Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (JSOT Supplement 98)

Written by K. Lawson Younger, Jr. Reviewed By Richard S. Hess

Younger begins with a critique of two propositions implied in the attempts of two biblical scholars to describe history: that historicity is defined by the literary genre of a text (Van Seters) and that historicity is invalidated by an author’s bias (Coats). This provides a basis for a discussion of the variety of ways in which these assumptions have been expressed by biblical historians. Younger’s own definition of history is ‘a committedly true account which imposes form on the actions of men (sic) in the past’ (p. 46). He distinguishes between the historical worth of a text and its literary form or ideological construction. The three are distinct and neither of the latter two dictate the historicity of a text. Younger finds in semiotics a method congenial to this distinction. In his method, the narrative becomes a vehicle by which the message is transmitted. Surprisingly, there is no analysis of the historiography of the influential Annales school and a leading proponent, Braudel.

The study of Assyrian, Hittite and Egyptian conquest ideologies and their transmission codes results in a cross-genre analysis of the similarities among the writings of each of the nations, as well as the differences between the three. Younger compares them with the conquest narratives of Joshua 9–12. In doing so, interesting observations are made on the possible astrological context of the ‘longest day’, the Ancient Near Eastern context of the flight, capture and execution of the five kings in Joshua 10:16–27, and the ideological function of the text as an encouragement for Israelite warriors to fight. Additional aspects of ideology which are found in both Joshua and Ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts include the representation of all enemies as a single Enemy, the policy of psychological terror, the carrying-out of deserved revenge upon the enemy, and the use of the army and nation as an instrument of justice by the nation’s deity.

Younger goes on to draw comparisons with these accounts and thereby to find expressions such as ‘all the land’, ‘all Israel’ and ‘no survivors’ to be part of the ‘hyperbolic’ rhetoric of these accounts, rather than indications of editorial additions. Further, the aspects of summary, patterning and repetition in Joshua 10 and 11 suggest a single unified composition, as can be found in comparable Ancient Near Eastern annals, rather than evidence of a variety of different sources. These comparisons also weigh against attempts to find here evidence of an egalitarian ideology opposed to elitist city states, as suggested by Gottwald, Brueggemann and others. A similar imperialistic ideology lies beneath both biblical and Ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts, as suggested by their similarities in semiotic forms. Younger also challenges Lemche, and Coote and Whitelam, regarding their assumptions that these texts must be dated late and be considered useless for a reconstruction of Israel’s early history. Unfortunately, he does not develop this critique as fully. He concludes with observations about the universality of holy war in the Ancient Near East and about the difficulties of dating or assigning authorship to the texts from Joshua.

Two formal observations are in order. The introduction in particular suffers from a stream of consciousness organization. Younger is hardly alone in this but a tighter organization could more effectively present some of the important evidence. It might also reduce the large number of quotations which dominate the book, including the duplicate quote which appears on p. 56 and again on p. 64. The second point is that I would like to see the endnotes become footnotes. Despite dangers of a subtext interfering with the argument of the main text, too much is lost to the reader by a constant reference to another set of pages, especially in a book with more than 700 notes.

This valuable book is programmatic and begs to be developed in what it is hoped will be further applications of this method to biblical texts. Younger asks fundamental questions in a period of shifting models and interpretations of these texts of Joshua. It is hoped that they will be examined and that the result will bestow upon Joshua 9–12 its proper place in Israel’s literary, political and religious history.

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary, Denver