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Altes Testament


Elßner , Thomas R.


Josua und seine Kriege in jüdischer und christlicher Rezeptionsgeschichte.


Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2008. 336 S. gr.8° = Theologie und Frieden, 37. Geb. EUR 39,00. ISBN 978-3-17-020520-8.


Ernst Axel Knauf

This Habilitationsschrift (Erfurt) investigates aspects of the Jewish and Christian reception and interpretation of ›texts of violence‹ centered around the biblical figure of Joshua (Ex 17, Dtn 20, Jos 1–12). After an all too brief ›introduction‹ (›Hinführung‹, 13–21) with 3½ pages on the problem of ›religion and violence in Joshua‹ ac­cord­ing to present (historico-critical) research, E. goes media in res with the reception of Joshua in the Christian Old Testament (Ecclesiasticus, 1 and 2 Maccabees; 22–81). References to Joshua in the Hebrew Bible are relegated to a footnote (22, n. 48), where Neh 8,17 is missing. The rare occurence of motifs from Jos in the New Testament (in Acts, Hebrews and James) is treated on pp. 82–104, fol­lowed by Philo and Josephus (105–128). E. then explores Rabbinical exegesis (mSota and mSanhedrin, jSota, bSota, jShevi’it, LevR and DtnR; 129–168), before he concludes his perusal of Jewish sources with Maimonides (169–197). Returning to the Christian tradition, early Chris­tian writers (1 Clemens, Barnabas, Justin Martyr; 198–225) are followed by a study of Origin (226–254) and his spiritual re-definitio of ›the land‹ and its ›conquest‹. E. then jumps to St Augus­tin and his concept of bellum iustum (255–270), before the second-last chapter briefly covers scholastic theologians (Decretum Gratiani, St Thomas Aquinas, John of Lignano), Spanish late scholastic teachers (F. de Vitoria, F. Suárez) and finally the founder of the concept of ›inter­national law‹, Hugo Grotius (271–289). Each preceding chapter had been concluded by some sort of ›results‹ (›Fazit‹); the last chapter (290–311) offers a ›Resumée‹ (in German: ›Resümee‹) of these results under the headings of ›Joshua as a model for the conduct of war‹, ›Fencing-in [›Einhegung‹] of Joshua’s wars by interpretation‹, ›the OT Jesus and the NT Jesus‹, the ›theology of war‹, and ›three interlinking aspects of an interpretation of the ban‹.

The book contains a wealth of voices and indispensable materials for the history of Joshua’s reception in Synagogue and Church, though it leaves tasks enoughs for others to accomplish. The re­viewer would like to read more on the interpretation of Joshua in the age of confessional wars (16th/17th centuries), the enlightenement, the age of imperialism and colonialism … The profile of (the pacifist) Maimonides would have gained depth and detail by a confrontation with his opponent Nahmanides (cf. C. S. Ehrlich, Josua und das Judentum, in: Id., Bibel und Judentum. Beiträge aus dem christ­lich-jüdischen Gespräch, Zürich 2004, 87–100), and the He­brew references to Joshua outside of ›his‹ book might deserve a study of their own.

One gains the impression that E. is much more interested in peace theology than in the Hebrew Bible. The naive impression of the Christian lay reader (cf. 293 f.) is taken for granted that Joshua is a ›book of violence‹ indeed. Accordingly, the history of its interpretation is mobilized to ›fence its militarism in by interpretation‹ (292), be it by ›legends‹ like the rabbinical ›letter of Joshua‹ (294 f.), by temporal limitation in the case of Maimonides (295 f.; E. calls that operation ›fragile‹ [296], but what is fragile, dubious or ambig­uous in the interpretation of Jos 11,23, that this verse terminates the wars of Joshua, i. e. the subjugation of the ›peoples of the land‹, for good?), by international and/or natural law (the Spaniards and Hugo Grotius; 296 f.), by Jewish Hellenistic philosophy (Philo; 298 f.), by stressing the saving grace of Rahab’s confession (New Testament; 299), or by early Christian spiritual theology (notably Origen; 299–301). To his credit, E. observes the anti-Judaic implications of (any) ›deeper‹ sense of scripture, recognizable only to the Church, beyond the literal meaning of the Hebrew (300–301), without, however, realizing that here lies a basic problem of all Christian readings of Hebrew Scriptures. He concludes quite aptly that a generation, like ours, which reads the story of Joshua as a conflict between the theologically ›progressive‹ returnees from the ›exile‹ and the ›conservative‹ Benjaminites in the 5th century BCE cannot blame Origen for methodological fancy (309–10).

