February 29, 2008

Breadcrumb: One more time with gusto

When the house of Joseph decides to war against Bethel, which was called Luz before its conquest, they needed some intel. They stopped a man leaving the city and asked him how to get in, with a promise that they would treat the man well. The man agreed, revealed the city's defences, and the Israelites promptly conquered it. The man, however, left and built a new city, also called Luz, "which is its name to this day." (Judg. 1:22-26, NIV) In other words, it seems that Luz mark 2 learned from the mistakes of its namesake and didn't allow its citizens to give up its secrets nearly as easily. Or, if it did, we haven't read about it yet.

February 28, 2008

Breadcrumb: Fingers and toes

When the tribes of Judah and Simeon conquer Bezek, they cut off the thumbs and big toes of her king, Adonibezek. Oddly enough, Adonibezek seems remarkably well-adjusted to this development. He says: "seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off have picked up scraps under my table. Now God has paid me back for what I did to them." (Judg. 1:7, NIV) On the one hand, this punishment seems more humane than the alternative, which was to kill the king in a variety of unpleasant ways (so far, we've had -- among other things -- hangings, stonings, and burnings). On the other hand, living with your thumbs and big toes cut off seems to be a particularly demeaning way of life. At least Adonibezek didn't need to deal with it for too long: the Israelites brought him to Jerusalem, where he died.

February 27, 2008

Judges 1-2: Which came first, the sinner or the punishment?

Today's reading is Judges 1-2 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers conquests of some remaining lands; lands still unconquered; the angel of the Lord at Bokim; and God's punishment of the Israelites for their disobedience.

The first books of Judges pick up where Joshua left off: with the Israelites controlling most, but not all, of the Canaanite lands. Unfortunately for the Israelites, "not all" seems to be the operative words in the previous sentence.

Judges 1 begins with the tribes of Judah and Simeon banding together to conquer some of the neighbouring, non-Israelite territories. (Judg. 1:1-8, 17-18) Together they kill 10,000 Canaanites and Perizzites at Bezek, cut off the thumbs and big toes of Bezek's king, and burn down the city of Jerusalem. The chapter also reminds us of Caleb's conquest of Hebron and Othniel's conquest of Debir, both located in the lands of Judah. (Judg. 1:9-16) The children of Joseph also manage to conquer a few of the remaining natives at Bethel. (Judg. 22-26)

Here things begin to go downhill. Judges 1 also includes a long list of territories the Israelites were not able to conquer: lands in the regions of Benjamin (Judg. 1:19-21), Manasseh (27-28), Ephraim (29), Zebulun (30), Asher (31-32), and Naphtali (34). In Dan, things were so bad that the Israelites of that tribe were forced to live in the mountains, because the Amorites in the valley were too strong for them. (Judg. 1:34-36)

Obviously, these unconquered lands are a problem. God promised the patriarchs and Moses that the Israelites would conquer all the lands of Canaan, not just most of them. How can God reconcile these unconquered lands with his promises?

The answer, which will be repeated throughout the Bible, is that it's the Israelites' fault. God accuses the Israelites of making covenants with the native pagans and following their gods. For this, he tells the Israelites that he will not drive out the remaining nations, but they will be "thorns in your sides." (Judg. 2:1-3, KJV)

When the generation who took part in the initial conquest died and was replaced by their children and grandchildren, things got even worse. These descendants openly worshipped Baal and Ashtaroth, Canaanite gods. (Judg. 2:10-14) At this point, God moves from merely allowing the other nations to persist in Canaan to using them against the Israelites. The pagan nations defeated the Israelites in battles because God was against them. (Judg. 2:15)

Among other things, this is quite a tidy solution for later Israelite theologians. Why didn't the Israelites defeat all the Canaanites? Because they were unfaithful to God. Why were the Israelites defeated in battle? Because they were unfaithful to God. The problem isn't with God, but with the Israelites. If only the Israelites had been more steadfast, more faithful, more loyal, they would have conquered the whole land.

This is a theme that has appeared before and will appear again many times. The Israelites complain or disobey God and some natural disaster or enemy army kills many of them. I have theorized before that the "Israelites were disobedient" line was really just an after-the-fact justification for natural disasters or defeats. When some terrible thing happened to the Israelites, they hunted for a reason and found one in some sort of disobedience. In a population of over six hundred thousand, surely someone was acting against God. In the case of the defeat at Ai (Josh. 7), the perpetrator was a single man: Achan. Once the Israelites settled down into their inheritances, there must surely have been all the sorts of problems we associate with a settled people: incursions from without, dissension from within, and natural disasters, to name a few. When hunting for reasons for these problems, no doubt the Israelites (or at least, their chroniclers) turned to their old standby reason, "we were unfaithful to God."

The entire book of Judges is an attempt to stem this disobedience. Whenever the people turned away from God, he sent them a judge to reform them. For a while, these reforms worked and people heeded the judges. But as soon as the judge died, the Israelites returned to their corrupt ways, were punished again, and needed another judge to reform them. (Judg. 2:16-19)

From the time they left Egypt, it seems like the Israelites have required a strong, firm leader. Similar to many modern nations, the Israelites become petty and selfish when left to their own devices. As we shall see through the book of Judges, the judges that God raises try to counterbalance this trend, often with mixed results.

February 26, 2008

Final Reflections on Joshua

After reading Exodus, it should probably not surprise us that a single book can contain both wonderfully exciting sections alongside mind-numbingly boring ones. Joshua, like Exodus, begins with fast-paced action (Josh. 1-11) and ends with tedium, in this case long lists of land allotments (Josh. 13-21). (In Exodus, we recall the long sections dealing with the construction of the tabernacle.) It makes sense, then, to deal with these two sections separately, as each embody a different aspect of the Bible.

