Resources for Joshua:

Creach, Jerome F. D..  Joshua.  Part of the Interpretation Bible commentary series edited by James L. Mays.  (John Knox Press, Louisville, 2003).

Hawk, L. Daniel.  Joshua.  Part of the Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry series, David W. Cotter editor.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2000).

Scherman, Rabbi Nosson.  The Prophets: Joshua / Judges: The early prophets with  commentary anthologized from the Rabbinic writings.  (Mesorah Publications, New York, 2000).


The PRE-HISTORY period   (Long, long ago)

  •         Adam and Eve
  •         Cain and Abel
  •         Noah and the Flood
  •        The tower of Babel

The PATRIARCHAL period   (1800 – 1200 BCE)

  •         Abraham
  •         Isaac
  •         Jacob
  •         Joseph / 400 years in Egypt


The MONARCHICAL  period    (1200 – 600 BCE)

  •         Moses
  •         Joshua
  •         Judges
  •         Saul        somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 BCE
  •         David
  •         Solomon
  •         split kingdom
  •         767 – Assyria conquers the Northern Kingdom (ten lost tribes)


The FOREIGN DOMINATION period    (600 BCE – 70 AD)

  •         586 Babylon conquers the Southern Kingdom
  •         Persian King Cyrus sets the Jews free 50 years later
  •         some return to devastated land, Temple is rebuilt
  •         Selucids and then the Romans rule through appointed kings
  •         Rise of apocalyptic writings


The CHRISTIAN period (0 to 100AD)

  •         Paul writes 45 to 65
  •         Mark 65 to 70
  •         Luke and Matthew in the 80’s
  •         John 95AD


1.  What God promises God does.

Role of promise / fulfillment

  •         Abraham
  •         Moses

God chooses to make covenants with us.

Covenants have promises on both sides, signs or reminders.

Noah:  I will never again flood the whole world, rainbow.

Abraham:  Descendants as numerous as the stars, this land,   circumcision

Moses:  On Sinai, the laws,

God keeps God’s covenants with us, we tend to not be faithful.


2.  God is with us and demonstrates that with mighty power.  Crossing the sea, destroying the Egyptians, conquering the land.  Of extreme importance – it is God who does it all, not the army, not the king, not anyone else but God.


3.  Israel must be faithful in order to conquer the land and stay in it.

Promised land was the Land of Canaan – Canaan means ‘merchant’ and refers to the region’s position along the trade routes between Egypt, Babylon and the north.  The people who were there were not a united people – the region was full of small city / states, each ruled by a ‘king’

Can think of Joshua as a part two to Deuteronomy.

Rabbinic tradition sees Joshua as the moon and Moses as the sun.

Joshua opens with call to obey the Torah.  Establishes the First Five Books as more important than others – somewhat different from our approach.  God’s promise of the land is tempered only by the call to be faithful to Torah.

A central problem of the text is the violence within it – said to be done at the expressed command of God Himself.  Sacred violence, holy war – now seen, in recent modern times, as discredited.  However, we cannot simply ignore the book.  In Joshua the promises made to Abraham and Moses are fulfilled.  This is an important part of the overall story.

God’s chosen people, under covenant and obeying God’s law, led by God Himself to establish His nation and His justice and His rule in that place – currently occupied, to some extent, by pagans practicing all sorts of wicked sacrifices and injustices.

As violent as Joshua’s world is – today’s world and last 100 years far worse!  Our concept of just war even a parallel – the bringing about of the reign of God through Torah in promised land presumed to bring justice and peace.  The theological themes of Joshua, as a book of Scripture, are primary.  The historical details and the descriptions of violence are of lesser importance – and have been through the tradition of the church.

With regard to actual history of Israel coming into possession of the land, three theories:

  • conquest by a people fleeing Egypt
  • infiltration of uninhabited areas, gradual takeover
  • revolt of peasants already in the land against more distant ruling peoples, a revolt that ‘caught on’ as it was successful

Consensus evades modern scholarship.

