Book of Joshua

Book of Joshua
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The Book of Joshua (Hebrew: Sefer Y'hoshua ספר יהושע‎) is the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible and of the Old Testament. Its 24 chapters tell of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan, their conquest and division of the land under the leadership of Joshua, and of serving God in the land.[1]

Joshua forms part of the biblical history of the emergence of Israel which begins with the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, continues with their conquest of Canaan under their leader Joshua (the subject matter of the book of Joshua), and culminates in Judges with the settlement of the tribes in the land.[2] The book is structured in two roughly equal parts, the story of the campaigns of the Israelites in central, southern and northern Canaan and their destruction of their enemies, followed by the division of the conquered land among the twelve tribes; the two parts are framed by set-piece speeches by God and Joshua commanding the conquest and at the end warning of the need for faithful obedience of the Law (torah) revealed to Moses.[3]

Almost without exception scholars agree that the book of Joshua holds little historical value.[4] Rather than being written as history, the Deuteronomistic history - Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings - was intended to illustrate a theological scheme in which Israel and her leaders are judged by their obedience to the teachings and laws (the covenant) set down in the book of Deuteronomy.[5] Although tradition holds that it was written by Joshua, it is probable that it was written by multiple editors and authors far removed from the time.[6] The earliest parts of the book are possibly chapters 2-11, the story of the conquest; more certain is that this section was then incorporated into an early form of Joshua that was part of then original Deuteronomistic history, written late in the reign of king Josiah (reigned 640-609 BCE); it seems clear that the book was not completed until after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586, and possibly not until after the return from the Babylonian exile late in the 6th century.[7]



Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan (Gustave Doré)


I. Entry into the land and conquest of the land (1:1–12:24)

A. Transfer of leadership to Joshua (1:1–18)
1. God's commission to Joshua (1:1–9)
2. Joshua's instructions to the people (1:10–18)
B. Entrance into Canaan (2:1–5:15)
1. Reconnaissance of Jericho (2:1–24)
2. Crossing the Jordan (3:1–17)
3. Establishing a foothold at Gilgal (4:1–5:1)
4. Circumcision and Passover (5:2–15)
C. Victory over Canaan (6:1–12:24)
1. Destruction of Jericho (6)
2. Failure and success at Ai (7:1–8:29)
3. Renewal of the covenant at Mount Ebal (8:30–35)
4. Other campaigns in central Palestine (9:1–27)
5. Campaigns in southern Palestine (10:1–43)
6. Campaigns in northern Palestine (11:1–23)
7. Summary list of defeated kings (12:1–24)

II. Division of the land among the tribes (13:1–22:34)

A. God's instructions to Joshua (13:1–7)
B. Tribal allotments (13:8–19:51)
1. Eastern tribes (13:8–33)
2. Western tribes (14:1–19:51)
C. Cities of refuge and levitical cities (20:1–21:42)
D. Summary of conquest (21:43–45)
E. Dismissal of the eastern tribes (serving YHWH in the land) (22:1–34)

III. Conclusion (23:1–24:33)

A. Joshua's farewell address (23:1–16)
B. Covenant at Shechem (24:1–28)
C. Deaths of Joshua and Eleazar; burial of Joseph's bones (24:29–33)[3]


God's commission to Joshua (chapter 1)

(Chapter 1 is the first of three important moments in Joshua marked with major speeches and reflections by the main characters; here first God and then Joshua make speeches about the goal of conquest of the Promised Land; at chapter 12, Joshua looks back on the conquest; and at chapter 23 Joshua gives a speech about what must be done if Israel is to live in peace in the land).[8]

God commissions Joshua to take possession of the land and warns him to keep faith with the Covenant. (God's speech foreshadows major themes of the book: the crossing of the Jordan and conquest of the land, its distribution, and the imperative need for obedience to the Law; Joshua's own immediate obedience is seen in his speeches to the Israelite commanders and to the Transjordanian tribes, and the Transjordanians' affirmation of Joshua's leadership echoes Yahweh's assurances of victory).[9]

Entry into the land and conquest (chapters 2-12)

