Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Innocence of Achan

I’ll wrap up at few things regarding my Achan post. I believe Achan was innocent of the charge against him. The charge being, not so much that he violated the ban, but that he caused the defeat at Ai. I think this text gives us two choices.
  1. Achan, by violating the ban, was guilty of causing the defeat at Ai.

  2. Achan, whether he violated the ban or not, was in no way guilty of causing the defeat at Ai.

The facts as I see them.

1. Joshua made a strategic error. 2000 troops were sent to attack the first time and they were defeated. The second time 30,000 were sent to attack Ai. I believe the author is telling us something very important. You don’t find this kind of candor in pagan myths.

2. The people lost heart. The people began to lose faith in their Holy War. This relatively minor defeat has proven the fragility of the cultural order. As a result of this battle 36 soldiers died, that is out of an army of at least 30,000. Not much of a defeat, at least using ancient standards. Thus the defeat was not so much a military defeat, but a defeat of military morale. “Israel has turned their backs on their enemies…”

3. The initial evidence that the ban had been violated wasn’t the discovery of booty. The “evidence” was that the initial attack on Ai had been a failure.

4. To rebuild military morale, Joshua proposes an Atonement ritual. So Joshua, being the High Priest in this ritual brings each clan before him collecting the sins of the community. Finally the finger points to Achan, and instead of taking responsibility for his own sins, Joshua places not only his sins but the sins of the entire community onto the head of Achan. Achan is then lead off to the proverbial cliff in the wilderness.

5. The casting of lots was a stroke of genius on Joshua’s part. When performing a ritual like this you only want to identify one person. Imagine the intensity of this ritual. Imagine the guilt generated in the community by this ritual. Each member terrified that they may be the one chosen, and then the relief when the finger passes and their sins have been taken away. The mob begins to form as each clan is passed by, the intensity building. Those exonerated quickly begin to close ranks in an ever tighter circle around the “evil one”, because they want to make sure the finger stays pointed at this "evil one". Then Achan is selected after all this life and terrible death intensity. Then in a surprising question and answer session Joshua tells him to “give glory to the Lord God of Israel and make confession to him”, but then Joshua asks Achan to tell him what he has done and not to hide it from him, that being Joshua. Achan, according to the text, rather calmly confesses and gives a full explanation of what he did. Joshua’s messenger are sent to Achan’s tent and bring back the booty and in a great display spread it out before the Lord. (Why would they need to spread it out before the Lord, he would already know. Can’t refrain from asking this. When the text says “Lord”, does it mean Joshua, or the community as a whole?). The mob has formed, the finger must stay pointed Achan, gotta get rid of him quickly. In their hurry they forget that Achan’s sentence was that he was supposed to be burned with fire. They stone him. They stone him good. His entire family, don't want anyway around to feel sorry for this evildoer, just in case the family members begin pointing the finger somewhere else. Everything he owned is destroyed. This Achan dude must not have been very popular or worldly smart. In this world if you’re in his position you learn to point fingers very fast. (Or the passage from Isaiah 53 comes to mind, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth”) Then after the stoning they remember the whole fire thing. Oh yeah, and the pass through fire thing is an old testament euphemism for human sacrifice.

6. A cairn is created where Achan is slain. Then after Ai is decimated, a second cairn is created over the dead body of the King of Ai. These cairns defying all other primitive religions where cairns become religious monuments, do not seem to become sacred. After the defeat of Ai, enjoying an incredible amount of cultural harmony they build a third mound of stones and offer animal sacrifices. Wow. So the system of animal sacrifice, the declining effects of which brought on this whole crisis to begin with has been restored.

So I think I’m concluding that Achan’s death was an act of ritual murder. Like Jesus, Achan was the scapegoat bruised for the community’s iniquity. Joshua was like Caiaphas in the belief that it was better for one man to die than the entire community to be torn apart.


For the literalists out there, where in the text does it say his sons and daughters are guilty. Where is his wife? Anyway what I see happening is that Achan is standing there and his sons and daughters see what is going on. They run to him, crying, weeping, begging the mob for mercy and pity, but all the crowd sees is their own fear of the finger being pointed back at them. So these children, who are standing around Achan, between him and the crowd, must be shut up, their voices must not be heard. All that crying and weeping must be stopped before it becomes contagious and spreads and the Israelites lose heart again and the whole thing becomes an accustorial free-for-all, so one must hurry and throw the first stone, to quiet them. So in a spontaneous mob lynching, a fireball of human anger and fear consumes not only Achan, but all his sons and daughters.

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