Book of Joshua

JOSHUA, BOOK OF. Standing sixth in Scripture, this book describes how Moses’ successor, after whom the book is named, conquered Canaan (Josh.1.1; Josh.24.31; see Joshua). But while Joshua is the first of “the historical books” in English (and Greek), it introduces “the prophets” in the original Hebrew canon of Law, Prophets, and Writings. These prophetic books include the “former prophets”—Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings—since biblical prophets, as God’s spokesmen (Exod.7.1-Exod.7.2), enforced their messages using the past as well as the future. Joshua exemplifies historical “prophetic” preaching, in respect of authorship as well as of content.

Bibliography: Carl Armerding, The Fight for Palestine in the Days of Joshua, 1949; I. Jensen, Joshua: Rest-Land Won, 1966; R. G. Boling, Joshua (AB), 1982.——JBP

JOSHUA, BOOK OF. The sixth book of the OT, and the first book of the Prophets (נְבִיאִ֔ים), the second great division of the Heb. canon. It is named after Joshua (q.v.), the leader of the Israelites during their invasion and settlement by tribes in the Promised Land.


Joseph prob. rose to power as vizier of Egypt during that country’s illustrious twelfth dynasty (1991-1786). It is known that Pharaoh Sesostris III (1878-1843) broke the power of the landed nobility, “reducing the monarchs to the status of servants of the crown and doing away with their feudal states” (W. C. Hayes, The Sceptre of Egypt, I [1953], 196). The explanation of how he accomplished this may possibly be found in Genesis 47:13-26, the account of Joseph’s buying up the fields of Egypt for Pharaoh. The cultural milieu of the Joseph narratives is thoroughly Egyp., and the international political situation seems peaceful enough throughout the land, unbroken by the later strife caused by the foreign Hyksos rule in the Delta of Egypt (1730-1570). The seat of government remained in the Memphis area just S of Cairo throughout the twelfth and thirteenth dynasties. The region of Goshen would have been a comfortable distance from the palace (Gen 46:28-34).

The new king who rose against (qûm ’al) Egypt and “who did not know Joseph” (Exod 1:8), i.e. who refused to recognize Joseph’s contribution to Egypt’s history, was likely a Hyksos ruler in the Nile Delta region. If the Hyksos afflicted instead of favored the Israelites, forcing them to build Pithom and Raamses (the Hyksos capital also known as Avaris or Tanis, most likely to be identified with the site of Qantir in the NE Delta), this would explain why Israel did not flee Egypt when native Egyptians thrust out the Hyksos before 1550 b.c.

The Pharaohs of the eighteenth dynasty (1567-1320) evidently continued to enslave the Israelites until Moses finally led them into Sinai, c. 1445 b.c., 480 years before Solomon began to build the Temple (1 Kings 6:1). The Exodus would have occurred during the reign of Amenhotep II (1450-1425), following the long reign of the mighty Thutmose III (1483-1450), the oppressor of Israel from whom Moses fled after killing the Egyp. taskmaster (Exod 2:15). While the capital of these kings was at Thebes in Upper Egypt, they had subsidiary palaces at Memphis, Heliopolis (near Cairo), and prob. Bubastis where Pharaoh could be in residence during the time of the plagues. The Exodus occurred 430 years after Israel had come to dwell in Egypt (Exod 12:40), or as the LXX and Samaritan texts indicate, after he had come to dwell in Canaan and in Egypt, returning with his family and flocks from Padan-aram. According to the eighteenth dynasty date for the Exodus, Joshua would have led Israel across the Jordan c. 1405 b.c., at the close of the Late Bronze I Age (1550-1400). After making the tribal allotments, Joshua lived on until 1390-1380, or even later. The period of the Judges lasted over 300 years until Saul was anointed king c. 1040 b.c. This is known as the early date view of the Exodus and Conquest.

An alternate view dates Joseph’s career to the Hyksos period and the Exodus during the reign of Pharaoh Rameses II (1304-1237) or even of his successor Merneptah. A stela of the latter mentioning Israel as being in Canaan makes any later date for the Exodus highly improbable. They base their interpretation on the appearance of the name Raamses in Exodus 1:11, on the settled Edomite and Moabite towns and line of fortresses which archeologists claim were not built until the 13th cent. b.c., and on the widespread destruction of Canaanite cities c. 1250-1200. Those who hold this late date view arbitrarily take the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 to be a conventional number for twelve generations, supposedly lasting forty years each, but in actuality only about twenty-five years each. The Exodus would be only 300 years before Solomon began his Temple, or c. 1270 b.c. Jephthah’s figure of 300 years from Moses’ capture of Heshbon to his own day (Judg 11:26) cannot be taken literally, and the periods of rest (and perhaps of oppression as well) in the era of the Judges must be foreshortened and/or drastically overlapped.

Even more serious to the careful interpretation of Scripture, the adherents of the late date view find it necessary to reject the Biblical picture of a unified movement of all twelve tribes from Egypt to Canaan under Moses and Joshua. They believe they must account for certain extra-Biblical evidence, such as a seeming 14th cent. b.c. date for the destruction of Jericho and the occurrence in inscrs. of Seti I and Rameses II of the name Asher as a territory in southern Phoenicia. Some scholars admit that the Habiru mentioned in the Amarna Letters (c. 1390-1360) refer to bands of Heb. Israelites. By suggesting conflicting data in the supposed late documents that make up the sources of the Pentateuch and Joshua (the so-called JEDP theory), such scholars believe they are able to reëvaluate the Biblical statements and to see some of the Israelite tribes entering Pal. c. 1400 b.c. and others c. 1250 b.c. Some tribes supposedly may have infiltrated from the N, some from Kadesh-barnea into the Negeb, and some crossed the Jordan to attack Jericho. Some tribal groups may never have left Canaan to sojourn in Egypt. For an extreme fragmentation of the settlement of Canaan by the various clans or tribes, which later amalgamated under the name of Israel, see N. K. Gottwald, A Light to the Nations (1959), 152-165.

