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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 5




Joshua 3:1 to Joshua 5:1. The Crossing of Jordan.—Here we begin to meet with more serious difficulties. The old tradition was that after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan, they commemorated the event by the erection of twelve stones. But this simple narrative existed in two recensions, which differed as to the destination of these memorial stones. According to one account, they were to be placed in the midst of the river; according to the other, they were to be set up on the W. side of the Jordan in the place where the army encamped for the night. Deuteronomic additions have been made to these narratives, i.e. additions of a religious colouring as in Joshua 3:7, "And Yahweh said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moses so I will be with thee." In spite of this, ch. 3 on the whole presents an intelligible narrative if the first clause of Joshua 3:4, which speaks of the distance to be maintained between the Ark and the people, is made a parenthesis. It is probably an insertion in the spirit of the priestly writers, emphasizing the sacred character of the Ark in accordance with Numbers 4:15 ff. As the text stands, we must take Joshua 3:5 as spoken the day before Joshua 3:6, and in Joshua 3:6 insert some such phrase as "and on the morrow." We must also delete Joshua 3:12, which has no connexion with what precedes or follows. With these alterations, the narrative is straightforward. In ch. 4, however, we get into hopeless confusion. In Joshua 4:1 the people have completely passed over Jordan. Then twelve men are commanded to go back and fetch twelve stones from the bed of the river. But in Joshua 4:4 f. the twelve men are ordered to pass over before the Ark, and the narrative of the crossing which we have already had at the end of ch. 3 is repeated down to Joshua 4:19.

Moreover, instead of the two accounts of the stones which we expect in the two narratives, there are, practically, three. One tells us quite plainly that twelve stones were taken out of the midst of the river, and the second just as plainly says that twelve stones were set up in the midst of the river; while the account we should naturally expect, that twelve stones were taken across the river from one side to another, only appears if we take the last half of Joshua 3:3 by itself; viz. the words, "And carry them over with you and put them in the lodging place where ye shall lodge to-night." These words, taken alone, certainly seem to speak of the transference of stones from one side of the river to the other. Further, the four words previous to those just quoted can be translated as follows: "Prepare (hâkin) twelve stones (and carry them over," etc.), a command which fits in with the rest of the verse. But by the words in the first part of Joshua 3:3, which speak of taking stones out of the river, the purport of this command is entirely altered. It is here maintained that all the references to stones being taken out of the bed of the river are insertions which arose from a misunderstanding of Joshua 3:5. But it will be asked—Does not Joshua 3:5 speak of taking up stones from the river? At first sight it does; but the command, "Cross over before the ark into Jordan and take every man of you a stone upon his shoulder," is given to the men who are already on the bank of the river where the stones are in readiness, so that the taking up of the stones would be the first thing to be done. But as the words "lift up the stones" came after the words "cross over before the ark," it was thought that the action corresponded with this order; that the stones were lifted up after the men had marched into the bed of the river; hence arose the erroneous idea that stones were taken up out of the bed of the river, after the twelve men had marched into position before the Ark. This led first to the insertion of the words, "out of the midst of Jordan" in Joshua 3:8, and afterwards to another insertion at the beginning of Joshua 3:3.

When the text has been cleared in this way, ch. 4 gives a second account of the crossing, with the usual additions of the Deuteronomist. Joshua 4:9 is out of place unless it is explained, as the Greek translation does, by the insertion of the word "other" before the words "twelve stones."

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" (Archæology 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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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Joshua 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.

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