(an outtake from Once More, From the Beginning. This is one of the bits that didn’t make it into the book.)
After the fall of Jericho, Joshua warned his people to avoid contact with any of the tainted, accursed things in the city – except all the gold and silver things, of course. Those were considered to be consecrated unto God. And the brass and iron things, also very conveniently considered to be consecrated (as well as being useful and presently in short supply). Those things were to be taken into the treasury of The Lord, for use after a suitable time had elapsed . . . when it would seem somewhat less like looting. All else was to be incinerated immediately.
The busy Israelite spies next checked out the town of Ai, reporting that three thousand men should easily be able to defeat it. We’re not given the name of the harlot with whom these men stayed, but she must have been very distracting indeed, because their information was way off the mark. When their small force was chased off by the people of Ai and thirty-six of their soldiers were killed, the Hebrews (never quick to blame themselves for failure) concluded, as usual, that God had abandoned them.
Hoping that a diversion might raise morale, Joshua picked a man at random and accused him of defying God’s will by retaining loot from Jericho for his own use. Sure enough, a search of the man’s tent revealed a handsome garment in the Babylonian fashion, a sizable stack of silver coins and a wedge of gold, all buried in the center of the floor. This would appear to be a pretty lucky guess on the part of Joshua, unless he suspected that the vast majority of the soldiers had retained secret stashes of whatever plunder they had managed to purloin from that farewell bonfire. In any case, the man was successfully stoned to death, and his body was burned as an additional gesture of contrition. Just to be on the safe side, his entire family was also stoned and burnt, as well as his oxen and asses and sheep – although it’s hard to see to what degree they could have been at fault. Even his tent was destroyed. Everyone pretended this man had been the sole transgressor and, hoping that God would be appeased, they set out again for Ai . . . this time with thirty-five thousand of their best soldiers.
Unwilling to take even the slightest risk of a second trouncing, Joshua attacked the city with a small force. Then, pretending to be defeated, he ordered them to flee. Just as before, the men of Ai followed in pursuit, but this time they were ambushed by the massive Israelite army, who had doubtless remained cleverly concealed behind every available bush and hillock. In signature fashion, the looted town was burned to the ground, all the inhabitants were massacred and the king was taken to Joshua for special disposal. He promptly had the poor fellow hanged in the town square, leaving him dangling on the tree like a ripe fig until evening, then throwing him out of the city gate, both as a practical sanitation measure and as a picturesque warning to others that resistance was unwise. (It also gave Joshua a wee vindictive buzz that helped assuage the humiliation of the recent defeat.) With God on their side this time – and an additional thirty-two thousand soldiers in the field – the Israelites congratulated themselves on achieving a resounding victory.