Excursus 1. General Observations on the Literary Form and Setting of the Book

I have already discussed a number of aspects that relate to the literary composition of Joshua in the Introduction. In this excursus I will make a few further comments, while also drawing in and summarizing some of the issues I have already covered in the Introduction. I start by s ummarizing Noth’s seminal views about the literary composition of Joshua. Before Noth, it was generally thought that the book was part of a so-called Hexateuch, an overall work consisting of Genesis–Joshua. As part of such a hypothesis, scholars such as von Rad in general thought that the book of Joshua was composed of the Pentateuchal sources J, E, P and D (see e.g. Noth 1953a: 8; the classic formulation of the source-critical analysis of the Pentateuch can be found in Wellhausen 1905/1878). However, Noth denied the existence of such sources in Joshua and the connection between the Pentateuch and Joshua (see Noth 1991/1943; see also Noth 1953a: 8, 13, 16). Instead, Noth suggested that the book of Joshua is part of Deuteronomistic History, a single historical work which spans from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings and was written in deuteronomistic style during the Babylonian exile of the Jews in the sixth century bc. In this hypothesis, Joshua connects literarily back only to Deuteronomy. Any further connections are more or less sporadic and of late origin.

Noth’s views were by and large followed by Old Testament scholarship, and his approach still influences much of the discussion even though it has been modified and challenged, and even jettisoned by some. It is of primary importance to recognize this, as any modifications to Noth’s theory, such as any double (first edition with a positive outlook on the history of Israel in the time of Josiah, and a second more pessimistic edition in the exile) or triple redaction (a basic form [DtrG] followed by ‘nomistic’ [concerned with law; DtrN] and prophetic [DtrP] redactions, or even several redactions of this type) theories of the Deuteronomistic History are still very much indebted to Noth (for a summary of these, see e.g. McConville 1997; cf. also Nelson 2005). Also, any double or triple redaction theories do not seem to have much essential impact on one’s considerations of Joshua (double redaction theories would see Joshua pretty much as part of the first [and thus also single] deuteronomistic redaction, and any additional redactional layers postulated by triple redaction theories ultimately seem to converge with Noth, as Noth’s Deuteronomistic Historian was also concerned with law, and DtrP is less relevant for Joshua). In other words, if one reads Noth, one can quickly get an idea of the foundations of the scholarship of Joshua (and also of the historical books) even for the present day. At the risk of making an oversimplification, it tends to be those works that challenge Noth that provide us with fresh ideas about the literary setting and provenance of the book of Joshua (however, this is not to say that those works that agree with Noth cannot contain valuable insights).

For Noth, the formation of the book of Joshua had three main stages. First, there was a pre-deuteronomistic stage, relating to chapters 1–12, 13–21 and 24. Each of these blocks of material had a separate prehistory. As regards chapters 1–12, these are based on a number of separate (pre-deuteronomistic) stories that were collected together by someone whom Noth called Sammler (lit. ‘collector’) about 900 bc (see Noth 1953a: 12). As for chapters 13–21, Noth thought that the boundary lists are based on a document that ultimately dates back to the pre-monarchic period (Noth 1953a: 13). However, the district (and town) list of Judah dates to the time of Josiah and was combined at that time with the boundary list document and with town lists for other tribes by someone whom Noth called Bearbeiter (lit. ‘arranger’). All this was independent from the material that relates to chapters 1–12 (see Noth 1953a: 14). A basic list of Levitical towns which also dates to about the time of Josiah was added to the document next (Noth 1953a: 15). Finally, the document was made to link to the person Joshua (Noth 1953a: 15; it is good to note that Noth in general thinks that the person Joshua was linked/grafted into the traditions only secondarily). The third block, portions of Joshua 24, dates in Noth’s opinion to the pre-deuteronomistic time and may have had a connection with material pertaining to chapters 1–12, even though one cannot be sure (Noth 1953a: 15–16).

The second stage in the formation of the book was the incorporation of the material pertaining to the first stage as noted above by the Deuteronomistic Historian as part of his overarching work, which spans from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. Important bits added by the Deuteronomist include Joshua 1:1–18; 21:43–22:6; 23:1–16; 8:30–35 and additions to the material otherwise here and there (see Noth 1953a: 9 for further details). There was also a second deuteronomistic stage for the book: an addition of some comments to the town lists (such as Josh. 13:1; 19:1; 21:42) to improve the integration of chapters 13–21 into the whole, even if this includes some duplication of verses that would not have been likely to have been undertaken by the original deuteronomistic editor. Similarly, chapter 24 was integrated and edited into the material at this stage, as the book had naturally finished with chapter 23 from the first Deuteronomist (see Noth 1953a: 10 for details).

