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Parallel Lives: Hitler and Joshua
May 29, 2016
by William P. Meyers

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3000 years apart, but remarkably similar

Back when an education consisted mostly of learning Latin and Greek classics, many an American scholar waded through Plutarch's "Parallel Lives of Remarkable Men." These essays were the prototype of the "compare and contrast" essay assignments of today.

I have often thought of writing a parallel lives of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler. Both came to power within a few weeks of each other and then died within a few weeks of each other. In some ways, however, they contrasted markedly.

But lately, in addition to reading Henry Ashby Turner's German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler as part of my political research, I've been reading Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad for pleasure. In describing his journey through Syria and Palestine, he reminds us of Joshua quite a few times.

Modern scholars don't believe the stories of Joshua in the Old Testament are history, but a fable. Nevertheless, they are all we have, so for purposes of comparison with Hitler I will take what the Bible says about Joshua to be literally true.

What most Americans know about Hitler at this point is close to fable. Here I will stick to facts that are easily verified. Also, this blog entry is just a first stab at the topic, which might merit a much longer work.

Birth and Childhood

Hitler was born in Branau am Inn, a small Austrian town on the German border, on April 20, 1889. The family was Roman Catholic, so young Adolf sang in the church choir. His father was a low-level Austrian civil servant. Adolf decided to become an artist or architect, but had little talent and so drifted to Vienna where he lived a marginal life. When World War I started he joined the German Army, where he achieved a rank of corporal. He joined the Nazi (German National Socialist Workers) Party after the war ended and quickly became its leader.

Joshua first appears as second in command to Moses. As to his lineage, he is simply said to be the son of Nun. He first is mentioned at Exodus17:9-14: "And Moses said unto Joshua, choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek." Since he was with Moses during the exodus from Egypt, presumably Joshua was born in Egypt, but we know nothing of his childhood or how he came to be one of Moses' captains.


Hitler built the Nazis from a small organization into a large political party largely on the strength of his charisma and telling people that he would make Germany great again. The Nazis had a number of subdivisions that had promised different sections of the German people different things. Gaining power in 1933, Hitler quickly went into action, consolidating control over his party, if necessary by having rivals murdered or imprisoned, and consolidating the party's control over Germany.

Hitler revived the economy (this was 1934, at the height of the Great Depression) mainly through a rapid increase in military spending. Enlarging the army also reduced unemployment. He consolidated support among workers with simple socialist measures like declaring May 1 to be a national, paid holiday and having the government pay for vacations. He also began his attacks on Jews.

The main point of Hitler's governance was to unite the nation to prepare for what would come to be known as World War II.

Joshua appears mainly as an assistant to Moses through the end of Exodus. For instance, he goes up to the Mount with Moses to meet God and receive the tablets with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:13). He also is sent ahead to reconnoiter the land of Israel, and brought back a good report of the land "which floweth with milk and honey" (Numbers 14:1-10). Joshua is eventually appointed to be the leader of the Jews (Numbers 16-23).

Joshua's main task, like Hitler's, is a war of conquest. As governance his main task is to try to make the Jews keep the Mosaic laws, no matter how tempting lobster bisque or worshipping false gods may get.


Hitler had a good case for taking back the lands that the French, British, and American empires had taken from Germany at the end of World War I. Having united all German majority areas into a single nation, he then set out to take land for expansion, starting with western Poland, followed by the conquest of France, North Africa, and the attempted conquest of Russia. However, Russia had industrialized under Communism since World War I, and managed to establish a line that Hitler's armies could not break. Then the communists started to grind the Nazis into the ground. Once Hitler was clearly on the road to defeat the United States joined the war. Ultimately Germany was conquered by the Allies.

Joshua's war to conquer Israel was, overall, a success. Though not specifically named, he was probably in command when the Jews attacked the kingdom of Heshbon, as recorded in Deuteronomy 2:26-37:

And the Lord our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men and the women, and the little ones, of every city, and left none to remain.

The famous scene in which Moses is allowed to look at the actual land of Israel, but Joshua is given to conquer that land, if in Deuteronomy 3:27-29.

To try to keep a long matter short, Joshua has his own book of the Bible, Joshua. God allegedly tells Joshua that anywhere he sets his foot west of the Jordan River is to be part of his nation. Quite an extensive bit of other land is mentioned, just in case the Jews are ever able to conquer it, including "all the land of the Hittites." Much as I would like to recount the various miracles and battles that occurred, let me just say that the land was conquered.

In Jericho every single inhabitant was killed, "both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword," excepting one family that helped the Jews.


Hitler killed a lot of people, including his political enemies and people he thought were unfit. A lot of opposing soldiers died defeating his armies, notably Russian solders. But he also tried to exterminate the Jews of Germany and the lands he briefly conquered. That Holocaust has become the very model of a modern major genocide.

Joshua also clearly committed genocide when he conquered Palestine and set up the nation of Israel.


Hitler and Joshua were kindred spirits. They both started off in humble circumstances and became rabid nationalists. They both committed genocide. The main differences were in scale, Germany being much more populated than ancient Palestine and thereabouts, and in that Joshua ultimately was victorious, while Hitler was a loser.

This is another example of how history favors the victors. Joshua has a good reputation, and Hitler a bad one, precisely because Joshua's descendents wrote his history. Hitler's history has been written by his conquerors.

Disclaimer: the author is against genocide and military aggression of all sorts.




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