Joshua 5-8: Israelites exterminate everyone in Jericho and Ai

Under Joshua’s command, the Israelites make flint knives and circumcise themselves.  They celebrate passover at Gilgal.  When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw the “captain of the LORD’s host”.  He prostrated himself to the captain; the captain asked him to remove his shoes, and strangely enough, nothing further is described.  Then, under the LORD’s command, 7 priests carrying the Ark circle the city once every day for 6 days.  On the 7th day, they circle the city 7 times and give a big shout; the city walls come tumbling down.  The Israelites burn down the city and exterminate everything–man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and ass–except for Rahab the prostitute’s family.

However, one of the Israelites, Achan, violated God’s command to donate all valuable loot to the LORD’s treasury.  Due to this, God allows Ai to win a minor victory against the Israelites.  The LORD then points Achan out to the Israelites.  The Israelites kill Achan, his sons, and his daughters by stoning and by fire.

Then, the Israelites deceive Ai by feigning retreat.  While the soldiers of Ai are pursuing, they enter the city and burn it down.  After completely defeating the city, they exterminate the entire population, twelve thousand in all.

Commentary:

  • Archeological evidence shows that Jericho and Ai were uninhabited during the late Bronze Age, when the events described here would have happened.
  • It is not explained how the prostitute’s house was not destroyed when the wall fell down.  The house was built inside the wall, according to 2:15.
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Joshua 1-4: Crossing the Jordan

Introduction:

The book of Joshua has two main components, likely by different authors.  The first describes the conquest of Canaan, and the second describes its settlement.   The book is an amalgam of many different sources from many different authors over centuries.  For example, ch. 6-11, about the conquest, was written near the end of the 8th century BC in Judah, when the country was under Assyrian country.  The Book of Settlement (ch 13-21) uses various administrative documents from the end of the 7th century.

In terms of historical accuracy, Joshua directly contradicts archeological data.  Joshua claims that the Israelites conquered the entire region of Canaan, massacred its population, and burnt its cities to the ground.  Archeology suggests that the Israelites were indigenous Canaanites who first settled in the relatively empty central hill country.  There is no widespread destruction at the end of the late Bronze age, when the conquest would have occurred, and at least two of the cities in Joshua–namely Ai and Jericho–did not even exist at the time.

Joshua 1-4: After the death of Moses, the LORD commands Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan.  The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh go with them as troops, even though their land is on the eastern side of the Jordan.  Joshua sends two spies to Jericho, who stay at a local prostitute’s house.  Because the prostitute hides them from the king of Jericho, and because she realizes God will allow the Israelites to massacre Jericho’s population, she begs them to spare her family, and they agree.  Shortly afterwards, the Israelites set off from Shittim to cross the Jordan.  The LORD blocks the river, turning it into dry land for them to cross.  As they were crossing, the chieftain of each tribe picks up a stone from the middle of the Jordan.  They arrive at Gilgal by the first night, and set the stones up at their camp to remind future generations of the crossing of the Jordan.

Commentary:

  • These chapters are consciously following the model of Moses.  Just as Moses addressed the Transjordanian tribes about their obligation (Numbers 32), so does Joshua (1:12-15).  Just as Moses sends spies (Num. 13), so does Joshua.  Moses parts the Reed Sea, while Joshua parts the Jordan.
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Deuteronomy 33-34: Farewell from Moses

Moses bids the Israelites farewell before dying.  He blesses every tribe individually.  For example, of Judah, he says “Hear, O LORD the voice of Judah / And restore him to his people. / Though his own hands strive for him, / Help him against his foes.”  Moses goes up to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, and the LORD shows him the whole promised land.  Moses dies and is personally buried by the LORD.  Joshua is filled with the spirit of wisdom, and the Israelites start heeding him.

Commentary:

  • Moses’ farewell poem is based upon the literary genre of a father’s blessing of his progeny before death (i.e. Gen. 48:15-16).  He blesses the entirety of Israel here, not just his own sons.
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Deuteronomy 29-32: You will be banished, then brought back

Moses speaks to Israel: You have seen the wondrous feats the LORD has performed in Egypt and along the way.  I led you for 40 years through the wilderness, but your clothes did not wear out and you never ran out of food.  You remember the idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold that the Egyptians and other nations keep; even now, some of you are thinking of turning back to those gods.  The LORD will single out those tribes for misfortune, inflicting them with plagues, diseases, and famine.  They will also be cast out of the land into another.

