Why Do Joshua's Readers Keep Crossing The River? The Narrative-Geographical Shaping Of Joshua 3–4 -- By: John A. Beck

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 48:4 (Dec 2005)
Article: Why Do Joshua's Readers Keep Crossing The River? The Narrative-Geographical Shaping Of Joshua 3–4
Author: John A. Beck


Why Do Joshua's Readers Keep Crossing The River?
The Narrative-Geographical Shaping Of Joshua 3–4

John A. Beck

John Beck resides at W155 N11637 Sunnyview Ave., Germantown, WI 53022.

The turbulent waters of the Jordan River stood as a threatening barrier before the Israelite army on the march, a formidable obstacle between promise and fulfillment. God had promised the nation of Israel that they would cross the river and take possession of the land beyond. Consequently, the reader of Joshua expects to read about a river crossing. But as Joshua's readers relive this story in chapters 3–4, they encounter mention of crossing 21 times. And more importantly, they encounter the word "Jordan" 28 times (more than once in every two verses). The narrator says it. Joshua says it. The Lord himself says it over and over again as the writer draws the reader's eyes back to the roiling water of the Jordan. This leaves the careful reader of this text with an important question: Why do Joshua's readers keep crossing the river?

Some analysts have concluded that this "doubling back and forth across the river" illustrates how these particular chapters are a literary mess, a jumble of chronology, geography, and point of view that is the product of a complex and disrupted literary history.1 We have greater confidence in the integrity and clarity of this text and so will pursue the literary logic behind this repetition. Our conclusion is that the repetition of the word "Jordan" is designed to simulate a portion of the actual event for the reader. Just as the Israelites were brought to the edge of the Jordan River and remained there for three days (Josh 3:2), so the reader is required to linger beside the Jordan River via this literary convention. By creating this parallel experience of lingering by the river, the original event and narrated event can lead to the same outcome—a greater respect for Joshua as general and a deeper respect for the Lord their God (Josh 3:7, 10; 4:14, 24). We propose that the repetition of the word "Jordan" participated in accomplishing that goal.

In the paragraphs that follow, we will briefly survey the various methods that have been used to investigate the text and inquire about their understanding of the repetition. We will then summarize and apply the narrative-geographical method that will be employed here to analyze the text. Finally, we will demonstrate b...

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