The true in depth story about Joshua
By Michael Hattin
Maggid Books, 2014, 271 pages
This is the third of four volumes in Maggid Books Studies in Tanakh series. The three other books are on Ruth, I Kings, and Jeremiah. Each book is excellent. They are scholarly, yet easy to read, and each is filled with thought-provoking and illuminating information, not only about the book the author is addressing, but the entire Bible. While the volumes were composed for a Jewish audience and most of the quoted commentaries are from Jewish sources, non-Jews will profit from reading them. Dr. Hattin teaches Bible and Halakhah (Jewish Law) at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Israel.
One of method that Hattin uses in uncovering the Bibles’ meaning is to pay “careful attention to vocabulary, grammar and syntax, literary structure, intertextuality, (and) historical context….a cursory reading of the material can never be sufficient.” Hattin notes that there are many “good English translations” of the Bible, “but it is critical to bear in mind that a translation of any source cannot take the place of the original Hebrew text. Biblical Hebrew is a rich and layered language, full of subtle nuances and multiple gradations of meaning…. The Hebrew Bible chooses its words with extreme care.” Paying close attention to these factors as well as modern scholarship and archeology, and doing so in a reader-friendly fashion, makes Hattin’s book, as the other books in this series, eye-opening experiences. Readers will see the Bible as they were unable to see and understand it before.
A simple example: Noah’s ark in Genesis 6:14 is described by the word teva. The only other usage of the word in the entire Hebrew Scripture is the teva into which the infant Moses’ mother placed him among the reeds on the Nile River edge to save his life from Pharaoh’s decree to kill all Israelite male children (Exodus 2:3). The Bible does not use the oft-used words oniya or sefina, “ship.” The Bible has the same unique term for both, informing us that both Noah and Moses were placed in receptacles in which people who would impact humanity were saved. Most English translations render Noah’s teva as “ark” and Moses’ as “basket” and miss this point.
Hattin studies, among much else, the psychology of Joshua. He notes that Joshua approached his leadership role with hesitation. There are only fourteen times where biblical heroes needed reassurances and encouragements, and seven were addressed to Joshua. In the first eighteen verses of the opening chapter of Joshua, Moses’ name is mentioned eleven times to encourage Joshua, and the first chapter ends with a charge that Joshua should be forceful and brave. Yet, as soon as the period of mourning for Moses’ death ended, Joshua assumed command and instructed his people to prepare to cross the Jordan and march into Canaan in three-days.
Hattin compares the theme of “three days” here to the many times that it is used throughout Scripture and shows that it “implies a period of intense introspection, spiritual reflection, and concentrated preparation for an anticipated event that is potentially transformative. Thus, Abraham had much to ponder during his three day journey to fulfill God’s command to sacrifice his son. The butler and baker waited in anxious trepidation for three days to see if Joseph’s interpretations of their dreams would come to pass. The Israelites prepared for three days in anticipation of receiving the divine Decalogue (Ten Commandments). Esther fasted for three days before going to Ahasuerus to attempt to save her people. And there are many other times in the Hebrew Bible where the three-day theme is used to prompt readers to think about the struggles of the people involved. Hattin informs readers why the three days was necessary for Joshua and his people.
The theme of seven also appears frequently in this book, as in the conquest of the Canaanite city Jericho when the Israelite forces marched around the city for seven days and on the seventh day did so seven times. Hattin discusses whether the use of seven has religious, psychological, or superstitious significance, or some kind of combination of the three.
Hattin describes how Joshua’s dispatching spies to Canaan was radically different than Moses’ approach, for Joshua had learnt from Moses’ mistake. He explains why the two spies went to the brothel of a prostitute rather than the more obvious sites one would expect spies to visit who are seeking intelligence, and why the spies made no contact with any other Canaanite citizen. He tells readers why the prostitute turned her back on her own nation and cast her lot with and aided its enemy.
He explains many of Joshua’s acts and many concepts. Why did Joshua use the Ark of the Covenant while crossing the Jordan and in his attack on Jericho? What is the meaning and purpose of all the other unusual acts during the crossing of the Jordan and in the conquest of Jericho? What are the cherubim, the two winged figures placed on top of the Ark? Many people are bothered by Joshua’s command to kill all the people of Jericho – men, women, and children. Hattin also discusses this subject, along with many others, such as why twelve stones were placed in the Jordan, why the men needed to be circumcised and why the Passover had to be observed as soon as the Israelites entered Canaan, did an angel actually come to and advise Joshua what to do, why did Joshua need to kill Akhan when all Akhan did was steal some items, was his wife and children also killed for his offence, why did the Gevonites feel a need to deceive Joshua, did Joshua act properly when he discovered that he had been deceived, and most significant of all, was Joshua successful.
In short, Dr. Hattin not only clarifies the book of Joshua, he introduces us to the fine points of an adventure that changed Jewish history.