Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

One Book, Two Books: The Joshua-Judges Continuum

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

One Book, Two Books: The Joshua-Judges Continuum

Article excerpt


The final verses of the Book of Joshua attest to the Golden Age enjoyed by Joshua and his generation: Israel served the Lord during the lifetime of Joshua and the lifetime of the elders who lived on after Joshua, and who had experienced all the deeds that the Lord had wrought for Israel (Josh. 24:31). Only one person in the Book of Joshua--Achan--is described as having sinned, and he had done so in secret (Ch. 7).

The opening verse of Judges, which begins After the death of Joshua (Jud. 1:1), demarcates a clear boundary between Joshua and Judges. As much as the Book of Joshua portrays a Golden Age, Judges delineates a Dark Age. The Israelites' laxity in eliminating Canaanite influence (1:1-2:5) led to a precipitous decline into idolatry after the death of Joshua and the elders who had outlived him:

   Another generation arose after them, which had not experienced
   [the deliverance of] the Lord or the deeds that He had wrought for
   Israel. And the Israelites did what was offensive to the Lord. They
   worshipped the Baalim and forsook the Lord, the God of their
   fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt (2:10-12).

This abandonment of God was pervasive during the period of the judges, leading to one national disaster after another. At the same time, however, there are other indicators in Joshua-Judges that this decline was more gradual, with the signs of disaster already manifesting themselves during Joshua's life-time. In this essay, we will consider how the Book of Joshua may be understood simultaneously as a near-perfect age in Israel's history and as the precursor to Israel's darkest age.


... Caleb son of Jephunneh was given a portion among the Judites, namely, Kiriath-arba--that is, Hebron.... Caleb dislodged from there the three Anakites: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, descendants of Anak. From there he marched against the inhabitants of Debir ... and Caleb announced, 'I will give my daughter Achsah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath-sepher.' His kinsman Othniel the Kenizzite captured it; and Caleb gave him his daughter Achsah in marriage (Josh. 15:13-17). Caleb bridged the desert generation and the new generation. As one of the faithful spies from Moses' time (see, e.g., Num. 13-14; Deut. 1), he entered the land and inherited Hebron. His son-in-law Othniel went on to become the first judge in the following generation (Jud. 3:7-11).

The narrative of Caleb's defeat of Hebron and Othniel's capture of Debir is repeated almost verbatim in Judges (Josh. 15:13-19 Jud. 1:10-15). Some commentators argue that these events in fact occurred after Joshua's death, but were inserted into the Book of Joshua because of their thematic relevance to the national distribution of land under Joshua. (1) Others maintain that they occurred during Joshua's lifetime, and were repeated in Judges because the Judites--not the entire nation--conquered these cities. These exegetes explain that the Book of Joshua is dedicated to the national conquest and land distribution under Joshua, whereas Judges 1 enumerates the accomplishments of individual tribes. (2) Regardless of when Caleb and the Judites conquered Hebron and Debir, the narrative repetition creates a powerful link between the Books of Joshua and Judges by traversing the chronological boundary ostensibly erected by the opening verse in Judges.

Caleb's capture of Hebron, occurring in narratives before and after Joshua's death, invites the reader to reconsider the rest of the land inheritance described in Joshua and Judges. It appears that Joshua 13-19 foreshadows the later successes and failures in conquests described in Judges 1:1-2:5. The tribe of Judah was at the forefront of the land distribution in Joshua's time, highlighted by Caleb's enthusiastic request for Hebron (Ch. 14) and by his successful achievements with the rest of his tribe (Ch. …

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