The observation that Philo’s ›Bible‹ was restricted to the Torah (298) did not, however, lead E. to the realization that ›violence‹ and ›genocide‹ are not really the problem at the core of Joshua (where the lay reader usually notices them), but of the Torah, which commands to kill (Dtn 7,2.16.20–24; 12,29; 19,1; 20,16–18; 31,4) or to expel (Ex 23,29–31; 34,12–24; Num 33,52–55) the ›inhabitants of the land‹. Joshua is in fact the ›solution‹ to the violence commanded in the Torah. Both Jos 2 and 9 stress that one might be more faithful to the spirit of Torah if one disregards, from time to time, her letter. The Rabbinic ›letter of Joshua‹, in which he asks the ›inhabitants of the land‹ to either submit (viz. to the Noahide commandments), to emigrate or face extinction is, in fact, a fairly precise description of what actually happens in the book. Rahab and the Gibeonites submit, Jericho, Ai, the cities of the Shefelah and Hazor are annihilated, and the Girgasites emigrate to Africa. This theory is based on the fact that after Jos 3,10, the Girgasites are not mentioned again among the ›inhabitants of the land‹ (except in recapitulations of previous history, Jos 24,11 and Neh 9,8). So they must have been those who were ›expelled‹, as demanded by the Torah (except Dtn). That they went to Africa is equally plausible, for there existed the town of Cercesura in Libya close to the borders of Egypt (Strabo 17.1.30). In Late Antiquity, the ›Girgasite‹ descent of Libyan (Berber) tribe has become common knowledge:

»When the Hebrews had withdrawn from Egypt and had come near the boundaries of Palestine, Moses, a wise man, who was their leader on the journey, died, and the leadership was passed on to Joshua, the son of Nun, who led this people into Palestine, and, by displaying a valour in war greater than that natural to a man, gained possession of the land. And after overthrowing all the nations he easily won the cities, and he seemed to be altogether invincible. Now at that time the whole country along the sea from Sidon as far as the boundaries of Egypt was called Phoenicia. And one king in ancient times held sway over it, as is agreed by all who have written the earliest accounts of the Phoenicians. In that country there dwelt very populous tribes, the Gergesites and the Jebusites and some others with other names by which they are called in the history of the Hebrews. Now when these nations saw that the invading general was an irre­sistible prodigy, they emigrated from their ancestral homes and made their way to Egypt, which adjoined their country. And finding there no place sufficient for them to dwell in, since there has been a great population in Egypt from ancient times, they proceeded to Libya. And they established numerous cities and took possession of the whole of Libya as far as the Pillars of Heracles, and there they have lived even up to my time, using the Phoenician tongue. They also built a fortress in Numidia, where now is the city called Tigisis. In that place are two columns made of white stone near by the great spring, having Phoenician letters cut in them which say in the Phoenician tongue: ›We are they who fled from before the face of Joshua [Jesus], the robber, the son of Nun [Naue].‹?« (Procopius, Wars 4.10.12–22; translation H. B. Dewing) The reception of Joshua outside theology offers another promising venue of future research.

The ›lay person reading of Scriptures‹, which takes biblical scenes out of context in order to re-contextualize them within present sets of political correctness ought to be discouraged. Within its canonic­al context, as a commentary to the Torah’s commandment to take possession of the land, Joshua is a rather anti-militaristic book. In addition, the ›conquest‹ is only the overture to the books main part and center: the distribution of the land to each and every Israelite family, returnees, Benjaminites and Samarians alike. Jos 24 cele­brates the unification of these constituents of Biblical Israel under a common Torah, written in a world which was much less peaceful than Central Europe at the beginning of the 3 rd millennium C. E. Respect for Scriptures should be able to acknowledge that we are not the primary audience addressed by them – though we like every­body are invited to partake in them – and that the Hebrew Scriptures might not share all, or even most, of our present concerns and favorite notions.