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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 11

 

 

Introduction

Commentary on Joshua Chapters 9-12. Defeat of the Southern And Northern Confederacies. Israel are Established in the Land.

Having won their initial battles Israel were now free to settle in the central hill country while maintaining Gilgal in the Jordan Rift Valley as their fighting base. The central hill country was relatively sparsely populated because of its lack of water, and the Israelites would have made plentiful use of cisterns for storing rain water. They had learned through their wilderness experiences how to preserve water. It was also heavily forested, as indeed were large parts of Canaan, which gave them further protection. Indeed when some complained to Joshua of having no land his reply was that they could clear land for themselves, advice which they then successfully followed. Meanwhile Canaan was populated mainly by peoples who lived in a multitude of small independent city states which were surrounded by such forests. But these city states had become alarmed at this large group of migrant people who had come among them and had to decide what to do about them, and that in most cases resulted in their seeking to prevent Israelite occupation, although at least one important city decided to obtain a treaty with Israel by subterfuge..

This section commences then with the mistaken treaty made with the powerful city of Gibeon as a result of the deceitful and false approach of their leaders, who pretended not to be Canaanites. This is then followed by Joshua’s defeat of a confederacy of five major Canaanite kings who came from the southern hill country and the lowlands, and this was accompanied by the smiting of a number of their cities, (although not Jerusalem itself in spite of his defeat of its king), with many of their inhabitants fleeing into the widespread forests. He was probably not, however, able to leave men in these cities to take possession of them and occupy them because he did not have enough men for the purpose, thus many of them would be repossessed by returning ‘refugees’ and would later have to be retaken. His initial intention was rather to draw the teeth of all opposition and stop their constant incursions against his people so that Israel could settle in the land. Then he returned with his forces to Gilgal.

Meanwhile the Canaanite kings of northern Palestine had heard of what had happened in the south and had raised up a further confederacy under the King of Hazor, a powerful city state. But they also fell before Joshua, with the large city of Hazor being taken and put to the sword, although once again it had to be left so that it could be repossessed. Joshua then proceeded with a slow aggressive warfare against many other kings of other cities who raised armies against him. It was not an easy task, nor one that could be accomplished quickly. ‘Joshua made war a long time with all those kings’ (Joshua 11:18). But he defeated them all with the result that in the end they ceased to oppose Israel and accepted their presence in the land, and ‘the land had rest from war’ (Joshua 11:23). This was not, however, to suggest that Israel now possessed the land. While the Canaanites were bruised and battered they still returned and repossessed many of their broken down cities and continued life as before, although in a much weaker state, having learned to leave Israel alone. Meanwhile Israel were initially permanently settling the relatively sparsely inhabited hill country by using lime plaster cisterns, with Ephraim and Manasseh settling the hill country in the middle of the land, and Judah commencing the clearing of the more populated hills in the south. This was preparatory to the tribes moving out to take possession of other parts of the land. Joshua 12 sums up Joshua’s successes up to that point. It will be noted that Joshua’s success is rated in terms of kings defeated, not in terms of cities permanently possessed. That would take longer once the land had been divided up among the tribes, and each had taken responsibility for a section (see Judges chapter 1 in respect of this). But at least his victories enabled Israelites to get a foothold in many parts of the land, often initially by clearing forest land, without their needing to fear constant attacks from belligerent enemies. The Canaanites learned to treat Israelites with respect, lest Joshua took note of their lack of such respect.

Chapter 11. The Northern Confederacy - the Invasion of the North.

This chapter tells how the kings of the northern parts of Canaan now combined together against Joshua, and how YHWH encouraged him to fight them, delivering them into his hands, so that all their people were smitten by him. It describes how he captured their cities, destroyed their inhabitants, and took their spoil. The chapter concludes with an account of his destroying the Anakim and declares that he had now ‘conquered’ the whole land, so that there was a a lull from fighting enabling the Israelites to establish themselves without being resisted.


Verses 1-3

Chapter 11. The Northern Confederacy - the Invasion of the North.