When all these blessings and curses are fulfilled, the LORD will retrieve you from exile, from all nations where you were banished, and make you more prosperous than ever.  He will open up your heart, so that you will love him and follow his commandments.

Moses tells the Israelites about his impending death, and appoints Joshua as the successor.  Moses recites a poem.  In this poem, the poet describes the LORD as an eagle taking care of nestlings.  Israel then forsook God and turned to other gods.  God plans to destroy the Israelites, but fearing that other nations might perceive him as weak, decides to destroy Israel’s enemies instead.

Commentary:

  • The Song of Moses (31:30-32:44) clearly presupposes the exile.  It also preserves an earlier, polytheistic theology: “When the Most High [Elyon] gave nations their homes/ And set the divisions of man, He fixed the boundaries of peoples / In relation to Israel’s numbers.  For the LORD’s portion is His people, Jacob his own allotment.”  Elyon is the formal title of El, the head of the Ugaritic pantheon.  In the original version, attested by the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls, “in relation to Israel’s numbers” was “according to the sons of El”, which makes much more sense in context.
  • As it stands, 32:43 makes no sense, both structurally and in content.  In the first line, God is expecting the nations he is about to destroy to acclaim the Israelites.  In the very next line, he again promises destruction for the nations.  The original form of 32:43, reconstructed from the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls, makes much more sense:
  • Rejoice, O heavens, with Him!
    Worship Him, O every god!
    For He’ll avenge the blood of His children,
    Wreak vengeance on His foes;
    He will repay those who hate him,
    And cleanse the land of His people.

    Here, “cleanse the land of His people” does not mean killing the Israelites; it means removing the impurity associated with murder by Israel’s foes. This is interesting because it was God who brought about the foreign invasion in the first place (32:21).

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Deuteronomy 25-28: Laws, blessings, curses

A guilty party may be lashed up to 40 times, but no more.  When two brothers live together and one of them dies, the other shall marry the first’s widow and produce a son for him.  If two men get into a fight and the wife of one grabs the other’s genitals, her hand shall be cut off.  Have honest weights and measures.  Kill all the Amalekites.  Just after you cross the Jordan, set aside some of the first fruits of the soil; the priest shall take it to an altar.  Upon crossing the Jordan, set up stones with this Teaching carved on it; set them up on Mount Ebal.  There, also build an altar with unhewn stones.  6 tribes shall pronounce curses from Mount Ebal, while the other 6 shall pronounce blessings from Mount Gerizim.

If you obey these commandments, you will have many blessings, such as fertility, abundance, military victories, and dominance over other nations.  If you disobey, you will have many more blessings: famine, plagues, calamity, exile, slavery, and even total racial extinction.

Commentary:

  • Chapter 28 has close parallels with the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon, a Neo-Assyrian treaty from 672 BC.  This treaty, like chapter 28, has a long series of blessings for those who obey it, together with a long series of curses for those who violate it.  Chapter 28 has many more curses than blessings, perhaps reflecting the reality of the Babylonian exile.
  • Even though all 12 tribes are supposed to utter blessings and curses from the tops of two mountains, the succeeding verses (27:15-26) tell a different story.  Here, the Levites proclaim no blessings and no curses, only a series of “cursed be…” followed by prohibited activities.  Also note that in the list of 12 tribes (27:11-13), Levi is in the list, while Joseph is one tribe instead of two (Manasseh and Ephraim).  These all indicate the complex authorship of Deuteronomy.
  • Mount Ebal is in the middle of the modern-day West Bank, far from the Jordan.  27:4 portrays it as very close to the Jordan (“upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Ebal”)
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Deuteronomy 21-24: Stone disobedient sons to death

If someone slain is lying in the open, the elders of the nearest town shall take a heifer, break its neck in a river, wash their hands over the heifer, and then request that the LORD absolve the people of bloodguilt.  If you capture a beautiful woman during wartime, allow her to lament her parents for a month; then have sex with her, and she shall be your wife.  You must accept your first-born as such, even if the mother is the less loved of your two wives.  If a son is disobedient, his parents shall bring him before the elders of the community, and the men of the town shall stone him to death.