The final stage in the formation of the book of Joshua was a set of isolated post-deuteronomistic additions (these date to the post-exilic time in line with the then current thinking about the dating of the priestly material). Except for additions to verses, such as 14:1–2; 18:8–10; 19:51, these include Joshua 21:1–2 and 22:9–34 (see Noth 1953a: 10–11). It is important to stress that, for Noth, the priestly additions do not stem from a coherent narrative. The main point here is that if they did, this would speak for a connection with the book of Numbers, which can be argued to contain a lot of priestly material (again, similarly, Noth tried to minimize the extent of priestly material in Numbers; see Noth 1991/1943). This would then undermine Noth’s theory about a Deuteronomistic History (one might then for example ask whether the pre-deuteronomistic stage should also be seen to have made a connection with books preceding Deuteronomy in the canon). In addition to the isolated priestly additions, there are also small secondary additions to the book that do not for Noth seem to have any specific ideological provenance that can be traced, such as minor expansion to some of the boundary lists (Noth 1953a: 11).

As one might expect, and as already noted, later scholarship has expanded on Noth and developed his theories further. For example, in addition to the theories about the double and triple redaction of the Deuteronomistic History mentioned above, there have been many discussions about the dating of the boundary and city lists. Suggested dates for the lists generally range from the time of the united monarchy to the time of Josiah, and the interested reader can for example refer to such works as Kallai 1986, Ottosson 1991, Svensson 1994, Lissovski and Na’aman 2003, the appropriate sections of the commentaries of Boling and Wright 1982, Butler 1983, Fritz 1994 and Hess 1996, and the many monographs and articles mentioned in the bibliographies of these works for more details.

Even if there has been some modification of Noth’s views, it is important to note here that lines of enquiry and solutions sought for the date and composition of the book have by and large assumed a pre-deuteronomistic stage, one or more deuteronomistic redactions, and then one or more priestly redactions. Such approaches have also assumed the Wellhausenian idea that pre-deuteronomistic (with Pentateuch, this means J and E) materials are followed by deuteronomistic and then priestly redactions and incorporation of material expressing such ideologies and literary style. Much of this is based on the Wellhausenian assumption of a development of the Israelite cult and related materials from simple to complex. However, the Wellhausenian premise of such development can no longer be easily sustained. For example, first of all, in the light of recent Ancient Near Eastern discoveries, there is no need to date priestly material to a late period in Israel. Temples and priesthood were already an established part of Ancient Near Eastern heritage at the time when the first written records from Egypt and Mesopotamia emerge at the end of the fourth millennium bc. In addition, one can see some specific parallels with Israelite priestly thinking from Hittite material that dates to the second millennium bc (see Weinfeld 2004, esp. pp. 34–63), and when we know that there was movement of people and ideas across the Middle East that can in general be attested from a very early time (cf. the Amarna letters, which are part of a diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and roughly speaking the whole of the Middle East in the second millennium, as one [but by no means the only] example), it is practically impossible to think that the area of ancient Israel would not have been affected by such ideas (as already indicated in the Introduction, we also note that dozens of texts in cuneiform have been found from Israel, with some fifty items dating to the Middle and Late Bronze periods; see Horowitz, Oshima and Sanders 2006 for the finds thus far, including pp. 5–6 for a summary; see also Na’aman 1994a and 1994b, and van Soldt 2003 for evidence of apparently considerable Hurrian and northern influence [including through some considerable migration] in Palestine and Ugarit—the Hurrians themselves seem to have had close links to the Hittites, and also to the Assyrians). In addition to this, the Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform texts dating from the Late Bronze Age of course make their own contribution to cultic issues around the area (see e.g. de Tarragon 1980; Pardee 2002 for further details).

Secondly, although since the time of de Wette in the early nineteenth century (see de Wette 1830; Wellhausen 1905/1878), Deuteronomy has been thought by many to have its provenance in the seventh century bc and the reform of Josiah (or even later than this, as some have recently assumed; see e.g. Ahlström 1993 etc.) it is not necessary to assume this. For example, the present author has argued that it is not necessary to date the book to the seventh century bc based on the history and theology of centralization of worship, a main reason for such dating (see Pitkänen 2004a). While other reasons for dating Deuteronomy late have been proposed by scholars, and while it is beyond the scope of this book to get into a detailed investigation, counter-arguments with regard to centralization and development of cult are reason enough to at the very least start seriously questioning the necessity of a late dating.

