Judges 7

Okay, so if we’ve established that Gideon is a cautious, cynical guy who doesn’t like taking big leaps up faith without proof first, then I have to conclude that God is messing with him here. He gets 32,000 men from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali, which is obviously either an exaggerated number or a misunderstanding of “32 platoons,” and what is the first thing God does? He tells him to start whittling down the number of men. Basically God wants all the credit here, so he has to stack the odds against them so that it’s an obvious miracle.

(By the way, with only four tribes mentioned here, I wonder: are these stories not really a cycle but a collection of different heroic legends from different tribes that got put together in a false chronological order? It seems like a possibility to me.)

First God tells him to send anyone home who is “fearful and trembling,” which weeds out about two thirds of his men. Gideon is probably getting anxious at this point, but hey, ten thousand men is enough, right? God goes nope, and has him send them down to drink, and whoever gets down on their hands and knees to lap it up like dogs (does anyone really do that? was that a common thing three thousand years ago?) gets sent home. Why they go seems arbitrary, but maybe it has to do with battle-readiness? If you stay in a crouch, it’s easier to pick up your sword and run.

Anyway, Gideon is now left with only three hundred men, and he was probably about ready to lose it and run himself. God more or less acknowledges this, telling him ” if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; and you shall hear what they say, and afterwards your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp” (v 10-11). Gideon immediately runs down to camp, of course, and learns that one of the men had a dream, and another interpreted as a sign that Gideon would win in the upcoming battle.

Why does Gideon put immediate stock in this dream? Is it because he believes all dreams are sent by God? How can he know that the other Midianite’s interpretation is valid? But maybe that’s the point – it’s not that one Midianite had a dream, it’s that another would immediately assume they were in trouble. Gideon realizes he has a psychological advantage. The Midianites don’t know that he just sent home 99% of his troops. And so his scheme, which has them spread out, each holding a lantern and blowing a horn in the pitch darkness, makes them believe he still has a large army, and they go into a panic, killing each other as they try to flee.

One thing that’s weird here is that the Gideons International, the one that leaves all those Bibles in hotel rooms, uses a torch in a jar as a symbol for its organization. The only reason their website gives for the name is this incredibly vague history:

Much thought was given to what the name of the association should be, and after special prayer that God might lead them to select the proper name, Mr. Knights arose from his knees and said, “We shall be called Gideons.” He read the sixth and seventh chapters of Judges and showed the reason for adopting that name.

See? Not helpful. I get a kind of spiritual warfare vibe off of it – they’re a small army against a vast tide of evil, carrying beacons of light (the little Bibles they leave). But that doesn’t really work in the actual narrative, where the entire point is how Gideon is using torches as a form of intimidation, not a “light in the darkness,” and where God intentionally whittled their numbers down to make a point. It just… I don’t get it. It’s an odd choice for an organization’s name.

The Japanese: jin wo shiku “to encamp” (v 1), mizube “waterside, waterfront,” eriwakeru “to sort out, to sift through,” tsugeru “to tell, to inform, to signal” (v 4), hiza wo tsuku “to fall to one’s knees” (v 5), sukuu “to scoop,” susuru “to sip, to slurp,” kagamu “to stoop, to bend down, to crouch” (v 6), hikitomeru “to detain” (v 8), korogarikomu “to tumble into, to come live with, to fall in one’s lap” (v 13), kaishaku “interpretation” (v 15), mizugame “water jug,” taimatsu “pine torch, flambeau” (v 16), houi suru “to encircle” (v 18), kou “nighttime subdivision approx. 2 hours long,” hoshou “sentry” (v 19), sorou “to gather, to be present” (v 20), soudachi “standing up in unison” (v 21), doushiuchi “killing each other by mistake” (v 22), sakabune “sake cask/tun” (v 25).

I’d actually guess the meaning of kou since I know from reading period-piece manga that in the past Japan followed the Chinese pattern of having 12 “hours” in a day, corresponding to the 12 animals of the zodiac. The English is “the beginning of the middle watch,” but in Japanese it’s more like “the beginning of the hour of deepest night,” i.e. right around midnight.

