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As R. K. Harrison observes, “The Hebrew text of the book of Joshua is in quite good condition, and seldom requires emendation. The LXX version indicates attempts to expand the Hebrew through the addition of words and phrases. Certain LXX manuscripts such as Codex Vaticanus exhibit wide variations, and may possibly represent an independent textual tradition from that of the MT. The Lucianic recension of the LXX appears to have been corrected by reference to Palestinian Hebrew sources” (R. K. Harrison, Old Testament Introduction, p. 678).
It is reasonable to deduce that this book was largely composed by Joshua himself. Intimate biographical details are given from the very first chapter that only Joshua himself could have known (although of course he could have later imparted them to others). Joshua 24:26 records that the general himself wrote out his own farewell charge as quoted in the first twenty-five verses of the chapter. Earlier in the book (5:1, 6) we find passages in the first person plural, such as, “Jehovah had dried up the waters of the Jordan from before the children of Israel, until we were passed over.” Such language as this certainly points to the work of an eyewitness who participated in the events himself.
Other references point to a very early date of composition, even if not precisely within the lifetime of Joshua. Canaanite cities are mentioned by their archaic names; for example, Baalah for Kirjath-jearim (15:9), Kirjath-sannah for Debir (15:49) and Kirjath-arba for Hebron (15:13). Moreover, according to 13:4–6 and 19:28, Sidon was the most important city of Phoenicia, thus indicating a period before the twelfth century B.C. (when Tyre began to attain the ascendancy). According to 9:27, the Gibeonites “unto this day” were still “hewers of wood and drawers of water” around the tabernacle, even as Joshua had appointed them. This could no longer have been said in the reign of Saul, if we may trust the indication of 2 Sam. 21:1–9, that some of the Gibeonites had been massacred and their special status changed by King Saul. Certainly the references to Jerusalem (such as 18:16, 28) show very clearly that at the time of writing it was inhabited by the Jebusites and had not yet been captured by the Hebrews under King David.
On the other hand, there is evidence of later editorial work in the inclusion of events which could not have occurred until after Joshua’s death. Not only do we have the notice of his decease (24:29–30) and the generalization that “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who lived after Joshua” (24:31), but we also find reference to Othniel’s capture of Kirjath-arba (15:13–17; Judg. 1:9–13) and the migration of a portion of the Danite tribe to the extreme north of Israel (19:47; cf. Judg. 18:27–29). Taking all this evidence together, it seems to point to substantial composition of Joshua by the man after whom the book was named, and supplementary material (also inspired) very likely by Eleazar or his son Phinehas.
As we have already seen elsewhere), rationalist critics of the Wellhausen school have attempted to include Joshua with the five books of the Pentateuch, calling the whole collection the Hexateuch. They consider the basic material to come from J and E, but with considerable editorial work and redaction by the “Deuteronomic School.” Later editorial work is thought to have been contributed by a redactor of the priestly school, who made his major insertions in chapters 13–21. But it should be pointed out that the biblical evidence makes it very difficult to hold that the Pentateuch never had any separate existence apart from Joshua.
The most significant evidence is found in the fact that only the Pentateuch was held by the Samaritan sect to be canonical. We know from the Samaritan form of the Pentateuchal text that these northern sectarians even in post-exilic times considered themselves to be heirs of the Israelite ten tribes. Many of the deviations from the Masoretic Text of the five books of Moses consist of additions that make it explicit that God had chosen Mount Gerizim in the Ephraimite territory to be the place for His holy sanctuary, rather than the southern center of Jerusalem. Obviously, the motivation for this is nationalistic propaganda, but the book of Joshua contains many elements which would have commended it to Samaritan nationalism. For example, it makes prominent mention of Shechem in Ephraim as an important center and a city of refuge. Its chief hero is an Ephraimite general, Joshua the son of Nun. It contains a record of the solemn reading of the law by the whole congregation of Israel between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Therefore the only possible explanation for the failure of the Samaritans to include Joshua in their authoritative canon was that it was not actually a part of the Mosaic Torah. The Torah must, therefore, have existed as a separate Pentateuch at the time of the Samaritan schism in the late 6th century B.C.
