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Does biblical book of Joshua justify war?


Mennonite Church Canada/MennoMedia joint release
April 16, 2012
-Steve Shenk

WATERLOO, Ont. and HARRISONBURG, Va. — Over the years, Christians have often used the Old Testament book of Joshua to justify warfare, conquest, colonialism, and even ethnic cleansing.

So what would a Bible commentary from a publisher in the pacifist tradition have to say about this book?

First of all, there are fresh new ways to look at this age-old and often misunderstood book, says Gordon Matties, the commentary's author. And, second, the reader must engage in "a difficult conversation, even an argument, with the text."

MennoMedia plans to release Joshua, under its Herald Press imprint, on May 2. This will be the 25th volume in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series.

"This commentary imagines the book of Joshua as a participant in an intra-biblical conversation in which Joshua interprets other texts, and other texts interpret Joshua," says Matties. "Viewed that way, the Bible itself bears witness to a lively, if painful, debate about the relationship between violence and the identity and mission of God's people."

Matties cautions Christians about hearing what they want to hear when they read Joshua and other difficult sections of the Bible. This includes those who believe Joshua justifies war as well as those who reject war. "We do well to foster an openness to the unexpected," he says.

Reading Joshua carefully will push Christians not to settle for easy answers or to give up too soon, says Matties. "This commentary is a plea to pay attention to a difficult text, a text we might well call a 'text of terror,'" he added. "In a time of religious justification for terrorism and counter-terrorism, Joshua may be a book for our time."

Matties is professor of biblical studies at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He has also served a term as CMU's dean of humanities and sciences.

He holds a PhD in Old Testament from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and his doctoral dissertation, Ezekiel 18 and the Rhetoric of Moral Discourse, was published by the Society of Biblical Literature. He also contributed to Abingdon Press's The New Interpreter's Study Bible.

Matties has led numerous study tours to Israel/Palestine. He is a member of River East Mennonite Brethren Church.

The Believers Church Bible Commentary is a cooperative project of Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Brethren Church in both Canada and the U.S., Church of the Brethren, Brethren Church, and Brethren in Christ Church.

The complete set to date can be purchased at It can also be downloaded from Logos Bible Software at Many of the commentaries are available on Kindle at

Joshua is priced at $34.39 CAD. It is available at or by calling 800-631-6535.

Herald Press is the book imprint of MennoMedia, a ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.