Judges 6

Aaaaand I’m back.

Maybe it’s because this chapter is longer, but Gideon feels like an actual real character. Much of the earlier books in the Bible are so focused on their theological and theonomic messages that they don’t focus as much on individual characters. Dialogue and descriptions are limited. But here Gideon gets to talk, a lot, and mostly he talks back. People who say that you aren’t allowed to question God are apparently unfamiliar with Gideon. From the start, any time he’s told something by God’s messengers, he immediately and somewhat sarcastically questions it. God is with us? Couldn’t guess that from how we’ve been harassed by Midian for seven years. Go deliver Israel? I’m a nobody. I’ve found favor with God? Prove it! Even after he witnesses a miracle (fire plus the disappearance of the messenger), he still doubts whether God is telling him the truth. He may ask more humbly now, but he stills demands two separate signs from God.

And while we’re at it, he’s also not all that brave in this chapter. Yes, he destroys the altars to Baal and Asherah, but he does it at night, with servants, and lets his father defend him rather than standing up for himself.

So here’s an image of Gideon: cynical, cautious, self-protecting but self-doubting, a man who doesn’t want to move until he’s absolutely sure, but he’s never really absolutely sure. We get two more long chapters with him before moving on to the next Judge, so we’ll see how he develops.

The Japanese: kyoui “threat, menace,” sakeru “to avoid, to escape,” doukutsu “cave, cavern,” horaana “cave, cavern,” yousai “fortress” (v 2), jin wo shiku “to encamp, to take up a position,” kate “food” (v 4), hanahadashiku “excessively, widely,” otoroeru “to decline, to lose” (v 6), yokuatsusha “oppressor,” omomuku “to proceed, to go” (v 9), uyamau “to respect, to honor, to worship” (v 10), manukareru “to escape, to evade” (v 11), furikakaru “to happen, to befall” (v 13), hinjaku “poor, meager” (v 15), atakamo “as if it were, as though” (v 16), sonaemono “offering” (v 18), meshitsukai “servant” (v 27), semetateru “to reproach,” kabau “to protect, to shelter” (v 31), kessoku suru “to band together” (v 33), sumizumi “length and breadth of,” gouryuu suru “to join, to meet, to merge” (v 35).

Judges 5

The Song of Deborah is almost universally considered the oldest part of the Bible, though scholars disagree on just how old. It makes sense; verse and poetry are easier to memorize and transmit and last longer. It’s why the Rig Vedas managed to last as long they did. It’s also considered an independent tradition from chapter 4, since it differs on the number of tribes involved, mentions an otherwise unnamed city of Meroz that didn’t help Barak, and has a slightly different story version of Jael killing Sisera.

My NOAB notes that the NRSV’s translation of “fell at her feet” in verse 27 overlooks how euphemistic “feet” are in Hebrew. This version of the story, in other words, is a little more explicit in the sexual aspect of Jael managing to kill Sisera.

Another translation note is the NCT again follows the Hebrew more closely than the NRSV. In verses 13-14a, the NRSV has:

“Then down marched the remnant of the noble;
the people of the Lord marched down for him against the mighty.
 From Ephraim they set out into the valley,”

with footnotes that these are based on other translations, because the Hebrew here, being very old, is difficult to decipher. The NCT tries another route, deciphering the Hebrew like this:

“Then the remnant went down magnificently;
the people of the Lord bravely went down with me.
 From Ephraim, the people at the root of Amalek went down.”

What’s interesting is that in the NRSV translation, they march down “for him,” i.e. God, while in the Hebrew and the NCT they march “with me,” i.e. Deborah or Barak. I’m not sure why the NRSV goes with the Greek here, since both versions work. Or were the translators uncomfortable implying that Deborah herself may have gone into battle?

