After Everett Fox’s detailed footnotes and explanatory asides in the Five Books of Moses, I sensed that shifting from his vigorous Hebrew-echoing style of translation to any other rendering was bound to be startling. With that as a given, I chose to leap to the Contemporary English Version, which runs like a simplified paraphrase — or, as I joked, the captions to a black-and-white comic-book. Considering the action-adventure theme that kicks in with the Joshua, this may be appropriate.
We’re definitely set up in a good-guys-versus-bad-guys scenario. Our sympathies should be well established, along with our list of heroes — or champions, as they’re soon proclaimed.
As this sequel in the story opens, spies are sent out and return with vital information. Proud Jericho is the first in a string of towns to fall to the advancing Hebrew troops who are arrogant enough to carry their priceless ark, or chest of the Covenant, into battle with them. Later, the sun and moon stand still so they can continue to slaughter. And, at last, Joshua distributes the captured land among the Twelve Tribes.
What I’m sensing, in retrospect, is the introduction of a counter-theme from this point on in the Hebrew Bible. Something has gone seriously awry in the expected trajectory. Instead of coming peacefully into their Promised Land, with its implicit sense of “living happily ever after,” the Twelve Tribes fight tooth and nail to possess the territory, which in turn stirs up a multitude of new problems.
In short, Joshua plunges us into some major themes of the Hebrew Bible:
- The Holy One becomes identified primarily as a war-god.
- Warring is introduced as a definitive and ongoing element of Hebrew history and experience.
- The desired union of 12 tribes into one nation or one people requires political and economic structures. Is this goal ultimately insurmountable?
- The free practice of their religion is seen as requiring an independent nation. Would other alternatives have been more viable?
- Little unity exists on the optimal form of government. Are they to be governed by judges and prophets, or monarchs and prophets, or some other polity?
- Charged with being a separated people, they instead constantly yearn to be more like the “nations” on their borders. How much can they interact with other cultures and still maintain their own?
- The inability to effectively eradicate idol worship from the Promised Land casts both the leadership and the general public in question. Is there an implicit flaw in the emerging Hebrew religion itself, especially in its casting of women and their influence? I would welcome some valid alternative perspectives on what is not being fully told here.
We have every reason and every right to be appalled and disturbed. Just consider the sheer number of casualties, even if we recast the figures from thousands to units, such as families.