We are now out of the Pentateuch, into what’s called the Deuteronomistic History, or DH. This refers to the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. In the last post, I talked about some of the characteristics and particular interests of Deuteronomy, and its likelihood of being a later book. In their current form, these other books reflect the same perspective as Deuteronomy, with the same interests and focus. It is likely that the party/parties responsible for the current form of Deuteronomy were also involved with the writing/editing of Joshua-Kings. In other words, “Deuteronomy-2 Kings was a single literary complex: the composition of an editor/writer who had compiled and rewritten an extensive collection of older source material with a singular theology and intent.”- “Deuteronomistic History,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books.
Note that it was not invented; rather, like all writing of history (and especially Mormon, as editor), it was selective, shaping its raw materials towards a particular end. (On history writing, see my discussion of these two articles in The Ensign.)
The DH represents “an assortment of preexilic traditional material of varying genres and lengths that had been selected and arranged by a highly discriminating (and extremely respectful) historian in order to support and develop his thesis” (Ibid., included in the reading packet below.) We’ll return to the DH several times in the future.
Now for the Book of Joshua. In terms of structure,
Joshua falls neatly into four main sections: (1) an introduction comprising a series of speeches (Josh 1:1–18); (2) a collection of materials that relates a swift and comprehensive conquest of the land and its kings (Josh 2:1–12:24); (3) reports and lists associated with Israel’s settlement of the land (Josh 13:1–21:45); (4) a sequence of final episodes (Josh 22:1–24:33).- “Joshua, Book Of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books
And who is Joshua? We met him back in Numbers 13 in the list of 12 spies sent into Canaan, where he was called Oshea. Elsewhere he’s called Hoshea (same name but different person than the prophetic book), but here he’s called Joshua. Two reasons for the variations.
First, the KVJ translators worked in teams, and didn’t standardize names across teams. This is especially the case between the New and Old Testament translators, where a Greek form of Joshua became Jesus, leading to confusion in KJV Hebrews 4:8. “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” It’s clear from context that the Old Testament figure of Joshua was intended.
Second, the Hebrew has some variation. Joshua is essentially the name Hoshea with what’s a called a theophoric element added to it, a name or reference to deity. Most often in Hebrew it’s either an el which you can hear at the end of Daniel and Nathaniel, or a yah which you can hear in all those names like Isa-iah and Jerem-iah. Those theophoric elements can come at the beginning or ending of the name, so besides Nathani-el, we also find El-nathan (not Spanish for “the Nathan”) and Jo-nathan which is the same name but with a different theophoric element, namely yah or yo (both short for yahweh/“Jehovah”). So Joshua appears in several forms; with theophoric element (yehoshua, joshua, yeshua) and without (hoshea). Hoshea means “salvation” and Yehoshua means “Jehovah is salvation.”
Transitions are hard. Particularly when religious founders die, it’s often somewhat traumatic for the community that has grown up centered around them. This applies to Joseph Smith, to Mohammed, to Moses, and to others. Joshua, therefore, is presented as the new Moses.
- Just as God was with Moses, God will be with Joshua. (1:5)
- As the spirit had been with Moses, so would it be handed on to Joshua (Deu 34:9, Num 27:18)
- Just as Moses miraculously leads the Israelites on dry ground across water (Red Sea) out of Egypt, Joshua miraculously leads the Israelites on dry ground across water (River Jordan) into the land of Promise (Joshua 3).
The Book of Joshua presents a multifaceted problem. Namely, it presents the Israelites as carrying out genocide and ethnic cleansing at God’s command and approval. This is problematic from a moral standpoint, from a historical standpoint, and a Biblical standpoint. I’m going to let others address the moral issue, as they do it better than I. It is a serious one, though, and I highly recommend these links.
- My friend Ronan (LDS PhD in Assyriology), link. Don’t be put off by the slightly hyperbolic title.
- Peter Enns (Evangelical PhD in Hebrew Bible), link 1, link 2, link 3.