The song concludes on a sad note, imagining Sisera’s mother waiting for his return, trying to convince herself that he’s delayed because he’s gathering plunder. There’s a sort of smugness here, that the former plunderers are now dead. The text doesn’t seem that sympathetic, what with how it makes sure to note she has a lattice, and serving ladies. But I feel a bit of compassion for her. Even bad men love their mothers.

The Japanese: kami wo nobasu “to wear your hair long,” susunde “willingly, readily (v 2), idetatsu “to leave, to set out,” shitataru “to drop” (v 4), tokesaru “to melt away” (v 5), taishou “caravan,” wakimichi “side road, byway” (v 6), semaru “to threaten” (v 8), shiki suru “to lead” (v 9), kurige “chestnut (color),” shikimono “rug, carpet” (v 10), noseru “to send out” (v 11), furuu “to screw up one’s courage” (v 12), doudou to “magnificently” (v 13), sashizu “direction, order” (v 14), hohei “infantryman, foot solider,” shizoku “family branch,” ki suru “to expect, to anticipate” (v 15), kurabukuro “saddlebag,” kiwameru “to go to extremes, to thoroughly master” (v 16), yadoru “to inhabit” (v 17), itowanu “willing,” jindoru “to take up one’s position” (v 18), kuwawaru “to join, to participate,” kidou “orbit, path” (v 20), taiko “ancient” (v 21), hidzume “hoof,” shunme “swift horse” (v 22), kijin “nobleman,” fusawashii “suitable, appropriate,” gyounyuu “curds, curdled milk” (v 25), nigiru “to grip” (v 26), kagamikomu “to lean over” (v 27), koushi “lattice” (v 28), jokan “court lady” (v 29), senrihin “booty, pillage” (v 30), ikioi “momentum, force” (v 31).

It never fails that when the Bible gets poetic, I start having to look up a lot of words and phrases. The Psalms, whenever I get to them, are going to be a pain and a half to read through.

Judges 4

I have another writing project going on that’s been taking up a lot of my time. Until it’s completed, my updates may be a bit spotty. But not too much, hopefully, because Judges is actually fun to read.

This is a chapter with two major female characters who lead and defeat male characters. Deborah is the only female Judge, but not the only female prophet. She rules over the Israelites, and command Barak to go defeat Sisera’s army. Barak asks Deborah to go with him. Why? Does he feel that she’ll be a good luck charm, her divine mandate a help to him? Does Deborah have a reputation for military strategy as well as judgment and prophecy? Is Barak reluctant to go, and feels he can get out of it by demanding Deborah to go with him, assuming that as a woman she wouldn’t go into battle?

Regardless of the reason, Deborah pronounces that Barak won’t get credit for defeating Sisera, but rather a woman. Barak probably assumed she meant herself, but she means Jael, a foreign woman from the Kenites, descendents of Moses’ in-laws. Her husband welcomes Sisera into his tent, their peoples being allies. Then Jael murders him as he sleeps.

There’s no explanation given as to why Jael does this, nor does it say that her husband approves of it. In fact, her husband seems the perfect, gracious host, and by killing their guest Jael is violating a major taboo on the treatment of guests.

So of course I went and looked up some midrash on this, because those are always fun. There’s a word used in verse 18 that only appears once in the Bible, semikhah, and a lot of interpretation hinges on it – what did she cover him with? Add to this the idea that Sisera “entered her tent,” and a common interpretation is that she had sex with Sisera and that’s what left him worn out. She’s considered to have not sinned because she did it for a good reason, but I’d add to this that we don’t even know if she was willing. Maybe Sisera demanded her as part of his right as a guest, and perhaps that’s what prompted Jael to kill him, and her husband to not object.

I really don’t see how people can read this chapter and then turn around and tell women to not take leadership positions or to stay out of the military or what have you. Deborah’s depicted unambiguously as being in charge, and Jael gets all the credit for having defeated Sisera, a decision she made without consulting her husband. They are definitely not “submissive” women, and they’re treated as heroes.

