Joshua to Jericho (Joshua)

Monday, May 23, 2022


Works Cited



Wow wow wow! Welcome to the episode! Today during our time together we will cover the biblical book of Joshua. May 23-29

As we fly through the book of Joshua, I’ll be both your pilot and attendant since Elise is out of town enjoying some art museums and seaside weather. Something Elise and I talk about often is how grateful we are to be doing this project together. We often say, there is no one else I’d want to do this with! And part of that is because literally who else lol who else is nearly as nerdy as we are about the text, but also its nice to know that we get to share the load together. So while Elise takes good care of her heart and soul this weekend, you and I are going to take care of each other as we move through Joshua.

In this book, we’ve got prostitutes, we’ve got spies, we’ve got war and annihilation, we’ve got trumpets and deception, we’ve got conquerors and curses, and bodies and bones. Yes, that’s right, we are covering yet more disturbing violent stories in the Hebrew Bible. I think this is week 3 or 4 of consistent stories of violence. We’re just trying to give the war chapters in the BoM a run for their money. I wish I could tell you its going to end soon but honestly we’ve been dreading the book of Judges since January and that’s coming up next week, so hang in there with us. We’ll get through it together.

Really quickly, I want to offer a content warning for the episode for scriptural stories of murder, as well as one example which connects these stories to both lynchings and the recent mass shooting in Buffalo MN in the United States. I will post time stamps in the show notes for those who need them. Honor your body, and listen with care.

Who, What, When, & Where of Joshua

As we turn to the text, the first question I had is WHO IS JOSHUA? Maybe you’re wondering that too, so I gotchu. Joshua is one of the spies that Moses sent into the land in Numbers. At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses dies. In 34:9, the text says “And Joshua was full of the spirit and wisdom: for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him.” So, Joshua is appointed leader of the Israelites after and Moses’ death. As we’d say in LDS spaces, Joshua took on the mantle and is now bishop of this way-too-big ward of Israelites. 

Another question I think is worth asking is not only WHO is Joshua, but WHAT is Joshua? Like, the book itself. Remember that what the LDS church calls the Old Testament is the primary text of Judaism, and is more respectfully referred to as the Hebrew Bible (thanks to Derek of BTB for sharing this with us!). So if you’re coming at the Hebrew Bible from an LDS/general Christian lens, its tempting to look at the HB/OT as one giant chunk of bible. At least, thats how I always understood it. But as we move through the HB this year, I am learning that our Jewish friends have their own organization of this sacred text.

Our Jewish friends separate the Hebrew bible in three distinct sections. 

  • The first is the Torah, or the Law. Up until this point, we have been reading the Torah, as it is made up of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Torah mostly focuses on the story of Moses. 

  • The second section is called the (Knee-Vee-EEEm)Nevi’im, or Prophets. This includes everything from Joshua, where we begin today. The Nevi’im focuses on the story of the people of Israel and their history in the context of their covenant relationship with God. The other Nevi’im books include Judges, Samuel & Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Ezekiel, and finally the twelve prophets at the end of the Christian/LDS OT. 

  • Finally, the third section is the Ketuvim, or writings, which include Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Esther, Job, and Psalms. These books include wisdom, poetry, and worship. 

This is not the same order of the books that you’ll find in the Table of Contents in your KJV bible. I think its worth noting and finding our place in the text relative to how our Jewish friends place these books in relationship to one another, because this is their primary text! If anyone knows how to navigate the Hebrew Bible, its them. 

So, WHAT is Joshua? Joshua is the first book in the Nevi’im, or section of prophets. The book of Joshua begins the history of the Israelite people, beginning immediately after the death of Moses. Its difficult to know exactly how much time the book of Joshua spans, but scholars generally give it 25-40 years, give or take a decade on either side. 

The first half of the book of Joshua outlines Israel’s conquering of Canaanite land, while the second half of the book describes the Israelite disbursement in their newly colonized land. Only two brief chapters at the end, which summarizes Joshua’s deathbed speech to the Israelites, contain any purely spiritual content. The rest of the book focuses entirely on war, slaughter, and divvying up the land between the Israelite tribes. While Exodus was about leaving a land of enslavement, and Leviticus and Numbers were about a land of wandering, Joshua is where we discover just how the Israelites obtain the Promised Land foretold to Moses. The process is just as violent as the stories in the books prior foreshadow.

As we move through Joshua, I first want to examine what the narrative outlines happens in this portion of Israelite history. After that, I want to examine alternative stories to the Joshua narrative. Finally, I want to talk about something that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve been a long-time listener, which is the power of story on lived experience.

