"Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings. And they came near, and put their feet upon the necks of them."
The introductory text describes an unusual and unique ceremony associated with Bible warfare called the subjugation ceremony. It was the last official act of a formal military surrender whereby the king, general or leader of a conquered army was forced to prostrate himself upon the ground with his head bent far enough forward so that the foot of the conquering king, general or leader could be placed in the center of his neck. This act proclaimed publicly that the enemy had been overthrow and his army rendered powerless.
The custom of subjugation was practiced extensively among the ancient Orientals, and as seen in the book of Joshua, the Israelites performed the ritual as well (See Gen. 49:8 and 1 Cor. 15:25). In this instance, Joshua is commanding his victorious generals to put their feet on the necks of the conquered Amorite kings, after which these kings were to be put to death.
From Rev. Joseph Roberts: "In the east, this is a favorite way of triumphing over a fallen foe. In the history of the battle of the gods or giants, particular mention is made of the closing scene how the conquerors went and trampled on their enemies.
When people are disputing, should one be a little pressed, and the other begins to triumph, the former will say: "I tread upon the neck and after that beat thee." A low caste man insulting one who is high, is sure to hear someone say to the offended individual: "Put your feet on his neck." (Oriental Illustrations of the Bible, p. 137. (1844).
From Edward Gibbon: "But neither authority nor art could frame the most important machine, the soldier himself; and if the ceremonies of Constantine always suppose the safe and triumphal return of the emperor, his tactics seldom soar above the means of escaping a defeat, and procrastinating the war." One of those ceremonies is thought to include the Emperor's "trampling on the necks of the captive Saracens, while the singers chanted, 'Thou hast made my enemies my footstool!' and the people shouted forty times the Kyrie elesion (Greek: Lord Have Mercy)." (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, p.369 Published 1787. Also Ceremonial (I. ii. c.19, p353).
That it was an ancient military custom for the conqueror to place his foot upon the neck and other body areas of the conquered is also attested to in sculpture and on many Assyrian and Egyptian monuments. temple walls.
Bible commentators view this passage not so much an account of undo cruelty and humiliation to enemies, but rather as two symbolical acts.
1.) Joshua's act, as supreme commander, in instructing his lesser generals to inflict the subjugation on these kings, would have been viewed by other Canaanite tribes as a high insult, thus instigating new conflicts.
2.) And by instructing his generals to perform the ceremony of subjugation, Joshua gave his generals an object lesson in what God promised to do all their enemies against whom they fought. (Joshua 10:25)
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