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Book of Joshua

The Book of Joshua is the sixth book in the Bible.

It contains a history of the Israelites from the death of Moses to that of Joshua. It consists of three parts:

  1. The history of the conquest of the land (1-12).
  2. The allotment of the land to the different tribes, with the appointment of cities of refuge, the provision for the Levites (13-22), and the dismissal of the eastern tribes to their homes. This section has been compared to the Domesday Book of the Norman Conquest.
  3. The farewell addresses of Joshua, with an account of his death (23, 24).

This book stands first in the second of the three sections, (1) the Law, (2) the Prophets, (3) the "other writings" (or Hagiographa), into which the Jews divided the Old Testament. The authorship of the book is traditionally assigned to Joshua, but some think the last verses (24:29-33) were added by some other hand.

This book resembles the Acts of the Apostles in the number and variety of historical incidents it records and in its many references to persons and places.

Table of contents
1 Detailed summary
2 The end
4 Archaeological evidence

Detailed summary

After Moses' death, Joshua, by virtue of his previous appointment as Moses' successor, receives from God the command to cross the Jordan. In execution of this order Joshua issues the requisite instructions to the stewards of the people for the crossing of the Jordan; and he reminds the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half of Manasseh of their pledge given to Moses to help their brethren.

Chapter 2

Joshua sends out from Shittim two spies to explore the city of Jericho. They are saved from falling into the hands of the king by the shrewd tactics of Rahab. The spies return and report.

Crossing of Jordan

In chapters 3 and 4 the camp is broken at Shittim. A halt is made at the Jordan. Joshua addresses the people; assuring them that God is in the midst of them, that He will drive out the Canaanites, and that the Ark will cross the Jordan, whereupon a miraculous change will be worked in the waters of the river. The predicted miracle takes place as soon as the priests with the Ark wade into the water. In commemoration of the event, Joshua orders two monuments to be erected: one in the river-bed; the other on the west bank, at Gilgal. The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half of Manasseh number 40,000 warriors. The priests are bidden to come up out of the river's bed after the people have crossed over. This happens on the tenth day of the first month; and the camp is pitched at Gilgal.

Circumcision of the Israelites

Joshua is bidden to make flint knives wherewith to circumcise the Israelites, for those born in the desert had not been circumcised. This is done; Passover is celebrated; and the manna ceases. Joshua in front of Jericho receives the visit of a "captain of the host of the Lord" in the guise of a man, who declares that the soil on which Joshua is standing is holy ground.

The siege and capture of Jericho

After thirteen circuits—one every day for six days, and seven circuits on the seventh day—with seven priests blowing seven rams' horns and the people shouting, the walls cave in. Jericho is put under the ban; but Rahab is excepted. A curse is pronounced against any one who should rebuild the city. Joshua becomes famous throughout the whole land.

Chapter 8: The expedition against Ai

This expedition strikes terror into the heart of the people and brings Joshua to the verge of despair. But God announces that the people have sinned. As stated in the first verse, Achan has not respected the ban. The people must be reconsecrated. The sinner must be discovered by the casting of Yhwh's lot. This is done. By a process of elimination the guilt is limited to the tribe of Judah, then to the clan of the Zarhites, then to the sept of Zabdi; the individual members of Zabdi are then brought forward, man by man, and finally Achan is detected as the culprit. He admits having taken a costly Babylonian garment, besides silver and gold; and his confession is verified by the finding of the treasure buried in his tent. Achan is taken into the valley of Achor, and there stoned to death.

Chapter 8: Entire army against Ai

The city is taken by clever strategy, 30,000 men being placed overnight in an ambush. The attacking force feigning flight, the King of Ai is drawn far away from the city; Joshua points with his lance toward the city; whereupon the men in ambush rush into it, while Joshua and the army with him face about. Thus the pursuing enemy is taken between the two sections of Israel's array. Not one man escapes; the city is burned; 12,000 inhabitants are killed, and the spoils are taken. The King of Ai is hanged to a tree until nightfall, when his body is thrown into a pit, where on a stone heap is raised. Joshua erects an altar on Mount Ebal as Moses had commanded, offering to Yhwh holocausts and sacrificing peace-offerings.On the stones of the altar he engraves a copy of the law of Moses; the people being ranged in two sections—one facing Ebal; the other, Gerizim—while the blessings and curses are read as ordained by Moses.