Joshua to Jericho (1-6)

1: God talks to Joshua, hype-up speech reminding Joshua about the Promised Land and that Joshua just needs to follow God’s command to obtain it. 

2: Spies in Jericho meet Rahab

  • 2:1 “And Joshua sent two men to spy secretly, saying, “Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there.”

  • WHO is Rahab?

    • Rahab is a prostitute. Some interpretations claim she is instead an “innkeeper,” imagining she runs some kind of bed & breakfast in Jericho. This is unlikely, based on some very colorful and oddly specific rabbinic and scholarly interpretations I’ve come across.

  • WHAT did she do?

    • When the king of Jericho came looking for the spies, Rahab hid them in her thatched flax roof. She told the king that the spies had come unto her, but they had left and she wasn’t sure where they went exactly, but she did see them leave the city gate. She hinted to the king that if he hurried, he could catch the spies.

    • After the guards of the city left, Rahab went back to the spies and said,

      • 9-13: “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when ye came out of Egypt, and the kings you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man because of you.”

      • “For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.”

      • Rahab then bargains with the spies for her safety and the safety of her family. The spies agree on the condition that their presence and purpose in the city remains a secret. Rahab lived on the edge of town, so she was able to help the spies safely escape the city by helping the men down a rope from her window. She instructed them to hide in the mountains for a few days so they didn’t run into the king’s guards.

      • Before the spies leave, they instruct her to hang what the text names “a scarlet thread” in her window, and bring her family into the house, so that when the Israelites come, they do not die.

      • When the Israelites do come later in chapter 9, Rahab, her family, and her house is spared from the complete annihilation of Jericho.

      • Rabbinic tradition claims Rahab married Joshua after the conquering of Jericho.

  • WHY did she do it?

    • This is the golden question.

    • I’ve played around with a few ways to characterize Rahab, and what I’ve discovered is that her story is like a many-faceted gem. Depending on the way I hold it, turn it, and look at it, her story changes. I see something different, something new. I hope in sharing some of these perspectives, we can begin to see that it is nearly impossible to paint a pure or perfect or singular story about Rahab.

      • Rahab as an Israelite

        • If I read her story from the perspective offered in the text, which was written by and for the Israelites, I see Rahab transcend gender roles and expectations.

        • Jewish Women’s Archive (Tikva Frymer-Kensky, updated by Carol Meyers): “Rahab has a special function in the biblical narratives of Israel’s existence in the land. When uncovering the men, she explains that she knows that God will give Israel the land (2:8). This is the message that the men bring back to Joshua. Rahab is thus the oracle, or prophet, of Israel’s occupation of the land. Rahab, who begins as triply marginalized—Canaanite, woman, and prostitute—moves to the center as bearer of a divine message and herald of Israel in its new land. She is remembered in Jewish tradition as the great proselyte, as ancestress of kings and prophets, and, in the New Testament, as ancestress of Jesus (Matt 1:5)

        • I love the titles attributed to Rahab here. Oracle. Prophet. Herald. Ancesstress. Proselyte (convert). Amy Cooper Robinson, author of “Rahab the Faithful Harlot” on The Torah website, says about this “The Rahab story is one in a long line of biblical stories of God working through the “underdog” or the powerless.” 

        • But remember - though the text treats Rahab as an Israelite, she is not. She is first a Canaanite

      • Rahab as a Canaanite

        • In her article, Robinson, “Rahab represents marginality in several ways: She is a woman – and a single, childless woman at that. She is not part of Israel, but one of the people of a city that is about to be conquered. And finally she is a prostitute. Living in the wall that circles the city, she literally and symbolically inhabits the boundary of society.”

      • Rahab as a Canaanite traitor

        • Author of “Rahab the Prostitute - A Postcolonial Perspective” Queer Bible Hermeneutics website: argues that Rahab’s position in Canaanite society can be classified as queer. Her occupation places her in an unusual, or non-conforming, or queer place in society. She doesn’t act according to gender roles and societal expectations of the time. She lives on the outskirts of the community because she is not centered by the community. Because of this, the author of the article argues that “She [Rahab] has nothing to lose in terms of her standing in her own culture. [However,] if she assists the invading colonizers, she wins favor, position and the possibility of preserving her life and the lives of her relatives.”

        • And this is where we begin to examine another facet of Rahab’s story as a Canaanite traitor. The authors of Rahab the Prostitute - A Postcolonial Perspective cite the work of Marcella Althaus-Reid, who grapples with the idea that Rahab not only betrays her native nation, but also the queerness at the center of her experience. She trades her queer identity to assist and eventually participate fully in the colonizing presence of Israel, which is male-centric, patriarchal, and oppressive. From this point of view, it is difficult to see Rahab as simply as the text and conservative tellings of her story would like us to. She becomes less a faithful convert and more of a traitor - not only to her people, but to herself.

