Minor Thoughts from me to you

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The Land of Milk and Jam?

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After referring to the Levant for thousands of years as "a land of milk and honey" simply on faith, archaeologists have finally unearthed evidence that people did farm bees there.

According to New Scientist's pretty interesting article on the matter, "Because no evidence for beekeeping had been found until now, 'honey' was deemed to mean jam."

Deemed by scholars, the writer surely means. This is one of those revelations concerning a matter about which your average person - myself included - has never known there was any doubt.

UPDATE: And here's another article from New Scientist concerning the largest study of Jewish genetics to date:

This entry was tagged. Bible

The Bible Role Playing Game

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So I'm poking around the internet for a directory of given names for Midianites or Amalekites and I find this - a step-by-step, program-assisted guide to creating whatever Canaanite name you want.

Apparently it was created as a tool for people playing roleplaying games in an ancient Canaanite setting - that is, playing Dungeons & Dragons or something of the sort in Biblical scenery. Even as a scion of the whole Comics/RPG/Sci-Fi/Fantasy culture, I've never heard of that, but imagining how such a thing might play out entertains me immensely.

UPDATE: After a little more digging about, I've learned that there is indeed a fairly new role playing game produced for enthusiasts of Biblical mythology, aptly named Testament. And there's a magazine named - I kid you not - Targum that contains supplementary information for it.

The game features character classes such as "desert hermit", "Levite priest", and of course "champion of Israel" (that is, a judge). Characters have piety ratings and glorious opportunities for advantages like the "Nazirite feat", which "adds +8 to an attribute of your choice, as long as you don’t drink alcohol, drink wine, cut your hair, or let your Piety drop below 10 (by, for example, dallying with a Qedeshot dancer and letting her cut your hair)."

I want to buy this game just to read the rest of its instruction manual.

Above is a picture of Testament's cover.

This entry was tagged. Bible Culture Links

Minor Thoughts on the Book of Joshua

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The foreword written afterward

About two weeks ago, the inexplicable bug bit me to write a daily commentary on the Book of Judges. I wanted it to have a conversational tone, with its tongue often straining at its cheek, and I wanted it to largely eschew the "spiritual metaphors" and "hidden meanings" that pastors, priests, and rabbis see in it in favor of discussing... well, what interests me: its influences and sources, its composition, its historicity. Everything that most people can spend their entire life faithfully attending church every Sunday without once hearing mentioned, but which scholars have enjoyed discussing for over a hundred years.

Below's what happened. It's not by any means exhaustive; in fact, it's intentionally the opposite, a light skip along Joshua's pages rather than a labored dissection of the ancient work. It's also certainly not authoritative. I've never attended seminary, nor was I even a Religion major in college; my knowledge of Biblical criticism comes from a few courses I took in college as electives and the reading I've done for pleasure since. And even if I was formally trained, the fact is that Biblical criticism is a field in which everyone does the best they can with the clues available, a lot of which are circumstantial. My college professor often concluded a discussion of a particular item in the Scriptures by saying, "I only know two things for sure: I don't know and you don't know."

That's not always true, of course. There are some things I think serious students of the Bible can now declare in total confidence - for instance, that Joshua's campaign as described in the Bible just doesn't match the archaeological evidence we have. But views such as mine on the origin of the Levites are easily debatable with DNA evidence and simply good questions, such as my wife's, who just asked me why Levi's featured in stories like Genesis 34 if he never really existed.

With those caveats outta the way, here's hoping you find something worthwhile in the study. I did. It's just as they say: "The best way to learn is to teach."

The Commentary Index

Joshua 22-24 - About the altar of Gilead.

Joshua 21 - The secret origin of the Levites.

Joshua 20 - On the six cities of refuge.

Joshua 12-19 - How the twelve tribes truly came into possession of Canaan.

Joshua 11 - The Anakim and other tall tales.

Joshua 10 - Joshua's greatest hit.

Joshua 9 - Anti-Gibeonite propaganda.

Joshua 7-8 - Why knowing God's will for your life may be easier than you think.

Joshua 5-6 - On the fall of Jericho.

Joshua 2-4 - Why Rahab deserves a better rep and how important God's parting the waters really is.

Joshua 1 - On the authorship of the Book of Joshua and Joshua's possible secret heritage.

Joshua 22-24 (Gilead's Altars, Recap)

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And welcome back to the Internet’s greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best my limited education allows. I encourage you to read the Good Book along with me, because my time’s too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

Today's entry is our grand finale. Stay tuned for another bookend post akin to the one which began this series.

22:10. And they came to the regions of the Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, and the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a great altar to look upon.

As Dr. Robert Price would admonish us, the first question we'll ask ourselves about Chapter 23 is the most important: what use did the writer of this passage's contemporary audience have for it? What's its function?

The answer's not difficult: this story explains why, at the time of writing, there existed altars to the LORD in the land of Gilead which matched Jerusalem's in age and grandeur. Their existence and the love of the populace for them is a sticking point for the YWHists, who have said that God desires His worship to be centralized in Jerusalem.

What the writer has come up with is pretty clever. The altars were legally built, but the original intention was never to worship with them. They're just to remind you that you're supposed to be worshiping the LORD over in Jerusalem. So: you don't have to knock 'em down, but don't use 'em!

Chapter 23 is of course "The Story Thus Far". Since the story of Joshua and other important scrolls were not collected in one volume until well after the time of Jesus, it was important to include a summary of previous events within the work.

23:15. And it shall be, that as all the good things that the Lord your God has spoken to you have come to pass, so shall the Lord bring upon you all the evil things, until He has destroyed you from this good land, that the Lord your God has given you.

23:16. When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, that He has commanded you, and you will go and serve strange gods and you will bow to them; then the wrath of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from upon the good land that He has given you."

This is a reference to Assyria's destruction of Israel and/or Babylon's of Judah. If you're a Christian, you likely believe that this is an example of prophecy; if you have a secular view of the Scriptures, these verses show that the Book of Joshua was either written or revised later than Canaan's foreign domination.

Chapter 24 has some fun working of the crowds by Joshua. "Choose for yourself, People, but I'm going to serve the LORD." "We will, too!" "You? Pfffft. You can't handle it." "Yes, we can! We're going to serve the LORD!" "Alriiiight... Did everyone hear that? You said it, not me."

It's worth pointing out, because I think it's one of the simplest admissions that many evangelical Christians tend not to consider but are willing to make, that "the people" didn't really all say the dialogue ascribed to them here. The author clearly made the words up in order to get across the crowd's sentiments in a stylish way.

24:33. And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in the hill of Phinehas his son, which was given to him in Mount Ephraim.

As previously mentioned in this series, Eleazar should already have died in the desert.

NEXT: An afterword, but I don't blame you if you don't want to stick around. Thanks for reading.

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Joshua 21

Joshua 20

Joshua 12-19

Joshua 11

Joshua 10

Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

Joshua 21 (Levites)

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And welcome back to the Internet’s greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best my limited education allows. I encourage you to read the Good Book along with me, because my time’s too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

I like how another blog I ran across while researching today's post started its own entry on this subject:

Who the hell were the Levites?

I may have to steal and modify it into my standard opening, or maybe the title format for my posts here. "What the hell are the cities of refuge?", "Who the hell is Joshua, son of Nun?", "Who the hell wrote the Book of Joshua?", etc.

