Jan 15, 2023
“Some of us were waving copies of Mao’s Little Red Book; we all should have been clutching copies of the Old Testament.”
Have you ever read the Book of Joshua? It’s the first book of the Old Testament, following the 5 books of Moses (Torah). It begins where Deuteronomy leaves off. Moses has died, God has appointed Joshua as Moses’ successor, and now the Hebrew army sits on the border of the Promised Land. Next stop, Jericho!
Jericho is a massively fortified walled city, seemingly impregnable to attack. The city’s rulers are little troubled when Joshua’s rag tag army shows up at their gates. But rulers beware! Joshua has no intention of launching a frontal assault. Instead, he cleverly exploits the inequity of Jericho’s social structure to orchestrate a revolution from within.
In the history of urban planning, center-city locations have been prized (easier access to the engines of government and commerce); it’s true today (Mayfair), it was true of the Medieval ville (the proto-cities of the Middle Ages), and it was true of ancient cities like Jericho. The poorest residents “lived in the wall” at the edge of the city; they would be the first to die if the city were attacked. But who cares? They’re poor after all, they’re expendable…right?
Not according to Joshua! He was committed to the ideology of social equality hammered out in the Sinai wilderness. He also understood that what made Jericho’s ‘wall flowers’ vulnerable in the event of an attack made them powerful in the event of a revolution, an eventuality unanticipated by the Jericho’s resident urban planners.
Joshua also understood that being poor and marginalized (quite literally as it happens), these outliers might be less loyal to the existing order and more willing to consider something new. And boy, did Joshua represent something new! How about the egalitarian redistribution of all of Jericho’s ‘means of production’, i.e., its wealth generating assets?
Joshua promised more than any politician ever has, before or since. The promises of Marx and Lenin pale by comparison. Yet, Joshua delivered! He fulfilled his promise. And what was that promise? Simply to export the nascent Israeli constitution to Jericho and other cities of Canaan.
Sidebar: In the 1960s, the United States was involved in a bloody war with North Vietnam. In its early years, the war was broadly unpopular on college campuses but just as broadly supported in the working-class neighborhoods that furnished soldiers for the US military. The course of the war shifted when, in the later years of the decade, college campuses emptied and student radicals spilled into the neighborhoods, spreading the anti-war gospel.
We were so proud of ourselves. We didn’t realize that we had simply rediscovered a tactic that Joshua had used more than 3,000 years earlier. Some of us were waving copies of Mao’s Little Red Book; we all should have been clutching copies of the Old Testament. We were following Mao and Marx when we should have been following Moses.
When Joshua was preparing to cross into Canaan, his first act was to send two spies into Jericho to reconnoiter and to build rapport with its disadvantaged residents. In support of these fifth columnists, Joshua, at God’s direction, staged a massive demonstration, not of Israel’s military might but of its socio-economic constitution.
“The Lord said (to Joshua)…have all the soldiers circle the city, marching once around it. Do this for six days with seven priests carrying ram’s horns ahead of the Ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times and have the priests blow the horns…The wall of the city will collapse...” (Jos. 6: 1 – 5) And so, for seven days, Joshua’s entourage engaged in a series of militarily ineffectual maneuvers outside the city’s ramparts. Did Joshua invent the concept of liturgical dance?
The city’s rulers were mesmerized. They had no hint of what was coming!
Jericho’s rulers did what we all do; they attempted to shoehorn novel experience into familiar categories. They did not understand that Joshua was bringing new wine, and we all know what happens when you try to put this spring’s Beaujolais Nouveau into last year’s skins --- the skins explode! (The ‘skin’ of an ancient city is its wall…and the walls of Jericho were about to explode.)
It’s Day 7 of Joshua’s so-called ‘siege’. Everyone’s attention is riveted on the strange liturgical performance happening just outside the city’s gates. A brilliant media mogul, Joshua has built suspense. He has tantalized his audience, and now at last it’s time for the big reveal.
According to Nielsen, on Day 1 Joshua’s antics earned him a market share equal to 40% of Jericho’s households. By Day 6 it was up to 70%, but Day 7 is what everyone was waiting for…and it did not disappoint. ‘The Joshua Show’ enjoyed an audience share of 93%. Eat your heart out, Super Bowl!
Joshua was not just an ancient version of Fellini; he was also an avatar of Ronald Reagan. He was a ‘great communicator’. While the rulers of Jericho saw ineffectual military maneuvers, the city’s dispossessed, coached by Joshua’s spies, understood that Joshua was acting out a coded message for their benefit. Through liturgical dance, the Hebrew army acted out the constitution of the emergent Jewish state…"and the walls came tumbling down."
The first six trips around the city wall symbolized the first six days of creation, the six days between Sabbaths, the six years between Sabbaticals, the six Sabbaticals between Jubilees. The seventh day’s ‘performance’ incorporated the other six and added one more. It symbolized the seven days of creation, the seven-day Sabbath cycle, the seven-year Sabbatical cycle, the seven-Sabbatical Jubilee cycle (7 x 7 + 1 = 1).
The Constitution (Leviticus) of the Jewish state included a complete redistribution of productive wealth every 50th year, i.e., during the Jubilee. Just as Jesus of Nazareth (whose name means ‘Joshua’ too, ‘Joshua two’) proclaimed a Jubilee throughout the land on the first day of his public ministry (Luke 4:21), so Joshua proclaimed a Jubilee for the residents of Jericho upon his arrival in the Promised Land.
What happened? A divine miracle, a feat of magic, or a David Copperfield illusion? None of the above. Nothing so ‘extra-terrestrial’. Do not expect God to resort to a flood when a rain drop will produce the desired result. Do not invoke the miraculous when the historical will do just as well.
Sidebar: We are proposing here a new Razor to sit beside Occam’s on the vanity: Events follow a path of least resistance; they will alter the ‘actual worlds’ they inherit as little as possible, consistent with each event achieving its unique objective. Being is conservative as well as revolutionary.
Please don’t underestimate God. He’s got mad skills; but send an army into a battle they might not win? No way! God is no Pickett. Dissolve the walls of Jericho with the wave of a wand or a sprinkle of pixie dust? Not his style! Those are the kinds of desperate measures that a third-millennium deity (BCE) might employ…but not our third-millennium God (CE)! Our God knows his Marx. He knows that a Kingdom created and sustained by a slew of miracles will not endure. Real change has to be rooted in the hearts and minds of the people.
The rulers are mesmerized, but the marginalized members of society, ‘the people of the wall’, are energized. Why? Because they understand the meaning of Joshua’s choreography. They know the code. Joshua has presented what is possibly the ‘first political platform’ in Western history, and it is drawn entirely from the Old Testament Book of Leviticus.
If Moses led the West’s first ‘nationalist’ rebellion against Pharaoh, Joshua orchestrated its first ‘socialist’ revolution against the economy of Jericho.
Image: BATTLE OF JERICHO. The walls of Jericho falling. Fresco at the Vatican by Raphael or his school, 1508-1524.
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at email@example.com.