One of the most debated periods of biblical history, the period of the Israelite Settlement (Iron Age I) is one I find fascinating. Compared to later periods, the archaeological evidence is scant. The relevant biblical texts are filled with strange genres. And like few other events, the conquest is something that people hold strong opinions about. So, expect to be surprised, and probably annoyed with what we work through here.
I recent spoke at a small event, organised for and by laypeople, on the topic of Divine Violence. Given my main area of interest, I approached the topic through the lens of the Conquest of Canaan.
This topic is a favourite among Christian Apologists, often coming at it from the angle of Divine Command Theory. Putting it politely, I find that approach abhorrent. It’s a stain on Christianity. Instead of going down that road I though it would be more useful to use the Conquest of Canaan as an example of how taking a historical-critical reading of the relevant texts usually demonstrates that we’re trying to defend something that doesn’t need defending.
Summary of the talk: The conquest described in the book of Joshua didn’t happen, and the command in Deuteronomy 20 to annihilate the Canaanites wasn’t given by God. That shouldn’t be a surprise given that Jesus isn’t a genocidal maniac, and he’s a better revelation of God’s character than much of what we read in scripture.
As we’ve made our way through this series on Joshua 10 & 11 we’ve come across a number of extra-biblical texts that look like ancient war reports. But as we’ve looked deeper we’ve found that they contain some pretty odd features: Continue reading
Over the course of the last few posts we’ve considered a number of aspects of Joshua 10 and 11 that mark them out as not being ordinary history writing. The final feature we’re going to look at is the chapters’ focus on Joshua, the divinely appointed leader of the conquest of Canaan. Continue reading
In a previous post in the series on Joshua 10 and 11 I pointed out that it’s difficult to reconcile the conquest accounts in Joshua with other parts of scripture. Examples of irreconcilable passages were given, one of them being the first couple of verses of the book of Judges which read:
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” Jdg 1:1–2 (NRSV)
I pointed out that this passage implies that the Israelite conquest of Canaan began only after Joshua died, flatly contradicting most of what we read in the book of Joshua in which he led the campaign.
A few people have taken issue with this interpretation of Judges 1:1. Here’s an example of the sort of pushback I’ve received: Continue reading
When we took a closer look at Joshua 10 and 11 one of the things we found was that they follow a similar sequence. It’s as if they’re employ some sort of formula we’re not aware of. In this post we’ll dig into the background to this common narrative structure. Continue reading
In Jos 11:4 the northern coalition of Canaanites came to fight the Israelites with “a great army, in number like the sand on the seashore.“1 Now, pretty much no one on earth would take that description at face value. According to a group of researchers at the University of Hawaii2, there are roughly 7.5×10^18 grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. That’s 75,000,000,000,000,000,000, or, seventy-five quintrillion grains. Even if we restrict ourselves to just the beaches of Canaan, taking that phrase at face value would demand a Canaanite army of billions upon billions. Continue reading
In the previous post we saw how the language of annihilation in Joshua 10 and 11, far from being something unexpected, was actually a common feature across ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts. This time we’re going to look at another feature we noticed a couple of posts ago: the text’s repetition and redundancy in the way it records the Israelite conquest of Canaan. We’ll see how it too is a common feature in ancient conquest accounts. Continue reading
In the previous post we looked at some features that we saw were common to both Joshua 10 and 11. We concluded that those features mark the chapters out as being something quite different to ordinary war reports or historical narrative. Instead of military history we found two highly formulaic accounts that follow a definite and distinct pattern. In the next few posts we’ll look at what these features tell us about the genre of these chapters by investigating comparative literature. Continue reading
In the previous post we saw that as well as being flatly contradicted by the archaeological evidence the Southern and Northern Campaigns of Joshua 10 and 11 don’t line up with the rest of the conquest accounts in Joshua, Judges, and Samuel.
We concluded that before trying to understand how the archaeological evidence fits with the text, we first need to understand why the texts don’t fit each other. Continue reading
Joshua 10 and 11 contain the accounts of the Southern and Northern campaigns describing the conquest of Canaan. Though they make for exciting reading, these chapters present the careful reader with a number of problems. Continue reading