In the first half of Joshua, we come face-to-face with a depiction of the phrase, "going Old Testament." This shows the God of the Hebrews in full force: a warrior god who fights for his people and allows them mighty victories. The Israelites move from one conquest to another, in decreasing levels of detail. The first few victories -- over Jericho and Ai -- are fully fleshed-out, taking at least a chapter each. (Josh. 6 and 7-8, respectively) The encounters with Gibeon and the five Amorite kings who banded together to destroy it are also long and detailed, complete with dialogue. (Josh. 9-10)

However, after Gibeon, the level of detail decreases as the pace gears up to dizzying rapidity. The conquest of the southern kings in the latter half of Josh. 10 is formulaic, with each city getting only two or three verses. Though there is some set-up to the conquest of the northern kings in Josh. 11, most of the conquest comes down to a single verse: "All the cities of those [northern] kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them." (Josh. 11:12) In the next chapter, Josh. 12, we get a list of the 31 defeated kings, of which we only have a detailed account of two.

No doubt there were equally interesting stories for the conquest of the southern and northern kingdoms, but the text neglects to mention them. Instead, it apparently reasons that a few examples (Jericho, Ai, and Gibeon) should be enough to get the flavour, and afterwards only a list of the defeated cities is required.

This ties neatly in with the second half of the book, which consists mainly of land allotments. These chapters are detailed, precise, formulaic, and mostly devoid of any sort of narrative. They list the various tribes' land allotments one after another, sometimes tracing boundaries and sometimes only listing cities. Even the Levite towns are merely listed with little idea of their qualities.

This is because, in the end, Joshua is the foundation book for the Israelites living in Canaan. Unlike the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy), Joshua is not a mythology book. It is not a cultural binding, not a cultural memory, like the stories of the patriarchs, the parting of the Red Sea, or the wanderings in the desert. Instead, it is a reference book. We can imagine that it was used by later generations when there was some dispute about which tribe owned which piece of land or which city. It needed to trace precise borders for just this reason.

It did not, however, need to provide yet more cultural history about the mighty Israelite conquests. A few stories for good measure, which could be used by the storytellers to describe the prowess of the Israelites and expound the glory of God, would be sufficient. No doubt there were stories circulating for quite a long time about the various other cities the Israelites conquered, but they were not important enough to be recorded.

The few piece of true narrative in Joshua -- the conquest of Jericho and Ai, Gibeon's deception, the eastern tribes' altar -- all serve to illustrate some ethical principle about worship. The conquest of Jericho shows both the importance of relying on God and the mighty conquests that the Israelites can achieve if they follow him. The conquest of Ai, on the other hand, shows the punishments that will result from not following God. Finally, the eastern tribes' altar demonstrates that there are ways to worship God which might not be immediately apparent: the western tribes assumed the new altar was a form of idolatry, when it was in fact a new form of worship.

In the end, Joshua is a book of tying up loose ends. By the end of Joshua, Canaan has been conquered and the Israelites are all installed in their various tribal lands (or cities, for the Levites). God brought the Israelites back to the promised land, just like he told Moses in Exodus and the patriarchs in Genesis. Now all that remains is for the Israelites to actually live according to God's law, which is apparently a lot more difficult than we might originally think, as we shall see in the book of Judges, starting tomorrow.

February 25, 2008

Breadcrumb: Haul them bones

At the end of the book of Joshua, after Joshua had already died, we find out what eventually happened to Joseph's bones. Though his father and forefathers were buried in Canaan, Joseph had been buried in Egypt. It turns out that the Israelites carried Joseph's bones on their 40-year trek through the desert, during their conquest of the promised land, and finally were able to bury him in Shechem on the same parcel of ground the Jacob bought from Hamor all the way back in Gen. 33. It's a final coda to the book's theme of return to the promised land, not as a single family, but as a mighty nation.

February 24, 2008

Breadcrumb: You're sure, now?

After things have settled down from the conquest of Canaan, and after the aborted war with the eastern tribes over the new altar, Joshua wants to make sure that the Israelites really do want to serve God, once and for all. He calls all the leaders of Israel together and tells them not to worship with other nations. He reminds them that God fights for them, and they are powerful because of him. He also reminds them that if they turn away from God, he will hurt them, punish them, and kill them. Even after all these exhortations, the people agree to worship God. Given their past track record in the "wholeheartedly serving God" department, perhaps they should have thought twice. (Josh. 23-24)

February 23, 2008

Joshua 22-24: It's not what you think

Today's reading is Joshua 22-24 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers the eastern tribes' return home and their construction of a new altar; the altercation (no pun intended) over it; Joshua's farewell to the leaders; the renewal of the covenant at Shechem; and Joshua's death and burial.

The two and a half eastern tribes -- Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh -- have been away from home for a long time. They valiantly fought alongside their fellow Israelites, dutifully conquering the promised land of Canaan, and never once did they complain, at least not on record. By Josh. 22, it's clear that the little pieces of land left to be conquered will be left up to the individual tribes, and it's time for the eastern tribes to return home. Joshua blesses them, thanks them for a job well done, and sends them on their way. (Josh. 22:1-9)

The first thing they do when they get home is build an altar. (Josh. 22:10)

This isn't any ordinary altar, either. It's a "great" (KJV) and "imposing" (NIV) altar. (Josh. 22:10) Moreover, it's a replica of the main altar that goes along with the ark of the covenant, the one we read so much about in Exodus. (Josh. 22: 28)