Finally, we note that there is also no need to hold on to Martin Noth’s theory of the Deuteronomistic History. I have indicated above that Noth started from the premise that the conquest tradition was a set of independent units in the beginning and that the book of Joshua was built around these traditions. As already indicated, importantly, Noth also argued that there was originally no P account of the conquest, but P concluded his account with the death of Moses (see Noth 1987/1943: 135). Noth based this argument on claiming as far as possible that those features that exist in Numbers and relate to the conquest are not priestly. Noth succeeded in eliminating so much material that has commonly been attributed to P that he could argue that those parts that are indisputably priestly are the result of secondary additions and do not stem from a P narrative (cf. Noth 1987/1943: 121–134). However, at the same time, Noth argued that the older literary sources J and E ‘culminated in the theme of the conquest’ (Noth 1987/1943: 141). According to Noth, ‘when they were fitted into the framework provided by the P narrative it was the Pentateuch which emerged, with the theme of the conquest of the land to the west of the Jordan dropping away completely. The conquest narrative in the book of Joshua, on the other hand, was part of the work of Dtr. from the start, and this developed completely independently of the Pentateuch’ (Noth 1987/1943: 141). Finally, during the post-exilic period, the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History were joined together, and more connecting links were added between Numbers and Deuteronomy on the one hand, and Numbers and Joshua on the other, and these connections were, as Noth seems to indicate, made in priestly style (Noth 1987/1943: 143–148).

However, as we will see in Excursus 12, Joshua 22:9–34 forms a particularly important counter-example against Noth’s theory. It proves to be that there are some very good reasons to think that Joshua 22:9–34 is an integral part of the book of Joshua, and is also explicitly connected to the priestly parts of Numbers 32.

We also note here that Ottosson has analysed the relationship of Joshua to Numbers. The following table indicates links, or at the very least similarities, between Joshua and Numbers (from Ottosson 1991: 31). We can see from the table that it requires some work to deny inherent connections between the two respective corpora.

Numbers Joshua
31:8, 16 13:21
32 1; 22; cf. 13:15–33
33, list of campsites 12, list of kings
34:1–2 11:16–23; 13:2–5
34:13 13:7
34:14ff. 13:8
34:19, 23–24 14:1–6
35:1–8 21
35:9–34 20
36 17:3

In other words, it is difficult to believe Noth’s theory of the Deuteronomistic History in its present form, especially when Noth has already been criticized for eliminating priestly material from Numbers and Joshua in a way that has a stamp of dubiousness about it (see Weinfeld 1972: 182n1, according to whom Noth’s ‘attempts to disprove the priestly origin of Num. 32–36 and Josh. 14–22’ are ‘unconvincing’). Moreover, Noth’s theory, and for that matter a number of the current theories about the Deuteronomistic History, is simply too complicated. Too many redactions, combinations and accretions are postulated, and Noth often treats literary works in a piecemeal and mechanical way (but, as we will see in Excursus 12, nevertheless has great difficulty with dividing Joshua 22:9–34 into sources). Also, it is hard to think that P would have concluded his account with the death of Moses without any regard to the wider context to which that death relates, that is, entering into the promised land. The idea of cutting off the conquest tradition of the older Pentateuchal sources, especially when their accounts ‘culminated in the theme of the con-quest’, is also problematic. In other words, the Deuteronomistic History hypothesis brings some very serious problems with it, and when we keep in mind that Westermann (see Westermann 1994 and Excursus 12) has added a number of further problems to the equation, which have been left unanswered by other scholars, we can conclude that it is quite unlikely that the book of Joshua is part of a Deuteronomistic History, and there is thus considerably less need to date the book to the seventh century, the exilic period or later by default.

We also note that if the relative dating of Deuteronomy and priestly material were to be reversed (or even equated), one could think that Joshua draws on priestly sources and style as part of its literary formation, however these sources were drawn in. This in fact would be a very logical and natural way of looking at the book, regardless of its (perceived) date and provenance, be it early or late.

Overall, as the book of Joshua in any case most naturally divides into chapters 1–12, 13–21 and 22–24, regardless of whether one follows Noth’s ideas or their derivatives about the prehistory of the book, I will follow this division in my considerations and will devote a separate excursus to summary considerations of the form and structure of each of these parts. But note an interesting division of the book by Koorevaar into four main sections (Koorevaar 1990: 283):

1:1–5:12 5:13–12:24 13:1–21:45 22:1–24:33
cross take divide serve
‘br lqḥ ḥlq ‘bd

According to Koorevaar, the ‘structural-theological purpose’ of the book ‘is found in the third main section: cross+take=divide’ (Koorevaar 1990: 283). It is good to keep this in mind when thinking of the book and its theological message.