Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Note About Joshua

As I reported yesterday, I was feeling highly disgusted with the detailed descriptions of massacres and total destruction in the book of Joshua. I was wondering how God could order the Israelites to engage in the genocide of the Canaanites. I was also wondering why the Israelites were so willing to comply with this command of God's, when their history would indicate that they were generally a very uncooperative and disobedient bunch. I was appalled and horrified by the senseless violence, which seemed to me to be ethnic cleansing.

Today, I talked with Father Earle about that. He pointed out that the book of Joshua was actually written a number of centuries after the events of the book occurred. In fact, I just took a look at this website: Sun, Stand Still. It gives some interesting information about the book of Joshua. First of all, the book is not objective history. It is not a recording of the facts, as they occurred. The facts, as they occurred, were probably not written at all. They were probably passed down from generation to generation as oral history.

Then, there is the part that is most interesting, at least to me. The book of Joshua was written when the Israelites were once again under the control of a foreign power. They were in exile and they were being oppressed by the Babylonians. They needed encouragement. The stories of God defeating the enemies of the Israelites with hailstones provided an oppressed people with hope that they would not forever be oppressed.

The stories of gruesome massacres, which resulted in the deaths of all living things within a city (men, women, children, babies, animals, and plants), was exaggerated. It may never have occurred, at least not in the way in which the stories were told. The Amorites were not all killed. Many Amorites did survive these nonstop wars.  Here is a little more information.

The book of Joshua is, like the rest of the Bible, a book that expresses faith. In the book of Joshua, it was the faith of a people, who were struggling to claim the land that they had been promised. That the book consists of exaggerated stories is OK. It is called hyperbole, and it is not uncommon for storytellers to engage in that.

Did the Israelites engage in ethnic cleansing in their attempts to claim land in Canaan?

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