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John..I think I understand what you are getting at in your posts, though I am certainly out of my league at some points, but it leaves me with questions.

So....Joshua is inerrant because it presents certain principles that can be applied at other points in history, such as the example you give about the Waldensians? that the way that the concept of inerrancy is generally explained? It's a very nuanced position and doesn't seem to be a prevalent one that I encounter when having discussions with people.


Hi terri,

Go back to Zwingli's remarks about scripture which I quote. They are typical of Reformation thinking. One can find the same kind of praise of scripture in the patristic period. Here's the Zwingli quote:

"it is certain, it cannot err, it is clear, it does not let us go errant in the darkness, it is its own interpreter and enlightens the human soul with all salvation and all grace, makes it confident in God, humbles it, so that it abandons and throws away its pretensions, and places itself in God's hands"

If you really believe that description fits the book of Joshua, in a situation of great danger and terrible odds such as that taken for granted in several episodes in the books of Joshua, Judges, and beyond, you are going to go to war (literally or metaphorically) with the words of God to Joshua ringing in your ears, "Be strong and courageous . . ." You will be praying Psalm 68. More generally, you will repeat after Joshua, "as for me and my house."

The book, I submit, was intended to be used in that way. As far as faithfully representing one-time events that would have occurred five hundred years or more (ex hypothesi) beforehand, there is no reason to believe that the author of the book would have had sources available to him that allowed him to do that. He would have been more concerned to be faithful to as much of the narrative was a shared heritage of his time, and would have added his own emphases to that.

That the author was guided by God in so doing is something one believes if in fact one takes the book as scripture (which I do, in the full sense).

Mike Koke

Thanks John, interesting stuff. It is a challenging subject, the inspiration of these "texts of terror." I wrote a paper on postcolonial look at Joshua(even though I'm a mere NT student) for Dr. Francis Landy, whom I think you also know. I came to the conclusion that Joshua was a pro-imperialist document concerned to maintain political hegemony and create solidarity around one leader, one cult and one nation and get rid of all the syncretistic elements (the literary Canaanites) in society. So Joshua presents itself as a war between two rival peoples, but deconstructs because when Rahab submits to the spies she is saved and when one of "us" (Achan) rebels he also gets the herem. I only got an A-, so it may not be completely convincing, but did you ever read Lori Rowlette, "Joshua and the Rhetoric of Violence: A New Historicist Analysis"? P.S. I accidently typed an extra "o" in the last name so on the blog/comments I go by Mike Koke (it is actually "Kok", but it is pronounced "Coke" so I add the "e" to avoid any embarrassing mistakes :) ).

Alan Lenzi

**shaking head**

I'm not even going to bother trying to argue with this train wreck. . . .

Mike Koke

Hey Alan, I wasn't sure if I was part of the train wreck, because I admit that I'm out of my depth on the Hebrew Bible compared to experts like you and John. Was my interpretation that Joshua may be pro-imperial (like other parts of the HB like Ezra or Nehemiah) while other parts of the HB are anti-imperial (e.g. Daniel) completely off-base? What advice would you give Christians who want to find a way to be ethical interpreters of even hard books like Joshua ethically: scrap it as unworthy in the canon, invert its message (Joshua completely got God wrong) or say that God sometimes uses even evil actions to further His purposes?



That's funny. I am aware that refocusing the application of the concept of inerrancy on the theological and existential truth claims of the text - the classical focus of inerrancy-type language in the history of interpretation - makes the language that much more annoying to a non-believer.

So long as "inerrancy" is applied to topics like geography and chronology, it is manageable and can easily be shown to be fraught with tremendous difficulties.

As soon as the language is restored to its native register - doxology, love language, as in "she's flawless" - it is no longer arguable apart from its place within a comprehensive approach to life and knowledge. As it should be.


Hi Mike,

I fixed the typo.

I do know Francis Landy. You are fortunate to have such a careful and passionate reader of the texts as a professor.

My first problem with post-colonial readings is that the concept of imperialism that is deployed is often crude and unfocused. At some point, furthermore, a widely-held point of view needs to be addressed, namely, that point of view that holds that there are both bad and good imperialisms, in which case, criteria are needed to distinguish between the two.

The easiest way to start a conversation on the subject is to point out that Canada and the US are part of an imperialist alliance with outposts around the world. That alliance carries out covert and overt military, intelligence, and propaganda activities on a continuous basis. On the one hand, you have historians like Niall Ferguson who say that the empire is, all things considered, a good thing, though capable of improvement. On the other, you have people like Noam Chomsky who would like to see the empire dismantled. Most Americans and Canadians, of course, are in denial on the subject matter.

Back to ancient Israel. It is easy to show that the Davidic monarchy had an imperial dimension built into it (2 Samuel 7:8-16; 8:1-14; Isa 8:23ab-9:6 (see Hans Wildberger's commentary for background and a translation); 11:1-10, 13-14; 14:28-32; 16:1-5; Amos 9:11-12; and Pss 2, 18, 60; 72, 87, 108, and 110).

