Pulpit Commentary - Joshua

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Pulpit Commentary - Joshua

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EXCEPT perhaps, the Book of Daniel, there are no parts of Holy Scripture concerning the date and authorship of which so lively a controversy has raged as the first six books of the Old Testament. To mention all the various theories that have been advanced would be impossible. We will give a brief sketch of some of the most noticeable, and then proceed to examine more in detail the arguments which have been advanced to support them.

1. There is the view that the book is a contemporary document. This is the early Jewish tradition. The Talmud states that it was written by Joshua himself; that Eleazar wrote the account of Joshua's death, and that Phinehas added the verses containing the narrative of the death of Eleazar.[1] This view has been maintained, among later authors, by the learned Havernick, at least in its main features; for he holds that the first part of the book, up to ch. 12., and the last chapters, were written by Joshua, the passage relating to the deaths of Joshua and Eleazar having, of course, been added by a later hand.

2. Keil and others regard it as a treatise of somewhat later date than the time of Joshua, composed about twenty-five or thirty years after his death.

3. Ewald's theory is a very elaborate one. He regards the book as a composition of the Deuteronomist in the time of Manasseh. This conclusion he bases on the very slight foundation that there is an allusion in Deuteronomy 28:68 to the condition of Judea in the time of Manasseh, or even later. This argument, again, rests upon the assumption that prophecy is impossible, a postulate which many will be indisposed to grant. But his method is, as he states, "scientific," which seems to mean that he takes everything for granted which is necessary to establish his theory. The many indications of earlier origin and authorship he quietly disposes of by assuming that they were portions of some earlier work, imbedded precisely as they stood in the mass of fiction which the writer of later times has evolved from his own moral consciousness. Not only so, but scientific criticism, he believes, can disintegrate these fragments with unfailing accuracy, and assign them to their proper owner. There are thus, he holds,

(1) a few fragments of contemporary works inserted verbatim in the midst of the mass of later history or tradition. These consist

(a) of a book quoted by name in Numbers 21:14, "The Book of the Wars of Jahveh," or Jehovah;

(b) the Biography of Moses; and

(c) the Book of Covenants, from which all the legal or quasi-legal matter is derived; written, as he says, in an age of confusion, when men tried to secure themselves by covenants with their neighbours. Then

(2) about the time of David comes the great Book of Origins. Lastly

(3) we have the prophetic narratives, written by the prophets subsequently to David's time. Among these we have a third, fourth, and fifth narrator, and finally, the Deuteronomist of a time later than the reign of Manasseh, who reduced the whole into shape,[2] not by rewriting the whole from the materials before him, but by inserting bodily into his compilation passages from older authors, and adding his own generally fictitious narrative, composed with a view of imposing the author's own view of the law of Moses upon a corrupt and decaying people.

4. Ewald has found various imitators, among whom the principal is Knobel. Adopting De Wette's view of the discrepancies in the text of the Pentateuch and Joshua, and Ewald's general method of explaining it, Knobel nevertheless proposes a different arrangement of the original materials from which the supposed mosaic of the Pentateuch and Joshua is made up. Knobel, like Ewald, also finds it possible to assign each of the various extracts of which the Pentateuch and Joshua are made up to their respective authors. But he has not only discovered by his analysis different authors to Ewald, but he assigns different portions to them. Ewala's system he pronounces "so complicated and obscure a fabric," so devoid of all tenable hypotheses, that it fails to convince; while he complains that critics like Hengstenberg and Havernick and Keil, because they do not accept his methods, convert a scientific inquiry into a theological controversy." Therefore he plays the part of Tycho Brahe to Ewald's Ptolemy, and invents a theory which renders a few of the latter's epicycles unnecessary. Thus there is

(1) an Elohistic document, clear, orderly, and historical, free from the marvellous occurrences in which the later works abound, which constitutes the groundwork of the whole narrative. Then follows

(2) a Book of Laws or first Jehovistic source. Then

(3) the Book of Wars, or second Jehovistic source. Then we have

(4) the Jehovist himself. Lastly

(5) the Deuteronomist arrears, to whom all Deuteronomy, with the exception of certain specified portions, and all the parts of Joshua which refer to Deuteronomy belong.

5. Noldeke subjects Knobel to a similar simplifying process to that which Knobel subjects Ewald. According to Noldeke, there are two sources;

(1) an outline history (Elohistic), and

(2) a history filling up that outline; composed

(a) by the second Elohist, and

(b) by the Jehovist.

Lastly, we have two editors. The first combined these into a consistent whole. The second added Deuteronomy and remodelled Joshua, bringing it into accordance with his fictitious additions to the Mosaic narrative.

6. Bleek feels himself compelled to still further reduce the number of histories, and thereby approaches nearer to a consistent and rational explanation of the facts. Documents existed, he believes, at an earlier period. But the first author, whom he calls the first Elohist, appeared at the time of Saul, and his history contains the greater part of Joshua. In the time of David appeared the Jehovist, who revised and rewrote, with the aid of earlier documents then existing, the greater portion of the Elohist. Lastly, at the time of Manasseh, or thereabouts, arose the Deuteronomist, who reduced the book into its present shape.

Such is an abstract of some of the chief theories which have been put forward regarding the authorship of Joshua. It is needless to say that the opponents of the authenticity and single authorship claim for their methods the exclusive title of scientific investigation. Ewald, with lofty infallibility, places Hengstenberg, Keil, Delitzsch, Kurz "outside of all science." But those who adopt his method, and venture only to question its application, fare scarcely more favourably at his hands. Thus, when he commences his researches, he examines what has been before written in the direction in which his predilections lead him. He finds that Ilgen takes a step on the right road, but always loses it again. "There was," he complains, "much perversity of attempt and aim mingled with" the otherwise praiseworthy attempts of these early investigators. They "were too easily satisfied with hunting out mere contradictions in the books and resolving everything into fragments," and were "unable to distinguish a real incongruity from a merely apparent discrepancy". Nor do his successors in the investigation please him any more than the pioneers who preceded him. Hupfeld and Knobel, we learn from a note to a later addition, are "unsatisfactory and perverse." We have already seen what Knobel's opinion of Ewald is. It may, therefore, not be entirely unscientific if we venture to suspend our judgment, and examine the facts anew, with the desire to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

