Book of Joshua

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The Book of Joshua (Hebrew: ספר יהושעSefer Yehoshua) is the sixth book in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, and is the first book of the Deuteronomistic history, the story of Israel from the conquest of Canaan to the Babylonian exile.[1]:42 It tells of the campaigns of the Israelites in central, southern and northern Canaan, the destruction of their enemies, and the division of the land among the Twelve Tribes, framed by two set-piece speeches, the first by God commanding the conquest of the land, and, at the end, the second by Joshua warning of the need for faithful observance of the Law (torah) revealed to Moses.[2]


Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan (Gustave Doré)


I. Transfer of leadership to Joshua (1:1–18)

A. God's commission to Joshua (1:1–9)
B. Joshua's instructions to the people (1:10–18)

II. Entrance into and conquest of Canaan (2:1–12:24)

A. Entry into Canaan
1.Reconnaissance of Jericho (2:1–24)
2. Crossing the River Jordan (3:1–17)
3. Establishing a foothold at Gilgal (4:1–5:1)
4. Circumcision and Passover (5:2–15)
B. Victory over Canaan (6:1–12:24)
1. Destruction of Jericho (6)
2. Failure and success at Ai (7:1–8:29)
3. Renewal of the covenant at Mount Ebal (8:30–35)
4. Other campaigns in central Canaan. The Gibeonite Deception (9:1–27)
5. Campaigns in southern Canaan (10:1–43)
6. Campaigns in northern Canaan (11:1–15)
7. Summary of lands conquered (11:16-23)
8. Summary list of defeated kings (12:1–24)

III. Division of the land among the tribes (13:1–22:34)

A. God's instructions to Joshua (13:1–7)
B. Tribal allotments (13:8–19:51)
1. Eastern tribes (13:8–33)
2. Western tribes (14:1–19:51)
C. Cities of refuge and levitical cities (20:1–21:42)
D. Summary of conquest (21:43–45)
E. De-commissioning of the eastern tribes (22:1–34)

IV. Conclusion (23:1–24:33)

A. Joshua's farewell address (23:1–16)
B. Covenant at Shechem (24:1–28)
C. Deaths of Joshua and Eleazar; burial of Joseph's bones (24:29–33)[2]


God's commission to Joshua (chapter 1)

Chapter 1 commences "after the death of Moses"[3] and presents the first of three important moments in Joshua marked with major speeches and reflections by the main characters; here first God, and then Joshua, make speeches about the goal of conquest of the Promised Land; in chapter 12, the narrator looks back on the conquest; and in chapter 23 Joshua gives a speech about what must be done if Israel is to live in peace in the land.[4]:49

God commissions Joshua to take possession of the land and warns him to keep faith with the Mosaic covenant. God's speech foreshadows the major themes of the book: the crossing of the Jordan River and conquest of the land, its distribution, and the imperative need for obedience to the Law. Joshua's own immediate obedience is seen in his speeches to the Israelite commanders and to the Transjordanian tribes, and the Transjordanians' affirmation of Joshua's leadership echoes Yahweh's assurances of victory.[5]:175

Entry into the land and conquest (chapters 2–12)

Rahab, a Canaanite woman of the Bible, sets in motion the entrance into Canaan by the Israelites.[6] To avoid repeating failed attempts by Moses to have notable men of Israel predict the success rate of entry into Canaan mentioned in the book of Numbers, Joshua tasks two regular men with entering Jericho as spies. They arrive at Rahab's house and spend the night. The king of Jericho, having heard of possible Israelite spies, demands that Rahab reveal the men. She tells him that she is unaware of their whereabouts, when in reality, she hid them on her roof under flax. The next morning, Rahab professes her faith in God to the men and acknowledges her belief that Canaan was divinely reserved for the Israelites from the beginning. Because of Rahab's actions, the Israelites are able to enter Canaan.[6]

The Ark Passes Over the Jordan (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

The Israelites cross the Jordan River through a miraculous intervention of God and the Ark of the Covenant and are circumcised at Gibeath-Haaraloth (translated as hill of foreskins), renamed Gilgal in memory. Gilgal sounds like Gallothi, "I have removed", but is more likely to translate as "circle of standing stones". The conquest begins with the battle of Jericho, followed by Ai (central Canaan), after which Joshua builds an altar to Yahweh at Mount Ebal in northern Canaan and renews the Covenant in a ceremony with elements of a divine land-grant ceremony, similar to ceremonies known from Mesopotamia.[5]:180

The narrative then switches to the south. The Gibeonites trick the Israelites into entering an alliance with them by saying that they are not Canaanites. Despite this, the Israelites decide to keep the alliance by enslaving them instead. An alliance of Amorite kingdoms headed by the Canaanite king of Jerusalem attacks the Gibeonites but they are defeated with Yahweh's miraculous help of stopping the Sun and the Moon, and hurling down large hailstones (Joshua 10:10–14). The enemy kings were eventually hanged on trees. The Deuteronomist author may have used the then-recent 701 BCE campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the Kingdom of Judah as his model; the hanging of the captured kings is in accordance with Assyrian practice of the 8th century BCE.[7]

