Book of Joshua - Introduction
The book of Joshua (Yehoshua) is the sixth book of the Hebrew Old Testament, and the first book of the earlier "prophets." It tells the story of the early conquest of the land of Israel by the Jewish tribes. It is a "critical link" in the cultural tie of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, a link that has been preserved for thousands of years. The action would have had to have taken place either about 1400 BCE or 1200 BCE, depending on the actual date of the exodus from Egypt, which itself in dispute.
The book of Joshua is a narrative type book, unlike Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which are a compilation of laws. The land of Canaan until the Hebrew conquest consisted of a large number of small city states that were periodically in revolt against Egyptian or Hittite overlordship, and at other times paid tribute to these empires. The cities and countryside were inhabited by a melange of peoples, including the Semitic Canaanites who also inhabited Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) to the north, the Hittites, and the Semitic Amonites and the Amorites whose main base was primarily across the Jordan river. Other peoples mentioned in the Bible as inhabitants of Cana'an such as Hivites, Yevusites, Girgashites etc. were very likely local tribes belonging to the Cana'anite or Hittite ethnicity. If the date of the Philistine invasion was about 1180 BCE, then the land was not yet occupied by the Philistines, but Joshua 13 notes that the Philistines were not conquered and delimits their lands and cities. It also notes that the "Geshuri" were not conquered. The only other mention of these people is in 1 Samuel 27:8 where they are mentioned as living as far as the border with Egypt.
The literal historicity of the events related is very much in dispute. Events such as the collapse of the walls of Jericho and the Sun and Moon standing still in Geba (Gibeon) and the valley of Ayalon are prima facie improbable, and there is controversy over whether or not archeological findings support the narrative.
The archeological controversy about Joshua revolves around several issues. One of them is probably a non-issue. That is, it is often related in Joshua that a particular city such as Gezer was destroyed utterly, but evidence indicates subsequent habitation. Such statements are common in the chronologies of Middle Eastern potentates including Egyptian Pharaohs. Either the site was re-inhabited at a later time by the same or different people, or the original "utter destruction" was not as great as was described. The "cities" were all relatively small in any case and could have been rebuilt rather quickly.
The dating issue is more crucial. Earlier archeologists believed they had found a layer of destruction by fire in several archeological sites, that could be dated to the Israelite conquest. In particular, the British archeologist John Garstang excavated Jericho in the 1930s and claimed that he had found a wall that had collapsed about 1440 BCE. But in the 50s, Kathleen Kenyon, using newer carbon-14 dating methods, estimated that the wall had been destroyed much earlier, probably by one of the regions frequent earthquakes. Of course, the city could have been rebuilt subsequently, and the datings might have been incorrect. Kenyon understood the limits of her methodology and did not pretend that her findings "proved" conclusively that Jericho had not been conquered by the Israelites, but others built on her conclusions.
More recently, in 1990, Bryant Wood published a reevaluation of Kenyan's work, challenging her assertion that the city was destroyed before the 15th century BC. According to Wood, an abundance of pottery located at the site coincides with other local pottery common to the time of 1400 BC, and carbon-14 testing of a sample of charcoal from the site indicated a date of 1410 BCE. The radiocarbon date seemed to validate Garstang's earlier claim that the city was destroyed around 1400 BC. But further research gave different dates. The dates of 1410 BCE was later found to be in error and corrected from 3080 +/- 40 BP to 3300 +/- 110 BP (Radiocarbon 32 : 74; BP = before present), which calibrates to 1590 or 1527 +/- 110 B.C.E, (Radiocarbon 35 : 30). Additional tests were done on six grain samples from the destruction level resulting in dates between 1640 and 1520 B.C. and 12 charcoal samples from the destruction level resulting in dates between 1690 and 1610 B.C. (Radiocarbon 37 : 217). Italian researchers obtained two samples from a structure at the base of the tel that yielded dates of 1347 +/-85 and 1597 +/-91 B.C. (Quaderni di Gerico 2 : 206Ė207, 330, 332). The locus the samples were taken from appears to contain debris from the final Bronze Age destruction of the city. ref ref ref ref The proponents of the different dates are fairly adamant in their support for the two different dates, but the evidence does not seem to admit of a decisive conclusion. The majority of scholarship supports the earlier date for the destruction of Jericho. Either the invasion of the Hebrews was much earlier than had been previously proposed, or the conquest of Jericho related in the book of Joshua is a myth.
The account of the conquest is told in chapters 1-12. The places mentioned in detailed accounts of battles mostly seem to be in centered around a relatively small area of Canaan, in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Jaffo, but tending north as well. But in a single chapter (12) a larger list of conquests is catalogued, ranging northward to the Carmel. Jerusalem is mentioned but not conquered. At the same time, the allotments of land to the tribes are located all over the land of Israel, on both sides of the Jordan. Evidently the Hebrews lived intermixed with other peoples in Cana'an at that time.
The remainder of the book deals primarily with the allotments of land of the land to the tribes and the farewell of Joshua.
Some highlights of the Book of Joshua:Joshua 2 - Spies hidden in Jericho by Rahav the Harlot.
Joshua 3 - Crossing the Jordan - the waters part for the Israelites.
Joshua 5 - Circumcising the Israelites who were not circumcised in the desert.Joshua 6 - Conquest of Jericho.
Joshua 7 - Israelites fail to conquer Ai because Achan had stolen spoils.
Joshua 9 - Hivite Inhabitants of Gibeon, near Jerusalem, make a pact with the Israelites, pretending they are from a distant land. Joshua makes them into hewers of wood and drawers of water.
Joshua 10 - Israelite victory over the five kings; the Sun stands still in Gibeon, and the Moon in the valley of Ayalon.
Joshua 11 - Israelite victory over Yavin king of Hatzor and his allies.
Joshua 12 - Enumeration of the victories of the Israelites.
Joshua 13 - Setting up the tabernacle at Shiloh - mentioned in a single sentence.
Contents of the Book of Joshua:
Joshua 1 | Joshua 2 | Joshua 3 | Joshua 4 | Joshua 5 | Joshua 6 | Joshua 7 | Joshua 8 | Joshua 9 | Joshua 10 | Joshua 11 | Joshua 12 | Joshua 13 | Joshua 14 | Joshua 15 | Joshua 16 | Joshua 17 | Joshua 18 | Joshua 19 | Joshua 20 | Joshua 21 | Joshua 22 | Joshua 23 | Joshua 24 |
The Book of Joshua and Zionism
The bible and Zionism
The Bible, the Old Testament, has become a mainstay of human culture, but it is first and foremost a historical document of the Jewish people and our culture. It tells the story of our ancient kingdoms and civilization in the Land of Israel, and therefore it kept alive the tie of the people of Israel to the land of Israel for 2000 years. It forms the moral and cultural basis of Zionist ideology and aspirations.
The Bible, the Old Testament, is accepted by the three major Western faiths. It is a major work of Western civilization. The Bible documents the historic connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, even for those who do not believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, and even for those who do not believe in God at all. It is the historic epic of the Jewish people in our land.
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