This chapter tells how the kings of the northern parts of Canaan now combined together against Joshua, and how YHWH encouraged him to fight them, delivering them into his hands, so that all their people were smitten by him. It describes how he captured their cities, destroyed their inhabitants, and took their spoil. The chapter concludes with an account of his destroying the Anakim and declares that he had now ‘conquered’ the whole land, so that there was a a lull from fighting enabling the Israelites to establish themselves without being resisted.

Joshua 11:1-3

And it happened that when Jabin king of Hazor heard of it that he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were to the north, in the hill country and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor to the west, to the Canaanite on the east and on the west, and the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the hill country, and the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpah.’

When the king of Hazor heard of this triumphant army that had swept through Southern Canaan he decided that it was time for serious action. The name Jabin was probably a throne name. Another Jabin would face Barak and Deborah later (Judges 4:2). But Hazor was ‘a royal city’ and its king was called in inscriptions a ‘Great King’ (sarrum), permanent overlord over a number of cities. He thus had great influence. This would be the most powerful force that Joshua had yet faced.

Hazor (Tell el-Qedah) was an important city state in northern Canaan which had great authority over its neighbours. It was ‘ head of all those kingdoms’, (Joshua 11:10). Archaeology tells us that it had been there since the third millennium BC and in the second millennium was extended by the building of a lower city. At this stage it would have had about forty thousand inhabitants, a large city indeed, almost as large as Megiddo. The lower city contained a Canaanite temple and a small shrine. It was referred to regularly throughout the centuries, by Egypt, Mari and Babylon, as an important political centre, and as mentioned above its ruler was given the title ‘Great King’ (sarrum), a status above that usually conferred on rulers of city states.

But the alliance he put together reached farther than that. Jobab, king of Madon (Joshua 12:19) was important enough for his name to be remembered, although Madon is unidentified. Possibly he was Jabin’s general in the same way as Sisera would be after him. Along with the kings of Shimron (Joshua 12:20 has Shimron- meron, compare Joshua 19:15) and Achshaph he was probably a vassal of Jabin. Any identification for Shimron is tenuous (Tell es-Semuniyeh has been suggested but disputed) but Achshaph was near Acco and is mentioned in Egyptian lists and in Papyrus Anastasi I.

“The kings who were to the north, in the hill country and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in the heights of Dor to the west, to the Canaanite on the east and on the west.” A wide ranging alliance. Northern cities, cities in the Galilean hill country, cities in the Jordan rift valley (the Arabah) south of Lake Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11; Deuteronomy 3:17) or of the city of that name (Joshua 19:35 - probably Khirbet el-Oreimah), and the heights of Dor which probably came under the jurisdiction of, and may have included, Dor, the important seaport on the coast south of Carmel mentioned by Raamses II and later conquered by the Sea Peoples (the Tjeker). It is noteworthy that the large cities of the plain of Esdraelon further South, Megiddo and Taanach are not mentioned, as they assuredly would have been had they been involved.

“The Canaanite on the east and on the west, and the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite in the hill country, and the Hivite under Hermon in the land of Mizpah.” The list of the nations involved is then given in order to expand the picture. All six of the nations regularly mentioned are deliberately included. Canaanites are seen as spread from east to west of northern Canaan, the remainder are connected with the hill country.

Jebusites were usually mentioned as the inhabitants of Jerusalem but these were clearly resident elsewhere (Numbers 13:29), unless some came from Jerusalem, one of the few cities not to be taken by Joshua, in order to support him against Israel after their own ignominious earlier defeat. But if the writer had seen Jerusalem as being involved he would surely have mentioned it. Hivites are seen in the centre of the country (Joshua 9:7) but there were clearly some in the vicinity of Hermon, compare Judges 3:3. For the land of Mizpah compare Joshua 11:8. For the site of this Mizpah (there were a number of Mizpahs - the name means ‘watchtower’) Qual‘at es-Subeibeh, near the Lake of Huleh, has much support.


