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The “Day” of the Book of Joshua

December 27, 2011

Now that I’m finished with the book of Joshua, I will go back to some of it and give my thoughts. The first thing to ask about any piece of writing is, “When was it written?” For the book of Joshua, I don’t think it’s a helpful question to ask, “Who wrote it?” My guess was that it was compilers of traditions, molding those traditions to meet certain criteria, using traditions that had already been compiled by others. That’s completely speculation on my part, and I don’t know if there have been any good studies on this question. Even if we knew the answer, however, what would it really tell us? The time the book was written, on the other hand, would tell us much.

The book of Joshua uses the phrase “to this day” quite often. This is an internal statement of when it claims to have been written. The references where the phrase occurs in the narrative are as follows: Jos. 4:9, Jos. 5:9, Jos. 6:25, Jos. 7:26 (x2), Jos. 8:28, Jos. 8:29, Jos. 9:27, Jos. 13:13, Jos. 14:14, Jos. 15:63, and Jos.16:10. Most of this has to do with location names and ethnic groups. The more interesting references are Jos. 4:9, 6:25, the first usage in 7:26, and both occurrences in 8:28-29. Joshua 4:9 tells of landmark stones that the people of Israel set up in the midst of Jordan. I would expect these stones to have supposed to have been visible above the water. I suppose the reference to their still being there could just be of any set of stones in the river in that area, and those stones could have given rise to a legend about Joshua and his followers setting up stones after they crossed the river on dry ground.

Another possibility is that these stones were made later on as a hoax, and those stones had been placed in Jordan near the time the book of Joshua was written, or else they just stayed visible. I would expect a serious hoax to use stones with writing on them, and I’m not sure how long writing would last on stones in a river, even above the water level. There are two reasons I think the latter scenario is silly. First, the idea of a hoax seems very much like something from the fourth century CE or after. Second, and most important, raising up tall stones that are visible in the Jordan River, without being on dry ground within the river bed, seems to be an impossible task, and so it is implied to be in the book of Joshua. The three uses I mentioned in 7:26 and 8:28-29 only have to do with “heaps” of city ruins or stones. I don’t know long it would take back then, whenever “then” was, for a heap like these to be coved by other things, or how long an honest estimation from a chronicler would date such a heap, so that he or she could think a heap at the time was from all the way back in Joshua’s day.

Finally, the reference in Joshua 6:25 is the most interesting. Here seems to be a claim that the passage was written in Rahab’s own time. Perhaps this is a reference to her descendants, but descendants are never, as far as I know, traced by maternal ancestry in the Hebrew scriptures and traditions. So is this claim to Rahab’s continued presence in Israel just an anachronistic fabrication, “poetic” license, or an honest, historical record?

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