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Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, an alternative view. And today.
The story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho is heralded in scripture and sermons as a great example of faith and obedience to the God of Israel. After wandering for years in the wilderness, the Chosen People march into the land their God tells them, will be their land. Unfortunately, this land is already occupied and in that sense, creates a parallel to the present and on going situation in the Middle East.
Archaeologist have studied the ruins of Jericho and made some remarkable discoveries. Traces dating back to 9,000 BC, have been found showing that Neolithic hunters lived and hunted in this area. Evidence from one thousand years later reveals occupation by an organised community estimated at 2,000-3,000 people. Additional archaeological evidence reveals that a protective wall had been built along with at least one defensive tower, though this does not equate to the scriptural description of a high walled city as commonly illustrated. Ancient cities commonly built walls to protect their flocks and cattle from marauding animals rather than for military defence.
What cannot be denied is that Jericho existed as an established community dating back to at least 8,000 years BC. Along with this fact, there is evidence that several varieties of wheat and barley were grown in the surrounding fields. This makes Jericho one of the few locations where agriculture can be proven to have developed.
By the time Joshua arrived, Jericho was clearly a long established community, not the size of a modern city, but one with the infrastructure any city would require. There would have been markets, taverns, restaurants, blacksmiths, carpenter’s workshops, temples, farms in the surrounding countryside and trade routes to neighbouring settlements, existence of which is revealed in the scriptural account.
The Joshua and the army of Israel march in to this land. They are therefore, an invader. They arrive at Jericho and according to scripture, the people of Jericho do not ride out to attack. Nor does there seem to be any communication. The city was shut up, but surrounded by an invading army this seems a reasonable precaution.
Joshua 5. 13-15 tells of Joshua receiving a vision that the city would be given into his hands and he attacks. The detail of how is unimportant. The view from the inhabitant is that an invading army has marched into their land and is now attacking their city.
They have been given no opportunity to surrender or even convert to worshipping of the God of Israel in place of whatever gods they worshipped before. Nor is this like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where there was, at the least, a scriptural justification for their destruction.
Joshua is commanded by his God, the God of Moses and Abraham, a god that claims to be loving, kind, merciful, to attack the city and devote everything in it to destruction (Joshua chapter 6).
The term, devote to destruction, is easily read and passed over without taking in the full depth of its meaning. It is like the modern term, collateral damage, another phrase that passes off what it truly means.
The term collateral damage refers to civilians and civilian property, ordinary people, men, women and children who just happed to get in the way. Which is another term shifting responsibility from those who ordered the bullet fired or missile launched or bomb dropped.
The term devote to destruction is the same though with one distinct difference. Collateral damage can be viewed as primarily accidental. Armies do not deliberately set out to kill civilians, or at least that is the theory. The instruction to devote everything and everyone to destruction shows that this is a deliberate act. Destroy everything and kill everyone and this, as the scriptural account reveals, is exactly what happened.
Joshua and his army killed those who had tried to defend the city, which may be justified. They then started killing everyone and everything else. They killed defenceless women and children. They showed no mercy to the old, the sick and the infirm. Pregnant women were struck down without remorse. Babies in their cots were speared through where they lay with a sword or spear. Infants and toddlers were cut down as they ran screaming from their slaughtered mothers.
The term devoted to destruction, fails to even hint at the sheer terror such butchery would have caused the people of the city. It cannot paint the picture of mutilated bodies and streets running with blood. Nor the stench, nor the sound, all justified as being faithful to a God who, it is claimed, is merciful and forgiving.
What sin had the people of Jericho committed? What chance were they given to repent? What mercy was shown when the order was given that they all be, devoted to destruction?
There was no mercy or forgiveness at Jericho and it is hoped that if such an act were to happen today, where an invader entered a land already occupied, claiming the land as theirs, for whatever reason, then a more judicial view would apply. The term ethnic cleansing comes to mind. Or an act equivalent to Adolf Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews and all those he viewed as unter Mensch.
Joshua led the extermination of a complete people, all those that lived in the City of Jericho. A merciless slaughter of men, women and children, a bloodbath involving thousands of innocent civilians and if such an event occurred today, it is hoped that that Joshua would be put on trial for war crimes against humanity.
Yet an event similar to this is happening today. The Nation of Israel does deserve a state, a place where they can be free, but so too do the people Palestine. These are denied a state in their former land. They are, from all evidence, severely oppressed and when people are repressed, they are driven to resist. This is not and there is no justification for terrorism, but one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and during the Second World War, the invading Germans considered French resistance fighters to be terrorists.
And just how do you define who is a terrorist. Is it someone who brings terror to others? If so, the powerful army, airforce and navy of Israel are certainly bringing terror to the besieged people of Palestine. They are, like the people of ancient Jericho, being devoted to destruction.
But the western governments and the U.N. will do nothing but pontificate and mouth weasel words. So perhaps we should ask our newsreaders to use that term when they show pictures of mutilated women and children. The people of Palestine are being devoted to destruction. So sad!