21:1. And the heads of the fathers' [houses] of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers' [houses] of the tribes of the children of Israel;

22:2: And they spoke to them in Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, "The Lord commanded through Moses to give us cities to dwell in, and the open land around them for our cattle."

Among the twelve tribes of Israel, the Levite tribe is uniquely cursed, uniquely blessed, and uniquely fictional. Their curse is to inhabit forty-eight cities situated throughout land belonging to the other tribes, rather than possessing a whole region to call their own. Their blessing is to be a people comprised entirely of the LORD's ministers - His priests, His temple workers, their support staff. Their history as described in the first five books of the Bible and their identification there as a separate people, ethnically related to their eleven (or twelve) brother tribes, is the invention of tradition with an assist by the priesthood's writers.

It's possible the Levites might as well have been their own tribe by the time the Book of Joshua was written; it's not difficult to imagine an exclusive caste of intermarrying priests, temple workers, seers, and their servants developing in Canaan during the Late Bronze and early Iron ages. Nor is it difficult to imagine the great advantage that being seen as a people gave them. As a race instead of just an organization they had an additional claim to land and temporal power over it, which made disdain for their authority in their power bases not only a violation of holy ground but also of a nation's sovereign borders. Again, you can compare the status they desired with that of the Catholic Church in its heyday, when it was very literally God's kingdom on Earth, with its own citizens, borders, and troops, along with numerous embassies - that is, churches - in other countries.

But the blood that ran through the veins of the Levites who dwelled in Ephraim was Ephraimite blood, just as the blood of those priests who lived in Judahite territory was Judahite, and so on. Some were perhaps of mixed descent.

As for their occupational heritage, it was not one they owed to YWH. These seers, temple caretakers, ritual butchers, and outright magicians had plied their trade as Canaan's intermediaries with the spirit world long before He monopolized their business. The name by which they're still known even references their previous service to a powerful snake deity (consider that their name shares its root word with "leviathan"), a service which dramatically ended when King Hezekiah smashed their main idol.*

Sea changes in the ritualism and theology of the Levites were not only brought about by a dynasty that schizophrenically vacillated between state-mandated henotheism and traditional Canaanite polytheism. The various clans of Levites constantly waged wars of religious propaganda against each other. A sect would attempt to undercut the authority of a rival faction by promoting unflattering stories about that group's founding members.

The Levites who speak to Joshua in this chapter represent a fusion of those two brotherhoods, who were painfully united out of necessity when the Assyrians devastated Israel. Refugees from the ruined kingdom fled into Judah and brought their beliefs with them. The compromise these Moses-touting immigrants eventually struck with the Aaronite priests of Jerusalem resulted in the stories so familiar to Bible readers today.

* Cultural shifts are never so neat, of course. Illegal worship undoubtedly continued despite Hezekiah's suppression and began to revive under his polytheistic son Manasseh, but the "YWH-Only" crowd likely dealt it a serious blow every time they came to power, from which the religion self-evidently never completely recovered.

NEXT: The weekend. Come back on Monday.

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Joshua 20

Joshua 12-19

Joshua 11

Joshua 10

Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

"Is the Bible Fact or Fiction?" in TIME

TIME's running a feature-length article on their website about how archaeologists are informing our understanding of the Bible. I note that they quote Israel Finkelstein, the book of whom is one of my primary resources for my commentary on the Book of Joshua.

I wish the reporter had added a little more detail to this sentence:

In 1986, archaeologists found the earliest known text of the Bible, dated to about 600 B.C. It suggests that at least part of the Old Testament was written soon after some of the events it describes.

What text, Dude? Which part? Inquiring minds want to know and now will have to look it up themselves - and they're lazy, so they hate doing that!

But the piece is a pretty good summary of the history and current state of Biblical archaeology, at least as I understand the subject. Check 'er out.

This entry was tagged. Bible News

Joshua 20 (Cities of Refuge)

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And welcome back to the Internet’s greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best my limited education allows. I encourage you to read the Good Book along with me, because my time’s too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

Wow. That last post really pulled us ahead, didn't it? Only four more chapters to go now. You hardcore bloggers out there will think I'm a wimp for saying it, but I'm glad; publishing a daily series has been fun but tiring. I want to continue on to the Book of Judges, but I think I'll be taking a break before I do.

Onto Chapter 20.

20:2. "Speak to the children of Israel, saying, 'Prepare for you cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses.

This order was given by the LORD way, way back in Numbers/Bamidbar 35.

20:6. And he shall dwell in that city until he stand before the tribunal for judgment, until the death of the High Priest that shall be in those days. Then shall the slayer return, and come to his own city, and to his own house, to the city from which he fled."

I was confused when I first read this verse and had to seek clarification, so I'll now offer the same. A man who accidentally kills another may legally take refuge in one of six designated cities, after which he is marched back to his own town under guard in order to stand trial. If he is found guilty of intentional murder, he is executed; if not, he is returned to the city of refuge, wherein he must remain until the death of the high priest living there, an event which atones for an exile's sin.

Three cities are selected for the purpose on the western side of the Jordan River and three are selected to the east of it. Each of the three to the west - Shechem, Hebron, and Kadesh - were major centers of religion and naturally belonged to the Levites, so we can safely assume that the other three - Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan - were as well.

Their ability to protect people comes from the ancient and especially Hebrew idea of "holy ground", derived from a god's ownership of it and presence on it. Such land is naturally not beholden to any temporal authority, so its caretakers are in theory free to defy any secular parties' demands of it, such as extradition of a fugitive. This idea is basically still a part of the Catholic Church's doctrine and until the seventeenth century, it still had the clout to make its churches sanctuaries from local law.

(I should note in fairness that the Catholic Church itself argues its concept of sanctuary has nothing to do with ancient cities of refuge. Quoth the Catholic Encyclopedia: "The right of sanctuary was based on the inviolability attached to things sacred, and not, as some have held, on the example set by the Hebrew cities of refuge." Since the power of the cities rested on the inviolability of sacred things, however, I think the two concepts are justly identified with each other.)

Historically, the Hebrew cities of refuge may have not actually worked out so well in practice as they were supposed to in theory. Apparently they didn't in other civilizations of the time. Wikipedia's entry on the subject says:

Over time, these general rights of asylum were gradually curtailed, as some sanctuaries had become notorious hotbeds of crime; in Athens, for example, the regulations were changed so that slaves were only permitted to escape to the sanctuary of the temple of Theseus.

Some historians suggest this is why only six cities are listed when in theory any Levite city should work. By the time the Book of Joshua was written, other cities had eliminated the policy.

Later there was also the problem of what to do when not all six of the cities in question were under Jewish authority. Rabbis pragmatically concluded that alternative cities could be designated as necessary. Other Hebrew traditions and bylaws concerning issues with the cities of refuge are just as entertainingly practical. The Mishnah tells us that the mothers of the high priests were understandably concerned that the refugees would wish a quick death upon her son and that their thoughts would cause exactly that (an "evil eye" -type superstition), so they traditionally offered gifts of food and clothing to the new arrivals.

It was my intention to cover two chapters in today's post, but after reading Chapter 21 I've realized that doing it justice is going to require its own day's work.

NEXT: The secret identity of the Levites!

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.