If your fellow’s ox or sheep goes astray, take it back to him.  Cross-dressing is forbidden.  When you build a new house, make a parapet for the roof so that nobody falls from it.  You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, or plow with an ox and ass together, or wear a cloth combining wool and linen.  If a man complains that his wife is not a virgin, and he is lying, fine him 100 shekels.  If he is not lying, stone the girl to death.  In the case of adultery, both people shall die.  If a woman claims rape but did not cry for help, stone her.  No Ammonites or Moabites shall be admitted to the congregation, but you shall not abhor an Edomite or an Egyptian.  You must not return a fugitive slave.  You must not be prostitutes, charge interest to Israelites, or take a handmill as a pawn.  Do not abuse needy laborers, whether countryman or stranger; pay him on the same day.  Leave some food in your fields and olive trees for the stranger, fatherless, and widow.

Commentary:

  • These chapters are a list of many laws, in no particular order, with laws next to each other not necessarily related.
  • Divorce is explicitly allowed in chapter 24 (24:1-4).
  • 24:16 is a drastic departure from precedent: “Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime.”  This directly contradicts verses such as 5:9, which reads “…For I the LORD your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me”
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Deuteronomy 17-20: Kill infidels, Levitical rights, kill all men in enemy town

If anybody in your settlements transgresses the covenant by worshiping other gods, you must investigate thoroughly.  If it is true, you shall take him/her to a public place and stone them to death.  If any criminal or civil case is too difficult for you to decide, you shall take it before the levitical priests or the magistrate, and their ruling shall be absolute.  Anyone who violates it shall die.  You may set up a king, but he shall not have many wives, amass excessive wealth, or deviate from this Instruction.

The Levites have no land; they live only off of the LORD’s offerings by fire.  Therefore, everyone who offers a sacrifice must give the shoulder, cheeks, and stomach to the priest.  They are also entitled to the first fruits of your grain, wine, and oil, as well as the first shearing of your sheep.  When you enter the new land, do not perform Canaanite practices like child sacrifice, augury, soothsaying, divining, or sorcery; these are abhorrent to the LORD.  Instead, the LORD will raise up a prophet from among your people.  Any false prophets shall be killed.

Set up three cities for manslayers to take refuge in.  When a manslayer accidentally kills someone, he may escape from the blood-avenger to one of these cities.  If he is overtaken on the way, the blood-avenger may kill him.

When you take the field of battle against your enemies, the priest shall address the troops and remind them the LORD is with them.  Then the officials shall address the troops, allowing anyone who has built a new house but not dedicated it, or paid for a wife but not married her, or who is afraid, to go home.  If a town you are attacking surrenders, you shall enslave the population.  If it does not surrender, you shall besiege it, then kill all males and take the women, children, and livestock as your spoil.  These rules only apply to faraway enemies–for Canaanite towns, you shall not let anyone live.

Commentary:

  • 18:10-11 forbids a long list of supernatural activities: augury, soothsaying, divining, sorcery, spell-casting, consulting ghosts/spirits, and inquiring of the dead.  Nowhere does the author say these activities are ineffective, only that they are abhorrent.  Indeed, in 1 Samuel 28:7-15, Saul successfully consults a witch to conjure up the ghost of Samuel.
  • ch. 19 requires 3 cities to be set up for manslayers to flee to, along with 3 additional cities when the territory of Israel expands.  4:44 understands the 6 cities to be 3 in Israel and 3 in Transjordan, to be set up at the same time.  Num. 35:6 agrees with 4:44 on this matter, but additionally stipulates that the cities must belong to the Levites.
  • Interestingly, Exodus 21:12-14 heavily imply that manslayers are to flee to the local altar.  Since Deuteronomy only allows one central place of worship, this law is obviously inapplicable, hence the modification from altar to city.
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