What does Joshua hold to be the essential marks of Israelite identity? What distinguishes “Israel” from all other peoples? In tracking these themes, L. Daniel Hawk reveals a profound struggle to define the people of the God of Israel.
Hawk shows that the themes surrounding Joshua express fundamental markers of national identity: religious practice (obedience to the commandments of Moses), ethnic separation (extermination of the peoples of Canaan), and possession of land (“the land that YHWH gives”). Through the medium of narrative, Joshua tests each of these markers and demonstrates that none clearly characterize the people of God. Instead, Joshua presents Israel as a nation fundamentally constituted by choosing: YHWH’s choosing of Israel and Israel’s choosing of YHWH.
In the present day in which ideologies of religion, race, and territorial possession have given rise to countless expressions of violence, Hawk expresses the particular value of reading Joshua. The Joshua story holds a mirror up to all who regard themselves as the people of God. The reflection is both repelling and inspiring but until we confront it, what it truly means to be the chosen people of God will remain elusive.
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This contribution by L. Daniel Hawk interprets the Masoretic Text of Joshua as a structured and coherent whole, offering a balanced and generally persuasive example of close reading. Common sense takes precedence over methodological extremism, so that the reader has no trouble following Hawk’s argument and agreeing that it is consistent and sound. . . . Joshua can be a distressing book for modern people to read, reflecting as it does many of the most problematic aspects of recent history and current events. Hawk insists that Joshua must nevertheless be considered as ‘required reading’ among us, both as a mirror to reflect the repellant features of our quest to define ethnic identity and as an inspiring witness to healthier possible options.
—Richard D. Nelson, associate dean for academic affairs and W. J. A. Power Professor for Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Introduction, Perkins School of Theology