05 February 2012

Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ‎‎)

The last five weeks have been on the five books (Pentateuch) of Moses called the Torah in Hebrew.  From this week onwards, I take up the next eight books of the Hebrew Bible, grouped together as Neviim or Prophets. If the word for prophet in Arabic is Nabi (نبي), it is Navi (נְבִיא) in ancient Jewish. This reminds me of how Bengalis pronounce or spell many words with letter “b” replacing “v”. Govinda is pronounced Gobinda, Vipul as Bipul, Kaveri as Kaberi and so forth.

The Book of Joshua (Hebrew: יְהוֹשֻׁעַ‎‎ - Yehoshua; Tamil: யோசுவா), the first of the eight Books of Naviim, has 658 verses in 24 chapters. Though this Book in the Bible is all about Joshua and his conquests towards securing the promised land, he has been introduced many times in the Torah. Exodus has at least seven verses, Numbers 12 verses and in Deuteronomy nine verses have his name. Overall his name appears in about 203 verses in the Bible, but bulk of it (73.4%) occurs in the book of Joshua.  Joshua, the son of Nun, is introduced in the Torah as the servant of Moses (Exodus 24:13, 33:11), the as a spy (Numbers 13:16) and in the end as a successor to Moses (Numbers 27:15). In the book of Joshua, he takes full charge leading the Israelites in the battlefront.  
The Five Books of
Moses (Torah)
The Eight Books of
the Prophets (Neviim)
The Eleven Books of
the Writings (Kesuvim)

1.      Genesis
6.      Joshua
14.  Psalms
2.      Exodus
7.      Judges
15.  Proverbs
3.      Leviticus
8.      Samuel
16.  Job
4.      Numbers
9.      Kings
17.  Song of Songs
5.      Deuteronomy
10.  Isaiah
18.  Ruth

11.  Jeremiah
19.  Lamentations
12.  Ezekiel
20.  Ecclesiastes
13.  The Twelve (minor prophets) Trei-Assar (1. Hosea, 2. Joel, 3. Amos, 4. Obadiah, 5. Jonah, 6. Micah, 7. Nahum, 8. Habakkuk, 9. Zephaniah, 10. Haggai, 11. Zechariah and 12. Malachi)
21.  Esther
22.  Daniel
23.  Ezra/Nehemia
24.  Chronicles

(1) Conquest and subjugation
The book of Joshua contains details of how Jews under their covenant with their Lord Yehweh conquered Canaan. The land might have been promised to the Jews by Jehovah but the way they were led by Moses and Joshua for acquiring the same was at the expense of the life of many tribes. It dominated by conquest of lands after lands through bloody battles and the division of the conquered land among the 12 tribes. Basically all these were achieved through divine help (Joshua, 8:8). Thousands were slaughtered in the name of divine promise and every town was set on fire. These two verses tell us all the story: And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword (Joshua 6:21). And they burned the city with fire and all that was in it (6:24).

Like how the Torah encompasses the prophetic utterances of Moses, the Qur’an contains the details of prophet Muhammad’s ministry. Their areas of operations and target audience might have been different, yet their modus operandi was by and large the same. Though both religious leaders promoted conquest of the land and subjugation of people in the name of God, they differed in one significant detail. While Moses and Joshua demolished the tribes after such invasions (Numbers, 33:52; Joshua, 10:37), Muhammad allowed them to coexist with the invaders but only if they submit and agree to certain conditions (Qur’an, 9:29). It is like the two options available for a wild animal left stranded after its habitat has been destroyed: either kill or confine the animal to captivity. While the Jews did the former, the Muslims did the latter. According to Ann E. Killebrew (2005), "Most scholars today accept that the majority of the conquest narratives in the book of Joshua are devoid of historical reality". However, Islamic conquests are all recorded in history, both which happened during the time of the prophet and soon after his death by his Caliphates, beginning with the conquest of Persia. 

(2) Moses, the architect and Joshua, the successor

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, 
the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide:
“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people,
            get ready to cross the Jordan River
            into the land I am about to give to them - to the Israelites.”
(Joshua, 1:1-2)
For any long mission to succeed, the one who initiates it will often look forward to the appointment of an able successor to complete the unfinished task. “Leave no task incomplete for the world gives up those who give up” says the Tamil moralist Valluvar (வினைக்கண் வினைகெடல் ஓம்பல் வினைக்குறை தீர்ந்தாரின் தீர்ந்தன்று உலகு, Kural 612). In many religious traditions, the founders played only the limited but important part of defining the foundations of their faith, but it was their followers who realized their founders’ vision of making their faith a global religion. We take here Sikhism, Islam and Judaism as examples. One of the most important things Guru Nanak did before his death was the appointment of a successor to carryout out his ministry. The appointment Guru Angad as the second Guru is considered an important event that led to the subsequent formation of a new faith called Sikhism. So also the appointment of Joshua as the successor of Moses regarded as an important event in the history of Judaism (Joshua 1:1-3).
Joshua being anointed by Moses before entering Canaan
Guru Nanak appoints Guru Angad as his successor
If Joshua led Israelites to the conquest of the promised land after the death of Moses, in Islam the first Caliphate Abu Backer unified and led the fraction-ridden Muslims to victorious conquests of the neighbouring countries after the death of Muhammad. We see a parallel here as well. The Quran mentions the names of 25 prophets including Prophet Muhammad himself, but not Joshua. The Quran mentions him only indirectly (see Sura 5:23), though his name appears in Arabic literatures that appeared after the Qur’an (Ibn Tabari in his History of the Prophets and Kings).

