BiND: Day 16
Well, here we are entering the promised land! It’s been 40 long years wandering in the wilderness of repetition and names and numbers (well, or 15 days). Now there is some pretty serious action going on! Joshua leads the people across the Jordan and chases out/kills all the indigenous people in order to set up shop in Canaan.
There are some really interesting things to note about the book of Joshua in general and today’s reading in particular. First the whole book. It’s important to know that these books, from Joshua through Kings, are from the school of Deuteronomy. In fact, they are often called the “Deuteronomic history” which essentially means that we can read Deuteronomy as a theological preface/prologue/foundation for the “history” we read in these next two weeks. So as you’re reading, think about how the authors of Deuteronomy thought about the Israelite community and about God and that might provide a key to understanding some of the stories.
Next, a few interesting things from today’s reading. Did you notice how Joshua became the new Moses? As he led the people across the Jordan, the river stopped flowing and the people passed through on dry ground. The people worshipped God at a home-made mountain (I can only imagine that those rocks got pretty heavy!) on the other side of the river. And at the end of the whole episode, God’s messenger appears to Joshua and orders him to take off his sandals because he’s standing on holy ground. So Joshua became Moses and relived the Exodus with an entirely new generation of Israelites. They even revived the ritual of circumcision and celebrated the Passover, pretty clearly showing that authority had passed from Moses to Joshua, and also clearly making and re-making the community into God’s holy and chosen people.
You may have noticed that there is a significant amount of violence going on so far in the book of Joshua. It’s horrifying to think that God ordered the slaughter of thousands of innocent people, and just as horrifying to think that God’s covenant community justified their war ambition by placing words in God’s mouth (though that does happen frequently throughout human history). Archaeologists and biblical scholars have been working on what was going on with Joshua and the Israelites for decades. It seems that Joshua lived in the 13th century BC (early Iron Age) and that the book was compiled in the 7-6th century (during the monarchy and exile). Archaeologists are having a hard time finding evidence of as much destruction as is noted in this telling, and some scholars suggest that during the exile this was written as a way to evoke the “good old days” when Israelites had a close relationship with God, doing everything God asked and reaping the rewards. Theologically we still have a quandary, though. One of the things we talk about in confirmation class is that we have to come to terms with, basically, one of two ideas. Either God didn’t actually command all this violence but was used as an excuse by the people who wrote about it (hard to stomach for those who want to take all of our Scriptures seriously), or else we have to realize that deep in our history as people of God, and deep in God’s history, is a residue of violence that is not easily overcome but needs to be dealt with anyway. So when we read stories like the destruction of Jericho or the 30 other “kingdoms” (cities), how do we deal with that and with the fact that we believe every person is made in the image of God and one of the commandments is “thou shalt not kill”? It’s an open question for Christians and people of other faith traditions alike.
photo is of modern Jericho, by kara melissa, from Flickr.