Saturday 01 September 2018

Bible Book:

“The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.” (6:17)

Joshua 5:13–6:20 Saturday 1 September 2018

Psalm: Psalm 129



It is important to address the moral and theological questions raised by the destruction commanded after Israel’s siege and conquest of the city of Jericho.    

The religious concept that is at work here is the notion of ‘herem’ or ‘kherem’. It is a complex concept and contains both the idea of devotion (to God) and destruction. Put simply, the destruction of Jericho, its treasures and all its people (with the exception of Rahab and her family) is understood to be required, in verse 17, as a religious duty.

We should not gloss over the questions that arise when the destruction of a city and slaughter of all but a few of its inhabitants are understood as God’s will and command – nor should we explain or rationalise away the problem this poses. But it may be helpful to offer some interpretative perspectives.

Many scholars assume that the book of Joshua does not record strictly historical events, leading some to see it as a more idealised or ‘theoretical’ account of Israel’s origin in Canaan. The injunction to destroy Canaanite cities utterly, their inhabitants and their treasures (which would often be religious objects – see Deuteronomy 7:25-26), underlines the centrality of Israel’s faithfulness to her God, and the nation’s religious integrity, in the face of the ongoing dangers to Israel of merging with surrounding, and often deeply unpleasant, pagan cultures and religious practices.

Some scholars reject the idea that passages of scripture like this have anything worthwhile to communicate, suggesting that it is difficult to find any merit or moral lesson in the story.

Others note the religious elements throughout this story (the procession with the Ark, the mysterious “commander of the Lord’s army” (5:15), the devotional destruction of the city with its overtones of a ritual offering or sacrifice), as all pointing to a victory that belongs decisively to God. This leads scholars to speculate that these ritualistic dimensions indicate the real ‘subject’ of the story: a central conviction of the nation’s dependence not on their own strength or successes, but on God.


To Ponder

  • Which view do you find most sympathetic? Why?
  • The ‘New Atheism’ of people like Richard Dawkins has often cited scriptural stories such as these in support of the argument that religious faith produces or justifies violence. How might you respond to those kinds of claims?
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