“Three Days” In Joshua 1-3: Resolving A Chronological Conundrum -- By: David M. Howard, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 041:4 (Dec 1998)
Article: “Three Days” In Joshua 1-3: Resolving A Chronological Conundrum
Author: David M. Howard, Jr.


“Three Days” In Joshua 1-3:
Resolving A Chronological Conundrum

David M. Howard, Jr.*

* David Howard is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 3939 Gentilly Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70126–4858.

The early chapters of the book of Joshua contain several small but persistent chronological problems that have proven difficult to resolve in satisfactory ways.1 Recourse in solving them is commonly sought in hypotheses of contradictory or conflated sources or traditions.2 Such solutions, however, are often unconvincing and are in no way demanded by the evidence of the text. Plausible alternatives present themselves that do more justice to the text as it stands.3 These are in keeping with the current trends for reading texts as literary wholes.4

The specific issue addressed in this essay is that of the various three-day periods mentioned in Joshua 1–3. There are no less than three such periods (Josh 1:11; 2:22; 5 3:2), and scholars range widely in their interpretations of them. Some scholars argue that the entire time span covered by the three

periods is merely three days at the one extreme,6 while others see up to eight days at the other.7

Many scholars are pessimistic about the possibility of any solution that would bring coherence to the references to the three days. For example, Donald Madvig states: “It is difficult, if not impossible, to correlate all the references to ‘three days’ in chapters 1–3.”8 Richard Nelson speaks of “thematic threads” that “have tangled and knotted,”9 concluding that “any generally acceptable comprehensive solution to this compositional tangle is probably unattainable.”10

Based on a close reading of the text, however—one that takes into account the exact wording of each text in turn—I argue that it is indeed possible to correlate these references, that the text has two three-day periods in view, and that the total time elapsed in chaps. 1–...

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