Another week of tough sledding – no use denying it. Skim as you need to: read the section headings at least, as you turn the pages; or try reading the first and last sentences of paragraphs - whatever will keep you moving and yet give you a sense of the flavor of these books. We're covering the farewell speech of Moses (Deuteronomy), in which he both repeats much of the history we've read and tosses in many imprecations about what will happen if the people fail to stick with God. We're also covering all of the Book of Joshua, with the entry into the Promised Land accompanied by enormous amounts of slaughter. To give these difficult passages one angle of context: Moses wouldn't need to go on and on about what terrible things God will do if the people stray if he weren't worried about how easy it is to stray and how attractive the more tangible neighboring gods were. And Joshua wouldn't hear God telling him to kill all the neighboring peoples if it weren't for the same problem. Idolatry – understood as worshiping something that isn't really God, but understood also as following a competing god – was clearly the key issue for the writer of this history.
Questions to consider while reading:
- A society does not make laws for situations that have never occurred; thus laws are an historical insight into the workings, and conflicts, within an ancient society. As you skim through all of these laws (many of them repetitions here of earlier versions), what insights do they offer into the functioning of ancient Israel?
- Is God made more tangible through the specificity and complexity of the many laws Moses passes on? Or just more difficult to grasp?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of a "spiritual" God who has no corporeal reality and no physical representation?
- How do the Joshua stories reflect the unresolvable paradox between human free will and the divine will?