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).

Joshua 21

Most of this chapter is listing the cities that were given to the Levites, which is somewhat boring, at least to me. The most interesting thing to note is that all the cities of refuge are listed as Levite cities, which gives credence to the idea of sacred place = asylum. There is, after all, a reason we use “sanctuary” for both the inside of a religious building and the status of being safe.

The concluding paragraph made me laugh a little. It’s a resounding conclusion to the account of the conquest, declaring that “not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands” (v 44). Oh come on, Joshua, you just got done talking about all the nations that they didn’t conquer, or didn’t even try to drive out, who were still living in their midst. You can’t have it both ways. I know that the emphasis here is on how God faithfully fulfilled his promises to give them the land, but that doesn’t erase the failures they made in taking it.

Of course, since completely taking the land would have resulted in even more genocide, I consider those “failures” lucky.

The Japanese: soukei “grand total” (v 41), reigai “exception,” minasu “to regard, to consider” (v 42).

Joshua 20

9 verses may be a new record for shortness. I’d combine this with the next one, but it’s Wednesday, and Monday and Wednesday are my insane days, with practicum, choir, and work.

This chapter just sets up the “cities of refuge” where accidental homicides stay for a certain period of time. They’re kind of like city-sized jails. You flee there, and if people come accusing you of murder, you’re safe until trial, where they have to prove intent. And then, if you’re found innocent, you stay until the high priest dies… which is a sort of random sentence length, but if everyone agrees on it, well.

I did a word-search for the different cities of refuge. Kedesh, Bezer, and Golan aren’t very important, but apparently later there’s a large battle at Ramoth in Gilead. Meanwhile Hebron was temporarily David’s capitol before he took Jerusalem, and Shechem was, for a time, the capitol of the northern kingdom. So apparently both those cities were pretty large. I wonder if they became large after they were made cities of refuge, or were chosen because they were already large settlements?

I also wonder whether cities of refuge actually existed, or if they’re an idealized situation. I certainly can’t imagine the Romans, for example, allowing that kind of legal system to continue going on during their occupation. Very quick wikipedia-ing (so take it with a grain of salt) indicates that fleeing to a sanctuary or altar in many cultures was enough to get your refuge, and the Israelites may have actually been trying to limit those laws by only choosing six such sanctuaries (thus why Shechem and Hebron, two major sacred sites, show up).

The Japanese: o tooshite “through, by way of” (v 2; didn’t know you could use it for a person), ito “intention, purpose” (v 3), izureka “any one of” (v 4), moukeru “to establish, to set up” (v 9).

Joshua 19

A long chapter (51 verses), but similar to 16 and 17 in that it was mostly a list of villages, which doesn’t take as long to read in Japanese because it’s all foreign words in katakana anyway.

At first this all seemed pretty dry, until I decided to look at the map my NOAB provides in the back alongside the census from Numbers 26. Then things start to look unfair. Judah, for example, is the largest tribe, if you divide up the tribe of Joseph, but it still accounts for only 12.7% of the population. It’s not even twice the population of Benjamin, yet they get substantially more land – very disproportionate to their size.

So what land division not just area, but also quality? The smaller areas are often near rivers and lakes that would have provided better farmland, so maybe that makes up for the fact that Judah, Manasseh, and Ephraim seem to have way too much land.

But that’s just a theory, because I’m not familiar enough with the climate and geography of the Near East more than two thousand years ago. Another possibility is that, well, the numbers in Numbers are wrong, that Judah and Joseph were always the dominant nations.

Still, this chapter does seem to at least partially acknowledge the discrepancy, as it notes that Judah’s portion “was too large for them” (v 9), so some of their land and villages were given to Simeon, the smallest tribe.

Other little side notes include Dan losing its territory. A fairly large tribe, Dan supposedly controlled the southern Mediterranean coast until they “lost” the land, migrated north, and took territory in Lebanon. It’s not mentioned how they lost it, but my NOAB says it happens in Judges. Yet more evidence that Joshua wasn’t written immediately after the events it describes – it describes events that take place long after the events it describes!

The chapter ends with Joshua retiring to a town he rebuilds in the hill country. The land has now been divided up, but there’s still two more geographical chapters as it has to cover the cities of refuge and the cities where Levites live and raise their livestock.

The Japanese: hete “via” (v 22).

Yes, really only one word! I look forward to that being “zero” someday. This chapter was very repetitive, and almost all the vocabulary were words I’ve encountered recently enough to remember them. Reading this has been a more interesting way of doing flashcards. Words repeat enough that, while I don’t necessarily remember them the second time they appear, by the tenth, I’m starting to get them down. Chapters now go much faster than they did back when I began this project.

Joshua 18

This is the other reason I wanted to do two chapters at once – I knew that with my schedule yesterday I might not be able to post on Monday. Whether or not I can do chapter 19 tonight or not remains to be seen, since it’s 50+ verses.

This chapter continues to be a bit biased against non-Judah tribes (not surprising since the editor was either a Judahite or a Levite), as they’re depicted to be dawdling in occupying the land. Joshua gives them a kick in the pants, and they send delegates who map out the remaining land and divide it up into portions that they then draw lots for.