      • If you feel you don’t have a choice, do you really have a choice? Is it really a choice when your only other option is to die?

        • Its tempting to offer a judgement on Rahab’s story - is she a convert or a traitor? Yes. Is she faithful or is she a lying harlot? Yes. Is she colonizer or colonized? Yes. Good or bad? Yes. Rahab is not ever fully one or the other. 

        • The only justification for Rahab’s rescue is her willingness to help the spies and recognize God as powerful. She is not necessarily righteous by Israelite standards for women, and we know nothing of her family. 

        • I read Rahab’s words in 6 as less a profession of faith and more of a statement of recognition of reality and expression of fear. She says, “I’ve heard about you and your God. I know what you’ve done, and I see your people on the horizon. We are next - that’s why you’re here.” And the road ahead of Rahab forks: help or die. Is that really a choice?

        • I feel I can’t really judge or fault her for her choice. As someone who has never had to personally face similar circumstances, I can’t know for sure, but the value of life can’t be underestimated. For the people she saved, Rahab is most certainly a heroine. Looking at Rahab herself, perhaps we can understand her story as that of a woman like Hagar - who makes a way out of no way, A woman who recognizes the reality of her situation and clings to whatever thread of redemption is available to her, and shares it with the people she loves. 

        • I appreciated this quote from Amy Cooper Robinson, author of “Rahab the Faithful Harlot”  “Rahab is both powerful and marginal, both shameful and formidable.” 

        • Its striking to me that in a book that seems to illustrate aggrandized and embellished war narratives that we find a strikingly honest depiction of a woman’s story. Rahab is what she is:neither hero nor villain, but human.

3: God leads Joshua & Israel through dry land over the Jordan River

4 & 5: People commemorate the parting of the waters

  • Israelite men circumcise themselves and v8 “when they had done circumcising all the people, they abode in their places in the camp till they were whole.”

  • The Israelites observe Passover and God ceases to send manna.

  • Joshua meets an angel who is apparently the captain of God’s army

6: Dance party around Jericho

  • God gives Joshua explicit instructions of how to defeat Jericho. Walk around the city walls seven days in a row, with seven priests blowing trumpets seven times before the ark. When the seventh trump plays on the seventh day, the people should shout and this will cause the walls of Jericho to fall.

  • The Israelites do all of this, and on the seventh day before the shout, Joshua reminds them not to harm anyone in Rahab’s house.

  • The wall falls, and we learn in 6:20 “And they (Israelites) utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and ass, with the edge of the sword.”

  • After they bring Rahab to the Israelite camp, the Israelites burn and curse the city of Jericho, reminding all the Isralites that none of the treasure was to be taken, but was meant to be left for God. 

Conquering Ai (7-8)

7: Achan decides to keep some of the treasure, and because of this, the Israelites lose their next battle in the city of Ai. Joshua doesn’t know this, but God tips him off, and so Joshua goes to each household for a confession. Achan confesses.

Earlier in the chapter, God says “And it shall be that he that has trespassed shall be burnt with fire along with the treasure, and along with all that he hath.” So in 24 “Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan, and the silver and the garment and the wedge of gold he had stolen, AND his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen and asses and sheep and his tent and all that he had, and Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones. V26 “So the Lord turned from the fierceness of his anger.”

  • Mark McEntire, Belmont University, author of “Cozbi, Achan, and Jezebel: Executions in the Hebrew Bible and modern lynching” asserts that the Achan story stirs up the argument of individual punishment for individual actions, and communal punishment for communal actions. Really, the Achan story disrupts them. Because we see that Achan’s individual action of choosing to keep treasure meant for God affects the community, by causing them to lose a battle. As the community turns to punish the individual, they don’t stop at just Achan, but exterminate “all that he had,” including innocent people, human and non-human alike.

  • Mark McEntire, inspired by James Cone, the founder of Black liberation theology, connects the killing of Achan and his family to modern-day lynchings of Black folks in the United States thr, and says of the execution of Achan, “lynching always presents a surplus of violence.” Because of the publicity of the discovery of Achan’s treachery, the execution was a “public spectacle.” “The story acts as both a warning… and a force of unification for the community. It is a story that sends a message demanding conformity.”

  • McEntire’s work focuses on dismantling the concept of lynchings as a belief that a violent death can solve communal suffering, and I see here in their work that the killing of Achan and his sons and daughters is an example of a public spectacle meant to teach a lesson of “conform or else.” We see echoes of this in nearly every system of domination that threatens the lives of the marginalized.

