Don C. Benjamin, PhD

Dean at Kino Institute of Theology
Don's Blog
Stories of Rahab (Josh 2:1-24; 6:22-25)
Friday, 29 January 2016

Stories of Rahab as Host

(Josh 2:1–24 + 6:22–25)

Don C. Benjamin

Arizona State University

Stories of Rahab as Host begin when Joshua dispatches two warriors from Shittim on a reconnaissance mission. The destination of the warriors is not Jericho, but simply the land (Josh 2:24). They go directly to the house of a woman named Rahab. She greets these strangers with hospitality, in contrast to the ruler of the city, who will threaten them with violence. Almost immediately the ruler of the land sends soldiers to question Rahab about collaborating with Joshua’s warriors. The story ends when she rescues the two warriors with cleverness and courage.

The characters in the stories play roles in a society shaped by the tributary economics of Egypt at the end of the Late Bronze period (1400–1200 bce). Egypt stationed governors and military detachments, like the soldiers who interrogate Rahab, in Syria-Palestine to represent its interests. These governors leased the land to rulers, like the monarch in the story, to harvest raw materials like flax and to produce manufactured goods like rope for Egypt. Surrounding trade centers, like the city in the story, were villages of farmers and herders, like the household of Rahab. Governors set quotas of goods and services for each village. Representatives of these villages, like Rahab, lived in cities to protect their goods in transit.

The political reforms of Pharaoh Akhenaten (1364–1347 bce) plunged Egypt into economic turmoil. Egypt recalled its governors and soldiers from Syria-Palestine. Those Egyptian officials who remained were powerless to harvest and process raw materials. Households began to abandon their villages and pioneer new ones in the hills above the Jordan River. Some, like Joshua and his warriors, became raiders who attacked caravans moving to and from trade centers. Officials filled diplomatic pouches to Akhenaten’s government at Amarna with urgent appeals for help. These letters describe conditions similar to those in the books of Joshua and Judges.


Letter 244: 1-30[1]

To: Pharaoh, My Lord, My Sun
From: Biridiya, Your Loyal Client, Governor of Megiddo

I am your client, and I renew my covenant with you as my pharaoh by bowing before you seven times seven times.

Pharaoh should know that, since he recalled his archers to Egypt, Lab’ayu, the Governor of Shechem, has not stopped raiding the land of Megiddo. The people of Megiddo cannot leave the city to harvest for fear of Lab’ayu's soldiers.

Because you have not replaced the archers, Lab’ayu is now strong enough to attack the city of Megiddo itself. If pharaoh does not reinforce the city, Lab’ayu will capture it.

The people of Megiddo are already suffering from hunger and disease. I beg pharaoh to send 100 soldiers to protect Megiddo from Lab’ayu or he will certainly capture the city.

References to flax and rope in the stories may suggest that the household of Rahab made rope from flax for Egypt. Wild flax is a delicate plant with beautiful blue flowers and is native to Syria-Palestine. As early as 5000 bce, farmers began domesticating the first of some 200 species eventually used throughout the world of the Bible for linseed oil, fodder, cloth, and rope. The Gezer Almanac assigns a month for harvesting flax.

Gezer Almanac[2]

August-September to harvest olives,                              
October-November to sow wheat and barley,    
December-January to plant vegetables,    
February to cut hay,                                                                
March to harvest barley,                                                  
March-April to harvest wheat and distribute tithes,             
May-June to cut grapes,                                                  
July-August to harvest figs and pomegranates

Farmers pulled the stalks when the seeds were ripe and dried them. Refiners pressed the seeds to extract linseed oil. The dregs became animal fodder. After soaking the stalks to ret, or loosen, the outer fibers, they spread them on rooftops to dry. Weavers hackled, or combed, the fibers from the inner core and spun them into thread. The short, tangled fibers left over from the combing were tow (Judg 16:9), which made a coarse yarn. Flax and wool were the standard fibers used to weave clothing until the development of cotton.

Rahab is a nickname that praises YHWH for enlarging a household (1 Chr 23:17; 24:21). Nevertheless, the opening episode introduces Rahab as a prostitute. Joshua’s warriors may have gone to her house to have sex, but the relationship between the warriors and the woman may be much more sophisticated.

The stories contrast Rahab’s shameful title and honorable actions with the honorable title and shameful actions of Joshua. They use a label like prostitute for Rahab in its crisis in order to refute it in the denouement. With the exception of this label of shame, the stories treat Rahab with honor throughout.

Even though Rahab subverts the male establishments of both Joshua and the ruler of the land, her behavior is neither prohibited nor scandalous, like the behavior of Ruth (Ruth 3:1–18), of Tamar (Gen 38:1–30), or of Bathsheba (1 Kgs 1:5–53). The stories contain no demurs insisting that Rahab is not a suitable candidate for her mission. In the books of Samuel-Kings, Jesse apologizes: …here remains yet the youngest, but behold he is keeping the sheep (1 Sam 16:11). In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet demurs: YHWH, my divine patron, I do not even know how to speak (Jer 1:6). Not one character in these Stories of Rahab as Host, however, apologizes that she is only a prostitute.

Later biblical and rabbinical traditions also treat Rahab with honor. The books of Ezra-Nehemiah-Chronicles (1 Chr 2:10) honor Rahab as the mother of Boaz. Respect for Rahab continues in the earliest translations and commentaries. Early Jewish translations (Aramaic: Targumim) of the Bible into the Aramaic language translate the Hebrew word for prostitute into Aramaic as innkeeper. Rabbis like Rashi argue that Rahab is a grocer. The Letter to the Hebrews honors her as a woman of faith (Heb. 11:31). The rabbis celebrate Rahab as one of the four most beautiful women in the world. The Talmud has Joshua marry Rahab, so that, ironically, he masters Syria-Palestine only to be mastered by Syria-Palestine’s most engaging woman. At least eight of their descendants were prophets of the stature of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Huldah (b. Meg. 15a).

The time when the Stories of Rahab as Host were told may offer one explanation for the contrast between her title and her actions. Like many traditions about Joshua, who lived at the end of the Late Bronze period, these stories developed during the reign of Josiah.

Josiah called all the people of Judah to the Temple in Jerusalem to renew the covenant (2 Kgs 23:21–23; 2 Chr 35:1–19).  Consequently, the book of Joshua portrays Joshua calling the Hebrews to the sanctuary at Shechem to renew their covenant with YHWH (Josh 24:1–28). The household of Rahab may have considered the Temple in Jerusalem as little more than a royal chapel, so may have continued to worship YHWH at the Gilgal sanctuary of Jericho. Josiah and the household of David could go up to the Temple to tell their stories of the great works that YHWH did in Jerusalem, but the household of Rahab would go to Gilgal to tell the stories of the great works that YHWH did at Jericho. Consequently, Josiah’s prophets labeled Rahab a prostitute, not because of the work she did in the Late Bronze period, but because of the political position that her household took in the Iron Age (2 Kgs 9:22; Isa 23:16–17; Nah 3:4). She is a prostitute because her household was in political exile in the days of Josiah.

A similar use of prostitute to mean traitor or heretic appears in a Trial of Samaria in the book of Micah (Micah 1:2–7), which does not indict Samaria for failing to prosecute women and men who are sex workers, but indicts the state for negotiating covenants for trade and military assistance that provided luxury for a few and poverty for many.  

A Trial of Samaria

(Micah 1:2-7 DCB)

2 Hear, you peoples, all of you;
   listen, O earth, and all that is in it;
and let YHWH, our divine patron, be a witness against you,
   YHWH from the Holy Temple. 
3 For lo, YHWH is coming out of the sanctuary,
   and will come down and destroy all the other sanctuaries throughout the land. 
4 Then the mountains will melt under YHWH
   and the valleys will burst open,
like wax near the fire,
   like waters poured down a steep place. 
5 All this is for the transgression of Jacob
   and for the sins of the Household of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
   Is it not Samaria?
And where is the sanctuary of Judah?
   Is it not Jerusalem? 
6 Therefore I will make Samaria a ruin in an abandoned field,
   a place for planting vineyards.
I will roll her stones down into the valley,
   and dig up her foundations. 
7 All her sacred statues shall be broken into pieces,
   all her wages shall be burned with fire,
   and all her sacred statues I will destroy;
for as the wages of a prostitute she gathered them,
   and as the wages of a prostitute they shall again be used. 

Micah parodies the titles of the women, whose marriages ratified these state covenants, by labeling them prostitutes, and the goods and services that Samaria enjoyed from the covenants as the wages of prostitutes. Therefore, it was not the household of Joshua in early Israel that labeled Rahab a prostitute, but the household of Josiah during the final days of the monarchy in Judah.

In contrast to the other traditions in the book of Joshua, Rahab, and not Joshua and his warriors, is the protagonist in the story. Even more unusual, in contrast to Rahab who is wise, the story casts Joshua and his warriors as fools. The tradition celebrates Rahab as more faithful to YHWH than Joshua and his warriors, and as a better warrior. She also outwits the ruler of the land and his soldiers.

