December 18, 2015
11. 1-2 Chronicles, Bible, Old Testament
1 Chronicles, Ahaz, Aijalon, Amasa, Assyria, Azariah, Azrikam, Baal, Berechiah, Beth-shemesh, Bible, Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel, Damascus, David, Edomite, Elkanah, Ephraim, Gederoth, Gimzo, Hadlai, Hezekiah, Hinnom, Israel, Jehizkiah, Jericho, Jerusalem, Johanan, Judah, Maaseiah, Meshillemoth, Negeb, Oded, Old Testament, Pekah, Philistine, Remaliah, Samaria, Shallum, Shephelah, Soco, Syria, Tilgathpilneser, Timnah, Zichri
After a run of good kings, we’re about due for a bad one, and this one is really bad. Unfortunately, our sources can’t seem to agree on exactly what he did. The Kings parallel for this chapter is 2 Kgs 16, and the two are quite different.
The basic biographical details remain the same in both sources: Ahaz was 20 years old when he became king, and he reigned for 16 years. Interestingly, his mother is not named in either source – rather odd for the Judean kings.
The summary of his rule is bad. Israel bad. But the Chronicler tells us that he made molten images of Baal, burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and made his sons pass through fire (likely meaning that he sacrificed them, as several translations have it). Kings, however, only has him worshipping outside of the Temple and making a single son pass through fire.
Whatever his crimes, God punishes him by sending enemies against Judah. The first is Syria, though the Chronicler doesn’t name the responsible king (given as King Rezin in 2 Kgs 16:5), and many Judahites are taken captive back to Damascus.
The next enemy is Israel, led by King Pekah son of Remaliah. In Kings, Pekah manages to besiege Jerusalem, but isn’t able to conquer it, and that is all that we hear of the attack.
In the Chronicler’s version, however, Pekah thoroughly defeats Ahaz, slaying 120,000 Judahite men of valour in a single day. One of their member, named Zichri, murders Ahaz’s son Maaseiah, his palace commander Azrikam, and his second in command Elkanah.
The Israelites also take spoils and 200,000 women and children captives back to Samaria. When they reach the city, however, they are met by the prophet Oded. Oded appeals to them not to keep the captives, highlighting the kinship between the Israelites and the Judahites, because their war was only one because of God’s anger against the Judahites – yet have the Israeltes themselves not done plenty to anger God as well?
Four chiefs pay attention to Oded’s words: Azariah son of Johanan, Berechiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amas son of Hadalai. They go out to meet the incoming army and command them not to bring the captives into Samaria lest they bring guilt down on Israel, “in addition to our present sins and guilt” (2 Chron. 28:13 – which, I will venture, is a fabricated quote).
So the army gives the captives over to the four chiefs, who cloth them with their own spoils, provide them with food and water, mount the feeble up on donkeys, and bring them to their kin in Jericho. Then they retreat back to Samaria.
In the Kings account, Ahaz appears to the king of Assyria, Tilgath-pileser (here called Tilgath-pilneser) for help against the Syrians and Israelites. In that version of the story, the Assyrians agree, and they conquer Syria and kill its king.
Here, however, Ahaz appeals for help against the Edomites, who joining the party in Judah and taking captives (while in 2 Kgs 16:6, the Edomites are only taking back land that Judah had previously taken from them, and instead of taking captives, they send the settled Judahites back to Judah proper).
The Chronicler also throws in a mention of Philistines, absent in 2 Kings 16, who are raiding and conquering several of Judah’s cities.
Another major difference is that, here, Tilgath-Pilneser refuses, joining in on Judah’s beat down rather than coming to Ahaz’s aid.
This causes a problem for the list of Ahaz’s sins, however. In Kings, Ahaz goes to Damascus to meet with Tilgath-pileser. While there, he is so impressed with their altar that he has a replica built in Jerusalem – the building carried out by the priest Uriah.
