HISTORICAL BOOKS: Joshua
“Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” And Joshua did so.
In the Book of Joshua, the Israelites make it out of the desert and into the Promised Land. Led by Moses’ successor, Joshua, they cross the Jordan and seem to knock off just about everyone and everything in their way. They take down Jericho (trumpets making the walls fall down). Then they move on to Ai and the southern towns of Canaan; then they vanquish the north. Not a soul from any of these foreign towns is to be spared, except for Rahab, a prostitute who sheltered a couple of Joshua’s men while they cased the land. Israel then takes over the Promised Land, and Joshua carves out a slice for each of the Twelve Tribes.
But was the conquest really that easy, swift, and brutal? Probably not. Most historians believe the Israelites did not conquer as much land as is described in the book and that things might not have been as bloody. It’s likely that some of the land was infiltrated peacefully. In any event, the facts are not the main point of this story. The tall tales emphasize the book’s religious purpose: God was on Israel’s side. If it weren’t for him, they’d have been squashed like an army of ants. For its part, Israel is expected to keep its covenant with God or else suffer defeat at the hands of its enemies.
Joshua’s emphasis on the religious significance of Israel’s history and on the need to “serve [God] with all your heart and with all your soul” [22:5] reveals the book’s purpose and authorship. It was compiled and written by the Deuteronomists, the group of religious writers associated with Deuteronomy as well as other books in the Bible: Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. These books are sometimes called the Deuteronomistic History.
Joshua, which means “salvation” in Hebrew, is the sixth book in the Old Testament.