A New Leader, Part 2 (Josh. 1-5)

This is the second in a series of posts on Joshua and the leadership transition from Moses. The first post can be found here.

Despite a new face to lead the Israelites, Joshua proves to be pretty similar to Moses. In fact, he is strikingly similar to Moses, in a way that might cause us to immediately question the credulity of the stories about him (or, perhaps, the stories about Moses). For example, not too far into the Book of Joshua, Joshua leads the people on a miraculous river crossing: the people—Ark of the Covenant in tow—cross the Jordan while Joshua calls upon God to make the waters still (Josh. 3:9-17). Obviously, this is essentially the same miracle Moses performed as the Israelites escaped the clutches of the pharaoh (Exod. 15:19) Also, Joshua encounters an (ostensible) angel who tells him exactly the same thing that God told Moses in Exodus: “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy” (Josh. 5:15; Exod. 3:5).

So what do we make of this? Obviously these aren’t the only spiritual/communion with God things Joshua does. But that they are so strikingly similar to Moses should give us pause. Was this simply a common way of verifying that this particular individual (in this case, Joshua) was the right guy for the job? Were these later textual additions to make Joshua seem more like Moses? Another clue might be had from Joshua’s most famous “miracle” was a spectacular feat, but most notably something Moses had not done:

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to theLord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when theLord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

I want to focus on one line right away: “There has never been a day like it before or since.” Obviously, this means this little bit was composed long after the lengthened day—as has been understood by scholars for hundreds of years—so we should be somewhat skeptical of what might have been lost in translation. (As does the final sentence of verse 14, which seems to be an editorial comment.) While one of Moses’ miracles was, as we can remember from Exodus, cover the land in darkness, Joshua, by contrast, extends the daylight. Indeed, “the sun stood still.” The connection here may actually be more than coincidence.

Not everything Joshua does is just like Moses, of course. But these striking examples may point to larger facts about the Book of Joshua and its historicity. Joshua, most everyone agrees, is not a historical account; power was never really transferred from Moses to Joshua. Where and how and when it was composed beyond that, however, has been the source of much debate, which the Wikipedia page covers decently. Thus we can take the sun standing still and the connections with Moses with heavy skepticism. What is important, as I noted in the first post, was the theological connection between Moses and Joshua, here illustrated by the likely fabrication (or exaggeration) of events and miracles to connect the two.

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