I often feel that much of Joshua and other “historical” passages are after-the-fact attributions of victories and defeats rather than true from-the-heaven revelations. This chapter is definitely one of those, almost explicitly. The Israelites suffer a defeat, with 36 people dying (out of 3000 – another piece of evidence that “three thousand” really meant something like “three squads,” because otherwise that was a ridiculously low casualty rate). Joshua goes into mourning and prays, and concludes that they must have done something wrong after the battle. He’s led to the culprit (it’s incredibly unclear on how) and they find that one of the Israelites, a man named Achan, kept some plunder from Jericho. He’s executed and the goods he kept are destroyed.
There’s no reason that couldn’t have happened in real life, with God being given credit for the defeat (because Achan violated the rules) and for finding the wrongdoer.
Like I said in my last post, I’m quite okay with the destroying-plunder element of herem. You shouldn’t profit off of war. The bothersome parts of this chapter are that (1) other people are killed first for something Achan did. Couldn’t God have told Joshua ahead of time, given him some warning that someone had kept plunder? and (2) Achan’s whole family is killed for keeping the plunder. I suppose you could argue that because they lived in the same tent they had to have known about it, but that’s never stated in the text. For all we know, they had no idea that Achan had kept anything.
If Joshua is really “Deuteronomist,” then why has it forgotten Deuteronomy 24:16 – “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death”? They are literally doing just that to Achan’s children. I suppose you could argue backwards that they must have known because otherwise they wouldn’t have been liable for execution.Here’s an odd thought I had, though: what God actually tells Joshua to do is to burn Achan “together with all that he has” (v 15) or “together with his belongings” in the NCT. Joshua interprets that to mean Achan’s children, since his children are his “belongings,” something he “has.” So my way of reading it is this: don’t treat children like property, because otherwise you wind up violating God’s command to only punish the culpable.
The Japanese: fuseijitsu “dishonesty, insincerity” (v 1), tsukawasu “to send, to dispatch” (v 2), tsugikomu “to invest, to focus effort or attention” (v 3), haitai suru “to be defeated, to be eliminated” (v 4), ishikiriba “quarry, stone pit” (v 5), semekomu “to invade, to attack,” tatsu “to sever, to cut off” (v 9), gomakasu “to deceive, to falsify, to cheat” (v 11), issou suru “to eradicate, to make a clean sweep” (v 12), shiteki “identification” (v 14), morotomo “together” (v 15), tsutsumikakusu “to conceal, to cover up” (v 19), nobeita “hammered-out plates,” shiku “to spread out,” umeru “to bury” (v 21).