The Desert Experience – 8

The saga of the 40 years of wandering in the desert  takes up the better part of  two books in the Pentateuch – the Book of Numbers (called Bamidbar – ‘In the Desert’- in Hebrew), and Deuteronomy describe the experiences of the people of Israel in the desert. In this lesson  we will try to examine the different ways the desert experience affected and influenced the people and its relationship to thelandofIsrael. We will do so by closely studying two specific episodes – the story of the spies and that of the two and a half tribes that requested the land outside the promised borders. These stories form “bookends” to the 40 years of wandering in the desert. The sin of the spies resulted in the decree that the nation would not enter the land until all the present generation had died and is therefore the beginning of the extended desert stay. The story of the two and a half tribes takes place at the end of the forty years as the new generation prepares to enter thelandofIsrael. As such they provide an interesting contrast to each other and cast light on the entire period. (more…)

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Conquest and Coexistence – 12

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? 


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