Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Joshua 7: In Writing

Try to rise
you will fall
turn to face
you will fall.

Always the voices
catching up, behind you
always the footfalls
closing in

Always that stumble
the tumble 
down the mountain

desert opening within
dried and blackened
quicksand swallowing everything

Joshua: Chapter 7

How do you rise
after the fall?
What chases behind as you flee?

[For full chapter, click here
From perfect victory we move to abject failure. If before, Jericho's heart melted before the approach of Israel, now the heart of Israel melts before the people of Ai. Joshua's rising fame comes tumbling down, as he "falls on his face" before God.
The opening of the chapter sets into place the reversal that is to come, contrasting Joshua's rising fame with the Children of Israel's desecrations of the herem. All is not well in the aftermath of the miraculous victory of Jericho. What stands out in this context is the conflation of the nation with the individual:

And the children of Israel committed a trespass against the Herem.  
Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the herem
and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel. 

The secret sin of Achan is bracketed between two declarations of Israel’s collective guilt. The growth into nationhood is dangerous. Having crossed the transformative passage of the Jordan, Israel has become a single entity, and a problem in a single part can destroy the whole. No more are there incidental details. All is incorporated and impacts the nation.

The herem that closes the previous chapter establishes that the victory over Jericho did not come by human means. The city fell to the yovel call of the Shofar, while the nation was ordered to be silent. Like the Jubilee year, the disintegration of Jericho establishes that "the Land is Mine," and the city is "set aside" (herem) completly to God. Yet how is the nation to move on from this overwhelming revelation,  Joshua's diluted version of Moses' encounter at the Burning Bush?

Joshua attempts to recreate  Jericho by once again sending to spies to "scout out the land." Yet unlike the first scouts, who are careful to look at both "city and land," these second set of scouts immediately zoom in on the city of Ai. And unlike the careful reconnaissance that characterized the approach to Jericho, these  spies arrogantly proceed by approximation: “About two thousand or three thousand..." Not for nothing is Achan conflated with the nation as a whole. There overconfidence reveals that the lesson of Jericho has not been learned. Like Achan, who steals from the physical wealth of Jericho, the nation as a whole steals the aura of the victory over Jericho:  believing their own invincibility, they assume that the city is theirs to win. 

This appropriate of God's action becomes a betrayal as deep, in some ways, as the worship of the Golden Calf in the aftermath of Sinai-- God's exchange with Joshua echoes His words to Moses as he is sent down the mountain.  Desecrating the herem is undoing the covenant. Israel "has stolen and also lied and also taken into his possessions." The attempt to appropriate the herem for oneself makes the herem spread like a contagion. Achan becomes an extension of Jericho, burned with all the possessions that drove him, as well as his family. Israel, which has also become herem, must physically exorcise their connection to Ahan, actively and ruthlessly cutting him out of the body politic.

The meagre objects, and their oversized consequence, become a physical embodyment of the danger of the God of Small Things, who makes no approxumates, and demands a confession of the very specific "this and this." ]

Monday, October 23, 2017

Joshua 6: In Writing

Circle, circle, round and round
what is the pivot
how far the radii
that mark the boundaries of the silent core
closed and enclosed against you.

Set with the sun
to bunk in silence
those who go before
those who gather after
all that is scattered within the storm.

Hear your breath rise within a horn
tremble on the circle of bone
to break out
a piercing cry
 that says: I have nothing..

Watch the walls crumble.
Rush in like a river

lapping the stones
like the tongue of all-devouring God

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 6

Count to seven
seven times
Jubilee of connection
when man made ties dissolve
except for the bonds of the mouth

[For full chapter, click here
"Go view the Land and Jericho" (2:2) Joshua commanded the  scouts, setting up Jericho as the key to the Land, and seperate from it. Now we learn that even as the inhabitants tremble before the incoming Israel, Jericho is "closed and enclosed before the children of Israel" (6:1). The walls, so important for the scouts encounter with Rahab, seperate the city from the countryside--just as in Leviticus 25, the city is seen as a human construct, seperating people from the direct, indelible bond to the "field." 