The Chronicler, however, has Ahaz taking up the worship of the Syrian gods, after seeing the Syrians win their battles. So while the Chronicler has Ahaz impressed with the power of the Syrian gods, Kings has the Syrians defeated and their king killed. And while he does take the design for the Syrian altar, his interest seems to be purely aesthetic, and there’s no indication that he worshipped any god other than Yahweh on it.
And while in both sources, Ahaz raids the Temple for treasures, it’s only in Chronicles that he shuts up its doors (while Kings certainly seems to indicate that worship continued there). In Chronicles, Ahaz also built altars all around Jerusalem and made high places all over Judah.
On a roll, the Chronicler gives us one final difference when he has the dead Ahaz buried in the city, not in the tombs of the kings of Israel. In 2 Kgs 16:20, however, it’s clear that he is buried with his ancestors. The Chronicler seems to like the idea of a burial council that decides the worthiness of each king after his death.
January 9, 2015
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
2 Samuel, Araunah, Aroer, Beersheba, Bible, Canaanite, Dan, David, Gad, Gilead, Hittite, Hivite, Jazer, Jebusite, Jerusalem, Joab, Judah, Kadesh, Negeb, Old Testament, Sidon, Tyre
This chapter is very confusing in a number of ways: The narrative seems to skip around a bit chronologically, and the underlying theological assumptions are something of a mystery.
The story begins with God angry at Israel and Judah again. Because he’s so angry, he decides to incite David against Israel and Judah by making David take a census. The reason for God’s anger is never stated, the reason for wanting to create a divide between David and the Israelites/Judahites is never stated, the rationale that has a census create that divide is never stated. We’re still on our very first sentence and I’m already totally lost. It’s just that kind of story.
For whatever reason, conducting a census is a Very Bad Thing. The rationale is never explained, though all the guesses I’ve seen run along the same lines as the Got Questions? article: “in those times, a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him. Israel did not belong to David; Israel belonged to God.”
Of course, that answer isn’t without problems, since God is the one who compelled David to take the census, as he did in Exodus 30 and Numbers 26, where doing so was not a sin.
The only way out would be for us to interpret the idea that God compelled David to conduct a census in the same way that he hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus – that the statement is one of belief in God’s absolute power, that all things happen under his control, rather than that he directly commanded David to hold a census.The purposes seem to be the same as well – directing the leader so that he would have an excuse to kill lots of people. Yet he is quoted as speaking directly to David, which gives a different impression.
My New Bible Companion suggests that the plan was to punish the Israelites and Judahites for “the sin of rebellion (against David)” (p.314). This would explain why it is the people who will be punished and why God’s stated desire is to “incite David against them” (2 Sam. 24:1), but is contradicted by the entire device of making David call for a sinful census to accomplish it.
Still, the taking of a census is apparently so inherently and obviously wrong that Joab – when he and the other army commanders are asked to count up all the battle-worthy men of Israel of Judah – protests. He asks David why he would ask for such a thing, to which David replies something to the effect of “because I said so.”
It’s interesting to note that Joab is again shown to be advising David, trying to steer him toward a better course of action, as he did when David’s plan to get rid of Uriah in 2 Samuel 11 was too hamfisted.
In the end, though, David is king and the king’s word is law, so his commanders conduct a census all through Israel and Judah, including Kadesh, Sidon, and Tyre, which “were not truly in Israel or Judah, even when under the control of David” (RSV, p.411). In all, they find 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 in Judah, a far greater number than is at all likely.
Attack of conscience
The census in, David suddenly has the eerie feeling that he’s made a terrible mistake.
By morning, Gad the prophet arrives with news – there will be a punishment for the census, however David will be allowed to choose which he would prefer:
- Three years of famine;
- Three months of fleeing from his enemies;
- Or three days of plague.
As a side note, we’ve met Gad before, way back in 1 Samuel 22:5, where he warned David not to stay put. Though he is identified here as David’s seer, these are the only two mentions we get of him.
Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Francesco Hayez, 1866
David chooses the third option, claiming that he would rather be in God’s hands than in the hands of a human foe. This does not, however, explain why he did not choose the first option.
The choices themselves are interesting. The first, of course, happened just a few chapters ago, in 2 Samuel 21. The second has happened twice, when David was fleeing from Saul beginning in 1 Samuel 20, and when he was fleeing from Absalom in 2 Samuel 15. That leaves the third option as the only one David hasn’t tried yet.
Seventy thousand people die of the plague, though the text reassures us that God stops his rampage before reaching Jerusalem. He does get quite close, though, stopping at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (which will apparently become the site of the future temple Solomon will build).
The phrasing seems to suggest that God decided to stop, then David begged him to stop, then he actually stopped. However, it makes more sense to take the bit about God stopping at Araunah’s threshing floor as a sort of introduction to the portion of the story that tells us how he was compelled to stop. Or perhaps the muddling of the chronology was an editor/author’s way of letting the audience know that God don’t take no instructions from nobody, by giving his decision to stop primacy in the narrative.
Seeing the mass destruction caused by the plague, David appeals to God. He is upset that God is killing so many innocent people just because he sinned. David is speaking directly to God when he calls him out. It’s a scene very reminiscent of Abraham’s appeal in Genesis 18.
Although his plea is still rather distasteful by modern standards. Rather than kill all these innocent civilians, argues David, why not kill all my innocent family members instead?
To end the plague, Gad instructs David to build an altar at Araunah’s threshing floor – implying that it is David’s action that will end the plague, and not that God had already decided to end it (or that the three days are up).
Araunah offers David the location, some animals to sacrifice, and some stuff to burn, but David refuses. He will not sacrifice what he has not paid for. Instead, he pays fifty shekels of silver for the location and animals, builds the altar, makes the sacrifice, and everyone gets to go home happy.
My study Bible notes that “fifty shekels of silver would be worth about twenty dollars” (p.412). Unfortunately, the note does not elaborate, but that seems like a very small sum to pay for so much. It seems that while David was too proud to pay nothing, paying next to nothing suited his conscience just fine. Perhaps it was an honour thing – allowing David to say that he paid for the location while also allowing Araunah to say that it was a gift.
October 17, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Abiathar, Abigail, Achish, Ahimelech, Ahinoam, Amalekite, Aphek, Aroer, Athach, Besor, Bethel, Bible, Borashan, Caleb, Carmel, Cherethite, David, Esthemoa, Hebron, Hormah, Jattir, Jerahmeelite, Jezreel, Judah, Kenite, Nabal, Negeb, Old Testament, Philistine, Racal, Ramoth, Saul, Siphmoth, Ziklag
Before we got sidetracked by Saul’s adventures in Endor, we learned that David was going out to fight with the Philistines against the Israelites. So far, David has managed to avoid the conflict of interest by lying about the victims of his raids (1 Samuel 27), but now his betrayal seems inevitable.
At no point are we given insight into David’s feelings about all of this. He seems perfectly willing to follow Achish into battle in 1 Samuel 28, and he expresses no reservations here. Rather, it is the other Philistines who complain about his presence – worried that David might turn on them during the battle, seeing this as a great strategy if David wants to reconcile himself with Saul.
After all, they say, isn’t this the David from the song?
Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his ten thousands (1 Sam. 29:5)
Achish defends David’s presence, arguing that David has shown himself to be nothing if not loyal. But, in the end, he gives in to the will of the people (and interesting parallel to Saul who, in 1 Sam. 15:22, 24, claimed that he only disobeyed God because he was afraid to go against the popular opinion – just as, here, Achish goes against his conscience for the same reason).
David protests using much the same language as he used when defending himself to Saul in 1 Samuel 24 and 1 Samuel 26, but ultimately gives in and heads back to Ziklag, conveniently spared the faux pas of having to fight against his own people (over whom he will son be king, no less!).
