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Put Together by a Committee! by Robert L. Hubbard Jr.

Categories Old Testament

Joshua part 1

Hubbard bob Surprise! I’ll bet that you didn’t know this: a committee, not Joshua himself, wrote the book of Joshua. In fact, that committee is probably responsible for everything from Joshua to 2 Kings in our Bibles. At least, that’s the opinion of most recent scholars. Thus, behind Joshua’s "story" in the Bible (Story A) lies another "story" (Story B) of how we got it.

About Story B. Sometime around 630 B. C. a group of religious leaders met quietly, out-of-sight, in Jerusalem. We don’t know how many were there, but they probably convened at or near the Temple, perhaps in one of its rooms or residences. All attendees had access to the Temple complex since they all worked there.

Their agenda was simple: to launch a unique literary project—a major history of Israel from the conquest of Canaan under Joshua to the current king, Josiah. Frankly, deep concerns drove their proposed project. They were bummed big-time about their country’s chances of survival. There was too much idolatry in Judah, and they feared that, if nothing changed, God would severely punish the country for it.

They had two things going for them. First, the current king, Josiah, had outlawed idolatry in Judah and backed the Temple as the only legitimate place to worship. Second, none of Israel’s traditional enemies--Assyria, Egypt, or Babylon—posed any threat. So Josiah could pretty much do what he wanted. No wonder the devout scribes decided to make his reign the climax of their history!

So, Who Were These Guys? They were probably all scribes, experts charged with preserving and copying scrolls kept in the palace and Temple. Back then, scribes used such scrolls as textbooks for their other job, teaching government officials and royal family members. As scribes, they had access to the large Temple and palace large archives—and they could read and write, of course. So, they were the right guys for this project. Duh!

The Bible names several scribes from the reign of Josiah, and they may have played a role in the project:

*Shaphan son of Azaliah was the one who read a just-found book of the law to the king (2 Kgs. 22:10).

*Elishama was important enough to have an office as scribe in the palace(Jer. 36:12).

*Baruch was the scribe who wrote down Jeremiah’s words and read them at the Temple (Jer. 36:4, 8).

Dude, What Eyes! These scribes read Israel’s history with a unique set of eyes. They weren’t just "historians" but "theologians." They interpreted the history of Israel theologically—specifically, through the eyes of Deuteronomy, their favorite biblical book. The bottom line: Israel’s history showed three things …

*that Israel had turned from God to worship idols

*that God had dispatched disaster for their apostasy.

*that faithfulness to God brings reward, while unfaithfulness brings disaster.

The influence of Deuteronomy explains why scholars today nickname the scribes the "deuteronomists" and their history the "Deuteronomic History" (DH, for short).

No, I’m Not Making This Up. Did the scribes make stuff up or use sources? Well, what would you do? Right: "they went to the library"—in their case, the archives in Jerusalem. The Book of Joshua shows clear traces of some of the sources worked into the book:

*the town lists and tribal boundary descriptions (Josh. 13-19)

*an ancient account of the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 1-11)

The scribes didn’t "make stuff up," but they did decide what to include—and edited the materials, too. One scribe may have written the list of kings defeated by Israel, the celebratory chapter that dramatically closes of the long story of conquest (Josh. 12).

Well Done! The DH project, including Story B, certainly demanded enormous effort of the scribes. It took several years to complete but they finished it about 600 B.C. (applause, please). It included Joshua to 2 Kings 23 in our Bibles. But their work was not done. About 550 B.C., a later committee in Babylon added 2 Kings 24-25 and updated the whole history. So, that’s how Joshua first became a book: it formed part of that huge history we call "DH."

Joshua Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (PhD, Claremont Graduate School) is Professor of Biblical Literature at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. He also taught at Denver Seminary and served as a chaplain on active duty in the United States Navy and in the United States Naval Reserve. Dr. Hubbard is author of The Book of Ruth: New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1988), which received the Christianity Today Critics Choice Award as the best commentary of 1989. He co-authored Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Word, 1993), with William Klein and Craig Blomberg, and Joshua for the NIV Application Commentary series. He is ordained by the Evangelical Free Church of America. He and his wife Pam reside in Chicago.

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