I would agree with you if you were to argue that the book of Joshua reflects that, though, from a literary point of view, it is truer to say that it anticipates it.

In terms of ancient Israel no less than in terms of "Captain America," the question of good vs. bad imperialisms has to be addressed. The imperialism of ancient Israel, of course, did not occur in a vacuum. It competed with, connived with, and/or was a defensive measure against, the imperialism of the "big boys" - Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and "Greece."

Seen in that light, it is not so easy to dismiss it out of hand. The nuanced position of a prophet like Isaiah, who was anti-imperialist as far as the imperialisms of Assyria and Egypt are concerned, but pro-imperialist in terms of that of the Davidic monarchy - is worth pondering in detail. Isaiah 14:28-32 is a sobering text in that sense.


"As soon as the language is restored to its native register - doxology, love language, as in "she's flawless" - it is no longer arguable apart from its place within a comprehensive approach to life and knowledge. As it should be."

I wish that was in the original post. That's a great, great point.

Alan Lenzi

Mike, John has written well about empire and the Bible (above and elsewhere). I will defer to what he's said, except I would be sure to say "the IDEA of the Davidic monarchy" had an imperial dimension because even after the monarchy was gone, the biblical authors were still holding out for an empire (e.g., Amos 9).


"Native register"? That doesn't register with me.

When you talk about the Bible's perfection in the same terms one uses to talk about one's wife, "she's flawless," then it is easy to dismiss the textual authority of the Bible. Its authority has become a subjective aesthetic-emotional fascination of the believer. One could argue the same about any text, The Illiad, Enuma Elish, the instructions to my cyclometer, etc. You can argue all you want about a text's perfections but one is still left with the same end result: one's judgment is simply a matter of opinion. Moreover, the perfect text becomes a mirror or springboard for just about anything a community or individual wants, e.g., a Waldensian military venture to retake a valley, while at the same time giving divine imprimatur to the human invented interpretation. Shall we preach Joshua to our troops?



As I'm sure you realize, my comparison of doxological language to love language was not intended to suggest that those who speak about scripture in wasf-like praise language (compare Psalms 19 and 119) are thinking only in terms of aesthetic fascination.

Obviously not. The authors of Psalms 19 and 119 also thought of torah / God's word as the ultimate standard of faith and practice. Aesthetic metaphors vehiculate that thought. Yes, I prefer the language of Psalm 19 - sweeter than honey, finer than gold - to inerrancy language outside of the classical sense of Zwingli. The modernist and anti-modernist sense of words like error and truth is paltry stuff in comparison.

As for your references to militarism and blood and justification thereof, now you're talking. These are the real issues, I think. Here is a cut-and-paste from another thread:

[M]ost people's real issue with the book of Joshua - not to mention other narratives of ethnogenesis, including their own, if, for example, interpreters are Americans: the blood and gore in the text, and the text's justification of blood and gore.

In fact, I've noticed that questioning the historicity of the conquest narratives for quite a few people is really not about questions of evidence, inference, and historical analogy, but simply a convenient device for doing away with nasty stuff we wish wasn't in the Bible or in the blood-soaked accounts of our own ethnogenesis.

As far as Americans, Europeans, and Israelis are concerned - the list could easily be expanded - I think it is imperative that we hold their feet and our feet to the fire by NOT dismissing the book of Joshua as history. It is history. It recounts history in accordance with the requirements of a particular genre.

Don't believe me? Take a good hard look at the ostraca of Samaria. Funny how the slaves of Israelites in these ostraca are Canaanites. I wonder how that happened. Presumably, according to those who think Israelites and Canaanites are not distinguishable anyway; presumably, according to those who think "Israelites" were peace-loving highlanders who loved to tell stories about conquest but did so in lieu of having done any actual conquering, the ostraca give a misleading impression of the facts on the ground. Presumably, the Canaanites became Israelite slaves of their own free will.

The origins of most polities are soaked in blood, coercion, and the smashing of skulls. Judges 5 is more eloquent on this than is the book of Joshua. That's the real issue, I submit, for most people - and rightly so.

It's a dodge to call into question the conquest narrative as an account of singular events. That's beside the point. The narratives of the conquest of Jericho and Ai serve as symbolic hooks, no less than the bombardment of Fort McHenry at Baltimore, Maryland, by Royal Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812 in the Star-Spangled Banner (the equivalent national narrative, so to speak in American culture) - for reaching an identical conclusion, the same conclusion that provides a foundation for war to this day. In the words of Francis Scott Key: "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just."

If that's the real issue for you as well, [Alan], more power to you. Now we're talking. But let's talk about the issue directly, not through the distorting prism of a positivistic standard of historical narrative.

The book of Joshua, measured against that standard, falls short. A point in its favor, a proof that it is indeed well-suited to the purposes for which it was written, as far as I can see.

On to the real questions: what were those purposes, exactly? How do they relate to the purposes of other peoples and their ethnogenesis through the ages? How does God fit into this?

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