Book of Joshua

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The Book of Joshua is the sixth book in both the Hebrew Tanakh and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. This book stands as the first in the Former (or First) Prophets covering the history of Israel from the possession of the Promised Land to the Babylonian Captivity.



Jewish tradition ascribes authorship of the book to Joshua. The Talmud states that the book was written by Joshua except for the last verses (24:29-33) which were added by Phinehas the priest.

Certainly, the author writes as an eyewitness to the accounts described, occasionally using first person pronouns (for instance, in Joshua 5:1), although Joshua himself is usually described in the third person. Some sections, however (eg. 5:9, 7:26, 24:29-33) could only have been added after his death (probably by Eleazar the Priest or his son Phinehas).

More recently, the authorship of the book of Joshua has come under dispute. Two possibilities have been suggested for the authorship of the book:

  1. Conservative scholars argue that the majority of the book of Joshua was written at the time of the Israelite invasion (the fifteenth century or twelfth century BCE), by a contemporary of Joshua and an eyewitness of the events that occurred.
  2. Modern critical scholars argue that Joshua was probably written in the post-exilic age, either from the JEDP sources that they believe were responsible for the Pentateuch, or by one of the prophets of the eighth century BCE.



The book of Joshua contains a history of the Israelites from the death of Moses to that of Joshua. After Moses' death, Joshua, by virtue of his previous appointment as Moses' successor, receives from God the command to cross the Jordan. In execution of this order Joshua issues the requisite instructions to the stewards of the people for the crossing of the Jordan; and he reminds the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half of Manasseh of their pledge given to Moses to help their brethren.

The book consists of three parts:

  1. The history of the conquest of the land (1-12).
  2. The allotment of the land to the different tribes, with the appointment of cities of refuge, the provision for the Levites (13-22), and the dismissal of the eastern tribes to their homes. This section has been compared to the Domesday Book of the Norman Conquest.
  3. The farewell addresses of Joshua, with an account of his death (23, 24).

Detailed summary

Spying the land (Chapter 2). Joshua sends out from Shittim two spies to explore the city of Jericho. They are saved from falling into the hands of the king by the shrewd tactics of Rahab. The spies return and report.

Crossing of Jordan (Chapters 3-4). The camp is broken at Shittim. A halt is made at the Jordan. Joshua addresses the people; assuring them that God is in the midst of them, that He will drive out the Canaanites, and that the Ark will cross the Jordan, whereupon a miraculous change will be worked in the waters of the river. The predicted miracle takes place as soon as the priests with the Ark wade into the water. In commemoration of the event, Joshua orders two monuments to be erected: one in the river-bed; the other on the west bank, at Gilgal. The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half of Manasseh number 40,000 warriors. The priests are bidden to come up out of the river's bed after the people have crossed over. This happens on the tenth day of the first month; and the camp is pitched at Gilgal.

Circumcision of the Israelites. Joshua is bidden to make flint knives wherewith to circumcise the Israelites, for those born in the desert had not been circumcised. This is done; Passover is celebrated; and the manna ceases. Joshua in front of Jericho receives the visit of a "captain of the host of the Lord" in the guise of a man, who declares that the soil on which Joshua is standing is holy ground.

The siege and capture of Jericho. After thirteen circuits (one every day for six days, and seven circuits on the seventh day) with seven priests blowing seven rams' horns and the people shouting, the walls cave in. Jericho is put under the ban; but Rahab is excepted. A curse is pronounced against any one who should rebuild the city. Joshua becomes famous throughout the whole land.

The expedition against Ai. Ai is surveyed and pronounced weak, hence the Israelite army sends only a small portion of the whole to attack this town. 3,000 Israelite soldiers are sent, but they are defeated by the warriors of Ai, and 36 of their number are killed. The failure of this expedition strikes terror into the heart of the people and brings Joshua to the verge of despair. But God announces that the people have sinned. As stated in the first verse, Achan has not respected God's commandment that the spoils of Jericho belonged to Him, and could not be taken by the people. The people must be reconsecrated. The sinner must be discovered by the casting of Yhwh's lot (Urim and Thummim.) This is done. By a process of elimination the guilt is limited to the tribe of Judah, then to the clan of the Zarhites, then to the sept of Zabdi; the individual members of Zabdi are then brought forward, man by man, and finally Achan is detected as the culprit. He admits having taken a costly Babylonian garment, besides silver and gold; and his confession is verified by the finding of the treasure buried in his tent. Achan is taken into the valley of Achor, and there stoned to death.

Entire army against Ai. The city is taken by clever strategy, 30,000 men being placed overnight in an ambush. The attacking force feigning flight, the King of Ai is drawn far away from the city; Joshua points with his lance toward the city; whereupon the men in ambush rush into it, while Joshua and the army with him face about. Thus the pursuing enemy is taken between the two sections of Israel's array. Not one man escapes; the city is burned; 12,000 inhabitants are killed, and the spoils are taken. The King of Ai is hanged to a tree until nightfall, when his body is thrown into a pit, where on a stone heap is raised. Joshua erects an altar on Mount Ebal as Moses had commanded, offering to Yhwh holocausts and sacrificing peace-offerings. On the stones of the altar he engraves a copy of the law of Moses; the people being ranged in two sections - one facing Ebal; the other, Gerizim - while the blessings and curses are read as ordained by Moses.

The Confederacy Against Joshua (Chapter 9). The confederacy of the native kings to fight Joshua. The Gibeonites by craft obtain a treaty from the Israelites, which even after the detection of the fraud is not abrogated. They are, however, degraded to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water" for the altar of Yhwh.

Alliance between the kings (Chapter 10). Adoni-zedek brings about an alliance between the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon, and they ("the five kings of the Amorites") besiege Gibeon. In their distress the Gibeonites implore Joshua's help. Joshua, assured by Yhwh of victory, comes up from Gilgal by a forced night march and attacks the allies suddenly. Thrown into confusion, the Amorites flee as far as the ascent of Beth-horon. To this battle is referred a song from the Book of Jashar, commanding the sun to be still at Gibeon and the moon in the valley of Ajalon. The miracle of sun and moon standing still on Gibeon, in response to Joshua's impassioned prayer of faith (Josh. 10:12-15), has given rise to much discussion. The five kings are captured, first being incarcerated in the cave where they had hidden for safety, then, after the pursuit had been discontinued,?scarcely one of the enemies escaping?being by order of Joshua humiliated and hanged. Then follows a detailed enumeration of the cities captured and put under ban. Joshua becomes master of the whole land?the hill-country, the southland, the lowland, and the slopes?leaving not one king alive, and banning all men from Kadesh-barnea unto Gaza, and all the district of Goshen unto Gibeon. After this expedition he returns to Gilgal.

Jabin of Hazor arrives Merom (Chapter 11). Jabin, King of Hazor, and his allies rendezvous at Merom. Joshua is assured by Yhwh of their total defeat, which in fact is brought about by a sudden attack on the part of Joshua. Pursuing them to a great distance (the cities are named), he hamstrings their horses and burns their chariots, capturing Hazor, killing all of its people, and burning the town. Other royal residences he takes by the sword, putting them under the ban. The spoils are taken, and the men are put to death. The cities on the hill are allowed to stand. Joshua drives the Anakim from the mountains, from Hebron, and from other places. Only in Gaza some remain. Finally the land has peace.

Chapter 12. Recapitulation of Joshua's conquests, with statistical details of the number of the kings (30 of them) captured and subdued.

Chapter 13. After an enumeration of the places still unconquered (mainly the coast districts of the Philistines) Joshua is bidden to apportion the land, the unconquered as well as the conquered, among nine and one-half tribes of Israel, the other two and one-half tribes having under Moses been given their portion on the east of the Jordan.

Chapter 14. Rsum of the foregoing reference to Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh, with a gloss concerning Levi's non-inheritance save as regards detached cities, while Joseph receives a double heritage. Caleb's claim to Hebron is allowed.

Chapter 15. The "lot" of Judah; Caleb's share; Expulsion by him of the three Anakim; Story of Kirjath-sepher; Othniel takes it and wins, as promised, Caleb's daughter for wife; Her successful plea for the gift of wells; Catalogue of the heritage of Judah; and a gloss on the continued dwelling of the Jebusites in Jerusalem (63).

Chapter 16. Lot of the Josephites (1-3). The Ephraimites own cities in the territory of Manasseh (9). Gloss to the effect that the Canaanites dwelling in Gezer had not been driven out, but had been reduced to slavery (10).

Chapter 17. Lot of Manasseh, Machir as a warrior taking for his prize Gilead and Bashan. Delimitation of Manasseh (7). Manasseh's assignments in Issachar and Asher (11). Gloss stating that these cities had not been captured (12). Protest of the Josephites against receiving one share only (14). Joshua advises them to conquer the wooded hill-land (15). Plea on their part that the mountain is not extensive enough, while the plains are held by Canaanites equipped with iron chariots (16). Joshua's consolatory encouragement (17).

Chapter 18. Erection of the Tabernacle at Shiloh (1). Seven tribes without allotment. Joshua urges these to appoint commissions of three men out of each tribe to go and take the land and to report to him, when, after dividing it into seven portions, he will cast the lot (2-7). The commissions carry out the errand and lay their book of record before Joshua, who then casts the lot (8-10). Benjamin's share (11). The boundaries (12-20). List of the cities (21-28).

Chapter 19. Simeon's share, in the territory of Judah. List of the cities (1-8). Reason why Simeon's lot was in Judean territory (9). Zebulun's share; its boundaries (10-14). Twelve cities not specified (15b). Issachar's share; its cities and boundaries (17-23). Asher's lot; its boundaries; summary gives twenty-two as the number of its cities (24-31). Naphtali's share; its boundaries and fortified cities (32-39). Dan's share; its cities enumerated (40-46). Why the Danites took Leshem = Dan (47). Joshua receives as his own share Timnath-serah (49-50). Eleazar and Joshua had assigned the lots before Yhwh at the gate of the Tabernacle at Shiloh (51). Cities of refuge established (51b-xx.).

Chapter 21. The Levites' assignment (1-8). Concluding paragraph, emphasizing God's fulfilment of His promise to the fathers (43-45).

The end. Dismissal to their homes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh with Joshua's blessing and an admonition to take heed of God's law as commanded by Moses. Now that they have become rich in cattle, silver, gold, iron, and garments they are to divide the booty with their brethren. Return of the east-Jordanic tribes; they build an altar at the stone-heap on the bank of the Jordan; the Israelites desire to punish them for this act; but they first send Phinehas and ten princes to the Reubenites, etc., to censure them, recalling the Peor episode and advising them to remove to Palestine. The Reubenites explain that in building the altar their intention was to show their fidelity to Yhwh,that their descendants might not be taunted with being untrue to Him. The delegation rejoices at the explanation, and upon their report the Israelites abandon the projected punitive expedition (9-34).

Chapter 23. Joshua, now old, calls an assembly of all Israel, at which he admonishes the people to remain loyal to the Torah of Moses.

Chapter 24. An account of a gathering of Israel at Shechem, at which Joshua delivers an impressive address, reviewing the past, and makes the people vow to remain faithful. He erects a great stone as a witness to the promise (1-28). Joshua dies (29). Joseph's bones are buried in Shechem (32). Eleazar dies and is buried (33).

The ethical problem of war and genocide

One difficulty in this book arises out of the command given by God to completely exterminate the Canaanites.

Liberal theologians see this as an ethically unjustifiable order to commit genocide, which is inconsistent with the overall view in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures of God as a loving, compassionate Creator. They see it as a theological polemic, with the majority of events invented during or after the Babylonian captivity, to encourage faithfulness to the Jewish creed at a time when it was being threatened. For instance, Morton (pp. 324-325) says that Joshua "should be understood as a rite of ancient peoples (Israel among them) whereby within the context of their times, they attempted to please God (or the gods)".

Conservative theologians, who see the book as a historically accurate account written during or soon after the life of Joshua, give one of the following explanations to this problem:

  1. War was an essential part of the history of the Near East in the fifteenth century BCE. Although it is still sinful, some commentators argue that the book shows God using sinful activities in order to accomplish his just purposes. This does not mean that God supports war, simply that he works with humans as they are. These commentators emphasise what they see as the depraved nature of Canaanite society, pointing to archaelogical evidence of practices such as child sacrifice (burning the infant victims alive). For instance, Hallam, who takes this view, lists a number of pieces of archaeological evidence to support this thesis: "Just a few steps from this temple was a cemetery, where many jars were found, containing remains of infants who had been sacrificed in this temple . . . Prophets of Baal and Ashtoreth were official murderers of little children." "Another horrible practice was [what] they called `foundation sacrifices.' When a house was to be built, a child would be sacrificed, and its body built into the wall. . . . The worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and other Canaanite gods consisted in the most extravagant orgies; their temples were centers of vice. . . . Canaanites worshiped, by immoral indulgence, . . . and then, by murdering their first-born children, as a sacrifice to these same gods." However, some of this evidence is disputed, with others arguing that it may have been invented at a later date in order to justify the act of extermination.
  2. Christian theologians have tended to emphasise what they see as the progressive nature of revelation in the bible. As the bible progresses, God is seen to reveal himself in ways that are fuller, clearer and more accurate, culminating in the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus Christ. God's command through Joshua to take possession of the land by force of arms is viewed in the context of God's command through the second Josuha, Jesus Christ, to bring about his kingdom through the peaceful application of his teaching.

Archaeological evidence

The Amarna letters, which date from the middle of the 14th century BCE, consist of official communications from Amorite, Phoenician, and Philistine chiefs to the kings of Egypt and provide an independent glimpse into the actual condition of Canaan at the time of this work. The testimony of this archive, however, presents many difficulties of its own, including the mysterious, yet clearly warlike habiru, who are the subject of many letters.

In addition, we also have a letter from a military officer, "master of the captains of Egypt," which dates from near the end of the reign of Ramesses II. Its account of a curious account of a journey, probably official, which the officer undertook through Palestine as far north as Aleppo, provides more information.

Among the things brought to light by this letter and the Amarna letters is the state of confusion and decay that had fallen on Egypt. The Egyptian garrisons that had held possession of Palestine from the time of Thutmose III, some two hundred years before, had now disappeared. The way was thus opened for the Hebrews. In the history of the conquest there is no mention of Joshua having encountered any Egyptian force. The tablets contain many appeals to the king of Egypt for help against the inroads of the Hebrews, but no help seems ever to have been sent.

Excavations of several Canaanite cities have provided contradictory evidence for establishing the historicity of the Book of Joshua. The Tells of Lachish and Hazor were both Canaanite cities in the Late Bronze Age. Around the year 1200 BCE both cities were destroyed and the following layers of occupational debris contain Israelite artifacts. The archaeological records of these cities show that a destructive invasion by the Israelites occured at the end of the Late Bronze Age. The excavation of Ai yielded evidence which disagreed with Ai's destruction in the Book of Joshua. Ai appears to have been abandoned in the Early Bronze Age and not reoccupied until after the Israelite invasion. It has been suggested that the destruction of Ai was added to the Book of Joshua as an etiological myth, explaining the visible ruins of the Early Bronze Age city.


  • Morton, William H. Joshua. The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2. Ed. Clifton J. Allen, et al. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970.
  • Halley, Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927, 1965.
  • Mazar, Amihai. The Archaelogy of the land of the Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

External links

Online translations of the Book of Joshua:

Related article:

  • Book of Joshua article ( (Jewish Encyclopedia)

This entry incorporates text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, with some modernisation.

Template:JewishEncyclopediade:Buch Josua es:Josu fr:Livre de Josu ko:여호수아 id:Yosua he:ספר יהושע nl:Bijbelboek Jozua ja:ヨシュア記 pl:Księga Jozuego ru:Книга Иисуса Навина sv:Josua


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