II.—THE HISTORICAL BOOKS (from Joshua to Esther inclusive) contain the history of the Israelite people during three great periods of their national life:—(1) As an oligarchy, developing into a republican confederacy. (2) As a monarchy, speedily becoming disunited, and separating into two kingdoms, falling to pieces by internal dissensions and bad government. (3) As tributary to foreign invaders.
JOSHUA (Jehovah is salvation), the first of the twelve so-called “Historical Books,” embracing a period of twenty-five years, is supposed to have been written by Joshua, whose name it bears. He was the successor of Moses, as the prophet of the Lord and leader of His people, to whom was entrusted the task of settling them in Canaan. It consists of three parts: (1) The conquest of Canaan during the seven years war, and destruction of its thirty-one kings. (2) Distribution of the country by lot, and settlement of the tabernacle at Shiloh. (3) Final admonitions, and death of Joshua, which must have been added by one of his survivors. The characteristic feature of the book is that “the Lord drove out the nations before them,” and that “He fought for Israel.” The conquest opens with the miraculous fall of Jericho, after the renewal of circumcision, and the apparition of the “Captain of the Lord’s host.” The next is a march into the interior, to the primary altar of Abraham at Shechem, where the covenant is renewed by oath and sacrifices. Next the miraculous victory at Beth-horon, and general panic of the heathen inhabitants. It closes with a general assembly at Shiloh (where the tabernacle was permanently fixed), the allotment of territory to each tribe, and a final renewal of the covenant at Shechem, followed by Joshua’s death. The typical aspect of the history is pointed out in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chap. iv.
Date and Authorship. That the events are recorded by a contemporary is evidenced by such passages as iii. 15, 16; v. 1; the prophetic character of the writer by vi. 26; though some later additions to the original are traceable in x. 13; xix. 47; xxiv. 29-33. The expression used of certain memorials as remaining “up to this day,” which occurs fourteen times, does not in any case seem to be inconsistent with the period embraced by the narrative; while it is difficult to imagine that any but a contemporary could have written such passages as vi. 25; and his two addresses (xxiii. and xxiv.), as well as the various records of his intercourse with God, would appear to have been committed to writing by Joshua himself, who is expressly declared to have written some documents (xxiv. 26). Ewald supposes that the book has undergone five transformations at the hands of successive compilers; but this view has met with little support. Others have tried to discriminate between an Elohistic and Jehovistic narrative; but this is difficult to maintain. The authorship has been variously attributed to Joshua (according to the tradition of the Jews and early Christian writers), Phinehas, Eleazar, one of the elders who survived Joshua, Samuel, and Jeremiah; again, some have assigned its date to the time of the Judges, the reign of Josiah, and even subsequent to the Babylonish Captivity. All these conjectures present far greater difficulties than the old tradition, that it is the work of Joshua, following the example of Moses, by writing the annals of his own time,—a task which seems to have been divinely committed to him on his first appointment as the assistant of Moses (Exod. xvii. 14).