Secondary Application of the Conflict Myth in Joshua 6-7 (Part III)

This is Part III of a series analyzing Joshua, especially chapters 6-7, and how the conflict myth in utilized. If you have not read the first posts, click here for Part I and Part II.

Having determined, in Part II, Gods power and strength to direct Israel into Canaan was proclaimed in Joshua 2 by Rahab, who references traditions of the exodus in the Psalms with a conflict myth spin, this particular post will explore how Israel is legitimized and the ideological implications.

The author does so via means of secondary application and legitimizes Israel within two contexts: literary and social. In other words, because God is legitimized to act as he is, Israelites in the book of Joshua are justified to hold such great confidence in God, one dimension of many. Additionally, because God is legitimized to act as he is, the author justifies political action within his own context. The following will go into greater detail as to how the two are active and utilize the conflict myth.

First, the literary context justifies Israel to take Jericho in Joshua 6. Because God is legitimized by the conflict myth, the power represented by God’s defeat of the Sea, the conflict myth proclaimed by Rahab, is applied to the Israelites. Israel in and of itself has no power apart from God, an idea also presented from the outlook of Joshua 1-2. Their power is explained, at least through Rahab, by God as their support, the one who defeated the Sea. The secondary application of the conflict myth enables and encourages Israelites to take Jericho in full confidence. Beyond Israel, secondary application shows the weakness deities foreign to Israel, hence showing the weakness of other gods and thereby those who worship them.

Second, the social context justifies Israel to fight against foreign political entities, though this is complicated. David Howard notes “that portions of the book were written in Joshua’s day and that it was substantially complete by the time of David at the latest” , with much other scholarship dating composition to the time of Josiah or later (1998, 30). Regardless of the specific date, it is clear that secondary application of the conflict motif to legitimize Israel would have provided confidence for the Judeans/Israelites of the historian’s social context. it is apparent that Joshua’s rhetoric legitimizes Israel’s actions and obedience to God’s commands via the application of the conflict motif to God.

At least in Joshua’s final composition, the conflict myth is utilized to legitimize Israel’s actions and the Torah commandments. This is important because the Torah, although multi-faceted, contains an ideology of obeying God. Thus the historian and compiler of Joshua, by legitimizing God, is able to legitimize Torah for his socio-political and literary context.

I suggest that this legitimization of God as the ruler explains why Israel was defeated at Ai and victorious at Jericho. While both draw emphasis towards obedience of God, the obedience and legitimization of the people via secondary application is rooted in the conflict myth presented by Rahab (Josh 2:10). The conflict myth is also utilized to show why Israel should create a memorial to God (Josh 4:23) and circumcise the new generation (5:1). When the people disobey God, as at Ai, they are opposing the god who defeated the Sea and established his kingdom. In contrast, when the people obey God, as at Jericho, they are supporting the god who defeated the Sea and established his kingdom.

Part IV will explore the implications of such a reading for the modern context.

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5 thoughts on “Secondary Application of the Conflict Myth in Joshua 6-7 (Part III)

  1. This may be more appropriate to the second part of this series, but I wanted to finish before commenting to ensure that my question wasn’t answered in Part 3. First, you talk about God defeating the sea, in the sense of a warrior defeating an opponent. Am I to read this in light of what you said about Chaoskampf vs alternative power structures? At first glance, one might be tempted to see the sea as a chaos-element, as in the chaos of nature that cannot normally be subjugated by human will. Or are we to take it that the sea was an agent of Pharaoh, acting as an army would to block the advance of the Hebrews? In this case, the conflict with the sea would fall into the struggle against an alternative power structure.

    Second, I’d like to explore what you mean by “legitimization”. If you’re saying that God is legitimized by the conflict myth, are we not, in effect, saying that might = right? Does “legitimize” imply condoning the actions of God as right and proper? And if so, isn’t this based on the fact that God is simply stronger than the other gods? Or are we moving into the world of the subconscious, in which obedience to God confers power, because we are aligning ourselves with the foundational power of the universe? If so, I’m trying to decide whether this represents a very ancient view of the world, akin to pantheism, or a more modern view. The Greek philosopher Zeno, and Marcus Aurelius enjoined humans to submit to Nature, which they understood as aligning with the foundational powers of the universe. So, ancient or more advanced? It may be affected by when we think Joshua was written.

    • Tis’ a long reply. I will be brief and respond to the rest later. The brevity shall focus on solely your last sentence. The answer is yes. Unfortunately, at the moment, I did not have the proper sources available to me to look more into the dating of Joshua.


      • Hey thanks for the honesty. Your analyses are really thought-provking, and cut rght to the crux of the problems. I don’t necessarily expect answers. Sometmes just formulating the question is the greater part pf the battle. And your posts help immensely. These are topics that I hadn’t really considered before.

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