Picture: Cities of refuge, as in Joshua 20:1-9, illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Judah 12-19

Joshua 11

Joshua 10

Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

Joshua 12-19 (The Origin of Judah)

So: please find below my summary of Joshua 12-19.

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Which I lifted from a page on Wikipedia, that famous fount of information. That page also says that

... by the Bible's account, and archaeologically as well, the Israelites did not conquer the plains at that time; thus, those borders that run through the plains are nominal; they partition land that Israel did not possess.

Thanks, Wikipedia!

The above map begs an important question that I haven't yet addressed in this series: if Joshua's campaign never took place - and make no mistake, the verdict on that question is in - then how did these tribes actually come to Canaan?

Well, they didn't come from anywhere. The people who eventually identified themselves as Israel, a chosen people that had destroyed and replaced the vile Canaanite population formerly living in the Levant, were actually the latest generation of Canaanites themselves. At the risk of losing all credibility with you as a scholar (oh, wait - I have none! Well then, let's carry on!), I'm going to quote Wikipedia's summary of the question:

Since archaeological remains show a smooth cultural continuity in [Canaan in the Late Bronze Age], rather than the destruction of one culture (Canaanite) and replacement by another (Israelite), a large body of archaeologists believe that the Israelites were simply an emergent subculture within Canaanite society — i.e. that an Israelite conquest would be... logical nonsense — it would have involved the Canaanites invading themselves, from Canaan.

There is evidence that many Canaanite cities were suddenly destroyed in the Late Bronze Age, but believers in the Abrahamic religions err in taking it all as proof of an Israelite invasion. If they widened their perspective of the archaeological finds to include what was happening at the time in the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole, they'd understand that the finds are part of a greater mystery: the unsolved question of why every civilization in the Eastern Mediterranean abruptly collapsed in a very short period, with the exception (barely) of Egypt.

One tribe of desert-wanderers, who principally worshiped a god named YWH and who never ate pigs, did indeed "invade" and settle in Canaan during the Late Bronze Age. They didn't see it as an opportunity so much as a necessity; the collapse of civilization meant that the Canaanites were once again living at a subsistence level and didn't have extra grain and vegetables to trade for the wanderers' sheep. The desert-wanderers would now have to farm for themselves. This they did by settling in small villages throughout the central highlands of the Levant, laying down roots that would eventually turn them into a small, unwealthy nation named Judah. Because the highlands were so difficult to reach and held too few resources to make conquering their inhabitants worth it, it survived the new and powerful kingdoms that emerged around it.

This tribe of Judah was never part of a greater monarchy that included the far more wealthy kingdom of Israel to the north. They were clearly of the same ethnicity, as well as of the same breed as the other desert-wanderers who settled Edom, Moab, and Ammon. They once had a leader named David, famed for how brilliantly he led his army of habiru against the Israelites and Ammonites. Eventually they would come under the power of a theocratic regime led by the high priest Hilkiah and the king Hezekiah, who were determined to obliterate the traditional polytheism of their people.

They had big dreams, those men. They imagined a unified Canaan with its capital in Jerusalem, where the throne would always be occupied by a descendant of the House of David. To facilitate this expansion of Judah's power, a history was written, either over time or all at once, in which the many differing traditions of the Israelite and Judahite tribes were threaded together to form one narrative. This history showed that all of their revered ancestors - Abram/Abraham, Isaac, Jacob - were of one family, and thus so were they, and damn it, it was time to start acting like it by integrating into one political unit and reestablishing their independence from foreigners.

That didn't happen, of course. Judah's rebellion against its Assyrian master resulted in ruin, with only Jerusalem being spared thanks to a last-minute bribe. Later attempts by "YWHist" kings to throw off the yoke of foreign agents resulted in the exile to Babylon.

All of which you might say is a digression from Joshua 12-19, but I think it's related; both the chapters and this post are about how the mythic kingdom of Israel was originally organized. The chapters deal with the content of the myth itself and I've dealt here with the writing of it.

We'll return to the story of Joshua tomorrow. 'Til then.

NEXT TIME: I'll be honest with you. I'd have to read ahead to know.

SOURCES: Wikipedia, The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Joshua 11

Joshua 10

Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

Joshua 11 (Anakim)

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And welcome back to the Internet’s greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best my limited education allows. I encourage you to read the Good Book along with me, because my time’s too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

11:1. And it was, when Jabin king of Hazor heard, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, to the king of Achshaph.

11:2. And to the kings that were on the north of the mountains, and of the plains south of Chinnaroth, and in the valley, and in the regions of Dor on the west.

By the end of Chapter 10, Joshua has successfully conquered and obliterated all the cities in the southern half of Israel. Now Israel has to reckon with the major cities to the north, which it does.

5:18. Joshua made war a long time with all these kings.

This verse is the subject of one of Rashi's many entertainingly preposterous notes. According to the venerated sage, this verse is actually a rebuke to Joshua, because the Israelite leader, aware of his divinely ordination to parcel out the Promised Land to the tribes of Israel, took his sweet time killing the Canaanites in order to extend his lifespan.

5:21. And at that time, Joshua came and cut off the 'Anakim from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from 'Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua destroyed them completely with their cities.

Here we have mention of the Anakim, or "the descendants of Anak", a small ethnic minority that are physically intimidating to their neighbors because of their great height. Oddly enough, traditional Jewish sources tend to prefer a down-to-earth interpretation of passages involving these people, while some Christians still link them with the nephilim of Genesis and conclude they were demon-human hybrids of astonishing size.

The Anakim could well have been nephilim - giants - but remember how relative that word is. People in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age were far shorter than the average man or woman is today. Goliath's height of six feet and seven inches (200cm) was considered awe-inspiring at the time it was recorded, but today I have a cousin that tall.

In his book The Greek Myths, Robert Graves suggests that the Anakites' mighty ancestor Anak is the same mythic figure whom the ancient Greeks knew as Anax. There are undeniable parallels - like Anak, Anax was said to be the giant leader of a tall people named after him, the Anactorians - and both legends existed in the same time period, in two lands known to have been in contact. It's a neat thought, so I hope it's true.

OK, then. Since Chapter 12 is a major gear change from the type of stuff we've been reading so far, I'm going to end today's entry here.

NEXT TIME: As any policeman or military officer can tell you, behind every successful mission lies a mountain of paperwork. Join Joshua as he gets down to the less sexy, bureaucratic side of leading an invasion.

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi's commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Joshua 10

Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

Joshua 10 (The Sun Stilled)

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And welcome back to the Internet’s greatest Bible commentary, in which Yours Truly reads through the Bible and explains its many mysteries as best my limited education allows. I encourage you to read the Good Book along with me, because my time’s too valuable to write summaries. Here we go!

10:1. [The Amorite kings learned that]...the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them;

10:2. That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all her men were mighty.

In these setup verses lies another hint that the various episodes of Joshua's campaign were originally standalone stories. We have here five Amorite kings going ape over Gibeon joining Israel, "because it was greater than Ai" - a comparison which should mystify any reader who recalls how Ai is described only two chapters ago: "they are but few" (7:3). Ai is understood by the writer of Joshua 8 to be a pathetic distraction that unfortunately develops into something bigger due to Achan's sin, but here the writer - be he the same man or another - is clearly imagining a city of somewhat more repute.

10:3. And Adonizedek, king of Jerusalem...

