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The complex image of a God fighting for his people. A cognate-linguistic and theological-ethical study of the war narratives of het book Joshua.

Recent research on biblical historiography shows a growing interest in the ideological nature of history writing. Influenced by the ‘linguistic turn’ in the philosophy of history, biblical scholars started to integrate a number of critical approaches to biblical historiography to explain the relation between ideology and history in a more adequate way. The relation between ideology and language however, has not been studied systematically. The question how ideology relates to language, and how ideological frameworks are precisely expressed in language, and can be recognized in biblical texts is therefore unresolved. Another missing link is ‘cognition’. Ideologies can only consist in the minds of people. What is needed therefore, is a methodology that theorizes the interaction between language, ideology and cognition on the one hand, coupled with a description how grammatical and lexical structures may engender ideologies, on the other hand.

This lacuna is bridged by adopting Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) as a useful methodology for Biblical Studies. Critical Discourse Analysis is an academic movement that produced a number of critical approaches, that describe how ideology, power and social inequality are expressed in language. CDA approaches are aimed at analyzing, in a systematic sense, how ideological language use is typically expressed in ‘positive self-presentation’ and ‘negative other-presentation’, and how such positive images of the ‘Self’ and negative othering can be derived from discourse. CDA is therefore a powerful tool in deconstructing how such patterns of othering are expressed in biblical texts.

Based on van Dijk’s Socio-Cognitive Approach to CDA, and Hart’s work, which modified the Socio-Cognitive Approach in view of recent developments in Cognitive Science, a case study was offered, that illustrates how exclusion and violence against out-groups is expressed in Joshua 9–11. Like any other CDA approach, this study focuses first and foremost on ideological language use, as expressed in positive self-presentation and negative othering.

The model that was proposed in this study, is structured by a trichotomy, aimed at ‘explaining’, ‘interpreting’ and ‘criticizing’ the meaning of biblical texts. The level of explanation, which looks at the text as literature, was developed in the fourth chapter of this dissertation: The Text as a Whole. A text-linguistic analysis, that focused especially on the textual cohesion and internal structure of the text, showed that Josh 9–11 forms a triptych, whereby the Gibeonite ruse sets the stage for the battle stories in Josh 10–11. Chapter five, The Text as Ideology, deals with the stage of interpretation. This stage of the analysis describes which discourse strategies and construal operations appear in the text, and how they contribute to ‘positive self-presentation’ and ‘negative other-presentation’. A critical discourse reading of Josh 9 showed how the conceptualization of the Gibeonites as untrustworthy and marginalized out-siders is expressed in evidentiality, deictic expressions and politeness strategies. In the battle narratives in Josh 10–11, processes of othering relate to proximization strategies and the use of nationyms, while positive self-presentation is expressed in the numerous assymetrical action chains, emphasizing total destruction, metaphors of victory, and so-called topoi of authority, in which war is justified by the Law. Both processes relate to an identity narrative, that is clearly written from an interior Israelite vantage point. The stage of criticizing was developed in chapter six. Based upon Gopin’s peace hermeneutics, a critical-ethical reflection was developed, in which Josh 9–11 was re-interpreted as a myth of national descent, that ties Israelite identity to a God-given homeland, and a deep sense of chosenness. A key-term in constructing Israelite uniqueness is ḥēręm. Critical examination of the root, showed however that ḥrm functions in Joshua as a rhetorical strategy, invented to bolster Israelite uniqueness.

Date:1 Oct 2009  →  17 Jun 2016
Keywords:Hermeneutics, War against Canaan, The ban, Cognitive-linguistics
Disciplines:Theology and religious studies
Project type:PhD project