  • Conform or else, to heteronormativity, to whiteness, to androcentrism. Or else can look like anything, but behind “or else,” even in its tamest form, is always death.

  • We share this story of Achan’s unnamed daughters in memorium. We remember their story and honor them as worthy of life, and look to their story to remind us of the innocence and inherent worth of those who suffer most in systems meant to dominate, oppress, and annihilate, especially when their deaths happen in spaces and communities meant to care for them. We remember still Breonna Taylor, who was shot while she slept in her bed in March 2020. We remember Aaron Salter, Ruth Whitfield, Katherine Massey, Roberta Drury, Pearly Young, Heyward Patterson, Celestine Chaney, Geraldine Talley, Andre Mackneil, and Margus Morrison, who were killed in a mass shooting in a grocery store in Buffalo, MN just over a week ago on Saturday May 14th 2022. We remember that they were innocent and honor them as worthy of life. 

  • Perhaps we can view the story of Achan as a reminder that there is no such thing as an individual action, because individuals always function inside communities. What one does for oneself, one does for or to the community. What the community does to an individual is a shared responsibility and accountability, for good or for awful.

  • More explicitly, we can view the story of Achan as a reminder that not all who suffer are guilty - in fact, most aren’t. Achan is punished for taking the treasure, but his family is punished for the mere association with him, a factor which they have little control over. The same can be said about Black and Brown folks, who experience undeserved discrimination, violence, and death in the system of white supremacy. Unlike Achan, Black and Brown folks have committed no crime, but rather, like Achan’s sons and daughters, carry the burden of guilt without cause, thanks to the dangerous association white supremacy has made between Black and Brown bodies and guilt and shame.

  • As modern-day readers of this story, especially white readers, we can study the story of Achan to examine our role in the system of white supremacy. We can ask ourselves:

    • How am I actively working against my racial biases?

    • How do I associate the likelihood of crime or undesirable character traits with skin color?

    • How do I believe people are more or less trustworthy or innocent depending on their proximity to whiteness?

    • When racist comments are made in my circles of influence, do I speak up or do I remain silent and go along with the group?

    • How do I participate in the collective condemnation of Black and Brown folks?

    • How do I actively work to stop my participation in the condemnation of Black and Brown folks?

    • What skills will I utilize in a group setting to share and elevate Black and Brown voices and experience?

  • These questions can move us from simply reading the text as a sad story and into a space where work to keep the story from happening again and again.

8: The Israelites return to Ai and conquer it. In total, twelve thousand men and women were killed.

List of Conquests (9-13)

These chapters outline the skirmishes and fighting in Canaan to obtain land. 31 cities and a whole bunch of land are mentioned as being conquered along with their kings and rulers. We come across verses such as 10:40 “So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.”

Alternative stories to the Israelite Narrative

Now we know the story Joshua tells.

In his book “The Bible Tells Me So,” author Peter Ens shares an alternative story to the one in Joshua: that of archaeology. Ens states that while archaeologists don’t and can’t know or prove anything, they are able to determine a few things, like violent destruction and conquering of cities, based on evidence like soot and ash, smashed pottery, and bones. With this, Ens notes that 31 towns are recorded as being destroyed in the text, but that archaeological evidence of destruction can only be found in four or less cities at the time of Joshua. More than half of the cities that the text claims to have been taken over without resistance were not even occupied at the time. Ens also states that archeological digs in the area where Jericho is have not found any large walls surrounding the city. For most of the towns, evidence favors internal Canaanite fighting rather than outside conquering forces. Ens argues that these stories became exaggerated with hundreds of years of retellings.

It makes me feel way more comfortable reading and talking about the book of Joshua knowing that some of the most horrific events described didn’t necessarily happen. But the sigh of relief that elicits is fleeting, because on the heels of talking about whether or not a story is actually factually capital T true must come the conversation about the power of stories.

The Power of Story

An area of deep interest for me is in fairytale and myth. As I’ve intensified my study in these areas, I am beginning to appreciate the concept that myths and fairytales serve as more than entertainment: they also have moral educational value. Stories from cultures are like windows into cultures: they show what their community values, what they love, how they relate to one another, how they operate in peaceful times and in times of conflict.

Scripture stories are no different. They have all the elements of a powerful story, and their lasting power is unmatched. These stories are ancient. They originate out of a time and a place that is foreign to most readers, especially those in the west. And yet, we know them because they were told to us throughout our lives. And a good story is sticky. They are designed to be, because stories have value in the lived experience of the communities they are told in.