The Israelites cross the Jordan through the miraculous intervention of God and his ark and are circumcised at Gibeath-Haaraloth (translated as hill of foreskins), renamed Gilgal in memory (Gilgal sounds like Gallothi, I have removed, but is more likely to translate as circle of standing stones). The conquest begins in Canaan with Jericho, followed by Ai (central Canaan), after which Joshua builds an altar to Yahweh at Mt Ebal (northern Canaan) and renews the Covenant. (The covenant ceremony has elements of a divine land-grant ceremony, similar to ceremonies known from Mesopotamia).[10]

The narrative now switches to the south. The Gibeonites trick the Israelites into entering into an alliance with them by saying they are not Canaanites; this prevents the Israelites from exterminating them, but they are enslaved instead. An alliance of Amorite kingdoms headed by the Canaanite king of Jerusalem is defeated with Yahweh's miraculous help, and the enemy kings are hanged on trees. (The Deuteronomist author may have used the then-recent 701 BCE campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in Judah as his model; the hanging of the captured kings is in accordance with Assyrian practice of the 8th century).[11]

With the south conquered the narrative moves to the northern campaign. A powerful multi-national (or more accurately, multi-ethnic) coalition headed by the king of Hazor, the most important northern city, is defeated with Yahweh's help and Hazor captured and destroyed. Chapter 11:16-23 summarises the campaign: Joshua has taken the entire land, and the land "had rest from war." Chapter 12 lists the vanquished kings on both sides of the Jordan.

Division of the land (chapters 13-21)

Having described how the Israelites and Joshua have carried out the first of their God's commands, the story now turns to the second, to "put the people in possession of the land." This section is a "covenantal land grant": Yahweh, as king, is issuing each tribe its territory.[12] The "cities of refuge" and Levitical cities are attached to the end, since it is necessary for the tribes to receive their grants before they allocate parts of it to others. The Transjordanian tribes are dismissed, affirming their loyalty to Yahweh.

Joshua's farewell (chapters 23-24)

Joshua charges the leaders of the Israelites to remain faithful to Yahweh and the covenant, warning of judgement should Israel leave Yahweh and follow other gods; Joshua meets with all the people and reminds them of Yahweh's great works for them, and of the need to love Yahweh alone. Joshua performs the concluding covenant ceremony, and send the people to their inheritance.


The Taking of Jericho (Jean Fouquet, c.1452-1460)


Joshua, like most of the bible, is anonymous. The Babylonian Talmud was the first attempt to attach authors to the holy books: each book, according to the authors of the Talmud, was written by a prophet, and each prophet was an eyewitness of the events described, and Joshua himself wrote "the book that bears his name". This idea was already rejected as untenable by John Calvin (1509–1564), and by the time of Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) it was recognised that the book must have been written much later than the period it depicted.[13]

The Deuteronomistic history

There is now general agreement that Joshua was composed as part of a larger work, the Deuteronomistic history, stretching from Deuteronomy to Kings.[14] In 1943 the German biblical scholar Martin Noth suggested that this history was composed by a single author/editor, living in the time of the Exile (6th century BCE).[15] A major modification to Noth's theory was made in 1973 by the American scholar Frank M. Cross, to the effect that that two editions of the history could be distinguished, the first and more important from the court of king Josiah in the late 7th century, and the second Noth's 6th century Exilic history.[16] At much the same time a second German scholar, Rudolf Smend, detected many more authors/editors than either Noth or Cross allowed for.[17]

Sources and composition history of Joshua

Martin Noth believed that chapters 2-12 (the conquest) were based on a collection of conquest stories from the Benjamin region dating from the pre-monarchical period, edited in the 9th century to introduce a pan-Israel perspective with Joshua as the hero; four centuries later the Deuteronomist reworked this by adding an introduction (chapter 1) and conclusion (chapter 23); and chapters 13-22 (the division) were added last, by a non-Deuteronomist, who also added chapter 24 as a new conclusion.[18]

Gordon Wenham has since demonstrated that the division chapters (chapters 13-22) in fact share a number of important themes with the book of Deuteronomy, meaning that they could have come from the Deuteronomist; and John Van Seters has argued for a whole series of additions to the book, mostly from Priestly authors.[19]

