For the next five Tuesdays (including this one), one of my colleagues from Ashland Theological Seminary will be a guest blogger here. Dr. L. Daniel Hawk is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew. Among his publications he has written a commentary on the Book of Joshua for the Berit Olam series. He is an excellent OT scholar and is quite conversant in postmodernism. When I have a perplexing question in Old Testament, he is the first person I seek out for his opinion.
Dan and I have participated together in mission in Cuba. He is a man of deep faith in Jesus Christ and his scholarship proceeds from his profound faith convictions. A new book of his, Joshua in 3-D, has just been published. Dan has spent much time over the years looking at the conquest narratives in the OT book of Joshua, not only in reference to what they meant, but what they mean for us in the twenty-first century West, and how they have been used and abused. Dan takes an honest look at these complex texts and draws honest implications on the relationship between biblical conquest and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Dan is not afraid of asking the difficult and uncomfortable questions that the conquest narratives raise for believers at the dawn of the twenty-first century. His is truly a 3-D approach. Here is the publisher's excellent summary of the book:.
This unique commentary generates a conversation between the biblical narrative of conquest, related biblical themes, and the American master narrative of Manifest Destiny. Writing in an accessible style and format, Hawk offers an exegesis of the biblical text with special emphasis on the ways the narrative of conquest shaped ancient Israel's identity as a people. A second level of commentary lifts key themes from the text (e.g., the land as divine gift and promise, mass killing, Israel's distinctive attributes, the construction of the Indigenous Other) and sets them within their broader biblical context. A third dimension reflects on corresponding elements in America's narrative of "westward expansion" (e.g. the conviction of America's unique character and destiny, total war and ethnic cleansing, the dehumanization of Native peoples, patriotism and homeland, the idea of the American Dream). As a whole, this book offers Joshua as a biblical resource for reading the American experience, challenging readers to reflect on how conquest shaped America's identity and how it continues to influence American attitudes and actions..
I invite you to read his posts over these next few Tuesdays and post your own comments. Dan will be monitoring the discussion and will be happy to respond to any questions and concerns you may have.
In addition, the publisher of Dan's new book, Wipf and Stock, is offering all readers of this blog a 40% discount on Joshua in 3-D for those who order a copy by May 16th. You must order from their website and you must insert the coupon code "HAWK40.".
Dan's book is well worth the price even without the discount..
Here is Dan's first post. Read, reflect, ponder, and join the discussion..
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Avatar, Manifest Destiny, and the Conquest of Canaan
L. Daniel Hawk
I thank Allan for the invitation to post on this blog. Allan has been a valued conversation partner on matters biblical and technological. I particularly appreciate his energy and vision in utilizing the internet to stimulate important discussions and am grateful for the privilege of participating in this forum. Thanks Allan!
The stories we tell, and the stories we embrace, reveal much about how we look at ourselves, our world, and our place in the world. Narratives encode our convictions, validate our beliefs, voice our anxieties, and assemble the events of our lives and memory into a meaningful coherence. They define us more clearly than textbooks or mission statements. It is no coincidence that the Bible, the book that for Christians explains God, humanity, and the world, is a grand narrative that begins with creation in Genesis and ends with new creation in the Revelation.
One of the stories at the center of today’s cultural radar is the one told by James Cameron’s Avatar. Like all narratives, this one draws on building blocks that have shaped previous versions of a basic, deeply-embedded cultural story. One of the fascinating aspects of Avatar is the way it retells the story of Western colonialism and turns it on its head. Avatar is the American master narrative of Manifest Destiny, projected safely into a fantasy world. There is the Invader, armed with superior military technology and intent on plundering a lush new world. There are the Indigenes, tied deeply to the land and determined to resist conquest and the exploitation of their world. There is Miles Quaritch, the military leader in the employ of the economic power (RDA), who wants only to drive out “the savages.” There is Jake Sully, the conflicted Invader turned renegade, who embodies the Invader’s ambivalence about conquest. There is Neytiri, the Indigenous woman who helps the Invader and becomes the bridge to her people. And there is her counterpart, Dr. Grace Augustine, whose attempt to start a school for the Na’vi recalls American attempts to “civilize the Indian” by establishing boarding schools..
Manifest Destiny was itself constructed from the building blocks of a more primal narrative – the story of the conquest of Canaan in the book of Joshua. Although Manifest Destiny incorporates other building blocks (such as the claim that the conquest was divinely commanded), the three narratives follow many of the same themes. At the heart of all is the story of the conquest of indigenous peoples and the appropriation of the land’s bounty, with fear and mass killing of the indigenes as a prominent thread.
Yet there is also ambivalence. Neytiri has a biblical counterpart in Rahab, an indigenous woman who helps the invaders. The Na’vi resemble the Gibeonites, who embody the characteristics admired by the Israelites. In Joshua’s farewell address (Josh 23), we detect the anxiety of a community working hard to keep its distance from the indigenous peoples, reflecting the bifurcated identities of earthlings and their avatars.
Many early Christian teachers viewed the Bible as a mirror, a gift from God that shows us our nobility and dignity, as well as our sins and ugliness. Taking up the Bible as a mirror, how might Joshua illumine the stories we tell, and have told, and what they say about us and our culture? How might this scripture enable American Christians to “read” our cultural stories and our sense of how the God of Peace might be at work in our world?
Next Tuesday-- Part Two-- "Indigenous Women"