Evaluating the Authorship of
Joshua

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Question
Who wrote the book of Joshua? What do you think of the traditional Jewish view that Joshua, Eleazar and Phinehas wrote the book of Joshua?
Answer
Well, the question about who wrote the book of Joshua and the traditional answer tying the story of Joshua to Joshua himself is an ancient tradition, and I think we need to respect that ancient tradition. Especially in tribal societies of the ancient past, but also tribal societies all the way up to today, the tribal elders have tremendous authority, and they have tremendous respect, and their traditions, whether oral traditions or written traditions, carry a lot of weight. And so, we need to be respectful of that, both in the ancient context and in the modern context. So, when a text like the book of Joshua has a lot of firsthand accounts with Joshua at the center of the story, we have to pay careful consideration to that. I mean, that's "history writing 101," since Herodotus. Herodotus listens to the accounts of other people, and he says this is what they say about their history. And he's not making a value judgment at times, but he's at least respecting the ancient record of the people and how they view their own history. So, here is ancient Israelite history with a prominent, prominent figure, one who walked alongside the covenant mediator for Old Testament times, Moses. He is Moses' right-hand man, and so when he writes down what he has lived out in his whole life — the conquest of the land in Canaan — that carries a huge amount of weight. And so, very early the traditions gelled around the person of Joshua. Sure, there's editorial things going on. Subsequent writers, maybe Samuel — another prominent figure in Israelite history — might have come along and touched up some of the things about Joshua's death. But when there is the covenant renewal at the end of Joshua, Joshua is there. So, why assign the authorship, the composition of these texts, to someone removed so far down the line, like during the Babylonian exile. This casts a great shadow of doubt, and it actually is anachronistic. It doesn't fit with tribal history writing, as we know it.

Answer by Dr. Thomas Petter

Dr. Thomas Petter is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.