People

Joshua by Zev Farber

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, "Joshua", n.p. [cited 20 Sep 2021]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/people/main-articles/joshua

Contributors

farber-zev

Zev Farber
Editor, TheTorah.com

Zev Farber is the editor of TheTorah.com, 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).

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

Did you know…?

  • Joshua and Jesus are two versions of the same name, and for this reason, early Christian interpreters saw Joshua’s story as allegorically foreshadowing that of Jesus.
  • According to Josh 10:14, Joshua’s miracle of stopping the sun is the only miracle in which God listens to a human’s command.
  • Joshua is a descendent of Joseph, and both live to 110 years.
  • Samaritan tradition describes Joshua as eight feet tall and a king who sat on a throne and wore royal purple and a crown.
  • In Jewish tradition, Joshua marries Rahab the harlot and they have daughters, while in Christian tradition, Joshua remains a life-long virgin and Rahab marries Salmon, father of Boaz, ancestor of Mary’s husband, Joseph.

The promise made by Yahweh to the ancestors in Genesis, including the promise of offspring, land, and blessing. Eventually the covenant becomes the essential part of this promise.

The land that Yahweh promised to Abraham in Genesis, also called Canaan.

Gen 15

God's Covenant with Abram
1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be v ... View more

Exod 17:9

9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

Exod 24:13

Exod 24:13

Exod 32:17

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.”

Exod 33:11

11Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, wo ... View more

Num 11:28

28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men,[a] said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

Num 13-14

Spies Sent into Canaan
1The Lord said to Moses,2“Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribe ... View more

Num 27:18-23

18So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him;19have him stand before Eleazar the priest and all ... View more

Deut 3:28

28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession o ... View more

Deut 31

31 When Moses had finished speaking all[a] these words to all Israel, 2 he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get abou ... View more

Josh 24:29-30

Death of Joshua and Eleazar
29After these things Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old.30They buried him in his own ... View more

Judg 2:8-9

8Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred ten years.9So they buried him within the bounds of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, ... View more

Josh 19:49-50

49 When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the Israelites gave an inheritance among them to Joshua son of Nun.  ... View more

A form of ancient government in which a single city was self-governing and often extended its political sphere to the surrounding countryside. Ancient Mesopotamian and Greek city-states are particularly well-known.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

Josh 2

Spies Sent to Jericho
1Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and en ... View more

Josh 3-4

Israel Crosses the Jordan
1Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan. They camped there bef ... View more

Josh 6

Jericho Taken and Destroyed
1Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the Israelites; no one came out and no one went in.2The Lord said to Joshua, “See ... View more

Josh 7-8

The Sin of Achan and Its Punishment
1But the Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe ... View more

Josh 9

The Gibeonites Save Themselves by Trickery
1Now when all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the ... View more

Josh 10

The Sun Stands Still
1When King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to ... View more

Josh 11

The United Kings of Northern Canaan Defeated
1When King Jabin of Hazor heard of this, he sent to King Jobab of Madon, to the king of Shimron, to the king of Ach ... View more

Josh 13

The Parts of Canaan Still Unconquered
1Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of ... View more

Josh 15-19

Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19

Judg 1

Israel's Failure to Complete the Conquest of Canaan
1After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the C ... View more

Josh 17:14-18

The Tribe of Joseph Protests
14The tribe of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, since we are a ... View more

Literally "Booths," one of the biblical pilgrimage festivals, celebrated in the fall.

Josh 5:13-15

13 Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you ... View more

Deut 31:23

23Then the Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be w ... View more

Josh 1:1-9

God's Commission to Joshua
1After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying,2“My servant Moses i ... View more

Josh 3-4

Israel Crosses the Jordan
1Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan. They camped there bef ... View more

Josh 5-9

Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9

Josh 6:2-5

2 The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers. 3 You shall march around the city, all the warriors circli ... View more

Josh 7:10-15

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I imposed on them. They ... View more

Josh 8

Ai Captured by a Stratagem and Destroyed
1Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai. Se ... View more

Josh 10:8

8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have handed them over to you; not one of them shall stand before you.”

Josh 11:6

6And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will hand over all of them, slain, to Israel; you shall hamstring their hor ... View more

Josh 13:1-7

The Parts of Canaan Still Unconquered
1Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of ... View more

Josh 20:1-6).

20 Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, 2 “Say to the Israelites, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who k ... View more

Josh 6:26

26Joshua then pronounced this oath, saying,
“Cursed before the Lord be anyone who tries
to build this city—this Jericho!
At the cost of his firstborn he shall l ... View more

1Kgs 16:34

34In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Seg ... View more

Josh 9:27

27 But on that day Joshua made them hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to continue to this day, in the plac ... View more

Josh 10:12-14

12 On the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the Lord; and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon ... View more

Josh 4

Twelve Stones Set Up at Gilgal
1When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua:2“Select twelve men from the people, one f ... View more

Josh 5:2-9

2At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.” 3So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israel ... View more

Josh 5:10

10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.

Neh 8:17

17And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them; for from the days of Jeshua son of Nun to that day the people ... View more

Josh 8:30-31

Joshua Renews the Covenant
30Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel,31just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the I ... View more

Josh 20-21

Chapter 21

Josh 1:7-8

7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right ... View more

Josh 8:32-35

32 And there, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua[a] wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 All Israel, alien as well as ... View more

Josh 24:25-26

25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law ... View more

Josh 24:14-24

14 “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, a ... View more

People who study a text from historical, literary, theological and other angles.

Josh 10:14

14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded a human voice; for the Lord fought for Israel.

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.