Joshua 1-4


Joshua begins with a command from God to Moses’s successor, Joshua, son of Nun:

1:2 My servant Moses is dead; now it is for you to cross the Jordan, you and this whole people of Israel, to the land which I am giving them. Every place where you set foot is yours: I have given it to you, as I promised Moses. From the desert and the Lebanon to the great river, the river Euphrates, and across all the Hittite country westwards to the Great Sea, all this shall be your land.

Sounds good. The promised land! Picturesque Canaan, land of milk and honey! Gift to the Israelites (aka the Hebrews) from their loving God. Only catch? It’s maybe a trivial point… but… Canaan isn’t really empty and free for the taking. As a matter of fact, it’s already well inhabited. By… Canaanites. Who are these guys? Are the evil? Do they deserve to be raped and slaughtered without pity? If you haven’t read the Torah, you’re probably assuming: Yes, of course! Canaan must be the Israelites mortal enemy. The Hebrews must have a legit beef here. Aren’t they the good guys? Why would the good guys wantonly slaughter an innocent people?

Well, say hello to Biblical morality: The Canaanites never did shit to the Israelites. Their big sin was worshiping false gods. On that lame pretense, the Israelites have been given a divine mandate to invade, slaughter, and displace the entire population. Chapter 1 of Joshua is where this travesty begins. After receiving his marching orders from God, Joshua musters the Twelve Tribes for holy war…


Chapter 2 is a simple story demonstrating how piss-pants scared the Canaanites are of the looming Israelite invasion. Joshua sends two spies to Jericho; they beeline it to the local prostitute, a woman named Rahab. These spies are apparently not very good at spying, because the king of Jericho gets wind of their presence. Luckily Rahab, the hooker with a heart of gold, help them evade detection. In return, they promise to not slaughter her family. Probably.


The invasion begins! Twelve tribesmen carry the Ark of the Covenant across the river Jordan. Instead of choosing to ford the river, or caulking the Ark to float it across, they pull a Moses and part the River Jordan in a mini-recreation of the more famous Red Sea episode of Exodus.

If you’re not up on your ancient Israelite artifact trivia, the editor footnotes define the Ark thusly: The Ark of the Covenant was a sign of the presence of God; it was carried into battle as a war-palladium, a “safeguard”.


Here we come across the first major “gotcha” contradiction in the text. Atheists are keen to point these out. “Look, Noah puts two of each animals on the Ark… then seven! GOTCHA!” Personally I lost interested in the “prove the bible isn’t inerrant” game a long time ago. The much more interesting question is *why* these contradictions exist. The answer is usually simple: an editor took two versions of the same story and jumbled them together into one. This produces a wonderfully enigmatic text that is more than the sum of its parts.

Chapter 4 of Joshua regards with a twelve-stone monument the Israelites construct in (or near) the river Jordan. Right: in, or, near.


4:1 The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Take twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and order them to lift up twelve stones from this place, out of the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests stood firm. They are to carry them across and set them down in the camp where you spend the night.’


4:9 Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the priests stood who carried the Ark of the Covenant, and there they are to this day.

BUT WAIT near again:

4:19 On the tenth day of the first month the people came up out of the Jordan and camped at Gilgal in the district east of Jericho, and there Joshua set up the twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan.

What’s going on here? If you read it linearly, it’s nonsense. They take twelve stones from the river… and place them back in the river, where they sit “to this day”, and then… they set the stones up at camp as originally planned. Contradiction? Well, yeah. But why? Obviously there are two traditions being relayed here, two sources being used. Scholars have theories about these different sources. Eventually I will get into the Documentary Hypothesis, but for now I’ll just let this stand as a good example of a doublet.

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2 Responses to Joshua 1-4

  1. Charles says:

    I like your focus on the Bible as a historical document – reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s Guides to the Bible.

    Joshua 9 minor typo:

    the Temple doesn’t in Joshua’s time

    should be:

    the Temple doesn’t exist in Joshua’s time

    • Abbie says:

      I never knew Asimov had done such a thing. I’m eager to find non-theological commentary on the Bible, I’ll definitely be checking them out. Thanks!

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