Achan (Bible)

Achan (ā'kăn) - called also Achar - is a figure mentioned by the Book of Joshua in connection with the fall of Jericho and conquest of Ai.

According to the narrative of the text, Achan pillaged an ingot of gold, a quantity of silver, and a costly garment, from Jericho; the text states "But all the silver,and gold,and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord." The Book of Joshua claims that this act resulted in the Israelites being collectively punished by God, in that they failed in their first attempt to capture Ai, with 36 Israelite lives lost. The Israelites use cleromancy to decide who was to blame, and having identified Achan, stoned him to death, as well as his sheep, other livestock, and, according to many interpretations, his wife and children. Their remains were burnt by the Israelites, according to the text, and stones piled on top.

Rashi, and many opinions in the Talmud, argue that the stoning was only carried out on the livestock and Achan himself, and that his children were merely brought forward to witness the Israelites "... stone them" (Biblical text with emphasis added). The Talmud writers do however admit the possibility of the children being also stoned, arguing that since they had kept silent about their father's actions, they were complicit in the "crime". One tradition, seemingly older, that is reported by the Classical Rabbinical literature, states that Achan's crime was far worse than the Biblical account appears - Achan had, according to these Rabbis, also stolen a magic idol with a golden tongue, silver votive gifts dedicated to it, and the expensive cloth that covered it. Other classical Rabbis portray Achan as guilty of more earthly crimes, claiming that he had committed incest, or performed work on the sabbath (equally immoral in their eyes).

In the narrative, before Achan is stoned to death, he first confesses his actions, which the Classical Rabbis argued would have saved him from Gehenna (the classical-era Jewish conception of "hell"). From a textual point of view, it exhonorates the Israelites from any question of condemning a man without evidence other than cleromancy, and thus avoids questions over the validity of supernatural tests of guilt.

The narrative states that the location for this punishment of Achan, which lies between Jericho and Ai, became know as the "vale of Achor" in memory of him. Since a growing majority of archaeologists believe that the Israelite conquest of Jericho and Ai never happened (since they were already abandoned ruins at the time), this narrative is seen by most biblical scholars as an aetiological myth providing a folk etymology for "Achor", at the point in the narrative where the vale of Achor is necessarily crossed. It is significant that Achan's name means "one who troubles", in Hebrew, supposedly in commemoration of his "crime", and what it brought upon him; it is unlikely for a historic figure to be named in memory of an event that doesn't happen until many years after they are named, but quite plausible for a character in a folk story to be named descriptively. [Israel Finkelstein, "The Bible Unearthed"] [Matthew Sturgis, "It Aint Necessarily So"] .

The narrative somewhat anachronistically describes the garment that Achor stole as "Babylonish"; the time of the Israelite invasion is usually dated to the 15th or 12th centuries BC, but between 1595BC and 627BC Babylon was under foreign rule, and between 1595BC and 1155BC was not even called Babylon (it was called "Karanduniash"). For this reason, most textual scholars are fairly certain that this part of the Achor narrative was written during the 7th century BC or later, and certainly not contemporary with the events it describes. It is not certain, however, that the whole Achor narrative dates from this time, as textual critics believe that the Achor narrative may have been spliced together from two earlier source texts; the words in the first part of Joshua 7:25, "all Israel stoned him with stones" (emphasis added) show a different style and tradition from those at the end of the verse: "they stoned them with stones" (emphasis added) [Jewish Encyclopedia] .


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  • Achan — Son of Carmi (1 Chron. 2:7). After the destruction of Jericho (Josh. 6:24) some of the bo oty reserved for the Lord was stolen by Achan; and when the Israelites suffered a reversal in failing to capture Ai, it was suspected that someone had… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Achan —    Called also Achar, i.e., one who troubles (1 Chr. 2:7), in commemoration of his crime, which brought upon him an awful destruction (Josh. 7:1). On the occasion of the fall of Jericho, he seized, contrary to the divine command, an ingot of gold …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • Ai (Bible) — Ai ( he. העי; heap of ruins ) refers to one or two places in ancient Israel: *A city mentioned along with Heshbon by Jeremiah 49:3, whose location is currently unknown, and which may or may not be the same as: *A Canaanite royal city which… …   Wikipedia

  • Genealogy (in the Bible) — • The word genealogy occurs only twice in the New Testament: I Tim., i, 4, and Tit., iii, 9. In these passages commentators explain the word as referring to the Gentile theogonies, or to the Essene generation of angels, or to the emanation of… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • guilt — The modern senses of this word are either the legal concept which arises from someone s having infringed a law; or the feeling of remorse and culpability which may not have anything to do with a legal or even social transgression. But in the… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Achar — See Achan …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Achor — The valley in which Achan was stoned (Josh. 7:25–6); the name in Hebrew ‘trouble’. But Hosea (2:15) prophesies that after deplorable apostasies the Lord will woo Israel back to its former allegiance: even the valley of Achor will become a door of …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • ban — Things or persons seized in warfare were placed under a ban, that is regarded as out of bounds for Israelites and wholly dedicated to God. Objects not necessarily taken in battle might also be dedicated to God and might be destroyed by fire… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • embroidery — Needlework skills were used to decorate the sacred vestments (Exod. 39:3) and the screen of the tabernacle (Exod. 26:36) with blue, purple, and scarlet threads. Probably the garments coveted by Achan (Josh. 7:20 f.) were trimmed with fine… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Joshua 7 — 1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the… …   The King James version of the Bible

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