Themes and genre

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gideon (John Martin)

Genre (historicity)

The prevailing scholarly view is that Joshua is not a factual account of historical events.[20] The apparent setting of Joshua is the 13th century;[20] this was a time of widespread city-destruction, but with a few exceptions (Hazor, Lachish) the destroyed cities are not the ones the Bible associates with Joshua, and the ones it does associate with him show little or no sign of even being occupied at the time.[21]

Carolyn Pressler, in a recent commentary for the Westminster Bible Companion series, suggests that readers of Joshua should give priority to its theological message ("what passages teach about God") and be aware of what these would have meant to audiences in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.[22] Richard Nelson explains: The needs of the centralised monarchy favoured a single story of origins combining old traditions of an exodus from Egypt, belief in a national god as "divine warrior," and explanations for ruined cities, social stratification and ethnic groups, and contemporary tribes.[23]


The overarching theological theme of the Deuteronomistic history is faithfulness (and its obverse, faithlessness) and God's mercy (and its obverse, his anger). In Judges, Samuel and Kings Israel becomes faithless and God ultimately shows his anger by sending his people into exile,[24] but in Joshua Israel is obedient, Joshua is faithful, and God fulfills his promise and gives them the land.[25] Yahweh's war campaign in Palestine validates Israel's entitlement to the land[26] and provides a paradigm of how Israel was to live there: twelve tribes, with a designated leader, united by covenant in warfare and in worship of Yahweh alone at single sanctuary, all in obedience to the commands of Moses as found in Deuteronomy.[27]

God and Israel

Joshua takes forward Deuteronomy's theme of Israel as a single people worshiping Yahweh in the land God has given them.[28] Yahweh, as the main character in the book, takes the initiative in conquering the land, and it is Yahweh's power that wins battles (for example, the walls of Jericho fall because Yahweh is fighting for Israel, not because the Israelites show superior fighting ability).[29] The potential disunity of Israel is a constant theme, the greatest threat of disunity coming from the tribes east of the Jordan, and there is even a hint in chapter 22:19 that the land across the Jordan is unclean and the tribes who live there are of secondary status.[30]


Land is the central topic of Joshua.[31] The introduction to Deuteronomy recalled how Yahweh had given the land to the Israelites but then withdrew the gift when Israel showed fear and only Joshua and Caleb had trusted in God.[32] The land is Yahweh's to give or withhold, and the fact that he has promised it to Israel gives Israel an inalienable right to take it. For exilic and post-exilic readers, the land was both the sign of Yahweh's faithfulness and Israel's unfaithfulness, as well as the centre of their ethnic identity. In Deuteronomistic theology, "rest" meant Israel's unthreatened possession of the land, the achievement of which began with the conquests of Joshua.[33]

The enemy - ethnic cleansing and genocide

Joshua "carries out a systematic campaign against the civilians of Canaan - men, women and children - that amounts to genocide."[34] In doing this he is carrying out herem as commanded by Yahweh in Deuteronomy 20:17: "You shall not leave alive anything that breathes." The purpose is to drive out and dispossess the Canaanites, with the implication that there are to be no treaties with the enemy, no mercy, and no intermarriage,[9] and Joshua tells how every enemy is exterminated, thus glorifying Yahweh and promoting Israel's claim to the land.[35] The divine call for massacre at Jericho and elsewhere can be explained in terms of cultural norms (Israel wasn't the only Iron Age state to practice herem) and theology (a measure to ensure Israel's purity as well as the fulfillment of God's promise),[9] but Patrick D. Miller in his commentary on Deuteronomy remarks, "there is no real way to make such reports palatable to the hearts and minds of contemporary readers and believers."[36]


Obedience vs. disobedience is a constant theme.[37] Obedience ties in the Jordan crossing, the defeat of Jericho and Ai, circumcision and Passover, and the public display and reading of the Law. Disobedience appears in the story of Achan (stoned for violating the herem command), the Gibeonites, and the altar built by the Transjordan tribes. Joshua's two final addresses challenge the Israel of the future (the readers of the story) to obey the most important command of all, to worship Yahweh and no other gods. Joshua thus illustrates the central Deuteronomistic message, that obedience leads to success and disobedience to ruin.[38]