Adonizedek is the second king of Jerusalem mentioned in the Bible, after Melchizedek, and his name merits some attention. Most believe it translates into English as "My Lord is Righteousness" just as Melchizedek's does "Righteousness is my king", but both meanings may be the result of reinterpretation by later Hebrew and Christian thinkers. "Tzedek" could also be the name of a deity, possibly a second name for the Canaanite god El _before he became the _Elohim we all know and love, and if so that would fit very well with the naming practices of Canaanite kings, including the Israelites themselves. They often incorporated their patron deities' names into their own.

10:5. And the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered together and went up, they and all their camps, and encamped on Gibeon, and made war against it.

The Amorites were a powerful people who are nevertheless well past their heyday here, at least if we're assuming that this war is really happening when the Bible says it is. From 2000-1600 B.C.E. they were so dominant in Mesopotamia that scholars sometimes refer to that cultural and political phase of the Levant as the Amorite Period. Hammurabi, the famous king of Babylon, was an Amorite. Their hegemony was eventually broken by the Hittites, who themselves imploded before the time of Joshua's invasion.

5:10. And the Lord confused them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and they chased them by the way that goes up to Beth-horon, and smote them to Azekah, and to Makkedah.

"Confusion" might better be read "chaos". I've heard on more than one occasion a historian say that casualties in ancient warfare were usually light until for whatever reason one side broke formation and ceased to function as a unit. At that point people really started dying in large numbers - mostly on the side which had caved. The Lord is simply being credited here with the breaking of the Amorite ranks.

5:11. And it was as they fled from before Israel, and were in the descent of Beth-horon, that the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them to Azekah, and they died. There were more who died with the hailstones than whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.

What do we make of this record of a miracle?

Christian apologists bristle when skeptics dismiss accounts like this one out of hand, but I don't think they're fairly acknowledging the propensity for absolutely bizarre embellishments to which ancient scribes apparently leaned. An Egyptian pharoah had it written down (prior to winning the actual fight) that the gods had drowned his opponents in a giant tidal wave. Jewish writers claimed that an angel saved Jerusalem by striking down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers... after which Hezekiah apparently bribed Sennacherib to leave out of pity. Other examples abound. It wouldn't be unfair to suggest the stones raining down from Heaven in this story are a complete fabrication. It certainly wouldn't be unfair to suggest that they're just embellished hailstones, taken as a sign.

5:13. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is this not written in the book of Jashar?

Creation.com has done its homework on other cultures' versions of this famous miracle, while of course remaining predictably certain that the Book of Joshua's version is the true account. I'll quote it here:

"[Many] cultures have legends that seem to be based on this event. For example, there is a Greek myth of Apollo’s son, Phaethon, who disrupted the sun’s course for a day... In fact, the New Zealand Maori people have a myth about how their hero Maui slowed the sun before it rose, while the Mexican Annals of Cuauhtitlan (the history of the empire of Culhuacan and Mexico) records a night that continued for an extended time... It should also be noted that the Amorites were sun and moon worshippers."

I'd append to the last sentence of the above paragraph: "Like everyone else." Sun worship is so prevalent a feature of ancient religion that it's almost not worth noting the Amorites practiced it.

It's even found in the religion of the Hebrews, in this very story. Joshua's demand of the celestial bodies to freeze takes the form of a poetic couplet in the midst of a story otherwise composed of prose, which is about as big a hint as there can be that Joshua's words pre-date the story around them. Divorced of its context the quotation suggests itself to be a pagan incantation, famous saying, or both; the exact words of miracle workers, including Jesus, were often repeated verbatim by magicians in an attempt to achieve the same results. The couplet can also be taken as Exhibit B in the case that Joshua as a character pre-dates his Biblical incarnation (see Joshua 1 in this series).

Concerning the "book of Jashar" (also spelled "Jasher") mentioned in 5:13: while many think the book is the source for this story and simply no longer exists, Orthodox Judaism identifies it as another name for the Torah.

5:14. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

The writer of the Book of Judah now has to cover for the fact that he just quoted a man's successful ordering around of the sun and moon: really, of course, God did it.

Whew. I knew this was going to be a long entry. I got to get to bed.

NEXT TIME: We continue our daringly sequential exegetical escapade with Chapter 11.

Bible Translation: Judaica Press's Tanach with Rashi commentary, courtesy of Chabad.org.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Joshua 9

Joshua 7-8

Joshua 5-6

Joshua 2-4

Joshua 1

Joshua 7-8 (Casting lots, Mt. Ebal)

Picture of dice on a lotto card.

Uh oh, there's a lot to cover here. We'd better jump right into it.

When last we left our hero (as my old O.T. professor always likes to say), Joshua has successfully destroyed the city of Jericho and now has his eye set on its neighbor, Ai.

7:2. And Joshua sent men from Jericho, to Ai, which is beside Beth-aven, on the east side of Beth-el, and spoke to them saying, Go up and spy out the land. And the men went up and spied out Ai.

7:3. And they returned to Joshua, and said to him, Do not let all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; do not trouble all the people there; for they are but few.

We're starting to get a sense of Joshua's M.O. here: always start by sending spies to check out the enemy's defenses.

In this case, the spies' report is meant to make the Israelites' upcoming defeat even more humiliating. The town of Ai is not a tough target. Joshua shouldn't need to send more than a sliver of his army to take it.

  1. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty-six men; and they chased them from before the gate to Shebarim, and smote them in the descent; and the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.

The men of Ai whup the ever-loving bejeezus out of Joshua's men, chasing them all the way back down the hill (most cities were built on top of hills back then so that they could be more easily defended). Notice that despite suffering total defeat, the Israelite force of three thousand men only suffers thirty-six casualties.

There are several ways to explain that strangely low figure. First, you could just accept that war is a strange art and sometimes you get these results. For instance, in the famous Battle of Trenton, George Washington attacked 1,500 Hessian soldiers with 2,400 men, but only two American soldiers and twenty-two Hessians died in the fighting. Second, you could take this as evidence that the number of Israelites listed in the Bible is heavily inflated (which is true, as I've previously discussed), since thirty-six is only a realistic number of deaths if there were far fewer participants.

7.1. And the children of Israel committed a trespass in the consecrated thing, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the consecrated thing; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against the children of Israel. (Joshua 7.1)

Notice the collectivist mindset of the ancients here: one soldier angers the LORD by taking home some of the nice things the Israelites find in Jericho, but this verse accuses all of "the children of Israel" - and an apparently like-minded God punishes the entire army. The sin of the individual is the sin of the community. You are indeed your brother's keeper.

7.14. [God says:] In the morning, therefore, you shall be brought near according to your tribes; and it shall be, that the tribe which the Lord takes shall come near by families; and the family which the Lord takes shall come near by households; and the household which the Lord takes shall come near man by man.

This is a very unclear verse, perhaps purposefully so; a later redactor of the text might have been embarrassed by the method which the Israelites use here and purposefully obscured it. What happens is that the priests cast lots - basically, roll dice - in order to figure out who is guilty. Probably they are specifically using Urimm and Thummim a holy pair of divination stones in the possession of the high priest. These particular stones are the Israelites' primary means of communicating with God after Moses dies: Joshua asks what he should do next and the high priest pulls out the stones to find out.

