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Joshua was the protégé of Moses who led Israel into the promised land.

A view of Tell es-Sultan
A view of Tell es-Sultan

In Gen 15, Abraham is promised that his descendants will inherit the promised land. This promise is fulfilled not by Moses, but by his protégé, Joshua son of Nun from the tribe of Ephraim. Joshua first appears in the Bible in Exod 17:9 as the person Moses puts in charge of fighting the Amalekites who attacked the Israelites in the wilderness. We meet him again as Moses’s attendant, who goes with him to Mount Sinai (Exod 24:13, Exod 32:17), dwells in the Tent of Meeting (Exod 33:11), and wishes to protect Moses from competition (Num 11:28). He is also one of the twelve spies sent into Canaan to scout out the land, the story in which Moses gives him the name Joshua (Num 13-14). When God tells Moses that it is time for him to die, Joshua, “a man with spirit” is chosen to be Moses’s successor (Num 27:18-23, Deut 3:28, Deut 31). Although he is to share the power with the high priest Eleazar, Joshua will be the one to lead the Israelites into Canaan and conquer the land. His story ends with his burial in Timnat-heres/serah (Josh 24:29-30, Judg 2:8-9), the land he was given by lot (Josh 19:49-50).

Does Joshua Conquer the Entire Land?

The book of Joshua offers two different accounts. The book opens militarily, with Joshua sending spies into Jericho, their first target (Josh 2). Then, after miraculously crossing over the Jordan River (Josh 3-4), Joshua and the Israelites circle the city of Jericho for seven days and then seven times on the seventh day, after which they blow horns and the walls collapse (Josh 6). The Israelites kill all the inhabitants of the city and then move on to the nearby city of Ai (Josh 7-8). The Israelites lose their first battle against that city, due to the sin of Achan who took consecrated property from the Jericho booty. However, once Achan is executed, Joshua conquers Ai through a ruse, sacks the city and burns it.

After making an accidental peace with the Gibeonite cities (Josh 9), Joshua comes to their rescue against an attack from five southern city-states led by the king of Jerusalem (Josh 10). During this battle, God rains hailstones down upon the enemies, and Joshua stops the sun. The five kings hide in a cave, but Joshua executes them after a southern campaign conquering multiple cities. Next, Joshua defeats an enormous northern army, led by Jabin king of Hazor and three other kings, and leaves Hazor as a destroyed mound (Josh 11). At that point, Joshua had conquered everything.

And yet, in Josh 13, God speaks to Joshua and tells him that he (Joshua) is old and that much of the land remains to be conquered. Thus, the land should be divided by lot among the tribes even before it is conquered. Although the unconquered land here focuses on border enclaves, such as the Phoenicians in the northwest and the Philistines in the southwest—both of which never become Israelite—later (Josh 15-19), as well as in Judg 1, we hear of Canaanite enclaves that remain independent until centuries later, when they are put under the tax (a reference to Solomon’s day). Moreover, when the Joseph tribes complain that Canaanite chariots are too powerful for them, Joshua tells them to deforest the hill country and live there (Josh 17:14-18). In short, in one part of Joshua, Israel conquers the whole land, and in another much of the land remains unconquered.

Is Joshua a Prophet?

Joshua meets an angel of God outside Jericho and is told to remove his shoes, in a scene reminiscent of Moses’s first encounter with God at the burning bush (Josh 5:13-15). Moreover, while not the main focus of his story, God speaks to Joshua many times: When he is invested (Deut 31:23); after Moses dies (Josh 1:1-9); before splitting the Jordan (Josh 3-4); when circumcising the people (Josh 5-9); before conquering Jericho (Josh 6:2-5); after Achan’s sin (Josh 7:10-15); before conquering Ai (Josh 8); before the battle at Gibeon (Josh 10:8); before the northern battle (Josh 11:6); when warning the elderly Joshua to divide up the land (Josh 13:1-7); and when telling him to build refuge cities (Josh 20:1-6).

Joshua wields the power of a prophet: He lays a curse upon anyone who builds Jericho (Josh 6:26), which comes to pass hundreds of years later (1Kgs 16:34), he dooms the Gibeonites to perpetual servitude in the temple (Josh 9:27), and he stops the sun (Josh 10:12-14). Joshua also functions as a religious leader, setting up memorial stones (Josh 4), circumcising the people (Josh 5:2-9), celebrating Passover (Josh 5:10) and Sukkot (Neh 8:17), building an altar (Josh 8:30-31), setting up refuge and Levitical cities (Josh 20-21), learning and teaching torah (Josh 1:7-8, Josh 8:32-35, Josh 24:25-26), and exhorting the people to remove their idols and be loyal to God (Josh 24:14-24).

  • Zev Farber is the editor of, a website of Project TABS, and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Kogod Center. He holds a PhD from Emory University in Jewish Religious Cultures (Hebrew Bible focus) and an MA from Hebrew University in Jewish History (biblical period). He also holds rabbinic ordination (yoreh yoreh) and advanced ordination (yadin yadin) from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinical School. He is coeditor (with Jacob L. Wright) of Archaeology and History of Eighth-Century Judah (SBL Press, 2018) and the author of Images of Joshua in the Bible and Their Reception (de Gruyter, 2016).