If you’ve visited the Temple in Jerusalem, you may have noticed a certain group of slaves chopping the wood and drawing the water. These folks are the Gibeonites (aka Hittites), and Chapter 9 of Joshua explains how they became relegated to a life of menial labor. Hint: they deserved it.
Apparently one of God’s arbitrary rules allowed the invading Israelites to make peace with far-away peoples. (Only those residing within Canaan had to be ethnically cleansed.) Gibeon and the other Hittite towns had the misfortune of being within the magical “Promised Land” boundaries. Having witnessed the fall of Jericho, Ai and other cities, the Gibeonites are naturally worried. So they devise a sitcom-quality ruse: dressed in rags, carrying moldy bread, they innocently approach Joshua’s crew and pretend to be wayward out-of-towners. The Israelites fall for this sham, sign a treaty with the friendly outsiders, and swear a binding oath.
Three days later, for no given reason, the Israelites suddenly go D’OH and realize they’ve been bamboozled. What to do? They couldn’t slaughter the Gibeonites, because of that silly oath. So they did the next best thing: enslave them in perpetuity in the Temple. Specifically, chopping wood and drawing water (the significance of which is lost on me.) Of course, the Temple doesn’t exist in Joshua’s time. (The oblique references to it are anachronistic.) Apparently this section of text was written at a point when the Temple was standing.
Joshua 10 is a bloody affair. It begins with five Amorite kings making an alliance and attacking poor Gibeon, because those people “had made their peace with Israel and were living among them.” (The depiction of the Gibeonites here kinda contradicts Joshua 9.) The Gibeonites ask Josh for help. He obliges, and sends his troops directly to their aid. He even brings his secret weapon: God! Not feeling like fire and brimstone this week, God chooses great big fucking HAILSTONES as his super power, and rains them down on the bad guys. “More died from the hailstones than the Israelites slew by the sword.” Pretty bitchin’ fight scene. Chapter 10 is definitely the big climax of the action in Joshua.
Now here comes a very interesting bit of text.
10:12 On that day when the LORD delivered the Amorites into the hands of Israel, Joshua spoke with the LORD, and he said in the presence of Israel:
Stand still, O Sun, in Gibeon;
stand, Moon, in the Vale of Aijalon.
So the sun stood still and the mood halted until a nation had taken vengeance on its enemies, as indeed is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stayed in mid heaven and made no haste to set for almost a whole day.
The Book of Jashar. Literally Book of the Upright. Never heard of it? Well, don’t worry. Nobody knows what the hell it is. Important as it apparently was (it’s mentioned again in Samuel) God decided to leave it out of the Bible.
I find it pretty telling that the Book of Jashar is referenced here just as the Book of the Law of Moses was referenced a chapter earlier. There were lots of “books” (more likely scrolls) floating around in those days. Apparently both the Book of Jashar and the Book of the Law of Moses were important documents to whoever wrote this bit of Joshua. One made it into the arbitrary collection of texts we call The Bible. The other didn’t. Thems the breaks.
Anyway, this divine magic trick so shocks/awes the Amorites that they run away and hide in a cave. Haha. Joshua has his men roll some big stones over the entrance and they slaughter the five armies. Then they come back and murder the kings and hang them from trees. This seems to be their disgusting modus operandi. Again: what a bunch of savages.
The rest of Chapter 10 is a bloodthirsty description of cities conquered and people brutally slayed by God’s holy warriors. Nasty, nasty, nasty.
Postscript: Okay, the reference to the Book of Jasher is not quite comparable to the reference to the book of Moses. The Book of Moses references were systematically added by the Deuteronomist; the Book of Jasher reference is older. CARRY ON.
Chapter 11 is more of the same.
11:19 Except for the Hivites who fought at Gibeon, not one of their cities came to terms with the Israelites; all were taken by storm. It was the LORD’s purpose that they should offer an obstinate resistance to the Israelites in battle, and that thus they should be annihilated without mercy and utterly destroyed, as the LORD had commanded Moses.
Last but not least, Joshua wipes out the Anakim, who are referred to as giants in Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Then we’re done! No more slaughter. Instead, we get…
12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21
…the partitioning of Canaan.
It took six chapters to conquer Canaan, but it’s going to take ten just to parcel out the territory. This is the most boringest part in the Bible since Levicitus. There is very, very little interesting content. Here is a typical example of the action:
18:10 The third lot fell to the Zebulunites family by family. The boundary of their patrimony extended to Shadud. Their boundary went up westwards as far as Maralah and touched Dabbesheth and the gorge east of Jokneam. It turned from Shadud eastwards towards the sunrise up to the border of Kisloth-tabor, on to Daberath and up to Japhia. From there it…
That’s the most exciting it gets. For ten long chapters. While I think it’s really cool we have census records this ancient, they have a certain niche appeal. You can safely skim these ten chapters and not miss anything. (The one interesting story is short and repeated verbatim in Judges.)