So: first the high priest rolls to see which tribe is at fault (Judah), then he rolls to see which family of that tribe is at fault (the Zarhites), then he rolls to see which household in that family is at fault (Zabdi), and finally he rolls to see which of Zabdi's people is at fault (Achan, Zabdi's grandson), after which Achan (whose name basically means "trouble-maker") confesses.

If this doesn't sound very different from seeking the advice of someone who gazes into crystal balls or reads tea leaves, well, let's face it: it's not.

7:25. And Joshua said, Why have you troubled us? The Lord shall trouble you this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, [after] they [had] stoned them with stones.

A friend (actually he's more of an enemy, but we keep in touch) who has visited Israel and who majored in Religion tells me that the Hebrews usually didn't throw rocks at somebody until they died; that might take too long. Instead they brought the criminal to a cliff and then stoned him until he fell. Since the tribesmen of Judah (which wrote most of the Tanakh) mainly lived in the mountains, they had plenty of cliffs available.

I'm going to skip most of chapter 8 because while it's fun stuff, it's also pretty self-explanatory. God is happy with Israel again, so Joshua conquers Ai, and this time everyone keeps their hands in their pockets.

8:30. Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel on Mount Ebal.

8:31. As Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, upon which no (man) has lifted up any iron. And they offered upon it burnt-offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace-offerings.

8:32. And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel.

8:33. And all Israel, and their elders and officers and their judges, stood on this side of the Ark and on that side, before the priests the Levites, the bearers of the Ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as the native born, half of them over against Mount Gerizim and half of them over against Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded, to bless the people of Israel first.

8:34. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the book of the Torah.

This scene may seem familiar to you. In the Book of Deuteronomy, a still-living Moses orders the people of Israel to perform this ritual after they enter the Promised Land. The Book of Joshua's record of the people doing so is actually considered the older account by scholars, however; that is, the story of the Israelities performing the ritual is older than the story of Moses telling them to do it.

Both stories may actually be incorrect, though. The Samaritan version of the Torah says that Mount Gerizim - the other mountain that the tribes stand on - is the original site of the altar, as well as the place God has truly designed for His worship. This disagreement may be why both mountains are used, but blessings are pronounced from Ebal and curses from Gerizim: the writers of Dueteronomy and Jonah, southerners who would have disagreed with the Samarians, are trying to bring northern and southern Hebrews together while still subtly asserting their chosen mountain's superiority.

Here's a picture of both Ebal and Gerizim:

Picture of the landscape where Gerizim was.

On the archaeology side of things, a structure which may well be an altar has been discovered on Mount Ebal. The only problem is it's facing the wrong direction - away from Mount Gerizim, north instead of south. Wikipedia says that "the excavating archaeologist proposed that this could be resolved by identifying a mountain to the north as Gerizim rather than the usual location, [but] the suggestion was ridiculed by both the Samaritans, who found it offensive to move the centre of their religion, and by other scholars and archaeologists."

So take from all that what you will.

Fin.

As usual, all Biblical quotations are from the Tanach published by Judaica Press, courtesy of Chabad.org.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Joshua 5-6 Joshua 2-4 Joshua 1

Joshua 5-6 (Jericho)

A sea of rabbis

Above: Family photo! Brooklyn, NY. 2007.

The version of the Hebrew Bible we will use today is once again brought to you by Chabad.org, the website of our favorite Hasids, the Chabadniks (pictured above). They should all live and be well.

Let's see what their ancestors are doing in the Book of Joshua, chapter 5.

5.13. And it was when Joshua was in Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and saw, and, behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand; and Joshua went to him, and said to him, Are you for us, or for our adversaries?

5.14. And he said, No, but I am the the captain of the host of the Lord; I have now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and prostrated himself, and said to him, What does my lord say to his servant?

5.15. And the captain of the Lord's host said to Joshua, Remove your shoe from your foot; for the place upon which you stand is holy. And Joshua did so.

When reading this passage, I always assumed "the Lord's host" is a reference to God's army of angels. Rashi, however, is convinced that "the Lord's host" is a reference to Israel, and on reflection he's more likely to be right. I think he and other religious Jews are almost certainly wrong, however, in identifying the captain as the archangel Michael; Michael's name doesn't pop up in the Tanakh until the Book of Daniel, which means he probably didn't have a place in Jewish mythology until the Exile.

This should go without saying, but the captain's not Jesus, either.

And naturally, that means the Mormon idea that the captain is both Jesus and Michael is right out.

No - the captain is God Himself. Notice that Joshua is told by the captain to remove his shoes, just as Moses was once told. Notice also that Joshua prostrates himself before the captain; the Jews who edited the Book of Joshua were fierce monotheists and never would have allowed this scene to remain if they thought Joshua was bowing to anyone but the LORD.

The Walls of Jericho

Picture of Jericho's walls today.

Above: The ruins of Jericho's walls. Cool, huh?

6.2. And the Lord said to Joshua, See, I have given into your hand Jericho and its king, the mighty warriors.

6.3. And you shall circle the city, all the men of war, go round about the city once. Thus shall you do six days.

6.4. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the Ark; and on the seventh day you shall encircle the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.

6.5. And it shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down in its place and the people shall go up, every man opposite him.

Jericho's walls really did fall and the city was indeed destroyed, but not by Joshua; the city was burnt down roughly 150 years before the Bible's dating of the Israelite invasion. Joshua would have arrived to find the city abandoned. Jericho's sudden, violent ruin was more likely a famous story which the writers of the Book of Joshua attached to Joshua's conquest.

But wait! Don't get too depressed! There is indeed evidence of attacks from across the Jordan River in the fifteenth century by "shashu (Egyptian for wanderers) of YHW", whom the Egyptians list in their records as one of their many enemies. Anson Rainey of the Biblical Archaeology Review writes in an online article:

"A text in the hypostyle hall at Karnak that can be dated quite precisely to 1291 B.C.E. (to the reign of Seti I) tells of shasu pastoralists on the mountain ridges of Canaan. They have no regard for the laws of the Egyptian palace. A similar text locates a clash with shasu in northern Sinai or the western Negev."

"These shasu were the main source of early hill-country settlements in Canaan that represent the Israelites’ settling down."

These nomadic shashu attacked cities in Canaan during the Late Bronze Age and eventually settled in the highlands where the nation of Judah arose, all in the right time period. That's pretty exciting, isn't it? Even more exciting, writes Israel Finkelstein in The Bible Unearthed, is the fact that when archaeologists dig through these settlements, there's one usually common discovery which they just can't seem to find: pig bones.

OK, enough historical fact-checking. Back to the story.

6:17. And the city shall be devoted; it, and all that is in it, to the Lord; only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that is with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

Notice the verb "devoted" basically means "kill/burn". We're talking about violent blood sacrifices here to the LORD, not only of animals and treasure but of people. The real difference between sacrifices to Yahweh and other gods isn't that Yahweh doesn't demand human flesh, but that the Israelites only have to kill enemies and not their own people. This is because of the Israelite system of redemption. Instead of having your firstborn son sacrificed on the altar of the Tabernacle, you're allowed by Yahweh to redeem (that is, buy back from Him) the child with a dove or bull. The Bible's first example of this substitution system is when Abraham receives a ram with which to replace Isaac.

Aaaaaand I think that'll do for today.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN THIS SERIES: Joshua 1, Joshua 2-4.