Verse 4-5

And they went out, they and all their hosts with them, many people, even as the sand which is on the seashore for multitude, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings met together, and they came and pitched together at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel.’

This was something which Joshua had not faced before and for which YHWH had been preparing him. This was a major army and was equipped with many horses and chariots. Israel probably had no horses, and certainly no chariots. Thus they would have to face this great army on foot.

So the sections of this great army went out from their differing headquarters and met together under their kings at some rendezvous from where they proceeded to the waters of Merom. Merom is mentioned in the lists of Tuthmosis III. One possible site is the village of Meiron near Safed, which is near springs that feed the Wadi Leimun (or Wadi Meiron). Another is Maroun er-Ras which is above a valley leading to the Huleh basin north of Hazor. There they prepared ‘to fight against Israel’.


Verse 6

And YHWH said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow about this time I will deliver them up all slain before Israel. You shall hough their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” ’

Joshua again sought the guidance of YHWH in the face of these powerful forces and YHWH assured him that he need fear nothing, for on the next day the whole force would be delivered into Joshua’s hand. And this was so certain that He now gave instructions as to what to do with the horses and chariots after the battle. The hocks of the horses were to be cut rendering them useless for warfare, and the chariots were to be burned with fire. In consequence it would be a long time before they could be replaced and meanwhile the conquest of the land could take place satisfactorily. But Israel were not to try to make use of them (Isaiah 31:1; Psalms 20:7). They must trust in YHWH. These instructions, especially reference to the next day, suggests that Joshua had already brought his army across towards the enemy in a forced march.


Verse 7

So Joshua came, and all the people of war with him, against them by the waters of Merom, suddenly, and fell on them.’

The huge army gathered together, were probably still arranging tactics and leadership, not realising how close the Israelites were, when without warning the Israelite men of war, whom their scouts had probably told them were safely well out of the way, suddenly emerged and swept down on them catching them totally unawares. Their horses and chariots were unready and they panicked. They knew the fearsome reputation of these barbarians, and that they were seemingly invincible, with a God Who could do wonderful things. The alliance was a hotchpotch of armies, without unity, and may well have begun to fight each other, for in the panic they would be strangers to each other. Whatever the situation their unpreparedness resulted in panic and flight.


Verse 8

And YHWH delivered them into the hand of Israel, and they smote them and chased them to Great Zidon (see Joshua 19:28), and to Misrephoth-maim, and to the valley of Mizpeh eastward, and they smote them until they left them none remaining.’

The battle appears to have taken place in Northern Galilee. The host scattered in a number of directions with the determined Israelites, heated for battle and inspired by YHWH, chasing them relentlessly, with instructions from Joshua that all must be slaughtered. Some were even chased so far that they were only caught as they approached the territory of Great Zidon, the important Phoenician seaport. (Zidon was split into Greater Zidon and Lesser Zidon). The non-mention of Tyre is significant as reflecting a time when Tyre had not yet come into prominence. Its rise to prominence began when the Philistines plundered Zidon in around 1200 BC. Thus this material is very early.

Misrephoth-maim is not certainly identified. It has been equated with the River Litani, south of Zidon. It was also in Zidonian territory (Joshua 13:6). Still others were chased in the opposite direction towards Mount Hermon. Joshua’s relentless aim was to kill as many as possible in order to make a later campaign in the North a little easier.

“Until they left them none remaining.” That is, as far as it was possible. Some good number would inevitably escape.


Verse 9

And Joshua did to them as YHWH commanded him, he houghed their horses and burned their chariots with fire.’

Joshua did not question YHWH’s command. He obeyed. It must have been tempting to keep the horses, especially with the chariots. But YHWH had commanded otherwise. We notice that they were not said to be ‘chariots of iron’. There were no iron accoutrements on these chariots. Those would come later. We must presume that the houghing of the horses did not render them totally useless or why keep them alive at all? It meant doing something that prevented them from performing at their best, and being usable for military purposes. Alternately the purpose may have been to keep them for breeding purposes, but that would contradict God’s earlier command.


