Joshua 8: Altared States

8

So Joshua and the rest of his gang try, try again and succeed in slaughtering Ai properly, killing all 12,000 citizens, burning it to the ground, and hanging the king.

Christ on a cracker, what a bunch of savages.

Anyway, in this post I want to discuss the last five verses of Chapter 8, which are an obvious insert. They connect back to a passage in Deuteronomy which immediately follows the “Deuteronomic Code” (a long text of law from an older source.) First, here is the relevant bit from Deut:

27:1 Moses, with the elders of Israel, gave the people this charge: ‘Keep all the commandments that I lay upon you this day. On the day that you cross the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up great stones and plaster them over. You shall inscribe on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over to enter the land which the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD the God of your fathers promised you. When you have crossed the Jordan you shall set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you this day, and cover them with plaster. You shall build an altar there to the LORD your God: it shall be an altar of stones which you shall use no tool of iron. You shall build the altar of the LORD your God with blocks of undressed stone, and you shall offer whole-offerings upon it to the LORD your God. You shall slaughter shared-offerings and eat them there, and rejoice before the LORD your God. You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this law, engraving them with care.’

This is followed by:

27:11 That day Moses gave the people this command: ‘Those who shall stand for the blessing of the people on Mount Gerizim when you have crossed the Jordan are these: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. Those who shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse are these: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.’

27:14 The Levites, in the hearing of all Israel, shall intone these words:

This is followed by what the Oxford Study Edition (hereafter OSE) editors describe as “An ancient list of twelve brief curses.” It points out that they are recited by the Levites, not the six tribes just assigned the task. Obviously this is another example of an insert, placed here because it was marginally relevant. The editors believe that Deut. 28 continues the storyline from 27:13, for there we get the relevant six blessings and six curses.

These holy altar-building instructions of Deuteronomy are later carried out in Joshua, in the aforementioned Joshua insert beginning at 8:30. Here is the entire inserted passage:

8:30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD the God of Israel on Mount Ebal. The altar was of blocks of undressed stone on which no tool of iron had been used, following the commands given to the Israelites by Moses the servant of the LORD, as is described in the book of the law of Moses. At the altar they offered whole-offerings to the LORD, and slaughtered share-offerings. There in the presence of the Israelites he engraved on blocks of stone a copy of the law of Moses. And all Israel, elders, officers, and judges, took their stand on either side of the Ark, facing the levitical priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD- all Israel, native and alien alike. Half of them stood facing Mount Gerizim and half facing Mount Ebal, to fulfill the command of Moses the servant of the LORD that blessing should be pronounced first. The Joshua recited the whole of the blessing and the cursing word by word, as the are written in the book of the law. There was not a single word of all that Moses had commanded which he did not read aloud before the whole congregation of Israel, including the women and dependents and the aliens resident in their company.

You may notice that Josh is a bit behind schedule- God said to do it “on that day you cross the Jordan” but they’ve razed two cities before getting around to this. One possibility is that this is a bad editing job: this story should have been placed earlier in the text. (Another possibility is that I’m simply interpreting “on that day” too literally. Must get around to learning Hebrew!)

Deuteronomy and Joshua are both part of the “Deuteronomic Histories”, a collection of works that stretches from Deuteronomy to Kings. It contains work by the “Deuteronomist”, but also elements from some of the same sources that made up Genesis through Numbers. I don’t know the critic’s theories on the sources for Joshua. It’s obviously an amalgamation of different traditions, as we’ve seen from the strange inserts. The textual history is fascinating to ponder but difficult to really sort out. In this post I speculate wildly; please take it as nothing more than amateur enthusiasm.

The text from Deuteronomy 27 seems to me to possibly be melding of at least two original sources. You can cleave the section neatly in two, and it creates two self-contained passages:

On the day that you cross the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up great stones and plaster them over. You shall inscribe on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over to enter the land which the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD the God of your fathers promised you. When you have crossed the Jordan you shall set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you this day, and cover them with plaster. You shall build an altar there to the LORD your God: it shall be an altar of stones which you shall use no tool of iron. You shall build the altar of the LORD your God with blocks of undressed stone, and you shall offer whole-offerings upon it to the LORD your God. You shall slaughter shared-offerings and eat them there, and rejoice before the LORD your God. You shall inscribe on the stones all the words of this law, engraving them with care.’