Chapter 9: The Confederacy Against Joshua

The confederacy of the native kings to fight Joshua. The Gibeonites by craft obtain a treaty from the Israelites, which even after the detection of the fraud practised upon the invaders is not abrogated. They are, however, degraded to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water" for the altar of Yhwh.

Chapter 10: Alliance between the kings

Adoni-zedek brings about an alliance between the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon, and they ("the five kings of the Amorites") besiege Gibeon. In their distress the Gibeonites implore Joshua's help. Joshua, assured by Yhwh of victory, comes up from Gilgal by a forced night march and attacks the allies suddenly. Thrown into confusion, the Amorites flee as far as the ascent of Beth-horon. To this battle is referred a song from the Book of Jashar, commanding the sun to be still at Gibeon and the moon in the valley of Ajalon. The five kings are captured, first being incarcerated in the cave where they had hidden for safety, then, after the pursuit had been discontinued,—scarcely one of the enemies escaping—being by order of Joshua humiliated and hanged. Then follows a detailed enumeration of the cities captured and put under ban. Joshua becomes master of the whole land—the hill-country, the southland, the lowland, and the slopes—leaving not one king alive, and banning all men from Kadesh-barnea unto Gaza, and all the district of Goshen unto Gibeon. After this expedition he returns to Gilgal.

Chapter 11: Jabin of Hazor arrives Merom

Jabin, King of Hazor, and his allies rendezvous at Merom. Joshua is assured by Yhwh of their total defeat, which in fact is brought about by a sudden attack on the part of Joshua. Pursuing them to a great distance (the cities are named), he hamstrings their horses and burns their chariots, capturing Hazor, killing all of its people, and burning the town. Other royal residences he takes by the sword, putting them under the ban. The spoils are taken, and the men are put to death. The cities on the hill are allowed to stand. Joshua drives the Anakim from the mountains, from Hebron, and from other places. Only in Gaza some remain. Finally the land has peace.

Chapter 12

Recapitulation of Joshua's conquests, with statistical details of the number of the kings (30) captured and subdued.

Chapter 13

After an enumeration of the places still unconquered (mainly the coast districts of the Philistines) Joshua is bidden to apportion the land, the unconquered as well as the conquered, among nine and one-half tribes of Israel, the other two and one-half tribes having under Moses been given their portion on the east of the Jordan.

Chapter 14

Résumé of the foregoing reference to Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh, with a gloss concerning Levi's non-inheritance save as regards detached cities, while Joseph receives a double heritage. Caleb's claim to Hebron is allowed.

Chapter 15

The "lot" of Judah; Caleb's share; Expulsion by him of the three Anakim; Story of Kirjath-sepher; Othniel takes it and wins, as promised, Caleb's daughter for wife; Her successful plea for the gift of wells; Catalogue of the heritage of Judah; and a gloss on the continued dwelling of the Jebusites in Jerusalem (63).

Chapter 16

Lot of the Josephites (1-3). The Ephraimites own cities in the territory of Manasseh (9). Gloss to the effect that the Canaanites dwelling in Gezer had not been driven out, but had been reduced to slavery (10).

chapter 17

Lot of Manasseh, Machir as a warrior taking for his prize Gilead and Bashan. Delimitation of Manasseh (7). Manasseh's assignments in Issachar and Asher (11). Gloss stating that these cities had not been captured (12). Protest of the Josephites against receiving one share only (14). Joshua advises them to conquer the wooded hill-land (15). Plea on their part that the mountain is not extensive enough, while the plains are held by Canaanites equipped with iron chariots (16). Joshua's consolatory encouragement (17).

