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The book of Joshua is part of what is sometimes called the Deuteronomistic History of Israel. This history is contained in the books of Joshua to 2 Kings. This series of books tells the story of Israel from the entry into Canaan to the fall of Israel to Babylon. The writers of the Deuteronomistic history lived during the late seventh century BCE approximately during the time of Josiah’s reforms. Most scholars believe that the Deuteronomistic history, including the book of Joshua, was written during this later historical time and reflects (mostly but probably not exclusively) their theological views. As with Torah, the stories in book of Joshua probably comes from several sources and were gradually brought together. One of the main themes of the Deuteronomistic history is that Israel’s fall and exile was the result of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the covenant.
Some scholars also think that the book of Joshua was written in such a way as to support and reinforce Josiah’s reforms and the reconquest of the land after the Exile. Other scholars believe that the book of Joshua reflects a reasonably accurate telling of Israel’s history. For the book of Joshua, asking if an event “really” happened may be unanswerable.
It is important for modern readers to remember that in the ancient world, religion, politics and economics were not separate and distinct entities. Remember that Torah deals with all three subjects. We also need to remember that the idea of a nation is different today than it was in the ancient world. Nations were not the fairly stable entities we have today. They were more fluid with respect to who the subjects under a particular ruler were. Tribes were networks of families but again, were not as uniform and stable as we might imagine. Tribes and nations were more about the elites and their roles than about the common people within the tribe or nation.
For modern readers the violence in Joshua is also a concern. Scholars and others grapple with the violence in several ways. Some look for “purer” qualities in the text, reliance on the power of God, obedience to authority, the importance of family and community and so on. Others think that carefully studying Joshua can help us better understand ourselves and our world. What is our relationship to violence, and coercion? Joshua prompts us to think about war,peace, and nationalism. Can God’s purposes be served by evil? Does God bring good out of evil? Difficult questions but worth pondering.
An Outline: from Cooke,p 581-582.
I. Joshua receives his commission 1:1-18
II. Joshua conquest Canaan 2:1-12:24
A. 2:1-6:27 The destruction of Jericho at Passover
B. 7:1-8:29 The destruction of Achan and Ai
C. 8:30-35 An altar on Mt. Ebal
D. 9:1-10:43 Destruction to the south
E. 11:1-15 Destruction to the north
F. 11:16-12:24 Summary
III. Joshua Redistributes the land 13:1-21:45
A. 13:1-7 Redistribute this land
B.13:8-33 Land for the tribes beyond the Jordan
C. 14:1-5 Inheritance by lot
D. 14:6-15: Hebron for Caleb
E. 15:1-63 Land of Judan
F. 16:1-17:18 Land for the sons of Joseph
G. 18:1-10 Land survey and lots at Shiloh
H. 18:11-28 Land for Benjamin
I. 19:1-51 Land for the remaining tribes
J. 20:1-9 Towns for refuge
K. 21:1-45 Towns with pasture lands for the Levites
IV. A Second Altar: Legal or Not? 22:1-34
V. Joshua bids farewell 23:1-24:28
A. 23:1-16 Love Yahweh or lose your land
B. 24:1-28 Covenant at Shechem
VI. Joshua is buried 24:1-28
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of Joshua.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Cooke, Robert B. “The Book of Joshua”, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Dentan, Robert C., Leslie J. Hoppe “Joshua” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Rast, Walter E. “Joshua” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Younger,Jr. K. Lawson “Joshua” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Aporcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition, Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.