Joshua has seen all the powerful events that YHWH has brought about at the Red Sea and east of the Jordan Valley. Rahab has only heard about these great works. Yet Joshua is doubting, while Rahab is believing. Joshua sees, and does not believe. Rahab only hears, but believes.

When YHWH commissions Joshua to take the land, the appropriate response is for him to go and take the land. Instead Joshua sends out a reconnaissance mission. Today military science requires reconnaissance, but herem war in the world of the Bible forbids it.

Reconnaissance missions determine the strength of the enemy, which in herem war is irrelevant. Warriors are expected to go into herem war at a disadvantage in order to highlight the victory as divine rather than human. To prepare for herem war, chiefs like Joshua use prophets (1 Kgs 22:5), divination (2 Kgs 13:15), necromancy (1 Sam 28:6), and the ephod with its Urim and Thummim (1 Sam 30:7–8; 1 Sam 28:6), but not reconnaissance.

Reconnaissance characterizes warriors as petty (Num 13:1–14:15), cowardly (Deut 1:19–46), greedy (Judg 1:22–26), and heretical (Judg 18:1–31). Going into battle against a superior opponent is an act of faith that highlights the victory as YHWH’s, not Israel’s. Jerubba’al (Gideon) twice reduces the size of the tribe mustered to defend Israel against the Midianites (Judg 7:1–8:28). Likewise, Deuteronomy (Deut 13:13–19) assumes that the size of a city convicted of treason is of no consequence to the punitive expedition ordered against it.

Rahab has all of the military skills that Joshua lacks. Joshua personally selects the messengers to gather intelligence for him, yet they are so incompetent that the soldiers of the land detect them immediately. Rahab is a master of combat tactics. She is an expert in designing safe houses. She knows how to use camouflage and to distribute misinformation. She knows all the commando tactics necessary to scale down the walls of a city, and just how to avoid the soldiers who patrol the border along the Jordan River.

Rahab is also more faithful to YHWH than Joshua is. She has no doubts that YHWH will conquer the land. Therefore, she asks his warriors to spare her household when YHWH sweeps through the city as YHWH spared the Hebrews when a divine warrior swept through Egypt slaying their firstborn (Exod 12:23).

Like the Hebrews who celebrated their first Passover from slavery in Egypt by marking their doors with lamb’s blood, Rahab celebrates the Passover of her household by marking her window with a blood-red rope (Josh 2:18; 6:25).

Finally, Rahab is more powerful than the ruler of the land, who considers her both ambitious and capable of overthrowing him. He had her under surveillance. His soldiers also respect Rahab, and obey her orders to search for the messengers outside the walls.

The crisis episode (Josh 2:1) condenses the actions that appear in most hospitality stories (Gen 18:1–15; 19:1–22; Judg 19:1–30; 2 Sam 17:15–22). The commission that Joshua gives to the messengers now almost completely eclipses Rahab’s actions. Since Joshua is not the protagonist, it would be better to read his orders to the warriors as a clause that modifies the strangers to whom Rahab offers hospitality: …two warriors, whom Joshua ben Nun dispatched from a sacred grove of eucalyptus trees with the orders: ‘Go and scout the land, approached the gates of the land at sundown disguised as messengers. When Rahab the prostitute saw them coming, and went to meet them. She bowed to the ground and said: Please come to my house. Wash your feet and spend the night. Then you may rise early and go on your way (Josh 2:1).

The climax (Josh 2:2–7) reports the shrewdness with which Rahab defends the warriors. The Bible regularly celebrates the shrewdness with which Israel’s ancestors outwit foreign rulers. Abraham shrewdly outwits Pharaoh (Gen 12:9–13:1) and the ruler of Gerar (Gen 20:1–18). Isaac outwits a Philistine ruler (Gen 26:1–11). This stories cast Rahab as being as shrewd as Abraham or Isaac.

There are two episodes in the denouement (Josh 2:8–24). One recounts a Covenant between YHWH and Rahab (Josh 2:8–14), the other her celebration of Passover (Josh 2:15–24).

The first episode reports Rahab’s profession of faith. She ratifies two basic articles of Israel’s creed: it is YHWH who gives Israel land (Josh 2:8–9) and it is YHWH who sets the Hebrews free (Josh 2:10). Her vocabulary is almost all taken from Deuteronomy (Deut 25:5–9), which was the basis of Josiah’s reform (Deut 6:21–23; 26:5–10). She also promises to help Joshua capture the land (Josh 2:12–13). Joshua’s warriors react by granting Rahab and her household amnesty (Josh 2:14).

In the second episode of the denouement Rahab exercises her obligations as a covenant partner of YHWH by helping Joshua’s warriors escape (Josh 2:15–16). They reaffirm their promise of amnesty for her household (Josh 2:17–24). This episode uses prolepsis, which arranges events according to importance, not chronology. Rahab lets the warriors down by a rope (Josh 2:15) before negotiating a covenant with them (Josh 2:16–18). Chronologically, she would have negotiated with Joshua’s warriors before lowering them over the city wall.

The intention of the stories is to remind its audience that Rahab is not a renegade – a prostitute; she is the mother of a household. The household of Rahab snapped up Josiah’s label of prostitute and used the stories to refute it (2 Kgs 23:7). How can an ancestor like Sarah (Gen 12:9–13:1), Tamar (Gen 38:1–30), Shiphrah, Puah (Exod 1:12–21), the daughter of Levi (Exod 2:1–10), and Miriam (Exod 15:20–21) be a prostitute? How can a chief like Deborah (Judg 4:1–5:31), who delivers the Hebrews from their enemies, be a prostitute?

The stories warn the household of Josiah to remember that the hospitality that earned the household of Rahab honor in early Israel should not be taken away by someone whose own ancestors were its beneficiaries. The household of Rahab retains the label in introducing its ancestor Rahab, to question how a household that did not betray Joshua could betray Josiah. Without the hospitality, the military skill, and the unconditional faith of Rahab, the warriors of Joshua would have died in the gates of the land. The household of Rahab, in fact, is not a prostitute, but a covenant partner. Her household is hospitable, not hostile, to both Joshua and Josiah.

The Stories of Rahab as Host were told to defend her household against a new Joshua, named Josiah, who tried to excommunicate it for continuing to worship YHWH outside Jerusalem. The cruel irony -- that the household of Rahab had welcomed as strangers those whose descendants were trying to exterminate it -- may have led the household to question the value of hospitality as a means of survival. The stories reminded the household that the same YHWH who delivered it once from Joshua, will would deliver it again from Josiah. By contrasting Rahab’s gracious hospitality, outstanding military skill, and profound faith in YHWH with Joshua’s questioning faith and bungling strategy, the storytellers certified that her household should not be exterminated, but continue to enjoy all the rights and privileges of a covenant partner in early Israel.

The Stories of Rahab as Host introduce the books of Joshua and Judges to emphasize that the Hebrews conquer the land by accepting hospitality from Rahab. She hears what YHWH has done for the Hebrews, and negotiates a covenant of her own with YHWH for land and children. The Hebrews join the inhabitants of the land in overthrowing the monarchs who oppress them. The stories create a stark contrast between the violence of a Joshua and the other chiefs, who exterminate strangers, and the hospitality of a Rahab and her household, who welcome them. The land belongs, not to the powerful like Joshua and his warriors who conquer its peoples, but to the powerless like Rahab and her household who welcome strangers with hospitality.


Assis, Elie. "The Choice to Serve God and Assist His People: Rahab and Yael." Biblica 85, no. 1 (2004): 82-90.

Barstad, Hans M. "The Old Testament Personal Name Rāchāb : An Onomastic Note." Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 54, (01/01, 1989): 43-49.

Bauckham, Richard. "Tamar's Ancestry and Rahab's Marriage : Two Problems in the Matthean Genealogy." Novum Testamentum 37, no. 4 (10/01, 1995): 313-329.

Bird, Phyllis A. "The Harlot as Heroine : Narrative Art and Social Presupposition in Three Old Testament Texts." Semeia no. 46 (01/01, 1989): 119.

Campbell, K. M. "Rahab's Covenant : A Short Note on Joshua 2:9-21." Vetus Testamentum 22, no. 2 (04/01, 1972): 243-244.

Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. "Reading Rahab." In Tehillah Le-Moshe: Biblical and Judaic Studies in Honor of Moshe Greenberg, edited by Cogan, Mordechai, Barry L. Eichler and Jeffrey H. Tigay, 57-67. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1997.

Gillmayr-Bucher, Susanne. "'She Came to Test Him with Hard Questions': Foreign Women and their View on Israel." Biblical Interpretation 15, no. 2 (01/01, 2007): 135-150.

Hawk, L. D. "Strange Houseguests : Rahab, Lot, and the Dynamics of Deliverance." In Reading between Texts, 89-97. Louisville, Ky: Westminster/John Knox Pr, 1992.

