AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Place in the Canon. | Contents. | Structure and Date. | The Hebrew text and the Septuagint. | The Value of Joshua as a Historical Record.


THE book of Joshua stands immediately after the Pentateuch in most versions and editions of the Old Testament, though in the Syriac version the book of Job usually comes in between. This is due to the theory that Moses was the author of job. In the Hebrew Canon, Joshua stands at the head of the second group of books, i.e. the Prophets, and is the first of the historical books known as the "Former Prophets," a group that also includes judges, Samuel, and Kings.


The book of Joshua is the record of the conquest of Palestine by Israel, under the leadership of Joshua. It takes up the story from the disappearance of Moses, and carries it down to the death of its hero. The book falls naturally into three parts: 

  1. chs.i-, recording the conquest itself;
  2. chs.i-x, describing the apportionment of the land among the tribes;
  3. chs.xi-xxiv, giving the last words of Joshua to the people.

Its contents may be described in more detail as follows:

i.1-9: Yahweh commissions Joshua.
i.10-18: Fidelity of the Transjordanic tribes.
ii.1-24: Spies sent to Jericho.
iii.1-v.1: Crossing of the Jordan.
v.2-12: The Israelites are circumcised and keep the Passover.
v.13-16: Joshua receives a theophany.
vi.1 -vii.1: Fall of Jericho and sin of Achan.
vii.2-26: Unsuccessful attack on Ai; execution of Achan.
viii.1-29: Fall of Ai.
viii.30-35: The Law read on Mount Ebal.
ix.1-27: Stratagem of the Gibeonites.
x.1-43: Battle of Gibeon and conquest of southern Palestine.
xi.1-15: Conquest of northern Palestine.
xi.16-23: Completion of conquest.
.1-24: A list of kings conquered by Israel.
i.1-xix.51: Partition of the land among the tribes.
ix.1-9: Appointment of cities of refuge.
xxi.1-45: Appointment of Levitical cities.
x.1-34: Transjordanic tribes return and set up a memorial altar.
xi.1-xxiv.28: Joshua's farewell address.
xxiv. 29-33: Death of Joshua.



It is generally recognised that all the documents that have gone to the construction of the Pentateuch (except H) are found also underlying the book of Joshua and that its history is practically identical with that of the five earlier books. For a general discussion of the sources and composition of the book reference may be made to the previous chapter. If there is a difference to be noted it lies in the fact that a good deal more material has to be attributed to Deuteronomic revision in Joshua than in either Exodus or Numbers. The final redaction is due to P, who accepts the Deuteronomic theory of a swift and complete conquest. The following represents in general the accepted analysis of the book:

J. E. D. P.
  i.1-2, 10-11a. i.3-9, 11b-18.  
ii.1-9. ii.1-9. ii.10-11.  
ii.17-21. ii.12-16, 22-24.    
iii.5-6. iii.1-3, 8-10a, 11-17. iii.7, 10b. iii.4.
iv.9-10a, 10c-11. iv.1-4, 8, 15-18. iv.5-7, 12, 14, 21-24. iv.10b 13, 19-20.
v.13-15. v.2-3, 8-9. v.1 v.4-7, 10-12.
vi.1. vi.1.    
vi.2-3, 10-11, 14-15, 16b-20a, 20c-23, 26. vi.4-9, 12-13, 16a, 20b, 24-25.    
vii.2-26. (see note) vii.2-26. (see Note)   vii.1.
viii.1a, 2b-9, 14ac, 16c-17a, 19ac, 20a, 22, 28b-29. viii.10-13, 14b, 15-16b, 17b-18, 19b, 20b-21, 23-26, 28a. viii.1b-2a. 27, 30-35.  
ix.3-9a, 11-15a, 16, 22-23, 26-27ab. ix.3-9a, 11-15a, 16, 22-23, 26-27ab. ix.1-2, 9b-10, 24-25, 27c. ix.15b, 17-21.
x.1ac, 2-7, 9-24, 26-27. x.1ac, 2-7, 9-24, 26-27. x.1b, 8, 25, 28-43.  
xi.1, 4-5, 7, 8b.   xi.2-3, 6, 8a, 8c-23.  
i.13. i.1. i.2-12, 14. i.15-31.
    xiv.6-15. xiv.1-5.
xv.14-19, 63.     xv.1-13, 20-62.
xvi.1-3, 9, 10. xvi.1-3, 9.   xvi.4-8.
xvii.11-18. xvii.1b-2, 8, 9b.   xvii.1a, 3-7, 9ac, 10.
xviii.2-3a, 4-6, 8-10. xviii.2-3a, 4-6, 8-10. xviii.3b, 7. xviii.1, 11-28.
xix.47. xix.49-50.   xix.1-46, 48, 51.
    xxi.43-45. Xxi.1-42.
    x.1-8. X.9-34.
  xxiv.1-11a, 12, 14-25, 26b-30, 32-33. xxiv.11b, 13, 31. Xxiv.26a.

[Note: The greater part of v.24 is probably to be ascribed to priestly redaction.]

It should be remarked that the analysis is rather more uncertain in Joshua than in the Pentateuch. It is held in some quarters [E.g., by Streuernagel, cp. Josua (1900).] that much of the material normally attributed to the Deuteronomic editing of JE really comes from an editor who revised E.  But the tone of so much of this matter is quite characteristic of D, and it has been felt better to retain these passages under that head. The analysis of J and E is at least as difficult as it is in the Pentateuch.

It will be seen that the Deuteronomic editors often included fairly long passages; while in other places their work was limited to occasional notes. A similar remark may be made about P, which, here as elsewhere, seems to delight in formulae and statistics.

What has been said as to the date of the various elements in the Pentateuch applies to Joshua also.


