Saturday, May 03, 2008

War-Profiteering Returns After All, as Does Executing Prisoners: Joshua 8

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

"Real kings do not kill one another." - Salah al-Din

Joshua is good military fiction, the Tom Clancy novel of its day. We get detailed stories of espionage, battle tactics from the master himself (Joshua, the Hebrew Sūn Zǐ), a gripping court-martial, etc. Now we get a fantastic story about war, followed by one of the most questionable murder-executions yet.

With Achan stoned, it's time to take revenge for the few dozen Israelites who died in the last assault. This time, Joshua isn't playing around; he sends a force of thirty thousand to do what three thousand couldn't. Even without God's assistance, you'd think this would be sufficient. And it is, thanks in part to a trap laid by Joshua, which leaves the city temporarily undefended. While the men of Ai are out chasing Joshua, a second force sets the city alight. The Ai-men are then captured in a pincer maneuver and saughtered to a man, "leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives" (apparently there's a distinction). Then Joshua orders the city thoroughly demolished.

It's worth noting that, at least for the time being, God seems to have abandoned his notion of preventing war profiteering - not to mention his laws about slaughtering all life forms. On the way to Ai, God tells Joshua that he's decided the soldiers can take as much "plunder and livestock" from Ai as they can manage to "carry off." We've moved back to the Moab plan, with war as an excellent income opportunity for the army.

The battle is followed by the dubious execution of the king of Ai, who to his misfortune was captured alive during the battle. He's brought to Joshua, which is more due process than any of his men got, but Joshua has no mercy. He orders the king hung on a tree, then has the corpse thrown to the ground beneath the ruined city gates before the Israelites take their leave.