The conquest of Jericho involves circling this wall, a repetitive cyclic movement that is somehow related to the repetitive cycles of time: the weekly cycle of 6 days plus Shabbat; the seven year cycle of shemita [sabbatical year] ; and the seven times seven cycle of the Yovel / Jubilee--a connection that is emphasized by refering to the shofars carried by the priests as yovel. The nation is to circle the city for six days, one circle a day, with seven priests carrying seven shofarot-yovlot, On the seveneth day. there are seven circles, creating the seven times seven pattern of Yovel. 

The laws of the Jubilee (Leviticus 25)  establish that the Land is God's, with humanity only granted the right of usage. Cities finction as small, humanity-centered bubbles, which allow people to cling to their ownership, even as the Jubillee dissolves it. Here, the sounding of the Yovel literally disolves the walls, merging the city with the land outside--and ending the protection of its inhabitants.

The land returns to God's ownership, becoming herem (forbidden, set aside) for human usage. The city is given to Israel to destroy, but not to possess.

Yet even as the human bonds of ownership are disolved, the bonds  of language stands. The people are commanded to be silent throughout the week of circling Jericho, the only sound the impersonal call of the Shofar. Yet at the moment the walls dissolve, the people are permitted to speak. And human speech is binding. The oath sworn to Rahab must be kept "as you swore to her" (6: 22); Joshua "swears" (6:26) not to rebuild the city. The saving of Rahab "she and all who are with her" is set up as a counter to the destruction of the city "she and all within her." The human bonds of language parallel God's unbreakable possesion of the land.]

Friday, October 20, 2017

Joshua 5: In Writing

After passage,
a wall.

Look back.
You cannot see the river
cannot see the mountain
cannot see the plain, the low scrub
the bush burning.

No rising mist
no falling bread--
fragile as frost
golden honey, melting like that first flake of snow--
can you still feel its damp
in the sunbaked earth

the ripening gold wheat?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 5

From whence do you draw sustenance?
Feed from the earth
feed from the sky
a time to say goodbye
and reroot

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues the theme of transition, but here we have exited the liminal space, and the change has become "complete" (t'm) (5:8) and definitive.

First, the crossing is complete, and its impact immediate: The passage into the Land through the dried river bed "melts" the hearts of the Canaanites." It is as though the the waters displaced by Israel enters into the very bodies of the inhabitants.  Rahab's prediction becomes fact: "no man has spirit to stand against them."

Even as Israel approaches contact with the people that dwell "to the west" of the river, the chapter goes out to create a complete separation. Joshua is commanded to circumcise all the sons of Israel. This creates a break not only between the children of Israel and the Canaanites, but between the generation of Israel that enters the Land, and those that came before them: "For all the males  that came forth from Egypt ... died in the wilderness by the way... All the people that came out were circumcised, but all the people who born in the wilderness along the way as they came forth from Egypt were not circumcised... For the children of Israel walked in the wilderness for forty years, until all the nation of the men of war that left Egypt was utterly gone (t'm)... and [God] raised their children in their stead, and those did Joshua circumcise" (5: 4-7).  Again and again it is emphasized that there has been an absolute break from Egypt. Those who have entered the land were born on the "way", in the liminal space of the wilderness. 

The break between generations is emphasized by the keeping of the Passover, a re-doing of the exodus by the new generation that has entered the Land. The holiday of redemption becomes a celebration of entering rather than of leave taking. This transitional Passover allows the final break is from the liminal space of the desert itself. No longer will Israel be fed from the Moses' manna. The end of Passover also marks the end of the miraculous bread from the sky; the end of the not-quite-real existence of wilderness wandering . From now on , Israel will be fed from the Land itself. 
The chapter ends by emphasizing the absolute break between Moses and Joshua, as Joshua sees the "Captain of the Hosts of God" in a vision that echoes Moses' revelation at the burning bush.  Like Moses, Joshua is told to "remove his shoes from his feet, for the land that you stand on is holy" (5:15). But the very similarity highlights the magnitude of the change: where Moses had a revelation that was "face to face", Joshua meets only an angel. The end of the manna is also the end of direct contact with God.]