This is, to say the very least, suspicious. After all, they have just been conquering pagan lands, and it's possible that the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites have picked up the ways of the conquered peoples. So the rest of the Israelites send a delegation to see what the eastern tribes were thinking when they set up this huge altar. In particular, they send ten Israelite princes and Phineas, son of the high priest. We may remember Phineas from Num. 25, when he dealt with an Israelite man and his Midianite concubine by stabbing them both through with a spear. Clearly, the Israelites are ready for trouble. (Josh. 22:13-14)

The delegation arrives and, as we might expect, challenges the eastern tribes. If they've learned nothing else over the years, they've learned that God punishes the entire congregation for the faults of the few. "Remember Peor," they say (Josh. 22:17), in reference to Num. 25, when some men followed their Moabite women in worshipping a foreign god, and God sent a plague that killed 24,000 people. "Remember Achan," they say (Josh. 22:20), in reference to Josh. 7, when Achan stole some of the sacred items from Jericho, and God caused the Israelites to be routed at Ai. Knowing that God is jealous and quick to anger, they correctly reason that if the eastern tribes have made God angry, their sin will quickly translate into punishment for the rest of the congregation. They even tell the eastern tribes that, if the temptation for idol-worship is too great, they can make room west of the Jordan for them, and all Israelite can live together as one big, happy family. (Josh. 22:15-20)

The eastern tribes are quick to leap to the defence. "If we transgressed, God will know and you will be right to punish us," they say. (Josh. 22:21-23, my paraphrase) No, they did not build the altar as a place to offer sacrifices and offerings, but instead as a precaution against the rest of the Israelites. They reason that one day in the future, the main group of Israelites will claim that God only gave Israel the lands west of the Jordan, and cut off the eastern tribes. This altar will not be used for sacrifices, but will be a witness between the western and eastern tribes, so that all their descendants will realize they are part of the same people and worship the same God. (Josh. 22:24-29)

This answer is good enough for Phineas and the princes, who return and tell the rest of the Israelites why the eastern tribe set up an altar. The congregation like the answer too, and there is no more talk of going to war against their eastern brethren. (Josh. 22:32-33)

This is, to say the least, a masterful piece of reasoning on the part of the eastern tribes. While the thing they built might look like an altar and act like an altar, it is not, in fact, an altar. At least, it's not an altar for sacrifices, which is the general purpose of an altar. Instead, it is more like a primitive national flag, a way of saying that the eastern tribes belonged to the same family as the western ones.

More fundamentally, it is the precursor to a culture based more on law than on actual location. In the diaspora, after Canaan was conquered by the Babylonians and Persians, Jews developed a religion based on Torah scrolls as opposed to animal sacrifices at a central temple. Judiasm, and later Christianity, could spread throughout the world, never tied to a single locale or a single temple. While the main movement towards book-based (as opposed to sacrifice-based) worship occurred much later, this chapter places the seeds for that later development. Even before the advent of a Temple, the Israelites were already starting to set up contingencies for people who were too far away to travel to it.

February 22, 2008

Breadcrumb: I conquered Hebron, and all I got was...

Hebron gets yet more fame in Josh. 20-21. My astute readers may recall that in Josh. 14, Hebron was given to Caleb as a reward for his long years of loyal service. In Josh. 21:11-12, the picture is nuanced a bit, as the city is also given to the Levite family of Kohathites. Eventually, it looks like they worked out a deal whereby the Levites got the city proper and the surrounding pastures, while Caleb got the fields and villages around the city. Oh, and the city was also one of the six Cities of Refuge, which meant that it would be full of unwitting murderers. In the end, it seems rather a bad deal for Caleb, who conquered it in the first place.

February 21, 2008

Breadcrumb: What kind of directions are those?

Josh. 19:32-38 lays out yet another set of land allotments, this time for the tribe of Naphtali. But while most borders to date had been pretty straightforward, demarcated by cities, rivers, and seas, Naphtali throws us for a bit of a loop. Verse 33 in the KJV reads that the coast was "from Heleph, from Allon to Zaanannim." Which sounds wonderfully clear until we realize that "allon" means "oak" or "large tree." In other words, Naphtali's border was marked by an oak tree. Maybe the leaders of Naphtali just hoped that whoever owned that oak tree never wanted to expand his farm.

February 20, 2008

Joshua 19-21: Tying up loose ends

Today's reading is Joshua 19-21 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers the land allotments for the rest of the tribes and for Joshua; a list of the cities of refuge; and a list of the towns given to the Levites.

By the end of Josh. 21, it seems like all the i's have been dotted and t's crossed. Canaan has been conquered, its people put to death, and its lands allotted to the various Israelite tribes. I'm not just saying this because I noticed it, either, but rather because the text specifically tells us.

Josh. 21:43-45 puts a final coda on all the work that's been done in Canaan to date (though, in the traditional Biblical sense of timing, there remains another three chapters in the book). I quote from the KJV:
43. And the LORD gave unto Israel all the lands which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.
44. And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
45. There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken until the house of Israel; all came to pass.

Joshua has mostly been a book of tying up loose ends, since Deuteronomy left us with a cliff-hanger. At the end of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan and possess the lands of their forefathers. God had promised them this land for centuries. In fact, the Israelites under Joshua's command -- all of them born during the desert wanderings -- probably had huge expectations placed upon them by their parents, who had escaped Egypt but were forbidden from entering Canaan. No doubt they had been primed for this conquest since birth.

Joshua (the man, not the book) ties up Moses' loose ends in much the same way as the book of Joshua ties up the loose ends left by the book of Deuteronomy. As we may recall from Num. 20, Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land, despite his obedience to God for most of his life. Instead, he died and was buried in Deut. 34, leaving Joshua in command of the populace. The text reminds us that there was never been another prophet like Moses, leaving Joshua with some very large shoes to fill. And, in his own way, he does what he can.

