Boring Joshua is Boring (Josh. 13-22)

While we have written several posts about Joshua, the book, as far as the parts read and remembered, is top-heavy: the rest is, well, not terribly narratively interesting (some parts of the Bible, as anyone knows who has read it straight through, are extraordinarily dry; others are page-turners). Josh. 13-22 concerns the ever-fascinating topic simply property division—something that might be interesting if some of the property is to come to you personally. But not if you’re living several centuries later. Here’s a sample:

From the hilltop the boundary headed toward the spring of the waters of Nephtoah, came out at the towns of Mount Ephron and went down toward Baalah (that is, Kiriath Jearim). 10 Then it curved westward from Baalah to Mount Seirran along the northern slope of Mount Jearim (that is, Kesalon), continued down to Beth Shemesh and crossed to Timnah. 11 It went to the northern slope of Ekron, turned toward Shikkeron, passed along to Mount Baalah and reached Jabneel. The boundary ended at the sea. (Josh. 15:9-11)

Sounds Tolkien-ish, really. (Rather, I guess Tolkien sounds Joshua-ish.) But that probably shorts some of the slower parts of “The Fellowship of the Ring” tremendously. This part of the book, while dry to read, of course, serves an important function.

We tend to think of the Bible merely as a historical record, or as a collection of myths, or merely as stories that tell moral precepts. It is of course all three of those things, but it’s often far from clear whether a story is historical, etiological, metaphorical, spiritual, or pure fantasy (or some combination of all of them). Josh 13-22 is one of those combinations: historical and etiological—yet it’s a combination of those things that we haven’t quite seen before. These “property division” chapters form a narrative that etiologically explains how (at the time of composition, somewhere around the sixth or seventh century BCE) various property lines were established, and how various peoples settled in various places. (It’s “historical” in that sense too, but, as James Kugel describes in “How to Read the Bible,” the historical record in Joshua isn’t entirely accurate.)

Anyway, if you’re reading along with us, feel free to skip to the end of Joshua (Josh. 23) for his farewell speech. That’s where I’ll pick up with our final post on the Book, before moving on to (much more interesting, I promise!) Book of Judges.

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