The Book of Joshua
© Charles Chandler
Considering the significance of the conquest of Canaan for the emerging Jewish culture, we would do well to make a detailed study of the Book of Joshua, to make sure that we haven't missed anything. The present article accounts for every verse, and shows that the events occurred in 4 different periods. (See Table 1.)
Table 1. Proposed Historical Order in the Book of Joshua
chap:verses description
1365 2-8:29 Yashuya the Habiru sacked Jericho & Ai
1312 1 Jacob is told to cross the Jordan and possess the land
8:30-35 Jacob built an altar at Shechem
13-21 Jacob informed his children (ages 13~6) of inheritances
22 Levites returning to Moab built an altar on the West Bank
23-24 Jacob implored the people to obey the Lord
1302 9-10:27
1208 10:28-12:24 Defeat of the Sea Peoples
The walls coming down at Jericho, as described in Joshua 3~6, correspond to the earthquake in , and thus had nothing to do with the conquest of Canaan after Moses died in . Joshua 7-8:29 is similar to the previous verses, and thus the two assaults on Ai can also be attributed to Yashuya the Habiru. But we should note that a location totally destroyed in his time, as described, has not been found. Nor would it be likely that Bedouin raiders would do such a thing, getting no benefit from taking the time to kill all of the people and burn everything that wasn't plunder, and who were not prepared for the wrath it would bring on them from their neighbors. So the burning of Jericho & Ai should be taken as exaggeration, or perhaps historical details but from another time. Another chunk of the Book of Joshua (10:28 through 12:24) also describes total destruction, including killing every living thing, and in a couple of waves, each wiping out the entire Levant.
Joshua 10:40

40 (DH) So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.

