that the name must have more to do with the stones Joshua supposedly put up in Joshua 4, rather than with any rolling away of reproach.

But even if we take the explanation at face value, what is this reproach? Was this reproach earned in Egypt? When the people were supposedly suffering as slaves? Or is God still going on about the wilderness rebellions?

To close off the pre-campaign ceremonies, they celebrate Passover in Gilgal. They then do some foraging for food and, once they eat it, the manna stops coming. Now that they are in the Promised Land, they’ll have to let it sustain them rather than depending on breadsnow.

The Commander

To close off the chapter, we get what appears to be a fragment of a story – Joshua meets a strange man with a drawn sword. Rather than just shooting first, he asks the stranger whether he is friend or foe. The stranger answers that he’s come to be the commander of God’s army.

Joshua falls on his face “and worshipped” (Josh. 5:14). We’ve had no face-falling for a whole book, so it’s great to see it again! As for the worshipping, is that idolatry? The man is there to command God’s army, which suggests that he isn’t God. Is Joshua worshipping him when he falls on his face, or is he just worshipping in general?

In either case, the stranger tells Joshua to remove his shoes, “for the place where you stand is holy” (Josh. 5:15). This is almost exactly what God said to Moses in Exodus 3, which either means that the authors of Joshua are trying very hard to argue that Joshua really (no, really!) is a legitimate successor to Moses, or that both started off as regional variations of the same founding character.

Then the story just ends, and the Commander is never seen again. Presumably, the original story featured some command or divine advice, perhaps even a call like Moses received from the burning bush, but this – if it ever existed – has been lost.

Joshua 3-4: Throwing rocks in the water

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Likely itching at the sandals, the Israelites finally move out from Shittim and camp on the banks of the Jordan River to wait out the final three days before the conquest is officially slated to begin.

At Joshua’s request, the officers tell the soldiers to keep an eye out for the ark; when Aslan – I mean the ark – is on the move, they must follow. But they must also practice good road safety and travel a minimum of 2,000 cubits behind, just in case the ark needs to hit the brakes.

While they wait, they must sanctify themselves. It’s quite clear that this is to be a holy war, not just an invasion.

Crossing the Jordan River, by Christoph Unterberger, 1780s.

Crossing the Jordan River, by Christoph Unterberger, 1780s.

Meanwhile, God hands Joshua the keys, telling him that he has the authority to tell the priests where to go. It feels like this points to monarchic involvement (perhaps commissioning or patronizing) in the composition of Joshua. It’s like for all that the Deuteronomic History we’ve read so far as consolidated power in Levitical hands and warned the future monarchy against getting grabby, we’ve also seen little reminders like these that the king is still king.

Because God just can’t see a river without seeing an opportunity for a little peacocking, he makes the Israelites stand on the shores of the Jordan and watch while the Levites step into the river with the ark. The river’s flow miraculously stops, and “the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap” (Josh. 3:16). Downriver, the flow was cut off entirely (yet another of Joshua’s lovely narrative details – I’m really enjoying this book much more than the slog we’ve been having since Genesis ended!).

This is clearly a repetition of the Red Sea parting, linking Joshua to Moses and indicating a continuity of leadership. Numbers had mentions of Joshua continuing after Moses, but I get the impression that Deuteronomy and Joshua have really been thumping the point, making me wonder if perhaps there was an alternative successor that the Deuteronomic History authors were competing against. Anyone know if there’s something to this?

It would never have occurred to me to look into the actual depth of the Jordan, but David Plotz mentioned it in his post: “I know what those of you who have been to Israel are thinking: The Jordan “river” is about as deep my bathtub, and not much wider! But the book specifies that the crossing was at flood stage, when the river is somewhat more intimidating.”

Tim Bulkeley also commented on how unimpressive the Jordan River is today, and warns his listeners against using today’s river to imagine what Joshua’s army would have encountered. It would have had a very variable flow in ancient times. And, “even today the Jordan valley has (in places) dense bush, making it a strange and dangerous place for people more used to dry pastureland.”

Joshua’s stones

40,000 soldiers cross with the ark.

At some point during this time, something happens involving twelve stones. Unfortunately for literalists, what happens is a little fuzzy.