This picture of the conquest and settlement differs greatly from that presented in the books of Moses and of Joshua. The Bible indicates that all twelve sons of Jacob were with him in Egypt, all twelve tribes were at Mount Sinai when God gave them the covenant and the laws and were numbered there, all were present at Kadesh-barnea, and all encamped at Abel-shittim where another census was taken. All twelve tribes crossed the Jordan together with Joshua and erected two monuments of twelve stones each, all assembled at Mount Ebal, and all the tribes received their territorial allotments from either Moses or Joshua before they began to settle. To argue for two or three successive waves of conquest or infiltration is to invalidate the Biblical record.

According to the early date view, by the time of the Israelite invasion of Canaan, Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1417-1379) was losing interest in his Asiatic territories. The campaigns of Thutmose III and his successors into Pal. and the oppressive administration of their oft-corrupt commissioners had seriously weakened the feudal system and towns established by the Hyksos. Most of the petty kings of Canaan and Syria soon revolted from Egypt or stopped paying annual tribute. Cuneiform tablets found at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, the site of the capital of Amenhotep’s son Akhenaten (1379-1362), are part of the royal archives of these two pharaohs. The majority were letters from vassal princes in Palestine and Syria pleading for aid from the Pharaoh against neighboring city-states or against the SA-GAZ or the Habiru. Apparently most of these pleas went unanswered. The silence in the books of Joshua and Judges concerning Egypt thus may be explained by the fact that Egypt had a weak foreign policy from Amenhotep III until Seti I (1318-1304), the next pharaoh to march into Pal. Even then the Egyp. armies did not always attempt to invade the mountains but stuck to the coastal route when going to campaign against the Hittites in Syria.

The Amarna tablets show that the Book of Joshua accurately portrays the political situation in Canaan—a country divided into numerous small feudal city-states prone to war with one another. It is perhaps significant that none of the extant Amarna letters come from or mention Jericho, Ai, Bethel, or Gibeon, cities destroyed or controlled by Joshua and the Israelites. Cities not captured or not permanently occupied by Israel are those from which letters were sent to Egypt requesting help—Jerusalem, Gezer, Lachish, Jarmuth, and Eglon. The Amarna correspondence seems to reflect the situation in Pal. early in the period of the Judges, although prob. not during the time of the conquest itself under Joshua. (See SOTI, pp. 253-259.)

By the period of Joshua and the Judges Canaanite religion had become exceedingly degraded. The chief emphasis was upon fertility and sex. The Ras Shamra (Ugaritic) tablets reveal the licentious and brutal characteristics of Baal, Anath, Ashtoreth, Asherah, and other deities. The extant relics of fertility cult practices and serpent worship unearthed at Beth-shan, Megiddo, Hazor, Gezer, etc., and evidence of child sacrifice as in a foundation at Dothan bear mute testimony to the need for strong measures on the part of the invading Israelites. Since sacred prostitution and other religious practices were spiritually contaminating one can understand why God commanded Israel to exterminate the seven nations in Canaan. In holy war they and their cities were to be devoted to destruction lest the religious life of God’s people be endangered through contact with such idolatrous peoples (W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity [1957], pp. 230-235, 281; SOTI, p. 261).

Authorship and date.

The Book of Joshua in its present form appears to be a literary unit, composed by an anonymous author. Critical scholars have insisted that the book is a composite work of several source documents, later compiled, revised, and supplemented by various deuteronomic editors. When one recognizes the different types of literary materials found in the Book of Joshua—narrative, topographic description, exhortation—there remain no strong arguments against the internal unity or that would demand explanation by resorting to the fiction of editing and re-editing.

Other liberal scholars, esp. Martin Noth (Das Buch Joshua, 1938) and John Bright (IB, II, 541-548), reject this analysis, claiming that it is impossible to trace out Pentateuchal documents in Joshua. The only literary contact on which a majority of scholars are agreed is with Deuteronomy, so the Book of Joshua is described as “thoroughly Deuteronomic” in its present form.

It is true that the author of the Book of Joshua did make use of sources. He specifically refers to the book of Jashar (10:13) and indicates that Joshua ordered a description of the land to be written (18:9). Joshua himself wrote the words of the covenant renewal and various statutes and ordinance for the people in the book of the law of God at Shechem (24:25, 26). Furthermore, a comparison of 6:26 with 1 Kings 16:34 suggests that Joshua also wrote down the oath which he made regarding Jericho and the curse upon any future rebuilding; the passage in 1 Kings says literally that Hiel restored Jericho at the cost of his two sons, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke “by Joshua the son of Nun” (1 Kings 16:34).

Destination and purpose.

Just as Moses wrote down the words and works of God and had the scroll(s) placed beside the Ark of the covenant in the sanctuary to remain there as a witness to the nation (Deut 31:9, 24-27), so also later prophets such as Samuel wrote additional material “in the book” (MT, בַּסֵּ֔פֶר, 1 Sam 10:25) and laid it up before the Lord. Evidently true prophets of the Lord were enrolled in the register of the house of Israel (Ezek 13:9), implying that they and their writings were accepted during their own lifetime as having divine authority. The Book of Joshua would likewise have been added to the sacred Scriptures of Moses soon after writing, and kept along with them in the Tabernacle for the benefit of God’s chosen people and their anointed leaders. The Scriptures were to be read periodically at the time of the annual feasts and on special occasions of covenant renewal, as in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh 8; 9).

The Book of Joshua was written to continue the sacred history of Israel begun in the Pentateuch. Deuteronomy set forth the historical basis of God’s election of Israel and fully stated the covenant (or theocratic constitution) which was revised and mediated to Israel afresh by Moses before his death. The Book of Joshua proceeds to show how this chosen people under the covenant became established in its Promised Land. Herein is found the record of Yahweh’s faithfulness to His covenants with the patriarchs and with the nation first given to it at Sinai. This Scripture is to inspire and guide God’s people to corresponding covenant loyalty and unity and high morale in future generations.