Hawkins, Peter S. "God's Trophy Whore." In From the margins v 1, Women of the Hebrew Bible and their afterlives, 52-70. Edited by Peter S. Hawkins and Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009.

Howard,David M.,,Jr. "Rahab's Faith : An Exposition of Joshua 2:1-14." Review & Expositor 95, no. 2 (03/01, 1998): 271.

Kuan, Jeffrey K. and Mai-Anh Le Tran. "Reading Race Reading Rahab: A 'Broad' Asian American Reading of a 'Broad' Other." In Postcolonial Interventions: Essays in Honor of R.S. Surgirtharajah, edited by Liew, Tat-siong Benny, 27-44. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009.

Leith, Mary Joan Winn. "The Archaeology of Rahab." Biblical Archaeology Review 33, no. 4 (07/01, 2007): 22-318.

Lockwood, Peter F. "Rahab: Multi-Faceted Heroine of the Book of Joshua." Lutheran Theological Journal 44, no. 1 (05/01, 2010): 39-50.

Lyons, William L. "Rahab in Rehab: Christian Interpretation of the Madame from Jericho." In Women in the Biblical World: a survey of Old and New Testament Perspectives, 31-42. Edited by Elizabeth A. McCabe. (Editor) Lanham MD: University Press of America, 2009.

Matthews, Victor H. "Herem Versus Hospitality in the Story of Rahab." In The Genre of Biblical Commentary: Essays in Honor of John E. Hartley on the Occasion of His 75th Birthday, edited by Thomas D. Finlay and William Yarchin, 217-233. Eugene OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015.

Matthews, Victor H. and Don C. Benjamin, eds. Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East. 4th revised and enlarged edition ed. Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2016.

McKay, Heather A. "Eve's Sisters Re-Cycled: The Literary Nachleben of Old Testament Women." In Recycling Biblical Figures, 169-191. Leiden: Deo, 1999.

McKinlay, Judith E. "Rahab : A Hero/ine?" Biblical Interpretation 7, no. 1 (01/01, 1999): 44-57.

Mosser, Carl. "Rahab Outside the Camp." In Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, edited by Bauckham, Richard, Daniel R. Driver, Trevor A. Hart and Nathan MacDonald, 383-404. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Ottosson, Magnus. "Rahab and the Spies." In DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A: Studies in Honor of Ake W Sjoberg, edited by Behrens, Hermann, Darlene M. Loding and Martha Tobi Roth, 419-427. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1989.

Robinson, Bernard P. "Rahab of Canaan--and Israel." Sjot 23, no. 2 (01/01, 2009): 257-273.

Rowlett, Lori L. "Disney's Pocahontas and Joshua's Rahab in Postcolonial Perspective." In Culture, Entertainment and the Bible, 66-75. Sheffield, Eng.: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.

Runions, Erin. "From Disgust to Humor: Rahab's Queer Affect." In Bible Trouble, 45-74. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.

———. "From Disgust to Humor: Rahab's Queer Affect." Postscripts 4, no. 1 (01/01, 2008): 41-69.

Sherwood, Aaron. "A Leader's Misleading and a Prostitute's Profession: A Re-Examination of Joshua 2." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31, no. 1 (09, 2006): 43-61.

[1] Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, eds., Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East., 4th revised and enlarged edition ed. (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2016).

[2] Ibid.

Ritual Violence at Jericho
Saturday, 23 January 2016

Ritual Violence at Jericho

(Josh 5:13–6:27)


Don C. Benjamin

Old Testament Story: an introduction (2004: 133-141)

            The Bible sets the Inauguration of Joshua (Josh 5:13–6:27) at Jericho. Jericho is an oasis in the Jordan River Valley some 840 feet below sea level and 20 miles north of the Dead Sea. In contrast with the Hills of Galilee, which average 40 inches of rainfall a year, and with the Hills of Samaria, which average about 30 inches of rainfall a year, and with Jerusalem, which averages 24 inches, and with Beth-shan, which averages 13 inches, Jericho receives only six inches of rainfall a year.

Jericho was founded on a site where two fault lines cut deep into the hill country, creating two east–west highways running between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley. One route, called the Beth-horon Pass, ran through the Valley of Aijalon near Jerusalem; the other ran near Gibeah and Michmash. What draws the telling of the Inauguration of Joshua to Jericho is not only its strategic location, but also its standing as a threshold separating chaos from cosmos. Jericho was the place where the world began, where cosmos was created. Therefore Jericho was the site where Joshua was inaugurated to teach the people of Yahweh to live in the land of Yahweh without cities like Jericho.

Cities were the legacy of the pharaohs and the work of slaves. A thousand years after the days of Joshua, the people of Qumran still renewed their covenant with Yahweh by crossing the Jordan River and processing around its Jericho’s ruins.

Generation after generation left marks at Jericho. Mesolithic pioneers occupied the site in 8000 BCE during the Natufian era. Neolithic engineers fortified Jericho with a massive wall, tower, and dry moat between 8500 and 4300 BCE Early Bronze settlers occupied the site from 2900 to 2300 BCE Hyksos warriors established a battle camp at Jericho fortified with a sloping glacis and mud-brick wall in 1750–1560 BCE Hezekiah (726–697 BCE) and Simon (142–134 BCE) were the last kings of Judah to rebuild it (Judg 3:13; 2 Sam 10:5; 1 Chr 19:5).

Despite Jericho’s long history, however, the site was uninhabited as often as inhabited. Jericho was a ghost town from 4000 to 2900 BCE, from 2300 to 1750 BCE, from 1560 to 716 BCE, and from 587 to 142 BCE The existing ruins at Jericho and Ai, Jericho’s sister city, date from the Early Bronze period (3300–2000 BCE) or the Middle Bronze period (2000–1550 BCE). As yet, there is no archaeological evidence for a city or a destruction layer at either site after 1200 BCE (Fig. 30).

Kathleen Kenyon (1906–78) of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem was the most accomplished archaeologist to excavate Jericho (1952–58). For her, Jericho was a strongly fortified Hyksos city during the Middle Bronze period. Like the Hebrews, the Hyksos were a Semitic people. They ruled an empire that stretched from Avaris near Cairo today to the Carmel Mountains near Haifa. Their city at Jericho was destroyed more than 250 years before Joshua, and remained abandoned until 716 BCE, when Hezekiah rebuilt it. More than one explanation has been offered to reconcile the destruction of Jericho described in the book of Joshua with the lack of solid archaeological evidence that a city existed at the site in the days of Joshua.

Perhaps the traditions describing the conquest of Jericho and Ai (Josh 1–9) are not battle reports, but explanations of the ruins that the Hebrews found at Jericho and at Ai. Since this proposal was first suggested, anthropologists have shown that storytellers do use striking natural phenomena and human ruins familiar to their audiences to punctuate stories, but they do not tell stories just to explain natural phenomena and human ruins.

Perhaps Jericho’s Late Bronze–period city may still lie beneath a section of the tell that has not yet been excavated. No full scale excavations have been conducted at Jericho since those directed by Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated only a small portion of the site.

Perhaps the city that Joshua conquered may have been completely eroded by Syria-Palestine’s winter rains and the modern Israeli highway. There was a real city at the site when the Hebrew villages appeared in the area, but all trace of that city has vanished.

Perhaps the people whom Joshua conquered in the Late Bronze period were living behind Middle Bronze–period walls. They did not build their own walls in the Late Bronze period, but simply recycled those from an earlier period.


Charles Warren (1867–68) dug three thirty-foot shafts into the tell and determined that the 70-foot high, 10-acre mound (1200 N-S x 600 E-W feet) was artificial, not natural.

Ernst Sellin and Carl Watzinger (1907–09, 1911) mapped the Middle Bronze period (1600 BCE) retaining wall, 15 feet high, at the base of the tell.

Using a pottery chronology now considered faulty, John Gartstang (1930–36) dated mud-brick wall and city at stratum IV to the Late Bronze period and their destruction to Joshua (1400–1380 BCE).

Kathleen Kenyon (1952–58), whose reports were finally published in 1981–83, dug three trenches on N, W, and S sides of the tell, dated the tower (25 feet diam., 25 feet high) to Neolithic period (7000 BCE), mud-brick wall (6.5 feet wide, 12 feet high) and 40-degree glacis to the Early Bronze period, but mud-brick wall and city at stratum iv to the Middle Bronze period (1350 BCE) because there was no Mycenaean pottery associated with either.

