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. 

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