In the Heb. Bible Joshua heads the division known as the Former Prophets, which covers Israelite history from the Conquest to the Babylonian Exile, including the Books of Joshua, Judges, 1, 2 Samuel, and 1, 2 Kings in the Eng. Bible.

Further difficulties for the theory of a deuteronomic history of Israel occur in the lack of any recognizable deuteronomic framework (the covenant renewal pattern of Deut and Josh) for the Books of Judges through 2 Kings. The deuteronomic style which purportedly characterizes Joshua is not evident in Judges, as the critics S. R. Driver and C. F. Burney admit.

The older theory that Joshua was the sixth book of a late Jewish collection dubbed the “Hexateuch” is also unrealistic. This view seems first to have been suggested by Alexander Geddes (1792, 1800). It was developed in line with the documentary (JEDP) theory of the Pentateuch by such critical scholars as Bleek, Knobel, and Nöldeke in the 19th cent. The classic presentation in Eng. of the Hexateuchal analysis and its defense is J. E. Carpenter and G. Harford-Battersby, eds., The Hexateuch (2 vols.; 1900). It was argued that there must be a suitable conclusion to the story of Israel’s beginnings described in the first five books of the OT. The theme of the Promised Land permeates the Pentateuch from Abraham to the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings; without Joshua the narrative would be incomplete. Furthermore, source analysis spotted the familiar Pentateuchal documents in the sixth book. Especially the P source was thought to be present in Joshua but not in the subsequent books of Judges-2 Kings.

The term Hexateuch has no basis, however, in Jewish tradition. There is no evidence that Joshua was ever considered as forming a unit with the five books of Moses. Evidence already has been given that the law always was distinguished from the other books. Joshua was not included in the annual and triennial systems of reading the law, whereas selections from Joshua were included in the Haphtaroth (selected readings from the Prophets).

As E. J. Young (Introduction to the Old Testament [1949], p. 158) points out, there are linguistic peculiarities in the Pentateuch which do not appear in Joshua. In the former the pronoun ' (הוּא, H2085) is commonly used for both genders, but not in Joshua. The name Jericho is spelled yerēhô in the Pentateuch (e.g. Num 22:1; Deut 32:49) but yerîhô in Joshua. The phrase “Yahweh, the God of Israel” occurs fourteen times in Joshua but is very rare in the Pentateuch.

Even from the standpoint of documentary analysis the idea of a Hexateuch is inconsistent. In Genesis-Numbers the Priestly source supposedly provides the framework, but in Joshua P appears only in chs. 13-22, the section about the land allotments. If the alleged sources of the Pentateuch are continuous and run through Joshua, why is P completely absent from Deuteronomy and from Joshua 1-12, 23, 24?

The strongest argument against a Hexateuch is that the Samaritans considered only the Pentateuch to be canonical, but not the Book of Joshua. Yet Joshua contains various elements which would have commended it to Samaritan sectarianism. It features Shechem (their city of Nablus is next to Shechem) as a city of refuge and the center where all the tribes of Israel were gathered for the covenant renewal ceremony (24:1) and where Joseph’s bones were finally buried (24:32). No intimation of Jerusalem’s future importance as Israel’s center of worship is to be found. It even describes the formal reading of the law by the entire nation at the foot of Mount Gerizim (8:33), where the Samaritans later worshiped (cf. John 4:20). As G. L. Archer concludes, “the only possible explanation for the failure of the Samaritans to include Joshua in their authoritative canon was that it was not actually a part of the Mosaic Torah. The Torah must, therefore, have existed as a separate Pentateuch at the time of the Samaritan schism” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction [1964], p. 253).

Actually, the connection of Joshua with Deuteronomy is no closer than its connection with Judges. Both the Books of Joshua and Judges begin with an identical formula, “Now after the death of...,” the word “now” representing the Heb. waw consecutive introducing וַיְהִ֗י. The most logical explanation is that the Scriptures are one record, since by divine inspiration they have one ultimate Author. Thus each human writer, performing the function of a prophet, added to the existing Word that already had been recorded and recognized as canonical. On the other hand, the various higher critical theories have proved to be destructive of one another, without proposing an explanation in line with Jewish tradition and the Bible’s own testimony concerning itself.

That the Book of Joshua was accepted by the Early Church as the Word of God may be seen in the quotation from Joshua 1:5 to be found in Hebrews 13:5, “for he has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’” Numerous other references may be found in the NT to persons and events mentioned in Joshua, showing that there was no doubt as to the authenticity of its record.

Text and translations.

The Heb. text of Joshua contains relatively few corruptions. B. J. Roberts lists five or six minor scribal errors that have crept into the MT of this book (The Old Testament Text and Versions [1951], pp. 96-98). The Heb. MSS from the Qumran caves, esp. the fragments from Cave IV, indicate that there was existent in Pal. a Heb. text of Joshua in the tradition of the LXX. The DSS “establish once for all that in the historical books the Septuagint translators faithfully and with extreme literalness reproduced their Hebrew Vorlage” (F. M. Cross, Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies [1958], p. 134). Whether the LXX-type text is superior to the MT must be decided in the case of each individual reading.

In general, however, it would seem that no important corrections are suggested by the LXX. Its rendering of geographical names is unreliable. A. S. Geden lists a number of slight variations in the last six chs. of Joshua on the part of the LXX from the MT (“Joshua, Book of,” ISBE [1929], III, 1751). There remains some question as to which LXX recension, the Lucianic or the shorter form, preserves the more original text. The other ancient VSS, with the exception of Jerome’s tr. of the Vul. from the Heb., are secondary, rendered from the Gr. LXX.

Special problems.

These may be designated as theological, archeological, and exegetical.

Theological problem.

