The Bible Educator

Edited by the Rev. E. H. Plumptree, M.A.,

The History Books.


By The Very Rev. E. Payne Smith, D.D., Dean of Canterbury.


THE Book of Joshua is the first m order of those books which are known in the Jewish canon as the former prophets, and are so distinguished from the latter whicli correspond to what we understand by that term — namely, the three greater prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets from Hosea to Malachi. Daniel is not counted among "the prophets, but among the Hagiographa, or sacred "writings of the Bible, which, comprising the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, &c., is the third division of the Old Testament Scriptures. This method of dividing these Scriptures must have been as early as the time of our Lord, to say the least, because he makes mention of it (Luke xxiv. 44). The Book of Joshua contains the history of Israel from the death of Moses to that of Joshua, and records the appointment of Joshua, his arrangements for crossing the Jordan, the passage of that river, the setting up the memorial of the passage in Gilgal, the dismay of the Canaanites, the circumcision of the people who had been born in the wilderness, the keeping of the passover in the plains of Jericho, the session of the manna which had fallen for forty years, Joshua's vision, the overthrow of Jericho, the failure at Ai, the punishment of Achan, the destruction of Ai, the "blessing and cursing on Ebal and Gerizim, the deceit of the Gibeonites, the battle of Beth-horon, the standing still of the sun and moon, the great battle by the waters of Merom, the destruction of the children of Anak, a list of the defeated kings, the division of the country for the most part by lot, the setting up of the tabernacle in Shiloh, the appointment of additional cities of refuge and of cities for the Levites, the return of the Reubeuites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh to the possessions, and the farewell address of Joshua, together with his death and burial. It appears to comprise the history of about five-and-twenty years. The Boot of Joshua naturally divides itself into two parts. The first 'twelve chapters are purely historical, and contain the history of the conquest. The last twelve, though likewise partly historical and recording the distribution of the land, Ac, may be more properly termed geographical. Of the date and authorship of the book we know nothing from external sources. Jewish tradition, chiefly perhaps to be distrusted on account of the fatal facility of its hypothesis, has ascribed it to Joshua. Certain broad and general indications as to date are discoverable from the book itself, and we have no other guide, as there can be none better or surer. For example, we are told (xvi. 10) that the children of Ephraim " drave not out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer." but in 1 Kings ix. 16 we find that they were exterminated by Pharaoh, king of Egypt, when he gave Gezer as a present to his daughter, Solomon's wife. Joshua, therefore, was written before this time. Again, in Josh. xv. 63 we are told that Judah did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, but we know that David succeeded in doing so at the commencement of his reign (2 Sam. v. 5 - 9). Joshua, therefore, must be earlier than this, unless indeed, which is highly improbable, it was written much later and accommodated to the subsequent history in these particulars. Such a supposition would imply a degree of skilful literary manipulation for a designed purpose which is utterly foreign to the character of the Hebrew records. The mention, moreover, of " great Zidon," which is peculiar to this book, and points to a time when she was still unsurpassed by Tyre, is au indication of antiquity consistent with the ostensible age of the book. It must be borne in mind also that the Book of Joshua is quoted or referred to, and therefore its existence is implied, in Judg. xviii. 31 (cf. Josh. xviii. 1); in 1 Sam. i. 24; iii. 21; Isa. xxviii. 21; and often in the Psalms — e.g., xliv. 2, 3; lxviii. 12 - 14; lxxviii. 54, 55; cxiv. 3, 5; Hab. iii. 8 — 13. The reader will at once see that the authors of these several books, and of those Psalms which are ascribed to David, must have had the narrative in Joshua before them to write as they did. It was earlier, therefore, than the earliest of these writings — that is to say, certainly prior to the time of David. In like manner we may Infer from ix. 27 that the permanent place of Divine worship had not been fixed in the writer's time, but this was determined as early as the reign of David, as we see from 1 Chron. xxii. 1 (cf. xxi. 18 and 2 Sam. xxiv. 18), and the Gibeonites had not been destroyed by Saul (2 Sam. xxi.). There are, moreover, sundry indications of antiquity in the language used which we should not expect to find in a late writer. We may assume, therefore, that the Book of Joshua was written prior to the age of David. It is manifest, however, that the book in its integrity, as we now have it, was not the work of Joshua, because it records his death and burial (xxiv. 29 - 33); but it does not follow from This that the remainder of the book, or at least a very large portion of it, may not have been written by Joshua, or at least had his superintendence and sanction. The writer was one" — as we may fairly infer from chap. v. 1 — of those who had made the passage of the Jordan under Joshua, and if not the great captain himself, was probably one of the elders who outlived him. It is certain that those passages which relate the commands given to Joshua are more naturally ascribed to him than to any one else; such, for instance, as chap. i. 2 - 9, &c.; especially the incident at chap. v. 13 - 15 has all the appearance of being recorded by the person to whom it occurred. The phrase so often repeated, "into this day," may guide us within certain limits to a determination of the date. For example, it shows that the book as we at present have it was not written quite so early as the events it records. The twelve memorial stones set up "in the midst of Jordan " must have been there some time, and yet they were still there (iv. 9). On the other hand, the origin of the names of Gilgal and Achor was distinctly remembered (v. 9; vii. 26). Rahab was still alive, which shows that the generation existing at the, capture of Jericho had not yet passed away (vi. 25). The heaps of Ai and her king were still remaining (viii.  28, 29), as was that also of the five confederate kings (x. 27; cf. xiii. 13; xiv. 14; xv. 63; xvi. 10; xxii. 3, 17; xxiii. 8, 9). The fair inference, therefore, appears to be that the book was the work of some one who had been an eye-witness of the most important events in it, and that he recorded them while some at least of those who wore concerned in them still survived. From such a passage, however, as iv. 14, it would appear that Joshua himself was not alive. Still, it is impossible to say how far the original condition of the book was afterwards adapted to later circumstances. "Wherever the narrative of the history of Joshua was continued, as at xxiv. 29, it would be natural that additions of this kind should be made from the later point of view, which embraced the entire lifetime of the principal character. It is manifest that the several lists — e.g., of the thirty-one defeated kings, &c. — in Joshua must have been either the original records or else taken from them. The remarkable injunction to make an official survey (xviii. 4 - 9) no doubt introduces the actual results of it, at least in substance, as they were brought to Joshua; and there can be no question but that these (chaps, xiii. - xxi.) were ever afterwards regarded as containing the authoritative boundaries of the several tribes. In this respect this portion of Joshua is to the subjugation of Canaan what Domesday Book was to the Norman conquest of England, and there is no more reason to doubt the genuineness of the one than of the other; while the occurrence of such assertions as that the writer was an eye-witness of the passage of the Jordan, and that the woman who entertained the spies was still alive when he wrote, would be held conclusive evidence as to date in any ordinary ancient record, unless there were adequate reason to the contrary. We must briefly notice such reasons as there are.

