The Israelite's defeat of ancient Jericho has been handed down in the book of Joshua. In this book, the author recounts many stories of conquest and fulfillment for the Jewish people. The book of Joshua continues where the book of Deuteronomy leaves off: the twelve tribes of Israel are still camped on the east side of the Jordan River and their leader Moses has died leaving Joshua in command. After years of slavery in Egypt and forty years of wondering in the desert, the Israelites finally enter into the promised land.
In order for the Israelites to enter into the promised land they strategically needed to conquer Jericho. It was inevitable that Jericho, located as it was by an important ford of the Jordan River, would have to be the first destroyed for the Israelites to go any farther on their journey. According to the biblical account, the Israelites marched around the city once a day for six days, on the seventh day they encircled the city seven times. On the seventh time around, the priests blew their trumpets, the people shouted and then the walls fell flat. This account in the book of Joshua goes on to say that when the walls collapsed, the Israelites stormed the city and set it on fire. Only Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who help the Israelite spies, and those who she hid in her house survived the attack.
Are these texts historical? Or are they created by an ancient people for a theological purpose?
WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF JOSHUA?
Most biblical scholars agree that Joshua did not write the book of Joshua nor was it written in his lifetime. The author of Joshua probably compiled it some 800 years after the actual events took place. This by no means indicates that the written material found in the book of Joshua is not historical. Scholars widely accepted the notion that the Israelites employed a rich oral tradition in order to pass down their cultural beliefs and practices. It is also possible that sections of the book of Joshua originated from the early days of Joshua's conquests and were later edited by a redactor who arranged them into the form that we now have.
However, there are those who believe that the book of Joshua was indeed written by Joshua or those under his command. The earliest Jewish traditions, found within the Talmud, claim that Joshua wrote his own book except for the final section about his funeral. These traditionalists claim that Eleazar the son of Aaron wrote about Joshua's funeral and then a later editor added the last verses. There are two instances found with in the text indicating that reports were written by Joshua himself or at his command. In the last scene of the book, Joshua made a covenant for the Israelites with God and here the text reads: "And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God(Josh 24:26)." Also, when the twelve tribes received their territories, Joshua instructed his men "go and make a survey of the land and write a description of it (Josh 18:8)." Furthermore, on other occasions the one writing the account appears to have been a participant in the events. For instance, this person uses pronouns such as "we" and "us" (Josh 5:1,6).
Additionally, the author carefully uses the antiquated names of the cities more likely to have been used in Joshua's day. For example, instead of using the name Jerusalem the author refers to this city as "the Jebusite city" ( Josh 15:8, 18:16,28). Likewise, he uses Kiriath Arba for Hebron (Josh 14:15; 15:54; 20:7; 21:11), and Greater Sidon for what later becomes known as simply Sidon (Josh 11:8; 19:28). The city of Tyre is never mentioned in the book of Joshua, probably because in Joshua's day it had not yet developed into an important port.
Although some aspects of the book of Joshua point to an early date of composition, still other evidence points to a later date. The book of Joshua shares an intimate relationship with the book of Deuteronomy. Both books share a similar use of language too close to be a coincidence (Friedman 103). The two books tell a continuous story with a thoughtfully arranged account of the history of the people of Israel. Richard Friedman suggests that both books were not written by one author but by several and then compiled and edited by a single person. Friedman writes:
The biblical books Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings are also attributed to the same redactor. The redactor most likely finished his work sometime between 626-586 BCE.This person was both a writer and an editor. He selected the stories and other texts that he wanted to use from sources available to him. He arranged the texts, shortening or adding to them. He inserted occasional comments of his own. And he wrote introductory sections which he set near the beginning of the work. Overall, he constructed a history that extended from Moses to the destruction of the kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. (Friedman 103)
The Deuteronomistic historian's account of Jericho's destruction does not attempt to give a factual description of the physical events of the attack on the city (Bartlett 106). Instead, the narrative reflects the standardized traditions of the 'the wars of the Lord' (Num 21:14) on behalf of Israel. The redactor was working with the idea that Canaan was defeated by the movement of all Israel invading from Transjordan. John Bartlett explains this point further:
Like any historian, the redactor who pieced the book of Joshua together had a particular point of view. This view point often flavors his historical account and must be read accordingly.The Deuteronomistic historian underlined the importance of the event by describing it in terms drawn from the tradition of 'the wars of the Lord' and set it, together with accounts of other such fundamental episodes of Israel's origins as the original circumcision of the Israelites and the first Passover held on the soil of Canaan at the beginning of his great work about the history of Israel on her new-found land. (Bartlett 106-107)
HISTORICAL VALUE OF JOSHUA
The redactor's account of Israel's destruction of Jericho makes it impossible for modern scholars to connect with any confidence the biblical account and the archaeological evidence. It is impossible to decipher precisely what events took place so many years ago and how they relate to Joshua 6. If we take the traditionalists' view that an all-Israelite campaign across the Jordan took place in 1406 BCE, then we must deal with the fact that the archaeological evidence does not correspond. However, with this dating the captivity in Egypt would have taken place under Amunhotep II after the death of his father Thutmose III, who is known to have employed slave labor in his building projects. Furthermore, it fits better with the two numbers given in Jdg 11:26 and 1 Ki 6:1, because it allows for an additional 150 years between Moses and the Israelite monarchy. On the other hand, the data from the archaeological record seems to support a date for Joshua's invasion c. 1250 BCE. This would place the exodus forty years earlier under the rule of Rameses II, who ruled from the Nile delta at a city with the same name given in Ex 1:11. However, at this time Jericho hardly existed due to an earlier confrontation with nomadic invaders, meaning that Joshua and his troops would have had no one to conquer.
Some scholars make the argument that the Israelite's capture of Jericho occurred on a comparatively smaller scale than as depicted in the biblical account. They think the Benjaminites (a single tribe of Israel) conquered Jericho in the 12th or 11th century BCE, at a time when those living in Jericho could not easily defend themselves. Indeed, the Deuteronomistic redactionist, compiling his account several centuries later, may have exaggerated the story for the sake of presenting a more dramatic history (Bartlett 107). The author of Joshua makes the relationship between Jericho and the tribe of Benjamin clear in the boundary description in verse 18;11-20. According to the Benjaminite boundary description: "On the north side of the boundary began at the Jordan, passed the northern slope of Jericho and headed west into the hill country, coming out at the desert of Beth Aven (Josh 18:12)." The Benjaminite tribe was given the land that ran either side of Jericho. Therefore, it was considered a Benjaminite town in the late premonarchic period. The Benjaminite city list, as it is shown in Joshua 18:21-27, was most likely composed in the 9th or even 7th century BCE and is not evidence for premonarchic Jericho (Bartlett, 108).