The new format for the website is only a week old, and yet we’ve been all over the place:
The Book of Joshua, the movie Conan The Barbarian (1982), a brief mention of the 30 Years’ War and Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons, along with my anecdotes from Sunday School and visiting churches when I was a kid.
The problem with inquiry it can lead down so many disparate venues it can be hard to suss out the theme or themes.
Well, for those who haven’t guessed, that theme is the religious use of fire to cleanse away sin or spiritual corruption in the broader context of religious warfare. In upcoming articles, we will focus on the military history of religion. Yet we must acknowledge religious warfare below, as historian John Keegan put it, the military horizon. That is, you can have a war (be it religious or otherwise) without a military.
Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons promotes this notion. In Debbie’s darkest moment, after her friend Marcie committed suicide, an acquaintance named Mike approaches Debbie and says he’s been praying and fasting for her. When she asks why, he explains (dare I say man-splains):
Because I know what you’re involved in. It’s a spiritual warfare you can’t win without the Lord Jesus. Come with me to a meeting this afternoon. The speaker came out of witchcraft and he knows what you’re up against.
I first read Dark Dungeons as a teenager, around the time I was visiting various churches looking to join one (see Part 2). When I saw that huge bonfire at the end, I thought: Ah… the ancient Israelites knew that fire could cleanse away sin.
I was proud of myself for remembering what I had learned in the few times I’d gone to Sunday School as a kid when we studied part of The Book of Joshua, where the Israelite stone Achan for taking treasure, before burning his property (see Part 1).
One takeaway from the Book of Joshua is that you don’t need a military for conquest, so long as Yahweh is fighting on your side. If there are military operations in the Book of Joshua, they are not emphasized. Military language like regiments and companies, such as seen in Numbers 2 when the tribes were arranged around the Tabernacle, is lacking. They moved as a host, without lines of supply and logistics, living off the produce of the land instead of manna (Joshua 5:10-12).
The fall of Jericho wasn’t the result of a military siege; it was a lesson of the miracles which can happen when Yahweh’s chosen keep to the Covenant, how city walls will fall to the marching of feet and the sound of trumpets, and not proper siege equipment.
In comparison, the failure of the first attack on Ai is a lesson of what happens when the Covenant is broken, and how precarious the Covenant can be, when even one person–in this case, Achan–defies Yahweh’s will. The Aians killed about thirty-six of them, and routed the remaining two or three thousand Israelites (Joshua 7:2-5). This is only time the Israelites suffer defeat in the Book of Joshua.
Any military leader could only dream of suffering so few losses in any conquest. But this is not a typical war story.
To renew the Covenant, and hence become victorious over their enemies again, the Israelites kill Achan and burn all of his property. This ritual destruction of property is known as herem; an act of devotion to Yahweh, an act of sacrificial destruction.
I don’t recall my Sunday School teacher mentioning the word herem and the word does not appear in Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons. For the story of Jericho, Ai, and Achan she mentioned the word cleansing, or clean. Achan’s sin had to be cleansed before the Israelite could move on. Achan had bought spiritual pollution and it could easily spread to the other Israelites, and thus he had to die.
In a similar fashion, Debbie’s D&D books had to be burned. As the original tract from 1984 states: you should gather up all your occult paraphernalia like your rock music, occult books, charms, Dungeons and Dragon material. Don’t throw them away. Burn them! [Emphasis not added, in the original text occult books included those by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.]
Debbie and the speaker at the end of Dark Dungeons weren’t only destroying her property and the spiritual pollution in a bonfire, they were re-affirming her devotion to God. In contrast, Debbie’s enemies aren’t the Canaanites, but witches and Satan himself. Both stories end with confession and fire. The Israelites can move on and so can Debbie.
The use of fire will be a recurring theme as we inquire further into the military history of religion. Sadly enough, as the fires burn brighter, we’ll be entering some of the darkest areas of human history.
My hope is that as we do, in the end, we become a little more enlightened.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version. New York, Oxford University Press, 1977.
“Dark Dungeons,” The Escapist. http://www.theescapist.com/darkdungeons.htm. Accessed July 19, 2018.
Chick, Jack. Dark Dungeons. Jack Chick LLC, 1984 and 2013.
Coogan, Michael D. The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introducation to the Hebrew Scriptures. 2nd Ed.
Gundry, Stanley N, et al. Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and the Canaanite Genocide. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 2003.
Keegan, John. The Face of Battle. New York, The Viking Press, 1976.
Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
Plotz, David. “The Complete Book of Joshua: Will the Book of Joshua Make You Stop Believing in God?” Slate, 2006. Accessed August 7, 2018.