2010-05-29

The Fall of Jericho — inspired by an old Canaanite tale?

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by Neil Godfrey

The Fall of Jericho, as in Joshua 6:8-20, illu...
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Marieke den Braber and Jan-Wim Wesselius published an article that argued the story of Joshua’s besieging of Jericho drew on literary precedents centuries old.

Gosh, maybe even the story of the fall of Jericho after 7 days of silence and loud blasts of trumpets on the 7th day was made up too.

These are notes from “The Unity of Joshua 1-8, its Relation to the Story of King Keret, and the Literary Background to the Exodus and Conquest Stories.” — Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, Vol. 22, No. 2, 253-274, 2008.

The original article covers a much more complex discussion than the following table suggests. I’ve just picked out these bits for general interest here. Braber and Wesselius don’t suggest that the Joshua story necessarily directly copied or transvalued the Keret story we have, but that the evidence suggests that such a story, such tropes as 7 days besieging and 7 days noise bringing about the fall of the city, was known in the literature before the biblical author penned the Jericho story.

My primary interest in stuff like this is to explore the links between biblical stories and other narratives and themes in the wider area. Anything that helps understanding possible literary backgrounds to the Bible is “A Good Thing” in my view.

The Epic of Keret is a Canaanite/Ugaritic epic poem from around 1500 to 1200 B.C.E. I admit I find it a little difficult to connect a king going crazy enough to surrender his city because of the noise of animals with walls falling flat at the noise of trumpets. So make of this what you will.

Keret, king of Hubur, cries himself to sleep. He has lost all his family and despairs for the future.
El appears to him in a dream, asks the reason for his sadness, and offers him great wealth. Joshua is also depicted as a righteous man with whom God communicates.
Keret declines the offer, saying he wants progeny, not riches.
El orders an offering for himself. He then commands Keret to capture Udum, the city of King Pabil.

He will have to march 7 days to reach Udum, and will then besiege it 7 days.

Pabil will offer Keret riches, but Keret will ask for Pabil’s daughter, Hurriy, instead.

God spoke to Joshua with general instructions to invade (Josh.1:2-9) and then later sent a divine servant to pass on the detailed instructions on how to capture Jericho (5:13-6:5)

Jericho is besieged 7 days later, and 7 days after that falls to the Israelites.

Keret awakes and sacrifices as commanded to secure the help of Baal.
He gathers a large army and makes elaborate preparations for the journey, then leaves for Udum.
3 days of traveling and they reach the temple of goddess Athirat.

Keret stops to make a vow to Athirat, promising to offer her the weight of his bride to be in silver and gold if successful.

3 days from God’s instruction to the crossing of the Jordan on the 4th day (i.e. 10th day of Nisan – Josh.4:19) and the cultic ritual at the memorial stones with renewed covenant promises. (Josh.1:11)
Keret then marches another 4 days and arrive at Udum at sunrise on the 4th day. Another 3 days completes the time the narrative brings them to the siege of Jericho (Josh.5:10-12 – understanding Passover began evening of 13th Nisan)
Keret’s army besieges the city for 6 days – military action forbidden, and remain silent. Joshua’s army besieges Jericho for 6 days, walking around it every day and no attack on the city, without making any noise.
At sunrise on the 7th day king Pabil cannot bear the noise of the animals in his city anymore, so sends messengers to Keret.

They offer Keret silver and gold.

On the 7th day Joshua’s army makes a terrible noise with their trumpets and the city falls in consequence.
Keret refuses, requesting instead Pubil’s daughter, Hurriy. Silver and gold play a role in the Joshua story, too. Israel is forbidden to take it since it belongs to God.
Pubil finally agrees and Keret withdraws with his new wife. The prostitute Rahab comes out of the city to join the besiegers.
She bears him children. Rahab was married into Israelite family and her descendants dwelt in Israel “to this day” (Josh.6:25)
But he had forgotten his vow to Athirat. Achan breaks the covenant.
Keret attempts to give a festive meal to his men, but he falls ill.

Crops fail to grow, no rain falls since the king is ill.

Achan dies as punishment.
Gods do not volunteer to answer his request for a return to health and restoring the country.

El finally creates a healing goddess for him.

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Neil Godfrey

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  • rey
    2010-05-30 09:12:16 GMT+0000 - 09:12 | Permalink

    “At sunrise on the 7th day king Pabil cannot bear the noise of the *animals* in his city anymore, so sends messengers to Keret.”

    Possible mistranslation?

  • mP
    2012-04-19 21:37:05 GMT+0000 - 21:37 | Permalink

    Its funny how in so many pagan myths which are often astrotheological we find the numbers seven and twelve. The same prominance is also given to these very numbers in the bible, both in the old and the new testament, and we are to dismiss any similar reasoning for the hebrew tradition? How exactly do xians explain the magic seven and twelve that constantly appear in the bible?

    • 2012-04-20 08:50:53 GMT+0000 - 08:50 | Permalink

      Numbers were widely considered to have mystical significance and not only in astrology.

      • mP
        2012-04-20 11:29:09 GMT+0000 - 11:29 | Permalink

        While your numerology observations are very true, using the numbers 7 and 12 can only be justified in an astrological context. Without astrology there is no real reasoning for selecting these two numbers as special.

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