The Japanese: oui ni tsuku “to take the throne” (v 2), ryou “counter for wheeled vehicles,” chikarazuku “force, with all one’s might,” osaetsukeru “to suppress” (v 3), douin suru “to mobilize” (v 6), eiyo “glory, honor, distinction,” tadachi “at once, right away” (v 9), haru “to pitch a tent” (v 11), yuukouteki “friendly, amicable” (v 17), oou “to cover with” (v 18), komekami “temple (of the head),” tsukarekitta “exhausted, worn-out,” shukusui suru “to sleep soundly” (v 21), kuppuku suru “to submit, to bow before” (v 23), assuru “to overwhelm” (v 24).

It’s worth noting the word for “prophet” uses different characters depending on whether it’s a regular prognosticator or one in the Bible. The difference is the yo in yogensha. The usual characters mean something like “one who speaks beforehand. The one used in the Bible would mean something like “one entrusted with words.” I’m not sure which is older or if this was a conscious choice by Japanese translators, but it’s an interesting variation.

Judges 3

The chapter continues the “it was all planned!” line of thought from the previous chapter, but now suddenly instead of “testing” their loyalty to God, these nations now exist so “that successive generations of Israelites might know war, to teach those who had no experience of it before” (v 2). So basically the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hibites are like the mooks you take out on low-levels of video games, just there to help you get the XP you might need later. Lovely. Look, Deuteronomist, just admit that your “ideal” never happened and stop trying to justify why the Israelites weren’t the only people in Israel.

Three Judges are introduced in this chapter. The first is Othniel, who we met back in Joshua when he married Caleb’s daughter. I love the name of the king he defeats: Cushan-rishathaim. I know it’s horribly ethnocentric to say this, but that sounds like the kind of fake names fantasy RPGs come up with for their characters. The third Judge is Shamgar, who gets all of one verse noting that he killed six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. Technically he’s not called a “Judge,” but it’s implied.

On the Philistines: while not everybody agrees, it’s generally believed by archeologists and Egyptologists that the Philistines and the Pelesets (mentioned in Egyptian texts) are the same thing. They, in turn, are linked to the Minoans, who came from Crete, called Caphtor in the Bible, where the Bible also says they initially came from. The Philistines haven’t appeared much in the Bible so far (not at all since Exodus), but they’re the Big Bad in a lot of upcoming stories.

The second Judge, Ehud, gets a much longer passage that actually details how he killed a Moabite king named Eglon. It involved him being left-handed, which made me think of how people in Japan think of left-handedness. Up until very recently, it was discouraged, and people were forced to write with their right hands, a practice which used to happen in America but ended like 50+ years ago. Some of my older students refused to believe that 10% of the population is naturally left-handed. One of the little boys in my class turned out to be left-handed, which explained why he would hold his utensils perfectly in his right but still eat with his left. Once we determined that, his parents bought him left-handed scissors and training chopsticks, and we started encouraging him to write and draw with his left. So things can change over time, even in a place as conservative as Japan.

What was I talking about? Oh, right, Ehud. Setting aside any moral questions about whether assassination is a good thing, a bad thing, or a bad thing that sometimes has to be done anyway, this is just a well-told story, with a large dab of toilet humor right in the middle. It was a fun read.

The Japanese: kokoromiru “to try, to attempt” (v 1; kind of sad that I forgot that), osaeru “to squash, to suppress, to contain” (v 10), heion “calm, tranquil” (v 11), obiyakasu “to threaten, to menace” (v 12), hidarikiki “left-handed person,” mitsugimono “tribute” (v 15), hawatari “length of a blade,” moroha “double-edged” (v 16), naimitsu “confidential,” juushin “chief retainer” (the kanji used here are irregular), seki wo hazusu “to withdraw from someone’s presence, to leave the room” (v 19), okujou “roof,” shitsuraeru “to place, to set up” (v 20), tsuka “hilt,” obutsu “dirt, filth” (v 22), rouka “corridor, hallway” (didn’t know the kanji for this one), jou “lock” (v 23), shukun “one’s lord” (v 25), temadoru “to delay, to linger” (v 26), shuchuu ni osameru “to gain control of” (v 28), takumashii “strong, tough, sturdy” (v 29), kuppuku suru “to submit, to yield” (v 30), ushioi “cattle droving” (v 31).