For first of all it may be remarked that the conclusions of writers like Ewald, Knobel, and Noldeke are extremely improbable in themselves, and would require very clear and cogent evidence before a truly scientific mind could be induced to adopt them. We are required to believe that in a nation which had early reached a high degree of civilisation, which in the clays of Solomon had added to that civilisation a considerable amount of material prosperity,[3]which even in its decline maintained no small amount of intercourse with the great nations around it (see, for instance, 2 Kings 20:12), which still possessed great wealth and resources (Isaiah 2:7; 3:18-23; 7:23), a historical document came into existence which at once obtained credit, and superseded the regular chronicles which, we are repeatedly assured, were regularly kept in those days. This document was made up of disconnected fragments of earlier compositions of various dates, and thrown together without the slightest attempt to fuse together differences of style, or to harmonise the most glaring contradictions. So badly was the work done that it is possible, after a lapse of 2,500 years, to disintegrate the whole and to assign the various fragments, with an accuracy beyond dispute, to their respective authors. Yet neither the patchwork character of the history, nor its frequent and palpable contradictions, were able, in an age of some pretensions to cultivation, to hinder its immediate reception as authentic and even inspired history. All this is necessary to the theory; and we have also to explain the very remarkable historical and psychological fact that the law, to which the Jews have for centuries cherished so profound and even passionate attachment, and for the neglect of which they conceive their banishment from their own land to be owing, never, according to this theory, existed at all, but was the invention of the priests in the hour of national degradation, to account for the miseries suffered by the people, and that this fable was greedily swallowed, and has ever since been most firmly believed among them. Surely so unique a fact in the world's history ought to be established on better evidence than this.

The industry and research which has been expended upon the task of establishing these theories is beyond all praise. Knobel, especially, has devoted the most minute attention to the words and phrases of the Hebrew Scriptures. But the objection is made, not to the utmost possible minuteness of study of the phrases of Holy Writ, but to the method pursued by the observers. In minuteness of observation the German critics have been anticipated and surpassed by the Rabbis, in whose hands this minute observation yields results in precisely the opposite direction. It is not mere minute observation, but the use that is made of it, which is required. And this so called "scientific" criticism is carried on by methods diametrically opposite to all which science has hitherto recognised. For if there be one principle better established in science than another, it is that in scientific processes nothing must be taken for granted but the most self-evident truths.

Now the "scientific" critics of the Old Testament proceed upon two assumptions which can by no means be regarded as self-evident truths. First, they assume that there is no such thing as the supernatural in revelation, that all prophecies were written after the event, and all miracles are the result of legends gradually gathering round the facts of history in later ages. And next, they assume that it is possible, on purely subjective grounds, to determine without risk of error the authors of the respective fragments of which the Hebrew Scriptures are composed. But it may be observed, in reference to this second point, that in no two hands do the same premises yield the same results, a fact which in any other branch of science would lead us to suspect the accuracy either of the data or of the method. As to the method itself, when we find Knobel assigning, for instance, without the smallest doubt or hesitation, a passage in which בּÇòÂáוּø occurs to one author, בּÄâÀìÇì to another, and òìÎàׄãוּׄú to a third, we are naturally driven to ask what would be the result if a similar process were applied to an English author who uses indifferently the phrases on account of, because of, by reason of, and the like. Again, in science it is usual, when a law is believed to be established by a sufficiently wide induction, to reverse the process, assume the truth of the law, apply it to known facts, and see if the results correspond to observation.[4] Have the so-called "scientific" critics of the Old Testament done this? Will their methods enable us to analyse historians like Motley or Macaulay, and to assign without fail the various portions of their history to the sources from which they have avowedly obtained them? Is there any method in existence which will enable us, without risk of error, to assign to Shakspere and his contemporaries the various portions of the works known to have been written by them in common? And if no method has been discovered which will enable us to do this in the case of authors whose works we know, and who wrote in a language we are daily using, how shall such a method be infallible when applied to records written thousands of years ago, in a dead language, and when a million helps to the right understanding of the history have irrecoverably perished?

It must be confessed that these "scientific" theories, if not sound, are extremely ingenious. It is very difficult to reply conclusively to a critic who has a theory ready made to meet every emergency. Thus, if the author of the Book of Joshua displays an accurate and minute acquaintance with his subject, he is quoting an early and authentic document. If he states anything which is not at first sight easily reconcileable with what he has stated elsewhere, he has taken it out of another less early and less authentic one. If he quotes the Book of Deuteronomy, which according to all the laws of literary criticism proves it to have been in existence when he wrote, he was himself the author of it, and was engaged in the task of mingling its contents with real and veracious history. If a 'Book of the Wars of Jahveh' is quoted, as in Numbers 21:14, 15, it is an older document. If a 'Book of the Law of Jahveh,' he wrote it himself. This is not to inquire, it is to make inquiry impossible. It is to substitute dogma, the dogma of the destructive school, in the place of the dogma they have so persistently decried, which assumes that the books of Scripture, as a rule, were written by the persons whose names they bore. Is the one dogma one whir more scientific than the other?

The authenticity of the Book of Deuteronomy is a question on which we are of course precluded from entering. But the question of the hand the Deuteronomist had in the compilation of the Book of Joshua is one which falls within our limits. There is not the slightest evidence in the book itself to lead to the conclusion that it was a production of the time of Manasseh, a conclusion which the opponents of the genuineness of Deuteronomy have based upon the very slender foundation of the prophecy in Deuteronomy 28:68. If, as is assumed, the Deuteronomist embodied the references to his own work into the Book of Joshua, in order to facilitate the reception of his pretended laws of Moses, the question forces itself irresistibly upon us, Why did he not introduce more of them? Why did he confine his extracts from the 'Book of the Laws of Jahveh' to the passage at the end of Joshua 8., and a few exhortations to "be strong and of good courage," and the like, which is all we find elsewhere? These extracts are not enough for his purpose, were he introducing them for the purpose of gaining acceptance for the precepts he was desirous of enforcing.

