Clarifications and Conclusions of the Conflict Myth in Joshua (Part IV)

This is the final post of a short series examining the conflict myth in Joshua 6-7. If you have not read the first three posts, click here: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

This post will discussion clarifications of previously discussed information and conclusions of why acknowledgement of the conflict myth in Joshua is important for the modern reader.


Previously, I used the term “legitimize”, for which I now offer a definition of my usage: to justify a certain ideological stance in order to show people reason for the superiority of one ideology over another. As for the secondary application, it has less to do with aligning oneself to the victorious deity in the conflict myth. Rather, it has more to do with recognizing that people are victorious politically, or should be, because the deity defeated the alternate power structure which threatened some sort of order.

Additionally, in Part II, I noted that Psalm 106 has God act towards the Sea in a manner similar to the conflict myth. The emphasis of the Psalm is to legitimize God via the conflict myth. “Sea” is not intended to represent Pharaoh as the alternate power structure.


Now that I have briefly analyzed Joshua in the previous passages, I shall briefly conclude about the implications for the modern reader. As noted in Part I, readers often understand Joshua as genocide. Yet from the dimension of divine conflict, it is evident that the killing of people at, for example, Jericho was not an issue of God demanding blood. In fact it is likely that much of Joshua occurred significantly differently than written due to the historiographical nature of Joshua. Similarly, Ai was a failed invasion because of the denial of God’s rule, which is too a certain extent rooted in the conflict myth.

Thus ideological legitimization of the order which God oversees is the intention. In clearer terms, the conflict myth’s presence within Joshua is a sort of ancient propaganda. And within an ancient context, such warfare was not morally or ethically wrong. So to a certain extent, the ideology propagated and legitimized by the divine conflict myth in Joshua is akin to modern propaganda which does not consider warfare ethical or moral. Of course, many may not consider places which contain “propaganda” to be propaganda (cf. ABC, CNN, Fox News, and NBC).

In essence, because Joshua is very focused on ideological legitimization, with the conflict myth as a dimension of its strategy, one may appreciate Joshua in a new light.

“Chaos” in Study of Hebrew Bible

Debra Ballentine argues that “enemies defeated by the victorious warrior deities across ancient West Asian conflict traditions are not agents of “chaos” but rather agents of an alternative divine power structure” (2015, 186). In other words, “chaos” and Chaoskampf are inaccurate representations of traditions in the Hebrew Bible, as she demonstrates by analyzing the develop of the traditions for different ideological purposes. This is important because it marks an important shift in how agents of “alternative divine power structure” should be discussed.

Interestingly, Konrad Schmid, in his entry on Creation in “The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Theology” (2015 volume I, 174), describes the tehom of Genesis 1, lion in Job 38:39-40, Leviathan, crocodile, and Behemoth as “representatives of chaos”. Unfortunately such appropriation of these previous characters ignores the conflict myth consistently present through the ancient Near East that is utilized to legitimize certain ideologies through the conflict myth, a motif well explored by Ballentine.

In my view any current, and future, discussion about Chaoskampf must address the arguments of Ballentine. To do otherwise would be to do disservice to her wonderful work and dismiss it. Though perhaps it will be a challenge to leave the traditional German Chaoskampf in which so much scholarship is rooted.

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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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Evidence for the Conflict Myth in Joshua 6-7 (Part II)

This is Part II of a series about the presence of the conflict myth in Joshua 6-7. If you have not read the introductory post, click here to read.

Joshua 6-7 contains a few passages that seem to employ similar tactics to the conflict, albeit in a unique fashion. Unlike many of the texts which Debra Ballentine analyzes, texts which legitimize certain ideologies directly via allusion to conflict myth for primary or secondary application, the book of Joshua utilizes the conflict myth through two methods. First of all, there is an assumption that God is greater than the land, an idea clear throughout Joshua 1:2-9. Verses 1:2-3 and 1:5-9 assume God will give the land to Israel under the conditions that Israel obeys Torah. Such an assumption, though without use of the conflict myth, assumes that God is greater than the other nation’s deities. Hence Israel is presented with far more political prowess and power than nations across the Jordan.