The text of this book has been fairly well preserved, and it is comparatively seldom that the student wishes to resort to conjectural emendation. The Septuagint, however, shows that the MT has been in places somewhat expanded by the addition of words and phrases, even after the separation of the Egyptian and Palestinian traditions. In this respect it is clear that some forms of the Septuagint (particularly the recension known as that of Lucian) have been "corrected" by the Palestinian text, but there are MSS., notably the Codex Vaticanus (B), which show wider variations, and suggest a greater independence. Even so, while it is clear that the text has not received that meticulous care which was bestowed on the Pentateuch, it has obviously not suffered very seriously in the course of transmission. (Cp.pp.15 ff.)


A glance over the analysis of the book shows that, while the older sources, J and E (mainly the latter), are prominent in the first section, ending with ch., they occupy but a small part of the second. We may almost say that the first division of the book consists of material taken from the older documents, and revised, first by D and then by P.  In the second division, however, the whole seems to have been written by D or P or both, with the insertion of a few brief sentences here and there from J or E.

It is the later revisers, belonging to the Deuteronomic and Priestly schools, who have given to the whole book its characteristic presentation of the conquest. The earlier stories serve the purpose of giving some information as to the details, but it is assumed that the whole land, from the far south to the extreme north, was in the hands of Israel before the death of Joshua. There are, it is true, certain exceptions suggested in i.1ff., but these are confined to the coastal plain and the far north; the rest is already in Israelite hands, and what is not yet occupied will soon be conquered. The picture is intended to be one of a complete conquest of the land, carried out practically within a single generation.

But interspersed in this second section (chs.i-x) we have occasional notes, commonly assigned to J, which tell a different story. [It should be observed that several of these notes appear also in Judg.i, together with additions of the same type.]

So far from being a complete and overwhelming success, the conquest failed to embrace some of the most important parts of the land. Judah could not dispossess the Jebusites of Jerusalem (xv.63), Ephraim failed to conquer Gezer (xvi.10). Manasseh left the cities of the Plain of Esdraelon in Canaanite hands (xvii.11-13).

There are also, we may remark, indications of other conquests that are not mentioned elsewhere in the book, e.g. the capture of Debir by Othniel (xv.14-19), and the sack of Laish by the Danites (xix.47-48). [So probably we should read for Leshem.]

When, moreover, we come to examine the actual conquests ascribed to Joshua in chs.i-x, we are struck by the small number of cities whose capture the older sources report. Jericho and Ai are taken, and Gibeon is accepted as a subjectally. In ch.x the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Yarmuth, Lachish and Eglon are defeated and killed, but not one of their cities is captured, save in the Deuteronomic conclusion to the story, x.28-43. The earlier documents had nothing to say of the conquest of country to the south and west of Gibeon. Even after the victory over the five kings, the camp is still at Gilgal, in the plain of Jericho, and the great triumph shrinks to the dimensions of a successful raid. In other words, all that J and E had to say of Joshua's conquests to the south of the Plain of Esdraelon was that he secured a bridge-head in the Plain of Jericho, and a small triangle of territory in the heart of the mountains. No doubt both were, strategically, of the highest importance, and formed a base from which the Israelite power could gradually spread till it covered the whole land, but generations were to pass after the death of Joshua before the conquest could be called complete. Jerusalem, as we know, fell into Israelite hands only in David's time, while the first Hebrew monarch who could really lay claim to the site of Gezer was Solomon.

Ch.xi records the defeat of Jabin, king of Hazor, in northern Galilee. But a king of the same name and locality is mentioned in Jdg.iv in connexion with the exploit of Deborah and Barak. And, though we may not feel able to accept the form of the story, which brings him into direct political relationship with Sisera, it is clear that one line of tradition ascribed the conquest of his territory to the age of the judges. It is difficult to see how an invading army of warriors, on the stage of development reached by Israel, could have made their way through the chain of unreduced fortresses which held the Plain of Esdraelon from Carmel to the Jordan. And on all grounds of probability it seems better to assume another crossing of the Jordan valley between the Sea of Galilee and Huleh with which Joshua had nothing whatever to do. Equally independent of him is the southern movement, whose limit (in the book of Joshua) is reached with the capture of Debir by Othniel. And we may suggest that here we have the memory of yet a third line of invasion, which did not cross the Jordan at all, but pressed slowly northwards from Hormah.

It is not difficult to, appraise the motives that led to a belief in a complete and comparatively sudden conquest under Joshua. In addition to national pride, we have the theological outlook of that Deuteronomic school to whom we first owe the theory. From its point of view, the supreme peril of Israel from the first had been syncretism. To avoid that, the only safe measure was the complete annihilation of Israel's predecessors. Because, in view of the Deuteronomists, this ought to have taken place, and was, indeed, enjoined by Yahweh, Yahweh must have given the whole land to Israel at once. He would never have demanded the extermination of the Canaanites unless He had also made it possible, and He could make it possible only by giving Israel all the country.

But while the Deuteronomic theory of the conquest (accepted by the Priestly school) fails to commend itself as historical, we may safely say that we have in the older narratives an account of the first stage of the conquest on which we may generally rely. It gives us a picture, as we have seen, of three separate waves of invasion; one by Kenizzites and Calebites (clans later reckoned as Judahite) from the south. The second by the Joseph group under Joshua, which crossed the Jordan near Jericho and made good its position in the hills to the north and northwest of Jerusalem. And the third, crossing the Jordan much higher up, and establishing itself in the region which extends from near the sources of Jordan down towards the Sea of Galilee and the Plain of Esdraelon. Even many of the details of these wars, especially those in which Joshua figured, may have a substantial basis in fact, handed down traditionally. The book of Joshua, at all events in its earlier strata, does give us a fair amount of material that we may accept as historical.