The Hobbit and History: Five Armies & Five Kings

The Hobbit and History comes Cover for The Hobbit and historyout on Tuesday. Order your copy or pick it up at your favourite retailer soon. In the meantime, read today’s historical snippet. Chapter One by Marcus Schulzke, “The Faces of the Five Armies”, examines historical parallels from the Middle Ages and Renaissance that help you better understand the dynamics of Tolkien’s battling forces in that culminating conflict. Given that the third movie in Peter Jackson’s adaptation is all about this, with reports that the battle itself will take forty-five minutes of screen time, it can only help to get Dr. Schulzke’s smart perspective on the topic.

Today’s Getty Museum MS 88.MP.70.119blog post goes a bit farther back in history to look at another parallel for Tolkien’s riveting “Battle of the Five Armies” taken out of biblical history. This image is from a fifteenth century German universal chronicle and it depicts the defeat of five kings of southern Canaan as told in the Book of Joshua, 10:2-27. In the Bible, Joshua was following Moses’ lead to take the Holy Land for the Israelites, even if that meant deposing and destroying its current Canaanite inhabitants. After successes in the north, Joshua met renewed resistance from a coalition of five kings: the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon. Their coalition reflected many common interests: culture, religion and fear of the death rained down upon the Canaanites by the increasingly powerful Israelites. These five kings plotted against Gibeon, a city that had made a covenant with Israel. The Gibeonites appealed to Joshua who, supported by the Lord, marched south against the five kings.

This was a long and deadly battle, made longer by miraculous intervention. A devastating and targeted hailstorm wreaked havoc with the coalition against the Israelites, killing many in the five kings’ armies. According to the Book of Joshua, God manifested his powers, again, on the side of Joshua and the Gibeonites: illuminating the battlefield long past the normal stretch of hours.

Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. (Josh 10:12-13)

The five kings sought refuge in a cave where they were walled in by their foes, only to be released and executed after Joshua’s forces had eradicated all of their armies, seizing the five cities for Israel.

Some coalitions are strong, like that of Joshua and the Gibeonites, united by the power of the covenant. Others, like the coalition of the five kings, are weak. Some coalitions are supported by great magic – the miracles that the Lord provided Joshua and his army or the wonders that a great wizard and even a little hobbit with a magic Ring might possess. Some coalitions find their dark support – Ba’al or Sauron – insufficient to the task. And sometimes five or more armies might all meet upon the field for a very long day and more to hash out the future of their world.

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