The Tell El-Amarna Correspondence
In 1887 an accidental discovery led to the unearthing of an entire file of ancient diplomatic correspondence at the site of the ancient Akhetaton (Tell el-Amarna), the newly built capital of King Amenhotep IV (Akhnaton). These letters were written on clay tablets in Babylonian cuneiform, which was the accepted language for international correspondence during the Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty. A preliminary examination of the contents of these tablets convinced C. R. Conder that they represented a Canaanite version of the sequence of events connected with the conquest of Canaan by the armies of Joshua. In 1890 he brought this correspondence to the attention of the public in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, in an article entitled “Monumental Notice of Hebrew Victories.” In the same year, H. Zimmern categorically affirmed that in the Amarna correspondence we have nothing less than a contemporary record of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan (in the Zeitschrift des deutschen Palastinavereins). These early investigators pointed out the frequent occurrence of the name “Habiru” in the communications from King ’Abdi-Hepa of Jerusalem, who reported to the pharaoh with the greatest alarm that these invaders were carrying everything before them. Further study of the tablets convinced H. Winckler that marauding armies associated with the cuneiforn characters SA.GAZ were to be equated with the Habiru. Very frequent references to these SA.GAZ people are to be found in the communications of Canaanite princelings all the way up to Sidon in Phoenicia.
Later discoveries at Mari and Nuzi, as well as at Babylon, revealed the fact that Habiru figured in the history of the Mesopotamian valley as early as the beginning of the second millennium B.C. They are referred to in the Sumerian inscriptions of Rim-Sin of Larsa and in Akkadian texts from Hammurabi’s Babylon and Zimri-Lim’s Mari, as well as of Warad-Sin and Rim-Sin of the Elamite dynasty. Often the name is preceded by the determinative meaning “warrior.” Hittite and Old Babylonian texts indicate that contingents of the SA.GAZ received regular rations from the state, manned royal garrisons, and worshiped gods who were invoked in state treaties. The Hittite texts from Boghazkoi furnish evidence that the Habiru and the SA.GAZ are the one and the same people, for each form of the name appears in parallel columns of bilingual texts, and the gods of the SA.GAZ are there referred to as the gods of the Habiri. In the Mari correspondence they appear as mercenary troops in the employ of leaders like Yapah-Adad (cf. ANET, p. 483).
It is not certain how the characters SA.GAZ were pronounced, whether as Habiru or by some such term as Habbatu (“plunderer, robber”) as is given in the ancient dictionaries. Many scholars have conjectured that SA.GAZ represented an appellative or descriptive term rather than the name of any particular tribe or people; whereas Habiru referred to a definite ethnic group. Others, however, have rejected an ethnic significance even for Habiru because of the great diversity in types of names which are attributed to individuals listed as Habiri. Many of those from Old Babylonian sources and those at Nuzi are Akkadian Semitic names, but those from Alalakh are mostly non-Semitic.
In the light of the foregoing evidence, it may reasonably be questioned whether the Habiru were a definite, homogeneous face, or whether the name was attached to migratory groups of people who possessed no real property and were not attached to the soil like the general populace of the land in which they happened to reside. Thus they may have been a group somewhat akin to the gypsies of modern times whose racial background is shrouded in mystery, but whose common characteristic is that they never settle down in one place, preferring to wander from region to region as they may find a living. This at least is the theory advanced by Moshe Greenberg in his monograph entitled, “the Hab/piru” (New Haven, Conn.: American Oriental Society, 1955). He thus would account for their appearance as mercenaries in the employ of foreign governments or as dependents who hired themselves out as serfs or slaves. Apparently the etymology for the name Habiru points to the basic significance of “one who passes over” or “one who passes through (the land),” coming from the verb ˓ābar (“to pass through”).
It is open to question, however, whether the term Habiru necessarily connoted inferior social status. Meredith Kline points out that in some cases, as at Alalakh, the Habiri are found at the head of city administration as government officials, or else as chariot-owning maryannu (the highest of the warrior castes). Peace treaties were made with them, which would hardly have been effected with a mere dependent or servile populace. Kline personally regards the Habiri as a more or less homogeneous ethnic stock of warrior tribes, who sold their services as mercenaries, and in some cases (like the Goths of the late Roman Empire) settled down to become landowners and officials. In some instances, as at Alalakh, they became so culturally integrated with the people among whom they lived that they even adopted the non-Semitic personal names prevalent in that locality. He feels that they were largely allied with the Huffian or Mitannian governments, and thus respected by them, even though they were feared and shunned in many non-Hurrian regions. Kline does not believe that they can successfully be linked with the Israelite Hebrews either ethnically, religiously, or culturally.3 But this conclusion hardly does justice to the data of the Amarna Letters.
