The sixth book of the Old Testament.

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Previous book: Deuteronomy | Next book: Judges
Everything King James Bible

The sixth book of the Old Testament, also called Josue. Joshua, minister of Moses, is appointed by God to take Moses' place as leader upon Moses' death.

The first part describes God's renewal of the promise of the Promised Land. Joshua and an armed force (about 40,000 men), accompanied by the priests and the Ark of the Covenant, marched against Jericho. When they reached the river Jordan and the Ark touched the water, the river was dammed by the Power of God, and the Israelite host passed across the dry river bed. (Joshua 3:15) One man chosen from each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel took a stone from the riverbed as a memorial of the event. When all had crossed the Jordan began to flow again. They camped at Gilgal and made a monument to God's power from the 12 stones.

Jericho was a walled city, and was shut tight against the invaders. God spoke to Joshua (Joshua 6) and told him to take his army and circle the walled city once each day for six days. Before the Ark of the Covenant were to march seven priests with seven ram's horns. On the seventh day the army was to circle seven times, with the priest blowing on the horns and the people shouting. Then the walls would fall.

Joshua followed these instructions, cautioning the people not to shout until instructed. On the seventh day after the seventh circling all shouted on command as the priests blew on the horns. As the song says, the walls came tumblin' down. The people sacked the city and put all within it (save the family of Rahab who had sheltered Joshua's spies) to the sword. They looted all of the gold and silver, supposedly for god's coffers, and put the city to the torch.

They they went to battle against the city of Ai. They laid an ambush and then lured the city's defenders out for battle. The ambushers crept into the city and put it to the torch (Joshua 8:19). The Ai army fled, and the people were put to the sword and the King of Ai was hanged¹.

Then the city of Gibeon made peace with Joshua, but the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jerimoth, Lachis, and Eglon rose against Gibeon to punish it. To make a long story short, Joshua's forces opposed them and strenghtened by God, verily, Joshua's army kicked their asses. The kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jerimoth, Lachis, and Eglon were captured and hanged. (Joshua 10:25)

Its major cities broken, the rest of the region falls soon after - Joshua 11 is filled with marching about and looting. Thus is the Promised Land delivered to Joshua and the people of Israel.

The rest of the Book of Joshua details the division of the land unto the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Finally, at the age of one hundred and ten, Joshua dies.

Deuteronomy | Judges

This is part of a series of original summations of the Old Testament by me, Lord Brawl, prepared on Sundays as a nod toward the faith of my youth.

1. As I've remarked elsewhere, the Old Testament is a bloody place. In fairness we note that this was standard military practice, not unusual cruelty.
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
Book: Joshua
Chapters: 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10 · 11 · 12 · 13 · 14 · 15 · 16 · 17 · 18 · 19 · 20 · 21 · 22 · 23 · 24 ·

Here is the history of Israel's passing into the land of
Canaan, conquering and dividing it, under the command of Joshua,
and their history until his Death. The power and Truth of God in
fulfilling his promises to Israel, and in executing his justly
threatened vengeance On the Canaanites, are wonderfully
displayed. This should teach us to regard the tremendous curses
denounced in the Word of God against impenitent sinners, and to
seek Refuge in Christ Jesus.
And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, "The land that we went through is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them," But the whole congregation threatened to stone them. (Numbers 14:6-10)


At the end of Exodus when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt he sent twelve spies to reconnoitre the Land of Canaan. Joshua and Caleb were among these and shared a confidence that God would give the Land of Canaan to the Congregation of Israel. Joshua's faith in God is demonstrated by his conviction that, with the support of God, they shall be able to drive the present inhabitants of Canaan out.

Works Cited and Consulted

Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Alternate Translation of Yehoshua

While Yehoshua is translated as Jesus in most English Bibles, Joshua is another possible translation. Joshua also holds more of the original sounds than the name Jesus. Compare the Spanish speaking use of the name Jesús with the use of Joshua in English.

Fact:

The historical authenticity of the book of Joshua is one of the most commonly and fiercely debated topics in modern Biblical discourse.

(And it mostly comes down to archaeology.)

The Old Testament book of Joshua recounts in extraordinary (often brutal) detail the miraculous invasion of the land of Canaan by the Israelites, led by the cunning Joshua, successor of Moses. It contains some of the Old Testament’s most memorable stories, from the sun standing still amidst a crucial battle to the fall of the magnificent walls of Jericho, the stuff of heroes and legends. Archeological findings, however, have complicated traditional readings of the book, making it strikingly clear that it is very likely that events during the time the book claims to have taken place were unlikely to have unfolded in the manner Joshua would have us believe.

Before breaching the subject of archeology’s effects on the book of Joshua, it is necessary to take a look at the empirical findings of archeologists concerned with the book. Perhaps most problematically, many of the sites listed in Joshua as conquered show no evidence of conquering. (Ai, for instance, the Biblical site of a vicious battle and brutal execution, seems not to have been settled at all when the Israelites supposedly raided it.*) Similarly, while some of Joshua’s landmarks do exhibit evidence of a violent end, the scale of these settlements differs greatly from how it is presented in the Hebrew scripture. In one instance, recovered letters to the Pharaoh from Jerusalem and Megiddo requested that soldiers be sent to protect the settlements, but we find no evidence of the dazzling multitudes of warriors described in Joshua – Jerusalem requested a mere 50 soldiers, while Megiddo asked for 100.* (As a corollary to this, even in instances where Biblical cities are found to have been razed, there is strong evidence that the Israelites were not likely to have been the conquerors.) Regardless, scholars do know that a group calling itself “Israel” was in the area at this time, and evidence is present of a remarkable rise in the numbers of settlements during the same period.

