The ruins of ancient Jericho, scarred by over a hundred years of archaeological digs, as seen from the air. It would probably take no more than an hour or so to walk around the “city.”
I had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land some years ago, and one day our tour bus drove through the modern city of Jericho. At one point during our drive, our tour guide announced that we were passing the ancient site of Jericho. But before I had enough time to pull out my camera, we were gone and left the ancient “city” far behind.
It was not quite what I had imagined. As a kid, I was accustomed to hear the story of how “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,” and destroyed the “city.” Now, when I think of “city,” I think of a relatively large population area. My hometown, Williamsburg, Virginia, is fairly small by the standard of most cities today, about 9.1 square miles in size, or just a little under 6,000 acres. Contrast that with ancient Jericho, which is approximately only 6 acres in size.
That’s about less than half the size of my small neighborhood.
Wow…. If ancient Jericho was really a “city,” then it must have been a really, itsy-bitsy small one. I suppose the people in such a really small “city” could have been packed in like sardines, but it got me thinking about what the Bible says in Joshua 6 about the “city” of Jericho. What are we to make of this? Continue reading
The traditional Sunday School image shows Joshua leading about 600,000 armed Israelites into the land of Canaan, across the river Jordan. But was that really the size of Joshua’s army?
When we read about the nation of Israel crossing the river Jordan to enter the Promised Land, in Joshua 4, something stands out, if you read very carefully. Joshua 4:13 tells us this:
About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho (ESV).
From this verse alone, you might think that there were a total of 40,000 soldiers in the army of Israel, set to conquer the land. The problem is that according to a census taken prior to the crossing of the river Jordan, of all of the Hebrew men of fighting age (Numbers 26:1-4), the census gave a total number of 601,730 (Numbers 26:51). A previous census taken near the beginning of the wilderness journey, just after the Exodus from Egypt, reveals about the same number, 603,550 (Numbers 1:45-46). The second census is different in that the first generation in the wilderness had perished, replaced by a new generation, leaving only Joshua and Caleb from the first generation still among them, but the numbers are in the same ballpark. Clearly there is a problem lining up the 40,000 armed men that crossed the Jordan with the some 600,000+ recorded in each census.
Nevertheless, the problem is more difficult than this: Assuming a 600,000+ army, this would give you a much larger population total, if you include women and children, at least around 2 million.
That is a lot of people.
In Deuteronomy 7:1-7, we read that God was sending the Israelites into a land to clear away seven different nations of people, each nation being larger than Israel herself. That means at least 14 million people were living in the Promised Land that Israel was to possess, in Canaan, which would be greater than the current population of the corresponding land in the Middle East now. Considering that Gaza alone is one of most densely populated places on earth, it is difficult to comprehend such large numbers of people in the ancient near east, particularly when the current archaeological data shows that the land of Canaan was far less populated then than it is now.
Within a few weeks of the 911 attack on the World Trade Center, Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, who now specializes as a scholar of comparative religion, and very popular author, wrote an essay for TIME magazine. In the essay, Armstrong makes the case that the terrorists who destroyed the twin towers did not represent the true face of Islam. The prophet Muhammad, she argues, sought to heal the rifts between different, warring tribal factions in 7th century (A.D.) Arabia. In portraying true Islam as a religion of peace, she concludes:
The vast majority of Muslims, who are horrified by the atrocity of Sept. 11, must reclaim their faith from those who have so violently hijacked it.
I have been listening to an audiobook by a Catholic popularizer of contemporary scholarship, who specializes in Islamic history, Robert Spencer. Listening to The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion has been a challenging experience. Spencer notes that while some Koranic texts do suggest that in Muhammad’s early career, the prophet did seek to promote peace, the story of his later life suggests a more complicated, and much darker story. According to Spencer, the theology of jihad, or “struggle,” was used to justify violence against Jews, Christians, and others who resisted Muhammad’s message towards the end of his prophetic career. This tradition is still appealed to today by the followers of extreme Islamic groups, such as ISIS, who are demonstrating their commitment to erase Christian believers from much of Syria and Iraq.
“Reading this, I doubt Armstrong actually read the book. Or maybe she just wants to make sure no one else reads it.” (retrieved from jihadwatch.org).
So, which narrative is correct? Is Islam a religion of peace, or a religion of violence?
Strangely, I know many Christians who never give much thought to the study of religious history, considering the matter to be of little consequence to their daily lives. Yet I would contend that such ignorance provides little consolation to the families of those who lost loved ones during the 911 attacks, or to the millions of Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS, looking for sanctuary in Western countries in our current time.
Lurking behind this debate over Islam is the debate among Christians as to the history of violence even in the Bible. I have been studying the Book of Joshua for the past few weeks, and I am struck by the message that God gave to Joshua to drive the Canaanites out of the land, and to claim the ancient land promise given to Abraham and his descendants (see these Veracity posts on Christian Zionism). Here are some vital questions for believers today:
Is the Book of Joshua a justification of ethnic genocide, or was it a directive by God to execute judgment against the wickedness of the Canaanites? Would God ever command Christians to do the same today?
What does it mean to “trust God” in the face of evil and wickedness, and to what extent are believers to engage in combating such evil and wickedness?
What should be our priority, sharing our faith with non-believers, or doing what we can to prevent or restrain acts of violence?
Such questions require thoughtful consideration by Christians. The questions are complicated because people are complicated. For example, while it is surely true that Islamic extremists threaten with acts of violence, the vast majority of Muslims regard their faith as essentially peaceful. Islam is not a monolithic movement. But should our view of Islamic extremism cause us to love our Muslim friends and neighbors any less? I hope not. I hope that we as believers would make the sharing of our faith, the Good News of the Gospel, our highest priority.