Sisters in Christ,
My assumption is that you are reading this resource because you are responsible for leading this lesson for your PW Circle.
Leading a bible study is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege, because God has placed into your stewardship the opportunity to help others “hear,” with a degree of precision, what he says in his Word. To do this well, therefore, requires that you prepare as thoroughly and as carefully as you are able.
Among other things, proper preparation requires that you know something about the writers biases. We all have biases. They are unavoidable. Which means that to properly understand any writer we need to know where s/he “sits” philosophically, politically and theologically before we can fully understand where s/he “stands” on any particular issue.
Mary Mikhael, the author of the Joshua study, has at least two biases of which you need to be aware:
1. First, she is a Christian pacifist. She is opposed to all war because she believes that God is opposed to all war. She made this bias abundantly clear at the recent PW Churchwide Gathering. Her working assumption, therefore, is that if the scriptures attribute a battle or a war to the will of God, the scriptures must necessarily be wrong – the product of someone’s misguided attempt to justify the unjustifiable.
2. Second, relative to the contemporary Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Mary Mikhael is unabashedly pro-Palestinian.
Unfortunately, throughout the study Mary Mikhael often gives to these prior commitments more authority than she does to the plain meaning of the text. That is to say, she reads the text through the lenses of her assumptions, and those things that do not fit her assumptions are filtered out or dismissed. For example, in the Introduction (on page 8), she quotes Richard D. Nelson’s opinion as fact: :
“Joshua is fundamentally a theological and literary work. Hardly any of the material it preserves is the sort that can be directly used for historical re-construction. Joshua’s traditional tales display a folkloristic character … Their themes of divine war and conquest served to build and strengthen Israel’s group identity and to explain features of geography and social life, but do not necessarily reflect genuine memories of Israel’s origins…”
So, for Mary Mikhael, Joshua is not history, per se. History attempts to tell us what actually happened in the past. But, in her opinion Joshua does not do that. Joshua is an “editorial” rather than “news.” Fable-like, she believes it to be a compilation of remarkable (but not necessarily accurate) tales and stories that commentators, hundreds of years after the fact, used to support their theories about the way in which God related to ancient Israel, to justify Israel’s unjust conquest of the land, and to explain to the Babylonian captives why they were being disciplined. As she told those attending her workshop at the Gathering, much of it is simply not inspired by God.
The Second Helvetic Confession (the Presbyterian Book of Confessions, 5.001) says this:
“We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.”
Because of the presuppositions that shape Mary Mikhael’s understanding of Joshua, I encourage you to keep something that Paul wrote to Timothy front and center in your mind as you prepare to teach. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” II Timothy 3:16-17
By saying this, I do not understand the scriptures to be inerrant, nor am I discounting the findings of modern scholarship. I am, however, suggesting that occasionally biblical studies can be prejudice and preconception masquerading as scholarship.
Let me say one more thing. I believe that there is much to be gained by using this study. There is much to be learned and to be challenged by. Mary Mikhael is clearly a sister in Christ. But, she has a point of view with which I respectfully disagree, one that contradicts our confessional standards regarding the inspiration of scripture. On the other hand, she is not a member of the PC(USA), and she does give us much to think about. My prayer is that by the end of this year, we may all be able to say that we have grown stronger in our faith because we have studied this Old Testament book.
You are in my prayers as you do your work. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of help. Remember, you will find resources on the VOW web page that will add balance to the author’s point of view. You are free to use any of these resources and to download them and distribute them to the women in your circle.