Many preachers and writers have sensed a contradiction between the goodness and love of God and Yahweh’s command to exterminate the Canaanites (Deut 7:1-5; 20:16-18; Josh 11:20). Typical is the view that “the God of Joshua is infinitely remote from the God of Jesus,” that He is “a purely nationalistic deity, a God of Battles whose power is chiefly manifested in the prosecution of Holy War” (H. G. May and B. M. Metzger, eds., The Oxford Annotated Bible [1962], p. 263).

But why exterminate the Canaanites? Were they actually more wicked in Joshua’s day than other idolatrous peoples on earth? The Aztecs and Mayas of Central America, for instance, practiced human sacrifice. But in His inscrutable wisdom God selected Canaan, not another region, as the land which He promised to Abraham. He considered it to be at the center (lit., “navel”) of the earth (Ezek 38:12; cf. 5:5); hence it would exert an influence on the rest of the world throughout history out of all proportion to its size.

Were the Canaanites more responsible? In Joshua’s time Canaan benefited from civilizations on either side which were already illustrious and old. Furthermore, the Canaanites were sinning against spiritual light. In the days of Melchizedek and Abraham they had a witness from the one true God, they saw divine judgment fall upon Sodom and its sister cities, and before the Conquest they quaked at His mention (Josh 2:8-11). God delayed judging Canaan because in Abraham’s time “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen 15:16). Baalism had not yet developed: Baal is never mentioned in the patriarchal narratives, and El was still the high god of the Canaanites according to the Ugaritic epics. By 1400 b.c. the Canaanite civilization and religion had become one of the weakest, most decadent, and most immoral cultures of the civilized world. Many of its repulsive practices were prohibited to Israel in Leviticus 18. In view of the sexual perversions listed, it is more than likely that venereal diseases ravaged a large part of the population. Hence stern measures were required to prevent decimation of the Israelites by the spread of these and other diseases such as malaria and smallpox. Contagion would be possible by sudden fraternization before immunity could develop (R. E. D. Clark, The Christian Stake in Science [1967], pp. 55, 150). Yet in His control of history God grants freedom of will and motive to His agents. He is not therefore responsible for their greed and atrocities.

Finally, remember that in the midst of wrath Yahweh remembered mercy. Rahab and her family were spared, delivered from death “by grace through faith.” For the significance of people and things cursed and devoted to destruction (Josh 6:17-21; 8:21-29) see Devoted Things; for the concept of holy war (Josh 5:13-15) see War, Warfare.

Archeological problems.

The proper interpretation and dating of mute archeological findings taxes the skill of the most experienced excavator. With regard to Jericho Kathleen M. Kenyon believes her excavations have shown that the strong Middle Bronze Age Hyksos city lay abandoned from c. 1550 to c. 1400 b.c. Most of the evidence for a town during the Late Bronze Age had been removed by previous expeditions or had disappeared through erosion. But burials in tombs and stratification on the town site (a portion of a house floor with an oven and juglet) testify to occupation in the Late Bronze Age II. Miss Kenyon dates this to the 14th cent. b.c., but not the 13th. Her dating, based on meager evidence, is within fifty years of the early date of the Conquest, but clearly does not aid the late date theory (“Jericho,” AOTS [1967], pp. 271-275).

Exegetical problem.

The proper understanding of the so-called “long-day” passage (Josh 10:12-14) remains a crux interpretum for the Biblical scholar. Did God miraculously prolong the daylight about a whole day? A number of modern commentators have suggested that instead of asking for a lengthened day, Joshua prayed that the sun and moon would, lit., be dumb or keep silent, i.e., cease their normal “speech” of shining. The reason for this request is that following their all-night forced march from Gilgal Joshua’s troops would become exhausted quickly by having to pursue the Amorites in the hot sunlight. God answered miraculously by sending an unseasonal storm with destructive hailstones (see WBC, pp. 217f.; SOTI, pp. 259ff.).

J. S. Holladay (“The Day[s] the Moon Stood Still,” JBL, LXXXVII [1968], 166-178) presents an alternate view in keeping with the ancient practice of observing the astral bodies. If the full moon first appears opposite the rising sun on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, i.e. at mid-month, things are in balance and normal and prosperity and victory will ensue (e.g., “The Creation Epic,” V, 18, tr. in ANET, p. 68). Hence Joshua asked for the sun and moon to stand in opposition at dawn as a sign or good omen of victory, that this day might be auspicious, even as Gideon asked for signs with respect to his fleece.

Content and outline.

The Book of Joshua divides easily into two equal parts: conquest (chs. 1-12) and settlement (chs. 13-24). In the first division Joshua must both lead Israel across the Jordan and break the fighting potential of the Canaanites. The Lord enabled him to face the problems of his own doubts (1:1-9); of the two and one-half eastern tribes (1:12-18); of the defenders of Jericho who would perhaps be patroling the western bank of the Jordan—but the spies reported that the terrified inhabitants had barricaded themselves in Jericho (ch. 2); of fording the flooded Jordan (chs. 3; 4); and of dealing with “the reproach of Egypt” by circumcising the men of Israel at Gilgal (5:2-9).

By means of the sound military strategy of “divide and conquer,” and by brilliant field tactics Joshua was enabled to capture the key fortresses guarding the trade routes to the highlands. In times of crisis divine power was manifested to reduce strong cities (ch. 6) or to wipe out superior armies (10:10, 11); but usually Joshua employed tactics known to Hitt. commanders of that day, such as surprise attacks, night marches, rapid marches by a “flying column,” and destruction of enemies in the open and burning their cities rather than long sieges and stationing garrisons in every captured town (JNES, XXV [1966], 162-191). Since it was a holy war, sin in his own camp could not go unpunished (ch. 7) and worship and covenant ceremony must have priority over further conquest (8:30-35). Failure to seek the mind of the Lord as to the identity of the Gibeonites led Joshua to make an unholy alliance that generations later erupted in much bitterness and grief (ch. 9; 2 Sam 21:1-14).

