God orders Joshua to hold a circumcision party at Gibeath-haaraloth (or Gilgal.) So Joshua whips out a flint knife and mutilates his men’s penises.
The study notes shed some light on this barbaric custom: “Circumcision was primitively a rite of initiation for marriage and admission into full membership of the community; in the later traditions of Israel it became a sign of God’s covenant relationship with his people; it took on its full importance with the Babylonian Exile.”
Gibeath-haaraloth means “the hill of foreskins”, which is frankly hilarious. But Gilgal is an even weirder name- it’s a contrived pun:
5:9 The LORD then said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the reproaches of the Egyptians.’ Therefore the place is called Gilgal to this very day.
Here is the note on this passage:
9: Reproaches: the allusion is unclear; possibly the reproaches were for being uncircumcised. The Heb. contains a pun, Gilgal and rolled away. The meaning of Gilgal is “circle” (of stones), a circle recalling a wheel which can roll.
Many stories in Bible seem explicitly crafted to explain some existing place-name. These Hebraic puns are missing from English translations, and I think that does a tremendous disservice to the talented punsters.
Chapter 5 ends on a mysterious fragment:
5:13 When Joshua came near Jericho he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and said ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ And the man said to him, ‘I am here as captain of the army of the LORD.’ Joshua fell down before him, face to the ground, and said, ‘What have you to say to your servant, my lord?’ The captain of the LORD’s army said to him, ‘Take off your sandals; the place where you are standing is holy’; and Joshua did so.
Who is this captain of the army of the lord? No clue- he’s never mentioned again. This is plainly a fragment of some other story, inserted at the most sensible point in a pre-existing text.
This is the first well-known story of Joshua, or at least the first one I recognize. The “walls of Jericho” fall as Joshua and his tabernacle-toting priests run in circles and blow horns. Pretty weird.
6:20 So they blew the trumpets, and when the army heard the trumpet sound, they raised a great shout, and down fell the walls. The army advanced on the city; they put everyone to the sword, men and women, young and old, and also cattle, sheep, and asses.
Don’t worry, folks- Rahab and her family make it out okay!
While murdering innocents is fine and dandy, God demands the army not pilfer anything from Jerchico:
6:19 All the silver and gold, all the vessels of copper and iron, shall be holy; they belong to the LORD and they must go into the LORD’s treasury.
6:24 details that the Lord’s treasury is in the Lord’s House, which the editors note is an anachronistic reference to the Temple.
Captain Joshua of the Fightin’ Hebrews sets his sights next on a place called Ai. He sends some more inept reconnaissance: they’re all like “we only need 2k-3k to get the job done chief”, and Joshua, who speaks directly to God, is like okay! So he sends three thousand troops, and they get routed. Oops! So he goes groveling to God, and YHWH is all like “stand up and grow a pair.” He explains why the Israelites lost the battle: a douchebag named Achan stole 300 shekels worth of booty from Jericho. This is a horrible, unforgivable crime, because that wealth was meant for the Temple (which doesn’t exist yet.) So Achan gets taken outside of the camp and stoned to death.
God is a capricious son of a bitch.