Moses, Joshua and Josiah

The Deuteronomistic history draws parallels in proper leadership between Moses, Joshua and Josiah.[39] God's commission to Joshua in chapter 1 is framed as a royal installation, the people's pledge of loyalty to Joshua as successor Moses recalls royal practices, the covenant-renewal ceremony led by Joshua was the prerogative of the kings of Judah, and God's command to Joshua to meditate on the "book of the law" day and night parallels the description of Josiah in 2 Kings 23:25 as a king uniquely concerned with the study of the law - not to mention their identical territorial goals (Josiah died in 609 BCE while attempting to annex the former Israel to his own kingdom of Judah).[40]

Some of the parallels with Moses can seen in the following, and not exhaustive, list:[14]

  • Joshua sent spies to scout out the land near Jericho (2:1), just as Moses sent spies from the wilderness to scout out the Promised Land (Num. 13; Deut. 1:19–25).
  • Joshua led the Israelites out of the wilderness into the Promised Land, crossing the Jordan River as if on dry ground (3:16), just as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea, which they crossed as if on dry land (Ex. 14:22).
  • After crossing the Jordan River, the Israelites celebrated the Passover (5:10–12) just as they did immediately before the Exodus (Ex. 12).
  • Joshua's vision of the "commander of Yahweh's army" (5:13–15) is reminiscent of the divine revelation to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:1–6).
  • Joshua successfully intercedes on behalf of the Israelites when Yahweh is angry for their failure to fully observe the "ban" (herem), just as Moses frequently persuaded God not to punish the people (Ex. 32:11–14, Num. 11:2, 14:13–19).
  • Joshua and the Israelites were able to defeat the people at Ai (Bible) because Joshua followed the divine instruction to extend his sword (Josh 8:18), just as the people were able to defeat the Amalekites as long as Moses extended his hand that held "the staff of God" (Ex. 17:8–13).
  • Joshua served as the mediator of the renewed covenant between Yahweh and Israel at Shechem (8:30–35; 24), just as Moses was the mediator of Yahweh's covenant with the people at Mount Sinai/Mount Horeb.
  • Before his death Joshua delivered a farewell address to the Israelites (23–24), just as Moses had delivered his farewell address (Deut. 32–33).

See also


  1. ^ McConville (2001), p.158
  2. ^ McNutt, p.150
  3. ^ a b Achtemeier and Boraas
  4. ^ McNutt, pp.152,153
  5. ^ Laffey, p.337
  6. ^ Creach, pp.9-10
  7. ^ Creach, pp.10-11
  8. ^ De Pury, p.49
  9. ^ a b c Younger, p.175
  10. ^ Younger, p.180
  11. ^ Na'aman, p.378
  12. ^ Younger, p.183
  13. ^ De Pury, pp.26-30
  14. ^ a b Younger, p.174
  15. ^ Klein, p.317
  16. ^ De Pury, p.63
  17. ^ Knoppers, p.6
  18. ^ De Pury, pp.112-114
  19. ^ Knoppers, p.9
  20. ^ a b McConville (2010), p.4
  21. ^ Miller&Hayes, pp. 71–2.
  22. ^ Pressler, pp.5-6
  23. ^ Nelson, p.5
  24. ^ Laffer, p.337
  25. ^ Pressler, pp.3-4
  26. ^ McConville (2001), pp.158-159
  27. ^ Coogan 2009, p. 162.
  28. ^ McConville (2001), p.159
  29. ^ Creach, pp.7-8
  30. ^ Creach, p.9
  31. ^ McConville (2010), p.11
  32. ^ Miller (Patrick), p.33
  33. ^ Nelson, pp.15-16
  34. ^ Dever, p.38
  35. ^ Nelson, pp.18-19
  36. ^ Miller (Patrick), pp.40-41
  37. ^ Curtis, p.79
  38. ^ Nelson, p.20
  39. ^ Nelson, p.102
  40. ^ Finkelstein, p.95


Translations of Joshua

Commentaries on Joshua


  • Achtemeier, Paul J; Boraas, Roger S (1996). The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. HarperSanFrancisco. 

External links

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