Judges 2

I had a bad doctor’s appointment yesterday, and wound up spending the night at my mom’s because I wanted someone to talk to. It was a stressful week in general, which is why I got so spotty with updating after such a long stretch of being really good about it.

This chapter is so contradictory it hurts. It begins in one place and winds up in the exact opposite. Layers of editorial content play a large part in this, I’m sure, and it all comes back to the conflicting threads of whether God is letting events run their natural course or whether he’s the Grand Puppetmaster controlling everything.

It begins with God reprimanding Israel for having left people remaining in the promised land. (This whole chapter uses the “drive out” terminology rather than killing, and the primary focus initially is on making alliances and keeping altars that were left behind. We’re at least beginning to be distanced from the herem slaughter of Joshua.) God warns them that he won’t protect them any longer, and that they will “become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” (v 3) This is more the natural consequences side of things. You didn’t drive them out as told, so I won’t do it for you, and as a result there will be the constant danger of them rising in revolt (remember that most of the tribes are keeping them as slaves) or of you breaking your covenant with me because they keep practicing their religions.

But as it goes on, more and more of this is directly attributed to God. Rather than just lifting his veil of protection, he actively aids their enemies (v 17) because he’s mad at them. And finally, the last verses seem to imply that he let the nations remain their in the first place just to test them (v 21-23).

There’s an overtone of relationship drama involved here, particularly in verse 17, where it describes their turning to other deities as “lusting” after other gods. The NCT more explicitly says “longed for and committed adultery with” other gods. The metaphor of God being “married” to Israel is one that I know from reading the prophets pops up frequently in the Hebrew Bible. And if this were a real marriage, it would be seriously messed up.

First you have Israel, which, in spite of the nice things God did for them, cheats on him constantly. God, having a bad temper, throws them out or, worse, has other people hurt them (depends on which verses your reading). Then, when Israel feels bad, even before repenting, God regrets everything and takes them back (v 18). But then the whole cycle starts over again as Israel immediately cheats on him.

So we have the spouse who’s a serial adulterer, and the spouse who gets abusive when angry. In real life, we’d tell them to get a divorce, or at least some marriage counseling.

And I actually think that the writer is setting it up that way – the idea that this is a bad cycle that needs to be broken. The writer’s idea is likely that Israel needs to learn to remain faithful; God is only abusive when Israel cheats.

But there’s another way of seeing this, which is that God needs to change his strategy and figure out a way to keep Israel faithful to him. That also may be the writer’s intention. Going with the idea that Judges is partly Deuteronomistic, the long-term ineffectiveness of Judges might be pointing to for a need a main temple and priesthood to unite them… and perhaps a king? A top-down, centralized system to keep everyone in line?

Well, as a Christian, I believe God eventually came up with an even better strategy, but I don’t want to impose that on the text. Still, I think the underlying unhealthy codependency of God and Israel’s relationship is very definitely intentional, a set up for the overall themes of Deuteronomist history.

Of course, that assumes that God is “learning” rather than manipulating the whole thing from the beginning, the way the end of this chapter implies (and the beginning doesn’t). If you go to the Bible trying to get clear-cut answers on free will versus predestination, you won’t come away happy.

The Japanese: kawasu “to exchange,” haki suru “to breach, to nullify” (v 1), tonariawase “adjoining each other” (v 3), motoyori “from the beginning” (v 7), sedai “generation,” okoru “to rise, to flourish” (v 10), ryakudatsusha “looter, plunderer,” mama ni suru “to do as they like” (v 14), kukyou “predicament, plight” (v 15), koishitau “to miss, to yearn for” (v 17), appaku suru “to oppress,” hakugai suru “to persecute,” umeku “to groan” (v 18), daraku suru “to lapse, to go astray,” katakuna na “obstinate, stubborn,” tatsu “to break away” (v 19).