In the second division Israel’s settlement lists embrace Joshua’s territorial allotments made at Gilgal (chs. 13-17) and at Shiloh (chs. 18-21), including the cities of refuge and Levitical towns, before the tribes had begun to colonize their portions. The method of delineating borders by naming towns and topographical landmarks was also used at that time by the Hittites in Syria. The partitioning of the land was no simple task, but a complex one that demanded wisdom, careful direction, and considerable time.

Joshua’s final acts sought to prepare the nation to love and continue on with their faithful God after his own decease. Peace was restored between eastern and western tribes (ch. 22); he urged the officials to cleave to the Lord (ch. 23); and he gathered all the people to Shechem to lead them formally and solemnly to pledge anew their covenant allegiance to God (ch. 24).


The spiritual victory which God provides in Christ is beautifully pictured in this book. The very name “Joshua,” the Gr. form of which is “Jesus,” means “Yahweh is salvation.” The redemptive history of Israel’s crossing the Jordan, battling the Canaanites, and possessing her inheritance illustrates the Christian’s spiritual experience of conflict, triumph, and blessing in the “heavenlies” or spirit realm (Eph 1:3; 2:6; 6:12) through the mighty power of God (Eph 1:19, 20; 6:10).


See also entries under Joshua. F. R. Fay, “Joshua,” Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (1870); C. F. Keil, “Joshua,” KD (1874); W. G. Blaikie, “Joshua,” ExB (1893); J. Garstang, Joshua-Judges: The Foundation of Bible History (1931); M. L. Margolis, The Book of Joshua in Greek (1931-1938); H. J. Blair, “Joshua,” NBC (1953); J. Bright, “Joshua,” IB (1953); Y. Kaufmann, The Biblical Account of the Conquest of Palestine (1953); G. E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (1955); K. Elliger, “Tribes, Territories of,” IDB (1962), IV, 701-710; J. Rea, “Joshua,” WBC (1962); S. Gevirtz, “Jericho and Shechem,” VT, XIII (1963), 52-62; I. Jensen, Joshua: Rest-Land Won (1966); Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Invasion and Conquest of Western Palestine

2. Allotment of the Country to the Tribes of Israel


1. The Book of Joshua as History

2. Chronology



1. Parallel Narratives

2. Omissions in the History



1. The Greek

2. Other Ancient Versions



I. Title and Authorship.

The name Joshua signifies "Yahweh is deliverance" or "salvation" (see nodetitle). The Greek form of the name is Jesus (Iesous, Ac 7:45; Heb 4:8). In later Jewish history the name appears to have become popular, and is even found with a local significance, as the designation of a small town in Southern Palestine (yeshua`], Ne 11:26). The use of the title by the Jews to denote the Book of Joshua did not imply a belief that the book was actually written or dictated by him; or even that the narratives themselves were in substance derived from him, and owed their authenticity and reliability to his sanction and control. In the earliest Jewish literature the association of a name with a book was not intended in any case to indicate authorship. And the Book of Joshua is no exception to the rule that such early writings, especially when their contents are of a historical nature, are usually anonymous. The title is intended to describe, not authorship, but theme; and to represent that the life and deeds of Joshua form the main subject with which the book is concerned.

II. Contents.

With regard to the contents of Joshua, it will be found to consist of two well-marked divisions, in the first of which (Joshua 1-2) are narrated the invasion and gradual conquest under the command of Joshua of the land on the West of the Jordan; while the 2nd part describes in detail the allotment of the country to the several tribes with the boundaries of their territories, and concludes with a brief notice of the death and burial of Joshua himself.

1. Invasion and Conquest of Western Palestine:

Joshua 1: Renewal of the Divine promise to Joshua and exhortation to fearlessness and courage (1:1-9); directions to the people to prepare for the passage of the river, and a reminder to the eastern tribes (Reuben, Gad, and half and Manasseh) of the condition under which they held their possession beyond Jordan; the renewal by these tribes of their pledge of loyalty to Moses’ successor (1:10-18).

Joshua 2: The sending of the two spies from Shittim and their escape from Jericho through the stratagem of Rahab.

Joshua 3: The passage of Jordan by the people over against Jericho, the priests bearing the ark, and standing in the dry bed of the river until all the people had crossed over.

Joshua 4: Erection of 12 memorial stones on the other side of Jordan, where the people encamped after the passage of the river (4:1-14); the priests with the Ark of the Covenant ascend in their turn from out of the river-bed, and the waters return into their wonted course (4:15-24).

Joshua 5: Alarm excited among the kings on the West of Jordan by the news of the successful crossing of the river (5:1); circumcision of the people at Gilgal (5:2-9); celebration of the Passover at Gilgal in the plains of Jericho (5:10,11); cessation of the supply of the manna (5:12); appearance to Joshua of the captain of the Lord’s host (5:13-15).

Joshua 6: Directions given to Joshua for the siege and taking of Jericho (6:1-5); capture of the city, which is destroyed by fire, Rahab and her household alone being saved (6:6-25); a curse is pronounced on the man who rebuilds Jericho (6:26).

Joshua 7: The crime and punishment of Achan, who stole for himself part of the spoil of the captured city (7:1,16-26); incidentally his sin is the cause of a disastrous defeat before Ai (7:2-12).

Joshua 8: The taking of Ai by a stratagem, destruction of the city, and death of its king (8:1-29); erection of an altar on Mt. Ebal, and reading of the Law before the assembled people (8:30-35).

Joshua 9: Gathering of the peoples of Palestine to oppose Joshua (9:1-2); a covenant of peace made with the Gibeonites, who represent themselves as strangers from a far country (9:3-26); they are, however, reduced to a condition of servitude (9:27).

Joshua 10: Combination of 5 kings of the Amorites to punish the inhabitants of Gibeon for their defection, and defeat and rout of the kings by Joshua at Beth-horon (10:1-14); return of the Israelites to Gilgal (10:15); capture and death by hanging of the 5 kings at Makkedah (10:16-27); taking and destruction of Makkedah (10:28), Libnah (10:29,30), Lachish (10:31,32), Gezer (10:33), Eglon (10:34,35), Hebron (10:36,37), Debir (10:38,39), and summarily all the land, defined as from Kadesh-barnea unto Gaza, and as far North as Gibeon (10:40-42); return to Gilgal (10:43).