For example, stories in English folklore tell about the bog creatures, who were evil and crept out of the water to drown anyone caught walking the bog after dark. Scary campfire stories? Heck yes. But probably kept people out of the bogs at night when it was difficult to see and navigate in treacherous terrain? Yes. Fairytales teach, and they do it effectively because they elicit emotion in their telling. The brain prioritizes memories which elicit strong emotional responses, and these memories are retained and passed down to the new generation at another campfire, offering both their entertainment and their protection with them. That is what I mean by the power of story. Stories are powerful because in them they hold kernels of education. When these stories elicit an emotion, no matter what it is, they stick around. And because art imitates life imitates art, these sticky stories move in and out of lived experience through history.

Moving to the text for an example of this, the Israelites who passed through the Red Sea on dry land with Moses had mostly died by the time Joshua was prophet. But the stories lived on. And so when it came time for the new generation of Israelites to cross the river Jordan, again the river divided so they could cross on dry land. They heard the story, then they lived the story.

Old stories are really sticky. That’s why we still know these bible stories from thousands of years ago. But stories rarely stay in the text, including those we wish would have, like the violence and colonization we find in Joshua.

Mark McEntire, Belmont University, author of “Cozbi, Achan, and Jezebel: Executions in the Hebrew Bible and modern lynching “Some attention has been paid to the ways that particular sets of texts in the Hebrew Bible have played roles in racial injustice in the United States. The stories of Israel’s conquest or occupation of the land of Canaan, particularly in the book of Joshua, helped to define and fuel the colonization of the North American continent by European settlers.”

So while we can take comfort in knowing anciently the Israelites only did a portion of what they claim in the text, we can’t rest on our laurels. The story may not be capital-T actual factual true for the Israelites time, but in our lived experience, the story we find in Joshua has “come true” in our time. For our white listeners in the US, our ancestors relied on narratives found in Joshua to conquer and colonize Turtle Island. For listeners with Pioneer heritage, the violence of colonization is close to home.

Continuing with this theme of colonization, as I moved through the text I came across a verse in 24, when Joshua is giving his dying words to the Israelites. Through Joshua, God tells the Israelites in v13: “And I have given you a land for which ye did not labor, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them, of the vineyards and the oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.”

This hits different when we view the story through the lens of colonialism. If the land of Promise, flowing with milk and honey, is synonymous with the displacement of native peoples in order to occupy “land for which ye did not labor, cities you did not build, vineyards and olive trees you did not plant,” then the Promised Land is synonymous with colonization. Is it any coincidence then that the United States, a nation built on stolen land and built with stolen lives, is the land of Promise for those who read themselves into the bible as the Israelites? This is the power of story.

Goodbye Speech (23-24)

23:1 “And it came to pass that a long time after that the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age.”

A sneaky, sneaky suspicion that I have about the book and character of Joshua is one I think is impossible to prove, but I want to share it anyway. I find it especially curious that the book of Joshua chronicles the story of a warrior man (remember, Joshua was one of the first spies sent out of Israel for one of their first battles) leading other men to war, and the book AND the wars with the Canaanites ends with his old age and death. Did God choose Joshua? The text says yes, but the text is not always reliable. Sometimes people become leaders because they are charismatic and will get for the people what they want; and not always what they need. 

I don’t think I’ll be able to be sure, but I find it curious that the prophet the Israelites have after wandering with Moses in the wilderness for 40 years, eating straight bread for all those days except for the quail incident, suffering unexpected plagues, snake infestations, and mass killings at the hand of their deity, is the prophet that delivered the kind of wealth and stability and security that comes with land ownership. With Moses, the people had a wandering mountain prophet to lead them, and a God who led and even kept the wandering going; with Joshua, they have a warrior prophet and a warrior God. It is interesting, is it not, that sometimes God looks a lot like the prophet, instead of the other way around?

Cliff notes of Joshua’s speech:

  • Recount of history from Abraham to present, See what God has done for you?

  • Keep the law of Moses, Don’t make friends, don’t intermarry, and definitely don’t worship other Gods from other nations, Love and cleave unto God

The book ends with Joshua’s death and various burial accounts, which signifies the end of an era for the Israelites. Next week, we move into the book of Judges, which begins a new portion of history for the Israelite people.

Friends, I know its been a tough one today, and that this episode is one in a handful of many tough books with heavy content. If your soul and psyche and body feel overwhelmed and heavy, I hope you’ll take some time this week to care for yourself. I’m going to as well. Rest, so you can engage again. Add a new bird to your life list, bake a cake just because its spring, plant some lilac flowers, listen to the new Florence & the Machine album, read Ross Gay’s Book of Delights, do what makes you feel alive and connected to your body and yourself again. Soften and open. It is the only way forward.

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