Joshua: A Book of Conquest

To recount the Biblical narrative thus far:

We are given an account of origins, in which the humans fail to follow the law, and God’s frustrations are continually repeated to human beings (scattering them and confusing their languages, before ultimately deciding to destroy them in a flood). He saves the human beings through the lineage of Noah, which ultimately leads to Abram later called “Abraham” (the eighth descendent from Noah). Abraham leaves his dwelling place in Mesopotamia – east in the lands of the Sumerians in Ur of the Chaldees and relocates in Canaan. His descendants become leaders of the Israelites, with the stories of Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob & Esau, and finally Joseph who is betrayed by jealous brothers and becomes a slave in Egypt only to rise to leadership which brings the rest of the family from Canaan to Egypt. However, the jealous Egyptian Pharaoh, fearing their growing numbers, throws the Israelites into slavery. Many are killed, but Moses is sent down the river and raised by the household of the Pharaoh. He is called to be a leader by God who beckons the Israelites to flee their slavery back to the land of Canaan. However, the Israelites are “stiff-necked” and disobedient so they are bound to wander in the desert for 40 years until Moses receives the new laws of God, the “words” or “Ten Commandments” to make the people a holy nation. He leads the people out of Egyptian slavery and west toward Canaan, the land of Abraham and their forefathers.

At the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses dies in an undisclosed location on the plains overlooking the promised land. Power is then transferred by God to Joshua in the book of Joshua, the warrior who leads the Israelites in a series of aggressive and violent conquests of the peoples surrounding Canaan. God calls a “ban” (Joshua 6:17) what modern scholars might call a “genocide” of every living man, woman, child, and property, such as cattle throughout these kingdoms in present day Lebanon and Israel. The most famous story is of Jericho (Joshua chapter 6). Though there is no archaeological verification of these battles, they nevertheless help to create a national narrative, an account of the Israel people as separate and distinct from the peoples of the Jordan River valley.

The first 12 chapters of Joshua are an account of the Canaanite conquests, and the second 12 chapter are a more historical account of the people and their geographic boundaries who made up the Jordan region. The book of Joshua is the first book of the “former prophets” – a moniker given to the biblical books of Joshua through Kings.

The chief concern of the book of Joshua – is of place. Who has a right to live in a particular space? And why? The Israelites claim a divine right to the lands of Canaan, a place where other kingdoms already exist. Today, in a modern context, we see this conflict play out in debates surrounding “gentrification.” In the United States, there is, on the one hand, an outcry for upper-middle class suburban communities to become more “diverse,” or for there to be less white people living together in a community. Why? There is a kind of reactionary mood of intolerance that has struck the nation plagued by an overemphasis on white racism. And on the other hand, there is a a kind of political resistance to increased diversity in areas where predominantly impoverished immigrant or racial minorities live. Why? For fear of changing the cultural landscape, and in an attempt to preserve their culture. Perhaps you cannot have it both ways. The discussion also takes precedence on the national stage wherein immigrants and immigration continues to be a plaguing political issue. The question of who has a right to live somewhere remains a troubling notion – where is our modern land of milk and honey?

For this reading I used Robert Alter’s masterful translation as well as the King James Version.

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