With regard to the structure of the book four opinions have been held. First, that the book is a collection of fragments put together by a reviser. The writers to whom these fragments have been assigned have been respectively three and five and ten, a sufficiently clear proof that the reasons for assigning them have varied according to the subjective view of the critic. Secondly, that the book is uniform and complete, but that it contains sundry glosses and additions. Thirdly, that the first part was the work of one author, but the second of several. And, fourthly, that the whole work is uniform and complete, and the work of one author. Of these various opinions, the second and the fourth alone are entitled to any consideration. But the unity of the book has been denied chiefly on these grounds — first, the occurrence of duplicate narratives; secondly, the supposed existence of discrepancies; and, thirdly, the apparent difference of style. The alleged duplicate narratives are (1) Joshua's death (xxiii. and xxiv.); (2) the command to appoint twelve men out of each tribe at the passage of the Jordan (iii. 12 and iv. 3); (3) the setting of an ambush for the taking of Ai (viii. 9, 12); (4) the resting of the land from war (xi. 23; xiv. 15); and (5) the granting of Hebron to Caleb (xiv. 13; xv. 13). These are fair specimens of the trivial kind of criticism which would disintegrate Joshua. With respect to the first, it does not appear that the address in chap. xxiv. is a mere repetition of that in chap. xxii. Joshua may very well have assembled the people twice before his death, and on different grounds: the speeches are manifestly different. There is good reason to believe that Joshua and Judges overlap in point of time; and if so, the visit of the angel to Boehim ( Judg. ii. 1) may have occurred between chaps, xxiii. and xxiv., and so have occasioned the alteration in tone that is so evident in the latter chapter (see especially vs. 19 — 23). With respect to the second, it is not clear that iv. 3 is a repetition of iii. 12, for in the former case it is not determined what the twelve men are to do, and their definite appointment in iv. 3 is in consequence of the Divine command which is communicated (iii. 9). With respect to the third, it is entirely gratuitous to understand vs. 9 and 12 to speak of the same incident and not of two subsequent incidents, and there is nothing to show that the narrative is strictly consecutive. Moreover, ver. 4 shows that the action in vs. 9 and 12 was in compliance with the previous general orders. With regard to the statement that the land rested, from war, we must be careful to distinguish it from the taking possession of the land, as is in fact done (xviii. 1, 3). This taking possession was completed (xix. 51), just as the subjugation which led the way to it was completed, when the thirty-one kings were destroyed (xii.). We are, indeed, frequently reminded that the land rested from war, in order to show that the Divine promise did not lack fulfillment, and to show that the people, as we are also frequently reminded, were slow to take advantage of it. But such repetitions as these cannot surely be regarded as evidences of diversity of authorship, but only of a simple and inartificial style of writing; besides, they are no less inconsistent with the theory of a common editor than with that of a single author. With regard to the grant made to Caleb, this is indeed t\vice repeated, but in a different connection; one being that of his personal merits, and the other that of the boundaries of Judah. It does not appear therefore that, on the ground of the alleged repetitions, there is reason to believe in a combination of various authors to account for the existing phenomena of the Book of Joshua.

