Dec 22, 2010
Five Questions With Pekka Pitkänen
Joshua is the latest volume of the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series published by InterVarsity Press. Its author, Pekka Pitkänen, a Senior Lecturer in the Open Theological College Course, Department of the Humanities, University of Gloucestershire, has graciously agreed to participate in a brief interview related to the book of Joshua in general and the commentary in particular.
Question: What originally drew you to the book of Joshua?
I did work on Joshua as part of my PhD thesis on the early history of Israel. My doctoral supervisor, Gordon Wenham, asked me around 2001, after completing my PhD, if I wanted to have a hand at writing a commentary for the Apollos series, and I thought I could try to do one on Joshua as I was in any case interested to look into the book in more detail. At that time I was mostly thinking of issues that pertain to certain traditional academic discussions surrounding the book, and questions that relate to violence and related modern application really only subsequently sprung into my view as part of my research and work on the commentary.
Question: You suggest that Joshua should be read as part of the Christian canon in a post/neocolonial age. Could you explain what you mean by post/neocolonial and how your reading differs from other more traditional readings?
I think post/neocolonial age means that we are now aware of the role of power in determining world affairs, also in historical dimension. Postcolonial critique in particular analyses these issues, and this in particular from the perspective of the powerless, or the colonised, whereas Western readings often tend to spring from the perspective of the coloniser, even if in many cases only inadvertently, due to the historical role of the West and its collective power over world affairs during the past 500 years. Neocolonial critique acknowledges the end of explicit colonialism at large, however, it pays attention to continuing inequalities in the world in terms of systemic power and their resulting implications.
Question: You have an extended section in your commentary dealing with the problem of war, conquest, and genocide in Joshua. Why do you think it is important to raise these ethical issues in a commentary?
I think Christians need to reflect on problems of violence in human life, also in a historical dimension, and how the biblical texts reflect human propensity to violence and genocide. Of course, that the text of Joshua is part of the Christian canon makes the related problems all the more difficult for Christians, and yet, it is my view that these need to be looked into and analysed. We are now living in a global world and perhaps have a chance to try to formulate global solutions to certain problematic aspects of violence that have been manifested in human history, and I believe Christians can make their contribution based on analysing the biblical documents. Of course, Joshua is not the only book to address or bear relation to these issues, but I think it is an important one to consider as part of the canonical biblical materials.
Question: What do you think Joshua’s main message for the church today?
I think the book should sensitivise us into thinking about the role of violence as part of religion and as part of human life. While Joshua in my view presents genocide as part of God’s unique salvation history some 3,000 years ago, (and not to mention questions of theodicy that this and the book as a whole in my view clearly imply,) we should not think that we as Christians today should be advocating similar approaches, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and, perhaps, if we for example draw in the study of the gospels and other biblical materials, we can collectively try to find ways of working towards a more just and peaceful world.
Question: Who do you think would be most helped by reading your commentary on Joshua?
I would hope that the commentary could help people reflect on the issues outlined above. While the primary target audience for the book is Christians, I have tried to write the book in such a manner that those who may not subscribe to a Christian worldview or Christianity in general could also benefit from reading it. In addition, I have included comments on issues relating to Joshua that have more traditionally been looked at in academic discussion, and I hope these can be of help and stimulus to students and scholars of the Old Testament.