Whereas Moses set up the conquest of Israel, Joshua led the armies in conquest. While Moses established the rules for the cities of refuge, Joshua named which cities they would be. (Josh. 20:7-9) While Moses said that the Levites would receive towns among all the people instead of their own land allotment, Joshua established them. (Josh. 21) In short, Joshua was the one who did Moses' dirty work. Moses promised, Joshua delivered.

Thus, by the end of Joshua 21, everything Moses promised, Joshua put into place. Nothing was left undone except for the eastern tribes to return home and immediately be accused of idolatry, but that's the subject for our next essay.

You all get off easy today, because today's readings conclude some of the most boring chapters I've read so far. Things will pick up starting next time. Promise.

February 19, 2008

Breadcrumb: Didn't we tell you not to touch that?

In Josh. 18, we read that the tribe of Benjamin was given control of the area of the former Amorite kings, including Jerusalem. One of the cities under their control is... Jericho. Some of my readers might remember that in Josh. 6, the Israelites completely destroyed Jericho. Furthermore, in Josh. 6:26, Joshua stated that any many who tries to rebuild Jericho would be cursed, laying the foundation at the cost of his firstborn, and setting up the gates at the cost of his youngest child. This makes you wonder why Benjamin would be happy to list Jericho as one of its cities, given that they can never rebuild it. Perhaps they took pride in all the great stories they could tell about its conquest?

February 18, 2008

Breadcrumb: What to do when you don't have Google Maps

After the allotments of Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh, it seemed that things were going too slowly for Joshua's liking. Instead of continuing at a snail's pace, he decided to send out scouts to survey the land for the remaining seven tribes. (Josh. 18:1-10) It seems like there's a lot of scouting in the Bible: Moses sent scouts before attempting to enter the Promised Land (Num. 13-14), Joshua sent spies before invading Jericho (Josh. 2), and now we have scouts to survey the land before occupying it. Because in the days before satellites, sending scouts was sometimes the only way to gather intel.

February 17, 2008

Joshua 16-18: But can you walk the walk?

Today's reading is Joshua 16-18 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers the land allotment for Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh west of the Jordan; Joshua's sending of scouts into the rest of the land; and the allotment for Benjamin.

Though we started discussing the land allotments west of the Jordan in our last set of readings, the trend continues today. One of the things we learn is that the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh are quite large. If you find any map of the Israelite tribes in Canaan, at least any map with borders, you'll see that Manasseh gets quite a large amount of land. The two tribes together hole essentially all the land from the northern tip of the Dead Sea to the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee (along the Jordan) across to the Mediterranean. That's roughly a third of all the lands for the Israelites west of the Jordan (Judah gets a fair amount as well). And that's not even counting the lands Manaaseh holds east of the Jordan. It's certainly more than any other tribe, except possibly Judah.

You would think this would be enough for them, but you would be mistaken.

The sons of Joseph, perhaps capitalizing on their patriarch's favouritism with Jacob, ask Joshua for yet more land. (Josh 17:14) They say, "I am a great people," and they should therefore get more than just one portion of land.

Joshua, to his credit, comes up with an acceptable solution to this quandary in Josh. 17:11-18. It turns out that though the children of Joseph had been given all this land, some of it was yet unconquered. There is a whole list of cities in Josh. 17:11, mostly in forest-land situated in the north-east of their territory, occupied by the Perizzites and Rephaites ("the giants" in the KJV, Josh. 17:15). Joshua tells them that if their current allotment is too small, all they need to do is go conquer those cities and they'll have more land.

Here the children of Joseph balk. The people in those cities have iron chariots! And if you believe the KJV, they're giants! Even if their current lands aren't big enough, they don't want to go conquer those north-eastern cities.

Joshua gives them a stern reprimand: you are numerous and powerful. Go drive them out, and you'll overcome them, even though they have iron chariots. (Josh. 17:18) You can almost hear the unwritten text, "God is fighting for you."

Oddly enough, we never find out what happens to these cities. We read in Josh. 17:13 (in the middle of this whole interchange) that when the Israelites were stronger, they subjected the Canaanites in those cities to "forced labour" (NIV) or "put [them] to tribute" (KJV). The text is unclear about whether this is the situation at the time of the narrative, or at the time of the writing many years later, as the text tends to add occasional references to "things are still like this today." Nonetheless, it seems like the Children of Joseph may have been less successful than Joshua anticipated.

At this point, we need to re-evalutate some of our previous assumptions. First, we assumed that the whole land was conquered, except for a few outlying areas. This is clearly not the case. In fact, much of the land around the Sea of Galilee is still unconquered at this juncture.

Next, we assumed that the Israelites were fearless warriors. It certainly seemed that way last time, when Caleb conquered Hebron and his nephew conquered Debir. (Josh. 15) In fact, it seemed like the Israelites were almost unstoppable during their long campaign, conquering massed forces of numerous Canaanite kings. But perhaps when it came to assembling an army without Joshua at its head, the Israelites were less courageous. Even though they'd conquered giants before (Og, king of Bashan, for example), and they'd defeated foes with chariots (Josh. 11), they seemed less inclined to do it again, at least if they needed to do it by themselves.

Finally, we assumed that the tribes were mostly in harmony. Throughout most of the Pentateuch and Joshua up to this point, the "Israelites" were always referred to as a single entity, a six-hundred-thousand-person happy family. We learn here that this might not have been the case. The various tribes were jealous of their borders, wanted more land, and essentially behaved like small kingdoms unto themselves. Yes, certainly they all followed the same God, and they were all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they also had their own tribal patriarchs and their own tribal identities. Manasseh seems to have no problem with claiming more land from, say, the territory of Judah to the south or Zebulun to the north.