With regard to the discrepancies, those which have been alleged are as follow: — First, the statement already partly alluded to, and so often repeated, that the whole land was conquered and the Canaanites destroyed (xi. 23; xii. 7; xxi. 43; xxii. 4); together with the reverse statement, that there were large portions of the land that were not conquered (xiii. 1; xvii. 13; xviii. 3; xxiii. 5, 12). It must, however, be borne in mind that this is a discrepancy which pervades the whole book, and not one portion of it as against another. Besides, no reviser would feel himself justified in leaving such a blemish as this, if his intention was to relate a story that might have the appearance of being true, and not to record events which were really according to fact, but which, owing to the brevity and simplicity of relating them, had many of the seeming inconsistencies that long series of consecutive events very often have as they occur naturally. Any original writer recording such events might very easily give his own work till the appearance of disagreement and inconsistency, according as he looked at events and circumstances from different points of view, which, being true, he did not think of troubling himself to reconcile. As far as the Divine covenant was concerned, which it was the writer's manifest object to show to be fulfilled, the whole land was subdued, for the occupation was an accomplished fact and the Israelites were never ejected, nor did the aboriginal inhabitants ever recover more than a temporary and partial mastery; but as far as the natural lukewarmness of the nation was concerned, there was yet much and in fact everything to do. In this we see at once a very common picture of constitutional sluggishness, which is willing to rest satisfied with possession on the easiest terms, and likewise a reason for the reiterated injunctions found in Joshua to make effectual the national separation, which was from the first part of the Divine intention with regard to Israel (xviii. 3; xxiii. 7). And thus the history of the occupation of Canaan is found also to foreshadow the purposes of human redemption, inasmuch as though the work of Christ is complete, it yet remains for the full results of that work to be wrought out in man. The ultimate triumph of the Gospel in the entire occupation of man's subdued nature is apparently still far distant.

A second discrepancy is found in xxii. 2; xxiv. 14, 23; but we are wholly unable to decide the interval of time that may have elapsed between the several incidents. Events may have come to light subsequently, of which Joshua was ignorant when he spoke in xxii. 2, not to mention the obvious fact that his words then had a special reference that might have been perfectly consistent with the more general conduct reproved in the last chapter. The latter injunctions of Joshua have been frequently understood (e.g., by Augustine, Calvin, and others) of an incipient and secret alienation of which the great captain's heart warned him, as that of the great lawgiver had done before.

