Does All Mean All?

March 21, 2012

I don’t have much to report on today because all I ever do is play Draw Something. Oh, and I also check books out from the library in hopes that they will help me with my thesis, but they do not. Then I throw those books at people in the student center. I am a treat.

I guess Denver has some new quarterback no one has ever heard of.

So we’ve been translating Joshua in Hebrew. Like I mentioned before, it’s kind of a tough book because Israel is on the warpath and they kill a lot of people. Joshua 10 and 11 talk about the Israelites systematically going through the southern part of the land and then the northern part of the land — attacking towns and killing everyone in them. Over and over again it says things like, “they left no one who breathed” and “they utterly destroyed everyone in it.” But what’s interesting is that they did not kill everyone. A couple chapters later in Joshua 14, Caleb is receiving his inheritance and he talks about how he’ll need to drive out the Anakim who are in his land. Well, in Joshua 11, it says that they killed all the Anakim in Caleb’s land — there were none left. In Joshua 17 and 18, we see that there are still Canaanites in the land that work for them  — Canaanites that had supposedly all been killed a couple chapters ago.

This is where it is important for us to recognize that the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) mindset was different than ours. They were not concerned with direct quotes or precise numbers like we are today. We’ve created a system of journalism and reporting history that is very precise. It is our standard, but it wasn’t theirs. It just wasn’t their thing — which doesn’t make it bad, just different. You can look all over ANE documents, and you see the kind of language that’s in the Bible. When Joshua says that the Israelites killed any and everyone, it means that they were now the ones in charge in the land. They took it over, they took down their kings, they defeated the strongholds of the towns around them. It’s hyperbolic language that is used to talk about how Israel was successful in taking over the land. In the Hebrew we see the repetition of words like “all” and “completely.” The author is making a point — they hadn’t killed everyone, but they were successful in taking over the Promised Land. It does not at all make the biblical text in Joshua untrue. It’s just their way of writing about it — it would’ve made complete sense to the ANE mindset.

A lot of times when we study the Bible, we impose our modern, Western sensibilities on it. But it was written by ancient people with an Eastern mindset. So we don’t read those passages and think that they are false or wrong or untrue. We read those passages and try to understand what the writers meant, how the readers would’ve understood the text, what the author was trying to communicate. Yes? Yes.

OK, I hafta get back to drawing stick figures on my iPhone. C-ya!


7 Responses to “Does All Mean All?”

  1. Complete DOMINATION!

  2. Anonymous said

    It makes you wonder the meaning behind the other “all’s” in the bible?

  3. denisemorris said

    Anonymous — great comment. Yeah, I think it really depends on the context and the type of genre you’re reading. Joshua is narrative about a military conquest in a time when war was very theological. It is similar to other writings of its time that talk about conquest. So, in this context, it works to understand it this way. It’s not that “all” never means “all” but in this case, it is clear that “all” didn’t mean “every single person.”

  4. lyddiebee said

    These inconsistencies are reasons for why I think the Bible is so open to interpretation. I don’t know there is any one “right” way to interpret it or understand its meanings because every persons frame of mind is different. Our frame of mind as interpreters today is totally different than the frame of mind of those who wrote this and yet again than those who have re-translated it over time to create different versions. In all reality, we have no way of actually knowing the frame of mind the person who originally wrote each chapter was in at the moment in time it was written. We can make “educated guesses” but even those are coming from someone who’s frame of mind is in the present trying desperately to reach back into the past for understanding…

    Just my two cents!

  5. lyddiebee said

    Oh and thanks for the post. I enjoyed it!

  6. denisemorris said

    Hey, Lydia! — I guess that’s why I don’t necessarily think it’s open to interpretation for everyone. And I guess I don’t think it’s inconsistencies. I think the Hebrew mind thought it was very consistent. To me, this is just more reason to make sure we’re diligent about understanding context and intent and genre. There’s a lot we CAN know about the text. For example, a 2012 American might read Joshua and see that it says they killed everyone and says they didn’t kill everyone and see it as inconsistent. But when we see other ANE texts and see that this was the way they wrote, all the “inconsistencies” go away. If anything, it makes it seem more consistent and correct and accurate in my opinion. Of course, there are some things we won’t ever fully understand, but God is full of grace and has given us his Holy Spirit for discernment!

  7. Jana said

    That’s really interesting Denise. And we do still do this actually – how many articles about sporting events claim that “the whole nation” is transfixed by a big game or whatever. No one thinks that means literally every person is interested in it, we understand that it’s hyperbole to give an impression of the game’s importance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: