I am in the process of reading the Book of Joshua, which is really freaking sweet. There’s none of this “And Zanzibar, the son of Hebron the son of Zeke the son of Morty the son of … of the tribe of Judah did count and there were nineteen thousand and seven hundred and twenty and four men of the tribe. And Mortimer the son of…” stuff in there. No, sir-ee, this is the action side: the conquest of Eretz Yisrael and smacking down the Canaanites. Now, before I begin, let me talk about genocide for a moment. Y’see, kids, genocide’s not very cool, and the only places in which total genocide was legally practiced (as far as I am aware) was within the borders of Eretz Yisrael, and the reason for it is that the Canaanites were so repulsive that they had spoiled the holy land. Folks in Egypt and Babylon, for example, were at least as bad as those in Canaan, as noted by how Abraham and Isaac both had to pretend that their wives were their sisters so as to not be murdered. But there was never any call for genocide among the Egyptians or Babylonians. In addition, there were three conditions which a Canaanite kingdom faced:
1) Evacuate Eretz Yisrael and thereby not be harmed (as once they left, they were no longer a special enemy and their moral perversions were relatively unimportant)
2) Keep the 7 laws of Noach, pay taxes, and perform national service. The 7 laws of Noach aren’t exactly too harsh, and though “national service” is kind of vague and fuzzy, it was hardly out of line with contemporary practices.
3) Face total war and get slaughtered. That was also not exactly unheard of at the time.
So basically, I’m trying to make genocide acceptable in this one case because it was a one-time situation. So if the people of Equador wish to declare total war on Latvia and kill every man, woman, child, and animal, I’m saying that this is not very cool.
So now for the rankings.
Jericho – This is G-d showing all of His angry and vengeful might. The Hebrews circle the city once a day for six days, and then six times on the seventh, and bam! the wall comes down and a slaughter is had by all. Joshua also kept the promise to protect Rahab and her family and levels an extra-cool curse on the city. All in all, this is what combat should be about. A+ (due to the miracle)
Ai, first battle – But alas, there is a problem. Achan, jerkstore of Carmi, son of blah, blah, blah, stole some consecrated goods from Jericho. Because of this, the Israelites get powned by the forces of Ai. Furthermore, Joshua just sends out a contingent rather than being the man with the plan. 36 people died, although the commentary states that it is possible that one guy who was worth 36 judges died, so there’s a 35-man discrepancy here, but that’s what you get for trying to use the prophets as a factual history book. D-
The battle of Achan – Joshua, after getting the snot kicked out of him, now decides to pray and atone, and as part of the atoning, there’s a stoning followed by a burning followed by a second stoning. That’s some overkill there; save it for the Canaanites, eh? C
Ai, second battle – In this battle, Joshua uses some extra-powerful tactics. He sends an army to the rear of the city and has them waiting for an ambush. Joshua, meanwhile, takes a small force and attempts to feign a direct assault. His troops are “beaten back” by the forces of Ai, and as this happens, the rear guard snaps in and conquers the city. The forces of Ai, apparently not leaving appropriate reserves in the city itself, get trapped in a pincers action and annihilated. The real beauty of this strategy is the feigned retreat. This was a Hannibal specialty, but in an ancient army, it was almost impossible to pull off. The reason is that once people start falling back, there’s a tendency for them to keep going, as they have neither the discipline nor the desire to be the last man standing. So there is a Prisoner’s Dilemma situation here that only highly trained soldiers can overcome. Joshua’s did so, and thus I get them an A-
Gibeonites – This just sucked. Joshua and the judges all got fooled bad. The Girgashites escaped to Africa because they did not want to face the Hebrews. The Gibeonites at first were willing to fight, but then changed their minds, and they tricked Joshua and the judges into allowing them to live. They did so because they believed that there was a time limit attached to the demand that they migrate, surrender, or die. D+
Gibeon – This battle saw Joshua’s army face off against 5 Amorite kings as Joshua had to save Gibeon from distruction. The battle took place on Friday afternoon, and Joshua wanted it to end before sundown, so he commanded the sun and the moon to stop. This shows how hardcore Joshua is: he doesn’t ask G-d to stop the sun and the moon; rather, he stops them himself. Not even James Earl Jones or Samuel L. Jackson could do that. During the battle, G-d chips in by crushing the Amorites with hailstones. A+
Makkedah, Cave – After the Amorite kings retreated, they holed up in a cave in Makkedah. Joshua got word and had the cave sealed by his men while the rest fought the Amorite forces. The Hebrews won and they took the kings out of the cave and killed all of them. Joshua himself did the killing and subsequent hanging. Because the battle itself was so weak, I cannot give it a good grade, but the fact that Joshua did his own dirty work means that he still earns a C+ here.
Makkedah, City – This king was killed in battle and the city utterly destroyed. C
Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir – All of these follow the same path: go to city, kill all inhabitants, kill king in battle. Kind of boring at this point, really, considering what’s happened already. C-