Evangelical Dating of Joshua

Why do some evangelicals believe that Joshua could have been written as late as the Babylonian exile? Why do some believe that it was earlier than this?

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Critics have wanted to assign the writing of the book of Joshua very late in Israel's history, in fact, all of the Old Testament written late in Israel's history, because they would base this on an evolutionary view of the development of Israel's religion. When Israel is developing from a paganism, to their idolatry, to polytheism, and then to worship of one god above other gods, and then finally to monotheism, the worship of only one God, they would say that evolved over time. They do so in part because they deny the miraculous; that is, that they would argue no person can know the future. And that's true – no person on earth can predict the future. But there is a God in heaven who is bringing about the future, and he is the one who can tell certain prophets what will happen in the future. And so, just to say that it cannot be written early because of an anti-supernatural bias seems to me to violate what the Scripture says about itself. When we come to the book of Joshua, we see that when we back up and we ask, what age might have produced this particular book, I think that there are a couple of possibilities before the exile. Israel's golden age was the age of David and Solomon. The silver age was the age from Uzziah to Josiah. And during those times you had relative peace, and you had prosperity flowing into the nation. We know that from, for example, the description of Solomon's temple and the wealth that that brought into the nation. We also know that from Hosea and Amos who talk about the lavish lifestyle of the nation of Israel. So, it's a time of peace and prosperity, and it's during these times that you would more likely have the opportunity to give over to contemplation and to writing rather than fighting all kinds of wars. And I don't think it's a coincidence, I think it's probable that during this time of this early golden age we would see a flurry of literary activity. And so, David is writing the Psalms. Psalm 72 ends with the notion that the prayers of David, son of Jesse, are ended. Probably this was an addition of the psalter, a portion of the psalter that was edited and came out near his death or shortly after his death. We also have Solomon, who is writing, according to the superscriptions, is writing the proverbs of Solomon in 1:1 and more proverbs of Solomon in 10:1. That we might have in the time of Hezekiah another burst of literary activity is suggested in the Proverbs where it says in 25:1 that these are the proverbs of Solomon that Hezekiah's men transcribed. And so, that fits within the idea that we would have an early period of peace and prosperity where writing would be done. We would have a time, perhaps later, before the captivity, when this writing also would be done, and then we know that we had literary activity after the captivity Of course, there would have been editorial activity in the more than 800 years between Moses and Jeremiah or the 300 years between David and Josiah, because in the course of the development of the language, you've got certain features that have to change. No one today in English literature reads Beowulf in the original. In fact, we would even have difficulty reading the authorized version of 1611 in the original script. Styles change. The formation of words change. And sometimes in the Scripture there seems to be evidence of little editorial notes that are put in, and so, we wouldn't want to discount the idea that there would be a prophetic editor, a prophetically inspired editor, who would add certain notes in order to update the material for the people We might even be able to suggest for the book of Joshua something a little earlier, because in the account of Joshua, it says that the Jebusite was not driven out of Jerusalem and unto this day still remains in the city of Jerusalem. This would have been at a time before David drove out the Jebusite and established it as his capital. So, what we're suggesting is that these earlier books of the Old Testament probably were achieving their final form during the time of the early monarchy as the time of peace and prosperity would have allowed.

Answer by Dr. Chip McDaniel

Dr. Ferris “Chip” McDaniel is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.