We proceed briefly to notice some objections to the narrative of Joshua which meet us in the pages of Ewald, Dr. Davidson, and others. Ewald supposes Joshua to be the "ideal king" of the times of the Deuteronomist ('History of Israel,' 1:116). Now there is not one single trace of the kingly idea throughout the Book of Joshua. The severe simplicity of his life, the remarkable absence of anything like kingly claims, is one of the most striking features of the book. As well could we suppose the characters of Brutus or Cincinnatus to have been ideals of civic virtue called up to animate dying Roman patriotism in the days of Elagabalus, as to suppose that the writer of the Book of Joshua had the Oriental type of king before his eyes, such as existed in Judaea and the neighbourhood in the reign of Manasseh.

Next, Ewald remarks on the archaic character of Joshua 17:14-18, which he describes as "rough and hard as a stone." Yet Knobel, who was no mean Hebraist, assigns the passage to the "first Jehovist." And if Ewald's view be right, the passage may easily be explained on the hypothesis that we have here the ipsissima verba of Joshua himself.

In the pages of Dr. Davidson's well-known work other objections will be found. They are open to the same reproach that we have already brought against the other productions of his school, namely, their unduly dogmatic tone. And this is adopted, not merely towards those of an opposite school, but to his own allies. Thus (1:424) he complains that Knobel "has unwarrantably robbed the Deuteronomist of his due," a statement which we are apparently to take on Dr. Davidson's authority, since he vouchsafes no proof of it. But to proceed with his objections to the authenticity of the Book of Joshua as it stands, he tells us that the narrative at the end of Joshua 8. has got into the wrong place, and triumphantly asks, How, then, can the genuineness of the book be maintained? as if such a supposition as an error of the copyist were quite out of the question. A similar use is made of the discrepancy in numbers between Joshua 8:3 and Joshua 8:12, as though here again (see notes on the passage) a slip of the pen in very early times might not have caused all the confusion. Then we are told that the Levites in the historical portion of the book are called "the priests, the Levites," while in the geographical they are called "sons of Aaron," and that the former is a Deuteronomistic, the latter an Elohistic expression, as though the expression "sons of Aaron" in ch. 22. were not clearly opposed to "sons of Kohath, Gershom, and Merari." Joshua 6:26 contains, on the sup. position of the early date of Joshua, the record of a prophecy fulfilled long afterwards. It is assumed that the prophecy was invented after its supposed fulfilment. Yet, unless the writer of the book were a deliberate impostor, endeavouring to palm off his work as one of an earlier date — a rather strong supposition — is it conceivable that he would have avoided all mention of the fulfilment of the prophecy in this place? Again, we are told that the twelve stones could never have been placed in the middle of the Jordan. Ordinary attention to the words of the passage (see notes on Joshua 4:9) would show that they never were said to have been placed in the middle of Jordan, at least as we understand the words. The etymology of the word Gilgal, again, presents some difficulties (see note on Joshua 5:9). But it is surely cutting the Gordian knot in a very summary manner to assume that this etymology was invented at the time of Manasseh. The placing the tabernacle at Shechem is, we are told, another instance of inaccuracy. But without resorting to the hypothesis of a copyist's blunder again here, though it is less violent than Dr. Davidson's, is it quite inadmissible to adopt the explanation that the author was narrating facts, and did not stop to consider what difficulties his simple narrative might present to those who, many centuries after, were not in full possession of the details? Is not this far more probable than the theory that the redactor, or inventor, or by whatever name he be called, had quite forgotten, or never observed, what he had stated six chapters previously? Are we to believe that the compiler of the time of Manasseh never took the trouble to read over his own work, or that no one in his own day was likely to ask the questions which occur at once to every reader now? The Shoterim, again, we are told (see note on Joshua 1:10), were an institution of later date, and their place in Joshua's time was supplied by the fathers and heads of the tribes. No proof of this assertion is given. But is it credible that a vast invasion, in which their wives and families accompanied the warriors, can have been conducted without a considerable organisation, or that the Israelites could have lived in a civilised country like Egypt without being familiar with that principle of division and subdivision of labour without which no great undertaking can possibly be carried out? Then we are asked to observe the discrepancies between Joshua 11:16-23 and Joshua 13:1-6; between Joshua 10:36, 38; 11:21; 15:14-17, and Judges 1:10, 11; and between Joshua 15:63; 16:10, and 1 Kings 9:16. These questions will be found fully discussed in the notes. The only question which will be asked here is this. We have supposed that the later, or geographical, portion of the book is the expansion of the passage in Joshua 11:23, which concludes the historical portion. But if this explanation be not accepted, how comes it, we ask again, that such a bungling mass of contradictions could have been accepted in a civilised age like that of Manasseh, when ex hypothesi a large body of literature was in existence? There were the Chronicles, as we have seen, of the Kings of Israel and Judah. There was, according to Knobel, the "clear and orderly "narrative of the Elohist. The historian's calling, if we may trust Ewald, had become a special art ('History of Israel,' 1:59) which "needed ability and dexterity" (ib.), and the result is described as "elegant and perfect". The perfection of a method which gives, as we are required to believe, three inconsistent versions, from various sources, of the conquest of Hebron, Debir, and the Anakim, which describes the country as completely subdued when the work of subduing it had hardly begun, which displays so little literary skill as to copy out of an old record a statement which had ceased to be true for three centuries and a half, may seem a little doubtful. But if this be a mere question of taste, the more formidable difficulty remains behind, how such a narrative ever came to be received, in the later days of the Jewish kingdom, as authentic history.

