Author and Date
In the judgment of many scholars Joshua was not written until the end of the period of the kings, some 800 years after the actual events. But there are significant reasons to question this conclusion and to place the time of composition much earlier. The earliest Jewish traditions (Talmud) claim that Joshua wrote his own book except for the final section about his funeral, which is attributed to Eleazar son of Aaron (the last verse must have been added by a later editor).
On at least two occasions the text reports writing at Joshua's command or by Joshua himself. We are told that when the tribes received their territories, Joshua instructed his men "to make a survey of the land and write a description of it" ( ). Then in the last scene of the book, when Joshua led Israel in a renewal of the covenant with the Lord, it is said that "he drew up decrees and laws" ( ). On another occasion the narrator speaks as if he had been a participant in the event; he uses the pronouns "we" and "us" ( ).
Moreover, the author seems to be familiar with ancient names of cities, such as "the Jebusite city" () for Jerusalem, Kiriath Arba ( ; ; ; ) for Hebron, and Greater Sidon ( ; ) for what later became simply Sidon. And Tyre is never mentioned, probably because in Joshua's day it had not yet developed into a port of major importance.
But if some features suggest an author of Joshua's own lifetime, others point to a writer of a somewhat later period. The account of the long day when the sun stood still at Aijalon is substantiated by a quotation from another source, the Book of Jashar (). This would hardly be natural for an eyewitness of the miracle who was writing shortly after it happened. Also, there are 12 instances where the phrase "until this day" occurs.
It seems safe to conclude that the book draws on early sources. It may date from the beginning of the monarchy. Some think that Samuel may have had a hand in shaping or compiling the materials of the book, but in fact we are unsure who the final author or editor was.
Joshua is a story of conquest and fulfillment for the people of God. After many years of slavery in Egypt and 40 years in the desert, the Israelites were finally allowed to enter the land promised to their fathers. Abraham, always a migrant, never possessed the country to which he was sent, but he left to his children the legacy of God's covenant that made them the eventual heirs of all of Canaan (see ). Joshua was destined to turn that promise into reality.
Where Deuteronomy ends, the book of Joshua begins: The tribes of Israel are still camped on the east side of the Jordan River. The narrative opens with God's command to move forward and pass through the river on dry land. Then it relates the series of victories in central, southern and northern Canaan that gave the Israelites control of all the hill country and the Negev. It continues with a description of the tribal allotments and ends with Joshua's final addresses to the people. The theme of the book, therefore, is the establishment of God's people Israel in the Lord's land, the land he had promised to give them as their place of "rest" in the earth ( ; ; see also ) and note; ; ; and note; ). So the Great King's promise to the partriarchs and Moses to give the land of Canaan to the chosen people of his kingdom is now historically fulfilled (
In the story the book tells, three primary actors play a part: "the Lord" (as Israel's God), his servant Joshua, and his people Israel (the last a collective "character" in the story). We meet all three immediately in ch. 1, where all three are clearly presented in the distinctive roles they will play in the story that follows. Joshua 1 also introduces the reader to the main concern of the book as a whole.
The role of the central human actor in the events narrated here is reinforced by the name he bears. Earlier in his life Joshua was called simply Hoshea ( ), meaning "salvation." But later Moses changed his name to Joshua, meaning "The Lord saves" (or "The Lord gives victory"). When this same name (the Greek form of which is Jesus; see NIV text note on ) was given to Mary's firstborn son, it identified him as the servant of God who would complete what God did for Israel in a preliminary way through the first Joshua, namely, overcome all powers of evil in the world and bring God's people into their eternal "rest" (see ) and notes).
In the Hebrew Bible the book of Joshua initiates a division called the Former Prophets, including also Judges, Samuel and Kings. These are all historical in content but are written from a prophetic standpoint. They do more than merely record the nation's history from Moses to the fall of Judah in 586 b.c. They prophetically interpret God's covenant ways with Israel in history -- how he fulfills and remains true to his promises (especially through his servants such as Joshua, the judges, Samuel and David) and how he deals with the waywardness of the Israelites. In Joshua it was the Lord who won the victories and "gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers" ().