Chapter 14


Joshua’s seven-year leadership of the conquest of Canaan ended with the close of chapter 12. Others will lead future battles against the Canaanites. Joshua turns his attention to the division of Canaan among the Israelite tribes. Moses distributed the land in Trans-Jordan to two and a half tribes. Now Joshua aided by Eleazar the priest and the heads of families of the Israelite tribes does likewise with the remaining nine and a half tribes. Land is allotted to the tribe of Judah and the two Joseph tribes while Joshua was in Gilgal. The third and final phase of the distribution, to the remaining six and a half tribes, will occur at Shiloh, the future site for the tabernacle.

The book does not reveal why Judah and the two Joseph tribes received preferential treatment. Unlike the behavior of the remaining six and a half, the tribes of Judah and the Joseph, as we will see, were aggressive in the future conquests and acquisition of land. Centuries later, David and his descendants of the tribe of Judah would be kings until 586 BCE, and Jeroboam of the Joseph tribe Ephraim would succeed from the kingdom of David’s family and establish a kingdom in the north that lasted until 722 BCE. It is possible that the authors of Joshua lived centuries after Joshua, knew of these events, and it influenced how they portrayed the distribution of land.[1]

Chapter 14 tells about a gift Joshua gave to Caleb and sets the scene for the telling of future exploits by the tribes of Judah and Joseph. Like the difficulties I cited in prior chapters, we see again inconsistencies and indications that the authors of Joshua did not know what was written in the Pentateuch.


Who was Caleb?

            Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite received a personal portion of land because of his courage as one of the twelve spies Moses sent to reconnoiter Canaan.[2] He supported Moses. He said that the Canaanites could be defeated, while ten spies denied it, and Joshua was silent until after he spoke. Scripture identifies him as a Kenizzite and of the tribe of Judah. Scholars say that he was not of Israelite birth, but a Kenizzite who assimilated into Judah.”[3]

            Deuteronomy 1:36 reports that God promised to give “the land he trod upon” to Caleb and his children “because he wholly followed the Lord.” But Scripture does not say that Caleb “trod upon” Hebron, According to Numbers 13:22, the twelve spies came ad chevron, which could mean only as far as Hebron, but not into the city, or up to and including Hebron. Rashi, based on the Talmud,[4] contends without explicit biblical support that while eleven spies, including Joshua, did not enter the city, Caleb fearless of its giant inhabitants, penetrated Hebron to worship at the tomb of the patriarchs who were buried there.

            Ehrlich observed that when Caleb spoke to Joshua[5] he mentioned himself before Joshua, “me and you.” He explained that while people today think it courteous to mention oneself last, ancient nations customarily did the opposite.

Determining the distribution by lot

            Eleazar the priest and Joshua divided Canaanite land by depending on God’s will discovered by tossing lots. Although the Pentateuch indicates that Israelites could secure divine answers by using the Urim and Thummim,[6] there is no indication of its usage after Moses. Instead, as in 7:10-16, Israelites relied on lots. Rashi and others disturbed by the neglect of the Urim and Thummim, which might indicate the Israelites knew nothing about the Pentateuch, maintain that, although unstated, Eleazar used the Urim and Thummim and Joshua followed its revelation by tossing lots. When both disclosed identical information the Israelites were convinced that God was communicating with them.[7]

            Abrabanel admits[8] that this book does not reveal how the land was divided: Did each tribe receive an equal share, or did larger tribes secure larger land tracts as indicated in Numbers 26:14? Additionally, if God decided the size of each tribe’s portion, how could the Joseph tribe beseech Joshua[9] for a larger portion after they were assigned land by the lots? Furthermore, if land was distributed by lots, why weren’t the lots drawn for all the tribes at one time; why did Joshua teat Judah and Joseph different than the other tribes by selecting their lots while being in Gilgal and the lots for the others in Shiloh?

