The Book of Joshua deals with the wars the Israelites fought to conquer the promised land. To make it more realistic, it should be named the Book of Genocide, as the Israelites exterminate one nation after another and steal their land. No justification is given, greed is simply enough. In a book that is supposed to be a moral code for all humans, instead we get one of the first recordings of genocide in history.
After the break for the laws in Deuteronomy, the book of Joshua continues the narrative of the Bible, picking up with the death of Moses. He is replaced by Joshua who begins the conquest of the land later known as Israel. From the outset God makes it clear that he will defeat their enemies and promises that every place they set the sole of their foot, they will conquer. Anyone who disobeys the commandments will be executed. Or at least that’s what the leaders told the people of Israel (it’s always good for morale if people think God is on their side and will help them win battles).
As they enter the Promised Land, God stops the waters of the Jordan from flowing to allow the Israelites to cross. When the local people heard of this miracle their heart melted and they no longer wanted to fight. This is where the story should have ended. The story should have said that God convinced the local people he was God and all powerful so they surrendered. They were then treated with mercy and this lead to peaceful co-operation and prosperity for all.
However, this is not what happened. After claiming no one wants to fight them, in the very next chapter, the Israelites go to war (maybe God’s miracles weren’t as impressive as the Bible claims). They lay siege to the city of Jericho and blew horns around it for seven days. On the seventh day, the walls fell allowing the Israelites to enter and capture the city. For absolutely no reason, the Israelites then killed everyone in the city. There was no justification whatsoever for this massacre. Why would a just and loving God order his people to slaughter the innocent? The Bible records that the Israelites killed men and women, young and old, innocent people who had done nothing wrong.
God demands that everything in the city be destroyed, but the silver and gold were to be claimed for the treasury of God. This Old Testament God is not the loving moral leader religious people so often claim, but is instead a greedy warlord who slaughters the innocent and steals from their corpses for his own glory. God flies into an almighty rage when he discovers that a single person kept something for himself. He punishes all the Israelites for the grievous crime of not sharing the loot with what is essentially the mafia boss.
So when 3,000 Israelites went to battle against the people of Ai, God makes them lose and be driven away suffering casualties of 36 killed (which is actually a tiny amount). This terrible defeat (which really was quite minor) struck fear in the hearts of the Israelites. God declares that Israel has sinned against him and broken its promise (despite only one person sinning) and he will kill them all unless the sinner is found (God has serious problems with the concept of individuality). The sinner is found, confesses and is then both stoned and burnt. There is no thought of mercy or forgiveness.
Christians might argue that the doctrine of forgiveness came later, but that begs the question of who is the God of the Old Testament? Is he a separate God? Did God fundamentally change his personality? Should we not listen to his teachings anymore? Christians are left in a contradictory position of both claiming and denying the actions of OT God depending on whether it suits them or not.
In chapter 8, Joshua again sends an army to fight against Ai, but this time he sends 30,000 men with a better plan. He sets an ambush so that when the main force of his army is battling against Ai, they will appear to flee and run away. According to the Bible, when this happened, not only did all the soldiers of Ai pursue them, but supposedly so did every single man in the city so that only women and children remained. At this point the hidden Israelites seized the unguarded city and massacre everyone. Despite the fact that the city posed absolutely no threat because all the men were away, the Israelites still murder all the women and children and burn the city. The troops too are caught in a trap and slaughtered. According to the Bible, in total 12,000 people were killed, all the people of Ai.
When the other kingdoms hear of the genocide of Ai they unite against the Israelites and I don’t blame them. If you saw a foreign army invade and exterminate people who had done them no harm, who wouldn’t fight against that? There is a slightly odd story in chapter 9 of the kingdom of Gibeon which pretends to ally with Israel by pretending to be poor travellers. However, when Joshua discovers their treachery, they surrender and actually do ally with Israel.
So a large battle occurs in chapter 10, but God puts the enemies into a panic and helps the Israelites defeat them. God even joins in by a means no one could possibly take seriously. “The Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.” Yeah that’s right, God was chucking stones from Heaven. Considering the other bizarre stories in here, why not?
Joshua then asks God to make the sun stand still to help him win the battle (how would that help?). So the sun and moon stood still for about a day (how could they measure?) until the battle was won. I shouldn’t have to point out that contrary to what whoever wrote the Bible thought, the sun does not move across the sky, so making it stand still would make no difference. How can someone really believe that the Bible was written by an all-knowing God, when it gets such basic facts wrong?
Following the battle, Joshua attacked the city of Makkedah and captured it. How did God’s chosen people, who are supposedly a model for us all in ethics and morals treat the inhabitants? “He devoted to destruction every person in it; he left none remaining.” Then God gave Libnah into the hands of Joshua “and he struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it.” Then Lachish fell and every person in it was killed. Horam the king of Gezer came to help the people of Lachish, so Joshua exterminated his people too. Next was Eglon where “he devoted every person in it to destruction”. After that came the genocide of Hebron, where here too every single person was killed. All the towns of Debir were wiped off the map and its people cleaned from the pages of history. “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining but devoted to destruction all that breathed.”
In chapter 11, an even large alliance is formed with an army as numerous as the sand on a beach. But this too is complete and utterly destroyed until not a single person remains. Their cities too were destroyed and “there were none left that breathed.” The livestock was taken as plunder but the people were without exception all killed. Joshua took all the hill country, the Negeb, Goshen, Arabah and the land surrounding Anakim and it too was devoted to destruction. “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed.” So not only does God exterminate entire nations who have done nothing wrong but he deliberately makes them go to war just so they can be slaughtered. Why? What purpose was served by the mass slaughter? Why did even the children need to die? Was there no way this could be peacefully solved?
A few years ago, I visited the death camp of Auschwitz. It was a shocking experience that I will never forget. I was sickened by the evil of that place, an evil that would make people murder innocent people who had done nothing wrong. An evil that tried to exterminate an entire nation, remove all trace of their language, religion and culture. One of the most striking sights was the piles of shoes that once belonged to the victims. Imagine all the lives cut short, the stories never told, the adventures that never happened. The piles and piles of shoes showed the magnitude of death far more than any statistic could.
Reading the Book of Joshua, I wonder if there was a pile of shoes left of the peoples the Israelites slaughtered. Think of the cities which fell silent because there was no one left alive. All the stories ended, the lives extinguished, the cultures that disappeared. The Israelites were like an ancient Nazi Germany, conquering and exterminating all around them, not for any good reason or due to any crime, but simply because they were different. The Bible doesn’t even try and pretend that any of the other nations did any wrong to the Israelites; they merely tried to defend themselves from extinction. Chapter 12 is a list of all the kings and people who were exterminated. It is essentially a list of the various counts of genocide the Israelites committed and runs to 34 kings and people.
From chapter 13 to 23, the Bible is devoted to dividing up the land between the tribes of Israel and lists off who gets what. In the final chapter, Joshua is now very old so he gives final warning to the Israelites. He warns them not to mix with other nations or even live near them for fear it would contaminate their racial purity. If they marry and associate with other people, these people will be a snare that pulls them down. There can be no dealing with others as this will only lead to trouble in the future. Instead, killing them all is the final solution.
You can see the other posts in my reading of the Bible here.