Joshua 11: Defeat of Jabin, king of Hazor, and allied kings at the waters of Merom (11:1-9); destruction of Hazor (11:10-15); reiterated summary of Joshua’s conquests (11:16-23).

Joshua 12: Final summary of the Israelite conquests in Canaan, of Sihon and Og on the East of the Jordan under the leadership of Moses (12:1-6); of 31 kings and their cities on the West of the river under Joshua (12:7-24).

2. Allotment of the Country to the Tribes of Israel:

Joshua 13: Command to Joshua to allot the land on the West of the Jordan, even that which was still unsubdued, to the nine and a half tribes (13:1-7); recapitulation of the inheritance given by Moses on the East of the river (13:8-13,32); the border of Reuben (13:15-23), of Gad (13:24-28), of the half-tribe of Manasseh (13:29-31); the tribe of Levi alone received no the landed inheritance (13:14,33).

Joshua 14: Renewed statement of the principle on which the division of the land had been made (14:1-5); Hebron given to Caleb for his inheritance (14:6-15).

Joshua 15. The inheritance of Judah, and the boundaries of his territory (15:1-20), including that of Caleb (15:13-19); enumeration of the cities of Judah (15:21-63).

Joshua 16: Inheritance of the sons of Joseph (16:1-4); the border of Ephraim (16:5-10).

Joshua 17: Inheritance of Manasseh and the border of the half-tribe on the West of the Jordan (17:1-13); complaint of the sons of Joseph of the insufficiency of their inheritance, and grant to them by Joshua of an extension of territory (17:14-18).

Joshua 18: The land yet unsubdued divided by lot into 7 portions for the remaining 7 tribes (18:1-10); inheritance of the sons of Benjamin and the border of their territory (18:11-20); enumeration of their cities (18:21-28).

Joshua 19: Inheritance of Simeon and his border (19:1-9); of Zebulun and his border (19:10-16); of Issachar and his border (19:17-23); of Asher and his border (19:24-31); of Naphtali and his border (19:32-39); and of Da and his border (19:40-48); inheritance of Joshua (19:49,50); concluding statement (19:51).

Joshua 20: Cities of Refuge appointed, three on each side of the Jordan.

Joshua 21: 48 cities with their suburbs given to the Levites out of the territories of the several tribes (21:1-41); the people had rest in the land, their enemies being subdued, according to the Divine promise (21:43-45).

Joshua 22: Dismissal of the eastern tribes to their inheritance, their duty to their brethren having been fulfilled (22:1-9); the erection by them of a great altar by the side of the Jordan aroused the suspicion of the western tribes, who feared that they intended to separate themselves from the common cause (22:10-20); their reply that the altar is to serve the purpose of a witness between themselves and their brethren (22:21-34).

Joshua 23: Joshua’s address of encouragement and warning to the people.

Joshua 24: Second address of Joshua, recalling to the people their history, and the Divine interventions on their behalf (24:1-23); the people’s pledge of loyalty to the Lord, and formal covenant in Shechem (24:24,25); the book of the law of God is committed to writing, and a stone is erected as a permanent memorial (24:26-28); death and burial of Joshua (24:29-31); burial in Shechem of the bones of Joseph, brought from Egypt (24:32); death and burial of Eleazar, son of Aaron (24:33).

III. Historical Character and Chronology.

1. The Book of Joshua as History:

As a historical narrative, therefore, detailing the steps taken to secure the conquest and possession of Canaan, Joshua is incomplete and is marked by many omissions, and in some instances at least includes phrases or expressions which seem to imply the existence of parallel or even divergent accounts of the same event, e.g. in the passage of the Jordan and the erection of memorial stones (Joshua 3; 4), the summary of the conquests of Joshua (10:40-43; 11:16-23), or the references to Moses’ victories over the Amorite kings on the East of the Jordan.

This last fact suggests, what is in itself sufficiently probable, that the writer or compiler of the book made use of previously existing records or narratives, not necessarily in every instance written, but probably also oral and traditional, upon which he relied and out of which by means of excerpts with modifications and omissions, the resultant history was composed. The incomplete and defective character of the book therefore, considered merely as a history of the conquest of Western Palestine and its allotment among the new settlers, would seem to indicate that the "sources" available for the writer’s use were fragmentary also in their nature, and did not present a complete view either of the life of Joshua or of the experiences of Israel while under his direction.

2. Chronology:

Within the limits of the book itself, moreover, notifications of chronological sequence, or of the length of time occupied in the various campaigns, are almost entirely wanting. Almost the only references to date or period are the statements that Joshua himself was 110 years old at the time of his death (24:29), and that his wars lasted "a long time" (11:18; compare 23:1). Caleb also, the son of Jephunneh, companion of Joshua in the mission of the spies from Kadesh-barnea, describes himself as 85 years old, when he receives Hebron as his inheritance (14:10; compare 15:13 ff); the inference would be, assuming 40 years for the wanderings in the desert, that 5 years had then elapsed since the passage of the Jordan "on the tenth day of the first month" (4:19). No indication, however, is given of the chronological relation of this event to the rest of the history; and 5 years would be too short a period for the conquest of Palestine, if it is to be understood that the whole was carried out in consecutive campaigns under the immediate command of Joshua himself. On the other hand, "very much land" remained still unsubdued at his death (13:1). Christian tradition seems to have assumed that Joshua was about the same age as Caleb, although no definite statement to that effect is made in the book itself; and that, therefore, a quarter of a century, more or less, elapsed between the settlement of the latter at Hebron and Joshua’s death (14:10; 24:29). The entire period from the crossing of the Jordan would then be reckoned at from 28 to 30 years.

