Flint knife

Covenant Ritual

The book of Joshua tells how
the strong are cast out and the weak are settled in the land. (May, p. 90)
Mary Jesus (in Hebrew: Yeshua) and Joshua (in Hebrew: Yoshua) are forms of the same name, meaning savior or deliverer.

It might have been the acts of God recorded in Joshua that inspired Mary's prayer of praise as she anticipated the birth of Jesus. Mary describes God as a male warrior who has:

  • scattered the proud (priests of Baal)
  • cast down from their thrones the mighty (Canaanite kings)
  • lifted up the lowly (nomads and peasants)

Hebrews: a general word for everyone the powerful viewed as social outcasts and troublemakers

"The weak," that is,
      The Hebrews, are a composite of:
Children of escaped slaves from Egypt who worshipped Yahweh
Marginalized persons in the cities like the prostitute Rahab
Landless peasants living in Canaan
Amorite misfits
Others living in the land on the bottom of the social ladder

Joshua and the Promised Land book cover

(Read "Canaanites to Israelites" in Joshua and the Promised Land, pg. 62-64)

How is it that this motley crew became a cohesive people called Israel?

One way was by reciting salvation history,
bonding by appropriating a common story.

Joshua 24:1-13Joshua 24:1-13

A second way was by reading the Law,
bonding by appropriating common norms

Joshua 8:30-35 Joshua 8:30-35

Another way was by performing ritual acts,
bonding by appropriating common symbols.

May summarizes the process as:

The Hebrews crossed the Jordan River and erected a sanctuary at Gilgal. They reaffirmed a new generation of male identity with Israel through ritual circumcision. Then they began their warfare for the Promised Land. (May, 22-23)

Between the entry into the land...
Crossing the Jordan

...and the Battle for Jericho... Joshua fit the battle

...lies a story of covenant ritual that formed a people
-- the Hebrews -- ISRAEL

Read or hear the story from Joshua 5:2-13


It happened at Gilgal:
The LORD said to Joshua...

Make flint knives...
Flint knives were an ancient tool, and circumcision was an ancient practice
dating back at least to the 3rd millenium BCE
spreading from Northern Syria, east to Mesopotamia, south to Egypt
usually a practice associated with

The norm for Israel was infant circumcision. This incident at Gilgal involving adults is an exception to the norm, as is the strange story of "The Bloody Bridegroom". (Ex 4.24-26)

...and circumcise the Israelites...
Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin.
It's a male thing.
It sometimes makes us squirm to think about it and some people today oppose it.
Explore a website on circumcision issues (note*)
There is also such a thing as "female circumcision."
That makes us squirm more.
Female circumcision is an important justice issue for women today.
Learn about it on these websites:
  • A Bill to the U.S. House of Representatives to prohibit female genital mutilation (note*)
  • Description of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) (note*)
  • ... a second time.
    SOME scholars think this line means literally a second time,
    because the Egyptian way to circumcise was less thorough,
    and so it needed to be done again to be satisfactory for Israel.
    BUT if you go on to read the story,
    the storyteller goes to great pains to explain that
    what was going on was a first time circumcision of the second generation,
    BECAUSE Israel messed up and disobeyed God about coming into the land (Num 14).
    SO their children came in 40 years later,
    BUT they were uncircumcised
    because they were wandering in the wilderness 40 years
    with disobedient, out-of-covenant parents,
    SO they needed to be circumcised "a second time."
    GET IT??? GET IT???
    This is how to read the explanation in verses 4-7. Hear how important it is to the storyteller that you GET IT!!!

    Another thing to get:
    The knives used to circumcise the Israelites at Gilgal were buried with Joshua (see Joshua 24:29-31).

    * * * * *

    baptism symbol

    Baptism is a Christian covenant ritual with similar religious dynamics as circumcision. It is a rite that initiates an individual into the faith community.
    The United Methodist ritual says,
    ..., child of the covenant,
    you have been sealed in baptism by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever.

    Two differences between circumcision and baptism are:
    1. Baptism applies to women as well as men
    2. Baptism leaves no outward, bodily symbol; the "mark" is spiritual

    Write a noteWhen and where were you baptized? Do you have an outward symbol of your baptism? What reminds you that you are a baptized Christian?
    Click here to add your response and/or read others' responses.

    * * * * *

    The ritual of circumcision was introduced into the community of Israel through the story of Abraham and was connected to God's promises of:
    map of the landland,
                    God's relationship with God

    Circumcision became a primary way for the people of Israel to:
    maintain their identity as a people
    differentiate themselves from other peoples
    understand themselves as ones who participate in God's work in the world

    In other words,
    became a primary way for the people of Israel to
    establish and maintain

    with each other and God
    Joshua and the Promised Land book cover Read "Promised Land and the Covenant Tradition for Today" in Joshua and the Promised Land, pg. 90-92)

    Circumcision was a visible sign of connection to a certain community,
        and was an exception to the general rule in Jewish law
          against mutilation of the body
            contrary to practices of many other ancient and modern cultures.

    Think about it...What are visible signs of belonging in today's world? What are ways people today mutilate their bodies? (How many places can a body be pierced, anyway?)



    Circumcision became a major issue in the meaning of the New Covenant:
    Do people have to be circumcised before they can be "saved"?
    Read about this major church controversy in Acts 15:1-11.


    Note* These links jump to outside sites for further information. Links do not constitute an endorsement by the Women's Division of the information on other web sites. These links expose United Methodist Women to diverse perspectives, afford us an opportunity to compare them to United Methodist positions, and encourage United Methodist Women to critically analyze the issues raised by the Joshua web pages.

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