Saturday, May 10, 2008

Joshua Dies, and my Man's Bible Blows: Joshua 23-24

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

After a few years of peace, Joshua decides it's time for him to die. He assembles his people and delivers a speech. This is clearly an attempt to mimic what his mentor Moses did so many years before, though he's not nearly so skilled with words. The warnings are pretty familiar stuff: follow the laws and do not worship other gods, or else god will use the surrounding nations to punish and ultimately to destroy Israel.

Strangely, Joshua starts optimistically, noting that "until now" the Israelites have kept the commandments, and then, inexplicably he veers off into the cynicism of Numbers. An editorial shift, perhaps? In chapter 24, he finishes his speech and challenges the people to respond. They vow that they will serve God - and Joshua viciously responds that "you are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins." The people respond that they will indeed serve the Lord, so Joshua appears to grudgingly accept this promise.

Then, inexplicably, Joshua orders them to throw away all their gods and idols. What the hell? Why do they have these again already? The people are indeed foolish; idols just seem to fall into their hands by random chance.

After this, Joshua dies and is buried in Ephraim territory. Touchingly, at the same time the Israelites buy a field and bury the bones of Joseph, which apparently they have been carrying arould all these centuries without telling anyone.

My Man's Bible, stupidly, turns this into another opportunity to lecture today's men on the importance of marriage. They base this opportunity to reinforce the patriarchy on Joshua's final speech, which includes the famous phrase "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Even before I was a feminist, this verse bothers me, since it's accepting Joshua's right to declare allegiance to divinity not just for himself but for others as well. Hidden somewhere below and beyond the social order I've been describing since Exodus are the vestiges of the patrimonial household.

Proving that some men haven't learned much at all, Mr. A. Dudley Dennison proclaims in the Man's Bible that as a man you are commander of the household but must temper your power. Among other things, including advice about sex, Dennision makes the truly idiotic claim that when talking about the "interests" of the household you should "always speak in the plural" to make your wife feel part of the decision. That's an interesting approach. A better one might be making decisions with him or her, not over them.