IV. Sources of the Written Narrative.

The attempt to define the "sources" of Joshua as it now exists, and to disentangle them one from another, presents considerably more difficulty than is to be encountered for the most part in the Pentateuch. The distinguishing criteria upon which scholars rely and which have led serious students of the book to conclude that there may be traced here also the use of the same "documents" or "documentary sources" as are to be found in the Pentateuch, are essentially the same. Existing and traditional accounts, however, have been used apparently with greater freedom, and the writer has allowed himself a fuller liberty of adaptation and combination, while the personal element has been permitted wider scope in molding the resultant form which the composition should take. For the most part, therefore, the broad line of distinction between the various "sources" which have been utilized may easily be discerned on the ground of their characteristic traits, in style, vocabulary or general conception; in regard to detail, however, the precise point at which one "source" has been abandoned for another, or the writer himself has supplied deficiencies and bridged over gaps, there is frequent uncertainty, and the evidence available is insufficient to justify an absolute conclusion. The fusion of material has been more complete than in the 5 books of the law, perhaps because the latter were hedged about with a more reverential regard for the letter, and at an earlier period attained the standing of canonicity.

A detailed analysis of the sources as they have been distinguished and related to one another by scholars is here unnecessary. A complete discussion of the subject will be found in Dr. Driver’s LOT6, 105 ff, in other Introductions, or in the Commentaries on Joshua. Not seldom in the ultimate detail the distinctions are precarious, and there are differences of opinion among scholars themselves as to the precise limit or limits of the use made of any given source, or at what point the dividing line should be drawn. It is only in a broad and general sense that in Joshua especially the literary theory of the use of "documents," as generally understood and as interpreted in the case of the Pentateuch, can be shown to be well founded. In itself, however, such a theory is eminently reasonable, and is both in harmony with the general usage and methods of ancient composition, and affords ground for additional confidence in the good faith and reliability of the narrative as a whole.

V. Relation to the Book of Judges.

1. Parallel Narratives:

A comparison moreover of the history recorded in Joshua with the brief parallel account in Judges furnishes ground for believing that a detailed or chronological narrative was not contemplated by the writer or writers themselves. The introductory verses of Judges (1:1-2:5) are in part a summary of incidents recorded in Joshua, and in part supply new details or present a different view of the whole. The original notices that are added relate almost entirely to the invasion and conquest of Southern Palestine by the united or allied tribes of Judah and Simeon and the destruction of Bethel by the "house of Joseph." The action of the remaining tribes is narrated in a few words, the brief record closing in each case with reference to the condition of servitude to which the original inhabitants of the land were reduced. And the general scheme of the invasion as there represented is apparently that of a series of disconnected raids or campaigns undertaken by the several tribes independently, each having for its object the subjection of the territory assigned to the individual tribe. A general and comprehensive plan of conquest under the supreme leadership of Joshua appears to be entirely wanting. In detail, however, the only real inconsistency between the two narratives would appear to be that in Jud (1:21) the failure to expel the Jebusites from Jerusalem is laid to the account of the Benjamites, while in Jos 15:63 it is charged against the children of Judah. The difficulties in the way of the formation of a clear conception of the incidents attending the capture of Jerusalem are perhaps insuperable upon any hypothesis; and the variation of the tribal name in the two texts may be no more than a copyist’s error.

2. Omissions in the History:

A perhaps more striking omission in both narratives is the absence of any reference to the conquest of Central Palestine. The narrative of the overthrow of Bethel and Ai (Jos 6:1-8:29) is followed immediately by the record of the building of an altar on Mt. Ebal and the recitation of the Law before the people of Israel assembled in front of Mts. Ebal and Gerizim (Jos 8:30 ). Joshua then turns aside to defeat at Beth-horon the combination of the Amorite kings, and completes the conquest of the southern country as far south as Kadesh-barnea (10:41). Immediately thereafter he is engaged in overthrowing a confederacy in the far north (11:1-15), a work which clearly could not have been undertaken or successfully accomplished, unless the central region had been already subdued; but of its reduction no account is given. It has been supposed that the silence of the narrator is an indication that at the period of the invasion this district was in the occupation of tribes friendly or even related to the Israelite clans; and in support of the conjecture reference has been made to the mention of Israel on the stele of Merenptah, the Egyptian ruler in whose reign, according to the most probable view, the exodus took place. In this record the nation or a part thereof is regarded as already settled in Palestine at a date earlier by half a century than their appearance under Moses and Joshua on the borders of the Promised Land. The explanation is possible, but perhaps hardly probable. The defects of the historical record are irremediable at this distance of time, and it must be acknowledged that with the available material no complete and consistent narrative of the events of the Israelite conquest of Palestine can be constructed.

VI. Place of Joshua in the Hebrew Canon.

In the Hebrew Canon Joshua is the first in order of the prophetical books, and the first of the group of 4, namely, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, which form the "Earlier Prophets" (nebhi’im ri’shonim). These books, the contents of which are history, not prophecy in the ordinary sense of the term, were assigned by the Jews to the 2nd division of their sacred Canon, and found a place by the side of the great writings of the "Later Prophets" (nebhi’im ’acharonim). This position was given to them in part perhaps because they were believed to have been written or composed by prophets, but mainly because Jewish history was regarded as in purpose and intent "prophetic," being directed and presided over by Yahweh Himself, and conveying direct spiritual instruction and example. The Canon of the Law, moreover, was already closed; and however patent and striking might be the resemblance of Joshua in style and method of composition to the books of the Pentateuch, it was impossible to admit it therein, or to give a place within the Torah, a group of writings which were regarded as of Mosaic authorship, to a narrative of events which occurred after Moses’ death. Later criticism reviewed and reversed the verdict as to the true character of the book. In every Canon except the Hebrew, its historical nature was recognized, and the work was classified accordingly. Modern criticism has gone further, and, with increasing consciousness of its close literary relationship to the books of the Law, has united it with them in a Hexateuch, or even under the more comprehensive title of Octateuch combines together the books of Jud and Ru with the preceding six on the ground of similarity of origin and style. VII. Greek and Other Ancient Versions.