Bryant G. Wood (“Did the Israelites Conquer Jericho? A New Look at the Archaeological Evidence,” BARev 16 [March/Apr: 1990]: 44–57) did not excavate Jericho, but restudied Kenyon’s records, and argues that:

1) 20 strata, 3 major destructions, 12 minor destructions cannot be assigned to only 100 years (1650–1550 BCE);

2) There is Late Bronze–period local pottery in Garstang’s and Kenyon’s finds;

3) Jericho is not on a trade route, hence would not import Late Bronze–period Mycenaean pottery like Megiddo and Gezer;

4) Kenyon excavated an ordinary neighborhood where imported Mycenaean pottery would not occur;

5) Kenyon excavated only two 26-foot x 26-foot squares, which provides too little data to be conclusive;

6) Hyksos retreating from Egypt would not have destroyed Jericho, which was their own city;

7) Egyptians did not pursue Hyksos north of Sharuhen in the Negeb;

8) Egyptians always attacked before harvest, and six bushels of wheat recovered indicate city fell after harvest;

9) Continuous scarab record in tombs from the Middle Bronze period through the Late Bronze period (1800–1400 BCE) indicates a Late Bronze–period city did exist

And concludes that:

1) A landslide caused by a Late Bronze–period (1400 BCE!) earthquake blocked Jordan;

2) An earthquake collapsed the Late Bronze–period mud-brick wall, which tumbled across retaining wall;

3) The Hebrews used rubble as a ladder to enter the city;

4) Spontaneous fires caused by collapsing buildings destroyed the city.

Figure 30 Jericho’s Archaeological Record


Perhaps the “Jericho” in these traditions may originally have been “Bethel,” which, like Ai, was also a sister city of Jericho. There is clear evidence for Bethel’s destruction in the Late Bronze period, and storytellers may eventually have transferred the battle of Bethel to the more famous Jericho.

Perhaps Kenyon simply overlooked evidence for a city at Jericho during the Late Bronze period. There may be locally made Late Bronze pottery among Kenyon’s finds, even though there is no Late Bronze–period pottery imported from Mycenae. There may also be scarab seals from the Late Bronze period among the grave goods that Kenyon recovered. Burned grain recovered from the excavation may show that Jericho fell quickly and not after a prolonged siege. An earthquake may have created a landslide that held back the waters of the Jordan and tumbled the city’s main mud-brick wall, providing a ramp down from the top of the tell across its glacis and retaining wall. The Hebrews may have climbed up this ramp into the city set ablaze when roofs collapsed into cooking fires.

The interpretation here, however, assumes that it was the ruins of Jericho, and not a living city, that inspired the Inauguration of Joshua at Jericho. The ruins of its lofty tower and massive walls were monuments to the affluence and organization of the peoples who once lived at Jericho. Like others who came on these ruins, the Hebrews were awestruck. The ruins made the Hebrews wonder why Yahweh allowed this great city to be destroyed, and whether or not they should rebuild it.

The Hebrews had good reasons to rebuild Jericho. Rebuilding the city would be an act of stewardship. They would be repairing the land that Yahweh had willed to them. Normally, heirs were expected to take immediate possession of their testator’s estates in order to begin payment of the agreed annuity or sacrifices. Rebuilding Jericho would also allow the Hebrews to enjoy its affluence. Jericho was an economic gold mine. Obviously, the founders of Jericho knew how to make a good living in this land, and the Hebrews wanted to imitate them. The Hebrews hoped Jericho could make Israel as rich as their predecessors on the site.

The Inauguration of Joshua at Jericho reflects the idealism of early Israel. The Hebrews who built their villages in the hills above Jericho were survivors of the great slave empires of Egypt, Hatti, and Mycenae. Cities were the hallmark of these empires. While most cultures in the world of the Bible looked on cities as great accomplishments, these early Hebrews considered cities to be monuments to slavery. Hence, they created a village culture, not a city culture. To prevent slavery, early Israel prohibited not only cities, but monarchs, taxes, and soldiers as well. Life in early Israel would be simple, but it would be free.

Interdicts similar to the one placed on Jericho in the Inauguration of Joshua at Jericho also appear in a tradition about Babel (Gen 11:1–90) and a tradition in the book of Deuteronomy (Deut 6:10–19). To rebuild Jericho would return the Hebrews to the slavery from which Yahweh had delivered them. Cities and slavery were the antithesis of being Hebrew. The Inauguration of Joshua warns the Hebrews not to rebuild Jericho, but to leave the city in ruins, and off-limits, as a reminder that only in a land without cities can they remain free.

Crisis Episode

(Josh 5:13)

            The Inauguration of Joshua at Jericho (Josh 5:13–6:27) follows the same pattern as the Inauguration of Marduk in the Enuma Elish Stories from Mesopotamia (Fig. 31). Just as the divine assembly of Babylon inaugurates Marduk to confront Tiamat, Yahweh inaugurates Joshua to confront Jericho. Inauguration stories identify candidates to the community and authorize their use of power. These stories defend leaders against charges of ambition by portraying them as simply following the commission of their divine patrons. Inaugurations regularly open with candidates pursuing ordinary tasks.

When the book of Joshua opens, the Hebrews are east of the Jordan River. Some are content, even proud, to remain there. They have no desire to cross the frontier into the unexplored land to the west. Yahweh interrupts this peaceful existence and inaugurates Joshua to lead the Hebrews into a new world. When the inauguration opens, Joshua is cast as a sentry on guard duty at the perimeter of the Hebrew camp. Yahweh approaches the camp as a warrior responding to a call to arms (1 Sam 13:2; 22:7; 24:3; 2 Sam 6:1).

The intention of the theophany is to attract the attention of a candidate and to lure the candidate into the presence of Yahweh. The armed warrior attracts the attention of Joshua, just as the burning bush attracts the attention of Moses at Mt. Horeb (Exod 3:3). Joshua challenges the warrior to identify himself: Are you for us, or for our enemies? (Josh 5:13) The warrior answers: Neither! (Josh 5:14), which is a characteristic refusal of Yahweh to identify himself on demand. Only Yahweh asks questions. At ease! would be a better translation of Yahweh’s refusal to give the password.

The prohibition of images of Yahweh (Deut 5:8–10) in an aniconic culture like ancient Israel imposes restraints on any theophany in the Bible, which technically can never be an image of Yahweh. Therefore, inaugurations regularly introduce Yahweh vaguely as a messenger (Exod 3:2) or a man from the household of our Creator (Judg 13:6). In the Inauguration of Abraham at Mt. Moriah (Gen 21:33–22:19), a messenger speaks to Abraham twice (Gen 22:10+15), before Yahweh speaks to him (Gen 22:16). In the Inauguration of Moses at Mt. Horeb (Exod 2:23–4:23), a messenger appears (Exod 3:2), before Yahweh speaks (Exod 3:6). Although the Annunciation to the Wife of Manoah (Judg 13:1–25) never formally introduces Manoah and his wife to the man from our Creator, only Yahweh hears prayers (Judg 13:9), eats sacrifices (Judg 13:15–16), and refuses to give the candidate a name (Judg 13:17–18). The motif of Yahweh as a warrior with the a fiery sword


inauguration story crisis (Josh 5:13)

When Joshua appeared at Jericho, a warrior suddenly approached him with his sword drawn. Joshua challenged the stranger: Friend or foe?

inauguration story climax (Josh 5:14)

The warrior answered: At ease! I am Yahweh, commander of the divine warriors. I am with you.

Joshua fell to his knees, touching his forehead to the ground. Your word is my command!

 Yahweh Sabaoth ordered Joshua: Take off your sandals. You are standing on holy ground.

So Joshua removed his sandals.

inauguration story denouement: a creation story (Josh 6:1–27)

Jericho was unable to muster soldiers or assemble elders before the Israelites. Then Yahweh said to Joshua: I have delivered Jericho with its ruler and all its warriors to you. Your warriors should circle the city in procession once a day for six consecutive days. Seven priests should walk in procession with their trumpets in front of the ark of Yahweh. On the seventh day, walk in processions around the city seven times. Order the priests to blow their trumpets and the warriors to shout their battle cry: is Lord!’ In response, the walls of the city will prostrate before the procession of warriors walking one behind the other.

So Joshua, the son of Nun, ordered the priests to shoulder the ark, and assigned seven priests with trumpets to lead it out of the camp. He ordered the warriors to circle the city in procession in front of the ark, and they carried out Joshua’s orders. Seven priests blowing their trumpets led the ark of Yahweh out of the camp with warriors walking both in front of the ark and behind it. Although the priests blew their trumpets continuously, Joshua had ordered the warriors not to shout their battle cry until he gave the word.

On the first day, the ark circled the city only once before returning to camp for the night. At dawn, Joshua ordered the priests to shoulder the ark, and assigned seven priests blowing their trumpets continuously to lead it out of the camp with warriors walking both in front of the ark and behind it.

On the second day, they circled the city only once before returning to camp for the night.

On six consecutive days, they repeated the ritual.

