Back before religion was all about turning the other cheek, donating canned goods to the needy, forgiving everyone's sins with a pat on the head and a dozen Hail Marys, and not grabbing your enemies by their ankles and using them as clubs with which to batter your other enemies into submission, there was Yahweh – the take-no-prisoners, don't-make-me-come-down-there, ultra-badass God of the Old Testament. The God of Righteously Smiting the ever-loving crapballs out of his enemies and leaving behind a smoking crater of failure and false idols. The God of choke-slamming entire cities with thermonuclear mushroom clouds of fire and brimstone, exploding disobedient disciples into windswept pillars of Kosher salt, and laying waste to entire civilizations with a fiery sword forged from fermented Unicorn tears and the unclean blood of Israel's idol-worshipping enemies. This was a God of giving unfathomably badass rewards to those chosen people wise enough to do his bidding, and of justly avenging the slightest transgressions by busting out a nice heaping swath of non-believer devastation.
And for a couple decades during a particularly critical moment in Israel's long history, the hard-as-ferroconcrete military commander Joshua was the instrument of that devastation.
Joshua was born back in the days when Charlton Heston was all "Let my people go," and had come of age while the Israelites were doing their wandering around in the desert thing during the Exodus. During the 40 year journey through the wilderness Joshua served as Moses' second-in-command, led the Hebrews in their first military victory since the destruction of Ramses' army (a battle against the Amelekites), escorted the Big M halfway up Mount Sinai on the fateful day when God dropped the Ten Commandments on the world.
Now Moses had been the guy to lead the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt and bring them to the land of Abraham, but unfortunately when the Israelites finally reached their destination after 40 years in the desert Moses immediately keeled over and died. Joshua took over as the leader of his people, and God came down and was all like, "Ok, chief, now it's up to you to turn this wandering band of nomads into a mighty army, seize control of the lands of Canaan, and establish a civilization that will last for thousands of years. But no pressure or anything, dude. You're just the successor to one of the greatest prophets in the history of your religion, tasked by God Himself to go forth and conquer/destroy everything in sight, with nothing less than the fate of your entire people hanging in the balance. Better get cracking."
Joshua's reaction to being called up by God was kind of like Ronald Speirs being ordered to take the 101st Airborne into Foy. This guy immediately grabbed his sword, jumped through a fiery explosion that randomly appeared out of nowhere, parted the Jordan River with the Ark of the Covenant, ran into the Promised Land, and then made a knife out of flint and circumcised all the Israelites on the Hill of Foreskins.
Once that apparently-important business was taken care of, Joshua marched his troops straight to the city of Jericho – a massive city known for its towering, impenetrable walls. But impenetrable walls are no match for God's almighty Curse of Destruction. God ordered that everyone inside be killed and their possessions plundered, and told Joshua that the best way to accomplish this was by marching his troops around the city every day for seven days while priests blew trumpets made out of rams' horns. On the seventh day, Joshua led the men around the city seven times, then everybody stopped and shouted real loud Pee-Wee's Playhouse style and the sonic boom caused by the cacophonous shouting brought the walls down like they'd been nailed by a Horn of Blasting. With the once-proud stone walls of Jericho now little more than a giant ring of useless rubble, Joshua charged into the town and massacred every man, woman, child, and farm animal in the city – with the exception of one prostitute who had helped some Israelite spies when they reconned the city (this was back when God was still cool with prostitutes... if the campus preacher was any indication, he's less tolerant of them these days). Then the Israelites burned what was left of the city, sacked everything they could find, and forbade anyone to ever build there again. That would teach those bastards to build a city in the Promised Land.
|When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
- Joshua 6:20-21
Everything that was taken from Jericho was supposed to be given to the Jewish priests as an offering to God, but unfortunately some random jackass soldier bogarted some Babylonian robes for himself, which totally pissed God off for realz and jacked-up Joshua's kill-mojo. Thanks to this transgression, when Joshua led his troops against the Amorites from the city of Ai he was defeated for the first (and only) time in his career. Joshua got mega pissed, stormed back to camp, found the guy who had stolen the goods, and had that guy and his family (and their animals) all stoned to death. Once those jackasses were beaten to death with large rocks (no, "stoned to death" doesn't involve smoking a ton of weapons-grade hashish), Joshua re-formed his troops and marched on Ai once again. When the Amorites came out to give Joshua another beating, Josh led a fake retreat; running back into the hills will the Amorite army chased him. While that was going on, a super-secret group of Israelites emerged from an ambush site near the city walls and snuck into the unguarded metropolis, where they started setting everything on fire and massacring the populace. The Amorite warriors turned around to see they'd just been sucker-punched with a fist full of fiery destruction, and as soon as they were distracted by the annihilation of their homes Joshua about-faced his retreating forces around and started shanking some Amorite fools in the kidneys. At the end of the day, the entire population of Ai was wiped out and their king was impaled on a pole outside the smoldering rubble of his former castle.
