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.
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.