Friday, May 07, 2010

American Conquests -- Joshua and the Ideology of Total War

I have been following with great interest a series of guest posts by Dan Hawk over at Allan Bevere's blog.  Dan is an Old Testament professor at Ashland Theological Seminary and author of a new commentary from Cascade Books entitled Joshua in 3-D.  If you go to Allan's blog you can get information about a discounted price. 

Dan's posts have placed the conversation in juxtaposition to the themes found in the blockbuster movie  Avatar, the biblical story of Joshua's conquest of Canaan, and the legacy of the American conquests.  In this week's posting (from Wednesday), Dan notes that the Joshua story pictures the decimation of the Canaanite population in terms of clearing out land for new the new inhabitants.  It's not that their necessarily wicked, their just there -- in the way.  You know, sort of like the Native Americans were "there" and in the way of American expansion.  What is interesting is that there is an ideology of total destruction that goes back to the biblical story (and likely beyond it), an ideology that has been carried on through the ages, and was brought to America by the colonists (though apparently total war was unknown to the indigenous population of North America (at least until the Europeans arrived).  

But there is something else going on here.  Not only did the Joshua narrative speak of engaging in ethnic cleansing, but it couches it in the context of a defensive move.  Interestingly enough, the American colonists spoke in much the same terms.  Hawk writes:

 In Joshua, the narrative attempts to mask the scope and brutality of the conquest by rendering the wars against the indigenous peoples as defensive operations. The kings of Canaan, representing the hostile powers of the land, are presented as increasingly hostile as the story goes along, beginning with the attempt of Jericho’s king to find the spies, moving to the king of Ai’s attack on Israelites waiting in ambush, and culminating in attacks by coalitions of kings at Gibeon and the waters of Merom. In each case, the Israelites are recast as defenders rather than aggressors.

I encourage you to go over and read the full essay by clicking here, but I'd also like to start a conversation about the way we envision our own history (if we're residents of the United States) and the consequences of our expansion into other territories.  Indeed, I wonder if the issues that are emerging in Arizona are not part of this same conversation? 

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