With the south conquered the narrative moves to the northern campaign. A powerful multi-national (or more accurately, multi-ethnic) coalition headed by the king of Hazor, the most important northern city, is defeated with Yahweh's help. Hazor itself is then captured and destroyed. Chapter 11:16–23 summarises the extent of the conquest: Joshua has taken the entire land, almost entirely through military victories, with only the Gibeonites agreeing to peaceful terms with Israel. The land then "had rest from war" (Joshua 11:23, repeated at 14:15). Chapter 12 lists the vanquished kings on both sides of the Jordan River: the two kings who ruled east of the Jordan who were defeated under Moses' leadership (Joshua 12:1-6; cf. Numbers 21), and the 31 kings on the west of the Jordan who were defeated under Joshua's leadership (Joshua 12:7–24). The list of the 31 kings is quasi-tabular:

the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one;
the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; (etc.; Joshua 12:10–11).

Division of the land (chapters 13–22)

Map of the Holy Land, Pietro Vesconte, 1321, showing the allotments of the tribes of Israel. Described by Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld as "the first non-Ptolemaic map of a definite country"[8]
1759 map of the tribal allotments of Israel

Having described how the Israelites and Joshua have carried out the first of their God's commands, the narrative now turns to the second: to "put the people in possession of the land." Joshua is "old, advanced (or stricken) in years" by this time.[9]

This land distribution is a "covenantal land grant": Yahweh, as king, is issuing each tribe its territory.[5]:183 The "Cities of Refuge" and Levitical cities are attached to the end, since it is necessary for the tribes to receive their grants before they allocate parts of it to others. The Transjordanian tribes are dismissed, affirming their loyalty to Yahweh.

The book reaffirms Moses' allocation of land east of the Jordan to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh,[10] and then describes how Joshua divided the newly conquered land of Canaan into parcels, and assigned them to the tribes by lot.[11] Joshua 14:1 also makes reference to the role of Eleazar the priest (ahead of Joshua) in the distribution process.[12] The description serves a theological function to show how the promise of the land was realized in the biblical narrative; its origins are unclear, but the descriptions may reflect geographical relations among the places named.[13]:5

The wording of Joshua 18:1-4 suggests that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Judah, Ephraim and Manasseh received their land allocation some time before the "remaining seven tribes",[14] and a 21-member expedition set out to survey the remainder of the land with a view to organising the allocation to the tribes of Simeon, Benjamin, Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun, Issachar and Dan. Subsequently, 48 cities with their surrounding lands were allocated to the Tribe of Levi.[15]

Omitted in the Masoretic Text, but present in the Septuagint, is a statement that:

Joshua completed the division of the land in its boundaries, and the children gave a portion to Joshua, by the commandment of the Lord. They gave to him the city for which he asked, Thamnath Sarach gave they him in Mount Ephraim, and Joshua built the city, and dwelt in it. And Joshua took the stone knives with which he had circumcised the children of Israel, which were in the way in the wilderness, and he placed them in Tamnath Sarach.[16]

By the end of chapter 21, the narrative records that the fulfilment of God's promise of land, rest and supremacy over the enemies of the Israelites was complete.[17] The tribes to whom Moses had granted land east of the Jordan are authorized to return home to Gilead (here used in the widest sense for the whole Transjordan district),[18] having faithfully 'kept the charge'[19] of supporting the tribes occupying Canaan. They are granted "riches… with very much livestock, with silver, with gold, with bronze, with iron, and with very much clothing" as a reward.[20]

Joshua's farewell speeches (chapters 23–24)

Joshua, in his old age and conscious that he is "going the way of all the earth",[21] gathers the leaders of the Israelites together and reminds them of Yahweh's great works for them, and of the need to love Yahweh[22] The Israelites are told – just as Joshua himself had been told[23] – that they must comply with "all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses",[24] neither "turn[ing] aside from it to the right hand or to the left" (i.e. by adding to the law, or diminishing from it).[25]

Joshua meets again with all the people at Shechem in chapter 24 and addresses them a second time. He recounts the history of God's formation of the Israelite nation, beginning with "Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, [who] lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods."[26] He invited the Israelites to choose between serving the Lord who had delivered them from Egypt, or the gods which their ancestors had served on the other side of the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they now lived. The people chose to serve the Lord, a decision which Joshua recorded in the Book of the Law of God. He then erected a memorial stone "under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord" in Shechem.[27] The oak is associated with the Oak of Moreh where Abram had set up camp during his travels in this area.[28][citation needed] Thus "Joshua made a covenant with the people", literally "cut a covenant", a phrase common to the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin languages. It derives from the custom of sacrifice, in which the victims were cut in pieces and offered to the deity invoked in ratification of the engagement.[29]

The people then returned to their inheritance i.e. their allocated lands.[30]

Closing items

The Book of Joshua closes with three concluding items (referred to in the Jerusalem Bible as "Two Additions"):[31]

The death of Joshua and his burial at Timnath-serah[32]
The burial of the bones of Joseph at Shechem[33]
The death of Eleazar and his burial in land belonging to Phinehas in the mountains of Ephraim.[34]

There were no Levitical cities given to the descendants of Aaron in Ephraim, so theologians Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch supposed the land may have been at Geba in the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin: "the situation, 'upon the mountains of Ephraim', is not at variance with this view, as these mountains extended, according to Judges 4:5, etc., far into the territory of Benjamin".[35]

In some manuscripts and editions of the Septuagint, there is an additional verse relating to the apostasy of the Israelites after Joshua's death.