(3) Biblical Israel and the Sangam Tamil Land

Section 2 in my write up on “Numbers” was on “Milk and Honey” (பாலும் தேனும்), I mentioned about the promised land the Jews were promised by their Lord. The march towards this promised land of milk and honey continues in the sixth book of the Bible as well, once Joshua takes over from Moses. What was the extent and boundaries of this promised land called Canaan? This is indicated in several places in the Bible and the one from the Book of Joshua reminds me of the boundaries of the ancient Thamizhagam (தமிழகம்) given in Puranānūru:

From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 
(Joshua 1:4)

From Cape Kumari in the south,
From the great mountains in the north,
From the oceans on the east and
On the west, the hills, the mountains, the woods,
And the fields in unison utter their praise of you!
(Purananuru, 17)
பாலைநிலத்திலிருந்து இந்த லெபனோன் வரையிலும்,
யூப்பிரத்தீசு பேராறு தொடங்கி
இத்தியர் நாடு முழுவதுமாகக்
கதிரவன் மறையும் பெருங்கடல் வரையிலும்
உங்கள் நிலமாக இருக்கும்.
தென் குமரி, வட பெருங்கல்,
குண குட கடலா வெல்லை,
குன்று, மலை, காடு, நாடு
ஒன்று பட்டு வழி மொழிய

 (Kurunkōzhiyūr kizhār in Purananuru 17)

(பனம்பாரனார் says in his special proem to Tholkāppiyam: வடவேங்கடம் தென்குமரி ஆயிடைத் தமிழ்கூறு நல்லுலகத்து  (தொல்காப்பியம், சிறப்புப்பாயிரம்:1-3)

If the promised land of the Jews was called Canaan (Hebrew: כנען = knan), the ancient land of Tamils was called Thamizhagam (Tamil: தமிழகம்). The word Canaan and Canaanites occur about 160 times in the Bible (Killebrew, 2005) and the word Thamizhakam occurs in many ancient literary works in Tamil (வையக வரைப்பில் தமிழகம் கேட்ப, புறநானூறு, 168:18; இமிழ் கடல் வேலித் தமிழகம் விளங்க, பதிற்றுப்பத்து, இரண்டாம் பத்து, பதிகம்: 5; இமிழ் கடல் வரைப்பில் தமிழகம் அறிய, சிலப்பதிகாரம், அரங்கேற்றுகாதை: 38; சம்புத் தீவினுள் தமிழக மருங்கில், மணிமேகலை, 17: 62).

If the promised Jewish land was described in terms of the territory from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines (Exodus, 23:31), that of the ancient Tamil Land was also described as the land between two seas (Cilappathikāram, வேனிற்காதை:1-2), now called the Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal. The northern and southern boundaries of the Jewish Land are notified in the Bible by the naming of two rivers, namely the Euphrates and in the south river of Egypt (Genesis, 15:18). The river of Egypt is not the Nile but the Wadi al-Arish (*, *). Ancient Tamil soil included not only the present state of Tamil Nadu, but also fringe areas of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka bordering Tamil Nadu in the north. This included Tiruppati hills (called as Venkatam hills during Sangam) and Mysore in Karnataka (Kanakasabhai, 1904). This inverted triangular territory with Cape Comorin as the apex would include as well present-day Kerala, and the outer fringes of Karnataka and Andhradesa (Thani-Nayagam, 1997). Ptolomy and the author of Periplus called this ancient Tamilagam as Limirike (Kanakasabhai, 1904; Krishnamurthy, 2007).

The people who lived to the north of Venkata hills were called “Vadugars” (Natrinai, 212; Kurunthogai, 11) and the land immediate to the north of the Ghats was called the “Buffalo land” (எருமை நாடு) or in Sanskrit Mahisha Mandalam (Kanakasabhai, 1904). The word “mahisham” in Sānskrit means ‘baffalo’. In Hindu mythology, Mahishasura (buffalo demon) was slayed by goddess Chamundishwari (*). The word Mysore is therefore a corrupted version of "Mysooru", which is derived from the word "mahishur" or "Mahishasurana Ooru", which means the town of Mahishasura in Kannada, the local language (*). Therefore when the word “எருமைநாடு”  in Tamil literature meant Mysore (*). In fact Mysore has a statue of Mahishasura located near the Chamundeshwari Temple atop the Chamundi Hills as a symbol of this mythology.
As we understand from the Bible, Yahweh brings Israelites into this Promised Land after 40 years of struggle in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. The Qur’an also affirms this forty years of wandering through this verse from Sura 5:26: “(Allah) said, "Then indeed, it is forbidden to them for forty years [in which] they will wander throughout the land. So do not grieve over the defiantly disobedient people." While the ancient Tamil country ‘Thamizhagam’ was ruled by Chera, Chola, Pandyas and other chieftains, that of Canaan was ruled by David, Solomon, Saul and many others. 


·         Thani-Nayagam, X.S. 1997. Landscape and Poetry. International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai. P. 12
·         Krishnamurthy, K.V. 2007. தமிழரும் தாவவமும். Bharathidasan University. Pages 15-16
·         Kaiser, W.C. Jr., 1981.  The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View.   Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981) 302-12.
·         Kanakasabhai, V. 1904.  Chapter II. Geography of Tamilagam. In: Ancient Education Services. The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago. Page 10
·         Killebrew, A.E. 2005. Biblical peoples and ethnicity: An archeological study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines and Early Israel. Society of Biblical literature. Page 96


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