Joshua 22-24


Chapter 22 is a story about centralization of worship. It involves a certain two and a half tribes: the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half of Manasseh. These are the “trans-jordan” tribes, called so because they occupy land east of the Jordan river. (Manasseh, if you look on a map, stradles the Jordan- thus only half the tribe is trans-Jordan.) They’ve been mentioned many times before, but I’ve tried to ignore them because I really don’t care. This is the first time they do anything interesting. They give the finger to God by daring to build an altar, at Geliloth. OMG. The other Israelites flip their shit over this. Why? Well, some of the Bible sources are very keen on centralization- you ain’t allowed to worship anywhere but the one place we let you. (The Tabernacle, or the Temple, depending on the source.) This source declares:
22:19 If the land you have taken is unclean, then cross over to the LORD’s own land, where the Tabernacle of the LORD now rests, and take a share of it with us; but do not defy the LORD and involve us in your defiance by building an altar to your own apart from the altar of the LORD our God.
Luckily, bloodshed is avoided; the Transjordan tribes talk their way out of it. They won’t think of doing offerings on this altar!
22:24 The truth is that we have done this for fear that the day may come when your sons will say to ours, “What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? The LORD put the Jordan as a boundary between our sons and your sons. You have no share in the LORD, you men of Reuben and Gad.” Thus your sons will prevent our sons from going in awe of the LORD. So we resolved to set ourselves to build an altar, not for whole-offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you, and between our descendants after us.”
This is followed by a doublet covering basically the same grovelling, but with an explicit mention of the Tabernacle.
The Israelites are like OH OKAY and everyone hugs.

According to Richard Friedman, all of Chapter 23 is an insert by D. This makes sense. It’s Joshua’s farewell address, which neatly mirrors Moses’s in Deuteronomy. It contains a brief summary of the unified text of Joshua, and continues D’s familiar “DON’T STRAY FROM THE LAW OF MOSES ONE BIT OR YOU WILL ALL PAY MWAHAHA” motif. That’s basically D’s one big concern.
I’ve been re-reading Who Wrote the Bible? for the first time in years, and it’s providing a wealth of information. According to Friedman, the Deuteronomical Histories are an anthology of works organized by a single author/editor, who was a Mushite priest living under the reign of King Josiah. (We’re talking c. 600 BCE, FYI.) The individual sections are tied together by deftly placed inserts. Friedman identified five inserts in Joshua- one is the entire Altar story in Chapter 8. (I will be adding a postscript in that entry.) The overarching story is the history of the kingdom from Moses to Josiah. Everybody inbetween sucked in the eyes of God, because they didn’t keep to Moses’s law (the Deuteronomic code.) D’s original story reaches it’s climax in 2 Kings, with King Josiah, who was the first dude since Moses to not totally piss God off.

This is the big finale, Joshua’s sealing of a covent at Shechem. Friedman really clued me in to the historical importance of this city. Shechem was established as the political (not religious) capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel after the original Kingdom (of David and Soloman, we’ll meet them later) first split. It was located in the territory of Ephraim, Joshua’s tribe. Joseph was believed to be buried there.
Joshua’s final speech contains a summary of his people’s adventures from Abraham onward. It covers events of Joshua, but there is no reference to the Ark; Jericho’s destruction is described succinctly: “The citizens of Jericho fought against you, but I delivered them into your hands.”
In his address, Joshua gets all passive-aggressive and says well, if you want to worship other gods, thats fine, see if I care. But they agree to be faithful to God (duh) and they make yet another covenant.
24:25 So Joshua made a covenant that day with/for the people; he drew up a statute and an ordinance for them in Shechem and wrote its terms in the book of the law of God. He took a great stone and set it up there under the terebinth/pole in the sanctuary of the LORD, and said to all the people, ‘This stone is a witness against us; for it has heard all the words which the LORD has spoken to us. If you renounce your God, it shall be a witness against you.”
Then, 110 years young, Joshua croaks.
The Book of Joshua ends on a little Aaron-flavored insert:
24:32 The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried in Shechem, in the plot of land which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor father of Schechem for a hundred sheep; and they passed into the patrimony of the house of Joseph. Eleazar son of Aaron died and was buried in the hill which had been given to Phinehas his son in the hill-country of Ephraim.
If you’re wondering who the hell Phinehas is, he was mentioned briefly in 22:30-34. He is Aaron’s grandson. The account of the purchasement of Shechem references Genesis 33:18 (An E text):
On his journey from Paddan-aram, Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in Canaan and pitched his tent to the east of it. The strip of country where he had pitched his tent he bought from the sons of Hamor father of Shechem for a hundred sheep. There he set up an altar and called it El-Elohey-Israel. (God of the God of Israel.)
The OSE editors remind us that “El was the chief god of the Canaanites, apparently worshiped at Shechem before the introduction of the cult of the LORD.”
El is, along with the related Elohim, a name the E source uses for God. What does this mean? I see a strong sense of continuity between the Canaanites and the Israelites. I’m currently of the opinion that Joshua is folklore. So is all of the Torah. I think the Israelites’ actual history may begin in Judges- which the OSE editors describe as some of the oldest material in the Bible. If the true history of the Israelites is a mystery… could they have originally simply been a segment of the Canaanite population?
This entry was posted in Joshua and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )


Connecting to %s