The common argument about this story is that it gives David an out. He was apparently known to have defected to the Philistines, and trying to erase that historical detail would have proved impossible. What was possible, however, was at least keeping him away from the battle in which his chief nemesis dies, exonerating David from any intentional power play.
David versus the Amalekites
When David gets back to Ziklag, he finds that the town has been raided by Amalekites and burned, the women (including David’s two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail) taken captive.
David rescues the captives, Maciejowski Bible, c.1250
This apparently has a rather profound effect on morale, because David’s followers start talking about stoning him. Which seems a little extreme, but perhaps the rationale is that they wouldn’t have left their families undefended if David had not taken them out to fight with the Philistines. To defend himself, we are told that David “strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6). It’s not really clear what this means, but perhaps he invoked their belief in God (and his position as God’s chosen) to dissuade the people from mutiny.
As he’s been doing a lot before making major decisions (even when they seem as clear cut as “shall I rescue my wives?”), David calls for Abiathar to consult God. Should he pursue the bandits, he asks? Of course, God says yes, so David marches out with his 600 fighting men.
Some of them appear to be getting a little on in years, because 200 of them simply can’t go on after they reach Besor. David carries on with his remaining 400 men. This will be important later.
On their way, they encounter a starving Egyptian. They feed him – apparently quite well – and find out that he is the servant of one of the Amalekites, left behind after he had fallen sick. According to the Egyptian, Ziklag was not the only place hit, the Amalekites had also raided the Negeb of the Cherethites, areas belonging to Judah, and the Negeb of Caleb. He agrees to lead David to the raiders.
He does so and David smites all except for 400 who manage to flee.
Everything and everyone taken is recovered from the Amalekites, plus a good deal of spoil. Not a bad run, all told.
When David’s army rejoins with the 200 men they had left behind at Besor, the 400 who had gone on start grumbling that they shouldn’t have to share the spoils with people who didn’t even fight. Heck, they don’t even want to return their property (except for women and children, which is a concession I’m glad they made).
David argues that those who fight in the battle and those who stay behind to guard the baggage are both important, and both deserve a share of the spoils. He makes this an ordinance that is to apply to all Israel henceforth, though it isn’t clear on what authority he does this.
Once he returns to Ziklag, David sends part of the spoils out to various elders of Judah, smoothing any concerns over his allegiance and presumably paving the way for their support when it comes time to select a new king of Israel.
How many times can an Amalekite die?
It’s been pointed out that the Amalekites are utterly killed on several occasions. There are a couple possible explanations for this.
Reconciling Samuel’s slaughter of the Amalekites with Saul’s is rather easy, as it could be that Samuel’s list is not of his personal achievements in battle, but rather of the achievements of Israel/God while under his spiritual leadership.
For Saul and David, it could be that we’re dealing with hyperbole. It’s not like the authors of the Bible are totally unfamiliar with the technique.
It could also be that we’re dealing with a subset of Amalekites, not the entire people. We’ve seen this before, particularly in censuses, where the term “people” is used when only the adult men are meant. So in 1 Samuel 15: 7-8, it could well be that the “all the people” Saul kills refers only to the men currently on that battlefield. This might well exclude the raiding party for David.
October 10, 2014
09. 1-2 Samuel, Bible, Old Testament
1 Samuel, Abigail, Achish, Ahinoam, Amalekite, Bible, Carmel, David, Gath, Geshurite, Girzite, Jerahmeelite, Jezreel, Judah, Kenite, Maoch, Nabal, Negeb, Old Testament, Philistine, Saul, Shur, Ziklay
Thinking – justifiably – that he may die at Saul’s hand (despite their two reconciliation), David escapes to Gath, to the court of Achish, son of Maoch. The last time he did this was in 1 Sam. 21. At that time, he was still reasonably in Saul’s good graces and feared that Achish might nab him for the political expediency. To get back out of Achish’s court, David lathered up his beard and pretended to be mad.
The move was predicted in 1 Sam. 26:19, where David’s complaint that he is driven out of the assembly of God indicates that he knew that he would be moving to Philistia.