Judges 1

Shoftim is translated in English as “judges,” but in Japanese as shishi rather than saibakunin, the usual word for judge. Shishi is composed of the characters for “retainer” or “warrior” and for “master” or “teacher.” One of my online resources claims it was used for some judges in ancient China, but every other resource lists this as only for the Judges in the Book of Judges. Whether it’s adapting an obsolete term or a neologism, “warrior-teacher” isn’t a bad term for the Judges and their role in ancient Israel.

The Judges haven’t appeared yet in this chapter, which is a recap of a number of the invasion stories from the last book. What becomes immediately obvious is how Judah and Simeon are being set up as the good guys while the rest of the tribes are failures. With the exception of a few cities, they are depicted as successfully conquering all their territory. Even those cities are a little vague. The Hebrew mentions that they couldn’t take the inhabitants of the plain because they had iron chariots (apparently divine intervention doesn’t cover superior technology…?), but the Greek fixes verse 18 to say they didn’t take Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron either, since later books attribute those conquests to David. While the remainder of the Jebusites is attributed to a Judahite failure in Joshua, here the blame is shifted on Benjamin. And then every passage after that is about how the other tribes didn’t do their job and drive the Canaanites out, and instead live alongside them or keep them as slave labor.

Can you tell this was written by Judahites? Everyone else screwed up, not us, that’s why we’re the only tribe left, along with the Levites.

Another change from previous versions is that Moses’ father-in-law is now called a “Kenite” rather than a Midianite, and rather than the Midianites all being killed, the Kenites were still living with them. This point is interesting because of the translation difference.

In the Hebrew, verse sixteen goes something like “The descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad. Then they went and settled with the people.”

The NRSV, following other leads, has it as “The descendants of Hobab the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad. Then they went and settled with the Amalekites.”

The name Hobab comes from Judg. 4:11, and them moving to the Amalekites, rather than a generic “people” is from 1 Sam. 15:6. “Hobab” is also referred to as Moses’ brother-in-law in Num. 10:29, so the options are that (1) Moses married his brother-in-law’s daughter at some point later, ew, (2) Reuel/Jethro was also called Hobab, odd, or (3) somebody made a typo.

The other difference is more pertinent, I think, because the Amalekites were very much their enemies. They’d attacked the Israelites and the Midianites/Kenites together on their way across the wilderness, and it doesn’t make much sense for them to have moved in with them now. Sure, by David’s time, a few centuries later, maybe they had made peace with the Amalekites, but I can’t see that happening at this juncture in the story. So maybe “the people” are other Canaanites, or maybe they’re the Israelites themselves, with the Midianites/Kenites as the Token Foreigners who were good by virtue of their marriage ties to Moses.

The Japanese: uchiyaburu “to beat, to break” (v 4), kousen suru “to engage in battle with” (v 5), setsudan suru “to cut off, to amputate, to mutilate” (v 6), tabekasu “leftovers, food scraps,” shikaeshi suru “to avenge, to retaliate” (v 7), kouchi “arable land,” unagasu “to urge, to prompt” (v 14), shuuto “father-in-law,” natsumeyashi “date palm,” kinben no “adjacent to, neighboring” (v 16), saguri o ireru “to probe, to sound out, to investigate” (v 23), miharu “to watch over, to guard” (v 24), utsu “to defeat, to destroy” (v 25), oikomu “to drive, to corner” (v 34).

Joshua 24

The Israelites made a covenant with God when they entered the promised land, but here, 30 years later, Joshua is making another with them. Actually, come to think of it, Moses made a covenant with them at Sinai too, forty years before entering the promised land. Was this an ancient pattern, renewing the covenant with every new generation? Or is this another example of drawing parallels between Joshua and Moses?