It is not contended that no difficulties are presented by the history as it stands. What is denied is that what has been called the "destructive criticism" has found a way out of them. On the contrary, it involves us in far greater difficulties than it removes. When dealing with a narrative of such remote antiquity, which does not pretend to be an exhaustive record of everything that happened, it would be strange indeed if we did not find difficulties. And we must be content to leave them unsolved, for the simple reason that we have not sufficient information at hand to explain them. The theory that some of the passages that suggest a later date were interpolations is an arbitrary one. But it cannot therefore be dismissed, as is dismissed with lofty scorn by Ewald, as entirely untenable. It offers at least a possible solution of some of the difficulties that beset us. And it is by no means impossible that the greatest difficulty of all in the way of the earlier origin of the Book of Joshua, the citation of the Book of Jasher, may be thus explained. The most natural interpretation of 2 Samuel 1:18 would lead us to conclude that the Book of Jasher was not composed till the time of David. Therefore its citation in Joshua proves that book not to have been written earlier than the time of David, unless we believe the passage to have been an interpolation. The only other alternative is to adopt the explanation of Maurer and Keil, that the Book of Jasher was a collection of national songs, to which additions were made from time to time?[5]

We proceed to enumerate the reasons for believing that the Book of Joshua was composed at an early date. The first is, the entire absence of any allusion to the later condition of Israel in it. We have already noticed how entirely the idea of regal pomp or authority is absent from the whole conception of Joshua's character, and from the whole treatment of the subject. That it was written before the time of David seems clear from the statement that the Jebusites dwelt among the children of Israel "until this day." The mention of the place which Jehovah" should choose" implies, not only that the temple was not yet built, but that its site had not yet been fixed upon. The mention of the Gibeonites without any reference to Saul's neglect of the solemn promise made to them in God's name would lead to the belief that it was written before the time of Saul. We have a yet more distinct intimation of an early date in Joshua 16:10. It could hardly be said that the inhabitants of Gezer serve under tribute "unto this day" when Israel was groaning under Canaanitish oppression. Such language could hardly have been used, at least after the time of Othniel. Nor do the other occasions on which the words "unto this day" are used of necessity imply a very remote future.[6] Again, it is not denied that the author of the book, whoever he was, must have had access to authentic contemporary information. Is it probable that information of the precise, yet by no means minute, character that the book contains could have been drawn up in its present form four or five hundred years after the events recorded, when Israel and Judah had been long divided, when the former kingdom had been carried away captive, and when confusion and disorder reigned in the latter? The last half of the book points clearly to an earlier period, and, whether we admit occasional interpolations or not, must have existed at that early period in something very near its present form.

The style of the book strongly supports this conclusion. Even those who study it in a translation only cannot fail to be struck with one characteristic it has in common with the books of Moses. This is the peculiar habit the author has of repetition, which marks an age of great literary simplicity. We lose this feature to a very great extent in the later historical books. As greater polish of style was attained, the writer learned how to impart emphasis to his sentences by other means. This repetition is chiefly found in the earlier portion of the book, which, tried by this test, should be pronounced the older portion. But it may also be detected in the later.[7]

Verbal criticism is a more difficult task. Yet though we may safely take exception to the theory that it is possible by verbal criticism alone to resolve the Book of Joshua into its component parts, yet there is a whole class of phenomena which have been somewhat unjustly passed over by those who have devoted most time to a verbal analysis. No satisfactory attempt has been made to explain the fact that in the Pentateuch there is but one form for the masculine and feminine of the demonstrative pronoun äåà , and that the feminine form first presents itself in Joshua. A more interesting instance of the gradual development of the inflexions of a language can scarcely be found. In the Pentateuch, the archaic form àì (these) is often met with for àìä . This ancient form leaves us in Joshua. It may also be asked, if Joshua be a redaction of earlier documents by the hands of the Deuteronomist, why he always used éøçå for Jericho in the Pentateuch and the fuller form éøéçå in Joshua? So we have îîìëú and ÷ðà in the Pentateuch and îîìëåú and ) ÷ðåà in Joshua. äöéú for "to kindle a fire," and öðç , "to alight," are not found in the books of Moses, nor is the term ÷öéï for a prince or captain. Such phenomena as these cannot justly be left out of the account in a fall investigation of the question of the authorship and date of this book. And their force is being silently recognised in Germany. Later writers, like Stahelin and Bleek, have been forced considerably to modify the violent theories of Ewald and Knobel, and the former, so Keil tells us, in the later editions of his work, has quietly dropped out much which he had embodied in the former. We may regard this as the earnest of a time rapidly approaching, when the advance of criticism in England shal have produced the same result among ourselves.[8]

But we are not without some nearer indications of authorship. The far greater familiarity displayed with the concerns of the tribe of Judah than any other indicates that the author was resident within the limits of that tribe. And not only so, bat his acquaintance with the personal history of Caleb, and with the city of Hebron in particular, seems to mark him out as a resident there. But Hebron was one of the priestly cities. Combining this with the repeated mention of the fact that no inheritance was given to the tribe of Levi, we infer that the writer was himself a priest. He was not Phinehas himself, for we find by Joshua 24:33 that Phinehas dwelt in Mount Ephraim. But the writer may well have been intimately acquainted with him. He refers to the settlement of the Danites at Laish, with the events resulting from which we know, from the last three or four chapters of the Book of Judges, Phinehas was largely mixed up.[9] His description of the scene between the tribes on the occasion of the erection of the altar bears evident tokens of the presence of an eyewitness. And such we know Phinehas was; and our author may have heard the story front his lips. Living at Hebron, the author would no doubt have been on terms of friendly intercourse with Othniel, and from him had heard the story of the allotment of the springs to Achsah.

On the whole, therefore, we conclude, as well from the arbitrary assumptions to which those are driven who assign the book to a later date, as from the internal evidence of the book itself, that it was written within forty or fifty years at the least of the death of Joshua; that its author was one of the priestly race; that he dwelt in the tribe of Judah, and most likely in the city of Hebron; that by his family connection with Phinehas, and his residence among the relatives of Caleb, he had the fullest opportunity of acquainting himself with the facts; and that we have therefore in this book an authentic account, by one every way qualified to write it, of the conquest and occupation by the Israelites of the Promised Land.


The principal objections which have been made against the Divine inspiration of the Book of Joshua are of two kinds, moral and scientific. The first class of objections is raised against the slaughter of the Canaanites as inconsistent with the goodness and mercy we know to be attributes of the Divine Being. The second class take their stand on the inconsistency of miraculous parts of the history with the known laws of nature as revealed by science.