Verse 10

And Joshua at that time turned back and took Hazor, and smote its king with the sword, for Hazor previously was the head of all those kingdoms.’

It is noteworthy that the king of Hazor, as with his successor in Judges 4, did not go out to battle himself. He had sent another, a general, to act on his behalf, probably Jobab, otherwise he would not have been there. This would be the only city that Joshua would burn with fire. That was because it was the head of the confederacy, a huge city, and therefore a constant future danger to Israel. While he could not yet occupy all these cities, he could weaken their power base.


Verse 11

And they smote all the souls who were in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying (devoting) them. There was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire.’

Burning with fire was something he had only done to Jericho, Ai and now Hazor. Jericho because it was the firstfruits, Ai so as to counteract their defeat there, and Hazor because it was too powerful. It would at least render it powerless for some time into the future, although he must have been aware that people would return and rebuild it. Possibly he hoped that before that happened the conquest of Canaan would be complete. Archaeology has borne witness to the destruction by fire of Hazor at this time. In its restoration the lower city was not rebuilt.


Verse 12

And all the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them did Joshua take, and he smote them with the edge of the sword, and he utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of YHWH commanded.’

He also took the other cities that had taken part in the alliance, killed their kings (whether captured before or then) and slaughtered the people. This was in accordance with the command of God through Moses. None of the Canaanites were to remain alive lest they lead Israel astray after idols and into the gross immorality of their sexually perverted religion.


Verse 13

But as for the cities that stood on their tells, Israel did not burn any of them except Hazor only. That Joshua did burn.’

The saving of all these cities, as he had saved the others in the South, was probably in the hope that when Israel eventually occupied them they would find cities in good condition for living in as YHWH had promised (Deuteronomy 6:10). Joshua was an idealist. He could not believe that Israel would finally disobey God and that these cities would therefore be turned against them. Some suggest that the writer was saying that he took all the cities of the kings apart from the ones that stood on their tells and were thus walled, inaccessible, heavily defended and would require long sieges to take them. This is not, however, what the surrounding picture suggests, and it would surely have said that he did not ‘take’ them.


Verse 14

‘And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey for themselves, but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, nor did they leave any that breathed.’

All the spoil in the cities which he captured, whether gold, silver, household goods, corn, wine, oil, or clothing, together with cattle of every sort, all were taken by the Israelites for a prey, for their own use and benefit, as YHWH had allowed (Joshua 8:2). But every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them. They left no human being alive.


Verse 15

As YHWH commanded Moses his servant, so did Moses command Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that YHWH had commanded Moses.’

Joshua’s complete obedience is emphasised. He was fulfilling the work of God through Moses. He stood in Moses’ place. And he was faithful in his service. That is why in the end he would be given the honourable title ‘the Servant of YHWH’ (Joshua 24:29; Judges 2:8), a unique title only specifically given by the people to Moses and Joshua.

So Joshua’s northern campaign came to an end. We should, however, note what is not said. There is no suggestion that he captured Megiddo or Taanach, the two great cities on either side of the plain of Esdraelon, (although he would kill their kings - Joshua 12:21 - so that they clearly acted aggressively against Israel) nor does it say that he captured Jerusalem or Bethel or Gezer. Nor is there any mention of capturing the cities of Gath, Ashkelon, Ekron, Ashdod and Gaza (Joshua 10:41 does not say that Gaza was taken). And there were other great cities also unmentioned. The impression of overall victory has within it important silences. The record is honest about the non-capture of the coastal plain and Esdraelon, and other heavily defended cities. And it makes clear that in spite of the great victories that were obtained the cities were not occupied at this stage. His work was only the beginning, with the purpose of establishing Israel in the land. Others would have to follow it up and make the victories permanent. And this they failed to do as we know from Judges 1. But its overall message is that he was successful wherever he went, and that YHWH was with him.