The Taking of Jericho (Jean Fouquet, c.1452–1460)


"Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon" (sculpture by Shmuel Bar-Even)


Washington Manuscript I, a Greek manuscript featuring the end of Deuteronomy and beginning of Joshua

Fragments of Joshua dating to the Hasmonean period were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QJosha and 4QJoshb, found in Qumran Cave 4).[36][37] The Septuagint (Greek translation) is found in manuscripts such as Washington Manuscript I (5th century CE), and a reduced version of the Septuagint text is found in the illustrated Joshua Roll.[38][39] The earliest complete copy of the book in Hebrew is in the Aleppo Codex (10th century CE).[40][41]

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still upon Gideon (John Martin)


  1. McNutt, Paula (1999). Reconstructing the Society of Ancient Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 978-0-664-22265-9.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Achtemeier, Paul J; Boraas, Roger S (1996). The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. Harper San Francisco. ISBN 978-0-06-060037-2.
  3. Joshua 1:1
  4. De Pury, Albert; Romer, Thomas (2000). "Deuteronomistic Historiography (DH): History of Research and Debated Issues". In de Pury, Albert; Romer, Thomas; Macchi, Jean-Daniel (eds.). Israel Constructs its History: Deuteronomistic Historiography in Recent Research. Sheffield Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-567-22415-6.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Younger, K. Lawson Jr (2003). "Joshua". In Dunn, James D.G.; Rogerson, John William (eds.). Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0-8028-3711-0.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Frymer-Kensky, Tikva Simone. (2002). Reading the women of the Bible (1st ed.). New York: Schocken Books. ISBN 978-0-8052-4121-1. OCLC 49823086.
  7. Na'aman, Nadav (2005). Ancient Israel and Its Neighbors: Collected Essays. 2. Eisenbrauns. p. 378. ISBN 978-1-57506-113-9.
  8. Nordenskiöld, Adolf Erik (1889). Facsimile-atlas to the Early History of Cartography: With Reproductions of the Most Important Maps Printed in the XV and XVI Centuries. Kraus. pp. 51, 64 – via Google books.
  9. Joshua 13:1
  10. Joshua 13:8–32; cf. Numbers 32:1–42
  11. Hirsch, Emil G. (1906). "Joshua, Book of". Jewish Encyclopedia.
  12. Maclear, G. F. (1897). Joshua 14 in The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges. Cambridge University Press – via BibleHub.
  13. Dorsey, David A. (1991). The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-3898-9.
  14. Joshua 18:1–4
  15. Joshua 21:1–41, cf. Numbers 35:7
  16. Spence-Jones, HDM; Exell, Joseph S., eds. (1919). "Joshua 21". Pulpit Commentary. Bible Hub.
  17. Joshua 21:43–45
  18. Barnes, Albert (1834). Notes on the Bible: Joshua 22. Bible Hub.
  19. Joshua 22:3, English Revised Version
  20. Joshua 22:1–9
  21. Joshua 23:14
  22. Joshua 23:11
  23. Joshua 1:7
  24. Joshua 23:6
  25. Poole, Matthew (1853). "Joshua 23". Commentary on the Holy Bible. Robert Carter & Bros. – via Bible Hub.
  26. Joshua 24:2
  27. Joshua 24:1-27
  28. Genesis 12:6
  29. Spence-Jones, HDM; Exell, Joseph S., eds. (1919). "Joshua 24". Pulpit Commentary. BibleHub.
  30. Joshua 24:28
  31. Jerusalem Bible, heading of Joshua 24:29–33
  32. Joshua 24:29–31
  33. Joshua 24:32
  34. Joshua 24:33
  35. Keil, Carl Friedrich; Delitzsch, Franz (1878). Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Joshua 24. BibleHub.
  36. "The Dead Sea Scrolls – 4Q Joshua". The Dead Sea Scrolls – 4Q Joshua.
  37. Feldman, Ariel (January 1, 2014). "The Rewritten Joshua Scrolls from Qumran: Texts, Translations, and Commentary". De Gruyter – via
  38. "Discrepancies in manuscripts show how Old Testament scribes edited the Book of Joshua". University of Helsinki. January 29, 2018.
  39. Rösel, Martin (January 1, 2002). "The septuagint-version of the book of Joshua". Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament. 16 (1): 5–23. doi:10.1080/09018320210000329 – via Taylor and Francis+NEJM.
  40. "Scholars search for pages of ancient Hebrew Bible". Los Angeles Times. September 28, 2008.
  41. "The Aleppo Codex".


External links

Book of Joshua
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Old Testament