Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots (Judges 1)

It was the sort of thing that I would have saved for my other blog, but really I don't have so much to say about it. Apparently, the Dalai Lama has threatened to resign in the face of violence being committed by his followers in his homeland of Tibet. The Dalai Lama is just one of these guys you have a hard time not admiring even though his religious views are so disparate from your own. Certainly violence on the part of Buddhists seems ludicrous to me, and while I am personally against violence and a Christian, I recognize that even Christianity at its best ideals can't live up to Buddhism at its best ideals when it comes to peaceful living. And Judaism? The book of Joshua should dispel any idea that that religion is fundamentally non-violent, and here in Judges' beginning, we start with a fight that picks right up where Joshua left off.

The thing about the violence in this era of Israel's history is that, as I think I implied strongly in Joshua, it's mandated by God. There's a sense of higher purpose to it, and a sense of justice on a level that's not always obvious. The shame is (and it's reiterated in this and the following chapters) that the violence in Joshua's time was supposed to serve a purpose that had an end result of the ceasing of violence. All the immoral pagan peoples living in Canaan were to be driven out or destroyed, and once the job was done, the Israelites could live in peace. In their failure, they end up living in war against not only the pagan influences within their borders, but against each other at times.

The first accusation aimed at the book of Judges by the SAB is one of violence and injustice. Let me say here once again that yes, this is a violent book. Let me say for the first time (although I've said similar things elsewhere) that I'm not going to spend much time defending the violence and cruelty of this book, as I'll be largely in agreement with the SAB on such matters.

As for injustice, however, note that at least here, the text explains itself. King Adonibezek gets his thumbs and big toes cut off, an act that leaves a person alive, but greatly hinders the utility of their hands and feet, reducing them to an animal-like existence being not easily able to handle objects or walk anymore. Is it unjust? Adonibezek himself says, " I have done, so God hath requited me." After having extracted such a punishment on 70 other kings in the past, even Adonibezek seems to agree that this is just what he had coming to him. It's hard to argue against that, although I don't blame anyone for trying.

The next thing mentioned (which sounds from the wording as though it may have come before chronologically) is the sacking of Jerusalem. There are a couple things to note there. While the SAB calls this act violent and unjust, my response is the same as it has been throughout Joshua: God told them to do it, and the people of that city had warning that the Israelites were coming; in their case, forty years' more advance warning than the city of Jericho. Also, and fairly important, while the SAB says, "The Israelites killed everyone in Jerusalem..." there is no mention of that in the text. In fact, down in verse 21, we're told that the Israelites were unsuccessful in clearing out the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (More on that verse momentarily, which will give food for thought for the skeptics.)

Following this, we have an odd story that culminates in Caleb giving away his daughter to his nephew as a prize for destroying a city. This story may seem familiar to those who have already read Joshua, as this story is essentially a reprint of the same story in Joshua 15. Actually, a fair portion of the text of Judges 1 is copied from Joshua 15-17 for some reason, with this story being the biggest chunk. While I have commented on this story already, in looking at it during the past week or so, I have found some interesting things in the comparison with this version. The story doesn't change in essential details, but putting them side by side, even in the Hebrew, there are minor differences, such as the specification here that Kenaz was Caleb's younger brother. This might be of interest to those interested in the concept of accuracy of textual copying and/or transcription of oral histories. While as I said, there are no major differences between the stories, a notable difference surfaces in the aforementioned verse 21, which has its parallel in Joshua 15:63, where the SAB gives a very similar note. What is not noted, but I found quite fascinating, is that in Joshua, it's the Judahites who are charged with the responsibility of not driving the Jebusites out of Jerusalem. While Jerusalem lies on the border of Judah and Benjamin, it makes sense that the responsibility might be shared, but I'll admit that this fractured parallelism is odd. Anyway, I'm sure there's a lot of room for skeptics to speculate on the significance of these parallel verses.

In verse 19, we get a case of people failing a battle due to the presence of iron chariots. It's sort of neat to me that the SAB has added an iron chariots page, which I'm pretty sure is new, although I've been wrong more than once before. I like it because this is a favorite argument of Bible skeptics, and in this one case, it's one that they seem to like precisely because of how silly it sounds, or at least that's the impression I get. It seems to some that God is essentially powerless in any situation where iron chariots are involved. The answer to both questions posed there is essentially the same, and was answered way back by me, although I will reiterate here. God has the will and the ability to make the Israelites victorious no matter what the situation, but iron chariots, being the pinnacle of modern warfare technology in the time of this writing, were frightening the Israelites out of even trying to go to war against certain enemies. God can prevail against even iron chariots, as will be seen a few chapters after this, but His people need to trust Him in order do it. The "he" in Judges 1:19 refers not to God, but to Judah.

As for the remaining issues in this chapter, I rest on the explanations I gave in Joshua. Why did the conquest of Canaan fail? See this post. Why does the tribe of Joseph destroy Bethel excepting one family? It's probably a lot like the story of Rahab, discussed here.

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