What can we deduce from this small section, then? Perhaps that the Israelites were not quite as noble, mighty, and fair as we originally assumed. Or, perhaps, the men of Ephraim and Manasseh were simply human beings acting in their best interests. One thing we can be fairly certain of, however, is that either way, it was probably bad news for the Canaanites.

February 16, 2008

Breadcrumb: Twelve minus twelve is... one?

Though we knew this already, Josh. 14:3-4 reminds us that the Levites did not, in fact, receive any land. This is to deal with any confusion that might arise from there being 12 tribes receiving land. If you weren't playing close attention before, you might think that the twelve sons of Jacob (including Levi) correspond to the twelve tribes receiving land, but you would be mistaken. Instead, there were thirteen tribes, since one was given to each of Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. This is both why we can have twelve tribes receiving land without the Levites getting any, and also why we never hear about the "Tribe of Joseph."

February 15, 2008

Breadcrumb: We're not done yet!

Josh. 13:2-7 lists the lands that the Israelites, despite their long war campaign, have not yet conquered. It is, in fact, a surprising amount of land: the Philistine lands in the south-west (around Gaza), the lands of Geshur (roughly modern-day Golan Heights), all of Lebanon, and various other cities and areas. Nonetheless, Joshua is so confident that the Israelites will conquer them, he exhorts them to include these lands in the tribal allotments, even though they are not, technically, Israelite lands... yet.

February 14, 2008

Joshua 12-15: Not your average retirement

Today's reading is Joshua 12-15 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers a list of the defeated Canaanite kings; the lands still to be conquered; the division of the lands East of the Jordan (to Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh); the giving of Hebron to Caleb and his conquest of it; and the land allotment for Judah.

For those following along in the text, I recommend that for this essay and the next two, you find a good Bible atlas. That's because Josh. 13-21 is essentially a long list of land allotments. There are many lists of cities, intricate tracings of borders, and not a whole lot else. If you don't have a good map, this can be infuriating. I list a few Bible map websites at the bottom of this essay, but none of them are stellar.

Okay, that bit of administrativa out of the way, on to the text.

At this point, I doubt that any of my readers (unless they've followed along in the text and already read today's passage) are thinking about Caleb, son of Jephunneh. For the benefit of those who want to keep reading instead of finding a Bible-text search engine, Caleb was the only person other than Joshua who survived the wandering in the desert and entered the promised land.

Way back in Numbers 13-14, Caleb and Joshua were among the twelve scouts sent into Canaan to gather information in preparation for the imminent (at the time) war. All the other scouts reported that the cities were large, fortified, and inhabited by giants (children of Anak). They persuaded the Israelites that perhaps this invasion wasn't so great an idea after all. The only two who insisted that the Hebrews could conquer the land, since they had God on their side, were Joshua and Caleb.

It was the scouts' report that caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for forty years. All through it, Joshua served as Moses' right-hand man, and Caleb rose in the ranks among the Israelites, until he is named as one of the leading men of Judah in Num. 34:19.

It only seems fair, then, that when the Israelites finally finish most of their conquest, that Caleb asks for some recognition. He asks for more than recognition, in fact; he asks for a city.

In Josh. 14:10-15 and 15:13-20, Caleb comes into the picture again. He reminds Joshua of God's promise that Caleb would be allowed to possess the land he scouted, specifically Hebron and her subject-cities. Though this promise isn't actually recorded in the Pentateuch, Joshua doesn't quarrel with it. Instead he blesses Caleb and grants him Hebron.

Now, the Israelites' work in Canaan isn't done yet. Josh. 13:2-7 list a surprisingly large amount of land the Israelites have not yet conquered. And, while Hebron is listed in the roster of defeated kings in Josh. 12, it appears this listing might have been premature, because Caleb still needs to conquer it.

And conquer he does. Despite being 85 years old, Caleb says he is still strong and ready to make war. (Josh. 14:11) Caleb conquers the city and ousts the three giants (Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai) who were living there. (Josh. 15:14)

You would think this would be enough for a man well past middle age, but there is still more land to conquer. He brings his army to Debir, one of the nearby cities, and in a somewhat cliché move, offers his daughter's hand in marriage to the person who conquers it for him. In almost no time at all, Caleb's nephew Othniel takes the city, takes the girl, and settles down to what he hopes will be a peaceful life. (Josh. 15:15-17)

His new wife, Achsah, has other plans. Like many of the other women in the text, Achsah has perhaps more forethought than her husband. She realizes that Hebron is in the Negev, a desert without much rain. Instead of settling for what she already has, she asks her father, Caleb, for springs of water, which he grants her. (Josh. 15:18-19)

In fact, this isn't the last we hear of Othniel: he is discussed in the book of Judges (chapter 3), but we'll get to that in due time.

In fact, this little portion of the book of Joshua encompasses many of the characteristics we've seen before: wholehearted devotion to God; faith in God causing a small force to beat a superior enemy; vigour in old age; honouring of promises; importance of family ties; and wily women. And, of course, it has fighting, which is also a quintessential theme of the Bible so far. It might not have the majesty of some of the other passages, but it nonetheless stands out in a long list of city allotments and border demarkations.

As I promised above, here is a list of some of the online maps I've been using as I've been reading through these chapters. None are fantastic, but taken together they're not bad. I also picked up The Macmillan Bible Atlas from the library today, which seems to be decent.
  • Biblemap.org – select the chapter and see the places listed in it. It's a bit glitchy, but still the most comprehensive online Bible map I've found to date.
  • Bible Maps -- a much simpler map, but easier to see the general areas of the tribes and some major cities, including Hebron and Debir
  • Bible-history.com -- another simple map, this one with the borders of the tribes (at least one interpretation thereof) drawn in
  • Biblestudy.org -- a nice colour map with more detail than the two previous ones

February 13, 2008

Breadcrumb: All at once now

In Josh. 11, the northern kings of Canaan see that Joshua has completely destroyed their southern neighbours. So they band together, a huge host of armies, "even as the sand that is upon the sea shore in multitude," complete with horses and chariots. (Josh. 11:4) It should therefore come as no surprise that Joshua kills them all in a surprise attack. In fact, it seemed that the only useful thing accomplished by the banding was that it gave Joshua a single locale to attack instead of dozens of separate cities.