This time, he approaches Achish directly. It’s perhaps not surprising that Achish doesn’t remember him, as he didn’t seem to know that David was anything other than just a madman.
David offers himself – and his 600 followers – up as a sort of pirate army. In exchange, he asks for a country town. The text mentions that he brings along Ahinoam and Abigail, so it seems likely that David is trying to settle his (and his soldiers’) family. Living in caves and in wilderness, always having to move as they pursued by their king, can’t have been a very comfortable existence.
Achish agrees and gives David Ziklag. The town had been given to the tribe of Simeon in Joshua 19:5, but had since apparently fallen under Philistine control. Now that it’s given to David, we are told that “Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day” (1 Sam. 27:6). David and his followers live there for one year and four months.
During that time, they go on raids for Achish. Sort of.
While they tell Achish that they are raiding Israelites and friends of Israelites (Judah, Jerahmeelites, and Kenites), they are actually raiding Geshurites, Girzites, and Amalekites. To keep his subterfuge under wraps, David has all the people he raids murdered, keeping only the livestock and stuff to bring back to Achish. This way, no survivors can reveal that David isn’t raiding the people he claims to be raiding.
Achish, believing that David is making himself an enemy among the Israelites, thinks that his loyalty is assured. After all, he’d have nowhere else to go.
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.
May 2, 2014
06. Joshua, Bible, Old Testament
Achshaph, Adullam, Ai, Ammonite, Amorite, Anakim, Aphek, Arabah, Arad, Aroer, Ashdod, Ashtaroth, Baalgad, Bashan, Beth-jeshimoth, Bethel, Bible, Canaanite, Carmel, Chinneroth, Debir, Dor, Edrei, Eglon, Galilee, Gath, Gaza, Geder, Geshurite, Gezer, Gilead, Gilgal, Goi'im, Goshen, Great Sidon, Hazor, Hebron, Hepher, Hermon, Heshbon, Hittite, Hivite, Hormah, Jabbok, Jabin, Jarmuth, Jebusite, Jericho, Jerusalem, Jobab, Jokneam, Jordan, Joshua, Kedesh, Lachish, Lasharon, Libnah, Maacathite, Madon, Makkedah, Megiddo, Merom, Misrephothmaim, Mizpah, Moses, Mount Halak, Mount Hermon, Naphath-dor, Naphothdor, Negeb, Og, Old Testament, Perizzite, Pisgah, Rephaim, Salecah, Seir, Shimron, Shimron-meron, Sihon, Taanach, Tappuah, Tirzah, Valley of Lebanon, Valley of Mizpeh, Wadi Arnon
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
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!
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:
- The king of Jericho
- The king of Ai (which we are told once more is next to Bethel)
- The king of Jerusalem
- The king of Hebron
- The king of Jarmuth
- The king of Lachish
- The king of Eglon
- The king of Gezer
- The king of Debir
- The king of Geder
- The king of Hormah
- The king of Arad
- The king of Libnah
- The king of Adullam
- The king of Makkedah
- The king of Bethel
- The king of Tappuah
- The king of Hepher
- The king of Aphek
- The king of Lasharon
- The king of Madon
- The king of Hazor
- The king of Shimron-meron
- The king of Achshaph
- The king of Taanach
- The king of Megiddo
- The king of Kedesh
- The king of Jokneam in Carmel
- The king of Dor in Naphath-dor
- The king of Goiim in Galilee (which my study Bible tells me is Gilgal’s Greek name)
- The king of Tirzah
April 28, 2014
06. Joshua, Bible, Old Testament
Adonizedek, Amorite, Azekah, Beth-horon, Bible, Book of Jashar, Debir, Eglon, Gaza, Gezer, Gibeon, Gibeonite, Gilgal, Goshen, Hebron, Hoham, Horam, Japhia, Jarmuth, Jerusalem, Joshua, Kadeshbarnea, Lachish, Libnah, Makkedah, Negeb, Old Testament, Piram, Valley of Aijalon
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
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.