The book of Joshua, rather, past actions to speak the deeds of God. Within the words of the foreigner, namely Rahab, the conflict myth is present. In Joshua 2:10, Rahab is the first to note a specific and unique element of the Exodus account:

For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt (Joshua 2:10, NASB).

Importantly, Rahab did not mention the death of Pharaoh’s army, although it is being alluded to. Her focus, rather, is on the act of God drying the sea. Exodus 14:21 says the strong east wind “turned the sea into dry land”. The interesting thing about Exodus 14:21 is that it does not relate the drying of the sea directly to God’s actions. And the Song of Moses, while referencing God as a divine warrior (15:3), an important part of the conflict myth, does show God acting against the waters. Yet Rahab directly connects the sea to God’s actions. This may be explained by Psalms 106:7-12, an example of the conflict myth within the exodus motif (Ballentine 2015, 94):

    7            Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders;

They did not remember

Your abundant kindnesses,

But rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

8            Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name,

That He might make His power known.

9            Thus He rebuked the Red Sea and it dried up,

And He led them through the deeps, as through the wilderness.

10            So He saved them from the hand of the one who hated them,

And redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.

11            The waters covered their adversaries;

Not one of them was left.

12            Then they believed His words;

They sang His praise.

(Psalm 106:7-12, NASB)

As Ballentine notes, “the way in which Yahweh rebukes and dries the sea indicates an adversarial manipulation and command of the sea/deep/waters. Such an adversarial relationship is consistent with instances of the conflict motif” (2015, 94). Because Exodus is not directly illustrating God’s power through the lens of the conflict motif, but Psalm 106:7-12 does so, Rahab’s reference, from a literary aspect, is more akin the exodus tradition as redacted through the Psalms than the book of Exodus. In effect, Rahab’s words conjure images of God as the divine warrior who defeats the sea. Rhetorically this establishes God as superior to the gods of her own people. Such a point is reinforced as well through Psalm 77:16, a Psalm placed in context of the exodus:

The waters saw You, O God;

The waters saw You, they writhed;

The deeps also trembled.

(Psalm 77:16)

Again the exodus motif in Psalm 77:16 is synchronized with the conflict motif to legitimize God’s rule (Ballentine 2015, 93). This is another example of the traditions of which Rahab, as a literary character, speaks. Both Psalm 77:16 and 106:7-12 illustrate the conflict motif. And Rahab’s reference to God drying up the water of the Red Sea indicates that the author is utilizing the conflict tradition to legitimize God’s ability and power to lead Israel to capture Jericho as a greater nation, an example of the secondary application of the conflict myth in Joshua.

The secondary application is the second method utilized by the author of the book of Joshua and will be explored further in Part III.





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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“The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition” by Debra Scoggins Ballentine

The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition by Debra Scoggins Ballentine. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, 292 pp., $74, hardcover.

*I would like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press for providing a review copy of The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition.

The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition traces conflict myth as an ideological tool for legitimization, or de-legitimization, of political entities throughout ancient West Asia. An assistant professor at Rutgers University in the Department of Religion, Debra Scoggins Ballentine specializes in Hebrew bible and ancient Near Eastern religions.