February 12, 2008

Breadcrumb: The sun stood still

As part of the conquest of the five Amorite kings' armies, Joshua asked God to make the sun and moon stand still until he could finish wiping out the enemy completely. (Josh. 10:13-14) And, in fact, this is exactly what happened. "There was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man," says the KJV. In fact, we may never know what actually happened on that day. In fact, it's hard to say which was more miraculous, that God stopped the sun and moon, or that he obeyed a mere mortal.

February 11, 2008

Joshua 9-11: If you can't beat 'em...

Today's reading is Joshua 9-11 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers the Gibeonites' deception of Joshua and the Israelites; and the Israelites' conquest of five Amorite kings, the southern cities, and the northern kings of Canaan.

In today's readings, the Israelites really start to ramp up the war effort. In fact, by the end of Josh. 11, they've conquered all of Canaan, and the rest of the book of Joshua (13 more chapters) is essentially concerned with how the lands are going to be parcelled out among the various tribes. It takes a "very long time" to conquer the lands (Josh. 11:18), but in the end, they complete the task, killing all men, women, and children who previously lived in Canaan... except the Hivites who lived at Gibeon.

It is reasonable to ask at this juncture, "what was so special about the Gibeonites?" The answer to that question is, "they were sneaky."

Gibeon was a near neighbour of Jericho and Ai, which fell to the Israelites in Josh. 5-8 (see my last essay for more on that). Knowing which way the wind was blowing, Gibeon decided to trick the Israelites into signing a peace treaty.

The Gibeonites fitted out a delegation of ambassadors with stale bread, cracked wineskins, and worn-out clothing. Even though Gibeon was only three days' ride away from Gilgal, where the Israelites were camped, the ambassadors seemed like they had travelled on a long journey. (Josh. 9:3-6) They reached the camp, went up to Joshua, and asked for an alliance.

To give them credit, the Israelites don't initially fall for this ploy. "Perhaps you live near us," they say. (Josh. 9:7, NIV) The ambassadors proceed to bring out the cracked wineskins, stale bread, etc. as proof of their long travels. No doubt it was a compelling tale, because the Israelite princes fall for it and -- without asking God -- decide to sign the treaty. (Josh. 9:9-15)

Of course, the Gibeonites were bound to slip up sooner or later. In fact, the deception is revealed in merely three days. (Josh. 9:16) The Israelites march out to the Gibeonites' cities to confront them, but the pact they made ("by the LORD God of Israel" Josh. 9:19) was binding and the Israelites were not allowed to kill their new allies. No matter how much the common grunts grumbled against the princes who had actually signed the treaty, they needed to leave the Gibeonites alive.

However, no good treaty is without a wide range of interpretations. Instead of death, Joshua informs the Gibeonites that they will be wood-cutters and water-carriers for the Israelites, forever. The Gibeonites agree, and are servants of the Israelites "even unto this day." (Josh. 9:27, KJV)

Perhaps the most interesting dialogue occurs in Josh. 9:22-25. Joshua asks the Gibeonites, point blank, "why did you do it?" The answer, it seems, should be obvious: the Gibeonites knew the Israelites were on a war path, intent on killing everyone in Canaan. They knew that in the normal course of events, the Israelites would kill them in short order. Even life as perpetual bondsmen would be better than a quick death, they reasoned. The Gibeonites' answer is not surprising. What is surprising is that Joshua needed to ask the question in the first place, given that the answer should have been obvious.

Two other snippets of this story also deserve mention:

First, in Josh. 9:14-15, the princes of the Israelites sign the peace treaty without consulting God. This is highly unusual behaviour for them. Normally, any major decision involved asking God whether the choice was good or not. Here, the Israelite princes decided to trust their better judgement and failed spectacularly. Even more interestingly, God does not punish the Israelites for their lack of forethought. Usually, if the Israelites failed to consult God on a major issue, he would send some sort of destruction to remind them of their place. Here, the only consequence is the unintended treaty.

The other thing that bears mentioning is dissension within the Israelite ranks. When the army arrives at Gibeon, "all the congregation murmured against the princes" who signed the treaty. (Josh. 9:18, KJV) It seems that the decision to ally with the supposedly-far-off ambassadors was not universally approved. Or, perhaps like modern politics, the masses were fickle, agreeing to the treaty when it seemed in their best interests, and then, when the Gibeonites revealed themselves, claiming to have been against it all along.

We know that Moses had to constantly put up with the Israelites' grumblings throughout the time they were in the desert. The commoners seemed to be simply continuing the trend here, complaining to Joshua, the princes, and anyone who would listen when things didn't go their way. In fact, this is a trend that will continue for at least the next several decades, if not centuries.

Though the treaty with the Gibeonites might initially seem to be a blow to the Israelites' "destroy everything" war strategy, there was an up-side. Just after the treaty was signed, five Amorite kings from the surrounding region decided to punish Gibeon for their betrayal. Together, they besieged the city. The Gibeonites called to Joshua to honour their alliance, so Joshua took his army on a nocturnal stealth attack against the five kings, killed their armies, and promptly destroyed all their cities. (Josh. 10:1-27) In the end, perhaps it saved Joshua a bit of effort by bringing the armies to him, instead of needing to assault each of the Amorite cities at full strength.

