The fall of Jericho is kind of like the story of Joseph, in that we teach it as an inspirational tale to children by carefully editing out the ending.
Jericho was always pitched to me when I was a kid as the story about how little things, with God, could achieve big things. Just yelling and blowing horns brings down the walls of a city! Cool, right?
Well, that’s ’cause they end it at verse 20. Just as we don’t teach children that Joseph wound up enslaving all the Egyptians and making them hate the Israelites, setting them up for slavery themselves, we don’t teach them that “they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” (v 21)
How do you teach unpleasant stories to children? Do you skip over the gory details, the way most Sunday School curricula does? Do you alter everything unpleasant, like Veggie Tales? Or do you only teach those stories that are without any unpleasantness?
If you choose the latter, which nobody ever seems to, most of the Bible might be off-limits to children until their older. Some people would, I know, consider that proof that the Bible is awful and horrible and irrelevant.
But you could say the same for Shakespeare, whose works are full of the sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism of his time. We do the same thing to his works. I remember the child-friendly version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I saw in first or second grade.
So it’s not that I don’t think the Bible shouldn’t be taught to children… I just think we need to reevaluate how we teach it. Rather than pretend that the problematic parts don’t exist, we need to figure out how to talk about them in a way that children will understand why they’re problematic. Stories don’t always need to be inspirational, with perfect “heroes of faith.” Joseph’s story can teach children about how not being kind or just can have bad consequences in the future, for example. Maybe save Jericho for when they’re a little older, and have them think about war critically.
For example, if you were Rahab, what might you have done? For me, personally, since Joshua doesn’t ask for genealogy charts, I would have gathered as many people as I could possibly cram into my house and called them all my cousins.
And maybe she did. It was a large enough group that verse 25 notes that her descendents were still around when the book was written, centuries later. Maybe “Rahab” is less an individual and more of a way of explaining why, in spite of vowing to put everyone to the sword, they really did let some Canaanites live, and form alliances with them, and intermarry, and all the things Deuteronomy doesn’t want them to do. And if Joshua is “Deuteronomistic,” then maybe the book is trying to justify the reality (Canaanites survived) with the ideal (herem).
A word on herem: in the NRSV is “devoted to destruction.” In the NCT it’s horobishi tsukushi “utterly destroy.” It’s a ritual action, and a way to keep them from profiting off the conquest (other than, you know, taking all the land). They can’t take slaves or cattle, they have to kill them. And any goods that they find go straight to the temple. No dividing up the plunder.
In a weird way, I find something satisfying about the idea that “you shouldn’t profit off of war.” I know that the method of delivering that idea in this chapter is reprehensible, but there’s this other part of me, the dark part that loved the ending to Cabin in the Woods, that feels like yeah, if you’re going to actually invade someone’s land, you have to raze it all to the ground… and if you’re not willing to do anything less, then don’t start a war in the first place.
Still, it’s a serious values dissonance when the author doesn’t balk at that idea the way people in real life, and instead thinks that, while we know from archeology and the Bible itself that they didn’t actually annihilate their predecessors, they should have. That that’s the answer to everything that went wrong afterwards.
Which is… crazy. If they really had done herem perfectly, then there would have been no Rahab.
And no Rahab, then no David.
And no Jesus.
The Japanese: toki no koe “war cry, battle cry,” totsunyuu suru “to rush into, to break into” (v 5), kakuji “each” (v 6), zen’ei “advance guard,” kouei “rear guard” (v 9), kasumetoru “to snatch, to steal” (v 18), houmotsu “treasure” (v 19), issei ni “simultaneously” (v 20), sekkou “scout, spy,” tsuranaru “to accompany” (v 22), hinan suru “to take refuge, to evacuate” (v 23), haken suru “to dispatch” (v 25), kiso “foundation,” masshi “youngest child” (v 26).