I suppose I should probably take a second here and mention that Joshua's story is what some wise religious scholars like to refer to as "Deuteronomistic" history, which is really just a super-fancy six-syllable way of saying, "It's so utterly over-the-top mecha-violent that it's probably just an allegory rather than a legit retelling of historical events." So, according to some folks, the whole "some heathen jerks pissed off God so Joshua went Keyser Soze on them, turned their livestock into ground chuck, and set their houses on fire," business is just an insanely bloody Aesop's Fables way of saying, "Hey dudes, if you follow the Torah, God will provide for you, but if you don't, he'll be somewhat unhappy and/or disappointed by your actions." Since there's not a ton of primary source material or archaeological research to corroborate the Bible's version of events one way or the other, we can't really be sure what the truth is. Since this site is Badass of the Week and not Allegorical Religious Study Time Fun Land of the Week, I've of course chosen to elaborate more on the massacring/killing/dismemberment/ImpalingPeopleOnSpikes aspects of the story.
At this point, the civilizations living in Canaan were starting to get a little paranoid, and probably with good reason – Joshua was an unstoppable steamroller of man-slaughtering Biblical vengeance, and it was pretty obvious that the Jewish Genghis Khan wasn't going to stop wiping cities off the face of the map with his (circumcised) boner until he'd carved out a sizeable empire for himself. The only fools in Canaan wise enough to figure this out for themselves were the Gibeonites – these guys used deception to trick Joshua into signing a peace treaty with them, and since the Hebrew leader was an honorable man, he knew he couldn't go back on his word and decapitate these people into submission after he'd signed a peace treaty with them. So he just enslaved them and conquered their city and called it a day, and the Gibeonites figured that even though carrying water jugs around all day sucks balls it's still better than having a dude ram a spear so far up your ass that your head pops off.
After this, the Five Kings of the Amorites were all like WTF. They joined up in an alliance against the conquering armies of Joshua and put together a mega-huge military force the likes of which this region had never seen, but Josh wasn't impressed. He led his army through the desert in the middle of the night, ambushed the enemy at the first sign of light, and then got his Manifest Destiny on by laying waste to them with large instruments of pointy destruction. When he got tired of manually stabbing people to death, Joshua called on God, who popped out of heaven and rained gigantic boulder-sized hail down on the Amorite army, pounding them like the Ice Storm spell in Warcraft 2. This still didn't kill everyone, however, and since it was already getting dark and there was still a lot of stabbing left to do, Joshua called on God to stop the sun in the sky and give him a little more time to complete the massacre. God of course did this without hesitation, because he and Josh were homedogs, and also because he didn't have anything better to do. With the sun frozen in place "for at least a day" (isn't that the definition of "day"?), Joshua had all the time he needed to wipe out all five armies, capture their kings, have his commanders put their feet on the necks of the Amorite rulers, and then chop the kings' heads off and hang their decapitated corpses from some nearby trees.
But this guy STILL wasn't done. After this bloodbath, the King of Hazor formed a coalition comprised of the 22 surviving city-states in the land of Canaan, but at this point the whole "battle" thing was little more than a formality for Joshua. The Sword of Yahweh surprised them with an ambush near the Waters of Merom, wiped their armies out, conquered their cities, laid waste to the entire land of Canaan, and then divided the now-desolate land up among the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Once his work was complete, Joshua renewed the Covenant with God, gave a bunch of wild warnings to his people about how if they ever showed mercy to anyone or gave less than 110% then God would strike them down with great vengeance and furious anger. When he was done with all that, he died. He was 110, which is fitting.
Joshua's death set the stage for the Judges, who in turn were the predecessors to the Kings of Israel. Nowadays he's remembered as one of the greatest military commanders in Jewish history, a holy warrior in Islam, and his name (which comes from the root for Salvation) has some Christians to believing his story is an allegory for Jesus' future (less-violent) journeys through the Middle East. Dante has him in the Heaven of Mars with other Warriors of the Faith, and in medieval culture he was one of the Nine Worthies (the Medieval equivalent of the Justice League of America), where he stood next to asskickers like King David, Julius Caesar, and Hector of Troy. The Mormons / U2 also named the Joshua Tree after him, probably because Joshua trees look like they're covered in spikes and that's the sort of thing Joshua would likely have approved of.
|So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon . All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.
- Joshua 10:40-42
The Book of Joshua
The Brick Testament: Joshua