Chapter Four: The Extent of Israel’s Occupation of the Land
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95 four The Extent of Israel’s Occupation of the Land Thus far, I have examined the theme of Israel’s obedience to YHWH in relation to relatively self-contained stories. In contrast, no single story neatly encapsulates the ambivalence exhibited by the book of Joshua in its portrayal of Israel’s taking of the land. Especially in the latter section of the book, the text varies in its presentation of the extent to which Israel faithfully succeeds in claiming its inheritance in Canaan . Beginning in chapter 11 and continuing through the end of the book, a number of summaries and scattered statements join together to form a composite picture. The problem is, some of this material depicts a thorough and decisive taking of the land of Canaan, presenting the “conquest” as a thing of the past—a task completed within Joshua’s lifetime . In contrast, other texts declare bluntly that the peoples of the land have yet to be fully expelled even after Joshua has reached old age. The contents of these various statements cannot honestly be reconciled, no "Israel served the lord" 96 matter how hard the reader may try. We can justifiably ask, then, what this clash of depictions means—why these portraits of partial conquest stand alongside statements of unmitigated victory. What are we to make of this mixed portrait of the taking of the land? Robert Polzin offers one possible solution, setting up a stark contrast between the opening of chapter 13, with its portrait of unfinished conquest, and the sweeping statement of fulfillment that concludes the division of the land in chapter 21.1 For Polzin, the two elements—­ complete fulfillment of the promises and total conquest versus an incomplete occupation of the land—stand in irreconcilable tension. In his view, these perspectives were intentionally juxtaposed in a way that makes the former seem impossibly ridiculous.2 Instead of a completely successful conquest of the land, the latter section of the book of Joshua (chaps. 13–21) depicts a partial fulfillment of YHWH’s promises, mirroring Israel’s and Joshua’s imperfect obedience to YHWH’s commands in the first section of the book.3 By the time the reader reaches the statement at the end of chapter 21, then, the sweeping portrait of fulfillment it offers has been rendered absurd by what precedes. According to Polzin, the statement of total fulfillment made in 21:43–45 “must be immediately and categorically denied by the reader if he chooses to continue to read and accept the basic ideological position of the text before him.”4 In short, “the Book of Joshua is scarcely intelligible if 21:41–43 is not read in an ironic sense.”5 Polzin’s adamance on this point pushes one to ask whether this is necessarily the case, however. Indeed, if the reader accepts Polzin’s argument that the book of Joshua plays out a battle between the voice of critical traditionalism and the voice of authoritarian dogmatism, his conclusion may be inescapable. Yet one can easily argue in favor of other possible models for discussing the relationship between the “contradictory voices” in the book. If Israel genuinely is exploring and coming to occupy both Law and land, as Polzin aptly observes, why must the perspectives in the book exist in aggressive competition? The irreconcilable conflict seen by Polzin exists only at the level of the informational content of these varying statements about the extent of Israel’s occupation of the land. Yet we need not take these statements as flatly the extent of israel's occupation of the land 97 factual disputes between two ideologies locked in a contest of assertion and counter-assertion. Instead, given that Polzin views the text itself as engaged in hermeneutical reflection on Israel’s occupation of land and Law, it seems that a more apt model of communication for these coexisting voices would be one of exploratory dialogical difference. If, in the book of Joshua, Israel is making a foray into the unfamiliar territory of both land and Torah, these differing voices contribute varying perspectives on how to map out the complex terrain of Israel’s life in the land, led and sustained by the Law, in relationship with YHWH. As I have argued in the second chapter of this work, the point at which contrasting depictions grate against each other in the text should be precisely the starting point for seeking the meaning of the juxtaposition . It is not sufficient merely to...