At dawn on the seventh day, they walked in procession around the city, in the same order, a total of seven times. It was only on the seventh day that they circled the city seven times. On the seventh time, when the priests had blown their trumpets, Joshua gave the word to the warriors: Shout: ‘Yahweh has delivered the city into our hands! Sacrifice the city and everything in it to Yahweh. Spare only the household of Rahab the prostitute because she spared our warriors. Bring nothing from the sacrifice back to the camp. Plunder taken from a sacrifice contaminates everything it touches. Deposit the silver, gold, and bronze and iron from the sacrifice directly into the treasury of Yahweh.

The warriors shouted their battle cry as soon as the priests blew their trumpets.

In response, the walls of the city prostrated before the procession of warriors walking one behind the other. They sacrificed the entire city to Yahweh, men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses.

Joshua ordered the warriors who had scouted the land: Deliver the household of Rahab the prostitute as you swore to her you would do!” The warriors who had scouted the land delivered Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and their slaves, and brought them to the perimeter of the camp. They offered the city as a sacrifice and deposited all the silver, gold, bronze, and iron directly into the treasury of Yahweh. Nonetheless, they spared the household of Rahab the prostitute, who are still Israelites to this day, because she spared the warriors Joshua sent to scout Jericho. Joshua placed the city under interdict: “Cursed be the ruler who rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates.

 Yahweh was with Joshua, he was honored throughout the land.

Figure 31 Inauguration of Joshua at Jericho (Josh 5:13–6:27)


at the boundary between the old world and the new world also appears in a Story of Adam and Eve as Farmers and Child-bearers, where Yahweh stations the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24). Yahweh also appears as a warrior in the books of Samuel-Kings (2 Sam 24:16–17; 2 Kgs 19:35; 1 Chr 21:16) and in a Trial of David (2 Sam 24:16–17). The warrior who confronts David is armed only with a raised hand, but as in the Inauguration of Joshua at Jericho, the target of this warrior’s commission is a city. Yahweh talks with David about the city of Jerusalem, and with Joshua about the city of Jericho.

What takes place at this threshold will determine the future of Israel. Jericho is a sacred center and Yahweh guards its threshold with a fiery sword. Joshua must use competence and courage to deal with the guardian. Once across the threshold, the candidate is endowed with the wisdom of the sacred center by this guardian. To seize this wisdom, the candidate must challenge the guardian. Only by crossing the established boundaries, only by provoking the guardian’s destructive power, can the candidate obtain the guardian’s constructive power, which will allow the Hebrews to pass over into a new world. To cross the threshold, candidates must develop the discipline to deny the senses that limit them to the known world, and acquire a sense of the unknown new world. Armed with the confidence of this new sense, candidates confront the guardian without fear and lead their households forward. A Labor of Moses and Zipporah against Yahweh (Exod 4:24–26) and a Labor of Jacob against Yahweh (Gen 32:23–33) are parallel stories told about ancestors crossing a frontier to undertake a divine mission.

Climax Episode

(Josh 5:14)

            In the standard inauguration stories, Yahweh greets candidates formally by calling their name twice: Moses! Moses! (Exod 3:4). Once addressed, candidates realize they are in the presence of Yahweh. Instead of calling Joshua by name, however, Yahweh addresses him Joshua as his commander in chief: At ease, I am Yahweh, commander of the divine warriors (Josh 5:14).

Joshua, like candidates in other inauguration stories, prostrates himself. His posture is a demurral that demonstrates his lack of ambition and argues that he will take possession of Jericho only in obedience and not in a selfish quest for power. With both physical and verbal demurrals candidates promise to serve the community, not dominate it. Candidates in inauguration traditions are reluctant messengers.

Yahweh often responds to the demurrals of candidates with the promise: I am with you. This promise appears at both the beginning of the Inauguration of Joshua at Jericho when the warrior says to Joshua: as commander of the army of Yahweh I have now come (Josh 5:14), and at the end when the story confirms that Yahweh was with Joshua (Josh 6:27).

Yahweh often stays the transfer of a candidate from the human plane to the divine plane with the words: Fear not! The delay allows candidates to carry out a divine mission. Here Yahweh delays Joshua’s transfer by teaching him the protocol for an audience with his divine patron. He tells Joshua to remove his sandals, which will prevent the holiness of Yahweh from transfiguring him into a risk for the Hebrews when he returns to the camp.

Denouement Episode

(Josh 6:1–27)

            Joshua is now prepared to receive his divine commission. Standard commissions use a command (Exod 3:8–10), a Decalogue (Deut 5:6–21), or a covenant. This commission, however, is a creation story like the Enuma Elish Stories that developed in Mesopotamia, and the Stories of the Heavens and the Earth in the book of Genesis (Gen 1:1–2:4). When on high are the opening words of the Enuma Elish Stories (Enuma I: 1), and a good example of the standard opening words for creation stories. Likewise, When Joshua appeared before Jericho better translates the opening words of this inauguration. When the messenger of Yahweh appears, a radical change is imminent (Gen 39:5; Exod 12:13; 1 Sam 5:9; 7:13; 12:15).

Sterility affidavits are the standard crisis episodes in creation stories. They certify that when the creator begins to create, there is nothing but chaos.

The sterility affidavit of the creation story: all who went out of the gate of his city (Gen 34:24) and all who went in at the gate of his city (Gen 23:8–10) identify the two most important groups of men. As early as the culture of Sumer, cities were governed by warriors and elders. In the Stories of Gilgamesh, both the elders and the warriors commission him to declare war on Kish. Here in the Inauguration of Joshua, there are no warriors to protect Jericho from its enemies, and there are no elders to resolve disputes among its households. The city is as lifeless as the chaos before which Yahweh stands in the Stories of the Heavens and the Earth.

The climax episode in the creation story is a cosmogony. Yahweh directs Joshua to celebrate the end of the old world of Jericho and the beginning of the new world of Israel. This liturgy contains a series of rubrics describing what is to be done and what is to be said. For six days, the Hebrews are to walk in procession around Jericho once a day. On the seventh day, they are to process around the city seven times. These seven days of processions parallel the days of creation in the Stories of the Heavens and the Earth. This liturgy, however, does not draw cosmos from chaos, but returns cosmos to chaos. It is a reversed ritual that inverts the creative process.

Although some words in the liturgy do carry military connotations, they also carry liturgical connotations. For example, the same Hebrew word can mean army or people of Yahweh (Josh 6:8). Likewise, to carry the Ark of the Covenant was as much an act of war as an act of worship. In battle, the ark was a rallying point for warriors separated from their detachments. In worship, the ark was the pedestal of Yahweh toward which the congregation directed its attention.

The walls of Jericho are the divine patron of the city. They prostrate themselves, which signals that the old world of Jericho has come to an end, and acknowledges that Yahweh is the new divine patron of this land (Josh 6:20). The walls are to remain prostrate and the city is placed under interdict to remind the Hebrews that the old world of monarchs and taxes and soldiers and cities and slaves has ended. The Hebrews draw a circle as they dance with the ark around the ruin, creating a forbidden zone where only Yahweh may enter.

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Psychology of Disgust for Heaven and Hell
Friday, 18 December 2015


Richard Beck is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. Beck’s research is diverse stretching from the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. He also leads a weekly Bible study for inmates at the maximum security French-Robertson prison. During any given week Richard drives the van, preaches or washes dishes at Freedom Fellowship, a church community feeding and reaching out to those on the margins. On his popular blog Experimental Theology Beck writes about the theology of Johnny Cash, the demonology of Scooby-Doo or and Bible monsters.[1] His Unclean: meditations on purity, hospitality, and mortality (Wipf and Stock, 2011) is a reflection on the theological implications of the psychology of disgust. Beck's organizing metaphor for the way compassion overcomes disgust is the Eucharist, where Christians reverse disgust by swallowing the body and blood of Jesus rather than spitting it out. The cross is also a sign of disgust, which Christians reverse by hanging such a shameful image of execution on the walls of their houses. 

Beyond functioning as a boundary psychology we have also noted that disgust is an expulsive psychology. Not only does disgust create and monitor boundaries, disgust also motivates physical and behavioral responses aimed at pushing away, avoiding, or forcefully expelling an offensive object. We avoid the object. Shove the object away. Spit it out. Vomit. This expulsive aspect of disgust is also worrisome. Whenever disgust regulates our experience of holiness or purity we will find this expulsive element. The clearest biblical example of this is the scapegoating ritual in the Hebrew observance of the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16).....

 Christianity – like Judaism and Islam – are originally all spiritualities for those whom the majority population considered disgusting. Once, however, Constantine (272-337) endorsed Christianity as the new Roman world view (313); once Muslims conquered peoples in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia (634-750); once Jews proclaimed the state of Israel (1948); many Jews, Christians and Muslims no longer embraced the disgust of suffering with compassion. 


