The Sons of Joshua: The Story of the Jewish Contribution to the Confederacy

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War, which necessitates killing is at least partly neutralized in its effect on those doing the killing by hedging it with the procedures of sanctification. God is addressed here as "Lord of all the Earth. Each tribe sends its elected representative to participate in crossing the Ark V.

The role of the tribes is an indication of the federal character of this national endeavor. The commemoration of the crossing by erecting a stone cairn reflects the sense of history that has been part and parcel of the Jewish approach to life since the very origins of the Jewish people. Here is the first "national historic site" of the Jewish people and perhaps in the history of the world. This is not a monument to a victory erected in a capital as kings in the ancient world were accustomed to erecting, and on which was recorded the historical record as the king wanted it remembered, not always with even approximate accuracy.

This is an actual site-marking, designed to make the event vivid to future generations, not through monuments erected elsewhere but through on-the-spot portrayal not subject to artificial distortion, though, of course, a traditional history of the crossing, not necessarily accurate to the last detail, clearly did develop. This account is based on it. This attitude is absolutely fundamental to the Jewish world view which is primarily based on interpretation of historical experience rather than abstract speculation.

Hence historical events have to be properly marked and understood. This historical sense includes within it the educational principle that history is only meaningful insofar as it is the common property of its heirs. Hence, verses emphasize the retelling of the event: "ye shall say unto them The biblical concern for preservation of historic sites for their popular educational value was to resurface as a dimension of modern democracy which must foster the same popular concern for recollection of the common national past for civic purposes.

That is why the preservation of such national historic sites has become such an important American trait. The apparent repetition of the account here is repetition to convey the idea of perpetuating the historical tradition. The successful crossing provides the Israelites with experiential evidence reenforcing Joshua's charisma and right to succeed Moses as the God-appointed leader. The splitting-of-the-Jordan story is part of this reenforcement of Joshua's position. Joshua, like Moses, splits water in the name of the Lord. The tale of the ending of the crossing is repeated in VV.

It adds a more "religious," as distinct from political, tone. It appears that the author included it to give his presentation not only the aura of a political proposal for governing Israel but also the tone of a God-centered document. Here we see a typical biblical device -- the multiple explanation. On one hand, there is a sociological reason for the stone cairn and, on the other, a "higher" reason. Both are given since both are important.

This is not a confusion of accounts, as many of the "higher-critics" would have it. It is a purposive educational device, no doubt used in full consciousness by the authors of the Bible. The section forms a transition to the book's next concern, namely the observance of the mitzvot -- God's commandments -- in the land, which is the subject of Chapter Five. Let us review the structure of the first four chapters. They are not so much a continuous chronological narrative but a connection of relevant episodes in chronological order that form an epic record of sorts.

The fifth chapter is much the same only in smaller bits, with one big difference. It focuses on actions in the land preparatory to the opening of the actual war of conquest. Notice the historical explanation, the sense of inter-generational communal responsibility, and the sense of historical continuity that permeates the account.

The order of the fulfillment of the first mitzvot in the land of Israel is important: mass circumcision as reaffirmation of the original covenant between God and Abraham VV. Taken together these events constitute a relegitimation of Israel as God's people.

Apparently, circumcision was still a community activity at this time, undertaken at significant moments in the people's history. It had yet to become "humane-ized" by making it individual and early. The discussion in Chapter Five offers an opportunity for reflection on the generational rhythm of human affairs.


This theme is one of the abiding ones in the Bible; it is hardly new to Joshua. The entire structure of biblical history is built on this generational rhythm, with each generation having its identity and location and epochal changes occurring in every tenth generation. It also reflects the constitution of the edah whereby the adult males capable of bearing arms constitute its heart.

The matter is made explicit in V. Pesach -- the festival of freedom is the first to be observed on the soil of Israel VV. It is appropriately paired with the covenant renewal via circumcision described in the previous verses, linking the exodus and the covenant, national liberation and the national calling. Cessation of the manna V.

