PHINEHAS PART 2
by John Thomas Lowe
Wanderings in the desert of Paran PART 2
The traditional "40 years" in the wilderness (38 or 39, according to critical calculations) were primarily spent in the wilderness of Paran, with a short stay in the oasis of Kadesh. Chapter 13, verse twenty-six, puts Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. The inconsistency about how the people entered Cannan may stem from two different traditions of how the tribes entered Canaan: from the south or the north through Transjordan.
This section begins (chapter 10, verse 11) with the lifting of the cloud from the Tabernacle and the setting out of the Israelites for the Promised Land, with their holy Tabernacle and ark, in the order prescribed in chapter 2. According to the account (verses 11–28), the cloud settles down over the wilderness of Paran, the signal to make camp; whereas in another account (verses 29–36), it is the ark of the Covenant that goes ahead to seek out a stopping place, and where it stops the Israelites rest, the cloud simply accompanying them overhead (perhaps to shield them from the blazing desert sun). Chapters 11–12 deal with the people's complaints about their hardships and the rebellion of Miriam and Aaron against their brother Moses. When the people express their longing for the good food they had in Egypt and their disgust with the unvarying manna, God sends them a storm of quail, which remain uneaten because he also sends them a plague. This is a somewhat different account from that in Exodus, but the point is the same: God's mighty, infinite power of God (chapter 11, verse 23). (Also inserted here is the story of God visiting his spirit on 70 selected elders so they may share Moses' burdens.) When Miriam and Aaron question God's speaking only through Moses, God proclaims his unique relationship with Moses. The latter alone receives direct revelations from God, directly through dreams and visions, like the prophets.
Chapters 13–14 tell of the dispatch of spies from Paran to reconnoiter Canaan and of the people's despair, rebellion, and unsuccessful foray in response to the spies' reports. Scholars discern two separate accounts of the spying incident artfully woven together. According to one account, the spies go only as far as Hebron in the south and return with a glowing report of fertile land; however, they warn that they are too vigorously defended to be taken from that quarter. Only one spy, Caleb, advocates attacking it. The spies reconnoiter the whole country and give a pessimistic report of it as a land that "devours its inhabitants," who are, moreover, giants compared to the Israelites. The people cry out in despair at this report and want to return to Egypt, while Caleb and Joshua plead with them to trust in God and go forward to take the land. Disgusted with the people, God condemns them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years and decrees that only their children, along with Caleb and Joshua, shall enter the land of promise. Regretfully, the people now decide to attack and go forth, against Moses' warning, to a resounding defeat.
The conquest of Canaan
As told by the Deuteronomist, the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelite tribes was swift and decisive. However, no conquest of central Canaan (in the region of Shechem) is mentioned in the book. Some scholars interpret this to mean that the central hill country was already occupied either by ancestors of the later Israelite ethnic groups prior to the time of Moses or by portions of Hebrew tribes that had not gone to Egypt. Because these people made peace with the tribes under Joshua, a conquest of the area was unnecessary. Archaeological evidence supports portions of Joshua in describing some of the cities (e.g., Lachish, Debir, and Hazor) as destroyed or conquered in the late 13th century BCE, the approximate time of the circumstances documented in Joshua. However, some of the reported cities were devastated at some time before or later than the 13th century. Jericho, for example, was razed at the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1550 BCE) and most likely had not been rebuilt as a strongly fortified town by the time of Joshua, though the site may well have been inhabited during this period. The city of Ai was destroyed about six hundred years before, but it may have been a garrison site for the city of Bethel, which was destroyed later by the "house of Joseph." Though many of the cities of Canaan were conquered by the Israelites under Joshua, historical and archaeological evidence indicates that the process of conquering the land was lengthy and not completed until David conquered the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem in the early 10th century BCE. At any rate, the 13th century was an ideal time for a conquest of the area because of the international turmoil involving the great powers of the time: Egypt and Babylonia. A political vacuum existed in the area, permitting small powers to strengthen or expand their holdings.
The introductory section of Joshua (chapters 1 and 2), in dealing with the Deuteronomist's view of the ideal man of faith—one who is full of courage and faithful to the law that was given to Moses—relates the story of spies sent to Jericho, where they were sheltered by Rahab, a harlot, whose house was spared by the Israelites when they later destroyed the city. In the Gospel According to Matthew, in the New Testament, Rahab is listed as the grandmother of Jesse, the father of David (the architect of the Israelite empire), which may be why this story was included in Joshua. Also, in the New Testament, in the Letter to the Hebrews, Rahab is depicted as an example of a person of faith. After the return of the spies, who reported that the people of Canaan were "fainthearted" in the face of the Israelite threat, Joshua launched the invasion of Canaan; the Israelite tribes crossed the Jordan River and encamped at Gilgal, where the males were circumcised after a pile of stones had been erected to commemorate the crossing of the river. After the priests marched around it for seven days, they attacked Jericho. They utterly destroyed it in a harem, i.e., a holy war in which everything is devoted to destruction. Prior to the Israelites' further conquests, it was discovered that Achan, a member of the tribe of Judah, had broken the ḥerem by not devoting everything taken from Jericho to Yahweh. Because he had thus sinned in keeping some of the booty, Achan, his family, and all his household goods were destroyed, and a mound of stones was heaped upon them. The Israelite tribes next conquered Ai, made agreements with the people of the region of Gibeon, and then campaigned against cities to the south, capturing several of them, such as Lachish and Debir, but not Jerusalem or the cities of Philistia on the seacoast. Joshua moved north, first conquering the city of Hazor—a city of political importance—and then defeating many (31) of the kings of Canaan. However, the conquests of their cities did not necessarily follow.
Division of the land and renewal of the Covenant
The land division among the tribes is recounted in chapters 13–22. The Deuteronomist used two sources in dealing with the division of the land: a boundary list from the pre-monarchical period (i.e., before the late 11th century BCE) and a list of cities occupied by several tribes from the 10th to the seventh century BCE. The tribes who occupied territories were: Reuben, Gad, Manasseh, Caleb, Judah, the Joseph tribes (Ephraim and Manasseh), Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. Certain cities (e.g., Hebron, Shechem, and Ramoth) were designated Levitical cities. Though the Levites did not control the cities politically, as the priestly class, they were of cultic significance—and therefore feared and respected—in cities that were the sites of sanctuaries.
As Moses had before him, Joshua gave his people a farewell address (chapter 23), admonishing them to be loyal to the Lord of the Covenant. In the closing chapter (24), the Israelites reaffirmed their loyalty to Yahweh at Shechem: first, having heard the story of God's salvatory deeds in the past, they were asked to swear allegiance to Yahweh and to repudiate all other gods. After which, they participated in the Covenant renewal ceremony. After the people were dismissed, Joshua died and was buried in the hill country of Ephraim; the embalmed body of Joseph that had been carried with the Hebrews when they left Egypt more than a generation earlier was buried on purchased land; and Eleazar, the priestly successor to Aaron (Moses' brother), was buried at Gibeah.
Besides the apparent emphasis on the conquest of Canaan and the division of the land, the Deuteronomists gave special attention to the ceremony of Covenant reaffirmation. Through a regularly repeated Covenant renewal, the Israelites were able to eschew Canaanite religious beliefs and practices that had been absorbed or added to the religion of the Lord of the Covenant, especially the fertility motifs that were quite attractive to the Hebrew tribes as they settled down to pursue agriculture, after more than a generation of the nomadic way of life.