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The Book of Joshua ( ) is the sixth book in both the Hebrew Bible. This book stands as the first in the Former (or First) Prophets covering the history of Israel from the possession of the Promised Land to the Babylonian Captivity.The book of Joshua contains a history of the Israelites from the death of Moses to that of Joshua. After Moses' death, Joshua, by virtue of his previous appointment as Moses' successor, received from God the command to cross the Jordan Rivermarker. In execution of this order Joshua issues the requisite instructions to the stewards of the people for the crossing of the Jordan; and he reminds the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half of Manasseh of their pledge given to Moses to help their brethren.

The book essentially consists of three parts:

  1. The history of the conquest of the land (1-12).
  2. The allotment of the land to the different tribes, with the appointment of cities of refuge, the provision for the Levites (13-22), and the dismissal of the eastern tribes to their homes. This section has been compared to the Domesday Book of the Norman Conquest (though significantly shorter and not the work of one man).
  3. The farewell addresses of Joshua, with an account of his death (23, 24).


Joshua sends out two spies from Shittim to explore the city of Jerichomarker. They are saved from falling into the hands of the king by the shrewd tactics of Rahab, in return for promising to spare her family when they later invade.

Having re-iterated the duty to follow the mitzvah, Joshua orders the Israelites to set forth, and they leave Shittimmarker. When they reach the Jordan Rivermarker, Joshua states that the Ark will miraculously cross the Jordan. As soon as the Ark reaches the river, a miracle duly occurs, and the river stops flowing and rapidly dries up, so the priests carrying it halt, allowing the rest of the Israelites to cross as well. In commemoration of the event, Joshua orders two monuments to be erected: one in the river-bed; the other on the western bank, where the Israelites encamp.

Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan
The Israelites are circumcised at Gibeath-Haaraloth (translating as hill of foreskins). Those who had been born in the desert had not been circumcised. The people are therefore circumcised, and the area is named Gilgal in memory (Gilgal sounds like Gallothi - I have removed, but is more likely to translate as circle of standing stones).

The Israelites then commence with the Battle of Jericho. Placing Jericho under siege, the Israelites circle it once a day for six days, and on the seventh make seven circuits, each time loudly blowing horns and shouting. On the final circuit, the walls cave in, and the inhabitants, except Rahab and her family, are slaughtered. A curse is pronounced against rebuilding the city.

Ai is surveyed and pronounced weak, so the Israelite army sends only a small group to attack them. However they are defeated, causing Joshua and the people to despair. But God announces that the people have sinned: someone has stolen some of the spoils from Jericho which are meant to be for the temple. Consequently the Israelites set out to discover the sinner by casting lots, whittling them down first by tribe (Judah), then clan (Zarhites), then sept (Zabdi), then finally detecting it as Achan. Achan admits having taken a costly Babylonian garment, besides silver and gold, and his confession is verified by the finding of the treasure buried in his tent, so Achan is taken into the valley of Achormarker, where he and his household are stoned and burned to death.

Afterwards, 30,000 Israelites set an ambush of Ai overnight, and in the morning another Israelite force attack and then feign retreat, drawing the forces of Ai far away from the city. When Joshua raises his lance, the 30,000 men preparing the ambush strike, while Joshua starts attacking again, thus surrounding Ai's forces. The entire city is burned and its inhabitants slaughtered. The king of Ai, however, is taken alive and delivered to Joshua. He is then impaled on a stake for public display before being buried outside the city gates, following Hebrew guidelines for the guilty. (see Deuteronomy 21.23).

Joshua erects an altar on Mount Ebal and makes offerings upon it and carves into it the law of Moses. The people are arranged into two sections, with one facing Ebal and the other facing Gerizimmarker. They each read the blessings and curses specified in Deuteronomy as appropriate.

The Hivites fool the Israelites into thinking them foreigners and gain a non-aggression treaty from the Israelites. Even after its detection, the fraud is not abrogated, though the Hivites are punished by being treated as the lowest social class (referred to via the Hebrew idiom "hewers of wood and drawers of water for the altar of Yhwh").

An 1883 depiction of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still in the sky.
Adonizedek, king of Jerusalemmarker, brings about an alliance of the "five kings of the Amorites" (the kings of Hebronmarker, Jarmuth, Lachishmarker, and Eglon, and himself), and they besiege the Hivites in Gibeonmarker, whom they perceive as traitors. The Hivites implore Joshua's help, and so he launches a surprise attack following a night march, causing the Amorites to panic and flee as far as Beth-horon. A poem is quoted from the Book of Jasher, which states that the sun stood still at Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, in order that Joshua could complete the battle. Despite the five kings' cowardly attempt at avoiding retribution by hiding inside a cave, they are discovered and trapped there until their army has been completely obliterated. Afterwards, the kings are brought to Joshua, who first humiliates them, then orders their death and has them impaled for public display. At sunset, the bodies are thrown back into the cave from which they hid, and the entrance sealed.

