Saturday, February 23, 2008

Joshua 9-14: Hack, Gouge, Stab, Spurt....

Time for part one of a weekend double-shot of Michael Reads the Bible!

Joshua 9

The next few chapters of Joshua continue the narrative of Joshua 1-8, so we'll continue with the summary.

You may remember from last week that the Israelites under Joshua moved in force over the Jordan River in those chapters, and commenced their conquest of the Promised Land by routing the armies of both Jericho and Ai, then slaughtering the civilian population, then reducing the cities to rubble as well. When news of this gets around, the neighboring kingdoms get mighty nervous. Many kings start assembling alliances, but the people of Gibeon decide to try working smarter, not harder.

The Gibeonites realize that the Israelites intend to continue their campaign of wiping out the existing population of their new home, but they have a plan. They outfit a team with their oldest gear, their moldiest bread, their most worn-out clothes, and send them out to meet the Israelites, who are camped about a three-day walk away. The delegation staggers into camp, and announce that they are from a distant land; the people of their country, the Gibeonites say, have heard about all of the wonders of the mighty Israelite God, and they have come to make a treaty with the Israelites. Joshua likes the sound of this, and both sides swear to a non-aggression pact.

The Israelites realize a few days later that they've been hoodwinked. The Gibeonites fess up when asked, admitting that this was the only way they could think of to save their hide. Joshua is pissed about how this all went down, but a deal is apparently a deal, and Gibeon gets set up as a kind of autonomous protectorate within the Promised Land. Surprisingly enough, treaty oath seems to trump Covenant.

Joshua 10Raphael, 'Joshua Stops the Sun.'

With Gibeon, an economically and militarily important city, having fallen under de facto Israelite control, five of the region's kingdoms combine forces to wrest it away from them. Joshua leads the troops on an all-night march and catches the allied armies by surprise. He puts them to rout, and God pitches in by pelting them with hailstones that kill more of them than the Israelite soldiers do. With the battle going so well, God makes the sun stand still for an extra twenty four hours, giving Joshua's troops more time for pursuit and mopping-up operations. Surely, reads the text in a rare exclamatory aside, the Lord was fighting for Israel! (14)

The five kings who put together the attack on Gibeon hole up in a cave, but Joshua finds them out and has them trapped in the cave while their armies are put to rout. Then, he has them rounded up and brought to him, where he uses them to illustrate an inspiring pep talk for the men about what God is going to do to their enemies. He has his commanders pin the kings by stepping on their necks, then beats them to death. After hanging their bodies from trees for the remainder of the afternoon, he has them cut down and thrown back in the cave. It's a grizzly episode, and somehow seems especially squalid after the fine miracle of the sun standing still in the sky.

At this point, the text goes on to describe more battles, more conquests, but as in many tales the writers seem to realize that they don't need to give us every detail of every battle. Instead, we are just given a short synopsis of Joshua's many successful city-busting campaigns:

    Nicolas Poussin. The Battle of Joshua with Amalekites. c. 1625.
  • Libnah: The city and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. (30)

  • Lachish: The city and everyone in it he put to the sword, just as he had done to Libnah. (32)

  • Horam, king of Gezer -- deploys troops in support of Lachish: Joshua defeated him and his army -- until no survivors were left. (33)

  • Eglon: They... totally destroyed everyone in it, just as they had done to Lachish. (35)

  • Hebron: They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its kind, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. (37)

  • Debir: They left no survivors. (39)

  • the hill country, Negev, western foothills: He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breated, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded. (40)

Joshua 11

So, that last part of chapter 10 was the conquest of the southern part of the Promised Land. Chapter 11 covers the northern half, as Joshua continues winning every battle and capturing every city. At some point, he stops burning the cities, but he persists in an active program of what today we would call "ethnic cleansing," or "genocide," or perhaps "pathological serial mass-murder." In general, we think of these things in negative terms, but the mood here in the Bible is decidedly upbeat.

The Action Flags

And suddently, the Book of Joshua, which has been such an action movie up to this point, suddenly starts looking a lot like the Book of Numbers. The narrative slams to a halt, replaced by a collection of miscellaneous documents sent over from the guys in Legal and Accounting. Joshua 12, for instance, is a list of all the various kings defeated by the Israelites under Moses and Joshua. Joshua 13 is essentially the minutes of a meeting between God and Joshua when Joshua was old and well advanced in years (1), discussing what areas of the Promised Land as granted by the Covenent still need to be conquered, and detailing how conquered land East of the Jordan is to be divvied among the tribes. Chapter 14 very briefly describes the division of land West of the Jordan. It also discusses the claim of Caleb, who was the scout back in Numbers 13 who wasn't a big chicken about trying to invade the Promised Land, and as a result is the only guy from the previous generation, besides Joshua himself, who is still alive. He is owed for services rendered, and is given the city of Hebron. It's freshly empty of inhabitants, but presumably he invites his buddies and clan-mates to move on in. (The last sentence of Chapter 14: Then the land had rest from war. (15))

Glancing ahead, it looks like all the rest of Joshua is more of the "miscellaneous documents" variety of scripture. I'll see what we can learn from it tomorrow, Day Two of the double-shot weekend, when Michael Reads the Bible!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tossing the bodies of murdered kings into caves is "grizzly" only if there are bears or puns intentional thereof.

I have to agree about the pathological nature of the genocide here. Jeez. And after the Hill of Foreskins I thought the following chapters might take the Israelites into a more self-reflective tendency. Alas, no. More smiting!