The Conflict Myth of Joshua 6-7 (Part I)

Warfare and, as some attempt to term it, “genocide” occur within the book of Joshua and have been subject to intense criticism. Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan explore this issue in Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014). Although I’ve not had the opportunity to read it yet, Jacob J. Prahlow notes that the “book primarily addresses the claims of the New Atheist movement concerning the violence of Christianity and the Bible” (Click here for original blog post at Pursuing Veritas). He is now exploring the question “Did God Command Genocide?” through a series of posts discussing the nature of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Part III of his series notes that ” in the Ancient Near East context, especially when discussing war and military conquest, language of total domination was the norm”. But it is also important to explore motifs present throughout ancient Near Eastern literature that help explain issues like Israel’s conquering of the land of Canaan. For this I will approach the issue within the text from a perspective of the conflict myth topos.

By utilizing Debra Ballentine’s discussion of the conflict myth through biblical tradition, I will show how the rhetoric of Joshua utilizes the conflict topos, common throughout ancient West Asian literature and culture, to legitimize Joshua’s destruction of Jericho and defeat at Ai.

Approach to the Conflict Myth

There are four keys to approaching Joshua 6-7 that I will utilize, based on Ballentine’s The Conflict Myth and the Biblical Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015): presence of the motif through many genres, ideological nature of conflict myth, secondary application, and socio-political/literary context.

First, conflict myth is present through many genres, including, though not limited to, historiography, poetry, proverb, ritual prescription, and prophecy (Ballentine 2015, 12). With such an understanding, presence of the conflict myth motif is not limited to mythologies, but is present, or at least potentially present, in works such as the book of Joshua.

Second, conflict myth is ideological with regard to the socio-political/literary context. In Balletine’s words, “the conflict topos was meaningful for particular authors. That is, authors utilized the conflict topos for ideological purposes” (2015, 21). With this understanding of the conflict myth, I will draw out its ideological intentions within Joshua 6-7.

Third, secondary application of the conflict myth, utilized to legitimize human ideology, “depends upon the ideological basis of primary application (making statements about deities)” (2015, 91). Thus the book of Joshua, as I will explore in later posts, legitimizes, or de-legitimizes, Israel’s actions based upon the conflict myth in which Yahweh was understood to have acted.

Finally, the ideology is active within the socio-political context of the literature and also literary context, and both should be taken into consideration. Ballentine explains that “storytellers and authors… may adapt traditional or familiar narratives or motifs to suit their specific historical, social, political, and/or cultic contexts” (3). Thus a reading of Joshua 6-7, a book placed in a specific time period within the narrative, must take into account the ideological intentions of the author’s own socio-political and literary context, with full awareness that the two will very likely overlap at certain points.

As I proceed in future posts, these four ideas will guide my work.


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