Joshua - Introduction
The book of Joshua describes the “conquest” of Canaan and its allotment to the Israelite tribes. Through well‐known traditional stories (e.g., Rahab and the spies, the crossing of the Jordan River, the capture of Jericho) as well as non‐narrative lists and ritual texts, the book portrays the fulfillment of God's covenantal promise to the patriarchs that their descendants would possess the land. Moreover, these stories challenge the book's readers to live in obedience to the Deuteronomic covenant so that they also will receive God's blessings in the land.
The historicity of the book cannot simply be assumed since it telescopes and simplifies what was a long and complex process of occupation of the land by the Israelite tribes. Some details are lacking (e.g., how the Israelites came into possession of Shechem, 8.30–35 ), while the other events narrated in the book are selectively arranged to heighten the book's message. Thus the book's presentation of reality does not necessarily reflect the actual course of events. Consequently, archaeological excavations, together with sociological and anthropological analyses, must be used to understand the early history of Israel in the land.
The authorship of the book of Joshua is unknown. Some types of sources for the book's composition are identifiable (for example, the border descriptions and city lists in chs 14–19 ), though their origin and date are often disputed. Scholars commonly perceive the book in its final form to be part of a larger historical work, the Deuteronomistic History, stretching from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings. The book's final date of composition is unknown; it is dependent upon the dating of the various editions of the Deuteronomistic History, of which it is now a part. One major edition of the larger work is generally agreed to date to the late seventh century BCE. The connections between the book of Joshua and Deuteronomy led earlier scholars to posit a Hexateuch, with the book of Joshua completing the Pentateuch. More recently scholars have viewed Deuteronomy as the introduction to the books of Deuteronomy through Kings, the Deuteronomistic History.
The historiographic materials used in the book of Joshua correspond to those found in the ancient Near East as a whole. Thus there are traditional stories, etiologies, boundary and town lists, summary accounts and lists, and accounts patterned after redundant annalistic documents. These have been woven together with ritual and covenantal materials and other matters of priestly interest to communicate the book's ideological message.
Several themes and literary devices characterize the book. First, the structure of the book has two main divisions: the conquests ( 1.1–12.24 ) and the allotment of the land ( 13.1–24.33 ). Within each main division, there are two subdivisions: A: preparations for the conquest ( 1.1–5.12 ) and B: the conquest–s campaigns ( 5.13–12.24 ); B′: the allotment of the conquered land ( 13.1–21.45 ) and A′: epilogue to the conquest and allotment ( 22.1–24.33 ). The body of the book ( 5.13–21.45 ) is bracketed by specially chosen introductory and concluding materials ( 1.1–5.12; 22.1–24.33 ). Each subdivision contains a number of units that contribute to the development of the plot and message of the book.
Second, the book follows a logical geographic arrangement. An east‐to‐west crossing into Canaan (chs 2–5 ) is followed by military campaigns directed at the center (chs 6–8 ), south (chs 9–10 ), and north (ch 11 ), concluded by a summary list (ch 12 ). The division of the land first covers the Transjordanian tribes (ch 13 ), then the south and central tribes (chs 14–17 ), then the northern and peripheral tribes (chs 18–19 ), and finally entities of marginal status (chs 20–21 ). At times, however, the technique of “backtrack and overlap” is imposed upon the narration, as the story backs up and retells the events in a type of flashback. This is especially noticeable in chs 3–4 (the crossing of the Jordan) and 10 (the conquest of the south).
Third, the law (Heb “torah”) plays a normative role in the book, and Israel's obedience or disobedience to the law determines success or failure. This law, especially prominent in chs 1 and 23 , is further specified as “the law of Moses” and refers to the law or teaching of Moses as contained in some form of the book of Deuteronomy.
Fourth, typology (that is, representing one character or event as an echo or foreshadowing of another) is utilized to portray Joshua as parallel to Moses. A few examples will illustrate: Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua leads the Israelites into Canaan; Moses leads Israel in a miraculous crossing of the Reed Sea, Joshua leads Israel in a miraculous crossing of the Jordan River; Moses sends out spies, Joshua sends out spies; Moses allots land to the tribes east of the Jordan, Joshua allots land to the tribes west of the Jordan.
Fifth, the book utilizes a number of different land ideologies. Some of these may be anchored in concrete reality, while others are purely idealistic or a mixture of the two. In the book's final form, these produce an abstract, idealized concept of the land, create tensions, and set the stage for irony. The dominant land ideology is the territory of the twelve tribes (both west and east of the Jordan) who completely fill up the land (chs 15–19; cf. Deut 4.45–49 ). In this view, the two and one‐half Transjordanian tribes (those settled east of the Jordan) are an integral and vital part of “all Israel.” A second, contrasting ideology restricts the true land of inheritance to the territory west of the Jordan (Cisjordan, the land of Canaan) (cf. Deut 12.10 ). It is this image of the land that lies behind the belief that crossing the Jordan was a step of outstanding significance (chs 3–4 ). This view also creates ironic tensions in 22.10–34 , where the two and one‐half tribes set up an altar in Transjordan. A third ideology presents the land as claimed but unconquered, noting “the land that remains” ( 13.2–6 ); and a fourth ideology is an expansionistic, Utopian “Euphratic Israel,” which claims the distant Euphrates as the northern boundary of Israel's inheritance ( 1.4; cf. Gen 15.18; Deut 1.7; 11.24 ). These last two notions instill the book with the flavor of unredeemed promise, and again set the stage for irony. The text develops two understandings of Israel's unfulfilled expectations. On the one hand, the incomplete conquest is judged to be the result of Israel's disobedience or military nability ( 15.63; 16.10; 17.12–13; 19.47 ). This serves as the basis for future threats to Israel's well‐being ( 7.12; 23.12–13 ). On the other hand, the last two land ideologies function as hopeful indications of greater future land blessings to Israel ( 13.6b; 17.18; 23.5 ).
Sixth, ritual concerns dictate some of the narration. For example, the crossing of the Jordan River (chs 3–4 ), circumcision and Passover (ch 5 ), the conquest of Jericho (ch 6 ), and the implementations of the “herem” (chs 6–8 ) all reflect ritual concerns that undergird the book's land claims.
Finally, the concept of the “herem” plays a significant role in the book. This noun is usually translated “devoted thing” ( 7.1 ) and the related verb “utterly destroy” ( 10.28 ). The term is used primarily in contexts of warfare and destruction where the “herem” stories are connected with the notion of obedience/disobedience to the LORD (cf. Deut 7; 20 ). Its purpose was to “drive out” or “dispossess” the Canaanites in order to carry out divine judgment on them, to protect the Israelites from Canaanite religious influence, and to fulfill the promises concerning the land. This kind of warfare is part of the political ideology that Israel shared with other nations in the ancient Near East, in which wars were dedicated to the glorification of the deity and the extension of the deity's land and reign.
Thus the book of Joshua plays an important role not only in the story of the early history of Israel in the land, but also in the development of the theology of the Hebrew Bible. In many ways, it serves as the prologue for the remainder of the Deuteronomistic History's story of Israel's struggles in the land.