1. The Greek:

In the ancient versions of Joshua there is not much that is of interest. The Greek translation bears witness to a Hebrew original differing little from the Massoretic Text. In their renderings, however, and general treatment of the Hebrew text, the translators seem to have felt themselves at liberty to take up a position of greater independence and freedom than in dealing with the 5 books of the Law. Probably also the rendering of Joshua into Greek is not to be ascribed to the same authors as the translation of the Pentateuch. While faithful to the Hebrew, it is less constantly and exactly literal, and contains many slight variations, the most important of which are found in the last 6 chapters.

Joshua 19: The Septuagint transposes 19:47,48, and, omitting the first clause of 19:47, refers the whole to the sons of Judah, without mention of Dan; it further adds 19:47a,48a on the relation between the Amorites and Ephraim, and the Amorites and the Danites respectively. With 19:47a compare 16:10 and Jud 1:29, and with 19:48a compare 19:47 (Hebrew) and Jud 1:34.

Joshua 20:4-6 inclusive are omitted in B, except a clause from 20:6; A, however, inserts them in full. Compare Driver, LOT6, 112, who, on the ground of their Deuteronomic tone, regards it as probable that the verses are an addition to the Priestly Code (P), and therefore did not form part of the original text as used by the Greek translators.

Joshua 21:36,37, which give the names of the Levitical cities in Judah, are omitted in the Hebrew printed text although found in many Hebrew manuscripts. Four verses also are added after 21:42, the first three of which repeat 19:50 f, and the last is a reminiscence of 5:3.

Joshua 24:29 f which narrate the death and burial of Joshua are placed in the Greek text after 24:31; and a verse is inserted after 24:30 recording that the stone knives used for the purposes of the circumcision (5:2 ff) were buried with Joshua in his tomb (compare 21:42). After 24:33 also two new verses appear, apparently a miscellany from Jud 2:6,11-15; 3:7,12,14, with a statement of the death and burial of Phinehas, son and successor of Eleazar, of the idolatrous worship by the children of Israel of Astarte and Ashtaroth, and the oppression under Eglon, king of Moab.

2. Other Ancient Versions:

The other VSS, with the exception of Jerome’s translation from the Hebrew, are secondary, derived mediately through the Greek. The Old Latin is contained in a manuscript at Lyons, Cod. Lugdunensis, which is referred to the 6th century. Of the Coptic version only small portions are extant; they have been published by G. Maspero, Memoires de la mission archeologique frantsaise, tom. VI, fasc. 1, le Caire, 1892, and elsewhere. A Sam translation also is known, for parts of which at least an early origin and an independent derivation from the Hebrew have been claimed. The ancient character of the version, however, is contested, and it has been shown that the arguments on which reliance was placed are insufficient to justify the conclusions drawn. The translation appears to be in reality of quite recent date, and to have been made originally from the Arabic, perhaps in part compared with and corrected by the Massoretic Text. The subject was fully and conclusively discussed by Dr. Yehuda of Berlin, at the Oriental Congress in the summer of 1908, and in a separate pamphlet subsequently published. It was even stated that the author of the version was still living, and his name was given. Dr. Gaster, the original discoverer of the Sam MS, in various articles and letters maintains his contention that the translation is really antique, and therefore of great value, but he has failed to convince scholars. (See M. Gaster in JRAS (1908), 795 ff, 1148 ff; E. N. Adler, ib, 1143 ff. The text of the manuscript was published by Dr. Caster in ZDMG (1908), 209 ff, and a specimen chapter with English rendering and notes in PSBA, XXXI (1909), 115 ff, 149 ff.)

VIII. Religious Purpose and Teaching. As a whole, then, Joshua is dominated by the same religious and hortatory purpose as the earlier writings of the Pentateuch; and in this respect as well as in authorship and structure the classification which assigns to it a place by the side of the 5 books of Moses and gives to the whole the title of Hexateuch is not unjustified. The author or authors had in view not merely the narration of incident, nor the record of events in the past history of their people of which they judged it desirable that a correct account should be preserved, but they endeavored in all to subserve a practical and religious aim. The history is not for its own sake, or for the sake of the literal facts which it enshrines, but for the sake of the moral and spiritual lessons which may be elucidated therein, and enforced from its teaching. The Divine leading in history is the first thought with the writer. And the record of Israel’s past presents itself as of interest to him, not because it is a record of events that actually happened, but because he sees in it the ever-present guidance and overruling determination of God, and would draw from it instruction and warning for the men of his own time and for those that come after him. Not the history itself, but the meaning and interpretation of the history are of value. Its importance lies in the illustrations it affords of the controlling working of a Divine Ruler who is faithful to His promises, loving righteousness and hating iniquity, and swaying the destinies of men in truth. Thus the selection of materials, and the form and arrangement of the book are determined by a definite aim: to set forth and enforce moral lessons, and to exhibit Israel’s past as the working out of a Divine purpose which has chosen the nation to be the recipient of the Divine favor, and the instrument for the carrying forward of His purposes upon earth.


A Complete bibliography of the literature up to date will be found in the dictionaries, under the word "Joshua," DB2, 1893, HDB, II, 1899, EB, II, 1901; compare W. H. Bennett, "The Book of Josh," in SBOT, Leipzig, 1895; W.G. Blaikie, "Joshua," in Expositor’s Bible, 1893; A. Dillmann, Nu, De u. Josua2, Leipzig, 1886; H. Holzinger, "Das Buch Josua," in Kurzer Hand-Comm. zum A T, Tubingen, 1901; C. Steuernagel, "Josua," in Nowack’s Handcommentar zum Altes Testament, 1899; S. Oettli, "Deuteronomy, Josua u. Richter," in Kurzgef. Komm, Munchen, 1893; W.J. Deane, Joshua, His Life and Times, in "Men of the Bible Series," London.