Verse 16-17

So Joshua took all that land, the hill country, and all the South, and all the land of Goshen, and the lowland and the Arabah, and the hill country of Israel, and the lowland of the same, from Mount Halak, that goes up to Seir, even to Baal-gad, in the valley of Lebanon under Mount Hermon, and all their kings he took, and smote them and put them to death.’

With some important exceptions he had defeated the inhabitants throughout all the land. The central and southern highlands, the Negeb, the land of Goshen, the Shephelah, and the Jordan Rift (the Arabah). Also the Northern hill country and lowlands. And he had destroyed all their kings. (There is no mention of the Coastal Plain or of the plain of Esdraelon and Jezreel). Thus was the way paved for the children of Israel to take possession of the land. It is true that much of it they would have to retake, for the inhabitants who survived, and others from wandering tribes always on the lookout for an opportunity would repossess the land and the cities once Joshua and his army moved on, but their strength had been broken. The opportunity was there and the presence of Israel in the land was secure.

Note the expressions ‘the hill country of Israel and the lowland of the same’. Israel were already announcing their presence by a renaming of parts of the land. The renaming may have been by the inhabitants of the land after these parts had been captured and settled by Israel, a reluctant recognition of their presence.

Mount Halek was probably Jebel Halaq, forty kilometres (twenty five miles) south of Beersheba, near the south east border of Judah where it touches the border of Edom (‘goes up to Seir’). Baalgad was in the far north of Israel’s territories at the foot of and to the west of Mount Hermon. It may be Tell Haus or Hasbeiyah, both in the Wadi et-Teim.


Verse 18

Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.’

All this took time. Only the highlights have been described in detail. But gradually Joshua’s war of attrition succeeded. The last part of Joshua’s life was taken up with it. Joshua 14:7-10 may suggest a period of five or so years but we must recognise that Caleb was using round numbers (note how often such numbers related to age end in nought or five. There was no specific calendar and it is doubtful if many accurately recorded the passing of any but the most recent ‘years’, and ‘years’ were anyway seen differently by different people).

Certainly five or so years of continuous warfare would appear to be a long time (roughly the same length as the second world war).


Verse 19

There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took all in battle.’

This may simply indicate the belligerent nature of the opposition, emphasising that Israel had no choice but to destroy them, or it may suggest that offers of peace were made to some on condition of withdrawal from the land, or even of entering the tribal covenant and converting to YHWH, and becoming ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water’ like the Gibeonites. But if so none, apart from Gibeon, were willing to accept the offer.


Verse 20

For it was of YHWH to harden their hearts, that they might come against Israel to battle, that he might destroy them utterly (devote them), that they might have no favour but that he might destroy them, as YHWH commanded Moses.’

This indeed was within YHWH’s purpose. The offer of peace was made because it was humane, but the wickedness of their hearts was such that it was better that they were destroyed. And this was what YHWH had commanded Moses (Deuteronomy 7:2). The hardening of their hearts was an indication that in the end YHWH was seen as over all things, even men’s thoughts. But He would not have hardened their hearts if they had not hardened their own hearts.


Verse 21-22

And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua utterly destroyed (devoted) them with their cities. There were none of the Anakim left in the land of the children of Israel, only in Gaza, and in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain.’

This general statement explains that Joshua and his army also dealt with what was seen as possibly the greatest threat to Israel of all, the feared Anakim. ‘At that time’ is vague and simply means some time while he was conquering the land and while he lived. The mention of them shows that some had survived the original attacks on Hebron and Debir and were now resident again there. Also that they were widespread throughout the hill country, possibly acting as mercenary soldiers.

When Israel first moved into the central highlands and took it they would call it ‘the hill country of Israel’. Proud of their conquest they would set their symbol there and claim it for their own. Later when independently minded Judah captured the southern hill country they expressed their semi-independence by calling it ‘the hill country of Judah’. While this was the beginnings of the later split, such a split was not in mind at the time. It was simply a matter of naming two locations with convenient names which expressed possession.