March 10, 2014
05. Deuteronomy, Bible, Old Testament
Bethpeor, Bible, Deuteronomy, Jericho, Moab, Moses, Mount Nebo, Negeb, Old Testament, Pisgah, Zoar
After reminding all the people of the laws and blessing them, Moses finally goes up to Mount Nebo – and, somehow, also to the top of Pisgah – to look on the Promised Land and die.
Moses’s Testament and Death (detail), by Luca Signorelli, 1482
If Moses’s simultaneous duo-location doesn’t seem to make sense,my study Bible explains: “Two traditions about the place of Moses’ death are included here: Mount Nebo is in Transjordan east of Jericho; Mount Pisgah is a peak in the same range, slightly west” (p.262).
So while the giant Moses was standing with one foot on each peak, he looked out on the Promised Land. He saw all the different tribal lands, and even as far as the “Western Sea” (which I assume must be the Mediterranean).
After he sees the whole of the Promised Land (no word on his reaction to the sight, which is a real missed narrative opportunity), Moses dies and God gives him a secret burial somewhere in Moab, opposite Bethpeor (Deut. 34:6).
The text specifically tells us that “no man knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deut. 34:6). The possibilities are, of course, that a burial site was known but was lost, that God really did bury Moses personally, or that there was no Moses to begin with. Assuming the second possibility for the sake of narrative, I’d like to think it had to do with the possibility of idolatry.
We are told that Moses was 120 years old when he died, and that he was in perfect health (Deut. 34:7). In Deut. 32:1, Moses said that he is “no longer able to go out and come in,” which could be a reference to the limitations of his health and therefore a contradiction.
The people mourned Moses’s passing for 30 days, then turned to Joshua as their new leader. Prior to this, with Moses as the king-like secular leader and his brother/nephew as the high priest and religious leader, power was concentrated in Levite hands (though Moses’s membership in the tribe of Levi is never emphasized, and it would be easy enough to see him as some kind of Divergent).
Now that the secular leadership has passed to Joshua – who is apparently from Ephraim (Num. 13:8) – the power structure evens out just a little.
October 25, 2013
04. Numbers, Bible, Old Testament
Ammonite, Amorite, Ar, Arad, Arnon, Atharim, Bamoth, Bashan, Beer, Bible, Book of the Wars of the Lord, Canaanite, Chemosh, Dibon, Edom, Edrei, Heshbon, Hormah, Iye Abarim, Jabbok, Jahaz, Jazer, Mattanah, Medeba, Moab, Moses, Mount Hor, Nahaliel, Negeb, Nophah, Numbers, Oboth, Og, Old Testament, Pisgah, Sihon, Suphah, Waheb, Zahab, Zered Valley
It doesn’t rain unless it pours. Numbers is an odd book; a good half of the chapters are nothing but Levitical drudgery, and then we get chapters like these, where the narratives just seem to be breathlessly jammed together.
As the Hebrews are travelling through Atharim, they are attacked by the king of Arad, a Canaanite. This appears to have been a small skirmish, since we’re given no death tally and only told that he took some of the Hebrews captive.
The Hebrews then call to God for help and, while reticent to provide them with the necessities of subsistence, he seems quite happy to help when it involves killing people.
With God’s help, the Hebrews are able to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites, as well as their cities. Because of this, they name the area Hormah, which my Study Bible notes means “destruction.”
Waaay back in Numbers 14:39-45, we heard of a different battle in which some of the Hebrews run up into the hill country and are attacked by the Amalekites and Canaanites. In that battle, the Hebrews are destroyed and their remainder pursued “even to Hormah” (Num. 14:45).
The similarities between the two stories are interesting: the initial defeat at the hands of Canaanites, and the mention of Hormah. A possible interpretation of this Numbers 21 story is that it is a continuation, explaining what happened after the Hebrews (whether the initial group or the larger group following) arrived at Hormah and retaliated.