Joshua calls for one representative from each tribe to collect one rock each from the river bed (while it’s still exposed) and bring them to their first camp-site in the Promised Land – in Gilgal. Joshua also places twelve stones into the riverbed (replacing the ones taken?) which the book’s author(s) claim are still there to their day. But then Joshua brings the twelve stones to Gilgal and sets them up there, so that they clearly can’t still be in the river.

It seems that two, or possibly three, separate narratives got shoved in together.

J.R. Porter writes:

The character of the Gilgal legend indicates that it was a pre-Israelite holy place, probably the site of a Canaanite festival, which re-enacted the victory of a deity over the forces of chaos, as in the stories of the gods Baal and Marduk. The events at the Jordan and at Gilgal may well be the real source of the tradition of Israel’s crossing of the sea. (The new Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.63)

In other words, it’s possible that this episode wasn’t added to link Joshua onto Moses’s authority, but rather that Moses was given his crossing to link him to this holy site.

I wrote in What’s the deal with Joshua that his appearances in Exodus and Numbers feel very forced, like he was stitched in to lend legitimacy to his future appearance as Moses’ successor. Now, I wonder if he wasn’t at one time a competing Moses figure (which would explain his presence on the mountain in Exodus 24 while Moses is receiving the commandments, his presence with Moses again during a revelation in Exodus 32, and his association with the tent of meeting in Exodus 33).

Pure conjecture on my part, but I wonder if Joshua wasn’t at one time a competing forefather figure who lost out to the far larger Moses camp. Yet, he had achieved enough of a following to remain in the oral narrative canon, eventually becoming a successor rather than competitor.

 

Deuteronomy 10-11: Circumcised Hearts

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The scribe who makes poor partitioning decisions strikes again, and Deuteronomy 10 opens in the middle of the Golden Calf story from the last chapter. In this version of the story, Moses takes the credit for making the stone tables (blank, for God to write on) and the ark (Deut. 10:3). I’m sure that, if he were still alive, Bezazel would have loved to hear that.

Moses then talks about going to Moserah, where he says that Aaron died. He may be losing his memory a mite in his old age, though, since Num. 20:27-28 and Num. 33:38 are quite clear that Aaron died on mount Hor.

There’s some issues with the itinerary, as well. Deut. 10:6-7 has the journey going Beeroth Bene-jaakan > Moserah > Gudgodah > Jotbathah. Numbers 33:31-33, on the other hand, had the journey go Moseroth > Benejaakan > Horhagidgad > Jotbathah. Moses may be a fine prophet, but he’d be a terrible travel agent. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about this explaining the whole ’40 years in the desert’ thing, too, but I think that dead horse has been well-flogged.

According to Moses, it’s at Jotbathah that God “set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name” (Deut. 10:8). Of course, he’d done this way back in Numbers 3 (and arguably as early as Exodus 32:28-29), long before Aaron died and the people arrived at Jotbathah.

Flaws aside, the historical review we’ve just gotten is Moses’s way of setting the stage. He is explaining, in essence, why his listeners should care about what follows.

The Rules

Now that his listeners know why they should care about this God character and what he has to say, Moses moves on to give them some of God’s rules.

I was somewhat shocked that Moses begins his recitation of the rules by saying: “And if you will obey my commandments which I command you this day” (Deut. 11:13). Am I reading too much into this? Because it looks an awful lot like Moses is conflating himself (and his authority) with God – the same hubris that may or may not have spelled his death in Numbers 20 (depending on variation and interpretation, of course).

Moses and the Burning Bush, Bréviaire de Paris dit Bréviaire dit de Charles V [Breviarium Parisiense]

Moses and the Burning Bush, Bréviaire de Paris dit Bréviaire dit de Charles V [Breviarium Parisiense]

Moses next gives the reasons why the people should pay attention to and follow God’s/his rules. Firstly, because it’s “for your good” (Deut. 10:13). Of course, this brings to mind a twist of the Euthyphro dilemma – are the rules good for the people in their own right, or because of the punishment/reward system that God himself has created? Of course, that question is largely answered in Deut. 11, when we hear about all the nice things that the people will get in return for following the rules (v.8-12), and the punishments for failing to do so (v.16-17).

The easy rebuttal would be, I am sure, that if God has created the universe, then the natural consequences of an action would be every bit as much his imposition as an active reward/punishment. For example, stealing would only victimise someone because God has created a universe in which this is so. So I suppose that you have to have at least one foot in the naturalist philosophies before this discussion is even remotely interesting.

