This Bible book provides a vital link in the history of the Israelites by showing how God’s promises to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were fulfilled. Probably covering a period of more than 20 years (1473-c. 1450 B.C.E.), it tells of the conquest of Canaan, followed by the distribution of the land to the Israelites; and it concludes with Joshua’s discourses encouraging faithfulness to Jehovah.
The fact that the book contains ancient names for cities (Jos 14:15; 15:15) and detailed instructions and then relates how these were carried out indicates that it is a contemporary record. (For examples see Jos 1:11-18; 2:14-22; 3:2–4:24; 6:22, 23.) In fact, the writer identifies himself as living at the same time as Rahab of Jericho and therefore as an eyewitness.—6:25.
Authenticity. In the estimation of some, however, the book of Joshua is not true history. This view is primarily based on the assumption that, since the miracles mentioned in the book are foreign to recent human experience, they could not have happened. It therefore calls into question God’s ability to perform miracles, if not also his existence, as well as the writer’s integrity. For the writer to have embellished his account with fiction while presenting himself as an eyewitness would have made him guilty of deliberate deceit. Surely it is illogical to conclude that a book that honors God as the Fulfiller of his word (Jos 21:43-45), encourages faithfulness to him (23:6-16; 24:14, 15, 19, 20, 23), and openly acknowledges Israel’s failures was produced by a false witness.—7:1-5; 18:3.
No one can deny that the Israelite nation came into existence and occupied the land described in the book of Joshua. Likewise, there is no valid basis for challenging the truthfulness of that book’s account concerning the way in which the Israelites gained possession of Canaan. Neither the psalmists (Ps 44:1-3; 78:54, 55; 105:42-45; 135:10-12; 136:17-22), nor Nehemiah (Ne 9:22-25), nor the first Christian martyr Stephen (Ac 7:45), nor the disciple James (Jas 2:25), nor the learned apostle Paul (Ac 13:19; Heb 4:8; 11:30, 31) doubted its authenticity. And 1 Kings 16:34 records the fulfillment of Joshua’s prophetic curse uttered about 500 years earlier at the time of Jericho’s destruction.—Jos 6:26.
Writer. Some scholars, although acknowledging that the book was written in or near the time of Joshua, reject the traditional Jewish view that Joshua himself wrote it. Their main objection is that some of the events recorded in the book of Joshua also appear in the book of Judges, which commences with the words, “And after the death of Joshua.” (Jg 1:1) Nevertheless, this opening statement is not necessarily a time indicator for all the events found in the Judges account. The book is not arranged in strict chronological order, for it mentions an event that definitely is placed before Joshua’s death. (Jg 2:6-9) Therefore, some things, such as the capture of Hebron by Caleb (Jos 15:13, 14; Jg 1:9, 10), Debir by Othniel (Jos 15:15-19; Jg 1:11-15), and Leshem, or Laish (Dan), by the Danites (Jos 19:47, 48; Jg 18:27-29), could likewise have taken place before Joshua’s death. Even the action of the Danites in setting up an idolatrous image at Laish could reasonably fit Joshua’s time. (Jg 18:30, 31) In his concluding exhortation, Joshua told the Israelites: “Remove the gods that your forefathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt, and serve Jehovah.” (Jos 24:14) Had idolatry not existed, this statement would have had little meaning.
Logically, then, with the exception of the concluding portion that reports his death, the book may be attributed to Joshua. As Moses had recorded the happenings of his lifetime, so it would have been fitting for Joshua to do likewise. The book itself reports: “Then Joshua wrote these words in the book of God’s law.”—Jos 24:26.
Not Contradictory. Some have felt that the book is contradictory in making it appear that the land was completely subdued by Joshua while at the same time reporting that much of it remained to be taken. (Compare Jos 11:16, 17, 23; 13:1.) But such seeming discrepancies are easily resolved when one bears in mind that there were two distinct aspects in the conquest. First, national warfare under Joshua’s leadership broke the power of the Canaanites. Next, individual and tribal action was required to take full possession of the land. (17:14-18; 18:3) Probably while Israel was warring elsewhere, the Canaanites reestablished themselves in cities such as Debir and Hebron so that these had to be retaken by individual or tribal effort.—Compare Jos 11:21-23 with Jos 14:6, 12; 15:13-17.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF JOSHUA
The record of how Jehovah gave the land of Canaan to Israel, in fulfillment of his oath to their forefathers
Events of the first 20 years or so following the death of Moses at the end of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness
Joshua prepares Israel to enter Canaan, sends out spies (1:1–2:24)
Jehovah commissions Joshua to lead the Israelites into the land
Joshua commands that Israel be instructed to get ready to cross the Jordan
He sends spies out to investigate the land and the city of Jericho
When these are in Jericho they are hidden by Rahab, who is promised that she and all in her house who obey the instructions given will be spared in the coming destruction of Jericho
Israel crosses the Jordan River dry-shod (3:1–5:12)
The people sanctify themselves in preparation for crossing the Jordan
Priests carrying the Ark step into the river first; the river is miraculously dammed up some distance upstream, and the Israelites cross dry-shod
To memorialize the crossing, 12 stones are taken from the river and set up at Gilgal; another 12 stones are set up where the priests stood in the riverbed
Israelite males born in the wilderness are circumcised; a Passover is celebrated; the provision of manna ceases, and Israel begins to eat the produce of the land
The conquest of Jericho is followed by defeat at Ai (5:13–8:35)
The angelic prince of Jehovah’s army appears to Joshua; Jehovah tells Joshua how to fight against Jericho
For six days in succession the Israelites march once daily around the city; on the seventh day they march around it seven times; upon the final round they give a loud shout, Jericho’s walls fall, and the city is devoted to destruction
Achan takes for himself some of what has been devoted to destruction
Because of this sin, Jehovah withdraws his aid and Israel suffers defeat at Ai; Achan’s sin is uncovered, and he and his household are stoned
The second attack against Ai succeeds with Jehovah’s blessing
Joshua builds an altar at Mount Ebal and reads the Law to the people
The Gibeonites sue for peace, while others are destroyed (9:1–12:24)
The inhabitants of Gibeon, hearing of Israel’s successes, shrewdly trick Joshua into making a covenant with them
Five kings unite to attack the Gibeonites, but Israel comes to Gibeon’s aid; Jehovah hurls great hailstones and miraculously lengthens the daylight hours, causing utter defeat for the attackers
The Israelites under Joshua capture cities in the SW and the S
They are victorious over a coalition of kings in the N
Land is apportioned among tribes of Israel (13:1–22:34)
Reuben, Gad, and half tribe of Manasseh have territory E of the Jordan
Caleb receives Hebron; the tribes of Judah, Ephraim, and other half of Manasseh are assigned a land inheritance by lot
The tabernacle is set up at Shiloh, and lots are drawn there to determine land inheritances for the remaining tribes
The Levites receive 48 cities, 13 of which are priestly cities; 6 cities of refuge are set aside
Men of Reuben, Gad, and half tribe of Manasseh build an altar at the Jordan; its purpose is misunderstood until they explain that it is to serve as a memorial of faithfulness to Jehovah
Joshua urges Israel to serve Jehovah faithfully (23:1–24:33)
Advanced in years, Joshua calls an assembly of Israel’s leaders and exhorts them to remain faithful to Jehovah
At an assembly in Shechem, he reviews God’s dealings and encourages Israel to fear Jehovah and serve him alone; they express their determination to do so and reaffirm their covenant obligations