Enter the serpents
From Mount Hor, the Hebrews set out to go around Edom (having been denied through-passage in Numbers 20). On the way, however, the people start griping again about the lack of variety in their diet. As punishment, God sends “fiery serpents” (v.6) among them, the poison killing everyone bitten.
Moses and the Brazen Serpent, by Sébastien Bourdon, 1653-1654
Moses prays on behalf of the people and God, once again, relents. However, while sending miracles that kill masses of people is easy-peasy for God, removing them seems to be a bit on the “rock so heavy even God cannot lift it” side of things, so he needs Moses to perform some magic.
To pull this one off, Moses must build an idol – specifically, a bronze serpent set on a pole. Anyone who has been bitten and sees the idol will survive.
I think that this is a similar situation to the Golden Calf story. Indeed, we’ll see in 2 Kings 18:4 that this idol – later called Nehushtan – was considered in violation of the cultic prohibitions and was destroyed.
According to J.R. Porter:
This is the origin of the bronze serpent that stood in the Temple of Jerusalem. It was originally a symbol of Canaanite religion, but is here attributed to Moses, although its original significance as part of a cult involving serpent worship has been neutralized. (The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, p.61)
The symbolism of the serpent as a sign of healing was not at all uncommon in the Near East. The Rod of Asclepius is probably the one most people are familiar with (even if they don’t know the name), though there are plenty of other examples.
I think it’s probable that this symbol was in circulation and somehow got included in Hebrew cultic iconography. At some point, the icon was associated with Moses, and this story made it into Numbers. At some later point, there was an iconoclast crackdown and the idol was destroyed.
It seems to me that the bronze serpent is quite clearly a violation of the Exodus 20:4 prohibition of idolatry. Even if the idol is commissioned by God, it’s still an idol (and, one might argue, all idols are commissioned by a god or gods).
Brant Clemens of Both Saint and Cynic explains that “idolatry has been defined as the sin of mistaking the good for the best.” To extrapolate, the idol – at the time of its creation – is seen as merely an earthly tool for God’s use, not a conduit or representation of God himself. Once this changed and people started worshipping the idol, it was destroyed.
Interesting side-note, Brant also mentioned that “the snake on the pole is used in Christian art (and preaching, I’m sure) as a figure of Christ on the cross.” This was totally new to me but, when I was searching for images to use for this post, I had no trouble finding examples of it.
Journey to Moab
We haven’t had a proper son in quite a while, and someone apparently realized that they weren’t meeting quota. Through the rest of this chapter, we get three of them, all up next to each other like it’s perfectly normal to stuff all the songs in one place or something.
A long section of the chapter simply lists the pit-stops taken by the travellers:
- Iye Abarim, west of Moab
- The Zered Valley
- Alongside the Arnon, which is the border between Moab and the Amorites
- Quite interlude to quote a poem from the lost Book of the Wars of the Lord
- Beer, which means “well,” where the people break into song about how awesome wells are
- The wilderness of Mattanah
- The valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland
Defeat of Sihon and Og
In a near-identical passage to their request of the king of Edom in Numbers 20, the Hebrews ask Sihon, king of the Amorites, for permission to pass through his territories.
Once again, they are refused. This time, however, the refusal apparently comes with a rather brutal and – if the text is to be taken at face value – totally uncalled for attack.
Sihon and his army find the Hebrews at Jahaz, where the Hebrews retaliate and conquer his lands “from the Arnon to the Jabbok” (v.24). But they are stopped at the Ammonite border because they have hard, protective shells.
Then we get our third, and final, song of the chapter, which goes on about how woe’d and destroyed the enemies of the Hebrews are, and how the Israelites have settled in the lands that they formerly owned.
After their victory, Moses sends spies to Jazer and the Israelites drive out the Amorite residents. They then head up toward Bashan and fight against the army of King Og at the battle of Edrei, which the Hebrews win.