What genres of writing can be found within the story of Joshua?

High Definition Video Standard Definition Video

(Right click this link to download video.)


The question of genre in Joshua is one that has excited a lot of people because when we necessarily ask the question of genre we're asking, "What kind of writing are we reading? What does this thing purport to be? How does it want us to read it?" Which then leads us to, "What kind of questions should we put to the text?" When we look at the text of Joshua, we initially see a narrative that is fast-paced — conquest, destruction, success, failure, intervention by God, miraculous events — in the first twelve chapters of Joshua. Then the text seems to shift gear. It doesn't shift out of narrative genre; however, the narrative becomes much slower paced. We see a lot of lists, we see administrative language and rhetoric, and we see what appears to be an accounting of the people of Israel as they moved into this new, previously unheld land of Canaan. So, the question of genre, then, has been answered by several as being, the book of Joshua's primary genre is something called the "conquest account," a genre that comes to us from the ancient Near Eastern world, a genre in which a charismatic leader leads a people to take possession of a previously unheld land, and under the helm, or under the leadership of a deity. While this is helpful heuristically, I think in seeing some of these similarities, three major differences appear when we compare Joshua to these other ancient Near Eastern accounts, conquest accounts that come to us from the ancient world. The first is that the siege account that we have in Joshua chapter 6 of Jericho is unlike anything that's come to us from the past before. So, in some ways, to say that this necessary component of siege is in Joshua; therefore, it's similar to everything that's come before, Joshua 6's siege is intended to display the mighty power of God, not the siege brilliance of the army. The second major difference that sets Joshua apart from other ancient Near Eastern accounts is the use of this word "cherem," the word for "ban," the ban that God has placed over and against the Canaanites, that they would be consecrated to utter destruction. This word cherem appears in very little literature outside of the Old Testament anywhere from the ancient Near Eastern world. It appears in a ninth century Moabite inscription called the Mesha Stele, or the Mesha Inscription, in which the Moabite king, with the power of his god Chemosh, puts Israel to the ban. It also appears in a Ugaritic infertility incantation, which obviously doesn't carry the same resonance as it does in the book of Joshua. And then it appears in a Sebaean text whose date is under question. And so, the term itself is not clearly comparable. Thirdly, or finally, in ancient Near Eastern accounts of conquest accounts, the genre of conquest accounts, there's almost a Quentin-Tarantino-esque level of violence and slaughter in which the protagonists revel in the destruction, the blood, the body count, the skulls piled up. And we don't find that in the book of Joshua. Instead, what we see is a modest account of the destruction of a city and its inhabitants and its possessions to the Lord.

Answer by Dr. Seth Tarrer