A third alleged discrepancy is the mention of Shechem and the sanctuary of the Lord (xxiv. 26) as though the tabernacle and the ark were there, when according to chap, xviii. 1 they were at Shiloh, and remained there for long afterwards. But we know nothing of the occasion or circumstances of this gathering at Shechem; it is simply said that the people "presented themselves before God,'' which it is presumed they could have done whether the ark was present or not. Besides, though its usual and permanent abode may have been at Shiloh, some of the symbols of the Divine presence, if not the ark itself, may have accompanied the representatives of the nation in their progress to a great national gathering such as this. It is obvious that Shechem very early became a place of great national importance, a centre of national life. It is said, moreover (xxiv. 26), that the stone which Joshua set up was "under the oak that was in the sanctuary of the Lord," which may serve to indicate the temporary nature of that sanctuary.

As for the differences of style, they are for the most part very trivial, and the inferences drawn from them inconclusive. For example, it is said that one word is used for tribe in the historical and another in the geographical parts. But, besides the fact of this usage not being exclusive in either case, we have one word applied to the one half-tribe of Manasseh and another to the other in Josh. xiii. 29, which is surely sufficient to prove that one and the same writer might at will use both — unless, indeed, we prefer the assumption that this particular verse was itself the production of two different authors. It is well that criticism of this nature should be exposed, that the public at large may be enabled to estimate its claims to deference. In (lie same manner, because words occur in both parts of the book which are affirmed to belong only to one, it is again denied that such sections are integral portions of that part in which they occur. It is clear that there cannot be any permanent or stable principles for criticism of this kind. Ewald, for justice, says that later historians imitated the phraseology of writers who preceded them and frequently altered their language. Here is at once a self-contradictory assertion; and if this was the case, peculiarities of style are no longer characteristic; we cannot depend upon them, and the whole theory is built on sand.

There is evidence from the book itself to show that there was something which was written by Joshua (xxiv. 26). What " these words " are that he wrote is by no means so plain. They may be understood either of the whole book, or only of the words of the covenant then made. The most natural conclusion for us to arrive at, judging from the existing condition of the sacred books and that alone, is that the expression refers to the entire previous work, because we have no evidence to show that anything else was ever added to the Law of Moses, except this identical Book of Joshua, which immediately follows it, and this only in that sense: it was never regarded as an integral portion of the Law. The passages, however, which appear to be inconsistent with the notion of Joshua's writing it are xv. 13 - 19; xix. 47, which seem to anticipate the narratives in Judg. i. 15, xviii. 1; cf. also Josh. xv. 63 with Judg. i. 21 and 8; Josh. xiii. 2 - 5 with Judg. iii. 3; Josh. xvi. 10 with Judg. i. 29; Josh. xvii. 11 with Judg. i. 27, 28. This, however, is on the assumption that the narrative in Judges is entirely subsequent to that in Joshua. It appears to be better to understand the narrative in Judges to refer back to a period prior to the death of Joshua, so that the two books overlap, as has been said. It is generally supposed, moreover, that the later narrative in Judges, from chap. xvii. and onward, refers to events prior to those of the earlier chapters; and in this case it is quite possible that oven Joshua himself could allude to the events of Judg. xviii., as is done at Josh. xix. 47. There appears to be little doubt that both these books underwent some modification from one and the same hand. If we suppose the Book of Joshua, as far as the narrative of his death, not to have been by him, there seems to be no sufficient reason why this narrative should not be by the same writer as the rest of the book. The minuteness and accuracy of the details, and the apparent use of contemporary documents, servo to show that the book really is what it pretends to be — a trustworthy record of the subjugation of the land, and an account by an eye-witness of the principal events connected with it.