The only period that brought that kind of devastation to the Levant was the Bronze Age Collapse, followed by the defeat of the Sea Peoples by Merneptah in . This would have been a conquest of Canaan only in the eyes of Merneptah, but surviving in the shadow of his sword, perhaps the scribes thought to record the exploits of that Lord as well, at least somewhere in their archives. Then, 600 years later, the Deuteronomists consolidated all of the conquests under Joshua's name, resulting in him getting the credit for killing every living thing in Canaan several times. More realistically, several campaigns seem to have been conflated, and none of them were so deadly.
Joshua 2 doesn't have any historical details, but it has some similarities with Joshua 6, so it can be attributed to Yashuya the Habiru as well. In all, Joshua 2-8:29 can be attributed to Yashuya, while the degree of destruction, and perhaps some of the military details, can be attributed to Merneptah.
Joshua 1 seems appropriate for Jacob's move to Shechem in . It says that the Lord commanded the son of Nun not to let the Book of the Law depart from his lips,1 consistent with Israel beginning as the champion of Moses' teachings. This is something that is not mentioned in Joshua 2-8:29. Another difference is that Joshua 1 does not mention the Ark of the Covenant, but Joshua 2-8:29 does — repeatedly. (See Table 2.) This makes sense if chapters 2-8:29 are about Yashuya the Habiru, who had to profusely swear allegiance to the Lord (in order to raid on the West Bank with impunity), in which case he had to respect the Covenant between the Lord (Amenhotep III) & Abraham, but he didn't need to be reminded about the Book of the Law, because it hadn't been written yet. Jacob, on the other hand, did need to keep the Book of the Law in mind, if he wanted to lure converts out of the Atenist camp, but the Covenant had yet to be rewritten in his name, so the Ark was not with him when he crossed the Jordan in on his way to Shechem.
The Ark of the Covenant and the Book of the Law are not mentioned in the same passage until Joshua 8:30-35, which describes the altar he built at Shechem. These verses can be dated independently of the previous, since there is a gap in the dialog — Joshua 8:29 is in Ai, while Joshua 8:30 is in Shechem, which isn't close enough for continuity. Central to the theme of Joshua 8:30-35 is the Book of the Law, dating these verses to after the 1312-Exodus. If it was just after, this would have been the altar that Jacob built in Shechem when he first moved his family there in .2 The presence of the Ark signifies the approval of the pharaoh, so this might have been when Jacob was publicly renamed Israel, previously being informed only in private, after the wrestling match in the previous chapter.3 If taken at face value, this is saying that in , the Lord (Horemheb) installed Jacob in Shechem, perhaps as something like the high priest of the temple of Isis, Ra, & Elohim. The temple was named El-Elohe-Israel, meaning "God is the god of Israel," and which could be interpreted as "Horemheb is the overlord of Jacob." Still, the Book of the Law was the sacred scripture for this new cult. Moses was still alive in , and though he was not allowed to enter Canaan, the Levitical priests participated in the ceremony. This would have confirmed Is'Ra'El as an acceptable alternative to Otni'El.
Joshua 23-24 also tells in similar terms of a religious ceremony at Shechem, and thus might simply be a continuation of 8:30-35. The Book ends abruptly, with Joshua sending everybody back to their inheritances, and with he & Eleazar passing away shortly thereafter. The awkward ending suggests that there was more to the story. If this religious ceremony was the same as the one in 8:30-35, the date was , and the conquest of Canaan hadn't begun — the rest of the story rather starts in Joshua 9.
Joshua 9-10:27, which describes the alliance with, and defense of, the Gibeonites, are the only verses that pertain to the Israelite Conquest of Canaan in , with more details in Genesis & Judges. In Joshua, the killing spree described in 10:28-12:24 can only be the campaign of Merneptah in .
Joshua 13 starts with the Lord announcing that there is still much territory left to be conquered, including pretty much all of the Levant, and since Joshua is getting old, the Lord volunteers to drive out the inhabitants himself. And yet no battles ensued, and the remainder of 13-21 is just all of the allotments to the twelve tribes of Israel (with an anachronistic insertion at 15:13-19 about Otni'el & Aksah, which like Judges 1:12 would have been earlier, in ). Clearly there is some sort of break between chapters 12 and 13, since they had just gotten done killing every living thing in Canaan again, begging the question of what could possibly still require conquering. The allotments in 13-21 sit more comfortably just after the construction of the altar at Shechem described in 8:30-35 & 23-24. In other words, there was much territory still to be conquered because the date was , and the conquest hadn't begun. So Jacob called everybody together to witness the dedication of the altar, and got himself installed as a high priest under the name of Israel. At the ceremony, Jacob read the Book of the Law, with the approval of the Levitical priests. He implored the people in his camp to owe their loyalty to the Lord (Horemheb), in consideration of all of the fine things he had done to the Hebrews, and the allotments that he had promised to those who obeyed him in every respect.
If the allotments were made when Jacob first moved to Shechem in , we should acknowledge that his children were only ages 6~13 at the time, and we should find it odd for inheritances to be announced so young, with the parents still alive & well — such things generally weren't sorted out until sometime after the passing of the head of household. But there is another oddity that might be related — while Joshua (Jacob) is given credit for the conquest of Canaan, the dirty work was done by his sons (Simeon at Shechem, Joseph at Bethel, Judah at Gibeon, Jerusalem, & Hebron). Jacob renounced the massacre at Shechem — perhaps he didn't like the idea of forcibly overthrowing Canaan, and the conquest had to wait for his sons to come of age, who were motivated by allotments that had already been announced, should they obey the Lord. In other words, it's possible that the Lord Horemheb wanted to push the Is'Ra'El cult to the exclusion of all other practices in Canaan (especially Atenism), but for whatever reason Jacob wasn't willing, so Horemheb had to bribe the sons into it.
Joshua 22 then falls right in line. After all of the allotments were made, Joshua released the tribes granted land on the East Bank by Moses. But just before they crossed the Jordan, they built an altar, which almost provoked war between the eastern & western tribes. A regional conflict like this wasn't mentioned before, nor after, so this is a curious turn of events. Furthermore, the whole chapter clearly differentiates between Israel versus Reuben, Gad, & Manasseh, which is odd in that they were all direct descendants of Israel. This makes more sense if it was Israel versus tribes who had been granted land in Moab, and who were not of Israel, such as the Habirus & the Levites (= Hebrews). In the present thesis, there was a brief period in which the Hebrews & Israelites were two different groups, divided east-west by the Jordan, with Hebrews on the East Bank and Israelites on the West. As such, the "tribes granted land on the East Bank" would have been the Levitical priests who had attended the ceremony at Shechem, and who were returning to their clans in Moab. Reuben & Gad were children at the time, and might have already been told that they would inherit Moab when they came of age, but they wouldn't have followed the Levitical priests back to Moab in . And Manasseh hadn't been born yet.
Does this shed any light on why the construction of an altar almost provoked war? Joshua 22:23 called it an altar for turning away from the Lord. It sounds like just before crossing the Jordan, the Levites built an altar out of spite to the Lord who they definitely were not going to be worshiping in Moab. Israel's loyalty to said Lord required that he demand an explanation for the act, hence the diplomatic mission.
Lastly, Joshua 22:17, which mentions the Heresy of Peor, is an anachronism in the present thesis, which has that occurring in .
If the present thesis is correct about the Hebrews & Israelites competing for control of Canaan, it wouldn't be surprising that the Deuteronomists scrambled the details in the story of the conquest, since that was the conflict that had to be suppressed.


1. Joshua 1:8 (DH)

2. Genesis 33:18-20 (E,R)

3. Genesis 32:27-28 (E)

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