Discoveries at Ugarit make it evident that Habiru were the same people referred to as the ’Apiru in Egyptian records. A text published by Virolleaud contains a list of towns subject to provide corvee labor for the king of Ugarit; and this bilingual text shows on the Akkadian side, “Aleppo of the SA.GAZ” (Hal-bi lu-mes SAG-GAZ), and on the Ugaritic side, reads: “Aleppo of the ’Apirim” (Hlb ’prm). Apparently it was possible by dialectic modification to pronounce the middle b of Habiru or ’Abiru as a p, for so it appeared in Ugaritic and also in Egyptian. Hence the Habiru were “people from the other side,” or “migrants,” and this term may have been applied to those of diverse national origin. It is only in the Hebrew records that we find the name in the form ˓ibrɩ̂ (Hebrew) used to refer to a single racial stock, namely the descendants of Abraham, “the Hebrew.” Thus Abraham may have been called “the Habiru” by the Canaanites because of his mode of life and because he was a foreigner; but then his descendants retained this designation in honor of their ancestor and transmuted it into an ethnic term. Such an interpretation of the name Habiru and its apparent equivalent, SA.GAZ, leaves room for the possibility that some non-Israelite peoples were involved in the convulsive movements of Joshua’s time, and participated in the invasions of the northerly regions at least.
Moshe Greenberg and many of his predecessors have rejected this identification of the Habiru (SA.GAZ) with the Israelite invasion, both because of the diversity of names appearing in some of the Mesopotamian records, and also because of the reported activity of the SA.GAZ in Syria and Phoenicia. The objection is based on the ground that there is no allusion to any such northerly military operations in the Hebrew records. In answer to this it ought to be pointed out that there is nothing in Joshua to discourage the belief that the northernmost tribes, such as Asher and Naphtali, who settled right next to the Phoenician territory, may have conducted expeditions against Tyre, Sidon, and even Byblos (from which city most of the Phoenician correspondence is derived). Joshua does not pretend to list all the military operations into which the individual tribes entered after the major united campaigns had come to a close. This, then, is hardly a decisive objection to the identification of Habiru with Hebrews. Other objections raised by Greenberg include the consideration that according to the Amarna correspondence it was possible for individuals or even a whole town to become Habiri by deserting the Egyptian side.
For example, in the letter numbered 185 in the Mercer edition (J. A. Knudtzon, Die El-Amarna Tafeln [Leipzig: Hinrich, 1908–15], hereafter EA, 111:44), Rib-Addi declares that the inhabitants of Lachish have “become Habiri.” Even an Egyptian such as Amanhatbi (Amenhotep) of Tushulti could escape reprisal for his misdeeds by fleeing to the SA.GAZ (EA 95:63). But it should be pointed out that these terms of expression do not necessarily signify the attainment of full citizenship, so to speak, in the ranks of the Habiri, but may simply be a way of indicating a change of allegiance or the formation of a new alliance. Joshua records how the Gibeonite or Hivite league effected a treaty of peace with the conquering Israelites, although of course they did it by stratagem. There can be little doubt that other Canaanite communities made terms with the irresistible invaders in order to avoid total destruction. The Canaanite principalities which maintained the conflict against Israel were of course bitterly resentful of those who had gone over to their side, and they may well have referred to this maneuver as “becoming a Habiru.”
Greenberg also makes the observation that the SA.GAZ seem to have operated in relatively small, unrelated groups here and there throughout the land of Canaan, and thus do not present in any sense the same picture as the narrative in the book of Joshua, where we have great bodies of troops from all twelve tribes operating under a single command. But there are two things to be said about this observation. In the first place, the letters may have come from widely separate periods of time (for virtually none of them contain any dates) ranging all the way from 1400 B.C. to the latter part of the reign of Akhnaton. Those references to Habiru activity which seem to imply the operation of smaller bodies of troops may have been written in the latter period after the main campaigns had been completed. Second, it should be observed that some of the letters give the very distinct impression that Habiri have come into the land in great force and are subjugating large tracts of land at a time.
One noteworthy example of the latter type is EA No. 286 from Abdi-Heba: “As truly as the king, my lord, lives, when the commissioners go forth I will say, ‘Lost are the lands of the king! Do you not hearken unto me? All the governors are lost; the king, my lord, does not have a [single] governor [left]!’ Let the king turn his attention to the archers, and let the king, my lord, send out troops of archers, [for] the king has no lands [left]! The Habiru plunder all the lands of the king. If there are archers [here] in this year, the lands of the king, my lord, will remain [intact], but if there are no archers [here] the lands of the king, my lord, will be lost!” Again in EA No. 288 he pleads, “Let the king care for his land. The land of the king will be lost. All of it will be taken from me; there is hostility to me. As for the lands of Sheeri (Seir] and even to Gintikirmal [i.e., Mount Carmel] there is no peace to all the regions, but to me there is hostility.” This obviously refers to the second phase of Joshua’s campaign, when he was subduing the central portion of Palestine (although, of course, he never took over Jerusalem itself as a permanent Hebrew possession).
