Because Joshua is a relatively short book, and because it is also relatively straightforward, it’s a great book to use for demonstrating your biblical prowess the next time you find yourself desiring to ‘show-off’ your newly attained biblical literacy for friends or distantly-related family members who think (rightly?) that progressive/liberal Christians are shockingly ill-equipped to discuss Scripture. I’m willing to admit, in this small company, that it’s a fair criticism. Our Sunday schools don’t require children to commit lengthy passages of Scripture to memory; we are not quizzed on the order of the books of the Bible (though I have a vague memory of learning the books of the New Testament to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy… Try it! It’s kind of fun); and we do not consider proof-texting an adequate formula for discerning (with Godly intention) the complexities of our shared life together.
To that end, here’s some interesting information on Joshua:
- Joshua can be fairly neatly divided into three acts: conquering the land (chs. 1-12), dividing the land (chs. 13-21), and warning about the future (chs. 22-24).
- Though Joshua tells the story of Israel’s brutal conquest and wholesale slaughter of an indigenous people, it is an idealized, illusory story that is not supported by archaeological evidence. The story is told as an epic tale of nationhood for the purposes of creating a sense of shared national/religious identity among a loosely affiliated group of tribes.
- In actual historical fact, Israel’s emergence in the land occurred over a long period, and, in fact, emerged from within the land of Canaan, rather than invading it from the outside.
- A more accurate portrayal of Israel’s emergence as a nation would be one of peaceful pioneers settlings in new territory rather than brutal invaders wresting away another people’s homeland.
- According to Nelson, “The book of Joshua actually appeared as a way of dealing with Israel’s persistently weak and vulnerable position, not as a celebration of its imperialistic triumph and dominance. The communities who wrote and read Joshua were constantly threatened by the loss of their land or dispossessed exiles hoping for its return… In other words, it was usually Israel who played the role of an indigenous people menaced by politically and technically superior foes.”
Joshua is revisionist history at its best.