Ideal Versus Real History in the Book of Joshua -- By: Adrian Jeffers
JETS 12:3 (Summer 1969) p. 183
Ideal Versus Real History in the Book of Joshua
*Professor at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary, Chattanooga, Tenn.
In the Book of Joshua there appear a few cases of apparently contradictory statements. One example is the statement to the effect that the Conquest was completed in the lifetime of Joshua (11:16ff.) while it is elsewhere indicated that though Joshua was old there remained much land to be conquered (13:1ff.). Such instances have been explained as varying strands of documents from which the book was composed (cf. N. H. Snaith, “The Historical Books,” The Old Testament and Modern Study, Oxford, 1961, pp. 84ff.). S. R. Driver, for example, explained this as “generalizing summaries of D2“ (Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, Scribner’s, 1910, p. 115). Among more conservative writers a better but oft times inadequate answer is given. C. F. Keil, for example, plays down the general statement to make it fit the evidently real situation (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Eerdmans, 1950, pp. 125-26). It is the writer’s suggestion, however, that there is a certain amount of “idealization” in the Book of Joshua which at times appears to contradict the actual history but for which there is an adequate answer.
But first a clarification must be made because of a former use of the terms “ideal” and “real” in connection with studies in the Book of Joshua. Critical scholars use the terms to represent what they feel are two basic stories of the Conquest. The earlier and real account is recorded in Joshua 15–19 in Judges 1, while a later ideal account is given in Joshua 10 an 11. The actual history of the Conquest was gradual and thus conflicts with the “ideal” story which presents a united effort under Joshua, accomplished in a relatively short time (cf. Harry Orlinsky, Ancient Israel, Cornell, 1954, pp. 49ff.). The writer’s use of the term “ideal” is in no way related to this interpretation.
I. Examples of Ideal History
1. The boundaries of the “promised land.” In the Pentateuch and in the Book of Joshua the boundaries of the land promised to the Patriarchs are clearly defined: from the River of Egypt on the south to the area of Hamath (R. Euphrates) on the north, and the Sea on the west to the Jordan on the east (Joshua 1:3, 4; 13; 1–6,...
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