Sunday, February 11, 2018

Joshua: Chapter 21

Give from what you were given
Priests and murderers scattered 
cities within your cities
wanderers within

[For full chapter, click here
After the setting aside of the cities of refuge comes the final allotment: the giving of the cities to the Levites. These two sets of cities are intimately and mysteriously related. Both must be "given" (the leitwort t'n, repeated again and again in this chapter) as a gift from the tribes from within the inheritance that they were "given." Both are scattered throughout the entire country, buried within the tribes. Both are presented together: if in Numbers, the move from Levite cities to cities of slayers, here we move from the city of the slayer to the cities of the Levites. Finally, all the cities of refuge are actually Levite cities--a fact that is emphasized again and again by the refrain "city of refuge for the slayer.."
We need to know that these cities do not only offer refuge--they offer refuge specifically to "killers", who will be free to return home from their exile with the "death of the High Priest from the tribe of Levi.
Which returns us to the initial pronouncement that Levi would have no true inheritance: when Jacob, back in Genesis, curses Levi and Shimon's "swords," saying that they will be "scattered throughout Israel." Shechem, where Levi and Shimon used their swords here tellingly becomes a "city of refuge for the slayer." Levi's "Inheritance" is God, and so he remains unrooted, linked to the wandering Mishkan. But Levi is also a slayer, marked like the wandering Cain, offering refuge to other slayers that might still be redeemed. 
The cities of the Levites, with the cities of refuge scattered within them, doorways ready to admit fugitives who beg entrance, represent the continued desert encampment within the settled land--the spaces for the unsettled wanderers who must be given temporary place.] 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Joshua 20: In Writing

Trace a line from here to there
from where you started
to the doorway where you stop
beg entrance
within the walls
within the streets
within the home.
Grant me place.
Swallow me down your long long tongue
hold me safe in your gullet
digest me in your juices
till death on more death sets me free.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Joshua: Chapter 20

Trace the line to the gateway, and back
into the city, into the door of your own home
give place to the exile
the man out of place

[For full chapter click here
The growing focus on cities climaxes here, with the command to re-appoint the Cities of Refuge dedicated by Moses, adding now three additional cities on the western side of the Jordan. If the inheritance of the Land is "given" by God, these cities of refuge are "given" (20: 2) by the people, who "give" a place to the refugee involuntary murderer. These are human places within the expansive space of the Land--and they are specifically "cities" (the leitword of this chapter, defined by human boundaries, with a "gate" manned by elders and overseen by a court.
If the previous accounts of the cities of refuge (Numbers 35, focused on the question of the man-slaughterers relative guilt, this account focuses on the passage into and out of the city--continuing the Book of Joshua's focus on transitional spaces of entrance. The manslaughterer must approach the liminal gate, until he is "gathered into the city" and "given a place to sit (y'sh'v). His return (sh'v) from exile is also defined through the city, the wordplay of sh'v / sh'v highlighting the parallel: he is to return to "his own city, the city he left."
 The setting aside of the cities is a watershed. Back in Deuteronomy, Moses defined taking responsibility for cities of refuge as the moment when the land truly becomes "yours." It is the sign of a completed conquest. In dedicating these cities, Joshua is indicating that "God has expanded the boundaries" of Israel's territory.