The Joshua Generation: Israeli Occupation and the Bible” by Rachel Havrelock— Conquest, Genocide and the Founding of Modern Israel

Havrelock, Rachel. “The Joshua Generation: Israeli Occupation and the Bible”,  Princeton University Press, 2020.

Conquest, Genocide and the Founding of Modern Israel

Amos Lassen

“The Book of Joshua” is central to the politics of modern Israel than the book of Joshua. Joshua was a military leader who became the successor to Moses and his story is about the march of the ancient Israelites into Canaan. It describes how the Israelites subjugated and massacred the indigenous peoples of the land. In “The Joshua Generation”, Rachel Havrelock looks the book’s centrality to the Israeli occupation today and how it reveals why nationalist longing and social reality do not fit in the Promised Land.

Diaspora Jews largely ignored the book of Joshua and those who did not criticized it. The leaders of Israel, however, have used it as a way of promoting cohesion among the citizens of the modern state. Those Israelis who are at odds with the occupation see the Book of Joshua as a celebration of  genocide. Havrelock examines the composition of Joshua and shows how it reflected the nature of ancient Israelite society which was divided and then the desire to unify the populace under a strong monarchy. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, formed a study group at his home in the late 1950s and generals, politicians, and professors reformulated the story of Israel’s founding in the language of Joshua. We see how Ben-Gurion used this tale of conquest and brutality to unite the immigrant population of Jews of different ethnicities and backgrounds by showing Israelis and Palestinians as latter-day Israelites and Canaanites.

Havrelock gives us an alternative reading of Joshua finding  evidence of a decentralized society composed of tribes, clans, and woman-run households. We immediately see the relevance for today when diverse peoples share the resources of a land scarred by wars.

“The Joshua Generation” is a study of the role of the bible in Israeli culture and the impact it has on politics and modern commentary and reinterpretations. Here we have questions about the intersection of the bible with history, archaeology, politics, and national memory.

By examining interpretations and uses of the book of Joshua at various stages in its history, this marginal text for Jews in the diaspora became foundational for the formation of a national identity in modern Israel based on myth.

The Book of Joshua presents a nation-building process unlike what was actually happening on the ground. Ben Gurion used it for similar ideological purposes and we see the significance of historical literary analysis and historical geography and how these affect political possibilities today.

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