Joshua 2-4 (Crossing the Jordan, Rahab)

Picture of the River Jordan

Above: The River Jordan in all her glory.

Hm. I left my JPS Tanakh at home today and the only JPS version of the Jewish Bible I can find online is the 1917 release. Well, let's try using Judaica Press's version today, helpfully available on Chabad.org. It could be fun, since it comes with Rashi's commentary, one of those rabbis who never met a question about the Bible for which he couldn't bend over and pull out an answer.

2:1. And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men out of Shittim to spy secretly, saying, Go see the land and Jericho. And they went, and came to the house of an innkeeper named Rahab, and they lay there.

According to Jewish tradition, the two spies are Phinehas and Caleb. In theory that can't be true, since only Caleb and Joshua survived the Israelites' forty years in the desert. Phinehas should have died with the last generation. However, he actually does appear later in the Book of Joshua and gets rewarded with his own mountain, so apparently he's not.

This first verse is a good example of what I mean about Rashi's commentary: while you might only take from the above verse that Joshua sent two spies, Rashi informs us that he specifically told the two spies that they should pretend to be either deaf-mutes or potters.

And ah, yes - Rahab. I once heard someone refer to her as "the original hooker with the heart of gold." What a thought: the storytelling tradition that climaxed in 1990 with Pretty Woman begins here.

What I only noticed while studying for this post was that her reputation as a prostitute may be undeserved. Let's read that verse again.

2:1. And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men out of Shittim to spy secretly, saying, Go see the land and Jericho. And they went, and came to the house of an innkeeper named Rahab, and they lay there.

Who knew? The word for "prostitute" in Hebrew is apparently similar to - or even the same as - the word for "innkeeper". I'll bet that's gotten a lot of Hebrew men in trouble over the years.

JOSEPH: Finally! We've made it to Bethlehem. You stay here, Mary. I'll go find a prostitute.

MARY: At least you've finally admitted you see them. I knew you couldn't deal with this.

It's nice to see that the translators at Judaica Press give Rahab the benefit of the doubt.

Jewish tradition also says that Rahab not only gets to live as a reward for helping the Hebrew spies, but also gets to marry Joshua.

3:17. And the priests that bore the Ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm arranged on the dry land in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel passed over on dry ground, until the whole nation had completely passed over the Jordan.

In chapter 3, God repeats the miracle He did for the last generation, parting the waters of the Jordan River for Joshua's forces. The miracles in which God parts the waters are probably His most important ones in the Bible because of their symbolism. They represent God's greatest power and recall the story of Creation.

...the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. (Genesis/Bereshit 1:2)

To understand why there is water in the world before God has created anything, you need to know about other stories of how the world was created, specifically the Sumerian and Babylonian myths (remember, Abram's father Terah is from the city of Ur, which lies in that part of the world). In many mythologies but specifically these Middle-Eastern ones, water represents chaos and disorder; it has existed forever, like we think of outer space existing now. The gods make the world by creating order out of that chaotic, immortal substance. For instance, in Babylonian mythology the god Marduk creates the world by killing the ocean goddess Tiamat and splitting her in half.

In Genesis, God creates the world in a similar way (after He finishes turning on the lights so He can see what He's doing), creating space in which to work by parting the waters. His parting of a sea (or lake, or whatever) in Exodus and a river in Joshua are reminders to that.

OK, that's Joshua 2-4. Here, by the way, is a map showing where all of this is happening:

Map showing geography around River Jordan

You can see Jericho, but Abel-Shittim's too small to be on this map. The Jordan River is the blue river feeding the Dead Sea from the north. The Israelites cross more or less directly east of Jericho.

While today's archaeologists dismiss a lot of the Biblical account, almost all of the ones I've read do agree that the Israelites came to settle Canaan through its eastern border, so I think the Book of Joshua does get its geography right here.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN THIS SERIES: Joshua 1.

Joshua Chapter 1

Picture of a statue of Dagon

Like many other books of the "Old Testament", Joshua is grouped differently in the Hebrew canon; it's considered the first book of the Prophets. The best bet is that the earliest recognizable version of this book was prepared by the scribes of either King Hezekiah of Judah or his descendant King Josiah. They wrote it because their king wanted to reunite all of Israel under Jerusalem's rule. The story of Joshua conquering Canaan was the perfect story with which to inspire the people, to convince them that the LORD would bless Judah's liberating Canaan from the Assyrians if only they would believe and be faithful.

I should just go ahead and say it now: from what archaeologists have discovered, Joshua's invasion of Canaan can't possibly have really occurred - any of it, at all. Egypt actually ruled Canaan during the traditional time period (the Late Bronze Age) in which the Israelites are supposed to have invaded. None of the less traditional ideas about when the Israelites might have attacked work either, for various reasons.

More than that, details like the number of Israelites with Joshua (Numbers 1:26) are transparently untrue. The tribe of Judah, for instance, is listed as contributing almost 75,000 soldiers to the Israelite army, but archaeologists can't find evidence in the land it settled for a larger population than 12,000. For another comparison, consider this: Rome is known to be the first city to ever reach a population of one million people, which it did over a thousand years after Joshua's day - but a conservative estimate of the Israelite "camp" under Joshua would have to at least exceed 3 million. For the Late Bronze Age, that's just crazy talk.

But not necessarily for scribes living five hundred years later, who might at least have imagined such fantastic numbers. And the reason why we can finger those later priests of Judah as the writers of Joshua is because the Canaan which Joshua is depicted conquering corresponds nicely with Canaan as the priests would have known it in the time.

Summary:

  • The Book of Joshua was written in the 700-600s B.C.

  • It was written to serve as an example to the people, so they would support the king of Judah's plans to overthrow the Assyrians and unite Israel. The people who read the book were supposed to see their current king as a new Joshua and themselves as God's new army.

It's quite possible a lot of events written about in the Book of Joshua really happened, but probably not in the context in which they're presented.

Alright, that's it for preliminary discussion. Let's move onto the content.

1:1 Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister...

The most interesting thing about Joshua, from a biologist's perspective, is how he could have a fish for a father.

Because apparently he did: "Nun" means "fish" in Aramaic (it's not a Hebrew word). And while the Israelites often gave their children strange names, "fish" is still too odd to be one of them.

Most scholars don't find that interesting, but at least one of them does: Dr. Robert M. Price wonders if Joshua, clearly a famous figure in ancient Canaan, originally had no place in the Israelite genealogies at all, but was once instead a legendary half-god, half-human warrior like Hercules or Achilles. His father would have been one of the elohim of the waters, someone like (but not) the Philistine sea god Dagon (pictured above).

According to this theory, the Israelites retooled Joshua's legend after they switched from polytheism to henotheism (and from henotheism to monotheism): Joshua became simply a hero and nobody paid any attention to his father, who was presumed to just be some poor jerk who spent most of his life as a slave in Egypt.

This theory also explains the miracles that God performs for Joshua: originally, Joshua performs the miracles himself.

The rest of Joshua 1 isn't very interesting, just Joshua giving Team Israel a pep talk before the big game, so we'll stop here. Hope you had fun.

NEXT: Joshua, Chapter 2. Maybe.

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Joshua 9 Joshua 7-8 Joshua 5-6 Joshua 2-4

Political and Economic Wrangling Over the Pentateuch

It wouldn't surprise me a bit to learn that Adam already knows about this theory. But it was news to me and fairly fascinating to boot.

