God at War

God at War: Power in the Exodus Tradition
by Thomas B. Dozeman (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)

Excerpt from pages 64-65. Used with permission of author.

The Jordan River

The close relationship between the Red Sea and the Jordan River has long caught the attention of scholars. Lauha noted that the beginning and the ending of the wilderness wanderings were framed by parallel events conceming the drying up of water. (193) Coats has built off the work of Lauha by providing a more detailed description of how the drying up of the Red Sea provides a doorway for Israel to march into the wilderness and how this event is recounted, first, in the spy story of Joshua 2, in order to set the stage for the conquest of the land, and then again in the catechism of Josh 4:21-24, where the two events are brought into an explicit relationship through the symbol of the stones. (194) Cross is one of several scholars who has demonstrated that the merging of the Red Sea and the Jordan River goes beyond literary stylistics or poetics and that this pattern reflects the mythological influence of Baal's conflict with Sea (Yamm) and River (Nahar). (195) The research in comparative religion has demonstrated how the power of the deity to control chaotic water, symbolized by Yamm-Nahar, is historicized in ancient Israel to provide the framework for interpreting salvation as an exodus and a conquest. (196) My aim in this section is to explore in more detail the relationship between the exodus and conquest.

There are clear differences between the accounts of the Red Sea and the Jordan River crossing. (197) The crossing of the Jordan River is a story about holy war conceived as a conquest of the land. The central role of the ark makes this point clear. (198) And as an account of conquest, the story has an outward focus. It is aimed toward the nations who dwell in the land in order to instill terror in them. (199) The conquest imagery and outward focus of the narrative are underscored by the verb "to cross over" ([hebrew text]). Hulst has noted that the verb "to cross over" takes on theological connotations in Deuteronomy, where it signifies action that must take place if Israel is to achieve the divine promise of the land at the end of their wilderness march. (200) It is not surprising, therefore, that this term occurs frequently in Joshua 1 - 5. A total of twenty-two times the ark, (201) the people, (202) the leaders of the tribes, (203) the tribes east of the jordan, (204) and even the cultic stones are described as crossing the Jordan River for conquest. (205)

The prominence of holy war imagery in the crossing of the Jordan River contrasts sharply with the deuteronomistic reading of the confrontation at the sea, where holy war is played down. In this story God leads Israel along the Red Sea road in order to avoid war. The difference is underscored by contrasting verbs. The motif of crossing over ([hebrew text]) is avoided completely in the account of the exodus in favor of the imagery of Israel entering ([hebrew text]) the sea, while the imagery of divine leading is also reversed. The Messenger of God remains behind the Israelites as they enter the sea, as opposed to leading them in conquest . (206) The contrasts underscore that the Red Sea has less to do with a holy-war confrontation between Yahweh and the Egyptians than with the Israelites' escape from Egypt and their inward transformation. The emphasis on fear and faith in the people at the end of the confrontation at the sea underscores this point.

The differences between the Red Sea and the Jordan River should not obscure the fact that the stories are meant to be read together. Their interrelationship is made explicit in the expanded catechism of Josh 4:21- 24. The differences inform the reader that the two stories serve distinct functions. And indeed, when the relationship between the two is pursued a clear chronology of salvation history emerges, in which Israel initially enters ([hebrew text]) into the Red Sea upon leaving Egypt and commencing their wilderness march, with the hope that one day they would cross ([ ]) the Jordan River to begin their conquest of the land. The chronology brings us back to Lauha's original insight that the wilderness is presently framed by parallel events which accentuate Yahweh's power over sea and river and that this framing is providing the backbone for an interpretation of salvation history. (207)

Footnotes
193-207 -- to be added

Return to Joshua: Crossed Over



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