The book of Joshua (Joshua 1)

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No one knows for certain who wrote/complied the book of Joshua or when it was written. Scholars have proposed dates ranging from immediately after Joshua’s lifetime to the time of Samuel to the early monarchy and even to the postexilic period.

According to early Jewish tradition, Joshua wrote the entire book, except, of course, for the passage concerning his funeral. Several verses do refer to his writing or to those whom he commanded to write (Joshua 18:8, 24:25), and in 5:1 and 6 the author described details as though he were present, using the pronouns “us” and “we”.

Yet evidence suggesting that the book was written years after Joshua’s death includes:

  • An eyewitness to the miracle of the sun standing still would not have needed to cite a source (i.e. the Book of Jashar, 10:13).
  • The writer used the phrase “to this day” 12 times (e.g. 7:26, 8:29, 15:63), implying that he lived after the events had taken place. On the other hand, some verses (e.g. 6:25) imply that the book, or at least its sources, was written before the generation of Israelites involved in the conquest had died.

Scholars who date the book of Joshua after the end of the monarchy in 586 B.C. consider it to be part of a unified “Deuteronomistic history” of Israel that spans the historical books of Deuteronomy throughout Kings. This would place its writing about 800 years after the events it records. Some scholars suggest that Samuel may have helped to shape or compile the book.

Israelites born after the conquest were the original readers of this book.

Joshua continues the story of the conquest from the point at which Deuteronomy left off. The military superpowers who had been players in the action (Hittites, Babylonians, Egyptians) no longer had a significant presence; instead, the Israelites would have to confront a number of independent city-states or groupings of states (cf. 9:1-2. 10:5-20, 11:1-8).

Canaanite culture was thriving during this period of the Late Bronze Age, as illustrated by thousands of artefacts, as well as by the excavated ruins of the ancient kingdom of Ugarit, tombs, altars and pagan temples.

As you read: Empowered by God and commissioned to replace Moses (Deuteronomy 31:23, Joshua 1:5), Joshua stood ready to complete Moses’ work: to establish Israel – a second generation of former slaves – in the promised land. Be on the alert for evidence that, as God’s handpicked spokesperson, Joshua would make every attempt to hold Israel accountable to fulfilling its part of its covenant with God.

Note God’s unwavering resolution and intervention in helping the Israelites defeat the idolatrous Canaanites. Pay close attention to the consequences of covenant disobedience at Ai (chapter 7). Think about the significance of Israel’s covenant renewal with the one true God (8:30-35, 24:1-27), who had called His people to obey Him and to reflect His character. Try to enter vicariously into the joy the Israelites must have felt as they received God’s promised gifts of land (chapters 13-21).

Did you know that in the ancient Near East a judicial verdict of the gods was commonly obtained by compelling an accused person to submit to a trial-by-water ordeal? Usually this involved casting the accused into a river. If the person drowned, the gods had found him or her guilty. Here the Israelites engaged in a different kind of trial-by-water ordeal (3:10-11). Did you know that when Israelite officers placed their feet on the necks of great and powerful kings they had subdued, they were recognizing them as  frail human beings like everyone else? This practice, widespread in ancient times, is pictured in the artwork of Egypt and Assyria (10:24). Did you know that the use of lots in Old Testament context placed everything in God’s hands – making it clear that chance did not come into the picture (14:1-5)? Did you know that horses and chariots posed an awesome challenge to the Israelites, whose own armies was made up exclusively of foot soldiers (11:1-5)? Did you know that “defiled”, a term for ritual uncleanness, did not necessarily imply something sinful (22:19)?


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