Joshua And Ancient Near Eastern Warfare -- By: Jeffrey J. Niehaus

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 31:1 (Mar 1988)
Article: Joshua And Ancient Near Eastern Warfare
Author: Jeffrey J. Niehaus


Joshua And Ancient Near Eastern Warfare

Jeffrey J. Niehaus*

Homines id quod volunt credunt
“Men believe what they want to believe.”

—Caesar

Biblical studies, like other areas of human endeavor, are not unleavened by debate. The work of Martin Noth has profoundly influenced OT scholarship in the last three decades, in particular giving rise to a school of thought regarding the composition of Deuteronomy and the historical books of the OT. Noth’s hypothesis of a deuteronomic redaction and framework including Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings1 has found wide acceptance.2 Scholars of this school date the deuteronomic strands of composition to around the seventh century s.c., and in no case would they date the book of Joshua as a whole to the second millennium. Because it is a narrative of the conquest, however, the book of Joshua claims to present a second-millennium scenario.

We cannot validate or even completely consider that claim in a short paper. We can, however, consider one aspect of the problem of date. One facet of deuteronomistic criticism may be questioned: the habitual assignment of first-millennium dates to OT literature on the basis of analogous material in surrounding cultures, in particular Assyrian royal inscriptions. Joshua can be, and has been, treated in this way,3 and it is only fair to recognize that the literary phenomena in Joshua have first-millennium extra-Biblical analogues. My hope in this paper is to show that in the book of Joshua the literary usages, and the military practices that those literary techniques are used to describe, also find precise analogies in second-millennium royal literature, both inscriptional and epic, from Ugarit, Assyria and Babylon.

In considering numerous lines of evidence, we will focus again and again on the relation between a king and his god or gods. We will see that striking parallels exist between the divine-royal relationship outside Israel on the one hand and the relationship between the Lord and his people, and the Lord and Joshua, within Israel on the other. Finally we will look at some of the implications of our study for deuteronomistic criticism.

*Jeffrey Niehaus is assistant professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

I. War Oracles

The sine qua non of divine involvement in warfare is the god’s communication to his servant, for only by divine command can the servant know the god’s will to c...

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