The man stumbled into the Sunday morning service drunk. He was bleeding heavily from his hand and left bloody handprints on the door and then on the pew. [2]


 Just as he arrived, we were gathering at the altar for the Eucharist. Before anyone had time to react, he was standing with us at the altar to receive the sacrament. The man was not a stranger to any of us. He had taken communion in this very spot before. He had delighted us with his wit and warmth. We knew him by name, and we knew he had a drinking problem, but it hadn’t quite manifested itself in this way. As the priest distributed the Eucharist, he said loudly, “I have hepatitis C.” At that moment, we had no time for abstract questions about the nature of the Christian sacrament, of Eucharistic theology or of the significance of the “Body of Christ,” but we did have a sudden need for answers. Should we commune with him or not? What would it mean to reject communion with him? What would it mean to walk away? What would it mean to send him away?

I remembered this scene vividly as I read Richard Beck’s book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality. Beck begins with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 9, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” Jesus gave this direction to those who were scandalized by his presence at the table with “many tax collectors and sinners.” He assumed that the meaning of “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” a quotation from the prophet Hosea, was not self-evident. It would require time and attention on the part of the Pharisees to “go and learn” what it means. Beck aims to follow Jesus’ direction and unravel this puzzle, using both contemporary psychological science and theological reasoning.

Beck sees mercy and sacrifice as “two impulses pulling in opposite directions” and as “intrinsically incompatible.” One reaches outside the boundaries of human societies to be inclusive and welcoming. Mercy is inherently hospitable. The other, sacrifice, withdraws for the sake of maintaining its boundaries. Sacrifices, in the ancient sense, are made to purify the individual or the community making them, and purity can never be a fundamentally welcoming impulse. The implications of this divide are present in every Christian church and at every Eucharistic table. Who is included? Who is excluded? What are the limits of mercy? What are the failings of sacrifice?

Beck approaches these questions from a unique direction. He begins by describing a classic psychological experiment on the emotion of disgust. Spit into a cup. Imagine a small cupful of such spit. Would you drink it? For the vast majority of people tested in psychological experiments, the answer is no, even if the cup contains one’s own spit. Once spit is removed from the mouth, it can’t go back in. It has become disgusting. Disgust, Beck says, is a deeply ingrained, but also learned, human response. Small babies put everything in their mouths without distinction. They might not like those things once they get there, but they have no cause to reject anything out of hand. Disgust is universal; all humans express it. But it is also cultural. Different cultures find different things inherently disgusting—too repugnant to put into the mouth. Beck calls disgust that has this biocultural dimension “core disgust.” It focuses primarily on “oral incorporation.”

Although this kind of disgust seems far removed from religious experience, Beck points out its associations with the Eucharist. The Eucharist asks us to incorporate something that might not be disgusting on the surface but that is associated with both body and blood—two things that are indeed disgusting to incorporate. In its most central ritual, Christianity is absorbed in the question of disgust and purity.

As symbolic and metaphorical creatures whose experience of the world is created to a large degree by language, humans extrapolate from the physical aspects of disgust to what Beck calls the sociomoral. Sociomoral disgust involves people whom we perceive to belong inside or outside of our circles.

Just like core disgust, sociomoral disgust has significant Eucharistic associations. At the table, we are called to “welcome each other as Christ has welcomed us.” Christ did not find our human impurity reason to dissociate from us. Instead, he took on the challenge of life in the human body and extended his reach outside the boundaries of his community (the Trinity), welcoming all, regardless of purity, into his fellowship. Thus, in the Eucharist, Christ continues to teach us what it means to welcome one another.

Lofty words. But as a lifetime member of the clergy, Beck knows that churches are often enclaves and cliques, and he is concerned about the importation of “contamination-based” reasoning into the life of the church. We do this importation unconsciously, and doing it is certainly very human, but it also works against the very nature of Christianity, which is founded on hospitality and the willing “contamination” of Jesus.

Beck considers contamination-based reasoning to be a kind of “theological sweet tooth.” It is a natural impulse to like the way purity-based thinking feels. Such thinking is self-justifying and creates feelings of security and connection with others. Beck writes that the church will always be “swimming against the tide of disgust psychology, always tempted to withdraw, separate and quarantine.” But we must fight against this tide through practices like the Eucharist that teach us physically and psychologically to desire mercy, not sacrifice—to overcome our tendency to reject and repel others.

Although Beck understands the modern psychological bent toward “healthy boundaries,” toward creating what phi­losopher Charles Taylor calls the “buf­fered self,” he doesn’t set much store by it theologically. He is concerned that Christians might borrow this language too thoroughly and let this version of the self—always in need of more and better boundaries—distort ancient teaching that the self must be surrendered in the work of love.

The final kind of disgust that Beck ad­dresses is “animal-reminder” disgust. This kind of disgust arises when we encounter ideas, people or realities that remind us of our own deaths—that we are “dust and to dust we shall return.” The scandal of the incarnation is the idea that the divine is linked to the animal. Humans are part animal and part spiritual beings, Beck reasons, and they can consider their condition from either perspective. Many of the things that we often call dirty are things that share this dual nature.

For example, sex is an animalistic activity that is sometimes experienced as a spiritual one. Citing psychological studies, Beck finds that people are most likely to call sex dirty when it reminds them of death, and it frequently does. This anxiety about sex and death is inherent in our speech and in our associations, in what we consider profane and what we call sacred.

Again, the Eucharist, Beck notes, is implicated in this kind of disgust. A key aspect of the Eucharist is the reminder that Jesus died. His body submitted to the fate of all bodies. The Eucharist reminds us of our vulnerability, our humility and our neediness. At the table, all share this vulnerability. All of us are the sinners with whom Jesus shares fellowship. What the Pharisees missed, Beck argues, was an understanding of their own need. They were unwilling to share basic animality with others. When they missed this, they also missed their capacity for love, which is an extension of need.

All three of these kinds of disgust—and their implications—were at play the day the drunk, bleeding, diseased man descended on our church’s Eucharist. In Beck’s theological framework, there was no room for denying him the Eucharist or for withdrawing ourselves. To have done so would have been a “failure of love.” But I am also well aware that our collective choice to do nothing, to proceed with the Eucharist as before, was not so much a choice of love as it was due to a lack of time. Perhaps, as Beck reasons, we had been trained in inclusion and acceptance every time we gathered at the table and heard the words of institution. Perhaps we were all just too stunned to move.

Beck is not, however, advocating a complete ban on purity-based thinking. In religious settings, such thinking has helped humans to access or imagine transcendence. The ritual life of the church—its version of sacrifice—is what makes the church the church. Beck singles out the Eucharist as a way to manage purity-based thinking. The Eucha­rist, Beck argues, “…helps keep purity psychology harnessed to and in tension with the call to hospitality. . . . The Eucharist, properly practiced, regulates how the church experiences otherness and difference.”

There’s the rub, eh? What constitutes the “properly practiced” Eucharist is a matter of contention, and one that is outside the considerable set of concerns Beck has already taken on. I mentioned the bloody man at the Eucharist to a friend of mine who is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, and, of course, she was horrified. “How could you let a person in that condition take the sacrament?” After all, the Bible tells us that the sacrament is to be practiced in a sober spirit, with self-reflection at its heart. Obviously, the drunk man was in no place to be self-reflective. And yet I argued, and still argue in my head, “Was I in a position to refuse him? Was the love of God unavailable to him? Would depriving him of the Eucharist have indicated an unwillingness to acknowledge our mutual need?” I still don’t quite know.

Unclean is nuanced, well-argued and relevant to the ins and outs of any Christian community. But given Beck’s reasoning and the two dirty feet on the book’s front cover, I was puzzled that he didn’t address another practice that Jesus bids his disciples to engage in: foot washing. Like the Eucharist, foot washing is an exercise in overcoming the impulse for disgust. It is so fundamentally boundary-crossing, intimate and frightening that the vast majority of churches—congregations that otherwise pride themselves on following Jesus closely—simply ignore Jesus’ clear instructions to practice it. Is foot washing more radical than the Eucharist? Does it put our fears and boundaries too vividly on display?

Amy Frykholm is an associate editor of The Christian Century and the author of Rapture CultureJulian of Norwich, and See Me Naked.

In the world of the Bible the connotations of the labels purity/impurity, holiness/unholiness, clean/unclean, and honor/shame were not disgust, as Beck suggests, but economic.[3] Pure, holy, clean households are in good standing financially and can feed and protect their members and contribute to the common good of the village. In contrast impure, unholy, unclean households are financially at risk unable to feed and protect the members of their households or contribute to the common needs of the other households in their villages.

Honor and shame are parallel labels used by anthropologists to describe approved or prohibited behavior. The words are parallel to wise and foolish in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job, and clean, unclean, holiness, purity and impurity in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Honor and shame defined the status of a household. The la­bels are analogous to credit ratings today. They distinguished households in good social and economic standing from those that were not. The labels do not indicate as much about what a household was actually doing or not doing, as about how other households reacted to what happened to them.

