Friday, October 11, 2013

Joshua: Setting the Borders

Hello again, my friend. The blog continues today, with the second installment in discussing the Book of Genocidal Conquest, aka the Book of Joshua. In our first installment, Israel gained a foothold in their promised land by killing every man, woman, and child in the cities of Jericho and Ai. We rejoin the horde as they celebrate the glorious victory by ambush of 40,000 armed men over 12,000 people (counting women and children) at Ai. For truly only by divine intervention could so many have defeated so few.

They gather at Mount Ebal, and build an altar of unworked stones. And, in accordance with Moses’ orders, Joshua writes the law out on the stones of the altar, then reads them aloud to all the people. Then they give the blessing and the curse that Moses had also ordered.

Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the nearby city of Gibeon had heard of the invasion, and also that the Israelites were forbidden to make covenants with or spare the lives of anyone living in this land. So they came up with a plan. They sent envoys to Joshua, but gave them worn out clothes and equipment, and stale food. The envoys claimed that they had come from a far distant land to make a treaty with the Israelites (since the Israelites were allowed to make covenants with people from outside the promised land, just not the ones inside it), and offered the crappy state of their food and equipment as evidence of their long journey. Joshua fell for it, and made a treaty with the Gibeonites which he swore to in the name of God.

Well, a few days later he finds out that the Gibeonites were lying about where they came from. And now he has a dilemma: he was under orders from God to kill everyone in the promised land and not make any covenants with them, but he’d sworn in the name of God to make a covenant with the Gibeonites (and if you recall, God’s law says that you must keep any vow made in his name). He’s required to kill them all, but he’s not allowed to kill them. What to do?

His solution: keep the covenant, but relegate the Gibeonites to servant status for all time.

It’s actually kind of funny, the scene where he goes to the Gibeonites and whines “Why did you deceive me?” Because, obviously, they didn’t particularly want to get killed to death. And not getting killed to death was not an option in any honest dealing with Joshua and his ravening horde. Duh.

The king of Jerusalem heard about the treaty with Gibeon, and it kinda freaked him out on account of Gibeon having a largish army. He wasn’t terribly thrilled by the idea of getting attacked by an army of combined Gibeonite and Israelite forces, so he got together with the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon to make a preemptive strike at Gibeon.

When the combined army of those Amorite kings showed up, Gibeon sent to Joshua for help. So the Israelites marched out to fight the combined armies, and when they attacked God threw the Amorites into a panic so that they ran away and could be cut down easily. And as they ran, God threw rocks from heaven at them, killing more people that way than the Israelites killed in battle. But even with all that going on, it didn’t look like there was going to be enough time in the day to slaughter all the people that Joshua wanted to kill. So he asked God to stop the sun in the sky to give him enough light to kill by, and God did it for him. Supposedly, the sun stood still for a full day’s time so that Joshua could slaughter everyone.

Afterwards, the Israelites returned to camp at Gilgal, until they heard that the five kings from the defeated armies were hiding out in a cave near a place called Makkedah. So he had some guys roll a big stone over the mouth of the cave to trap them in there while he wiped out all the people in the surrounding area, except for the few who were able to flee to the fortified cities. Once the area was cleared, he had the kings hauled out and instructed his officers to place their feet on the kings’ necks (presumably as a symbolic belittlement) before having them executed. He then proceeded to sack the city of Makkedah and kill everyone in it.

The next several verses are dedicated to recounting briefly the destruction of more cities without going into any details. We’re basically told repeatedly that Joshua attacked City X and killed all of its inhabitants and its king. It lists five more cities, plus the defeat of an army in the field, before Joshua took a break from the genocide campaign to return to his camp at Gilgal.

After this is a brief story about how the king of Hazor organized the kings of Madon, Shimron, and Achshaph, along with a bunch of others in the surrounding lands to gather together and fight Israel. But of course with God’s help Joseph kicked all their asses as well, and then went on a rampage through all their cities and killed every last living person. The Bible then takes some time out to list all the kings Israel defeated under Moses, and then all of those defeated under Joshua up to this point.

After this, they set about the business of divvying up the land. I’m not going to go into the details of who got what, though the Bible goes on about describing the borders in some detail since it actually mattered to the people who had to live there. It’s pretty irrelevant to me, and probably most everyone else.

The tribes of Judah, Manasseh, and Ephraim were given their allotments first. Then Joshua had the remaining tribes send out people to survey the rest of the land, then he broke it up and divided it among those tribes by drawing lots.

Here’s a little something from the section about Judah claiming their territory:

Jos 15:63 But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.”

Notice that wasn’t “did not drive out,” which one could interpret as the tribe choosing to disobey God’s commandment to drive out everyone. It was “could not drive out,” which suggests that even with God’s help they attempted it and failed.

The tribe of Ephraim didn’t destroy the people of the city of Gezer, but enslaved them instead.

The tribe of Manasseh encountered some difficulty as well with the cities of Beth-shean, Ibleam, Dor, En-dor (damn Ewoks), Taanach, Megiddo, and Napath:

Jos 17:12 Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 13 Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.”

Once again, we see a failure to defeat the inhabitants of the land.

Then the people of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) whined that they had so many people they deserved an extra portion of the land. Joshua pretty much told them they could have it, if they clear that land on their own.

There’s also something in there about the tribe of Dan losing their land, then attacking Leshem and taking that land as their own. Not enough detail, though, to draw any conclusions about what actually happened.

After all those tribes had their land allotted to them, Joshua then declared the remaining cities of refuge, and then lots were drawn to see which cities were to be given to which clans of the Levite tribe (remember that the Levites weren’t to have a separate land of their own, but rather to dwell in their own cities in the midst of the other tribes’ lands). Altogether, they were given forty-eight cities. So the land is now basically conquered and divided up, and we get:

Jos 21:44 And Yahweh gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for Yahweh had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of the good promises that Yahweh had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

Really? It takes some balls for the author to flat-out lie like that. I mean, we saw at least two examples of enemies who did, in fact, withstand the people of Israel, and they weren’t even far enough back in the narrative for the reader to forget about them by the time we get to this passage. And didn’t God promise that he would drive all of the people out? Because he certainly didn’t succeed. Sure sounds to me like a promise that failed.

Anyway, with the land as secure as they can make it for the time being, Joshua allows the fighters from Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh return to their land on the other side of the Jordan. When they cross over, they put up and altar to God. This provokes a little altercation with the rest of the Israelites, who think that altar will piss God off because he ordered that sacrifices will only be conducted at his temple. But once they are reassured that the purpose of the altar is only to remind the descendants of the Gadites, Reubenites, and Manassehites that they’re the same people as the rest of Israel, and not to have sacrifices performed on it, then all is well.

The rest of the book is kind of epilogue. It skips ahead to several years later when Joshua is old and dying. First we see him calling together the elders of the tribes to remind them how God has blessed them, that there are still lands they’re supposed to conquer, and that if they turn away from God he’ll punish the shit out of them. Then he calls all the people together at Shechem to extract a promise from them that they will continue to serve God. Once that’s done with, he dies and is buried on his own lands. We also get a brief paragraph on the high priest Eleazar, the son of Aaron, also dying and being buried before the book of Joshua comes to an end.

Well, that was kind of a quick book! Only two posts to get through the whole thing. And now the Israelites are ensconced in their promised land after a bloody and brutal (if slightly incomplete, though they claim otherwise) conquest. The next book is the Book of Judges, where we’ll get a taste of how they govern themselves in the age before they set any kings above them. Looking forward to it.

Until then, be well!

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