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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 5

Verses 1-9

Joshua 5:2-9 . Joshua Circumcises the Israelites.— Here we have an interesting but quite unhistorical account of the institution of circumcision. Circumcision (pp. 83, 99f.) is a prehistoric rite practised by many nations in antiquity and by the South Sea Islanders, African, and Australian aborigines in the present day. Here we have an attempt to date its origin in Israel from the entry into Palestine, while in Genesis 17* (P) its origin is dated from the command given by God to Abraham. The endeavours of subsequent scribes to bring the two accounts into conformity with one another are seen in the insertion of Joshua 5:3-8. The original narrative is probably to be found in Joshua 5:2 and Joshua 5:9. Joshua is ordered to circumcise the nation by Yahweh, who says, “ This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” The only meaning to be attached to these words is that the Egyptians had reproached the Israelites with being uncircumcised, just as the Israelites themselves subsequently reproached the Philistines. Later writers however, especially in the face of Genesis 17, could not admit that the Israelites were uncircumcised in Egypt; Joshua 5:3-8 was accordingly added, stating that the Israelites who were circumcised at Gilgal were those who had been born in the wilderness, and for some unexplained reason had never undergone the rite, though this, of course, leaves the words, “ This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you,” quite without meaning. That the original account gave offence to later editors is also seen from the interesting fact that the stone knives here mentioned are again found in LXX Joshua 21:42 and Joshua 24:30, where they are said to have been preserved at Timnath– serah. These passages, no doubt, belong to the old tradition that circumcision was instituted by Joshua at Gilgal, but as being in conflict with the priestly account in Genesis 17 were omitted from the Hebrew text.

Joshua 5:2 f. knives of flint: this, like the parallel case of Zipporah’ s circumcision of her son with a flint ( Exodus 4:25), is an example of what is known as “ the conservatism of the religious instinct.” The rite dated back beyond the period when metal knives were in use. A Central Australian tradition (Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 223f., 394– 402) carries us back beyond even stone knives to the use of the fire-stick for circumcision, but stone knives are said to have been introduced because so many of the boys died under the operation (pp. 224, 401f.). Any deviation from traditional routine is felt to be dangerous in religious ceremonies, and just as the fire-stick was employed after flint knives were known, so the latter relic of the Stone Age continued to be used after metal knives had been introduced. See Joshua 8:31 *.— A. S. P.]

Joshua 5:10-12 , which records the eating of the first passover in the Promised Land, belongs to the Priestly writer. The editor took care to put the account of the circumcision before that of the Passover, for, according to Exodus 12:48, “ no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.”

Verses 13-15

Joshua 5:13 to Joshua 6:27 . The Capture of Jericho.— The narrative begins at Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:1 is an insertion (observe that RV places it in brackets), so that Joshua 6:2 should immediately follow Joshua 5:15. The captain of Yahweh’ s host is therefore Yahweh Himself. In the rest of the chapter we have a composite narrative, so skilfully compiled that at first sight there is not much fault to find. Closer inspection, however, shows that there are two signals for the fall of the walls— ( a) a shout after a blast of the trumpets ( Joshua 6:5), and ( b) a shout after Joshua’ s command ( Joshua 6:10). Further, the priests and the rearguard also are said to have sounded the trumpets during the circuit of the walls: this is probably a very late addition. Wellhausen’ s suggestion, which has been generally accepted, is that two accounts are combined; in the first the Israelites marched round the walls once a day for seven days, while in the second the Israelites went round the walls seven times in one day These stories were combined by an editor who may have added the statement that the trumpets were sounded during the circuit of the walls. Most scholars are satisfied that this is the best solution as yet offered.

It is, however, possible that the first and simplest narrative is based on a still earlier and simpler account, of which traces remain in the LXX. Here we find that the command at the beginning of the chapter contains no reference at all to marching round the walls of the city. Joshua 6:3 f. runs in LXX as follows: “ And do thou set the men of war round the city, and it shall be when ye blow with the trumpet, let all the people shout together, and when they shout, the walls of the city shall fall down of themselves and all the people shall hasten to enter into the city.” Here the command is, Surround the city, give a signal by blowing a trumpet, raise the battle-cry and deliver the assault. That the walls should fall down of themselves, is a vivid statement of the fact that the army would encounter no resistance. The Rahab clan in the city would open the gates, or find some other means of letting the invaders within the walls. The capture of Bethel, as recounted in Judges 1:24, should be read in connexion with this. [The recent excavations at Jericho do not support the historicity of the statement that the walls collapsed. Handcock says, “ none of the fortification works at Jericho shows any sign of having been destroyed to the extent that a reader of Joshua VI would naturally suppose” ( Archæ ology of the Holy Land, p. 101).— A. S. P.]

The original and simple narrative that the city was surrounded and taken by assault, aided by the cooperation of some of the inhabitants, was gradually enlarged. The additions would probably begin with the introduction of the Ark. When it was felt that the Ark ought to have some place of honour in the taking of Jericho, as it had in the crossing of the Jordan, the command to surround the city would become a command to march round the city, with the Ark in a position of honour. Naturally the priests would have to accompany the Ark. Hence a simple historical fact has been altered out of all recognition. ( Cf. the transformation which the earlier narrative in Judges 5 has suffered in Judges 4 and the similar alterations in Ch.; especially the narrative of the bringing of the Ark to Jerusalem; cf. 2 Samuel 6 with 1 Chronicles 13, 15.)

Joshua 6:17 . devoted: i.e. placed under the ban ( herem), devoted to utter destruction. To save anything alive or appropriate anything thus devoted, as Achan did, was counted a grievous sin ( cf. Deuteronomy 2:34 *, 1 Samuel 15. pp. 99, 114) .— A. S. P.]

Joshua 6:26 b. The exact meaning of these words is difficult to determine ( 1 Kings 16:34 *). The simplest solution is to believe that the builder offered his firstborn as a foundation sacrifice and his youngest son as a final sacrifice on the completion of the rebuilding, and that the religious feeling of later times ( cf. Micah 6:7) transformed the sacrifices into a punishment. It was a well-known custom in primitive times for the foundation of a house to be inaugurated with a human sacrifice. We feel reluctant to admit that this custom obtained in Israel, but after the excavations at Gezer it is impossible to deny the existence of human foundation sacrifices as late as “ the latter half of the Jewish monarchy” (pp. 83, 99, Exodus 13:2 *). See Driver, Schweich Lectures, pp. 69– 72, where a photograph is given, and objections to the theory that a foundation sacrifice is here referred to are stated. The actual rebuilding of the Canaanitish city of Jericho appears not to have been attempted. Archaeological evidence seems to show that another city was built not far from the old site (see Driver, p. 92).

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Joshua 5". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.