Chapter 18

Erection of the Tabernacle at Shiloh (1). Seven tribes without allotment. Joshua urges these to appoint commissions of three men out of each tribe to go and take the land and to report to him, when, after dividing it into seven portions, he will cast the lot (2-7). The commissions carry out the errand and lay their book of record before Joshua, who then casts the lot (8-10). Benjamin's share (11). The boundaries (12-20). List of the cities (21-28).

Chapter 19

Simeon's share, in the territory of Judah. List of the cities (1-8). Reason why Simeon's lot was in Judean territory (9). Zebulun's share; its boundaries (10-14). Twelve cities not specified (15b). Issachar's share; its cities and boundaries (17-23). Asher's lot; its boundaries; summary gives twenty-two as the number of its cities (24-31). Naphtali's share; its boundaries and fortified cities (32-39). Dan's share; its cities enumerated (40-46). Why the Danites took Leshem = Dan (47). Joshua receives as his own share Timnath-serah (49-50). Eleazar and Joshua had assigned the lots before Yhwh at the gate of the Tabernacle at Shiloh (51). Cities of refuge established (51b-xx.).

Chapter 21

The Levites' assignment (1-8). Concluding paragraph, emphasizing God's fulfilment of His promise to the fathers (43-45).

The end


Dismissal to their homes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of Manasseh with Joshua's blessing and an admonition to take heed of God's law as commanded by Moses. Now that they have become rich in cattle, silver, gold, iron, and garments they are to divide the booty with their brethren. Return of the east-Jordanic tribes; they build an altar at the stone-heap on the bank of the Jordan; the Israelites desire to punish them for this act; but they first send Phinehas and ten princes to the Reubenites, etc., to censure them, recalling the Peor episode and advising them to remove to Palestine. The Reubenites explain that in building the altar their intention was to show their fidelity to Yhwh,that their descendants might not be taunted with being untrue to Him. The delegation rejoices at the explanation, and upon their report the Israelites abandon the projected punitive expedition (9-34).

Chapter 23

Joshua, now old, calls an assembly of all Israel, at which he admonishes the people to remain loyal to the Torah of Moses.

Chapter 24

An account of a gathering of Israel at Shechem, at which Joshua delivers an impressive address, reviewing the past, and makes the people vow to remain faithful. He erects a great stone as a witness to the promise (1-28). Joshua dies (29). Joseph's bones are buried in Shechem (32). Eleazar dies and is buried (33).


Two difficulties are connected with this book that have given rise to much discussion:

  1. The miracle of the standing still of the sun and moon on Gibeon. The record of this occurs in Joshua's impassioned prayer of faith (Josh. 10:12-15).
  2. Another difficulty arises out of the command given by God to completely exterminate the Canaanites. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

Archaeological evidence

The Amarna tablets are remarkable archaeological discoveries dating from about B.C. 1480 down to the time of Joshua. They consist of official communications from Amorite, Phoenician, and Philistine chiefs to the king of Egypt and afford a glimpse into the actual condition of Canaan prior to the Hebrew invasion. They help to illustrate and confirm the history of the conquest.

In addition, a letter, still extant, from a military officer, "master of the captains of Egypt," dating from near the end of the reign of Rameses II, gives a curious account of a journey, probably official, which he undertook through Palestine as far north as Aleppo. It gives an insight into the social conditions of the country at that time.

Among the things brought to light by this letter and the Amarna tablets is the state of confusion and decay that had fallen on Egypt. The Egyptian garrisons that had held possession of Palestine from the time of Thothmes III, some two hundred years before, had now been withdrawn. The way was thus opened for the Hebrews. In the history of the conquest there is no mention of Joshua having encountered any Egyptian force. The tablets contain many appeals to the king of Egypt for help against the inroads of the Hebrews, but no help seems ever to have been sent. In many points, the progress of the conquest is remarkably illustrated by the tablets.

Initial text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897, and from the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia. Please update as needed.