A “Joshua generation”?

By God, I hope not!

Far be it from me to deny any theory that implies that Barack Obama is fated to win the Presidency this year and lead the nation out of the wilderness, but surely Kevin Drum is right that the “Joshua Generation” theory is mostly hokum. As an aspirational call with respect specifically to the problems of African-Americans, at least it has some rhetorical force; as a social theory, I doubt it outperforms astrology.

And for those who have never actually read the Book of Joshua, it’s about the actions of a genocidal maniac, about as worthy of imitation as Cato the Elder or Timur-i-Leng or Wallenstein. So, if a “Joshua Generation” is anything like … well, Joshua … the notion of a political takeover by a “Joshua Generation” isn’t really very attractive.

In Numbers 11, Joshua is the portrayed as Moses’s enforcer, with none of the old man’s sense of humor or vision, and a determination that no one else should have any vision either. (Think of Nehru in relation to Gandhi.)

And we’re supposed to understand the “Joshua Generation” as “civic”? Not if it’s anything like Joshua. The best thing you can say about Joshua is that he might have been entirely fictitious.

From Numbers 11:

And the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and put it upon the seventy elders; and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did so no more.

But there remained two men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad; and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were recorded, but had not gone out unto the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp.

And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said: ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’

And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses from his youth up, answered and said: ‘My lord Moses, shut them in.’

And Moses said unto him: ‘Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His spirit upon them!’

From Joshua 6:

And it came to pass at the seventh time, when the priests blew with the horns, that Joshua said unto the people: ‘Shout; for HaShem hath given you the city.

And the city shall be devoted, even it and all that is therein, to HaShem; only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.

And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the devoted thing, lest ye make yourselves accursed by taking of the devoted thing, so should ye make the camp of Israel accursed, and trouble it.

But all the silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are holy unto HaShem; they shall come into the treasury of HaShem.’

So the people shouted, and the priests blew with the horns. And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the horn, that the people shouted with a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.

And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, both young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

And Joshua said unto the two men that had spied out the land: ‘Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye swore unto her.’

And the young men the spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had, all her kindred also they brought out; and they set them without the camp of Israel.

And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein; only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of HaShem.

But Rahab the harlot, and her father’s household, and all that she had, did Joshua save alive; and she dwelt in the midst of Israel, unto this day; because she hid the messengers, whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

And Joshua charged the people with an oath at that time, saying: ‘Cursed be the man before HaShem, that riseth up and buildeth this city, even Jericho; with the loss of his first-born shall he lay the foundation thereof, and with the loss of his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.’

Footnote A personal anecdote:

After my bar mitzvah, I decided that I ought to read the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) straight through. Genesis and Exodus were pretty good stories; Leviticus and Numbers were unspeakably boring, especially the rules about sacrifice and the specificiations for the Temple, and some of the laws were downright weird. Deuteronomy was interesting, but mostly over my head. So far, so good.

And then I got to Joshua, and decided that if this was the Word of the God of Moses then the God of Moses was not worthy of ordinary respect, no less worship. I didn’t claim any theological sophistication, but I didn’t have any problem recognizing genocide.

That’s when I stopped going to synagogue.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com