Chapter One of The Conflict Myth introduces Ballentine’s approach to myth theory and her purpose, namely “to identify how mythological themes are used in various sorts of contexts, regardless of how scholars classify those contexts” (12). Specifically she focuses on the mythological conflict topos and “its place with respect to ideology” (13). Chapter Two introduces and analyzes the conflict topos within four extant narratives, Anzu, Enuma Elilsh, Aššur Version of Enuma Elish, and the Balu Cycle. Each summary and analysis of extant narrative draws out and focuses upon the ideological implications, especially royal ideology. Ballentine demonstrates that each narrative, though with differing divine taxonomies, utilizes the conflict topos to legitimate kings and royalty, while also de-legitimizing other deities. In effect the myth narratives “promote particular cosmic and earthy locations and royal individuals” (71). Having established the ideological nature of the conflict topos, chapter three analyzes “shorter forms of the motif in epitomes, allusions, and imagery” (72) from sources between the 18th and 6th centuries BCE. Ballentine is careful to display the unique status of various utilizations of the conflict myth through every example. Chapter four continues by noting the various adaptations of the conflict myth through innovative legitimization within eschatological frameworks, drawing on literature of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, 1st and 2nd century Pseudepigrapha, and Rabbinic literature. Chapter five explores the secondary application of conflict myth to Gamaliel, Jesus, and Antiochus IV in regard to the notion of control over the sea. The final chapter (Chapter 5) importantly argues that “Chaos” “is not an accurate characterization of the various enemies featured across the articulations of the ancient West Asian conflict topos” (186) and re-states her primary points, especially drawing out the uniqueness of each application of the conflict myth for each particular ideological intention and political environment.

Overall, Ballentine’s goal is clearly accomplished. Without a doubt she demonstrates how the conflict myth is a common theme throughout ancient West Asian culture and how cultures have, throughout centuries, utilized the myth conflict to legitimize certain ideologies. Furthermore, she elucidates how the biblical tradition is not merely a “copy” of ancient West Asian conflict myth; rather, it is utilization of a common theme by which political power could be legitimatized, either by conflict myth of the past or eschatological innovations of conflict myth in the future. Such an accomplishment is one of the strongest elements of her work, especially because it offers a different understanding to the appropriation of characters like “Tiamat, Yammu, Môtu, and Lōtanu/Leviathan as “agents of chaos” or “chaos embodied”” (196). Additionally, her approach offers answers to questions about texts, such as her suggestion that “Rabbinic combat traditions may be responding to the types of claims made about secondary divine figures… propagated in late antique Christos-centered ideologies” (170), ideologies cleaved to by early Christianity for their theological benefit to Christian theologies. Such explanation for certain factors within biblical literature is present throughout her work. Finally, she is able to demonstrate the unique status of the biblical application of the conflict motif without wrongly pushing for its total autonomy from ancient West Asian themes or its total dependence upon ancient West Asian themes.

One major weakness of her work, although it does not take away from the validity of her conclusions, is her use of the Balu Cycle. As she presents the Balu Cycle and compared it to Anzu and Enuma Elish, the Balu Cycle is far more complex in regard to how it represents conflict and therein the characters involved. Although a conflict myth is present, the complexities suggest that the conflict myth within the Balu Cycle is similar to Anzu and Enuma Elish but not the same approach to conflict myth. Such complexities are present in the Hebrew Bible and the conflict myth in the Hebrew Bible operates within a time period in which Judeans are under the control of another nation, or “deity”, indicating that some nuances of the conflict myth remain unexplored. The necessity for one deity to approve another, as in the Balu Cycle, suggests a very unique political environment, one in which ancient Judeans consistently lived. Hence, further divisions of the types of conflict myth, beyond primary and secondary application, would have bolstered her overall arguments. Specifically, developing more textually based relationships between the various sources would support her argument even more, answering the reason conflict myth in the Balu Cycle and Anzu/Enuma Elish can be considered the same ideological tool of conflict myth.

Aside from how she used the Balu Cycle and her lack of nuances about types of conflict myth, especially as they relate to ideological legitimization, her work is excellent in its presentation of the conflict myth and biblical innovations of it. Wide coverage of literature, from Ugaritic works to Rabbinic works, and thorough analysis of each occur of the conflict motif mark her work as on to be remembered for future discussion. The Conflict Myth & the Biblical Tradition provides a unique approach to conflict myth, and especially the Hebrew Bible, that may be utilized by scholars to develop a deeper and fuller understanding of biblical myth and the conflict myth.