At the end of the day, the important thing is that all of Canaan was destroyed except those sneaky Gibeonites. As the saying goes, "it's better to be a live mouse than a dead lion."

February 10, 2008

Breadcrumb: None for you!

After forty years of wandering, you'd probably get a little bored with eating the same thing every day. So once the Israelites reach Canaan, they eat the corn of the land for the Passover. (Josh. 5:11) This is both good news and bad news. Good in that there is now some variety in their diets; bad in that God decides this is the perfect opportunity to stop sending manna. (Josh. 5:12) Now that the Israelites can support themselves off the land, they no longer need God's support to eat. They must, at this juncture, return to the normal plight of men and work for their food (or, at least initially, conquer for it, which is an equally normal situation).

February 09, 2008

Breadcrumb: All at once, now

In Josh. 5:1-9, we read that all the Israelites were circumcised before they entered Canaan. It seems that, while the men leaving Egypt had been circumcised, no one had thought to circumcise their sons in the desert. This left a great many Israelite men who needed to be circumcised in order to fulfill the covenant with God. They do it all at once at Gilgal, before facing Jericho. More specifically, it happened at Gilbeath Haaraloth, or "The Hill of Foreskins." Let's hope that particular translation isn't too literal.

February 08, 2008

Joshua 5-8: The mighty conquerors?

Today's reading is Joshua 5-8 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers the Israelites' circumcision at Gilgal; the fall of Jericho; the routing of the Israelites by the men of Ai because of Achan's transgression; the ambush and destruction of Ai; and the renewal of the covenant.

Despite the Israelites' fierce military reputation, their first few battles show them to be actually quite cowardly.

In today's readings, we have three military encounters: first at Jericho (Josh. 5:13-6:27), second at Ai (Josh. 7:2-9), and third again at Ai (Josh. 8:1-29). In each of them, the Israelites' performance as hardy warriors seems to be lacking.

Everyone knows the story of the walls of Jericho: Joshua circled the city for seven days, and then the walls of Jericho came "crumbling down" (as the song says). This is, for the most part, true. For six days, the warriors of Israel circle Jericho, followed by the ark of the covenant and priests blowing trumpets. On the seventh day, they circle seven times, the warriors shout, and the walls fall down.

And then the Israelites kill every man, woman, and child, along with all the cattle, and burn the city to the ground. (Josh. 6:21-24) In fact, it seems like the men of Jericho never had a chance: the Israelite conquest wasn't so much a victory as a slaughter.

Next comes the city of Ai. Unbeknownst to the Israelites, one of their number, Achan, took some forbidden spoils from Jericho and turned God away from his chosen people. So when the Israelites send 3,000 men to storm Ai, they are routed. In fact, the text tells us that "about 36" Israelite warriors fell before the forces of Ai. (Josh. 7:5) Because of this supposedly horrible catastrophe, Joshua goes into full mourning, asking God why he has abandoned the Israelites. (Josh. 7:6-9)

In the end, Achan is discovered, forced into confession, and stoned. (Josh. 7:16-26) That out of the way, the actual conquest of Ai can proceed.

This time, Joshua is taking no chances. Not only does he send a force of 30,000 men against Ai's total population of 12,000, (Josh. 8:25) he also makes sure that strategy is on his side as well. Knowing that the men of Ai would hunt down the Israelites after their last victory, Joshua sends a force of 30,000 men (or possibly 5,000 men, depending on whether you believe Josh. 8:4 or 8:12) to wait in ambush until the men of Ai leave to follow the remaining Israelites. Then the men lying in wait are to seize the city and burn it to the ground.

This is exactly what happens. By the time the men of Ai realize their city is on fire, Joshua's forces have turned around and confronted them head-on. The men of Ai are caught between Joshua's pretended rout and the main force of the ambush. Joshua then proceeds to kill all the fighting men, as well as the rest of the population of the city. They burn Ai to the ground, hang its king, and leave him at the gate of his ruined city. (Josh. 8:20-29)

Let us take stock of these first three Israelite battles. The first thing we learn is that not many Israelites died. In fact, it seems like the sum total of the deaths are the "about thirty-six" who fell during the first attack on Ai. We don't read about any other deaths, either during the attack of Jericho or the second attack on Ai. While it's certainly possible that some of the Israelite soldiers died in the attacks, it is equally possible that, because of God's protection, they didn't.

On the other hand, the Israelites were extremely brutal with their victims: at both Jericho and Ai they burned the cities to the ground, killed all the inhabitants (not just the soldiers), and even gave orders against ever rebuilding the cities again. God commanded them only to take the gold, silver, brass, and iron -- for God's treasury -- and to destroy everything else at Jericho. (Josh. 6:18-19) At Ai, they were also allowed to take the livestock. (Josh. 8:27) Otherwise, everything was "utterly destroyed."

We have to wonder about the Israelites' tactics. On the one hand, they were certainly continuing their reputation as savage conquerers, barbaric even beyond the barbaric standards of the time. When their enemies heard that the Israelites were coming, they likely started quaking. On the other hand, this is hardly a way to settle comfortably among your new neighbours. Yes, God was going to give the entire land to the Israelites, making "neighbours" somewhat irrelevant. But there would still be neighbours beyond the Israelites' borders, whom they would need to interact with.

One final thought: much later, the Israelites lament when their land is attacked by nation after nation. The Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians all successively attack and conquer portions of the Israelite lands, killing some of their men and sending the rest into exile. This is one of the laments of Jewish history, in fact. On the other hand, even these conquering nations seem not to have been as brutal as the Israelites themselves were when they first conquered the lands in these chapters. As the saying goes, "those who live by the sword, die by the sword."

