Chapter 9

                                                                         Part 3


Two versions of one tale

            We saw in Joshua chapter 8 several examples of Bible editor mingling more than a single version of an event and, by doing so, creating a difficult to decipher mixed text. Chapter 9 is another instance. Many scholars[1] see two tales in the chapter. In one, disguised Gibeonites arrive in the Israelite camp and negotiate with the tribal leaders, not Joshua. The tribal heads are very suspicious of these men and make no treaty with them. Joshua falls for their trick and agrees to a treaty. When the tribal leaders discover that the Israelites were fooled, they make the Gibeonites servants of the community, but not of the house of God. In the second version, the Gibeonites deal immediately with Joshua who accepts their story. When he discovers the trick, he makes them slaves of the community and the house of God.

            Reading the chapter as a single story, the commentator Kimchi understands that the Gibeonites saw they could not fool the elders, so they turned to Joshua. Later, they served the community until the tribes separated and moved to distant areas, at which time they were assigned duties in the house of God. This is an interesting interpretation, but it does not fit the text that seems to state the Gibeonites were made sanctuary servants when their trick was discovered. Abarbanel, also reading the chapter as a single tale, suggests the tribal leaders acted first and tasked the Gibeonites as slaves of the community; then Joshua added the sanctuary chores.

            We read of Nethinim[2] serving in the sanctuary in King David’s days.[3] Tradition states these were the Gibeonites who still held this post.[4]

A paradox

            We have seen that with the exception of Deuteronomy 20:10, the Pentateuch repeatedly commands the Israelites to kill every Canaanite lest they dwell among the Israelites and entice them from the proper worship of God. Yet here we see that not only are the Gibeonites, who were Canaanites, allowed to live among the Israelites, they even served in the house of God.

Numbers 3 and 7, again

            Verse 16 states that the Israelites discovered that Gibeonite trick after three days and 17 describes the Israelites traveling three days to confront them. As I mentioned in the past, the number three should not be taken literally; it means within a short time. Seven almost appears. The Bible speaks of seven Canaanite nations[5] but lists only six here. The Greek translation Septuagint corrects the text by adding the missing Girgashites, but the Talmud[6] states that when the Girgashites heard about the Israelite battle successes, they ran to Africa.[7]

Details explained later

            Other examples of the biblical style to mention a subject, but to explain it later, are: In verse 1 the Canaanite kings heard, but what they heard is mentioned in verse 3. In verse 2 the Canaanites plan to unite and fight the Israelites but the specifics are not told until the next chapter. Also, it is not until near the end of chapter 9 that the book reveals why the Gibeonites resorted to their deception.





[1] Ehrlich and others.

[2] The word means “those who are a gift.”

[3] I Chronicles 9:2, Ezra 2:43-58; 8:20.

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 78b. It is possible that the Nethinim included people captured in war who were not of Gibeonite descent.

[5] They are mentioned in Genesis 15:21, Deuteronomy 7:1, Joshua 3:10. 24:11, and Nehemiah 9:8.

[6] Jerusalem Talmud, Sheviit 6:1.

[7] The talmudic tale seems to be contradicted by Joshua 24:11 and Nehemiah 9:8, which states that the Israelites conquered the Girgashites.