Supposedly what they’ve done is wipe or drive out everyone in the land (except for all the people they didn’t) then regathered to divide it up. That’s… bizarre. Unoccupied land doesn’t stay unoccupied in an area of the word full of nomadic herders. You wouldn’t clear out land, leave it, and expect it to still be clear when you came back. That might be an argument for why Joshua is frustrated with their delay, but it’s also an argument that this isn’t literally what happened. The theory that this is based on a tale of land reform by current residents after evicting Egyptian occupation actually makes this chapter make a lot more sense.

Benjamin is a small tribe (the 11th in size), so it gets a small area of land, but a good one in terms of location, being right near Jericho and Gilgal. The next chapter covers the remaining six tribes, and thus gets pretty long.

The Japanese: tamerau “to hesitate, to waver” (v 3), haken suru “to send, to delegate,” junkai suru “to patrol” (v 4), bunkatsu suru “to divide between,” todomarareru “to be limited to” (v 5), karyuu “downstream” (v 12), temae “this side” (v 14).

Joshua 16 & 17

These chapters were both short (10 and 18 verses respectively) and collectively cover the land for Joseph’s “tribe,” Ephraim and Manasseh. And since I’m so far behind where I wanted to be at this point in reading, I decided to do them together and just keep chugging onward.

It just occurred to me, as I read these chapters, that Caleb is explicitly tied to Judah, while Joshua is of the tribe of Ephraim. Both are part of the initial spy expedition; both get exempted from the rule that they have to die. Judah was the tribe of the southern kingdom, Ephraim was the tribe of the northern kingdom. Could Caleb and Joshua be based on the same person, just passed down through two different kingdoms with different tribal backgrounds?

That may be stretching it a bit, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Judah and Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) get all the attention in these four chapters (14-17), while the remaining seven tribes are covered in two chapters together (18-19).

There’s definitely a bit of a bias against the Josephites (i.e. northerners) when they complain about only getting one allotment in spite of their size. Joshua snarks back that if they’re really so numerous, they should be able to clear forest land on their own, taking it away from the neighboring tribes. The Josephites then get all timid over the prospect of facing up against neighbors with chariots of iron, though Joshua assures them they’ll win in any battle. Skimming ahead, it doesn’t look like they ever try to reclaim new land for themselves.

But they have a point, don’t they? It’s not fair to divide up the land into twelve equal parts when there aren’t twelve equal tribes. But then again, “Joseph” is actually technically getting two allotments, for Ephraim and Manasseh, so maybe we’re supposed to see this as hypocritical? The text keeps switching back and forth between Joseph and Ephraim/Manasseh, and maybe that indicates two different sources that phrased things differently, which might account for the confusion.

Chapter 17 also concludes the story of Zelophehad’s daughters as they get the land claims due to them as their father’s heirs, so it’s good to see that tale reached a positive end.

Also – yay! This is my 200th post on a chapter (i.e. not a status update)! Big round numbers are always fun.

The Japanese: jizakai “land border, boundary” (16:3), kyouseiroudou “servitude, forced labor,” fuku suru “to serve” (16:10), takeru “to have a talent for, to be gifted” (17:1), juushi saseru “to put to work,” tetteiteki ni “thoroughly” (17:13), tezema “small, confined,” chitai “area, belt of land,” kaitaku suru “to pioneer, to open up” (17:15).

Joshua 15

The list of unfamiliar Japanese vocabulary at the end of this post only goes through verse 19, but the chapter itself is 63 verses long. That’s because v 20-62 consist of nothing but lists of towns that were in the territory of Judah. Since they were planning on reclaiming this land, I suppose it makes sense to make sure they carefully delineated what that land was, but it’s mind-numbing reading, lists of places you don’t know. A single map with some lines and labels does the work of forty verses.

Fortunately, before this elegant proof of a picture being worth a thousand words, there’s at least a little bit of narrative, plus an addendum at the end. First we see the conclusion of Caleb’s story from the previous chapter. It details how Hebron was still inhabited by Anakim (giant) warriors, and Caleb “drives them out.” I’m not sure if he actually kills them or if it’s implied that they retreat to Debir. Anyway, he promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to whoever can take Debir, and his nephew Othniel (his daughter’s cousin) succeeds. His daughter, Achsah, then uses her dowry as a way to get vital spring waters for the area of the Negeb, which I think is awesome, because it is literally her idea and her initiative, and you don’t see enough of that in the Bible.

Then at the end, it notes that, oops, remember how we boasted about how we killed the king of Jerusalem? Well, we may have failed to mention that we didn’t actually take the city or kill anyone who wasn’t in the field, so the Jebusites are still living there, and the city doesn’t fall until the time of David.

Should I be happy or disappointed that Joshua and his army failed so miserably at genocide? I’m going to go with happy. That seems a safer place to be.

The Japanese: irie “inlet, opening” (v 2), sosogikomu “to pour into (liquids),” kakou “mouth of a river, estuary,” kiten “starting point, origin” (v 5), hokujou suru “to go north” (v 6), haikyo “ruins” (v 9), shamen “slope, face” (v 10), tameike “reservoir,” soeru “to attach to, to add” (v 19).