Gili Kugler on Caleb the Giant-Slayer

CalebFaithDr Gili Kugler (the University of Sydney) has recently written an article in which she discusses the different biblical traditions about Caleb’s involvement in the spy mission to Hebron and the eventual conquest of Hebron.

Gili Kugler, “Who Conquered Hebron? Apologetic and Polemical Tendencies in the Story of Caleb in Josh 14,” Vetus Testamentum 67 (2017): 570-580.

In the Bible, there are a number of inconsistent narratives about the spy expedition and conquest of Hebron/the southern Judean hill country. These narratives provide different identifications of:

  • The leader of the conquest: either Joshua (Joshua 11.21-22), or Caleb (Joshua 15.13-14), or Caleb after being allocated the land by Joshua, who now allocates land not yet conquered (Joshua 14.6-15), or the army of Judah (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The time of the conquest: either as part of Joshua’s conquest of the whole land (Joshua 11.21-22), or after the conquest of the whole land, as one of the areas still to be conquered in the second half of Joshua (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14), or after the death of Joshua (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The inhabitants who were killed: either the Anakim (Joshua 11.21-22), the Anakim who lived in great fortified cities as we saw the giants identified in Numbers 13 (Joshua 14.12), or the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Joshua 15.14), or the “Canaanites”, Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The ethnicity of Caleb: a Kenizzite (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14 – ‘son of Kenaz’), or part of Judah, or at least allied with Judah (Judges 1; as in Numbers 13).

Despite all these varied traditions, they all display a number of shared themes, characters, and geography – which makes it likely that we are dealing with related traditions.

So how do we account for the way these traditions developed? Scholars have usually dated the Caleb tradition as the earliest of the traditions, being placed into a pan-Israelite conquest involving Joshua. Kugler points out, though, that Joshua 14.6-15 appears to be a later supplement, interrupting the flow in Joshua 14 (and the land allocation to Judah), and also aware of Joshua 11 and its claim that the conquest of Hebron resulted in rest for the land as a whole.

Kugler views Joshua 14.6-15 as serving two apologetic purposes: (1) it justifies Kenizzite settlement and even integration into Judea, and (2) it disputes the idea that Joshua led the whole conquest, transferring the victory to Caleb the Kenizzite. She concludes that “Josh 14:6ab-15 can be viewed as a late formation in the Book of Joshua, responding to and disputing the pro-Joshuaic agenda found in the Deuteronomistic framework of the book” (p. 574). For Kugler, although Joshua 14.6-15 is directly dependent on Deuteronomy 1, it adds the detail that Caleb is a Kennizite, a detail not present in the Deuteronomistic source of the text.

This being the case, argues Kugler, the summary in Joshua 14.14, “So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day” gives us a clue about the historical context in which a non-Judean was portrayed as having the right to the city of Hebron. Kugler points to the Edomite connections of the clan of Kenaz (Genesis 31.11, 15, 42; 1 Chronicles 1.36, 53), and suggests that Joshua 14.6-15 was added during the time of Edomite settlement in southern Judah before the exile. Joshua 14.6-15 therefore justifies Edomite settlement and lessens Joshua’s role in the conquest of all Israel.

It’s a fairly nicely worked-out possible solution – but it also has some problems.

  1. Joshua 14 knows both the all-Israel tradition in Joshua 11 and the Caleb-alone tradition in Numbers 13, where Caleb gets fully behind God (i.e. wholeheartedly follows God). The latter is a statement from the near-final form of Numbers 13 (often termed the ‘Priestly’ or ‘post-Priestly’ layer, but final form will do) . Joshua 14 also interrupts the ‘Priestly’ land allocation in the second half of Joshua. So how can we place Joshua 14.6-15 in the pre-exilic period, if it is post-Priestly? That seems highly unlikely.
  2. Moreover, Edom continues to have significant control over the southern highlands in the exilic and post-exilic periods. So in fact almost any period during which the Hexateuch was written might fit the alleged Edomite interest in the text. It is arbitrary to allocate an Edomite genealogy to the pre-exilic period.
  3. More problematically for Kugler’s proposal, it is reasonably clear that the Calebite traditions were already inconsistent before Joshua 14.6-15 was composed. That is, the inconsistency is not a result of deliberate polemic, but is a pre-existing literary difficulty that the author of Josh 14.6-15 had to deal with. We already have two conflicting Caleb-traditions before the composition of Joshua 14: (1) Num 13-14/Deut 1.36 makes Caleb a Judean hero; (2) Joshua 15, Judges 1, AND Judges 3 – the latter not mentioned by Kugler – all call Caleb the ‘son of Kenaz’ (and this latter identification is multiply attested and arguably independent). So the inconsistency, where Caleb is either Kenizzite or Judahite, was already in existence before the writing of the supplementary Joshua 14. Joshua 14, therefore, is not easily explained as a response to a historical situation which introduces a polemic; it’s a literary harmonization. In response to contradictory traditions, Joshua 14 says: Caleb is a Judean AND Kenizzite!
  4. Moreover, if this harmonization had a chance of success, it is likely that people at the time Joshua 14.6-15 was written simply did not any longer distinguish a Kenizzite from a Judahite. At the very least, we don’t know if they did make a distinction between Kenizzites and Judahites. Noth for example assigns the distinction of Kenizzites and Judahites to a very early, pre-J historical stage, in which the Kenizzites were part of a 6-tribe alliance which later became the tribe of Judah. Although I don’t follow Noth’s historical reconstruction, it illustrates how the distinction of Kenizzites from Judeans might simply have been ‘ancient history’ at the time of writing Josh 14.6-15.
  5. And there’s no other indication of any pro-Edomite polemic in the passage, either, apart from the older Kenaz-Edom connections.

