Joshua, Son of Nun
JOSHUA, SON OF NUN
Joshua, son of Nun and protagonist of the Book of Joshua, is the most prominent of several Biblical persons who bore the name Joshua in the Old Testament period. The meaning of his name (Heb. yehôšûa ' and in post–exilic times yēšûa '), "Yahweh saves," is not exploited in the Book of Joshua, as it is exploited implicitly in Nm 13.16 and much more clearly later in Sir 46.1. In the Septuagint he is called 'Ιησο[symbol omitted]ς, jesus.
Biblical Portrait. In the book that bears his name, Joshua overshadows all the other human figures in the story of the conquest and division of the Holy Land. In ch. 1 he is seen as the man who, by Yahweh's will, steps into the role of Moses, whose death is described in the closing chapter of Deuteronomy. The continuity of leadership and Yahweh's presence with Moses are thus established in the early history of Israel.
The book pictures Joshua as a man fearless in battle, not because of his own strength and courage, but because of the powerful presence of Yahweh. Convinced that Israel's success in the struggle for possession of Canaan would be due entirely to the will of Yahweh, Joshua took drastic steps when he thought Yahweh's will was being opposed. The death of Achan and his family in ch. 7 exemplifies this uncompromising side of his character.
In ch. 8 Joshua is seen as an expert military strategist whose ability is attributed to the guidance of Yahweh. In ch. 9 he appears as a man true to his own promised word even though the promise had been spoken as the result of a trick on the part of the Gabaonites. In ch. 10 he thrills to his victory over the amorrite kings, but he gives credit to Yahweh as the one who fought and conquered for Israel. He killed these chiefs in a way that was in keeping with the chilling description of his war policies in Jos 10.40—sparing no one, but the massacre of every living soul. At times he needed encouragement in face of great opposition (Jos 11.6).
In general, the first part of the book (ch. 1–12) presents Joshua's work of conquering Canaan as coming off without any doubt of the outcome. The setback at ai was remedied as soon as the offending Achan was destroyed. The general picture in Yahweh's name and by His power, moving easily from one triumph to another throughout the whole land of Canaan. As will be seen, this picture must be altered when the life of Joshua is examined from a critical historical point of view.
The second part of the book (ch. 13–21), which deals with the division of the land among the Israelite tribes, does not add much to the earlier chapters' portrait of Joshua, except a stress on his wisdom and fairness in seeing to the distribution of the land.
The farewell addresses in the supplementary conclusions to the book (ch. 22–24) show Joshua as a man deeply concerned about the people's loyalty and obedience to Yahweh and deeply aware of Yahweh's own fidelity in making good all His promises. In the summary of salvation history that is given in ch. 24 Joshua appears as a leader who had a remarkable respect for the people's freedom to choose between Yahweh and the other gods.
Other books of the Old Testament help to fill in the picture of Joshua. According to Ex 17.9–10, Joshua was Moses' attendant and the commander of the Israelite battle forces in the desert skirmishes before Sinai. In Ex 24.13–14 Joshua is placed in close association with Moses during the latter's communion with Yahweh. In Nm 11.27–29 Joshua is shown as jealous for Moses when he thinks that Moses' position as prophet is being threatened by the prophetic spirit stirring among the people. In Nm 14.5–7 Joshua, along the Caleb, get credit for giving the right advice about marching in against the land they have scouted, though this advice went unheeded. In Nm 28.18–23 the authority of Moses passes on to Joshua, who is described as a man fit for this role. According to 32.6–15 Caleb and Joshua were the only ones among the men who came out of Egypt who would actually enter the promised land because they were faithful to Yahweh. According to Dt 1.37–38 Moses, who admitted that he himself would not enter, considered it his mission to encourage Joshua, whose work it would be to lead the desert–born generation into their possession. When Dt 34.7–9 describes the transfer of Israel's allegiance from Moses to Joshua, the new leader is said to be full of the spirit of wisdom. In 1 Chr 7.27 it is stated that a Joshua, son of Nun, belonged to the Joseph tribe of Ephraim, an interesting fact in connection with the special treatment given by Joshua to the Joseph tribes (Joshua ch. 17). According to Jos 19.49–50 Joshua's hometown, Timnath–serah, which later was to be his burial place (Jos 24.30), lay in the mountains of Ephraim. In Sir 46.1–6 Joshua is praised for his ability as a soldier, his prophetic activity, and in a general way for living up to his name as a savior of his people.