Scholar and preacher Jerome Creach (Joshua  Interpretation commentary series)  says:

“In what sense is Joshua history? … History is never a simple recording of bare, un-interpreted ‘facts’ about the past.   A World War II historian may write about particular battles or fighting units in order to give a certain slant on the data, perhaps to inspire courage in the present generation.    Nevertheless, modern history writing has conventions of accuracy and documentation that were not practiced widely and consistently among the ancients.  …  On the contrary, Joshua must be classified as the kind of history that was written in the ancient world to trace national origins and to support nationalistic goals.  For Americans, the closes parallels to the kind of history we find in Joshua might be stories of Pilgrims celebrating the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth or George Washington chopping down the cherry tree.  Such accounts do not intend to deceive the audience into thinking that something happened that, in fact, did not.  And in some cases, they report real events.  But their concern is to create identity and teach values, not to report “what really happened.”  In the process of achieving those goals, stories that have a historical kernel may collapse a complex array of historical events into a simplified account (as with the American Thanksgiving story).  Others may be legendary portraits of heroic figures meant to inspire (the George Washington account). …  In other words, the history in Joshua is composed for theological purposes, not to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of modern readers.”  p. 5

Creach P. 6  “…the archeological data do not square with Joshua’s account of some cities conquered by the Israelites.  In fact, the evidence seems to indicate that many of the battle reports are legendary.”

The Joshua time period (archeology dated) is about 1200BCE.   Written down along with Deuteronomy after the Babylonian Exile had come to an end and a fragment of the people returned to rebuild a devastated region.

So, why read it?   Rather than encounter the book to dismantle and historically analyze it, we ought to read it so that we “enter Joshua’s world and to have our history and our future shaped by it.” p.6

some items captured are ‘banned’ – treated as sacrifice to God, completely destroyed.  Lev. 27:28   This is true of Jericho, all destroyed.  The victory due to God, all the spoils as well.    second element – avoid temptation.  Canaanite gods and practices WERE real temptations in later periods – a reading back into history?  Generally considered the CAUSE of the Babylonian conquest / punishment.


Chapter one

Moses’ teachings / Torah  take the place of Moses on his death.  Joshua becomes a leader and prophet, but not the equal of Moses.  In commissioning him, he takes on some elements of the later kings.

The Law, Torah has multiple meanings, even to today:

  • 613 commandments found in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy
  • Deuteronomy itself (post Exile)
  • The five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • All of the “tradition”  (Roman Catholic “Tradition”)

Chapter two

Name Rahab root is “to open”  (sex, city), perhaps old soldier’s joke nickname, but – Rahab is the only one who sees and understands what God is doing, outwits theothers throughout the story

flax used to make cloth / linen   no special significance    needed to be soaked to be used

In rabbinical tradition Rahab married Joshua and seven kings and 8 prophets were descended from them.   Matthew 1:5 lists her as the mother of Boaz and an ancestor of Jesus.

rabbis speculate – used a rope so that clients could climb up at night and climb down undetected, now that same rope used as part of the divine plan.  Rahab as well an example of same thing

crimson cord – blood?   of Passover? of Jesus?   is not likely the rope used to lower them down       dyed threads / material that would later be woven into cloth and clothing.  Ties into the flax on the roof – Rahab was not just a prostitute but an industrious woman, weaving cloth  (see proverbs for ideal wife / industrious woman)

end point of the story?  to explain why some Canaanites remained living with Israelites.  To modify the destruction theme – the righteous and welcoming ones preserved while all the others destroyed.  Sodom and Gomorrah, others in parallel.  Kind of gradual recognition that strangers start out seeming reprehensible but then we discover that not all are (but some are).

Chapters three and four

crossing the Jordan river.  Crossing the river intimately related to passing through red sea.