Note the assumption of these verses that ‘the land of the children of Israel’ consisted at this stage of the hill countries of Israel and Judah. While enemies outside that had been defeated, their land was not finally possessed. As God had said to Moses, final possession would take place little by little (Exodus 23:29-30).

The Anakim were fierce and very large, formidable fighters, (compare Deuteronomy 1:28; Deuteronomy 2:10; Deuteronomy 2:21; Deuteronomy 9:2) who were mainly settled in the hill country, especially around Hebron (Numbers 13:22). They were seen as in some way related to the mysterious Nephilim (Numbers 13:33) and such a formidable foe that special mention is made of them. It is possible that Arba, as found in Kiriath-Arba, was considered their original ancestor (Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13).

It would seem that when Joshua earlier reduced Hebron and Debir (Joshua 10:36-39) and moved on, it was repopulated by those who lived around and those who managed to escape, including the Anakim. Now they had to be ejected again. This second ejection probably refers to what was in fact done by Caleb under Joshua’s generalship (Joshua 15:13-19). Some Anakim, however still remained in the strong cities on the coastal plain, (possibly escaping there, but they would always be welcomed as mercenaries) and this is further testimony to the fact that these cities were not seen as taken by Joshua (compare Joshua 13:3). Goliath was probably their descendant.

Anab (Joshua 15:50), a small city which is now a ruin but still called ‘Anab, was eight kilometres (five miles) south of Debir. It is mentioned as Kart-‘anabu in Papyrus Anastasi I and in the Amarna letters.


Verse 23

So Joshua took the whole land, in accordance with all that YHWH said to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel, according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land had rest from war.’

Having accomplished what he had after five or so years of warfare (see Joshua 14:7; Joshua 14:10), Joshua returned to the camp at Gilgal. It was now time to begin spreading out and taking possession of the land. Thus began the allocating of the land between the tribes. This would take some time and plenty of negotiation, and while this was in process there was no fighting. ‘The land had rest from war.’ No one any longer sought to attack them. But the weakened and devastated cities were re-establishing themselves, and the remnants of peoples were recuperating, and would await the next assaults by Israel. This was in accordance with the words of Moses in Exodus 23:28-33.

“The whole land” is a slight exaggeration, and may refer to ‘the land of the children of Israel’ (Joshua 11:22), that is the hill country of Israel and Judah. There were important parts that had not been reduced. But his conquests had reached from the far north of the land down to the far south, and none had been able to resist him, so that it was a justifiable statement, and now the land would be divided among the tribes. Yet the process of possession, while initially fairly rapid, would soon slow down, and some tribes would be reluctant to go about it as the Book of Judges reveals. They would be content to stay where they were in the hill country and the Arabah.

Life was hard in the hill country, but secure. They overlooked the fact that if there were too many of them when the rains failed, their position would be especially precarious. This reluctance was true even in Joshua's lifetime. Note the remarks in Joshua 18:2-3 where Joshua rebuked the reluctant tribes, and the frustrated and half-hearted efforts recorded elsewhere (Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10; Joshua 17:12; Joshua 17:16). But it was one thing to follow a brilliant and successful general like Joshua. It was quite another when called on to do it on their own.

“Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel, according to their divisions (Joshua 12:7) by their tribes.” This brief summary prepares for what is to come in the following chapters. It sums up what was in fact to be a huge task. The outlining of the allocations would in itself require great effort (they had no maps in front of them except such as they had prepared) although Joshua, as a capable leader and administrator, had no doubt made arrangements for suitable men to keep records and notes as they went about the country. Such a summary, followed by its fulfilment in detail, is typical of ancient narratives.

And what lessons can we take from all this? They are that if God be for us we need not be afraid, whatever the opposition. Though evil forces band against us we need fear nothing while we are living lives in obedience to God. But we must ensure that we trust Him, do not trifle with sin but drive it from our lives, and obey Him in all His commandments. Then we will have success, and then we will receive the spiritual inheritance that He has promised to us.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-11.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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