The actual rules that Moses felt were worthy of getting another mention include the hilarious: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of you heart” (Deut. 10:16). Even more hilarious is that my Study Bible, which has allowed so many weird passages to go unaddressed, felt that this needed an explanation: “[It] means to open the mind, to direct the will toward God” (p.228). Yes, thank you, that was rather obvious. Or, as I interpreted it, it means that the outward expressions of worship aren’t enough. They must be accompanied by an internal devotion.

But I can just imagine the Study Bible planning committee meeting when they got to this line and someone said “Yeah, people are going to notice this one…”

Another rule that gets a mention is to: “Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). As I’ve argued before, this is a lovely sentiment – really awesome! – but what it looks like in practice is more complicated. I discussed the problem at greater length when looking at Numbers 15.

Moses also gives the rule: “by his [God’s] name you shall swear” (Deut. 10:20). I may be wrong, but I think that this may be the first positive mention of swearing in God’s name. People are described as swearing or having to swear elsewhere, such as in Numbers 5 where women suspected of adultery must swear that they will suffer physical ills if they have been adulterous, but looking strictly at the mentions of swearing in God’s name, other mentions have always been proscriptive (such as the ordinance against swearing falsely in God’s name, found in Leviticus 19).

As far as I can think of, this is the only instance where people are told that they must swear, if they are to swear, in God’s name.

At the end of Deut. 10, Moses tells the people: “Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven for multitude” (v.22). It seems that Moses considers the promise to Abraham to be fulfilled at this point, either as the people sit on the border looking into the Promised Land, or at least once they’ve taken hold of it.

Dathan & Abiram

It wouldn’t be the Bible without a bit of gloating over fallen enemies. In Deut. 11, Moses reminds his audience of what happened to Dathan and Abiram, two of the men who rebelled way back in Numbers 16.

What’s really interesting about this passage is that the Numbers 16 version begins to tell a story about three rebels, Dathan, Abiram, and Korah. About midway through, Dathan and Abiram just disappear, and the rest of the chapter is all about Korah and Korah’s followers getting their comeuppance.

Here, however, Dathan and Abiram are the only rebels mentioned, with Korah nowhere in sight.

It’s a good reminder that, while I’ve been thinking of Deuteronomy as the latest of the Pentateuch books, the Bible is just not quite that simple. While the history recaps of the last few chapters have made clear that the authors of Deuteronomy had access to many of the same stories that we’ve covered in previous books, the errors make it clear that they did not have the texts as we have them now.

Abby, a commenter posting on the King and I project, brings this back around to the documentary hypothesis:

“You know what he did for you in the wilderness as you journeyed to this place, and what he did to Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, son of Reuben, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them in the sight of all Israel, together with their households and the tents and every living thing in their company.”
YEP thats a retelling of the J story, absent ANY detail from P’s.

In other words, the authors of Deuteronomy had a proto-Numbers, or perhaps just an isolated story, that hadn’t yet received a Korah injection.

I find it fascinating to think of the Bible as a living culture composed of many living units, each going through their lives, changing, growing, and coming together to form the whole that we’ve (some of us, at least) come to believe is a fossilized whole – written in stone, sometimes literally.

System of Magic

In Deut. 11, Moses compares Egypt to the Promised Land. While Egypt required irrigation – which involved watering crops through some amount of manual labour – God will take charge of crop watering in the Promised Land. Suddenly, God is wearing the mantle of a fertility/rain deity, promising a land that “drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land which the Lord your God cares for” (v.11-12). If God is displeased, he will “shut up the heavens, so that there be no rain, and the land yield no fruit” (v.17).

It makes God look an awful lot like other sorts of sky gods, like Hadad (who, according to wikipedia, could also be referred to as Ba’al).

There’s another interesting bit later on where Moses says that he “set before you this day a blessing and a curse” (Deut. 11:26). The blessing, of course, is all the good stuff that will happen for following the rules. The curse is the opposite. But then Moses starts talking about taking the blessing and setting it on one mountain, and setting the curse on another mountain, as through they were physical objects that would be carried around by the people.

We’ve seen similar ways of imagining blessings/curses before, such as in Genesis 27. In that story, Isaac confuses his two sons and accidentally gives his blessing to the wrong one. Even once the error is exposed, the blessing has been unleashed and therefore can’t be recalled.

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