Archeology’s most immediate effect on the book of Joshua, then, is to call into question whether or not one may take the book as a historical account at face value. If the Israelites really brought down the walls of Jericho, shouldn’t archeologists have found the walls? The Canaanite landscape unearthed by archeologists seems to overwhelmingly suggest that the events recorded in the book of Joshua simply never happened, a notion with striking implications. If the Israelites never conquered the entire land of Canaan, if they did not make a miraculous escape from Egypt into the desert (only to come blazing out of it to triumph over the Canaanites), then who were they? This question has become the source of immense scholarly debate, with some suggesting a nomadic group that “inherited” the land, others suggesting a marginalized group within Canaanite society at large, and still others claiming a desert people who settled the land.* Regardless, Israel became a presence in the Canaanite region, and the stage is now set for scholarly debate on precisely how this came to be the case.

On the other hand, the very practice of archeology itself has also been called into question. It may be naive to simply suspect that those who level criticisms on archeology at large are those who perceive that they have something to lose by Biblical historicism coming under fire. While this seems often to be the case, archeology has a handful of very real problems apart from the conclusions archeologists draw. It is, in example, a largely subjective practice that looks very much like a strictly objective one. Artifacts are found and interpreted, and interpretations must necessarily flow from the archeologist’s own perspective and the knowledge they have of the period in question, both of which are fallible. There is also the risk of destroying or diluting evidence at dig sites in the process of studying them. In archeology’s defense, however, G. Ernest Wright remarks that “great advances have been made in solving the problem of how to dig a site in such a way that a maximum of data is recovered before the evidence is destroyed,” citing the methods employed by such modern archeologists as Kathleen Kenyon, George Reisner, and Clarence Fisher.§ Still, when criticism is leveled at something as divisive as the Old Testament, one can expect fervent criticisms to be aimed at archeological studies in return.

Having laid out the complications that archeology unearths, then, far larger questions arise: if Joshua is not a strictly historical text, how should one interpret it? What does it mean if it is “true,” and what does it mean if it’s “false” in a historical sense? Multiple interpretations acknowledge the existence of etiologies within Joshua, essentially folk stories explaining the origins of familiar places, names, and practices. Bettler uses the example of Ai, which translates to “heap of ruins,” asserting that the story of Ai explains quite simply how it became a heap of ruins, when in fact archeological evidence suggests that it had been one long before the Israelites settled the area. Joshua is full of such explanations, including how the Gibeonites became Israelite servants (9:27). Gordon Wenham (and countless other scholars) have also stressed its value as a Deuteronomic text, claiming that it expresses the same priestly and theological concerns as Deuteronomy and was thus edited at a later time to reflect such ideologies. Wenham maintains that Joshua shares with Deuteronomy various theological motifs, including “the holy war of conquest, the distribution of the land, the unity of all Israel, Joshua as the successor of Moses, and the covenant.” Indeed, the book of Joshua begins with the death of Moses, just as Deuteronomy ends with it, and Joshua exhibits several instances of apparent priestly concerns. (Circumcision comes up in 5:2-9, in example, and Torah study in 1:5-9.†) The most popular interpretation, then, is a combination of several ideas: Joshua is mythical in origin, a set of stories recounting to future generations how the people of Israel came into the land through miraculous, God-given victories, stressing various aspects of traditional morality and priestly concerns.

Still, those who hold that the Old Testament is true in a literal, word-for-word sense will always hold opposing views to this one, claiming that the archeological findings are flawed or that various circumstances (perhaps in and of themselves miraculous) have wiped the landscape of the evidence of battles and former cities. The historical authenticity of the book, of course, holds different implications for different individuals. For some, it is a purely academic matter. For others, the idea of it as a sort of folklore may mean a crisis of faith. Regardless of what the individual brings to the study of the book, however, it is clear that the most profound (and perhaps most overlooked) effect that archeology has had on viewing this book is that it has opened the floodgates for a wave of analysis and debate, dialogue on its origins and on the origins of Israel itself, and new ideas about what it means for a Biblical text to hold truth.

Works Cited

† Brettler, Marc Zvi. “The Walls Came Tumbling Down.” How To Read the Bible. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2005, pp.95-105.

* Finkelstein, Israel and Silberman, Neil. ““The Conquest of Canaan” and “Who Were the Israelites?” The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001, pp.72-122

‡ Wenham, Gordon J. “The Deuteronomic Theology of the Book of Joshua”. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 90, No. 2. (Jun., 1971), pp. 140-148.

§ Wright, G. Ernest. “Archeology and Old Testament Studies”. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 77, No. 1. (Mar., 1958), pp. 39-51.

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