A Brief Review of
Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua
By Walter Brueggemann.
Reviewed by Chris Smith
I picked up Walter Brueggemann’s new little book Divine Presence Amid Violence: Contextualizing the Book of Joshua, because I was interested in his interpretation of Joshua 11 – the book’s key passage – and specifically how he dealt with the question of God’s role in Israel’s brutal conquering of the land of Hazor. What came as a pleasant surprise, however, is that although questions about God and violence are central to the text, this book is just as much about the “contextualizing” and questions of revelation and how we read Scripture. As Brueggemann emphasizes in his introduction (and as he has developed elsewhere), his hermeneutic approach is rooted in an epistemology that is both local and contextual. The first two chapters address questions of interpretation and revelation respectively and I found this section of the book to be a wonderfully clear and concise summary of the challenges of biblical interpretation in the present. The remainder of the book continues to explore issues of interpretation, but with the Joshua 11 passage in mind. Brueggemann explores the domination of the Canaanite people, and the resistance to which God leads the Israelites, concluding that even in our time and place in which we are seated on the side of oppressive power, Joshua stands as a reminder “from the other side” (as it were) that empires and other communities of domination “have no warrant for arms and control, but that this God is in inscrutable ways is aligned against the horses and chariots, working through the hardness of heart, until the whole enterprise collapses” (64).
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com