            While generally, only the twelve tribal leaders would participate in leadership decisions, a large number of “heads of the fathers’ (houses)” joined Eleazar and Joshua in the land distribution. No reason is given for the distinction.

            Abrabanel explains[10] that whenever Eleazar is mentioned with Joshua the priest is named first to honor the priesthood. He does not state that when Eleazar is mentioned with Moses,[11] Moses precedes the priest.[12]

Caleb’s Hebron allotment

            Joshua gave Hebron to Caleb in verse 13, but this seems to conflict with 21:12 which states that the city was given to the Levites and Caleb received only its villages and fields. Perhaps we should understand that 21 is clarifying 13.

            The plain sense of chapters 14 and 15 is that Caleb conquered Hebron after Joshua ceased leading the conquest, and this is the view of most commentators. However, Abarbanel opines that Caleb fought at Hebron during the seven-year period of battles led by Joshua.[13]





[1] We should also remember that Judah led the Israelites many times and thus it is not altogether strange that they led the allotments. They marched first during the desert travels (Numbers 2:2), were the earliest to dedicate the tabernacle (Numbers 7:12), and they began the conquest after Joshua’s death (Judges 1).

[2] Numbers 13.

[3] The Cambridge Bible Commentary, The Book of Joshua, page 117. Olam Hatanakh, page 138. The Kenizzites are mentioned in Genesis 15:19; 36: 11, 15, and 42. Many non-Israelites joined the Israelites. In the biblical period, these included the family of Jethro, Moses’ wife’s father. Ruth also joined. Many commentators, including Rashi, interpret various passages in Exodus to indicate that non-Israelites joined the Israelites when they left Egypt and say that it was they who were sometimes the chief complainers when Scripture mentions that the Israelites complained against what Moses was doing. Until about 150 BCE, these people simply joined Israel as fellow citizens. The concept of conversion, according to many scholars, did not exist in Israel until the second century BCE. There is no clear mention in the Bible or extra-biblical literature of conversion at an earlier date. In fact, there was no concept of religion at this time. The word dat used today to indicate religion did not have this meaning in the Bible; it meant “law.” The word “Jew” was derived from Judean, the name that Israel had during the Second Temple period and meant a citizen of Judea.

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 34b.

[5] In verse 6.

[6] Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, Deuteronomy 33:8. While I Samuel 28:6 mentions that the Urim could be used to divine God’s will, there is no indication that it was used. In fact, I Samuel 10:19-24 states that Saul was chosen as king by lots, 14:42 has King Saul using lots, and Jonah’s guilt was established by frightened sailors in Jonah 1:7 by lots. Olam Hatanakh explains that ancient Greeks also used lots, as seen in Odyssey 6:6 , Plato’s Laws 5, 745, and other places.

[7] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 122a, discusses various rabbinic opinions as to how the land was divided. The Talmud states that while the tribes received land by lots, Joshua and Caleb were handed allotments by direct divine command. Joshua’s land grant is mentioned in 19:50. It is unclear why the rabbis saw a distinction between lots and a direct divine command. There seems to be no difference between the two since the Israelites were convinced that God’s will was manifest through the lots. Perhaps the rabbis simply noted that there is no mention of lots in regard to their grants.

[8] Commentary to chapter 14.

[9] In chapter 17.

[10] Commentary to chapter 14.

[11] As in Numbers 20.

[12] Priests led the Judeans during the Second Temple period, while kings ruled during First Temple times. When the Second Temple was destroyed and the institution of rabbis began, priests ceased being rulers. However, even today, priests receive some honors: they are called first to Torah readings and preference is given to them in leading the benediction after meals.

[13] Verse 11:21 states that Joshua conquered Hebron, which seems to conflict with chapters 14 and 15, but most commentators, such as Olam Hatanakh, state that chapter 11 refers to Caleb’s later conquest; the battle is attributed to Joshua because he was the leader of the Israelite tribes.