(Joshua isn’t quite as good as Moses; he only lives 110 years versus Moses’ 120.)

Joshua’s speech at his covenant is quite a bit different from Moses’ at the end of Deuteronomy. There Moses lays out the dire consequences of obedience versus disobedience, telling them to choose life or choose death. Follow God, or die.

Joshua, on the other hand, seems to almost be discouraging them from making a covenant. He tells them the story of God liberating them and all the wonder God performed, but when the Israelites hastily say that they’ll follow God, he replies “[y]ou cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins” (v 19). He goes on to paint a picture of the Israelite God that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dawkins critique, saying that God is demanding, easily ticked off, and exceedingly wrathful.

So… are they allowed to back out now? Really? After everything? Without negative consequences? How would not agreeing to this latest version of the covenant not count as “forsaking” God, worthy of being punished? Would it simply remove God’s veil of protection? But that’s the chief threat used for betraying God after they sign the covenant, so how is that any different?

Or is this a way of drawing parallels between the post-conquest Israelites and the pre-conquest Israelites? That they are easily able to recognize the good deal they have going with their patron deity? It’s a confusing passage.

Well, that’s Joshua. A book about a genocide that didn’t happen but that the authors felt should have. Together with Deuteronomy (and they’re right, the two have a lot of commonalities), it’s made me reflect a lot on the insider/outsider dichotomy we often enforce in religion. While I understand why the editors of these texts were so isolationist, xenophobic, and genocide-approving, I inescapably feel that they were wrong.

The Bible being wrong isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. If it’s a text inspired by a people’s relationship with God, then it’s good to be reminded that this is one of the responses people have towards God and that relationship. Thus I found my own heroes in this book to be Rahab as she defended her family and friends, or the Gibeonites as they trick the Israelites into saving their people. These little chunks of heroism-by-deception are the highlights of an otherwise indifferently bloodthirsty little narrative.

On to Judges, where at least the Israelites are now the victim of invasions rather than the other way around.

The Japanese: mashikuwaeru “to add more” (v 3), sashimukeru “to send into” (v 6), hedateru “to separate” (v 7), idomu “to challenge, to defy” (v 9), ~nimo yorazu “notwithstanding” (v 12), rou suru “to work hard” (v 13), nozokisaru “to eliminate” (v 14), itten suru “to turn suddenly” (v 20), zaisechuu “during one’s lifetime,” motoyori “from the beginning,” zonmeichuu “while one is still alive” (v 31), maisou suru “to bury, to inter” (v 32).

Joshua 23

Something struck me in this chapter, which has the usual spiel about how they can’t intermarry with any of the remaining non-Israelites. Well, at least this chapter now acknowledges that these people exist, and seems to be all right with them existing, which is something.

But why is it assumed that, if they intermarry, they will be the ones who go over to other gods? Why isn’t it allowed as a possibility that maybe the people they marry will come to worship YHWH? That’s basically the message of Ruth, really – a Moabite woman marries an Israelite and winds up choosing to join their people over her own.

Some of this advice is, I suppose, based on the past experience of the writers. Too much friendliness (to use the term in the NCT) with other nations is part of what they see as causing the Exile. The Israelites made a lot of bad choices in terms of allegiances and were weak and disunited as a people. So the idea of cutting themselves off from everyone else might sound appealing. In fact, verse 13 lays that out. If they assimilate and start worshiping other gods, the LORD will stop protecting them and let the natural consequences of their actions progress. They will be trapped, ensnared, and defeated by the larger, stronger nations around them, unless they stand firm and unified against the rest of the world.

But for all the logic politically, it does speak to a bad theology. There’s this whole notion that purity, holiness, goodness, faithfulness, has to be defended from outside threats by strong walls and barriers, that even the slightest influence from the outside will befoul it, profane it, cheapen it, seduce it. Why can’t it work in the opposite direction? Why can’t the outside be purified, sanctified, improved, made true? Why does good need to be so closely guarded?

Why is bad so much stronger than good?