I just finished Richard Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? It's a classic popularization of the Documentary Hypothesis, which claims that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is actually a medley of four earlier sources called J (the Yahwist), E (the Elohist), D (the Deuteronomist), and P (the Priestly source). Friedman's survey of two centuries of Biblical detective work is quite fascinating. What truly shocked me, however, was learning that a bunch of liberal theologians converged on a vulgar Public Choice theory of the evolution of their most sacred book.

Friedman begins by explaining that J and E are the earliest sources. The most obvious difference between the two is that J always calls God "Yahweh," while E initially calls him "Elohim." But it's the non-obvious differences that are telling. He presents strong evidence that the author of J came from Judah, the southern Jewish kingdom, while the author of E came from Israel, the northern Jewish kingdom. J elevates Aaron and slights Moses; E does the opposite.

What's going on? Friedman explains that these two countries had conflicting religious establishments. Those in the north - or at least a major faction - were Mushite (claiming descent from Moses); those in the south were Aaronite (claiming descent from Aaron). Through this lens, J and E turn out to be thinly-veiled bids for money and power. Here's one example of how E tries to push Mushite interests:

Recall that the [Mushite] priests of Shiloh suffered the loss of their place in the priestly hierarchy under King Solomon. Their chief... was expelled from Jerusalem. The other chief priest... who was regarded as a descendant of Aaron, meanwhile remained in power... The Shiloh prophet Ahijah instigated the northern tribes' secession, and he designated Jeroboam as the northern king. The Shiloh priests' hopes for the new kingdom, however, were frustrated when Jeroboam established the golden calf religious centers at Dan and Beth-El, and he did not appoint them as priests there. For this old family of priests, what should have been a time of liberation had been turned into a religious betrayal. The symbol of their exclusion in Israel was the golden calves. The symbol of their exclusion in Judah was Aaron. Someone from that family, the author of E, wrote a story that said that soon after the Israelites' liberation from slavery, they committed heresy. What was the heresy? They worshipped a golden calf! Who made the golden calf? Aaron! [emphasis original]

--The Public Choice of the Ancient Hebrews, Bryan Caplan

You may want to click through to EconLog to read the rest of Bryan's summarization. It's all fascinating.

The Earth is the Lord's

In Calvinism Continued, Adam argues that it's nonsense to suggest that all sin is really a sin against God.

A Christian might also suggest that all sins are sins against God, not men - but that is simply nonsense. Whosoever harms me, harms me (a better argument is the idea that God wants you to forgive as you were forgiven, but that proves a lack of need for blood). God is by all accounts undamaged. Indeed, the only crime against God must be simple, completely ineffective rebellion - which we must assume does not hurt God's feelings, because that would suggest we have some power over Him - and the idea that God can't put up with that suggests He's not merciful at all.

I disagree, for perfectly valid libertarian reasons. But to follow the logic, you'll have to temporarily assume that the Bible is what it claims to be: God's attempt to reveal who he is and what he's all about.

Propositions:

  1. God created the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
  2. God created man (Genesis 2:7-8)
  3. Ownership comes from mixing labor (John Locke)

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

Conclusion: God owns the earth and everything in the earth -- including us. Further conclusion: Because God owns us, he can do with us as he likes. He has, in fact, done so by giving us the Law and requiring us to obey it. I'd say that most of the Old Testament assumes this point of view.

Deuteronomy 10:12-14

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.

1 Samuel 2:8

He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.

1 Chronicles 29:11

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.

Nehemiah 9:6

You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Psalm 24:1-4

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.

To repeat my argument: God created the world and everything in it, including us. Therefore, God owns us and is perfectly justified in doing with us as he likes. God has designed his world (his universe) to run according to certain laws. Every violation of those laws is a violation of the "natural order" of things and a rebellion against God. Rebellion is nothing more nor less than taking that which doesn't belong to you, namely power.

True, your sin of theft is between you and your victim. He's harmed by longer having that which once belonged to him. But your theft is a crime against God: you've also usurped his power to decide what is and isn't right. You've placed your own judgment and desires above his.

Jonathan Edwards makes the argument that punishment must be proportional to the degree of sin. He goes on to argue that sin is a crime against an infinite God and deserving of infinite punishment.

A crime is more or less heinous, according as we are under greater or less obligations to the contrary. This is self-evident; because it is herein that the criminalness or faultiness of any thing consists, that it is contrary to what we are obliged or bound to, or what ought to be in us. So the faultiness of one being hating another, is in proportion to his obligation to love him. The crime of one being despising and casting contempt on another, is proportionably more or less heinous, as he was under greater or less obligations to honour him. The fault of disobeying another, is greater or less, as any one is under greater or less obligations to obey him. And therefore if there be any being that we are under infinite obligations to love, and honour, and obey, the contrary towards him must be infinitely faulty.

Our obligation to love, honour, and obey any being, is in proportion to his loveliness, honourableness, and authority; for that is the very meaning of the words. When we say any one is very lovely, it is the same as to say, that he is one very much to be loved. Or if we say such a one is more honourable than another, the meaning of the words is, that he is one that we are more obliged to honour. If we say any one has great authority over us, it is the same as to say, that he has great right to our subjection and obedience.

But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honourable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honourable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him.

So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.

Therefore, I argue, God is perfectly justified in any punishment he cares to deal out.

Re: Is Joe Wasting His Life?

Adam is right, of course. The crucial question about whether or not I'm wasting my life -- about whether or not anyone is wasting his life -- is "what exactly [is] a good Christian supposed to do with his or her new life in Christ?" I posed the original question (am I wasting my life) as a result of reading and listening to John Piper. Adam answered the question from his own perspective, I'll start by answering it from Pastor John's perspective.

Pastor John has written a short pamphlet entitled, appropriately enough, "Don't Waste Your Life". His intro to the book provides a succinct answer to the question:

God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work, not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.

Later in the second chapter, he expands on that a bit more:

God created me--and you--to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion--namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial. If we try to display the excellence of God without joy in it, we will display a shell of hypocrisy and create scorn or legalism. But if we claim to enjoy his excellence and do not display it for others to see and admire, we deceive ourselves, because the mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others. The wasted life is the life without a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.

The book itself attempts to answer the question "What does this mean I should do?" He says:

It has become clearer that God being glorified and God being enjoyed are not separate categories. They relate to each other not like fruit and animals, but like fruit and apples. Apples are one kind of fruit. Enjoying God supremely is one way to glorify him. Enjoying God makes him look supremely valuable.

And, later:

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. The dying I have in mind is the dying of comfort and security and reputation and health and family and friends and wealth and homeland. These may be taken from us at any time in the path of Christ-exalting obedience. To die daily the way Paul did, and to take up our cross daily the way Jesus commanded, is to embrace this life of loss for Christ's sake and count it gain. In other words, the way we honor Christ in death is to treasure Jesus above the gift of life, and the way we honor Christ in life is to treasure Jesus above life's gifts.