I’ve gone ahead and color-coded similar phrasings. As I don’t read Hebrew, this is rather sketchy, but I think the similarities are too obvious to brush aside. We clearly have two complimentary accounts, which share certain phrases in the same order but are augmented by different insertions/additions.  Richard Elliott Friedman, a prominent defender of the Documentary Hypothesis, ascribes this entire passage to Deuteronomist. Did ol’ Deuty combine two sources to produce this passage? Or did he copy a source that had, previously, melded two previous sources? Or did he just like to repeat himself?

Here is, again, the relevant part of Joshua, with similar phrasing color-coded:

8:30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD the God of Israel on Mount Ebal. The altar was of blocks of undressed stone on which no tool of iron had been used, following the commands given to the Israelites by Moses the servant of the LORD, as is described in the book of the law of Moses. At the altar they offered whole-offerings to the LORD, and slaughtered share-offerings. There in the presence of the Israelites he engraved on blocks of stone a copy of the law of Moses.

As I started color-coding the similarities, I was dumbstruck- they were all originating from the unique portion of the second block of texts. Yes, it’s just three lines… but it seems an odd coincidence.

Luckily, the author of Joshua cites his sources. These instructions come from “the book of the law of Moses.” What the hell is that? The Bible? The Torah? Deuteronomy? Is the Bible referring to itself? Whoah, meta! But no. Deuteronomy and Joshua are both part of the epic Deuteronomical Histories. The author of Joshua didn’t have our “Deuteronomy” sitting in front of him. I’d guess that the “book of the law of Moses” is specifically the Deuteronomic Code, the older law code inserted into Deut. But wait! The altar-building text is not in the Deuteronomic Code! It comes immediately after it.

Let’s put this aside for a sec.

Things get more complicated if we look at the second part of this Deut/Josh coupling: the readings of the curses and blessings. In Deuteronomy these are expanded to include clearly out-of-context inserts, such as the Levite’s curses mentioned above.

Here is the relevant bit from Deuteronomy:

27:9 Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, ‘Be silent, Israel, and listen; this day you have become a people belonging to the LORD your God. Obey the LORD your God, and observe his commandments and statutes which I lay upon you this day.’

That day Moses gave the people this command: ‘Those who shall stand for the blessing of the people on Mount Gerizim when you have crossed the Jordan are these: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. Those who shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse are these: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.’

In short: six tribes stand on one mountain, six tribes stand on the other. Now, Joshua (this text directly follows the passages about the altar):

8:33 And all Israel, elders, officers, and judges, took their stand on either side of the Ark, facing the levitical priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD- all Israel, native and alien alike. Half of them stood facing Mount Gerizim and half facing Mount Ebal, to fulfill the command of Moses the servant of the LORD that blessing should be pronounced first. Then Joshua recited the whole of the blessing and the cursing word by word, as the are written in the book of the law.

This text is clearly related to Deuteronomy, but in a different manner than the altar-building section was. It’s not a line-for-line complement/sequel. It’s actually quite a bit “off” from the Deuteronomy text. Instead of six tribes on one mountain and six tribes on another, we have “half” (which six?) standing together but facing their respective mountains. This event is placed by the OSE editors “just west of Sechem, about twenty miles north of Ai, with Mount Ebal to the north and Mount Gerizim to the south.” (I don’t know how they know this. The insert itself provides no context; The last reference to place is when Joshua 7:11 says they encamped “north of Ai”. So this may be their best guess?)

So these two texts are weakly related; they’re speaking of the same event, but details vary. As legends tend to do. But look! Despite the differences, we have another specific reference to “the book of the law of Moses”. Joshua is reciting the blessings and curses straight out of Deuteronomy.

I really don’t know what the author means by “the book of the law of Moses.” It’s clearly more than just the Deuteronomical Code; it clearly includes part of Deut 25:6-7, and some parts of Deut 28. In what form this took, I can’t guess. We simply don’t know what sources the compiler of the Deuteronomical Histories had available.

So, in conclusion: I have no conclusions. Except that wow the Bible is a mess. It’s a wonderful, messy mess. And I’m so sick of these passages I will never read them ever again ever. Phew.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Deuteronomy, Joshua and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s