I. The moral objection admits of a very simple answer. How, it is asked, could the revolting and cruel command have been given by the God of love and mercy to Moses and Joshua, to massacre an unoffending population under circumstances of the grossest barbarity; involving aged men, weak women, and harmless children in the same slaughter with the warriors and leaders of the people?

(1) We reply, in the same spirit as Bishop Butler, that, whatever objection applies to the God of Revelation on this ground applies equally to the God of Nature. If it be of any force at all, it proves that the Supreme Being is a cruel being.[10] For it is one of the most palpable facts of history that He has permitted such massacres to take place throughout the whole coarse of the world, from the beginning until our own time. And not only so, but massacres with wicked refinements of cruelty which cannot be charged against the Jews. We may go further still. The God of Nature has not merely permitted such atrocities, He may be said, in a sense, to have enjoined them. For it has been an invariable law of His providence that when civilised peoples steeped in luxury, vice, and immorality have become the prey of peoples simpler and purer than themselves, these cruelties, and far more than these, have always taken place. Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian conquerors were not more, but far less merciful than Joshua. The Greeks and Romans alone can be said to have been milder; but even the progress of their arms has not been unstained by crimes from which Joshua was wholly free. The violation of women and children, and even crimes of a fouler kind, have not been unknown. The dedication of captives to the impure worship of Mylitta or Aphrodite (see 'Records of the Past,' 3:36, 39-50)[11] was almost universal. And it is quite possible that death itself may have been preferable — and by many it was regarded as preferable — to a life-long bondage. The miserable condition to which such slaves were often reduced is touchingly represented in the Hecuba of Euripides, where the desolate mother, once a queen, now bereft of husband, sons, friends, a bondslave in a foreign land, is driven in her desperation to appeal to the only hope left, her daughter, who is permitted, though not a lawful wife, to share the bed of Agamemnon. And though this is but fiction, we can hardly doubt that it is fiction in which fact is not too highly coloured. But if Roman and Greek ambition had learned that extending privileges of citizenship to the vanquished would largely increase the power of the victor, we have a return, and more than a return, to the older order of things at the downfall of the Roman Empire. The worst atrocities of the early ages found a parallel in the scenes of bloodshed, lust, and rapine which marked the steps of the barbarian swarms who destroyed the remains of Roman power. Goths, Vandals, Huns, Lombards, Franks, Saxons, Bulgarians, and Turks vied with one another in pitiless cruelty. Even later times still have known a "Spanish fury" and a sack of Magdeburg. And were civilisation again to fall into decay, and the savage tribes of Africa or Asia once more to gain the mastery, the old law would once more assert its force, and the sins of races enervated by luxury would receive their usual punishment, Thus, then, we are face to face with the same vast difficulty whether Joshua received any command from God or not. We have the same question to answer, how God could permit, nay, even apparently arrange for the commission of, these awful crimes, with the intense suffering which they must necessarily bring in their train,[12] and yet retain His character for mercy and loving kindness. And the only answer that can be found is that there is another order of things in the future, whereby it is His will to remedy whatever inequalities He has permitted to exist here.

(2) But we may carry the argument a step further. The conception of God which we now put forward as an objection to the morality of the Old Testament is derived from the teaching of the New. No such idea of God as that which we now entertain was entertained by earlier ages. Why this was the case we cannot tell. That it is a fact can hardly be denied. It can be no matter of wonder if men in those days acted according to their belief. They conceived of God as a God of strict and vigorous justice. No other view of Him had been as yet made known. Where is the inconsistency of their considering themselves, and acting as, the ministers of One who has shown, both before and since, that He does take terrible vengeance upon the sins of men? For more than four thousand years men were ignorant of the conception of God with which we are now familiar. This is an undeniable fact in the economy of Providence. it is surely unreasonable to require men to act upon any other principles than those which God had then permitted to be known.

(3) For it must be remembered that the severe punishment inflicted by Joshua upon the Canaanites who fell into his hands was not a mere outburst of savage cruelty. The institutions and principles of the Jews were far more humane than those of any other nation in those early times.[13] The precept to exterminate the Canaanites owed its origin to a stern indignation against vices which were sufficient of themselves, according to God's righteous order, to destroy by a more lingering, and therefore a more cruel, death any nation who yielded to them. It was a part of God's curse against that sin, the existence of which has been in many ways man's greatest difficulty in comprehending God. The awful catalogue of abominations which we scarcely venture to read in Leviticus 18.-20., are distinctly said to have been committed by "the men of the land" (Lev. 18:24-30; 20:23), and the land was "defiled" therewith, and God "abhorred" it. The power of grown up women to lead the Israelites into such sins had been already fatally proved (see Numbers 26.). In days before men were endowed with supernatural strength from on high, there seemed no safeguard against the seductive influences of the sensual creed of Palestine but the destruction of those who professed it. The neglect to to carry out the command was at once followed by a relapse into these abominable idolatries, and as lust and cruelty are strangely and nearly allied, the land was filled with bloodshed, and injustice, and crime, culminating in the atrocious custom of the sacrifice of innocent children at the altar of the infernal Moloch. It may even be questioned whether, in view of the inevitable results of a cultus like that of Palestine, severity might not have been, as it often is, the truest kindness; whether, had the Jewish law been fulfilled, the Canaanites extirpated, and Jewish ascendancy been established from Lebanon to the wilderness, from Euphrates to the river of Egypt, the principles of humanity now gaining ground among us might not have been antedated, and the inhabitants of Palestine have been socially and politically almost as much gainers by the Jewish polity as the world at large by the religion of Christ.

(4) We are entitled, besides, to remember that the revelation of God through Moses was an immense advance in the moral education of the world. Perhaps we have been too much absorbed in its visible failure as regards the many, to observe that, as regards the few, it was as conspicuous a success.