The Japanese: shirizokeru “to sweep aside, to depose” (v 1), fukumu “to include, to comprise” (v 2), miseifuku “not yet conquered” (v 4), oshinokeru “to push aside, to thrust aside” (v 5), tonaeru “to recite, to say,” ogamu “to pray to, to worship” (v 7), kokoro o komete “with one’s whole heart” (v 11), shitashii “familiar, friendly, intimate,” kon’in “marriage” (v 12), kakugo suru “to prepare,” wakihara “side, flank,” muchi “whip, stick” (v 13), tadoru “to follow,” wakimaeru “to discern, to know right from wrong” (v 14).

Joshua 22

Ah, so this is what they meant that Joshua is “Deuteronomistic.” In this story, when Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh return to their home across the Jordan river, they build an altar and nearly start a war. This only makes sense if you read it from the point of view of Deuteronomy, where there is only one legitimate altar to perform sacrifices: the tabernacle, and later the temple.

The problem, though, is that according to Exodus and all the other books, any Levite can set up an altar anywhere, so long as it’s made of uncut stones. And maybe in the original event that inspired this, that’s exactly what happened. The Transjordan tribes just built an altar, and there was no kerfuffle at all.

But for the Deuteronomist editor to make this fit with the belief that there could only be one true altar and that this supposedly goes all the way back to Moses, that couldn’t fly. For them to have built another altar would have called down God’s wrath. But it didn’t. So they have to come up with another solution: the altar wasn’t really an altar.

The NRSV calls it a “copy” (v 28), and the Japanese mokei is the same word used for those miniature reconstructions you see in museums. It’s a faux altar, a replica of an altar, and it was never meant to actually be used as an altar, it just looks like one, to remind the tribes of their connection to each other.

Now, when I first read it I really did expect the altar to get smote because this excuse is so lame. But nothing happens, so either the LORD forgave the Transjordanians their sin or they really did just have the oddest idea for how to remind their descendents that both sides of the river were one nation.

What’s interesting about this patch-up is that the editors could have chosen to make Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh look bad. They could have had some disaster happen to them that they had to repent of. It’s not as though there were any Gadites, Reubenites, and Manassehites around when they finished this book. But instead they portray them as innocent, while the other tribes were too quick to rush to judgment. The other tribes almost immediately start talking about “your land” versus “the LORD’s land” (i.e. their land, v 19), and it gives a lot of credence to a fear from the Transjordanians that, because of their geographical divide, they would wind up outsiders to the rest of Israel (v 24).

Maybe in the original version, that’s exactly why they built a real altar so quickly – to assert their unity with other Israelites, their loyalty to YHWH. Maybe it was such an important event that there was no way that the editors could alter the main elements of it, and had to resort to fudging on the details.

Admittedly this is my bias as a Christian, and as a Lutheran at that, but there’s something unpleasant about one temple in one city held by one tribe being the only place everyone can go worship. That’s a lot of power, and humans have a tendency to abuse that power. Look at how quickly the tribes turned self-righteous because their territory held the tabernacle!

A diffused worship pattern might make religion less centralized and controllable, but it also makes it more balanced, and reduces resentment and tribalism. You can see the same kind of thing with how tired Catholics worldwide have become of European popes, and how elated they were to have someone from Argentina, even if he was ultimately of European descent. If all your religious leaders are tied to one place, then that place dominates your religion, and people from elsewhere are marginalized and ignored.

The Japanese: shinrai suru “to trust in, to rely on” (v 5), zaihou “treasure” (v 8), shutoku suru “to get, to obtain” (v 9), izuremo “every, all” (v 14), haishin “betrayal, disloyalty,” koui “act” (v 16), saisai na “trivial, minor” (v 17), bassuru “to punish” (v 23), aidagara “relationship” (v 27), mokei “model” (v 28), douhan suru “to accompany,” yoshi to shita “it was good” (v 30), kakeru “to place,” manukareru “to be rescued from, to avoid” (v 31).


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