The Book of Joshua is referred to in the New Testament, in the defence of Stephen (.Acts vii. 45), which says that the " fathers . . . brought in . . . the tabernacle of witness. . .  with Jesus [that is, Joshua], into the possession of the Gentiles." (Cf. Heb. iv. 8; xi. 31; James ii. 2 - 5. It is directly quoted in Heb. xiii. 5; and the way in which it is there quoted is especially valuable, as showing the kind of reverence paid to the ancient Scriptures by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. He regarded the words spoken in Josh. i. 5 as the veritable promise of Almighty God, which could bear relying on, and not merely as words put into His mouth, which might or might not be trusted. ' It is this endorsement of the Book of Joshua by the writers of the New Testament that is our guarantee for its position in the canon.

We have shown already that subsequent writers in the Old Testament were acquainted with and accepted the narrative in Joshua. It remains now to show the kind of confirmation which is afforded by the Book of Joshua to the earlier books. It is not too much to say that without the narrative in those books, this book could not have existed. The history of Joshua grows out of the earlier history. We enter upon another era when, closing the narrative of the death of Moses, we open the first page of Joshua. The only ostensible reason or motive for the action of Joshua is the command given by Moses, contained in the Law and reiterated by God to him personally. The " book of the Law " as a complete whole is expressly mentioned by name (i. 8), and is prescribed as the only and sufficient rule of conduct. We may almost affirm that it was this very verse that suggested the 1st Psalm, which depicts the blessedness of complying with the injunction hero given.

The example of Moses is everywhere felt to be present as a presiding principle; the first independent action of Joshua is an order given to the two tribes and a half to do as Moses had prescribed to them, as they had. solemnly pledged themselves to do (Numb. xxxii. 17). The history of the exodus and the wanderings is known oven to the harlot Rahab (ii. 10). The incident in iii. 3 is after the model of that in Numb. x. 3-3. The reiterated injunction spoken first to the twelve men (iv. 6), and then to all the people [iv. 21), is an echo of the words of Dent. vi. 20. In the 5th chapter there is an allusion to the manna, and to the wanderings, and to the law of the passover. The injunction (vi. 18) as well as the sin of Achan are wholly unintelligible without the commandment (Deut. vii. 26; xiii. 17). In viii. 30 we find Joshua acting in accordance with the commandment of Moses (Deut. xxvii.), and the blessings and the cursings are said to be "written in the book of the law." In chap. ix. 10 we find the events of the exodus known to the Gibeonites. In chap. x. and xi. what is done is done in obedience to the commandment of the Lord "as he commanded Moses." In chaps, xii., xiii., and xiv. there are allusions to the same history. The same may be said of chaps, xvii. and xviii. Chap. xx. contains the supplemental appointment of the cities of refuge in compliance with the conditions of Numb. xxxv. 13, 14, and the four remaining chapters have each of them references to the foregoing history of the books of Moses. It is morally certain, therefore, that whenever the Book of Joshua was written the books of Moses were already in existence. To suppose that there various allusions to the earlier books were inserted with a view to making- those books appear authentic if impossible. The whole framework of Peutateuchal history is presupposed by that of Joshua, which, while it serves to corroborate that history, is itself corroborated by the testimony of subsequent books. It is this peculiar feature of interdependence among the books of the Old Testament, unlike anything to be found elsewhere, that it is wholly impossible to counterfeit, and that therefore stamps the entire narrative with the impress of substantial truth.

The extermination of the Canaanites, of which Joshua is so full, has often been made the subject of severe animadversion and the cause for cavil at the Divine dealings. But we must bear in mind that the extermination of races is an undoubted law of Providence. Where the white man sets his foot, the black man retreats and dwindles. It may be effected by natural causes, but the result is the same. The Almighty has an indefeasible right to the life He has given. It matters not whether He chooses to employ the sword, the famine, or the pestilence, the result is the same. Now, granting an adequate assurance as to the fact that He was about to adopt such a course and was willing to make His purpose known, and we have in the exterminating wars of Joshua nothing more remarkable than the operation of natural laws would be. Of course it might still be questioned whether the will had adequately been revealed, but in the Book of Joshua we have an ostensible declaration of the will, and its genuineness must turn upon the evidence, external and internal, which can be advanced in proof of it. That the internal evidence, as far as it depends on credibility of authorship, does not break down, we may confidently affirm, and may trust that this is the conclusion at which the impartial student also will arrive.