Dressed in Layers: Clothing Language as Narrative Device in Joshua 9

In the study of Joshua, concerns of identity have been readily highlighted by scholarship as several of the pericopes—most notably concerning Rahab, Achan, and the Gibeonites—deal directly with the issue of who constitutes the people of Israel. However, within that pursuit of the theme of identity, the narrative role of clothing and textiles has not been widely acknowledged as a device to provoke, nuance, and even elevate those identity considerations.

In this paper, we will examine Joshua 9, the Gibeonite deception, coming as the last of these identity-focused pericopes and at a turning point in the narrative of the conquest campaign. In focusing attention on the first part of the scene, v.3-15, consideration will be given to the appearance of clothing language in this pericope. It will be demonstrated that rather than being included as a simple element of the Gibeonites’ evidentiary display (alongside the bread and wineskins) to perpetrate their deception, the worn-out clothing instead provides an important platform for their authentic self-characterisation as humble servants, rather than the grand ambassadors of a mighty city-state.

Broadening our investigation, it will then be shown that clothing and textiles routinely accompany scenes of evolution of identity throughout the book of Joshua, as Rahab, Joshua, and Achan undergo their own transformative experiences in respect to their relationships to Israel and its God. Having established this trope of evolution of identity in the book, we then situate Josh 9 with its clothing language within the sphere of these same concerns. Doing so, we will see that, rather than fixated on individuals (or families) and their relationship to Israel, Josh 9 instead brings the considerations to a national level—not concerning the fate of a Gentile people, but addressed to Israel itself.
The question will be put to Israel concerning the trajectory of its own evolution of identity as it engages in the campaign for Canaan. Despite its missteps with both Ai and the Gibeonites, it will be shown that the following episodes in chapters 10-12 and 13-21 demonstrate that the Israelites’ evolution of identity is in fact on a positive trajectory, thus firmly carrying this clothing-facilitated trope throughout the book.

5 thoughts on “Dressed in Layers: Clothing Language as Narrative Device in Joshua 9”

  1. Allen Hamlin Jr
    Looks intriguing, helpful and relevant.
    So. . . Achan steals and hides a beautiful expensive Babylonian robe while the Gibeonites dress in old clothes and patched sandals. . . I like it. (ha! Are these allusions to Joseph again?)


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