This Old Testament portrait of Joshua is carried over to the New Testament and given a new dimension in Heb4.8–11; with the same Greek name, he is compared with the new Jesus who leads His people all the way to the perfect rest as Joshua had done in his imperfect way.
Criticism of the Biblical Portrait. An analysis of the literary forms of the Book of Joshua and of the archeological facts about such cities as Jericho leads to an alteration of the Biblical portrait of Joshua. The epic or saga form, which is prominent in the Book of Joshua, is characterized by its hyperbolizing and simplifying tendencies. Its simplifying tendency is seen when it attributes the whole work of the conquest to Joshua, thereby playing down or neglecting altogether any other human agents. Its hyperbolizing tendency is evident when it pictures the conquest as a triumphant movement from one victory to another without any doubt of the final outcome. In Jos 11.23 this side of the picture is summed up by saying that Joshua conquered the whole land and then distributed it among the various tribes of Israel. However, the statement in Jos 13.1 about the amount of work that remained to be done even when Joshua was an old man fits the setting supposed by the Book of Judges and points up the exaggerating tendencies of the first 12 chapters of the Book of Joshua.
If one ask what Joshua really had to do with the conquest, no fully satisfactory answer can be given. That a man whom the Bible calls Joshua, son of Nun, had something important to do with the Israelite people's entry into Canaan in the 13th century b.c. seems beyond reasonable questioning. Exodus and Numbers show that Moses was concerned about his successor. Deuteronomy records the tradition about the way the problem of succession was handled. As far as the actual conquest is concerned, the Book of Joshua places most of his activity in central Palestine, which fits the statement of 1 Chr 7.27 that Joshua belonged to the Joseph tribe of Ephraim. The saga form would build on a core of fact. If central Palestine was the scene of Joshua's real battles and victories, the Israelite storyteller could start with this fact and expand it into a picture of Joshua taking over the whole of Canaan. The statement in Jos 13.1 that even when Joshua's battles were all over "very much" of the land still remained to be conquered provides a sobering balance in the attempt to answer the question about what really happened. The archeological problem about Jericho's apparent nonhabitation during the whole period in which Joshua's activity must be placed (the second half of the 13th century b.c.) further complicates the historical question. Only conjectural answers can be given. While one can affirm Joshua's importance in the conquest phase of Israel's history, it must be admitted that an exact delineation of his activity is impossible.
Joshua's Place in Salvation History. More important and possible than determining exactly what Joshua did is an understanding of his place in the theology of the Old Testament writers. Joshua stands forever in the shadow of Moses. This fact does not diminish him. It highlights his indispensable role as the man who led the people all the way into the Holy Land. Through Joshua's activity as well as that of Moses, Yahweh's loving fidelity was manifested as He saved His people from Egypt and the desert and brought them into the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Iconography. The many events narrated in the Book of Joshua gave artists copious material to work with. Such scenes as Joshua's crossing the Jordan, his siege and capture of Jericho and Ai, and victory over the Amorrite kings are frequently represented. Among the best–known cycles of these scenes are the 4th–century mosaics in St. Mary Major, Rome; the famous Joshua Scroll in the Vatican Library from c. a.d. 800 and the 13th–century Psalter of St. Louis in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
Bibliography: h. h. rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (London 1950). j. scharbert, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 5:1145. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 1212–18. For additional bibliography see joshua, book of. Iconography. l. rÉau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 6 v. (Paris 1955–59) 1.2:219–227. k. kÜnstle, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, 2 v. (Freiburg 1926–28) 1:301–302.