Sure this makes Joshua 14.6-15 inconsistent with Joshua 1-11, but we can say the same about much of Joshua 12-19, where Joshua’s total conquest of all Israel is changed into a partial conquest with many parts of the land still occupied by its previous inhabitants. And yet, pre-modern readers managed to interpret the final book of Joshua as a harmony. Is it too much to expect that the hamonizing supplementer who wrote Joshua 14.6-15 thought what they had written was in harmony with the account in Joshua 11, rather than engaging in some subtle ‘polemic’?

Caleb was inserted in Joshua 14 as a Judean hero. This was in tension with the Ephraimite/Northern basic tradition in Judges 1-12, and contrary to the older traditions in which he was a Kenizzite and possibly an Edomite. But it was consistent with the Judea- and Jerusalem-centred traditions in the final stages of the book of Joshua.

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The Tutsi, Giants of Central Africa? Giants of Palestine?

The 20 June 1938 edition of LIFE magazine features an article on the “Watusi” of eastern central Africa, better known today as the Tutsi, inhabitants of eastern Congo, Rwanda, and Berundi. LIFE includes a handy map of the Belgian Congo (later Zaire, later the Democratic Republic of the Congo), indicating the location of these “Giants”:

Map of the Belgian Congo, identifying the region inhabited by Giants (LIFE, 20 June 1938, p. 41)
Map of the Belgian Congo, identifying the region inhabited by Giants (LIFE, 20 June 1938, p. 41)

In a piece entitled “The Congo Giants: They are Africa’s Aristocrats”, LIFE describes the Watusi as “aristocrats of Africa, who tower up to 8 ft. in height”.

"The Congo Giants: They are Africa's Aristocrats" (LIFE, 20 June 1938, p. 45)
“The Congo Giants: They are Africa’s Aristocrats” (LIFE, 20 June 1938, p. 45)

The article perpetuates the racist theory first suggested by French Aryanist, Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau (1816-1882), which posits a Hamitic (or possibly Semitic) origin for the Watusi. Later writers compare the Tutsi to the Egyptian Pharoahs. The distinction between Tutsi and Hutu was mandated by the European colonists, who defined Tutsi on economic grounds as the richer natives and on the basis of dubious physiognomic distinctions (especially, having more “European” features). As with all ruling elites, better diet led to a slight difference in height – the Tutsi average 5’8″; the Hutu 5’6″. A few Tutsi are over 6’6″ tall, including members of the royal family, who intermarry and thus share the same gene pool. The ruling family were photographed with much shorter Belgians in the late nineteenth century, and with various explorers in the early twentieth century, reinforcing the stereotype of a tribe of African giants.

Leila Roosevelt with King Rudahigwa IV Mutare (LIFE, 20 June 1938, p. 44)
Leila Roosevelt with King Rudahigwa IV Mutare (LIFE, 20 June 1938, p. 44)

Genetically, the Hutu and Tutsi share common ancestry (Luis, J; Rowold, D; Regueiro, M; Caeiro, B; Cinnioglu, C; Roseman, C; Underhill, P; Cavallisforza, L et al. [2004]. “The Levant versus the Horn of Africa: Evidence for Bidirectional Corridors of Human Migrations”. The American Journal of Human Genetics 74 no. 3: 532–44). The Rwandan genocide of the Tutsis in the early 1990s – in part a result of resentment by some Hutu at Tutsi rule under their colonial masters – could only be carried out by requiring that all citizens carried identification cards noting whether they were Tutsi or Hutu. Yet people meeting the Tutsi stereotype of tall stature, thin noses, etc (stereotypes derived from colonial literature and administration) were frequently killed, even if their identification cards identified them as Hutu.

Letters to the Editor (LIFE, 11 July 1938, pp. 3-4)
Letters to the Editor (LIFE, 11 July 1938, pp. 3-4)

The colonial stereotype that the Tutsi are of great height continues to be perpetuated in recent biblical scholarship. In a 1996 biblical commentary on the book of Deuteronomy/Debarim, Jeffrey Tigay attempts to defend the essential historicity of the biblical accounts of Giants in Palestine (the Anakim) in this manner:

It is conceivable that there were some exceptionally tall people in the area, comparable to the Watusi of central Africa, who often exceed seven feet in height.
– Jeffrey Tigay, Deuteronomy, Debarim, Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Commentary; Philadelphia and Jerusalem: Jewish Publication Society, 1996: 17.

The first rejoinder is that an alleged tribe in Central Africa has nothing to do with Palestine. The attempt to compare the two bears a close relation, albeit most probably inadvertently, to connections made in racist theories of a Hamitic or Semitic origin for the Tutsi. However, the accounts of an entire nation of 7-foot-tall “Watusi” is a colonial fantasy, and it is hardly surprising that Tigay has employed the term used in colonial literature rather than the name which is much more commonly employed today, “Tutsi”. The fantasy of an entire group of Giants in (“darkest”) central Africa has proved a very dangerous fantasy, and one that – in light of the genocide carried out in the years before the publication of the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Commentary – should have been forcefully rejected, rather than perpetuated, in biblical scholarship.