Jabin, king of Hazormarker, his army, and his vassals, rendezvous at Merom. Joshua, however, executes a swift attack and is able to defeat them. Pursuing them to a great distance, he hamstrings their horses, burns their chariots, captures Hazor, slaughters its inhabitants, and burns it to the ground. Lesser royal residences are also captured and their inhabitants slaughtered, although the cities on the hill remain.


The evidence tends to disprove the historical reliability of the Book of Joshua. The time periods involved in the destruction layers of the cities overlap the campaigns of the Sea Peoples (who consistently burnt rich cities to the ground, even if they intended to later settle on the ruins), and the currently unexplained general late Bronze Age collapse of civilisation in the whole eastern Mediterranean; it is far more plausible, from the point of view of an increasing majority of archaeologists, for these causes to have been responsible for the destruction of the cities, rather than an invasion of Israelites lasting only about 20 or so years. In addition, since archaeological remains show a smooth cultural continuity in this period, rather than the destruction of one culture (Canaanite) and replacement by another (Israelite), a large body of archaeologists believe that the Israelites were simply an emergent subculture within Canaanite society — i.e. that an Israelite conquest would be a logical nonsense — it would have involved the Canaanites invading themselves, from Canaan. From the point of view of critical Biblical scholars, it is more plausible that the author(s) of Joshua combined a series of independent traditions about battles and destruction of various cities at differing times, in order to create a nationalistic narrative that could dovetail neatly with the tradition of an exodus from Egypt.

Ethical issues

One difficulty in this book arises out of the command believed to have been given by their God to completely exterminate "anything that breathes" in the cities in the land to be inherited. During the conquest this God is believed to have commanded his people to kill inhabitants of numerous cities (often including women and children). No explicit justification is given in the book for these commands. However, it is given in the Book of Deuteronomy 9:4, and that reason is on account of the supposed wickedness of these nations, which is alleged in many cases to have involved child sacrifice to Molech and what the Israelites considered were perverse sexual practices, among other things. Claiming that a particular tribe practised child sacrifice, however, does not make any moral sense as a justification as the Israelites also slaughtered children in the process.

At many points in the Tanakh, the God is described as ordering men to kill other people for their faithlessness including at the scene of the golden calf when 4,000 Jews were slain for idolatry.

Liberal theologians see this as an ethically unjustifiable order to commit genocide, which is inconsistent with the supposed overall view in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures of a God as a loving, compassionate Creator. They see it as a theological polemic, with the majority of events invented during or after the Babylonian captivity, to encourage faithfulness to the Jewish creed at a time when it was being threatened. For instance, Morton says that Joshua "should be understood as a rite of ancient peoples (Israel among them) whereby within the context of their times, they attempted to please their God (or the gods)". The way in which people were killed for holding different beliefs, however, presents a major problem to defenders of the morals of the Bible, being in stark contrast to more modern ethics of universal rights and freedom of belief.

Some conservative theologians, who see the book as a historically accurate account written during or soon after the life of Joshua, explain the cruelty of the Israelites as God's way of making an example of nations that engaged in abhorrent practices. This message was intended not only for the surrounding nations, but for the Israelites as well (e.g. the stoning of Achan). Others cite progressive revelation in which God reveals himself partially to Joshua and the Jews, but (in due time) fully through Jesus Christ.

A alternative interpretation is that the Israelite leaders invented stories about their God ordering such atrocities as a way of justifying, or possibly even motivating, their behaviour, and that the explanations given by conservative Christian theologians are an intellectually dishonest attempt to rescue their own ideology.


The Book of Joshua has been traditionally ascribed to Joshua himself by early Jewish writers and by the Early Church Fathers. Modern scholars believe that Joshua is the work of writers from the 8th and 7th centuries BC, with retouchings from the exilic period. In terms of composition it forms a continuation of the JE version of the torah, and thus two of the main spliced-together narrative sources within it - Jahwist (J), and Elohist (E) - or at least deriving from sources from the same schools of thought as these. The Deuteronomists detached the Joshua section of this at some later point and embedded it within the Deuteronomic history, making a number of minor edits and framing additions (mainly Joshua , , , and ).


  1. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? William G. Dever, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006
  2. Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed
  3. ibid
  4. Deuteronomy 20:16-18
  5. Morton, pp. 324-325
  6. Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison and Thomas Nelson Publishers, “Joshua, Book of,” in, Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Rev. Ed. of: Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary.; Includes Index. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995).


  • Morton, William H. Joshua. The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 2. Ed. Clifton J. Allen, et al. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970.
  • Halley, Henry H. Halley's Bible Handbook. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927, 1965.
  • Mazar, Amihai. The Archaeology of the land of the Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
  • Anati, Emmanuel. The Time of Exodus In the Light of Archaeological Testimony, Epigraphy and Palaeoclimate. Har Karkom, a guide to major sites, Capo di Ponte [Edizioni del Centro], 2005.

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