Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Military Replaces the Priesthood: Final Reflections on Joshua

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

Joshua is a book by, for and about ancient Jewism militarism. God is with the Israelites in battle - and if he is not, they will falter and fail. It follows that the army can again become the instrument of God - indeed the primary one, since battle is typically the most important masculine act in such a militarized society - and thus the priesthood itself, which I admit I once objected to, is isolated and marginalized not just from the people but from God. In its place are the generals.

This can be seen in Joshua not just by noting the newly central role of the soldier, but by asking where the priests have gone. With very few exceptions, they've virtually disappeared from the important active parts of the narrative, except where they're following the military around delivering blessings and battle prayers and what-not.

With the priesthood out of the way, the military is poised to become the central feature of Israelite society. I didn't the priesthood, but at least in my mind the military is a worse institution to place at the center and top of the social order. In a theocratic system, it makes the will of God discernible through battle - and therefore battle is necessary, since it permits God to show his will and his favour. One can't be a pacifist while worshipping a war god. Conveniently for the senior ranks of the military, it also means that eventually the generals are going to become kings. The priesthood couldn't really form the basis for a state, but the military can.

All of this, too, involves just my speculation about the implications of Joshua's stance. Even modern-day Christian militarists would generally have to admit, I think, that they don't have all that much interest in pursuing the kind of war that Israel pursues here. There's none of the contemporary bullshit about human security, humanitarian intervention, spreading democracy, etc., etc. This is about massacring foreigners, plain and simple. Again and again, the Israelites invade a nation and kill every human being - and sometimes every living animal as well. At one point, God tries to cap the power of the army by banning war profiteering by soldiers - but the moment that rule is violated, God appears to drop the restriction, even while he has the initial offender stoned. Where once the priesthood was both assisted by and could sometimes tame God's will, now, it seems, the army has supplanted them.

Strangely, this doesn't result in immediate lasting effects any more than the creation of the priesthood did before. As I recall from my last time in this part of the Bible, in the next book, Judges, the military doesn't hold together all that long either.