The Hittites

Henceforth, they will live off the "milk and honey" of the land, not depend upon God's miraculous benificence. The next step in the process of national relegitimation is the direct confirmation of Joshua's authority in the promised land by Heaven through the episode of the officer or minister of the Lord's host, VV. All three of the elements in this chapter are highly relevant as a prelude to the war of the conquest in which: a the personal responsibility required under the covenant could easily be forgotten in the heat of the conquest; b communal obligations under the covenant had to be transformed into land-based observances but, more than that, on the eve of such an enterprise, it was necessary to start by living the proper way in the Land -- earning one's food, remembering one's past, and observing the covenant; c it would be easy to identify the Lord with Israel's cause rather than vice-versa, hence the reminder.

The first requirement for a successful campaign against great odds is an initial stunning victory that demoralizes the enemy and gives the attackers a psychological boost. The conquest of Jericho was such a victory in every respect. The target was well-chosen; a major Canaanite city of ancient vintage, a gateway to the land, yet one which, tactically, could have been bypassed but which is hit head on.

Jericho's relative isolation added to its vulnerability. Finally, the manner of the victory was most dramatic. Altogether the story as we have it attests to a major psychological blow against the Canaanites who already had word of what had happened to the east bank kingdoms and a major morale-builder for the Israelites.

For our purposes, the structured contents of the story emphasize the working of God and the edah.

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The technique of the conquest of Jericho is designed to emphasize that it is God's might that makes the conquest possible. This is clear in the instructions for the special way to conquer the city of Jericho The elements of the force: Joshua as commander following and transmitting God's commands, the Ark of the Covenant and the priests as manifestations of God's presence, and the people more accurately, the armed forces armed with the weapons of the Lord.

The whole is set into motion and leads to the downfall of the city The conquest is bad enough without making it materially profitable, hence the idea of devoting all the stuff of the city to the Lord -- i.

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This is a very difficult restraint. Nomadic warfare was centered on loot. Thus the abandonment of looting meant a the abandonment of an essential nomadic tradition and b the abandonment of nomadism for the settled life. The result either leads to maintenance of a sound idealism that curbs the excesses of conquest or a perverted one that justifies bloodshed because there is not immediate profit but a "long range good.

This direct assault on the holiness that must be maintained by the Israelites in the process of the bloody conquest leads to the Israelites' unexpected setback that followed right on the heels of the extraordinary victory at Jericho. In the Bible's religio-moral terms of reference, the fact that Ai means ruins only adds to the impact of the repulse -- mighty Jericho falls with ease and the pile of ruins east of Beth El is the site of an Israelite defeat.

The difference is clear: God's active direction in the first case and His disapproval in the second. Collective responsibility is a traditional canon of Jewish thought. Jews have always been jointly responsible for the actions of any of their people.

Ancient Jewish History: The Twelve Tribes of Israel

Some think this is a trait which developed as a consequence of persecution in the exile because then accusations against one Jew were considered to be against all. However, we see in Chapters 6 and 7 that the idea of collective responsibility is much older than that. It is part of the peculiar self-perception of the Jews as an extended family group which is also bound by covenant.

The story is another exemplary account designed to illustrate the Prophetic viewpoint of the book.


It is basically designed to show what happens when the covenant is broken in this case through disobeying the charismatic leader who speaks in the name of God. Secondarily, it shows Joshua in communication with God as King. After raising him to sufficient stature as the Eved Adonai , the author, in true biblical spirit, shows him displaying weakness in a very human scene. He will be human from here on, with few exceptions. Thus there is no argument that the federal system worked well under Joshua because Joshua was more than human. Like Moses, Joshua is human but still makes the system work, with the Lord's help, even to the point of carrying out the bloody but necessary execution of Achan for looting.

Despite God's wrath, there is also a process of give and take, for in Chapter 8, God slightly modifies his "no booty" commandment in light of the Achan episode. This is certainly a common phenomenon; the punishment of a lawbreaker for a violation that strikes at the fabric of the body politic and the subsequent modification of the law after a reassessment brought about by the affair.