Many excellent scholars who have thoroughly gone over the evidence feel certain that the Habiri of the Amarna correspondence are to be identified with the Hebrews of Joshua’s army. Edward Meyer in Geschichte des Altertums (1928) states: “The substantial identity of the Hebrews or Israelites with that part of the Habiri of the Amarna tablets who were invading Palestine in Amarna times is … beyond doubt.” As evidence he pointed to the fact that those cities whose governors maintained correspondence with Egypt according to the Amarna archives were Megiddo, Ashkelon, Acco, Gezer, and Jerusalem, precisely those cities which the Israelites were late in capturing. On the other hand, as F. Bohl pointed out in Kanaanaer und Hebraer (1911, p. 93), those cities which had already fallen to the Israelite advance or had joined ranks with Joshua’s forces are represented by no communications at all—cities like Jericho, Beersheba, Bethel, Gibeon, and Hebron. In connection with the solemnization of the national covenant with Jehovah at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim near Shechem (cf. Josh. 8:30–35), it is highly significant that Abdi-Hepa of Jerusalem accused that city-state of defecting to the Habiru cause (EA 289): “Or shall we do like Labayu, who gave the land of Shechem to the Habiru?” If there was some informal understanding between Joshua and the Shechemites, there would have been no difficulty about holding this religious assembly near that powerful city.
The objection has also been made that there are few names appearing in the Amarna letters which are also discoverable in the text of Joshua. With the partial exception of Japhia (Yāpɩ̄˓), king of Lachish, none of the royal names seems to correspond. Ingenious attempts have been made to correlate Abdi-Heba (Abdu-Heba) with Adonizedek but these involve major improbabilities. On the other hand, this lack of correspondence is not to be wondered at in view of the unsettled nature of the times, when local dynasts were apt to be dethroned or assassinated in swift succession. Most of the royal names given in Joshua pertain to the earliest phases of the conquest, and it may simply be that most of the Amarna letters come from a later period. In this connection it might be mentioned that one letter, EA 256, from Mut-Ba’lu of Megiddo, suggests to the Egyptian regent Yanhamu that he is on intimate enough terms with Benenima (also read as Benilima) and Yashuya to ask them the whereabouts of the prince of Pella, who has absconded to parts unknown. The question arises whether “Benenima” is equivalent to Benjamin and “Yashuya” to Joshua. Possibly the remark is ironical and rhetorical in nature and is meant to imply that the Israelite invaders have something to do with the disappearance of Ayab of Pella. Without further knowledge of circumstances, it is impossible to decide this question one way or the other.
At this point, a word should be said about the six known occurrences of the name ’Apiru (or, according to J. A. Wilson, ’Eperu) in the records of the Egyptian empire between 1300 and 1150. In three cases the ’Apiru appear as unskilled workmen in the quarries; once as temple property (in a list of temple serfs at Hieropolis in the reign of Rameses III) and once as workers at a stable. Wilson comes to the conclusion that the term was applied to foreigners in Egyptian service who occupied the status of slaves or serfs. In one remaining reference, however, they are mentioned as foreign mercenary troops. Hence we are to understand Apiru in the broader nonethnic sense of Habiru, just as in the cuneiform records which antedate the Amarna correspondence.
The earliest reference is found in the tomb of Puyemre in the reign of Thutmose III. Next comes the tomb of Antef, in that same reign; then it appears in a list of booty recorded in the Memphis Stela of Amenhotep II (ANET, p. 247), written at the conclusion of his second Asiatic campaign (which contains an item of 3,600 ’Apiru carried off as captives). Next, Seti I in the smaller Beth-shean Stela (cf. ANET, p. 255) records an encounter with the ’Apiru of Mount Yarumtu (i.e., Jarmuth). A Nineteenth-Dynasty story of the capture of Joppa in the reign of Thutmose III refers to the ’Apiru as potential horse stealers (ANET, p. 22). Among the offerings dedicated to the temple of Amon at Heliopolis by Rameses III is a group of slaves referred to as ’Apiru (ANET, p. 261). Rameses IV mentions 800 ’Apiru of the bowmen of ’Antiu—in this case apparently mercenaries.
From a survey of the Egyptian references, it will be easily seen that no deductions may be drawn in favor of either the early date or the late date for the Exodus. The ’Apiru of the time of Thutmose III may well have been the Israelites; those mentioned by Rameses II, Rameses III, and Rameses IV may have been Hebrews who did not join the Exodus, or who were perhaps taken captive by Egyptian raiders during the time of the Judges. As for the ’Apiru whom Amenhotep II encountered in central Palestine, they could hardly have been the Israelites themselves (who were at that time still confined to the wilderness of Sinai), but wandering freebooters who were called by the term Habiru, used in its larger and more general sense.
