Benjaminite Joshua Stories, Cherem Loopholes, Sun and Moon Standing Still

I’m continuing my way through Richard Nelson’s commentary on the Book of Joshua. I have three items for today.

1.  On the story of Achan in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 7), Nelson states: “Because wicked Achan is so clearly identified with a notable family of Judah (v. 1), and because Achor forms part of the border between Judah and Benjamin (15:7), the story of Achan’s grave in ‘Taboo Valley’ probably began its life as an anti-Judah polemic by Benjamin.”  In its present context, however, its goal is to “discourage misconduct.”  Indeed, Nelson thinks that Benjamin played a role behind the origin of parts of the Book of Joshua.  On page 111, he says regarding Ai that “The imposing ruin on the road between Jericho and Bethel would be a natural focus for a Benjaminite conquest tradition once such stories began to develop.”  And, a few days ago, I discussed an article by Moshe Weinfeld, which affirmed that Joshua 10 contains stories from the tribe of Benjamin because it focuses on Gilgal, Ai, Jericho, and Gibeon, which were in Benjamin’s inheritance (but I can’t find where Gilgal is said to belong to Benjamin).  Were these Benjaminite stories intended to glorify Saul, who was from Benjamin, by giving Benjamin a prominent role in the Conquest?

2.  An issue that came up throughout my reading today is loopholes in the cherem.  Deuteronomy presents God commanding Israel to slaughter everyone in Canaan, and forbidding her to make any agreement with the Canaanites.  Yet, the Israelites make an agreement to spare Rahab and the tribe of Gibeon.  Nelson acknowledges that the Deuteronomist has a hand in these stories, through Dtr’s later additions, but Nelson thinks that the stories initially functioned as etiologies to explain the existence of the Rahab tribe as well as the Gibeonites and the lowly servants in the temple.  Nelson states that the story of the Gibeonites taught Israel how to deal with the remaining Canaanites: to tolerate them, yet to distrust them (for the Gibeonites lied) and to subjugate them.  Nelson may think that the Deuteronomist was making the most of passages that contradicted his notion of Conquest, and he says that the Deuteronomistic layer of the Rahab story portrays her as a convert.

My impression is that John Van Seters’ approach is different: Van Seters believes that Dtr wrote one layer of the Book of Joshua, and that the subsequent Yahwistic layer featured Rahab, in according with J’s universalist viewpoint.  I do not know for sure what Van Seters says about the Gibeonites, but perhaps he thinks that Dtr had a nationalistic belief in a complete conquest, but that J tempered that with his more universalist outlook.  Nelson, however, appears to take at face value the biblical stories about Canaanites existing in the time of Solomon, and, like many scholars, he dates the Deuteronomist later than that, at least to the time of Josiah (and, by the way, Nelson alludes to more parallels between Joshua and Josiah, such as both of them tearing their garments out of concern for their people, and both of them holding a covenant ceremony).  So Nelson can envision pre-Dtr stories cropping up to explain the continuing existence of the Canaanites, a situation that was especially prominent in the time of Solomon.

3.  On pages 143-145, Nelson discusses different ideas about the sun and the moon standing still in Joshua 10.  Did Joshua command the sun and the moon to do this in order to prolong the daylight so that Israel could continue the battle?  Was Joshua inviting the sun and the moon to assist him in battle, as heavenly bodies did (Judges 5:10; Habakkuk 3:11)—plus, the sun and the moon could smite people, according to Psalm 121:6?  Were the sun and the moon blocking escape routes, since the sun was over Gibeon and the moon was over the Aijalon valley?  Were the sun and the moon standing still a means to symbolize and induce victory, like Moses holding out his arms during Israel’s battle with Amalek (Exodus 17)?  Or were the sun and the moon standing in awe at YHWH’s glory (Habakkuk 3:11)? Personally, I think the view that they stood still to give Israel more daylight makes most sense.  It sounds practical.

Within Joshua 10, we see Joshua commanding the sun and the moon to stand still, as well as the statement that the LORD hearkened to Joshua by making them do so, as if Joshua called on the LORD, not the sun and the moon.  According to Nelson, we see here an occurrence of Deuteronomistic redaction: “Because calling upon heavenly beings falls considerably outside the horizon of deuteronomistic orthodoxy ([Joshua] 23:7, 16; Deut. 17:3; 2 Kings 23:5, 11), the redactor (presumably DH) has directed Joshua’s speech away from sun and moon and toward Yahweh.”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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