Our minds have been so occupied with St. Paul's view of it as demonstrating to man his utter inability to satisfy God by exact compliance with the conditions of a rigid covenant of law, that we have omitted to notice what a vast stride it was in the moral education of the world. The history of the conquest of Palestine can compare favourably with the history of any other conquest the world has known, in the simplicity and absence of personal aims of its leader, in the absolute fairness and equity of his conduct, in the wisdom and humanity of the institutions it established, in the provision, not only for religious worship, but for the moral instruction of the people. The dispersion of the Levites throughout the ten tribes, with the duty of expounding and enforcing the Jewish law, was a means of moral elevation greater than any other nation possessed. Nor, though it did not succeed in securing the obedience of the nation at large, can it be held altogether to have failed. The schools of the prophets raised up men who for their energy, courage, moral grandeur, and sometimes (as in the case of Samuel) political capacity and honesty, can challenge comparison with any great men that have been produced elsewhere. David was a monarch of a type unknown to the world in that or even in far later times, and the one crime into which he was betrayed by irresponsible power would not have excited equal reprobation in an Alexander, a Caesar, a Charlemagne, a Charles V, or a Napoleon; though an honest and independent prophet could foresee that it would "cause the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" when committed by "the sweet Psalmist of Israel," the man who in his ingenuous youth was the "man after God's own heart." Thus the objection that Moses and Joshua were not in every respect in advance of their age would seem inconclusive, when weighed against the fact that in so many respects they were in advance of it. So far from the Jewish religion having introduced barbarity into the world, it greatly mitigated such a spirit, while the Jewish law was the seed plot from whence sprung that vast improvement, both in humanity and morality, which has contributed not a little to the happiness and the excellence of mankind.

II. A more formidable objection by far is raised to the miraculous portion of the Book of Joshua. The progress of modern physical science has altogether altered the position of miracles among the evidences of Christianity. In earlier ages the marvels that were believed to have been wrought by God at the inauguration both of the old covenant and the new, were regarded as among the most conspicuous proofs of the Divine origin of both. Now these very miracles are the greatest difficulties in the way of the reception of Christianity. The discovery of the laws of force by which the universe is governed, and the apparent invariability of their action, is calculated to throw considerable doubt on the accuracy of a narrative which records so startling a departure from the ordinary course of nature. The more what used to be considered wonders or portents in nature are brought within the range of nature's ordinary laws, the harder it becomes to believe that on some special occasion, and for special reasons, those laws were altogether set aside. And this view of things derives additional strength from two important facts: first, that, in the infancy of all nations alike, the occurrence of prodigies of the strangest nature was devoutly believed; and next, that, down to our own day, in countries where superstition is predominant, the same childish tendency to the marvellous is constantly observed. If we are to believe the stories of the miraculous passage of the Red Sea or of the Jordan, it is asked, If you wish us to accept the story of the appearance of the angels to the shepherds, or of the performance of a number of extraordinary miracles in Palestine at a certain epoch, on what grounds can we withhold our credence to the visions of Lourdes and La Salette, or the apparitions at Knock? And if every man of common sense rejects the latter, on what principles can the former be defended?

It cannot be denied that there is force in this argument. For if the facts of Jewish history are guaranteed by the festivals of the Jewish nation, by the evident sincerity and steadfastness of its belief, which has survived the lapse of time, and a long course of trials and vicissitudes which might have shaken the stoutest faith; if the truth of the Christian miracles be confirmed by the Christian sacraments,[14] and attested by the affirmations of competent witnesses, we have also respectable evidence for a long list of cures at Lourdes, La Salette, Knock, and elsewhere; and we find in the pilgrimages to these places the clearest proof that the evidence for them has secured acceptance at the hands of some of the most cultivated and intelligent persons in Christendom. And nothing makes it harder to defend revelation, whether under the Old Covenant or the New, than these eccentricities of its professed allies. Yet it is only fair to notice that the cases are not exactly parallel. Paley's argument that miracles are the only way in which a revelation can be shown to be such, if over stated, is not without its force. At least those who impugn it ought to state how, in their judgment, a revelation could be recognized as such without the aid of miracles. This, so far as we know, they have never done. If, then, Mosaism and Christianity were both special interventions of God in the moral and spiritual order of the world — and this, though denied, is not disproved — it seems at least highly probable that they would be attested by some miraculous occurrences, some signs of a Hand overruling the natural, as these revelations have unquestionably largely affected the moral and spiritual, order of things. It will be observed, in conformity with this view, that the promulgation of the Mosaic law and the settlement of Israel in Palestine were attended with a greater display of the miraculous than at any earlier or later period in Jewish history. That the miraculous element was not entirely withdrawn throughout the greater part of the Jewish history previous to our Lord's coming, that portent and prophecy were still to be met with, may be accounted for by the unique position of the Jews as the only people to whom a revelation had been vouchsafed, and the necessity of extraordinary aids to sustain the faith of a people placed in so peculiar and difficult a position. The renewed manifestation of the miraculous which attended the preaching of the Gospel has in it nothing surprising, if our Lord were really what He represented Himself to be — the Eternal Word of God, by whom all things were created. On the contrary, we could not expect so exalted a Being to manifest Himself without a display of the power inherent in Him. The gradual cessation of the miraculous after His ascension is satisfactorily accounted for by the fact that this was the last manifestation of His will. All that was necessary for the salvation of man had now been given, and since faith was to be the transforming power which was to fit men for their eternal inheritance, all further appeals to the senses would be out of place. No such reason exists, or is assigned, for the modern miracles of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not pretended that the perpetual visible appearance of God the Son on earth is necessary for the success of His scheme of salvation. It is not contended, even by themselves, that the principle of salvation by the operation of faith needs the perpetual visible intervention of the objects of faith, still less of any subordinate assistants in the work, if indeed the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph can be said any longer to be subordinate agents in the work of salvation.[15] Nor are the nature of the prodigies the same. The miracles of the Old Testament and the New were at least palpable undeniable facts, if we can believe the accounts that have been handed down to us. If there were any apparitions of celestial beings in a blaze of light, it was but to herald the appearance of One who, whatever may be thought of Him, was undeniably an historical personage. Nor, again, is the kind or the concurrent weight of such testimony the same. It is obviously suicidal, with the late Professor Mozley, to hold that, "if we hold certain doctrines to be false, we are justified in depreciating the testimony of their teachers to the miracles worked in support of them.[16] For then those who believe revealed religion to be false have as much right to reject without examination the Christian miracles as we those of the Roman Catholic Church. But in truth there is the utmost difference possible between the two cases. In the Roman Catholic Church we have an already existing institution, with a priesthood whose sacerdotal pretensions have received an altogether abnormal development, who are not entirely beyond the suspicion of pious fraud,[17] who rest mainly upon the support of a people credulous almost beyond belief,[18] and who resort to every expedient to maintain their influence over such people in order to hold their ground against the opposing forces of Protestantism and infidelity. If we inquire into the character of those on whose testimony these apparitions are believed, we are referred to a few children, not over distinguished for truthfulness, or an Irish housekeeper, who can scarcely be regarded as a first rate judge of evidence, backed up by the stout affirmations of a peasantry not regarded as altogether the most enlightened in Europe. And the Roman Catholic Church has invariably a reserve of enthusiasm to fall back upon ready to welcome any prodigy, however improbable, which might redound to the honour of their Church. The circumstances under which the Jewish and Christian miracles were worked was in every way different. In the latter case there was no reserve of enthusiasm to fall back upon, for the founding of the Christian society, even with the alleged support of these miracles, was a task of the utmost difficulty, and all the miracles were worked under the eyes of a band of prejudiced and most watchful opponents. The miracles themselves were of an altogether different character, such as precluded altogether the possibility of mistake. Even if we give up all the miracles of healing as due to the influence of imagination, there remains a host of others which cannot be so disposed of. And lastly, the character of the witnesses is altogether different. Not only had they every inducement to disbelieve what they saw, or to say they disbelieved it if they did not; not only did they gain no personal ends by maintaining to the last the truth of their story, but their whole subsequent career shows that we have in them no half crazy fanatics who were ready to throw away their lives for an idea, but hard-headed men of business, who set to work with the utmost coolness and shrewdness to attempt the morally impossible, and by dint of patience and practical tact, added to the force of an assured conviction, actually accomplished it. The miracles of the Old Testament are distinct either from those of the New or from the prodigies of later times. The evidence for them is more distant, the period one of less enlightenment. But if we may trust our histories, they were worked for a definite purpose, in the eyes of a whole people, and in a manner which admits of no mistake. They were no apparitions seen, or believed to be seen, by a few ignorant and credulous people; they were marvels publicly wrought on behalf of a nation in arms, and they facilitated one of the most memorable conquests to be found in all history. The evidence for them rests upon the credibility of the documents that relate them. And if we are not entitled to assume that these were contemporary documents, we have no right, on the other hand, to assume that, from the mere presence of the miraculous in them, they must be relegated to a later date. If the events related will generally stand the test of criticism, we cannot detach the miraculous portions from the remainder. The evidence that the writer had access to authentic information in one part of his work gives him at least serious claim on our attention throughout. At least, therefore, we are entitled to contend that the Scripture miracles must be allowed to stand on an altogether different basis than occasional apparitions to women and children, occurring for reasons of which it is impossible to give a rational explanation.

