Friday, November 16, 2007

Melchizedek king of Salem (Joshua 10)

It's been a while since I've gotten to post, partially because I've been generally busy, but also partially because I've been looking up the meanings of all the names in this chapter to see if it offers any interesting insight. The only thing that seemed to be directly related to the story in this chapter was the fact that "Lachish" means "invincible", which it apparently was not, since even with outside help from the Gezerites, the Israelites managed to defeat it.

I often do look into the names of the people and places I'm reading about in the Bible, but the thing that got me looking into the names here in particular was the name in the very first verse. Adonizedec king of Jerusalem? Weird and familiar. First of all, this is the first time the name Jerusalem appears in the Bible, but as just about anyone knows, it certainly won't be the last, as this city eventually becomes the capital of the united kingdom of Israel, the divided kingdom of Judah, and eventually the modern nation of Palestine. The name will appear 643 times in the Old Testament and 83 times in the New Testament. It's the city where the Jewish Temple will be built, the city where Christ will be crucified, and supposedly the city from which God Himself will rule the world at the end of time.

But the city was referred to before by a different name, back in Genesis 14:18. At that time, the king of that city was known as "Melchizedek king of Salem", a character of some interest, as he is talked about elsewhere in the Bible. Now, Melchizedek is clearly viewed as a good person by the writers of the Bible, but this new king is an enemy. The odd thing is how similar their names are. "Melchizedek king of Salem" translates to "my king is righteous king of peace"; "Adonizedec king of Jerusalem" translates to "my lord is righteous king of teaching of peace." Although I've never heard any speculation on the matter, the similarities in the names suggests to me that this is not only the same city 500 years later, but that these names are actually some sort of kingly title that has passed down with only a slight change in the intervening time. Maybe that's interesting only to me?

Getting back to the SAB and the matter at hand, this is the chapter where the Holy War really takes off. One of the longest chapters of Joshua so far, while we've only seen two cities destroyed
in the whole of the previous nine chapters, here we see possibly as many as ten cities destroyed (the number is not 100% clear from the writing, but seems to be at least seven). Apparently, when the Israelites made a treaty with Gibeon, the other people of Canaan were upset because Gibeon was one of the major cities of the land, and had some powerful warriors. So five of the Amorite kings decide the best thing to do is to make their own alliance and attack Gibeon before the Gibeonites add their number to the Israelite armies.

Unlike the previous battles, this battle has an extra dimension of provocation to it, as the Amorites make the first move. I think that distinction is important, as my previous claims about this war were that escaping from Canaan was an option for any nation who wanted to not be destroyed, yet when the Amorite armies try to run away, God and Joshua do not allow them to escape. (The SAB actually labels this with an "Absurd" tag for reasons unknown, perhaps because of the odd method God uses of crushing the armies with huge hailstones? Once again, it's clearly a miracle.) I think it would be one thing if one of the Amorite nations said "We don't stand a chance, let's get out of here!" but this is a matter of them saying, "Oops, trying to destroy them didn't work, let's retreat!"

I would like to note for whatever it's worth (which might not be much) that I suspect the language in Joshua 10:10 is figurative. While it says that God was doing all this awful stuff to them, I think it may mean that the Israelites were doing it under the authority of God. It doesn't change much, unless that was what the SAB was labeling as "Absurd"? I think it's the same sort of thing possibly as the wording in verse 14, the SAB note there giving me a chuckle. While I obviously don't agree with Steve Wells' theological position, I do appreciate his humor.

Another thing labeled as both "Absurd" and "Science/History" is the miracle of God keeping the sun from setting until Joshua was done fighting. (The reason Joshua asked for this is not given, perhaps this battle happened on a Friday?) Once again, I don't understand labeling a miracle as "Absurd", but I'm also a bit confused about the other label. Is this a problem with the fact that sunset is a by-product of the earth's movement rather than the sun's? If so, that's hardly a problem, as it's a matter of relative perspective; from Joshua's point of view, the sun did not move, but we would understand that the real meaning is that the earth ceased spinning for a time. If the note means something more complicated, then it probably needs some clarification, but I'll venture another guess.

The scientific angle, even once you accept the idea of the miraculous, implies a possible historical problem. If the sun never went down, then that would be a significant event. Even moreso elsewhere rather than locally, since the earth is round. Surely on this day in history, if this truly happened, the ancient Aztecs were wondering why the sun wasn't coming up. This miracle should have had a profound effect on the entire world, yet there is no written history of the event outside of the Bible that I am aware of. Perhaps that's what the note is trying to point out? The writer of Joshua points out that the miracle was also written about in "the book of Jasher" but the identity and nature of this book is not known today, and anyway, it probably was a Hebrew text as well.

The rest of the chapter is pretty much an account of the Israelite army going and destroying all of the cities that came against them in battle one after the other. The issues raised in here by the SAB are ones I have already addressed in the last few posts. There are a few notable things here going back to the names. Once again, I do find it ironic that Lachish, the "invincible" city fell even with help from Gezer. Gezer may have not so much been an entirely separate city in itself so much as something like a suburb, since Gezer means "portion". Also, while it may be simply a matter of name confusion, the strong possibility exists of a scribal error here. I'm surprised the SAB did not call to attention the fact that the fifth king was "Debir king of Eglon", but Joshua, a short time after destroying the city of Eglon, turns to destroying a city called "Debir". Perhaps the king of Eglon came from Debir, or was named after it, or he ruled over both cities and thus the city was named after him. Or it could be just a coincidence. Or, of course, it could be an error, probably in some ancient transcription of verse 3.

Anyway, a lot more of this fighting in the next chapter and those beyond.


Brucker said...

I was looking around after finishing this up to see if I could find commentary on the name "Adonizedec king of Jerusalem." While I did not yet find it, I found something else quite fascinating: a commentary that points out the fact that the name "Jerusalem" not appearing in the Bible until now is quite significant.

Many modern scholars have theorized that the first five books of the Bible which are supposed to have been written by Moses were actually written hundreds of years after Moses. These modern editors wove together varying oral accounts of the Jewish people to create support for the Jewish religion.

This commentator asks why, iof this were the case, did the editors of the books of Moses not use the name "Jerusalem", which was the center of their religion? Also, why does the title "Lord of Hosts" not appear before 1Samuel, although it was a very popular title for God in the days of David and following? These omissions may tell us much about the chronology of Bible authorship.

Anonymous said...

I'm researching this passage for my daughter's homework (4th grade) and found several references to sources on the other side of the world which tell of an unusually short night and could corroborate the "sun stood still" reference. Didn't save them, sorry, so you'll have to do your own research, but to say there are none is misleading.

Brucker said...

Okay, to be fair, none that I know of. Perhaps I'll do further research on it later; this is the first I've heard of such a thing.

Brucker said...

Here is an article that mentions folkloric evidence, and the interesting fact that many cultures on the far side of the earth from Israel have a "long night" legend, while ones nearer to Israel have a "long day" legend. This page has similar info with a cool diagram.

This page talks about some rather interesting, if "out there" theories about the astrophysics involved.

Here is a page of nearly a MB of info on the subject, way more than anyone is likely to ever want to know. I didn't read it, just thought I'd drop the link.