Honorable households were moderate. Their members did not get drunk, worked hard, made good friends, sought advice before acting, held their temper, paid their taxes, and imposed fair legal judgments. They were careful in dealing with one another during menstruation, sexual intercourse, childbirth, and death. They were equally conscientious about what food they ate, what clothes they wore, what animals they herded and what crops they planted in their fields. Honorable households could care for their own members and were prepared to help neighboring households. Their households were in good standing, authorized to make a living in their village and tribes, and entitled to their support. Only honorable households were entitled to buy, sell, trade, arrange marriages, serve in assemblies, and send warriors to the tribe. Only honorable households were entitled to make wills, appoint heirs, and serve as legal guardians to care for households endangered by drought, war, and epidemic. Honorable households were in place and functioning well.

Shamed households placed their resources in jeopardy. Their members ate too much, drank too much, were lazy, quarrelsome, selfish, and thought nothing about lying to the village assembly. They were thoughtless in their sexual relationships, and disrespectful of the new born and the dead. Their herds were mangy, and their farms run down. Shamed households did not fulfill their responsibilities to their villages and tribes. They were out-of-place and not functioning properly. Consequently, both their contributions to their villages and tribes as well as their eligibility for their support were suspended. The label downgraded the status of households until they demonstrated that they were once again providing for and protecting their human and natural resources.

Cultures create taxonomies—systems of classification—to organize their environment.[4] The Hebrews used YHWH’s strategy of creating by separating or organizing: cosmos from chaos, light from darkness, land from sea—to organize their environment (Gen 1:1—2:4). Creatures that conformed to divine order were clean and edible; those out of place or taboo—often translated abhorrent, abominable, perverted or unclean—were inedible.[5] Hybrids in nature or as the result of human engineering threatened divine order. Cooking a kid goat in its own mother’s milk, for example, violated boundaries created by YHWH where mother’s milk was to sustain life, not destroy it.

 The instructions consider animals with split hooves, and which ruminate—re-chew food already swallowed—like domestic oxen, sheep, goats, wild deer, gazelles, roebucks and wild goats, ibex, antelopes and mountain sheep—to conform to divine order and were therefore edible. Fish or seafood with both fins and scales and domestic birds with wings were also edible. In contrast, the instructions consider wild eagles, vultures, ospreys, buzzards, kites, ravens, ostriches, nighthawks, seagulls, hawks, little owls, great owls, water hens, desert owls, vultures, cormorants, storks, herons, hoopoes, bats and insects with wings to be out of order—they are not in the place YHWH assigned them at their creation—and are therefore inedible.[6]

Leviticus teaches fathers of households to choose two goats for a Day of Atonement ritual (Lev 6:6-26).  They are to butcher one goat as an offering for the sins of the household.  They are load the sins of the household on the other and drive it into the desert (Hebrew: Azazel).[7] This is not a ritual of disgust as Beck would label it, but a ritual of renewal like bankruptcy or the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation.

Humans who continue to gunnysack their guilt are eventually paralyzed by their guilt just like individuals with immense debt.  They can no longer contribute to their cultures, and, instead, drain its resources.  These rituals of renewal them to put their past in a sack and drop it off the bridge, and get on with rebuilding productive lives.  

Jesus taught little about heaven and hell, but Medieval Catholics and no small amount of Christian preaching today make it the centerpiece of Christian teaching. Beck’s psychology of disgust, sometimes treated with aversion or revulsion therapy, may have played a major role in the development of these Medieval Catholic teachings on heaven and hell.

 Aversion therapy pairs a dislikeable or disgusting stimulus with an undesirable behavior in order to reduce or eliminate that behavior.[8] Some loved ones, for example, who are negatively affected by an addictive relative or friend, will try the psychology of disgust to get addicts to stop using or drinking by describing to them in gross detail what how they act under the influence, and how their addicted behavior affects those around them.  Some parents use revulsion therapy to get their teenagers to stop smoking by forcing them to smoke the entire pack of cigarettes at one time, which they hope will make them sick, and not want to smoke again. 

During the Medieval period, Catholic Christians could not understand how anyone would not embrace Christianity, and similarly tried to use disgust in describing the disgusting experiences of hell -- like the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) or the Paradise Lost of John Milton (1608-1674) – to elicit conversion. 

Many of Jesus’ teachings on hell are misread and misused today by preachers addressing boundary audiences whom they challenge to convert or face burning in hell for eternity.[9] Jesus’ teachings heaven and hell teachings were not threatening, they were apocalyptic – aimed at consoling households threated by the wolves of Rome at their doors. Fear not, Jesus teaches, God knows you are in danger, and it will not go well with the wolves.

Like Isaiah (61:1-3), Jesus teaches (Luke 4:16-21): The spirit of YHWH, our divine patron is upon me, because YHWH has anointed me. YHWH has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of YHWH’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our divine patron; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. Jesus promises to deliver his followers. Follow my light, I am with you. No wonder so many who heard his call, dropped everything and followed him. The threat of hell plays no part in Jesus call to discipleship, because hell is what his followers are leaving behind.


Baker, John W. Personal Communication 2015.

Benjamin, Don C. The Social World of Deuteronomy: A New Feminist Commentary. Wisdom Commentary Series. Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015.

Blair, Judit M. De-Demonising the Old Testament: An Investigation of Azazel, Lilith, Deber, Qeteb and Reshef in the Hebrew Bible. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.

Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger; an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. New York: Praeger, 1966.

Hagedorn, Anselm C. "Deut 17,8-13: Procedure for Cases of Pollution?" Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 115, no. 4 (01/01, 2003): 538-556.

Matthews, Victor H. and Don C. Benjamin. Social World of Ancient Israel, 1250-587 BCE. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993.

Matthews, Victor H. and Don C. Benjamin. "Social Sciences and Biblical Studies." In Honor and Shame in the World of the Bible, edited by Matthews, Victor H. and Don C. Benjamin. Vol. 68, 7-21. Atlanta: Scholars, 1996.

Nash, Tom. "Devils, Demons, and Disease: Folklore in Ancient Near Eastern Rites of Atonement." In , 57-88. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1990.

Orlov, Andrei A. Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology. Albany, NY: SUNY Pr, 2011.

Pinker, Aron. "A Goat to Go to Azazel." The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 7, (2007, 2007).

Roo, Jacqueline C. R. de. "Was the Goat for Azazel Destined for the Wrath of God." Biblica 81, no. 2 (2000, 2000): 233-242.

Rudman, Dominic. "A Note on the Azazel-Goat Ritual." Zeitschrift für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 116, no. 3 (2004, 2004): 396-401.

Tawil, Hayim. "Azazel, the Prince of the Steepe: A Comparative Study." Zeitschrift für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92, no. 1 (1980, 1980): 43-59.

[2] Richard Beck, Unclean: meditations on purity, hospitality, and mortality (Wipf and Stock, 2011). Reviewed by Amy Frykholm on Christian Century Jun 27, 2012

[3] Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Social World of Ancient Israel, 1250-587 BCE (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993). Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, "Social Sciences and Biblical Studies," in Honor and Shame in the World of the Bible, eds. Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Vol. 68 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1996), 7-21.”


[5] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger; an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (New York: Praeger, 1966), 40. Anselm C. Hagedorn, "Deut 17,8-13: Procedure for Cases of Pollution?" Zeitschrift Für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 115, no. 4 (01/01, 2003), 539.

[6] Don C. Benjamin, The Social World of Deuteronomy: A New Feminist Commentary (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 147.

[7] Further Reading (Azazel): Judit M. Blair, De-Demonising the Old Testament: An Investigation of Azazel, Lilith, Deber, Qeteb and Reshef in the Hebrew Bible (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009). Tom Nash, "Devils, Demons, and Disease: Folklore in Ancient Near Eastern Rites of Atonement," in (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1990), 57-88. Andrei A. Orlov, Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology (Albany, NY: SUNY Pr, 2011). Aron Pinker, "A Goat to Go to Azazel," The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 7 (2007, 2007). Jacqueline C. R. de Roo, "Was the Goat for Azazel Destined for the Wrath of God," Biblica 81, no. 2 (2000, 2000), 233-242. Dominic Rudman, "A Note on the Azazel-Goat Ritual," Zeitschrift für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 116, no. 3 (2004, 2004), 396-401. Hayim Tawil, "Azazel, the Prince of the Steepe: A Comparative Study," Zeitschrift für Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 92, no. 1 (1980, 1980), 43-59.

[9] John W. Baker, personal communication, 2015.

Elders of the City at the Gate
Sunday, 06 December 2015


The ideal of a non-hierarchal society governed by assemblies of elders was an essential social institution in the social world of early Israel (Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, “The Elder” in Social World of Ancient Israel 1250-587 BCE: 121-131. (Baker Publishing Group: Ada MI, 1993).