A later ritual, with dam? to remember, instruct?

reference to Jordan ‘overflowing banks’ – a natural line of defense that the Canaanites would have confidently relied on.  Hence in crossing – surprise and dismay on their part.

prominence of the ark a real strand, close ties to priesthood and temple, long lost by the Exile

unity of the people emphasized – those living on the east of the river to help conquer the other side for fellow Israelites.  this unity later begins to come apart.  Ultimately two kingdoms, at time of exile only south / two tribes remain.

prominence of the Jordan river also

chapters five and six

root word of Gilgal – to roll,  as in roll away the last connection to Egyptian slavery by the circumcision, or by lack of faith in desert.  Perhaps just a reference to the stones being set up in a circle.  Not a city, is a cultic site.  One of many in the pre-Jerusalem period, perhaps more significant than most.  ( Shiloh, Shechem, Salem & others also important.)   Between Jericho and the Jordan river.  Site not firmly identified today.

Rabbis tradition – Gilgal the cultic center for 14 years, then Shiloh for 369 years, eventually Jerusalem as sole site)

interestingly – circumcision was practiced in Egypt – but not in Babylon.  hence ties to the author’s time and situation.   those returning from there?

Rabbis tradition takes the text as it is and then needs to come up with reasons why they were not circumcising in the desert – a constant north wind for 40 years did not allow it, the fatigue of constant travel did not allow it for there was not enough time for the wound to properly heal

Passover drawing near.  Blood of the lamb and blood of circumcision give them life, both mark them as belonging to God.  The manna stops, other bread now available.

manna is considered among the greatest miracles in Judaism.  40 years except for Sabbaths and holy days (double portions the day before each).  Bread in the desert for hungry people.  Same for us for eucharist.  One jar of manna preserved in the Ark (us and the tabernacle)

text emphasizes not military effort, not anything but God’s actions that brought the city walls down

archeological evidence – Jericho among the most ancient walled cities, dating to about 10,000 bc

rabbinic tradition – the angel is the Archangel Michael – a warrior

three ancient tactics in confronting a walled city:

  • enter by ruse (Trojan horse)
  • assault weakest points to break through (risk of attack from within / above)
  • siege – wait them out – cut off water and food and commerce

the travels around the city are more liturgical than military in nature.

Circle of stones / Gilgal to roll, circled Jericho.  their camp remains at Gilgal during the event.

all living things in Jericho to be killed and burned – a whole burnt offering, belongs to God.  They took the city on the Sabbath day, hence it particularly belonged to God

chapter seven

sin of Achan

At Ai the Israelites are acting presumptuously.  This leads to defeat and some humiliation.

Was the family killed along with him?  Text is ambiguous.


group punishment for sins of an individual?   modern reading and issue.  our connectedness, especially in ancient times, more significant.    Though only one person committed the sin, all are held responsible for it.  The family is killed along with him – partly because they were in the same household as the forbidden stuff, also because in many ways they were simply one with him – one and enjoying the fruits, one and suffering the consequences.

Creach “p. 73 “Rahab’s act of harboring the spies preserves her family, while Achan’s faithless deed dooms his.”



rabbis say that Achan and his animals were stoned and burned – not his family.  The text is ambiguous.

after loss of the men – would that we had stayed on the other side of the Jordan.  The complaining and loss of faith reflects the desert mentality

The explanation of Achan – Babylonish garment (i.e. not Canaanite in origin – I thought it belonged to a foreigner and therefore not banned, gold – not able to be burned up and therefore not covered (though was to be given over to priests and levites).   Feeble and not very defensible, but something.


Chapter 8

second attack on Ai

archeology notes that Ai had been an impressive walled city in very ancient times but for about a millennia before the period of Joshua had been unoccupied .  At the time of Joshua – lightly occupied and unwalled.

where is Ai?  Likely site (archeologically) is about 3 miles east of Bethel and 14 miles west of Jericho (under the h of Bethel on our map).

Name Ai means ‘the ruin’.

Overconfidence of the city’s king and army led to their defeat.  (as the overconfidence of Israel leaders and army led to their defeat in first battle)

Covenant renewal takes place at the end of the chapter.  Did it happen at Shechem between the 2 mountains of Ebal and Gerizim?   or (more plausible) at Gilgal?  2 traditions merging here, inconsistently.  However – Shechem stands out in the later traditions as important for covenants.  Mt Gerizim eventually mentioned as the site of the temple for Samaritans.