In conclusion, we may state that while there are many problems and individual details which have yet to be cleared up, there is a sufficient agreement between the data of the Amarna correspondence and the account in the book of Joshua to establish a close connection between the two.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS EDWARD D. ANDREWS: Historical criticism, also known as the historical–critical method or higher criticism, is liberal scholarship that is subjective in the extreme, that is, based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions, dependent on the mind or on an individual’s perception. The historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation is preferred by evangelicals because it is objective in nature, that is, not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. Beginning in the nineteenth century, effort on the part of evangelical scholars and writers was expended in opposing theories of higher critical scholars. Evangelicals at the time accused the ‘higher critics’ of representing their dogmas as indisputable facts. Scholars such as Thomas H. Horne, James Orr, William Henry Green, William M. Ramsay, Robert D. Wilson, L. W. Munhall, Reuben A. Torrey, Gleason Archer Jr., Robert L. Thomas, Norman L. Geisler, Gleason L. Archer, F. David Farnell, Edward D. Andrews, C. John Collins, and K. A. Kitchen, all have made academic contributions. During the past 250 years, an influential school of critics has deluged the world with articles and books attempting to prove that most Bible books were not written by the traditional author or even those mentioned by the book itself as the author. Rather, they have unknown authors and the OT books were allegedly written hundreds of years after their traditional time of writing.
Tischendorf was a world-leading biblical scholar who rejected higher criticism, which led to his noteworthy success in defending the authenticity of the Bible text. Tischendorf was educated in Greek at the University of Leipzig. During his university studies, he was troubled by higher criticism of the Bible, as taught by famous German theologians, who sought to prove that the Greek New Testament was not authentic.
NT Textual scholar Harold Greenlee writes, “This “higher criticism” has often been applied to the Bible in a destructive way, and it has come to be looked down on by many evangelical Christians.” Greenlee, J. Harold. The Text of the New Testament: From Manuscript to Modern Edition (p. 2). Baker Publishing Group.
Higher critics have taught that much of the Bible was composed of legend and myth, that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible, 8th century Isaiah did not write Isaiah, there were three authors of Isaiah, 6th century Daniel did not write Daniel, it was penned in the 2nd century BCE. Higher critics have taught that Jesus did not say all that he said in his Sermon on the Mount and that Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees in Matthew 23, as this was Matthew because he hated the Jews. These are just highlights for there are thousands of tweaks that have undermined the word of God as being inspired and fully inerrant. Higher critics have dissected the Word of God until it has become the word of man and a very jumbled word at that. Higher criticism is still taught in almost all of the seminaries, and it is quite common to hear so-called Evangelical Bible scholars publicly deny that large sections of the Bible as fully inerrant, authentic, and true. Biblical higher criticism is speculative and tentative in the extreme.
After two centuries, higher critics with their higher criticism have ousted the Bible from its earlier status as the fully inerrant, inspired Word of God? Higher criticism has opened the flood gates to pseudo-scholarly works, which has resulted in undermining Christians’ confidence in the Bible. There is utterly no solid evidence for the claims made by higher critics. If any supporter of higher criticism says, “just because some have gone too far, or some have abused the method, this does not negate the benefits of using it,” listen to that foreboding feeling in the back of your mind. Or, the higher critic might argue, “you can take the good parts of higher criticism and leave the parts that undermine the Bible.” This is like saying, “you can remove the 75% poison from the water before drinking it, trust me.” There is a way to remove the bad parts for sure, fully abandon what is known as the subjective historical-critical method of interpretation and return to the old objective historical-grammatical method of interpretation.
Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., identifies many flaws in the reasoning of those who support the Documentary Hypothesis; however, this one flaw being quoted herein is indeed the most grievous and lays the foundation for other irrational reasoning in their thinking. Identifying their problem, Archer writes, “The Wellhausen school started with the pure assumption (which they have hardly bothered to demonstrate) that Israel’s religion was of merely human origin like any other and that it was to be explained as a mere product of evolution.” In other words, Wellhausen and those who followed him begin with the presupposition that God’s Word is not that at all, the Word of God, but is the word of mere man, and then they reason into the Scripture not out of the Scriptures based on that premise. As to the effect, this has on God’s Word and those who hold it as such; it is comparable to having a natural disaster wash the foundation right out from under our home. I would date the writing of Joshua to around 1450 B.C.E.
Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994).
R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969).