Joshua and Genocide: Major Issues for Contemporary Interpretation and Application

I find it ironic that the recent events in France and Kenya coincide, too a certain extent with my reading. Currently I am reviewing Joshua 1-12 by Thomas Dozeman (Yale University Press, 2015) and will being reviewing Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible edited by Saul Olyan (Oxford University Press, 2015). Both of these works relates the issues of violence and genocide.

In Dozeman’s commentary, he cites John Calvin’s commentary on the book of Joshua and notes the following:

“Despite Calvin’s quest for revelation through the literal interpretation of the book, he struggles with the ethics of the ban (God’s permission to completely annihilate all life in the urban center of Canaan). He repeatedly reflects on the inhumanity of the “indiscriminate and promiscuous slaughter, making no distinction of age or sex, but including alike women and children, the aged and decrepit”” (2015, 87, parenthesis added for context).

Calvin’s conclusion is that Joshua had no other approach to claiming the land because God had commanded it. Other traditions, of course, approach the issue in different ways. Calvin, though, was the first to wrestle with the book of Joshua as history. Regardless of the historical nature of Joshua’s historiography, Calvin was a trendsetter. The question(s) he raises must be answered in this generation as well.

Christians must examine how they understand the Bible and why they understand it how they do. What does the Bible justify to them? How does the book of Joshua fit into a peaceful, loving God?

Rather than resorting back to the solutions presented by Origen and other leaders in early Christianity, the current generation must wrestle with God’s command for genocide. And even beyond Joshua, they must wrestle with the violent aspects of the roots of Christians and Jewish history, ranging from the Maccabean revolt, in which non-circumcised people faced circumcision or death, to the justification of war for personal advancement through Biblical literature.

 

As for everything that happened in France and Kenya, I still feel like I am in shock. I am not sure how to respond. What do I say? I need to let the people of Paris mourn. They must have a voice. This isn’t my oppurtunity to say, “I support Paris and Kenya. Now I will change my Facebook picture”. It’s my chance to say, “I support Paris and Kenya. I hear and support them in their times of lament.”

Advertisement

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.


Enjoyed what you read? Please subscribe for more biblical analysis and book reviews!

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.


Did you like what you read? Please feel free to follow The Biblical Review for more exegetical observations, general musings, book reviews, and much more!