It is with pain that in the foregoing remarks we have felt ourselves compelled to reflect with severity upon the religion of a vast number of our brethren in Christ. No good can be done by going out of the way to attack the belief of one's neighbours. And nothing but a deep conviction of the cruel injury done to the cause of revealed religion among the thoughtless and superficial by this endless crop of spurious wonders would have justified these reflections. But in view of the way in which these supposed miracles have been used to discredit revelation, it has become necessary to show that the miracles of the Bible rest on altogether different grounds to those of the Roman Catholic Church. It remains to deal with an objection to the miracles of the Old and New Testament alike, that they are contrary to the laws by which modern discovery has proved that the physical universe is governed. Those laws, we are told, are invariable, and any statement, it is added, asserting that their action has been suspended must be discredited. It would lead us too far were we to enter upon the full consideration of this question. The question of the possibility of the miraculous has been ably dealt with by others.[19] Suffice it here to say that science has not only proved the invariability of forces and their laws, it has proved much more. It has proved.that invariable forces, acting by invariable laws, are the most plastic instruments possible in human hands. The most extraordinary physical and moral results are being produced upon the face of the globe by the moral agent will, when at work upon the physical agencies whose action is said to be invariable. All that is claimed for God in these pages is the possession of what is unquestionably possessed by man, the power, without suspending the action of a single force, so to control its operation as to produce the results He desires. If man can drain marshes at his will, and turn them into fruitful fields, why should not God be able, at His will, to make a path across the sea, or arrest the course of a river? If man can, by touching a wire, cause an explosion that might lay half London in ruins, how can we assert it to be impossible for the Creator of heaven and earth to bring the walls of Jericho to the ground by means the secret of which is known to Him, but which is, and may forever remain, hidden from us? So far from the discoveries of science rendering the belief in miracles impossible, it is, in fact, supplying the defenders of revelation with the strongest evidence in the opposite direction. For if during the last few years man has become possessed of powers the existence of which, previous to their discovery, would have seemed in the highest degree incredible, there is the best reason for believing that Nature possesses powers and possibilities yet unknown, which, in the hands of the Author of Nature, may produce results which appear to us beyond measure extraordinary and portentous.