Chapter 9

Rabbinic tradition helps deal with the violence in this way:

Joshua sent out 3 proclamations (not in bible) to kings and people of Canaan before crossing the Jordan

  1. anyone who wants to leave can leave (explains why lists of kings etc. aren’t identical)
  2. anyone who wants to make peace, obey basic Noachic laws, can do so and stay.
  3. Joshua will make war on the remainder

Gibeonites had to be clever because they changed their minds AFTER Joshua conquered others.

In ancient times a covenant was taken with extreme seriousness.  To break one brought extreme punishment down on oneself – therefore the Gibeonites are seen as clever in that they achieved a covenant agreement that protected them – even if they had to lie to get there.

This story, along with Rahab and descendants, clarifies for the readers how God’s command to wipe out the Canaanites was followed but was not successful in the end.

Chapter 10 to 12

consolidating control over the land.

The LORD confused them.  How, the rabbis asked themselves.  Conclusion – when not otherwise specified – through noise / thunder.

Sun and moon as instruments of God power – not gods themselves as Canaanites and Egyptians believed.  Rabbis suggest that the longer day prevented the Sabbath from coming and being desecrated by battle.

Book of Jashar is a portion of the Torah, a section that deals with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (hence – a part of Genesis)

this section is a repudiation of royal oppression throughout Canaanite land.  Royal cities and armies are defeated, liberation and justice can now prevail.

Chapter 11

has the passage in which horses captured are crippled.  Rabbis note that: Torah forbids a king to amass three things: horses, wives, silver and gold.  Horses because they are instruments only of war.  silver and gold from taxation.

In 11:11 not a soul was left – rabbis read this as referring only to the animals, not to people  who were conquered.  Different word for soul than the soul of humans (nephesh)

Creach p. 96   “The harsh treatment of Canaanite kings and their people should be understood as part of an ethic of revolution.  Revolution often brings death and destruction for those whose outmoded or oppressive practices stand in the way of new visions for life and governance.  Israel’s conquest is depicted as such a revolutionary movement, called for and informed by the torah of Moses.”

Note – they did not act as Rahab or the Gibeonites had acted.



Chapters 13 to 22

dividing up the land

theological point is made – the land is divided up in a way that God wants – fair to all, not to just a few.

The (rabbinic) rule: Israel is always counted as twelve tribes.  When Levi is included, Manasseh and Ephraim are recorded as the single tribe of Joseph; when Levi is excluded, the two halves of Joseph – Manasseh and Ephraim are counted as two tribes.  In distributing the land Levis was not counted, therefore….

Creach p. 104  “The practice of avenging a murder was so deeply ingrained in the Israelite psyche that it was institutionalized (Deut. 19:12).  It was recognized, however, that homicide occurred sometimes under circumstances that were not clearly premeditated and, therefore, did not warrant avenging)…”

an accident that killed someone.  flee to sanctuary cities, eventually can come home – at the death of the high priest all can go.

implies some finding of fact while there – those guilty of intentional murder are taken from them city / altar and killed.

The Levites had the LORD as their portion, serving in the temple and receiving compensation there.  Had to live somewhere however – so they got cities within the territory of the other tribes.

Chapter 22

Those who live east of the Jordan are at first congratulated and thanked for their service to the larger community, are dismissed to go back.  they received their share of the spoils of the conquest.

The rabbis noted the duplication in the text – how many times were they departing?  We can explain it as the bringing together of multiple traditions.  The Rabbis said = they left and came back several times – why?  They so loved their fellow Israelites that they did not want to leave them, they so loved the sanctuary at Shiloh, they came back to kiss the stones of the Holy Land

Underlying problem – who is of Israel?  The tribes to the east of the Jordan in tension with those on the other side.  Came to help them conquer the land on the other side – or not?  Altar over on the other side needed – or not?

one altar for the whole nation is very late – even after Babylonian captivity.  from many shrines and altars to just one in Jerusalem – control of the cult by king /priests.

Chapter 23 and 24

choose whom you will serve is a final theological emphasis.

don’t even name or recognize other gods, there is one God alone.

fear the Lord and serve him



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