Remember the Jericho? Mythification of Place and Identity Formation at Two Frontier Towns -- By: Wes Sutermeister

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 44:0 (NA 2012)
Article: Remember the Jericho? Mythification of Place and Identity Formation at Two Frontier Towns
Author: Wes Sutermeister


Remember the Jericho? Mythification of Place and Identity Formation at Two Frontier Towns

Wes Sutermeister*

Abstract

The biblical accounts concerning the city of Jericho have always sparked much scholarly interest, especially in the fields of history and archaeology. For many, the story of Jericho’s miraculous conquest by the Israelites, as found in Joshua 6, is pure legend with no basis in reality. For others, Jericho did indeed have walls that astonishingly fell at the shout of Israel, and the biblical account is consistent with both the historical and archaeological evidence. Leaving these complicated questions aside, this essay will seek to illumine the portrait of Jericho as found in the biblical texts of Joshua through a narrative analysis of the texts themselves, focusing on the deep, symbolic elements of the narrative. It will also explore the rhetorical function of the narrative as it now stands in its canonical form (Text). Finally, through a comparison with the construction of the Alamo myth within both the American and Texan consciousness in our modern era, we will explore how the place of Jericho might have functioned as an identity shaper in the life of Israel, and how a mythic vision of Jericho’s conquest may have been perpetuated within the community of Israel (Trajectory). It is our hope that such a study will provide a better starting point through which the more “historical” questions might be addressed.

Text

While Joshua 6 relates the narrative of the conquest of Jericho by the Israelites, the city itself figures prominently in the preceding chapters, especially as the place where two Israelite spies encounter Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who lives within the walls of Jericho (Josh 2). In this story, the spies are commanded by Joshua to “Go, view the land, especially Jericho” (2:1 NRSV). Here, it seems that Jericho is a kind of representation, by way of the prominence given to it, of the land of Canaan as a whole. Richard D. Nelson picks up on this thread, claiming that, “The language of the Rahab story has already prepared the reader to equate Jericho with the land as a whole.”1 Furthermore, in Joshua 5 we are given a story about the “commander of the army of the Lord” who meets Joshua “in Jericho” (בִּירִיחוֹ; 5:13).2

Thus, when the ...

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