February 07, 2008

Breadcrumb: One more time with gusto

In Josh. 3-4, the Israelites again cross a river and walk on dry land. Just as with the Red Sea back in Exodus, God causes the waters of the flooding Jordan River to part so that the Israelites can cross in safety (and dryness). This time, just as an added reminder, Joshua has twelve men each take a stone from the middle of the river and place them at Gilgal, where they camped. That way, when the children of Israel, at some point in the future, ask what the stones are about, the Israelites would have an excuse to recite the story. Sure, the Jordan crossing might not get its own holiday, but at least it deserves a retelling on occasion.

February 06, 2008

Breadcrumb: Strong and courageous

When God gives Joshua his first commands for leading the Israelites, he repeats several times, "be strong and courageous." (Josh. 1:6, 1:7, 1:9) When Joshua insists the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites fight west of the Jordan, they too repeat the phrase, "be strong and courageous." (Josh. 1:18) You have to wonder what sort of temperament Joshua had beforehand, if he needs this many exhortations. He already scouted Canaan, commanded the army against the Amalekites, and went part-way up Mount Sinai with Moses. How much more strong and courageous does he need to be?

February 05, 2008

Joshua 1-4: More wily women

Today's reading is Joshua 1-4 (read it in the KJV or NIV)

Today's passage covers God's initial commands to Joshua; the two spies in Jericho and their encounter with Rahab; and the crossing of the Jordan River.

As the book of Joshua begins, the Israelites are on a war path. Moses is dead, along with the rest of the Israelites who left Egypt. Instead, we have a new, bold nation, headed by 40,000 fighting men. (Josh. 4:13) And, in charge, is a new, bold chief, Joshua. However, before Joshua sends his men onto the plain of battle, he needs what any good commander needs: information.

Like Moses before him (Num. 13-14), Joshua sends spies into the victim territory, specifically Jericho. (Josh. 2:1) While Moses had sent twelve men, one from each tribe, Joshua sends only two to scout the city. But even with these two, the king of Jericho hears about the intelligence-gathering mission and seeks to kill the scouts. Luckily for them, and unluckily for the king, the two men had taken refuge with a prostitute (possibly an innkeeper) named Rahab. (Josh. 2:2-3)

Now, Rahab knows a conquering army when she sees one. She, like many others in Canaan, have heard of the power of the Israelite army. She knows that they decimated Shion and Og, the Amorite kings, and sees the same army massed across the Jordan from her city. She wants to ensure that if the Israelites attack Jericho, as seems imminent, at least she will be spared.

First, she knows that she must get the scouts into her debt. So she hides them on her roof in stalks of flax and sends the pursuers on a wild goose chase outside the city. (Josh. 2:4-7) Knowing that the scouts now owe her their lives, she asks for a favour: that the Israelites spare her life and those of her family. The scouts agree, on a few conditions: first, the family must gather in Rahab's house. Second, she must mark the house by placing a scarlet cord on her window. Finally, she must keep quiet about the Israelites' plans. Forfeiting any of these conditions voids the bargain. (Josh. 2:12-20) Rahab agrees and lowers the scouts outside of the city walls and away to freedom. (Josh. 2:21) After spending a few days in hiding, the scouts return to Joshua and report on their encounter. The new chief, knowing an ally when he encounters one, agrees to spare Rahab's life and rejoices that the inhabitants of Jericho are already afraid of his army.

At this juncture, let us pause and examine the story. This is the first time a woman has played an important role in the Israelites' narrative for quite some time. The last important woman was Miriam, and she didn't have a positive role since Ex. 15 when she acted as priestess and sang a song of rejoicing after crossing the Red Sea. (She also appeared in Num. 12, upbraiding Moses, and contracted leprosy. Aaron needed to pray to God to remove his sister's illness.) In Num. 26-27, we had a brief encounter with Zelophehad's daughters, who asked for their father's inheritance since they had to brothers, and we granted it. But really, we haven't seen women play this important, and public, a roll since Genesis. And yet, in the very second chapter of Joshua, a woman takes front-and-centre stage.

Not only is this woman important, but she embodies all the characteristics we have come to expect in Biblical women: shrewdness, cunning, intelligence, and love for their own family. Rahab's actions mirror Rebekah's ploys to steal Esau's birthright and blessing for her own son, Jacob; Tamar's plot to force Judah to let her marry his youngest son; and Rachel's theft of her father's household gods. These women all wanted to protect their families (or, in the case of Rachel, her family's religion) and were surprisingly inventive in ways to do so. Rahab is just the same.

It is not surprising that the women of the Bible, at least the effective ones included in the text, are intelligent and cunning. Though women had some limited rights and privileges under Israelite law (and a few non-Israelite women, such as priestesses, may have had rights in their own nations), women for the most part were not public figures. They were not able to wield much power in the public forum. Thus, whatever power they did employ needed to be subtle and focused on manipulating men.

While Rahab is the first true prostitute we have encountered in the text (Tamar posed as a prostitute, but was not), it seems only fitting that she should be so. Prostitutes, unlike most women, had some measure of public presence in society. They were not expected to remain at home, but could go out into the community. Thus, Rahab was ideally placed to hear about the scouts from her contacts. Furthermore, prostitutes were likely not high on the social scale of Jericho, so Rahab would not have expected particularly strong protection from the guards, especially given that her home was next to the walls of the city. She may have deemed it in her best interest to ingratiate herself to the imminent conquerers instead of her native leaders. Even though she was a prostitute, she was nevertheless well-placed to help the Israelites and jumped on the chance to do so.

Regardless of whether we agree with Rahab's actions (and profession) or not, we must nonetheless give her credit for her shrewdness and her ability to manipulate the situation to her advantage. While other women may have worried about protecting their families during the Israelite attack, Rahab was able to find and implement a way to save hers.