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Joshua 4: In writing

Feel your feet
sink the sand
into a small round space

Feel your weight
against the roaring weight
of the wall behind

Anchored in sand
like a ship drifting 
against the current

Feel the water
seep between your toes
sweep the floor from beneath you

Disintegrating grains
 water fills the void

left by your passing

Joshua: Chapter 4


Take the inside out,
bring the ourside in
Stable in the swirl
foot sunk in sand--

then disconnect at let the water back in.

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter followes seemlessly from the last: it is the actualization of the plans and commands.  If the previous chapter ends with the announcment that "all the nation passed through the Jordan," this chapter begins at the moment after "and it was, when all the nation passed through the Jordan." If in the previous chapter, God promised Joshua that "I will begin to magnify you in the eyes of this nation, and they will know that as I was with Moses I will be with you" (3: 7),  in this chapter it has become a fact: "on that day God magnified Joshua in the eyes of all of Israel, and they feared him as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life" (4:14).

Continued is the theme of transition, here embodied in the Jordan River, the literal passage between before and after, inside and outside, As in the case of Rahab and her window, there is something sacred about the liminal space, and about the right of passage. The men that Joashua "prepared" before the passage must go back and take stones from the bedrock of the river, by the very feet of the preists. These stones are to be set up in the first "resting place" that Israel finds within the Land (again, an allusion to Moses and his experience at the "resting place" [malon] on his way to Egypt], continuing the presence of the passage. These are to be "speaking stones", arousing testemony. And even as teh Jordan is moved into the Land, the outer edge is moved into the Jordan, as twelve stones are set up within the river, to permenantly link the before and after. Thus, the desert experience is linked into teh transitional space of the river, and the river is moved into the "resting place" at Gilgal.  

Holding the passage open are the feet of the preists, rooted within the watery mud, causing the river to pile up on one side, and dry up on the other. "As soon as the soles of the preists' feet were lifted to the dry land, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, running between its banks as before" (4:18). The transition from Moses to Joshua, from desert to the Land, revolves around literal movement: around learning to walk in a new way.]

Friday, October 6, 2017

Joshua 3: In Writing

At the edge
your toe traces the line
between water and mud

Blue above, waters below.
In the distance the yellow ripening
of sumer  wheat
Step and watch 
the waters gather. The earth emerge
mud and glistening,

As it sprawled out
on the second day.
See the wall of waves

brood above you
the drying trickle

eging its way to the salt sea

Joshua: Chapter 3

The moment of crossing 
Waters gathered
Waters dried

[For full chapter, click here
"This day I will begin to magnify you in the eyes of Israel, and they will know that as I was with Moses, I will be with you" (3: 7) God declares to Joshua, as the nation prepares to cross the Jordan river into the Land. Indeed, the crossing of the river is set up as a prallel to the three of Moses' greats acts. The "three days" (3:2) days of waiting echoe the lead up to the revelation at Sinai. The splitting of the Jordan is set up as a recreation of the Splitting of the Sea. And the choice of "twelve men, a man for each tribe" (3:2) alludes the the  initial senidng forth of the spies.

Throughout, the chapter focuses on the act of crossing (a'v'r), and the liminal edges between one state at the next, the literal "edges" of the river.

This crossing that Moses could not make marks the transformation of the people of Israel from wandering nomads into a settled nation (goy). TCutting off the last vestiges of connection to Moses and the encampment he had so carefully set up, what hapens next, No longer do  the "pillar of fire" and cloud show the way. A new "path" (derekh) must be found, and this chapter picks up on the key words of the opening chapter--teh nation as a whole must learn to walk with Joshua.

The Ark of Covenant moves into prominence. Rather than being carried in the middle, as it was in teh desert, it leads the way, a physical marker that God's presence will accmpany Israel in this passing. "a living God is amongst you" (3: 10). 

The closingof the chapter, with the waters piling up on one side, while drying on the others, is a graphic presentation of this moment of transformation.] 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Joshua 2: In Writing

Within the wall
back to the city
belly to the mountain
porous and pulsing, 
I encircle.

Come within me
hide in my embrace
as I lower you down my hair
that final thread
red blood of morning
leading down from the dark womb

Three days and three nights
and over the hilld
look back at the oval suspended above you
the pale faced pinned against the sky
the walls you cling to
crumbling around her