The ascription of blame to an entire people for the infraction of a nondescript individual found in the account of the sin of Achan (Joshua 7) is without parallel in the Hebrew Bible and in the legal and treaty literature of the ancient Near East. Attempts to explain the account through concepts such as “corporate personality” or the “contagion” to be found in devoted goods have rightly come under great scrutiny. This paper seeks to understand collective punishment in Joshua 7 by engaging in a close reading of the final form of the text and with recourse to notions found in contemporary ethical theory. The paper introduces the rhetorical use of minor characters as markers of collective attitudes in biblical narrative. Central to the exposition of the Achan account is the role of the spies’ report (7:2-3) as such a marker of collective attitudes shared by the polity as a whole.
Joel KaminskyCorporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible (JSOTSS 196; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press1995) pp. 80-87; Trent C. Butler Joshua (WBC; Waco TX: Word Books 1983) p. 86; L. Daniel Hawk Joshua (Collegeville: Liturgical Press 2000) pp. 108-109; Richard D. Nelson Joshua: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox 1997) p. 103; Ronald Ernest Clements “Achan’s Sin: Warfare and Holiness” in David Penchansky and Paul L. Redditt (eds.) Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What Is Right? Studies on the Nature of God in Tribute to James L. Crenshaw (Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns 2000) p. 120.