Abdullah Ocalan launched a Kurdish liberation movement or Kurdish Workers’ Party (P.K.K.) in Turkey using spectacular acts of violence against rival organization and the government to destabilize Turkey’s authority in the Kurdish regions of southeastern Turkey.  Once imprisoned on the island of Imrali by the Turkish government in 1998, Ocalan evolved a new world view after reading works by Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities and Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom and Urbanization without Cities. Bookchin proposed a world view he labeled social ecology which argued that all environmental problems stemmed from social issues like racism, sexism and economic inequality. For Bookchin hierarchical relationships are the original sin of western cultures. The destruction of the natural world by human beings, he argues, is a product of the domination of one group of people by another, and only by doing away with all hierarchies – men over women, old over young, white over black, rich over poor – can humans solve the global ecological crisis.


Bookchin called his alternative to capitalism libertarian municipalism using an Hellenic model which was based on his understanding of the face-to-face government of the ancient Greek city states. By 2005 Ocalan had adopted Bookchin’s concept of municipal assemblies as the new paradigm for achieving Kurdish independence – described in his Declaration of Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan. Ocalan encouraged Kurds in Turkey to create municipal assemblies, which he called democracy without a state. The assemblies would form a grand confederation that would be united by a common set of values based on defending the environment, respecting religious, political and cultural pluralism and self-defense.

By 2015 Kurdish fighters from Turkey had occupied the region of Rojava in northern Syria, and established a society there based on Bookchin’s philosophy as Ocalan understands it. They divided Rojava into communes each using their own assemblies to make decisions for the common good  (Wes Enzinnanov, A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard At a college in Kurdish Syria, Rojava tries to train its future leaders. Nov 24, 2015

Thus the concept of an assembly of elders which appears as a fundamental social institution in the world of the Bible, continues to reappear, not only in the works of philosophers like Murray Bookchin, but in the everyday life of the Kurdish freedom fighters of Abdullah Ocalan in Rojava.   


Having a Good Mind: Symptoms, Treatment
Wednesday, 05 February 2014
Having a Good Mind: Symptoms, Treatment
Don C. Benjamin, Ph.D.
Department of Religious Studies Rice University Houston. TX 77251
Benjamin delivered this Orientation Week address for new students on Wednesday, August 18, 1982 in Hamman Hall at William Marsh Rice University Houston TX. The Rice Thresher 70 (1982) originally published the text.

Since Monday, when you came on campus, you have made more changes in your
life than in any other three-day period, and during the next two semesters you will make
more changes in your life than in any other nine-month period in the near future. So far,
everybody you've met here has coached you on how to make all these changes. If it wasn't
your mother telling you that you put the dresser in the wrong place and you have your
shirts in the wrong drawer, it was your student adviser telling you how to beat the system
by getting a good class schedule or the campus police telling you where you couldn't park.
Change causes pain. Not only the number of changes, but the pace at which we
have to make changes hurts us. So when a campus full of people rush us saying that we
have to change everything from our phone number to our friends and our attitudes about
what we are going to do with our lives by Monday morning, we freeze. Sociologists call this
paralysis shock. If you aren't in shock already, you will be by the time school starts on
August 23. So I want to tell you about the symptoms of this paralysis called Rice Shock
and then tell you know how to treat it.
A Trial of Two Mothers (2 Kgs 6:24—7.20) - but not for Cannibalism!
Wednesday, 25 January 2012


A Trial of Two Mothers (2 Kgs 6:24—7.20)

-     but not for Cannibalism!


Victor H. Matthews (Missouri State University at Springfield)

Don C. Benjamin (Arizona State University)

Abstract: A Trial of Two Mothers in the books of Samuel-Kings (2 Kgs 6:24—7.20) indicts a woman for breach of covenant.  During a siege of Samaria by the Aramaeans, two mothers agree to kill and eat their two children, first one, and then the other. They kill and eat the first child, but the mother of the second hides it to save its life.  The mother of the dead child indicts the mother of the second child before the ruler of the city for breach of covenant.  Curiously, neither the mothers, nor the ruler react with shame to eating children.  The focus of the traditions is entirely on the failure of one mother to fulfill her covenant with the other mother.  Social scientific studies of risk can clarify the issues at work in the tradition, and why it fails to show any shock and outrage at the women’s cannibalism.

A Story of Tamar as a Persistent Widow (Gen 38:1-30)
Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Story of Tamar as a Persistent Widow

(Gen 38:1-30)

Don C. Benjamin

Arizona State University

Although the Teachings of Joseph are not ancestor stories, they do include at least one ancestor story: The Story of Tamar as a Persistent Widow (Gen 38:1-30). The protagonist, however, is not the man Joseph, but the woman Tamar who is celebrated for her persistence.  Her antagonist is Judah who fails to provide Tamar with a legal guardian to conceive an heir for her deceased husband (Deut 25:5-10; Ruth 4:1-12; MAL 30, 33, 43, 45).[1]  The Story of Tamar as a Persistent Widow expands a reference to Judah in the Teachings of Joseph (Gen 37:2--Exod 1:6).  Judah saves Joseph's life by selling him as slaves instead of letting the other brothers murder him (Gen 37:25-36).   In return for protecting the household of Joseph from destruction, Tamar protects the household of Judah from destruction. Stories with an eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth motif, called the talion (Latin: talis), are popular in the Bible. 

Plagues: 10 or 6?
Monday, 23 May 2011

 The Plagues Stories (Exod 7:14—13:10) demonstrate the sterility of the old world that the pharaohs built. They are a parody or satire that ridicules Egypt and its traditions by treating them flippantly and by telling the creation stories of Egypt in an inappropriate and trivial manner. They contrast the Egypt of the pharaohs with the world of Yahweh.

Jeremiah: memoirs or laments?
Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Confessions of Jeremiah (Jer 11:18-20[1]; 12:1-6[2]; 15:10-21[3], 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13)[4] are not memoirs[5]; they are laments (Hebrew: qinot).[6] Jeremiah is not an individual pouring out his personal feelings[7]; he is a mourner crying out for Jerusalem whom Yahweh allowed the Babylonians to destroy.[8] 

Case Law Sentences: maximum or mandated?
Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary

The Sumerian Dictionary project was begun in 1974 by Åke Sjöberg and Erle Leichty. Using thousands of note cards containing a single, hand-copied Sumerian sign Sjoberg and Leichty began reconstructing its uses and meanings. 

Initially the Sumerian Dictionary was to be hardcopy volumes like the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary at the University of Chicago. It took until 1998 to produce four volumes, covering only a small portion of the Sumerian signs catalogue.

Today the dictionary is primarily digital and published on-line.  Steve Tinney is now the director of a seven-member team responsible for the project. This electronic dictionary is an updatable collection of signs with their definitions. Each entry is linked by a search engine to scanned images of the tablets where the sign appears.

Eunuchs: physical or political?
Friday, 13 May 2011
In ordinary speech eunuchs are castrated males.  In the world of the Bible and in the Bible itself, eunuchs (Heb: saris) were trusted members of rulers’ inner circles of advisors.  In exchange for this position of trust, eunuchs have waived their right to challenge the rulers they serve and take over their authority.  They were a ruler’s defenders.  For example, in Persia the eunuchs who defended Xerxes and other officials who wanted to overthrow him feuded. Ultimately, the eunuchs lost, and Xerxes was assassinated in 465 B.C.E.[1] Most rulers tried to maintain a balance of power between these two groups.[2]
Akhenaten (1353-1335 B.C.E.) Monotheist or Federalist?
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
The first stipulation in the Decalogue that introduces the covenant between Yahweh and Israel is a prohibition: you shall have no other divine patrons before me (Exod 20:3). This prohibition summarizes the argument made by the Death of the Firstborn of Egypt creation story (Exod 1:7—13:16): Yahweh, and not Pharaoh, is the divine patron of the Hebrews. Monotheism as it is taught by Jews, Christians, and Muslims today argues that only one God exists. This prohibition affirms that the Hebrews have only one God.
Abel: Murder or Sacrifice?
Friday, 08 April 2011

The Stories of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:3--5:32) celebrate the founding of a new world, where humans can create. When the land fails, Cain sacrifices Abel to bring it back to life. These stories do not indict Cain for cursing humanity with murder, but rather celebrate his household for blessing humanity with cities, tent making, herding, music, metal work, Yahweh worship and a system of justice seventy-seven times more efficient than the mark with which Yahweh tattooed Cain to protect him from his enemies.

Rahab: Harlot or Host?
Monday, 07 March 2011

The Stories of Rahab (Josh 2: 1-24+6:22-25) emphasize that the land belongs, not to the powerful like Joshua who exterminates its people, but to the powerless like Rahab who welcome them. Josiah (640-609 B.C.E.) and his political heirs claim the land by violence which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. by Babylon and the deportation of the household of David. The people of the land like the household of Rahab remained in the land because they claim it with hospitality.

Jeremiah: Memoirs or Laments?
Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Confessions of Jeremiah (Jer 11:18-20; 12:1-6; 15:10-21, 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13) are not memoirs; they are laments (Hebrew: qinot). Jeremiah is not an individual pouring out his personal feelings; he is a mourner crying out for Jerusalem whom Yahweh allowed the Babylonians to destroy.