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Israel, the Bible and the Joshua Generation: MEMO in Conversation with Rachel Havrelock

The Zionist movement and Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, sought to revive the biblical Book of Joshua and use it to give the state a new identity. Here Israel was Joshua and the Palestinians were the Canaanites, but who is Joshua and can better understanding of his story help dismantle Israel's narrative and its treatment of Palestinians?

February 21, 2024 at 4:00 pm



In the late 1950s, gatherings would take place at Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s house. Scholars, generals and ministers would debate and study the Book of Joshua, which is the sixth book of the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament and follows the story of Joshua who led the Israelite conquest of the Canaanites. Largely reviled by Jews down the ages, the Zionist movement and David Ben-Gurion sought to revive the biblical text and use it to give Israel a new identity. Israel was Joshua and the Palestinians the Canaanites in this reinvention of the narrative and each Israeli prime minister since Ben-Gurion has cast themselves as the new Joshua. The Zionist and Israeli reading of Joshua provided the moral framework for the occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv’s excessive militarisation. Who is Joshua, how did Israel reinvent the narrative and what possibilities does the biblical text have for dismantling both Israel’s Joshua narrative and treatment of the Palestinians? Joining us to explore this is Rachel Havrelock.

A Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rachel Havrelock also directs the Freshwater Lab, focused on water protection as a means of political reconciliation and climate change adaptation. Rachel’s latest book, ‘The Joshua Generation: Israeli Occupation and the Bible’, tells the story of how the Bible became militarised yet still holds lessons for de-escalation and cohabitation. While writing ‘River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line’ , Rachel became involved in environmental peacebuilding with the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian NGO Ecopeace Middle East. Rachel also researches and writes about oil pipelines and how to make the transition from fossil fuels.

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