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The period from the conquest of the land under Joshua to the crowning of Saul as king raises a number of interesting questions with modern relevance. Regarding the conquest itself, there are questions on two levels: a) did it really happen as described in the book of Joshua? Internal biblical evidence – and, possibly, archaeology – cast doubt on the account of the Israelites’ rapid and total conquest ofCanaan; if so, what do we do with the contradiction and how do we teach it? b) how do we respond to our own and our students’ moral concerns about the bloody account of the conquest? And of course, the question of the morality of conquest hovers over the discussion of the modern state ofIsraeltoo.
Another issue is that of Israelite identity. The Book of Judges seems to depict a land inhabited by a number of disparate and sometimes even warring tribes, each absorbed in its own local conflicts with neighboring non-Israelite tribes; only in the face of a powerful common enemy does any kind of political union form – and only temporarily. Different theories have been proposed regarding the formation of the Israelite nation during this period; how might these affect our understanding of Jewish identity past and present?
The Exodus from Egypt and the forty years of wandering are traditionally seen as the formative period in the building of the Israelite nation — the transition from “family” history to “national” history. However, the biblical text makes it clear that many years passed after the entry into Palestine before the Israelite people were anything like a united nation. In terms of the creation of a national entity and a national identity, a major turning point came with the establishment of the monarchy; a further consolidation occurred with the enthronement of the Davidic dynasty. This lesson will investigate the transition from tribal confederation to established dynastic monarchy.
In looking at different biblical depictions of our connections to Israel, we find the promises and sojourns of the Patriarchs, the promises and instructions in the desert, the conquest and struggles of Joshua and Judges – and now, the creation of a proper kingdom of the Jews in their land, with a capital and a central government and all its institutions – including a centralized religious cult. It is the collective memory of this period of glory that has informed our messianic vision ever since it ended. (more…)