Boy, did Joshua have a great press agent. The constant similarities between events in Joshua’s life with those in Moses’ life are just too good to be true. Clearly, Joshua had folks advocating to insure his status among the great leaders of the Israelites.
However, I would suggest his press flaks actually did Joshua a disservice, by getting these obvious attempts at aggrandizement into the Biblical text.
Dayam! It should have been enough for them that Moses designated Joshua to be his successor. The Sea of Reeds/River Jordan connection was unnecessary.
But no, we have to get this, included in the haftarah for Pesach:
13 Once, when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked him, “Are you one of us or of our enemies?” 14 He replied, “No, I am captain of the Lord’s host. Now I have come!” Joshua threw himself face down on the ground and, prostrating himself, said to him, “What does my lord command his servant?” 15 The captain of the Lord’s host answered Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Really? Invoking Exodus 3:5? At some ordinary location near Jericho? Surely, if this incident had happened as told, the place where it took place would have certainly been given an appropriate place name, and have become an important site whose location would be remembered and marked thereafter.
It was easy enough to keep the location of where the burning bush incident of Exodus 3 took place non-specific. It wasn’t in the promised land. It wasn’t important as a specific place,it was important for the encounter between G”d and Moses that took place there.
Yes, you could make the same arguments for Joshua’s encounter. However, consider how likely it is that once Joshua related what took place there, that people would have immediately wanted to know where it was and desired to build a shrine there. Also, the text is vague. Were there other witnesses? Was this a secluded spot? While this isn’t clearly specified in the case of Moses’ encounter, the setting and situation make it more likely Moses was alone.
They say that everything in Torah and Tanakh is purposeful. Just like the layers of PARDES, that purposefulness can have surface, symbolic, deeper/comparative, and secret meaning.
On the surface, it appears that Joshua had an encounter in which he was told, just like Moses, to remove his sandals because he was walking on holy ground. On a symbolic level, perhaps this story is meant to emphasize the holiness of the promised land into which Joshua has now led the people. On a midrashic level, perhaps it is meant to bolster and elevate Joshua’s status (and perhaps do some leveling and equalization so that we do not come to overly revere Moses.)
Looking at this text, I take away something else. I take away the message that none of this is meant to be literal or historical – and I mean none of this is in the broad context of all of Torah and Tanakh. The parallels between this holy ground story and the one in Exodus (and the same parallels in the stories of the splitting of the sea of reeds and the Jordan) say to me that it doesn’t matter if either of them actually took place. In fact, it is almost a big margin note saying “this didn’t really happen” so don’t get too worked up about it, don’t believe it. Read it symbolically, not plainly.
There is great debate among scholars as to the historicity of the Exodus story which we will be retelling at our seders. This haftarah for Pesach reminds me that there is the work of press agents and more afoot in the text, so don’t take it so literally.
I can follow the instruction to act as if I, myself, had been brought forth out of slavery in Egypt, without having to believe in the historicity of the story. Yet I don’t feel as if I have to say “We might have been slaves in Egypt but now we’re free.” For the purposes of this exercise in anamnesis that we call Pesakh, we were slaves. Don’t believe it? That’s OK. Had G”d given us the Torah without telling us it was all just a bunch of stories concocted to get the message across to us, Dayeinu!
Adrian ©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this season:
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5771-Admat Yisrael
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 – Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 – Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis