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An Introduction to the Book of Joshua

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A. A Recurring View of History based upon YHWH’s covenants:

1. Western view of history is primarily linear as it traces events in a chronological line from A to Z with cause and effect viewed in naturalistic terms

2. An Ancient Near Eastern view of history is primarily cyclic (often around the regular cycle of seasons) with cause and effect viewed in supernatural terms

3. The Ancient Near Eastern neighbors of Israel sought to direct (or control) their historical cycles of destiny by the recitation of appropriate incantations or omens

4. Israel was forbidden in their Law to practice divination, omens, and incantations, therefore, they sought to direct (or control) their history by conforming to their covenant with YHWH

5. Therefore theology and history merged for Israel through the covenants of YHWH, and the historical books unfold YHWH’s sovereign, covenant work in history:

a. Cause and effect are understood in view of God’s covenant response to human activities and decisions:

1) Note the cycles of Judges

2) Note the apostasy in the books of Kings

b. In particular, the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants explain YHWH’s sovereign unfolding of history for Israel

B. The Theology of the Historical Books is Deuteronomistic:

1. The concept of a Deuteronomistic History was a development of the earlier source-critical approach to the Pentateuch (JEDP), but first found its detailed expression in 1943 by Martin Noth in his work The Deuteronomistic History (Sheffield, England: JSOT, 1981)

2. A classic Deuteronomistic History would affirm that the historical books of Deuteronomy--2 Kings were the editorial work of prophets during the eighth century B.C. in order to promote religious reform which did not occur until after Josiah read the book (cf. 2 Ki. 22-23)

3. The problems of this classic approach are enormous for the conservative student of scripture including deception concerning Mosaic authority for Deuteronomy, and a rewriting of history for political purpose by the eighth century prophets

4. There are many levels upon which one can address the veracity of the classic Deuteronomistic approach (see Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament) including the fact that 2 Chronicles 34 places the reforms of Josiah before the discovery of the book of the Law in the temple. Therefore, it seems best to reject the historical reconstruction of a classic Deuteronomistic History

5. Nevertheless, the theological emphasis of a Deuteronomistic History is valuable for understanding the historical books because Israel’s history is viewed in terms of her loyalty to the covenant--especially Deuteronomy 27--30:

a. Obedience to the Mosaic Law and faith in YHWH will bring blessings and prosperity of the Mosaic covenant

b. Disobedience to the Mosaic Law and a refusal to trust in YHWH will bring cursing (cf. Deut. 4; Josh. 23; Judges 2:11-23; 1 Sam. 12; 2 Sam. 7; 1 Ki. 8; 2 Ki. 17:7-23)

c. Nevertheless, Israel is continually disobedient and deserving of judgment, but God does not completely destroy the nation because of his covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12)

C. The Design of the Historical Books: To reveal God who works in accordance with his covenants

1. Western societies write history for information’s sake, or to learn lessons from others, or to analyze elements of naturalistic cause and effect

2. Ancient Near Eastern societies often wrote history as a tool of propaganda in order to honor those in power with “historical” accounts which ignored the negative and embellished the positive

3. However, Israel’s historical approach hardly could be considered to be with the design of propaganda (even for the Davidic dynasty) since it includes so much of the faults of its rulers (including David--2 Samuel)

4. The design of Israel’s historical literature was to teach about the way in which YHWH, their covenant God, acted in history--especially in view of Israel’s failures and unfaithfulness:

a. Legal literature declared God’s will which was designed to mold the moral, spiritual, and ethical direction of the nation

b. Historical literature was a revelation (record) of the sovereign work of God in accordance with his covenants in history

c. Prophetic literature was a declaration of the will of God in history in judgment of the nation’s historical dealings and in promise of God’s future blessing

d. Although Israel was unfaithful to their Mosaic covenant with YHWH and often received the judgment due them from their suzerain-Lord, YHWH was also committed to his people and delivered them in accordance with his promises to Abraham with an eye to a New Covenant which He would work in their hearts

II. AUTHOR/EDITORS: Joshua, Eleazar the high priest and his son Phinehas, and/or other contemporaries of Joshua who outlived him

A. Hexateuch: Some have identified this book with the Wellhausenian school which connected it with as part of a Hexateuch (Genesis-Joshua) with the same sources which made up the Pentateuch (JEDP) thus dating the book with eight and seventh century sources and a post-exilic author1

B. Deuteronomic History: Some understand this book to have been the product of the editorial work of prophets during the eighth century B.C. in order to promote religious reform

C. A Fifteenth Century Author: There is much evidence to support that the book of Joshua was written by an author (authors) who lived during or near to the time when the events occurred:

1. External Evidence:

a. The Talmud affirms that “Joshua wrote his own book” and that his death was recorded by Eleazar son of Aaron and that Eleazar’s death was recorded by his son, Phinehas.2

b. Jewish medieval expositors3 affirmed that most4 of the book came from Joshua’s time5

2. Internal Evidence: Supports Joshua and those who may have been his contemporaries:

a. The book has an eyewitness quality:

1) Especially in chapters 5--7

2) Note the “we” and “us” references in 5:1, 6

3) There are vivid descriptions of the sending of the spies, the crossing of the Jordan, the capture of Jericho, the battle of Ai

b. The details in the latter chapters suggest that those accounts were written by an author who was a contemporary with Joshua if not Joshua himself:6

1) The chief Phoenician city was Sidon (13:4ff; 19:28), but later, Tyre conquered it

2) Rahab was still alive (6:25)

3) The sanctuary was not yet permanently located (9:27)

4) The Gibeonites were still menial servants in the sanctuary (5:27; cf. 2 Sam. 21:1-6)

5) The Jebusites still occupied Jerusalem (15:8; cf. 2 Sam. 5:6ff)

6) The Canaanites were still in Gezer (16:10; cf. 1 Kgs. 9:16)

7) Old place names (Canaanite cities) are used and must be interpreted7

8) The Philistines were not a national menace to Israel as they became after their invasion about 1200 B.C.

9) Joshua is said to have written parts of the book himself (8:32; 24:26)

c. Some parts of the book were written latter than Joshua, but not much later:

1) The phrase “to this day” suggests a time later, but not much later, than the event itself8

2) Joshua’s death (24:29-32)

3) The relocation of Dan (19:40; cf. Judges 18:27ff)

4) Reference to the “hill country of Judah” and “of Israel” (11:21) may presuppose a division of the country after Solomon’s death, but this could have been a later editorial update

5) Passages which summarize the life of Joshua (4:14) or later Israelite history (10:14)

6) References to the book of Jashar (10:13; cf. 2 Sam 1:18)

7) References to Jair (13:30; see Judges 10:3-5)

8) Expansion of the territory of Caleb (15:13-19; see Judges 1:8-15)

d. Woudstra’s comments are helpful: “The lack of unanimity among those who argue for a late date, though paralleled somewhat by a similar deficiency among those favoring an early date, is nevertheless a just reason to examine the data afresh and to maintain a healthy skepticism with respect to some of the critics’ claims. Is this not ample justification for taking the presentation of the book to be more true to fact than has long been allowed? Would not that also have some bearing on its date of composition? Could not the view of history developed in Joshua have been the product of the days in which Israel, according to the book’s own testimony, ‘served the Lord’ (24:31), i.e., in the days of Joshua himself and of the elders who outlived him? The spirit of Joyful optimism which pervades the book by and large could perhaps be accounted for best by that assumption.”9


A. Hebrew Scriptures: One of the Prophets

1. Joshua is grouped with the “Writings”

2. The “Prophets” is grouped into “Former Prophets” (Joshua-2 Kings [not including Ruth]) and “Latter Prophets” (Isaiah-Malachi [without Lamentations and Daniel])

3. It was the first book of the Former Prophets

4. Perhaps this book was included with the prophets for the following reasons:

a. Joshua was himself a prophet

b. The book of Joshua proclaims truths taught by the prophets

c. “Labeling them as prophetic rather than historical suggests that these books are primarily theological in nature rather than annalistic.”10

d. Classification of the Prophets11: The prophets may be identified within three basic categories--(1) pre-monarchy12, (2) pre-classical13, (3) classical14--as the following chart unfolds:15









Nation guidance, Maintenance of justice, Spiritual overseer




King and court

Military advice, Pronouncement of rebuke or blessing







Mouthpiece-social/spiritual commentator


Rebuke concerning current condition of society; leads to warnings of captivity, destruction, exile, and promise of eventual restoration, Call for justice and repentance

Writing Prophets

Best example: Jeremiah

B. Greek/English Scriptures: One of the Historical Books

1. As with the Greek Septuagint (LXX) Joshua is grouped along with the twelve historical books (Joshua to Esther).

2. As Walton and Hill write, “the books share a prophetic view of history in which cause and effect are tied to the blessings and cursings of the covenant.”17

IV. DATE: Any time after 1399 B.C.

A. Some place the time of the conquest early (fifteenth century B.C.) and some date the conquest late (twelfth century B.C.) depending upon their date for the Exodus

B. This writer holds to an early date for the Exodus (1446 B.C.) in accordance with a literal interpretation of the biblical numbers in Exodus 12:40 (“Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years”), Judges 11:26 (“While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?”) and 1 Kings 6:1 (“Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord”)

1. A plausible (and approximate) reconstruction of the Exodus would be as follows:18

a. 966 = 4th full year (actually into the fifth) of Solomon’s reign (971-931) when the Temple was begun

b. +44 yrs = start of David’s reign (1010)

c. +40 yrs = start of Saul’s reign (1050)

d. +40 yrs = the time from Saul to Jephthah’s statement (1050-1090)

e. +300 yrs = the time in the land (Jephthah’s statement) (1390)

f. +16 yrs = Joshua’s leadership (1406)

g. +40 yrs = wilderness wondering (1446)

2. This matches 1 Kings 6:1 where 966 + 480 = 1446!
+430 yrs = the time that Israel lived in Egypt before the Exodus (Ex. 12:40) and therefore Jacob moved to Egypt in 1876 B.C.

C. The beginning of the conquest of the land was in 1406 B.C. forty years after the Exodus (1446)


A. The beginning of the conquest of the land was in 1406 B.C. forty years after the Exodus (1446)

B. The Actual Conquest lasted for 7 years or until 1399 B.C.:19

1. Caleb stated that he was 40 years old when he went to spy out the land in Joshua 14:7

2. The wilderness wanderings lasted 38 years (from that point)20 which brings Caleb’s age to 78 at the beginning of the conquest (40+38=78)

3. Caleb then stated that he was 85 years old at the end of the conquest (Joshua 14:10). This is confirmed by Caleb’s statement that the Lord provided for grace to the people for 45 years since Kadesh Barnea (38 years of wandering plus 7 years of conquest)

4. Therefore, If the conquest was begun in 1406 B.C. after the wanderings, and it was completed seven years later, then the book could have been written any time after 1399 B.C.


A. He was the son of Nun, an Israelite of the tribe of Joseph (half-tribe of Ephraim) born in Egypt, who was a young man at the time of the Exodus (Ex 33:11)

B. His name was Hosea (“salvation”), but Moses called him Jehoshua or Joshua (“YHWH saves”)

C. He was Chosen by Moses to be his assistant or personal attendant (Ex 24:13; 32:17; 33:11)

1. He was present on the mountain when Moses received the Law (Ex 24:13ff)

2. He was guardian of the tent of meeting when Moses met with YHWH (Ex 33:11)

D. He was given charge of a detachment of Israelites to repel an Amalekite attack at Rephidim (Ex 17:9)

E. He was one of the twelve spies sent into the land who trusted in the Lord to give the land to the people (Numbers 13:8; 14:30)

F. He was commissioned by YHWH to become leader when Moses died (Deut 31:14f, 23).

G. He courageously served as a godly servant before the Lord to bring the people into the promised land21


A. For God to bless Israel with a land that He promised in His election of Abraham and his descendants

B. For God to complete the formation of the nation as an elect people, governed by God under law, and occupying a homeland

C. To demonstrate for Israel that the gifts of the land rested in the historical fulfillment of YHWH’s promises

D. To confirm that the Lord will fulfill His promises as the nation responds in obedience to the law of Moses22

E. Joshua and Judges are a study in Contrast:



Creates Faith

Exposes unbelief and Disobedience

Describes Israel’s Possession of the Land

Describes Israel’s Occupation of the Land

Occurs in Fulfillment of God’s Promise

Experiences the Cursings and Blessings of the Mosaic Covenant

Presents a Unique Test of Faith

Presents the Normative Experience of a Sinful Nation

Presents the Consequences of Faithful Obedience

Presents the Consequences of Continued, Unchallenged Disobedience

1 Note that the Hebrew Scriptures places this book among the prophets rather than the historical books. This argues against a Hexateuch.

2 See Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, 5.

3 Rashi and David Kimchi.

4 They felt that 19:37 and 14:14-19 must have come from a later writer. Also Abrabanel was one who thought the expression until this day (4:9; 5:9; 7:26 etc.) identified Samuel as its author (see Woudstra, Joshua, 5).

5 Woudstra, Joshua, 5.

6 LaSor, Hubbard, Bush, Old Testament Survey, 202.

7 Baalah for Kiriath Jerim and Kiriath Arba for Hebron (15:9, 13).

8 Hill and Walton write, Joshua 16:10 mentions that the Canaanites were not driven out of Gezer and lived there 'to this day.' First Kings 9:16 reports that Pharaoh conquered Gezer and killed all the Canaanites living there; this suggests that Joshua was written before the time of Solomon (A Survey of the OT, 161-62). Perhaps this would point to contemporaries of Joshua who out lived him and placed the book in its final form.

9 Martin H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, NICOT, 12-13.

10 Walton and Hill, SOT, 155.

11 La Sor et al offers a complete list with central passages, Old, pp. 301-303.

12 These are Joshua, Deborah, Samuel (although Samuel is transitional as the last of the judges and the first of the monarchical [pre-classical] prophets).

They were called prophets because: (1) they were chosen in order to received revelation, (2) Moses is the prototype of a prophet [Deut. 18:18; 34:10], (3) Samuel marked a time when prophecy resumed [1 Sam. 3:7-9]. See La Sor et al, Old, pp. 300-301.

13 These are scattered throughout the historical books including oracles by Nathan, Elijah, Elisha.

14 These are most commonly identified with the writing prophets from the eighth through fourth century B.C. primarily including those who wrote books (Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Obed, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).

15 Hill and Walton, A Survey, p. 311.

16 Jonah is unique because it does not contain a collection of prophetic oracles to the nation, but is narrative about the prophet.

17 Walton and Hill, SOT, 155.

18 Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, 88-90.

19 See Donald K. Campbell, Joshua, in BKC, 1:357.

20 The internal record of the chronology from Egypt to Moab is helpful in a reconstruction of the dates:

(1) The people departed from Egypt on the fifteenth day of the first month--March/April [Nisan] 15, 1446 (Num 33:3; cf. Ex. 12:2 ,5)

(2) The people reached the wilderness of Sinai on the first day of the third month--May/June [Sivan] 1, 1446 (Ex 19:1)

(3) The tabernacle was erected on the first day of the first month of the second year--March/April [Nisan] 1, 1445 (Ex. 40:17)

(4) Leviticus is given during the one month interval immediately following the filling of the Tabernacle by the glory of YHWH and before the people prepared to leave Sinai for the promised land--March/April [Nisan] 1-30, 1445 (Num 1:1; cf. Ex 40:17)

(5) Numbers opens with a census taken on the first day of the second month in the second year--April/May [Iyyar or Ziv] 1, 1445 (Num 1:1)

(6) The cloud is taken up to begin to lead the people to the promised land from the wilderness of Sinai on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year--April/May [Iyyar or Ziv] 20, 1445 (Num 10:11)

(7) The people sin at Kadesh=Barnea (Num 13--14) and are sentenced to wander 40 years in the wilderness (Num 14:33). Numbers covers 38 years and nine months (cf. Num 1:1 with Deut 1:3)

(8) Aaron dies on Mount Hor on the first day of the fifth month in the fortieth year--July/August [Ab] 1, 1406 (Num 33:38)

(9) Deuteronomy opens on the Transjordan on the first day or the eleventh month of the fortieth year after what should have been an eleven day journey--January/February [Shebat] 1, 1406 (Deut 1:1-3)

21 LaSor et al write, Bust Joshua was a servant who had experienced the deliverance from Egypt, and the giving of the law at Sinai, the terrible frustrations and sufferings of the wilderness, and the tremendous faith of Moses. It is entirely inconsistent with the whole thread of the story to suppose, as did scholars of a previous generation, that various strands of stories involving the gradual migration of Hebrews in Canaan over perhaps two or three centuries were woven into the story, and that only then was Joshua attached as its hero. (OTS, 201-202).

22 Woudstra writes, One might say, therefore, that the occasion for the writing of the book of Joshua was the covenant between God and Israel and the need, flowing from the covenant, to keep alive the memories of the past in order both to perceive thereby the significance of the present, and to open up vistas of the future (Joshua, 17).

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines

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