“Thou shalt call his name Joshua.” Thus the angelic command to Joseph might well read in our English versions of the Bible, for our Lord bore the name of the great captain of Israel in ancient times. Indeed, the confusion in interpretation which resulted from the use of the Greek form Jesus in the fourth chapter of Hebrews, is well known. Most scholars are agreed that the Jesus of Hebrews 4:8 is the Joshua of the Old Testament, while the Jesus of 4:14 is, of course, our Lord. Joshua, Jehoshuah (as the name occasionally appears), Jeshua and Jesus are all variant forms of the name which means Jehovah saves. The form Hoshea is also found in Deuteronomy 32:44.

Place In The Bible

The book of Joshua has always been placed after Deuteronomy in the Old Testament except in the Syriac version where the book of Job usually intervenes. The insertion was made, no doubt, in the interests of chronology which was based upon the tradition that Moses was the writer of Job. Since the book takes up the story of Israel from the death of Moses to the death of Joshua, it is natural that it should stand where it does in the Hebrew and English Bibles.

Old Testament Studies

Ancient tradition ascribed the authorship of the book to Joshua himself. For this there was some evidence in the use of the first personal pronoun in Joshua 5:1, 6. The manuscripts do not all agree here, however, and such parts of the book as the accounts of the deaths of Joshua and Eleazer could not have been written by him.

In the course of modern studies Joshua has been included as a unit with the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch), and the whole is called the Hexateuch. A few men in the ancient church had followed a similar practice but not for reason of literary criticism. Recently Joshua has been included with the books of Moses because it was thought that the same literary strands, called by the critics J, E, D, and P, which were “discovered” in the Pentateuch also continued through Joshua.

Some, however, among the present generation of scholars, have presented the view that Deuteronomy through II Kings is an historical unit. The view is supported partly by the fact that there is a continuous narrative in the books, beginning with Israel’s history as propounded by Moses in Deuteronomy 1–4, and also by the fact that the philosophy of history which is found in these books is the same. It should be recognized, on the other hand, that the account of Israel’s origin which is summarized in Deuteronomy 1–4 is the same as that which is found in detailed fashion in Exodus and Numbers, and that the biblical philosophy of history is substantially the same throughout.

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The book of Joshua uses a quotation from an old epic called the Book of Joshar, Joshua 10:13. It is quite probable that the author used other historical accounts, some of which may have come from eye-witnesses, such as the account in Joshua 5 of the crossing of the Jordan River. The accuracy of the stories of the Israelitish conquest is supported generally by archaeological findings. There is considerable disagreement among scholars as to the dating of some sites. There is, moreover, no mention of Joshua himself outside the Bible—though there is no mention of Moses either. Some of the information contained in the book may have been passed on to the author by oral tradition, which in the Near East can be amazingly accurate. At any rate, though the book in its present form cannot be from Joshua himself, it is older than much of the Old Testament materials and seems in its written form to come from a time reasonably close to the actual events.


The book depicts the faithfulness of God in fulfilling under Joshua’s leadership the promises he had made to those who left Egypt under Moses. This theme is introduced in the first paragraph of the first chapter, 1:3, 4. It is summarized toward the close of the book, 23:14–16. A convenient outline of the book is as follows:

I. Introduction 1:1–9.

II. Entrance into Canaan 1:10–5:15.

a. Preparations for crossing the Jordan 1:10–2:24.

b. The river is crossed 3:1–4:24.

c. Encampment at Gilgal 5:1–15.

III. Conquest of the Land 6:1–12:24.

a. Capture of Jericho 6:1–27.

b. Achan’s theft 7:1–26.

c. Capture of Ai 8:1–35.

d. The southern campaign 9:1–10:43.

e. The northern campaign 11:1–23.

f. List of the conquered kings 12:1–24.

IV. Division of the Land 13:1–22:34.

a. Command to divide a land not fully possessed 13:1–7.

b. Territories of various groups 13:8–19:51.

c. Cities of refuge 20:1–9.

d. Levitical cities 21:1–45.

e. The altar of witness of the eastern tribes 22:1–34.

V. Joshua’s Farewell 23:1–24:33.

a. His first address 23:1–16.

b. Renewal of the Covenant 24:1–28.

c. Death of Joshua and Eleazar 24:29–33.

It may be seen that the book is a fairly well-knit unit and that, whatever its place among the other annals of Israel’s history, it may also stand as a composition by itself.


A few problems have been raised for the Christian conscience by some matters which have the divine approval in Joshua. One of these is the punishment of the sin of Achan. It would appear from a reading of the account that not only Achan himself but his whole family was involved in the deception which brought disaster upon the young nation of Israel. The amount of contents which was hidden in the family tent was sufficiently large that scarcely any member of the family could have been unaware of its presence. The hiding of these items was no doubt a matter of agreement among the members of the family and the punishment which fell upon them is very’ similar in nature to the punishment which came upon Ananias and Sapphira who agreed to lie to the Holy Spirit as recorded in the book of the Acts: It is, of course, also true that in the time of Joshua the family was considered to be a unit but it was also considered to be a part of the larger family which was emerging as a nation. It was necessary’ that a holy nation should judge sin. There could be no compromise in the struggles in which they were involved and to allow a sin with social implications to go unjudged would be a moral disaster. Another of the problems in the Book of Joshua is the matter of “holy wars.” In the campaign against Jericho and various other towns, both the material goods and the population were “devoted.” In ancient parlance this means that they were to be set aside as the right or property of God or in the case of heathen nations of a god. The people were not to pamper their pride either by enslaving the population or by enriching themselves with the plunder. A part of the explanation lies therefore in the ideas of the culture involved. It is to be kept in mind, however, that the acts of total destruction are given the divine approval and this means that we cannot simply explain away the holy wars which were aimed at the extinction of native groups. It ought to be remembered that the inhabitants of Canaan had espoused a type of religion in which sexual promiscuity played a very prominent part. One such fertility rite is described in the book of Numbers, chapter 25, in which the children of Israel were led to participate in a sexual orgy in honor of Baal-Peor. Every practice related to such religion was an abomination to God and would certainly offend the moral sense of any modern man, Christian or otherwise.

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