The historical and Biblical issues are identical; Joshua is not consistent with what immediately follows in the text (Judges) or the non-biblical data. Joshua portrays the Israelites as sweeping through Canaan, completely conquering its inhabitants and wiping the land clean. These sweeping statements in Joshua that Israel wiped out the inhabitants of the land are immediately contradicted in
Judges 1, which concludes with a list of 20 cities in which the people were not driven out by the newcomers (Judges 1:21 , 27–33 ). The list includes some of the most strategically located and influential cities in the later history of Israel: Jerusalem, Beth-Shean, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo, Gezer and Beth-Shemesh. In the summary of Israel’s victories in Joshua 12:7–24 , however, it is expressly stated that Jerusalem, Gezer, Ta’anach, Megiddo and Dor were defeated by “Joshua and the people of Israel.”- Ancient Israel
That the Canaanites remain a powerful force in the land well after the death of Joshua is demonstrated by the story of King Jabin, who (the text pointedly reports) reigns from Hazor (Judg 4:2). The book of Joshua, however, also mentions a King Jabin, a powerful king of Hazor, which the narrator reports as being “the foremost of all those kingdoms” (Josh 11:10). Joshua goes on to report that the Israelites annihilated the population and burned the city (Josh 11:13–14). If Joshua defeated Jabin and destroyed Hazor, what are we to make of the fact that a powerful king named Jabin is ruling from Hazor early in the period of the judges?- “Joshua, Book of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books
Thus the non-biblical data runs counter to Joshua, but is more in line with Judges.
Archaeology has raised serious doubts about the historical veracity of the conquest as depicted in Joshua 1–12. Cities such as Jericho and Ai, which are at the heart of the Bible’s conquest narrative (Josh 6–8), attest little or no occupation at the time that they were supposedly conquered by the invading Israelites. Moreover, Israelite culture seems to have its origins in central highland villages that were native to Canaan rather than being introduced from the outside…
-“Historiography, Old Testament,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books
If the Israelites did not actually kill slaughter every man, woman and child, why should Joshua portray them as doing such a terrible thing? One theory suggests that Joshua simply follows the genre conventions of other ancient Near Eastern “conquest narratives”; thus the
hyperbolic and totalizing rhetoric of the conquest accounts… should be understood as conventional language rather than literal report.- “Joshua, Book of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books
Human battles were thought to represent battles between their respective deities. Thus, for Israel to lose a skirmish or battle meant either that Yahweh was inferior or weaker than the god(s) of the peoples they were fighting, or else that Israel had not been worthy of divine support in battle. It is possible that genre conventions therefore required Yahweh to be completely triumphant, i.e. Israel defeats all comers, even if not historically accurate.
Particularly relevant here is the Egyptian Merneptah stele, dating to 1207 BC, roughly the period of Joshua/Judges. An Egyptian account of a military campaign into Canaan , it depicts Egypt as utterly destroying its foes per the convention. Notably, one of the named foes is indicated to be a people (not a land or city) named Israel. “Israel is laid waste and his seed is not.”
Was Israel, the people, laid waste and without descendants in 1207? Clearly not. This is both the earliest mention of Israel in history and a parallel in terms of convention. In any case, Joshua gives multiple hints of much later editing, and is far from a firsthand or contemporary source.
If the Undefeated Conquest model is historically inaccurate, what model takes its place? Scholars have offered two others, the Peasant Revolt model, and the Peaceful Infiltration model. Parts of these are hinted at in the text itself, as Joshua itself
“presents two points of view on how the possession of the land was accomplished: one presents it as a decisive conquest during Joshua’s time, and the other implies a gradual process of settlement and conflict.- “Joshua, Book of,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books
The peasant revolt model suggests that lower-class Canaanites threw off the shackles of their masters and rose up against them. The peaceful infiltration model suggests that Israelites slowly entered Canaan, and filled in the gaps. Each of these models have supporting data as well as problems, and the reality is probably a combination of all three. This is my own view, which I hold lightly. Namely, a small number of Israelites came out of Egypt. They generally settled where they could in Canaan (often in the less-inhabited hill country), but also had martial conflict with the inhabitants, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but eventually becoming the dominant force in the land. Canaanites who found their religion and laws attractive joined them, and identified with them. Thus, the Exodus/Conquest narrative would become the founding narrative of the people, regardless of where they came from or how they got there. This would be akin to how LDS all over the world and converts memorialize or celebrate the pioneers-crossing-the-plains narrative. There are other stories, and given that most LDS now live outside the US, only a minority actually has ancestors who crossed the plains. Yet this has become the narrative, and so it was with the Exodus/Conquest.
- I like Josh 3:5 enough that I memorized it in Hebrew. “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” hitqaddeshu ki machar ya’aseh adonai niphla’ot bachem.
- Joshua 5 portrays the Israelites as being circumcised… a second time. How, um, exactly, does that work? As it turns out, circumcision can be done in several different ways. Given their Egyptian time, it’s quite possible that the Israelites had been circumcised in the Egyptian fashion, which involved only a cut in the foreskin, instead of removal. The second circumcision, therefore, would finish the job.
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