Joshua’s Wars and the J Source


lthough in The Hidden Book of the Bible Richard Elliott Friedman attributes Joshua 8.1-29 to the J Source, I disagree. I disagree because the J documents are subversive, which Jo 8.1-29 is not. As Friedman argues, an author’s worked is often identified by linguistic parallels, meaning the Source chooses words to reflect upon her other stories and motifs in short hand. Friedman argues the text belongs to J for the word ragal, “to go on foot,” and although J does use ragal frequently for ‘spies,’ J deploys the double entendre to imply ‘foot,’ regel, a euphemism for the sexual organs (Gn 42). From the J scribes’ point of view, spies enter the land of Egypt to rape the lands. J is not the only source to use ragal’; Baden attributes the Elohist with ragal (Nm 21.32), and Friedman, in Who Wrote the Bible, attributes ragal to Deuteronomist 1 (Dt 1.24).

And although the J scribes use the expression “fear not” (Gn 15.1; 26.14), Jo 8.1 opens with “fear not, neither be dismayed,” an expression that occurs three times in Dt (1.21; 31.6, 8), the authorship of which in Who Wrote the Bible Friedman attributes to Deuteronomist 1. In Jo 8 (8.18, 19, 26) God commanded Joshua to stretch out nâtâh zᵉrô‘âh the spear in his hand; the expression nâtâh zᵉrô‘âh, however, Friedman, in Who Wrote the Bible, attributes to the Priestly Source (Ex 6.6; 7.5, 19; 14.16, 26-27a); to the Elohist (Ex 8.5, 16, 17; 9.22, 23; 10.12-13, 21-22) and to Deuteronomist 1 (Dt 4.34; 5.15; 7.19; 9.29; 11.2).

I disagree with Friedman’s attribution of Jo 8.1-29 because it lacks the J scribes’ stylistic wit, and it lacks the J scribes feminist agenda. Friedman, however, cannot see the J scribes’ feminist agenda, reading as he does the Hebrew Bible with androcentric blinders on; and he cannot see the subversive motif running through the J documents, coming to the Bible as he does with the patriarchal bias that the work as a whole privileges God. I might say he can trace with his finger, for the most part, the bones of the J Source, but he cannot comprehend the strange and wonderful animal it is. Consider this my stock argument going forward when I disagree with Friedman’s attributions.

I do not attribute Jo 9.1-15a to the J Source, contrary to Friedman in The Hidden Book of the Bible, because it promotes the conquering of Canaan to the glory of God. Because all the J Source documents mock God through veiled verse, it makes no sense that the authors would suddenly support the patriarchal regime that persecutes their goddess. Friedman argues Jo 9.1-15 must belong to the J Source for the deployment of the word râmâh, or ‘beguile’ in Joshua’s incredulous “why did you beguile me?” because in another J document Jacob, who had deceived his father to defraud his brother Esau of the birthright, asked Laban why he deceived, râmâh, him by slipping Leah into his bed on his wedding night to Rachel. Laban’s deception was entirely different from the deception of the men from Gibeon. Laban’s deception was a comic reversal: Jacob, the deceiver, had it coming to him. There is no such context in Jo 9. Furthermore, in the story of the men who contrived to pass themselves off as travelers from afar, the lesson in the fable was that Israel was deceived because they did not ask God’s counsel. The J scribes, however, in numerous stories portray God as deceptive.

I disagree, as well, with Friedman’s attribution of Jo 10 and Jo 11 to the J Source. Apart from Deborah, in ancient Israel war was men’s work. The women who worshiped Asherah as the syncretism of Ishtar in Jer 44 voiced the confidence that for as long as they worshiped her they “had plenty of food, were prosperous and saw no evil” and that ever since they left off worshiping her they “wanted all things and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.” The goddess worshipers wanted peace. Granted, women sang songs to celebrate military victory (Ex 15.19-21; 1 Sam 18.7; Jgs 11.34), but they sang upon the warrior’s return from war; they did not sing the warriors out to battle. War was hard on women for the lack of food to feed their children, for the loss of husbands and sons to provide for and protect them in an age when women were dependent on men for not only their livelihood, but for their reputation within the community, and war made them vulnerable to rape. No, the J scribes did not regale their people with stories of war as Friedman maintains.

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