It now remains to consider the vexed question of Joshua's command to the sun and moon to stand still, which has been so great a difficulty, not only to commentators, but to all apologists of revealed religion. It may be well first to state the various interpretations which have been given of the passage, before discussing it more particularly. Maimonides (a mediaeval writer, be it remembered), whom Rabbi ben Gerson among the Jewish, Grotius[20] and Masius among the earlier, and Hengstenberg among the later Christian commentators follow, regards it as simply a poetic way of saying that the day was long enough to enable the Israelites to complete the slaughter of their enemies. We read in his 'Moreh Nevochim' (2:35): "Sieur diem integrum mihi videtur intelligi dies maximus et longissimus (Thamim enim idem est quod schalem, perfectus), et idem esse si dixisset quod dies ille apud ipsos in Gibeone fuerit sieur dies magnus et longus in aestate." Masius is very confident in this view, and says that if Kimchi thinks otherwise, it is only a proof how little the Jews of his day knew of their own scriptures. The earlier Rabbis are unanimous that the sun literally stood still, though they differ, like the Fathers, as to the time that it remained above the horizon. David Kimchi thought that the period was twenty-four hours, and that after the sun had set, the moon still remained stationary that Joshua might complete the slaughter of his foes.[21] The Fathers generally take the literal view of the passage, and suppose the sun to have literally stood still in the heavens, some for a longer, some for a shorter period, some supposing it to be forty-eight, some thirty-six, some twenty-eight hours (as Cornelius a Lapide, whose commentary is of course based on the patristic writings). Keil seems finally to have decided in favour of what he calls a "subjective" lengthening of the day. He believes that the day was supposed by the Israelites to have been lengthened, they being too fully engaged in the conflict with their enemies to take any very accurate note of time. Curiosities of interpretation, such as that of Michaelis,[22] who supposed that the lightning which accompanied the hailstorm was prolonged far into the night; or that of Konig,[23] who supposes that the hailstorm which, according to the history, preceded the standing still of the sun, was a consequence of that occurence, need only be noticed to be rejected.

We come next to inquire which of these views is the most probable. And here, with Keil and Grotius, we may dismiss all notions from our mind of the impossibility of the miracle. He who holds the heavens in the hollow of His hand could arrest the revolution of the earth and prevent all the tremendous consequences (as they seem to us) of such a cessation, as easily as a man can arrest the progress of a vast machine more than ten thousand times as powerful as himself. The former event is not more antecedently incredible than the latter, but the contrary. But though it seems eminently unreasonable to doubt the possibility of such an occurrence, we may, with far more reason, doubt its probability. It is a fair question whether a miracle of so stupendous a kind were really worked for such a purpose by Him, the economy of whose means to His ends is one of the most striking features of His works. It may be reasonably doubted whether He who declined, at the suggestion of the tempter, to suspend the laws of nature that He might be fed, who never has suspended those laws in such a manner for the benefit of His creatures, would have suspended them for their slaughter. And while steadfastly maintaining the genuineness and authenticity of the Scriptures, and their accuracy on all the main points of their narrative, it has never yet been authoritatively decided that they were free from error on every point. From the time of St. Jerome downwards it has been held that mistakes in minor points might be admitted in them without invalidating their claim to be regarded as authoritative exponents of the will of God. Thus, then, the writer will have satisfied all the conditions of authentic history, if he tells us what was the current belief in his own day. The success of the Israelites was so far beyond their expectations, the slaughter of their powerful enemies so immense, that it may have been their firm belief that the day was miraculously lengthened on their behalf. But we are not driven to this view of the case. The quotation has an obviously poetic form, as every one must admit. The Book of Jasher (although Jarchi, as well as Targum, thinks it is the Pentateuch, and other Rabbis believe it to be the Books of Genesis and Deuteronomy respectively) has been very generally supposed to be a collection of national songs existing in early days, and receiving additions from time to time. This is Maurer's belief, and it has been adopted by Keil and others. We are not compelled therefore to regard Joshua's prayer and the whole paragraph as more literal than the apostrophe of Isaiah, "O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would flow down at Thy Presence," or the statement of Deborah and Barak that "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera." But, again, the words of the original have been singularly exaggerated. Literally translated (see notes on the passage) they amount simply to this:" Then spake Joshua to (or before, as Masius) Jehovah in the day when Jehovah gave the Amorite before the sons of Israel. And he said before the eyes of Israel, Sun, in Gibeon be still, and moon, in the vale of Ajalon. And the sun was still, and the moon stood till a nation was avenged of its enemies. Is not this written in the book of the upright? And the sun stood in the midst of heaven, and did not haste to go down, as (or like) a perfect day. And there was not a day like that before or after it, for Jehovah to hearken to the voice of a man, for Jehovah fought for Israel." It is obvious that the actual meaning of the author is involved in much obscurity. It is certainly not asserted that the sun remained in the heavens twenty-four, or twelve, or even one hour beyond its usual time. All that is stated is that Joshua in impassioned words demanded that the sun and moon should not set until his work was done, and that this (to the Israelites) extraordinary request was fulfilled. He had perfect day until Israel was avenged of their enemies. A vast league of civilized states, with all the best appliances of warfare banding together to resist a nation unused to military exploits, defeated with tremendous slaughter, and annihilated in a single day, would doubtless seem to Israel a stupendous work of God's hand. Well might they embody it among their national songs, and relate forever after how the sun remained above the heavens until the victory was more than complete, and how the moon continued to give her light until the scanty remnant of the mighty host were pursued to their strongholds. Nor is this view of the passage without corroboration. Hengstenberg does not fail to notice the fact that in all the allusions — and they are many — to the great things God had done for Israel, not one is found to this supposed miracle, until the time of the son of Sirach (ch. 46:4), save a very doubtful passage in Habakkuk 3. This is surely decisive as to the view Scripture itself has taken of the passage, and it is as true of the blew Testament as of the Old. Thus, therefore, we conclude that the whole passage is so obscure and difficult, besides being very probably a quotation — perhaps even an interpolation — from another book, that we are at least justified in considering its importance to have been exaggerated both by assailants and defenders. The interpretation which supposes it to refer to a vast natural convulsion, wrought by the Almighty in order to complete the defeat of the Canaanites, though a possible, is, as has been shown, by no means the only possible explanation of the words of the narrative. And this position once established, the whole fabric of controversy that has been raised on this much-vexed passage falls to the ground.


The people who inhabited Palestine at the time of the Israelite invasion are regarded in history from two very opposite points of view. To the Israelites, in whom the moral sense strongly predominated over culture, they appeared as monsters of iniquity, deserving of nothing but absolute extirpation. To profane history, regarding mankind from a more material point of view, they appear as the parents of civilization, the founders of literature and science, the pioneers of commerce, the colonists of the Mediterranean. These views may be to a certain extent harmonized. It is not necessary to regard the Jews as the opponents of all culture, because they were stern avengers of moral depravi