... But what I know even more surely is that the greatest joy in God comes from giving his gifts away, not in hoarding them for ourselves. It is good to work and have. It is better to work and have in order to give. God's glory shines more brightly when he satisfies us in times of loss than when he provides for us in times of plenty. The health, wealth, and prosperity "gospel" swallows up the beauty of Christ in the beauty of his gifts and turns the gifts into idols. The world is not impressed when Christians get rich and say thanks to God. They are impressed when God is so satisfying that we give our riches away for Christ's sake and count it gain.

This was part of what gave rise to my original question. By this definition, am I wasting my life? I'm rich. Historically speaking (as we've previously discussed, Adam) I'm ridiculously, fabulously wealthy. I can listen to almost anything I want -- spoken or musical -- at any time. I can watch nearly any form of any entertainment at any time. I have access to thousands of books within days or minutes. Most of the world's knowledge is at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet.

I'm pretty well-off by American standards as well. Our household owns 3 computers, 2 iPods, 2 completely paid off cars, 18% of a house, lots of nice clothes, and plenty of food. We can eat out nearly anytime we want to, we can and do fly around the U.S., we rent nice cars and stay in nice hotels on vacation. I have a beautiful, helpful wife who loves me. We have two beautiful daughters. All four of us are in perfect health. In short, I'm doing pretty well at doing as Voltaire's Candide said: "', i.e. enjoy your work, wife, and life - in short, function as you were made to function - and leave the rest up to God."

But, so what? Is that really all there is? Just be thankful that I'm one of the lucky ones and enjoy my wealth? Most days, I'm very tempted to say "yes". God gave it to me, why should I complain about it? But other days I wonder -- am I wasting His gifts? Am I wasting my life?

If, tomorrow, everything were to disappear in a Job-like orgy of destruction, how would I react? Would I praise God and say "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21)? Put differently, is God the most important thing in my life or are my things the most important thing in my life?

My original post also referenced the Rwandan genocide. Many Rwandan Christians reacted as violently and savagely as non-Christians when everything was stripped away from them. I'd like to think I wouldn't do the same thing in the same situation. I'd like to think that my reaction would show that God is the most important thing in my life -- even more important than my family.

God willing, I'll never have to go through that situation and I'll never have to find out the hard way. But it's something I think about as I examine my own priorities and how I react to my stuff.

Now, you also mentioned Luther's solution of passive righteousness to the dilemma of how to improve yourself -- how to become more like God and less like a sinner. And, Luther is right. The two opposite extremes are excessive pride in your accomplishments and excessive despair at your failures.

Personally, I've found Tim Keller to be a big help in understanding how this works. I'll quote from his book The Reason for God. He says:

Religion operates on the principle "I obey--therefore I am accepted by God." But the operating principle of the gospel is "I am accepted by God through what Christ has done--therefore I obey." Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may sit next to each other in the church pew. They both pray, give money generously, and are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of radically different motivations in two radically different spiritual identities, and the result is two radically different kinds of lives.

The primary difference is that of motivation. In religion, we try to obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don't obey we are going to lose God's blessing in this world and the next. In the gospel, the motivation is one of gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Christ. While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear of rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.

I've long lived my life with a constant fear of failure. I'm afraid to try new things because I'm afraid of the consequences of failing at them. That's carried over into my Christian life. I've been afraid to do things for God because I've been afraid of lousing them up and making a bigger mess. Keller (along with C.J. Mahaney and John Piper) has taught me that I can't possibly be any worse than I am. I don't have to worry about God's unhappiness if I fail to live up to his standards and I don't have to bend myself into a pretzel trying to be perfect. Jesus already paid for every single one of my rebellions and moral failures.

I am free to live out my life without endless agonizing over every decision. I'm free to go out and "just do it". I don't have to figure out how to be perfect before doing "it". Whatever I decide I want "it" to be. In a way, I feel like my options are opening up for the first time ever.

Will I do it? Will I step out and do something for God? Will I prove that God is more important than my stuff? Or will I still refuse to take risks, because I don't want to endanger my stuff? Will I use my life profitably or will I waste it?

Live in Grace

Between Two Worlds: All of Grace:

Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (p. 19):

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace.

And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace.

And from pp. 22-23:

Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they have earned God's blessing through their behavior.

Guilt-laden believers are quite sure they have forfeited God's blessing through their lack of discipline or their disobedience.

Both have forgotten the meaning of grace because they have moved away from the gospel and have slipped into a performance relationship with God.

Together for Adoption: The Forgotten Part of James 1:27

The world tells us that our fundamental identity is determined by our performance not by the performance of another (i.e., Jesus). It seduces us to believing (often unknowingly) that our main sense of significance is found in what we do or in what we're involved in.

It might look like this: "God is pleased with me because I have given my life to caring for the least of these." Now, does God smile at us when we care for orphans? Yes, but if the main way we sense his smile is by our efforts to care for orphans, then chances are we've become stained by the world.

If our primary sense of God's smile upon us comes from our involvement in caring for the least of these, then it's highly likely that to some extent our lives are performance-based rather than grace-based. In other words, it may be that my functional paradigm of Christian living is: "I share God's heart for the orphan; therefore, God is pleased with me," rather than "God is pleased with me because of Jesus; therefore, I am freed to care for the orphan." There is a massive difference between these two ways of thinking. To think the first way is to be stained by the world. To think the second way is to be unstained by the world.

Visiting Sin to the Third and Fourth Generation

John Piper offers some helpful insight on some confusing Bible passages.

Does God visit the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation? Some texts seem to say he does and others seem to say he doesn't. Our job is to figure out the sense in which he does and the sense in which he doesn't.

How do these passages fit together? This matters for the sake of God's character, and the Bible's coherence, and how we counsel those whose parents were wicked or just garden variety sinful.

This entry was tagged. Bible John Piper Sin

The Problem with Gender Neutral Bibles

I stumbled across a very interesting essay by Vern Poythress. In it, he talks about gender neutral Bibles (like the TNIV, the Good News Bible, the CEV, etc) and how they can change the meaning of the Biblical text in subtle ways.

Language nerds will probably understand and enjoy it the most, but I think his examples are worth thinking about it -- even for those of us who aren't language nerds.

We may illustrate by considering the complex challenge of translating sentences with gender-marked generic pronouns. In English the issue comes to a head only with the third-person singular personal pronoun, because all the other pronouns are unmarked for gender. The third-person singular has three genders, "he," "she," and "it." Until recently the masculine forms, "he/him/his/himself," served as default forms in generic statements. But now some people frown on this use, and so-called gender inclusive translations have sought substitutes.3

Changing from "he" to "you"

One possibility they have tried is the use of the second person "you" instead of the third-person singular.4 Consider Proverbs 12:14. The New International Version (NIV) reads: "From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him." The Good News Bible (GNB, 2d ed.) reads: "Your reward depends on what you say and what you do; you will get what you deserve." The NIV and the Hebrew, by using the third person, invite readers to see a sample case "out there," and then to apply the truth to anyone whatsoever. Certainly each reader may apply to the truth to himself. But he may also apply the truth to others whom he is counseling, just as the father counsels his son in the early chapters of Proverbs. By contrast, the second-person in the GNB invites each reader to apply the truth first of all personally. Applying the truth to others by offering them counsel is an afterthought. The directness of focus on application to the individual reader is different in the two cases. The same differences crop up again and again in changes from third person to second person in Proverbs.

Read -- or at least scan -- the whole thing.

(And, yes, it's one reason that I'm reading out of the ESV and not the TNIV these days.)