Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 3 (2000-2001) - Review

L. Daniel Hawk, Joshua (Berit Olam; Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000). Pp. xxxii + 303. Hardcover. ISBN 0-8146-5042

In accordance with the conception of the commentary series Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry Hawk analyses the book of Joshua in its final form (Masoretic Text) with regard to its literary composition and to "the values, perceptions and ideologies" (xxviii) it advances through the medium of narrative. Hawk proposes that Joshua deals with "boundaries" as a metaphor for the issue of identity. These boundaries which constitute Israel: geographical boundaries (promised land, possession of Canaan; i.e., territory), behavioral boundaries (obedience to the Torah of Moses; i.e., religion), and ethnic boundaries (separation, extermination of the peoples of the land; i.e., race). These features of Israel’s identity, which at the same time define the respective "Other" by means of dichotomy, work very well at the corporate level of nationhood. However, "on a smaller scale, in terms of individuals or groups" (xxii), they are continually subverted both from the outside (e.g., by Rahab and the Gibeonites) and from the inside (e.g. by Achan’s theft of devoted items and by the incomplete conquest of the land). As a result, the book of Joshua is characterized by discontinuities and contradictions, which "create an overall sense of uncertainty and openness" (xviii). For that reason the identity of Israel is not ultimately determined by territory, religious observance and race affiliation, but rather through chosenness by YHWH and by the choosing of YHWH (xxxii), as can be seen in particular in the book’s last chapter (Josh 24).

In addition to the "Introduction" (pp. xi-xxxii), Hawks book consists of thirteen chapters: 1. "Rights of Passage" (Josh 1:1-18; pp. 1-17); 2. "Who’s Who in the Promised Land? (2:1-12:24; pp. 19-33); 3. "Strangers in the Night" (2:1-24; pp. 35-51); 4. "Changing State" (3:1-4:24; pp. 53-73); 5. "First Things First" (5:1-15; pp. 75-85); 6. "Going in Circles" (6:1-27; pp. 87-105); 7. "Ai Spy" (7:1-8:35; pp. 107-134); 8. "Foiled Again" (9:1-10:27; pp. 135-156); 9. "Conquering Canaanites" (10:28-12:24; pp. 157-176); 10. "Organizing Israel" (13:1-21:45; pp.177-226); 11. "Altar Egos" (22:1-34; pp. 227-245); 12. "Unfinished Business" (23:1-16; pp. 247-260); 13. "Decisions, Decisions" (24:1-33; pp. 261-281). Scattered throughout these chapters are twelve charts, which are listed separately in the table of contents. The book ends with a short bibliography "For Further Reading" (more bibliographical references are given in the notes of the running commentary) as well as "Scripture" and "Subject" indexes (pp. 283-303).

Following the traditional division of the book (1-12, 13-22, 23-24), (1) Hawk divides Joshua into three parts: 1-12 (conquest of the land), 13-21 (division of the land), 22-24 (series of farewells). Each chapter begins with an introduction, usually outlining the peculiar features of the narrative, intertextual relations both within Joshua and to relevant sections of the Pentateuch, as well as the structure of the text. Throughout his commentary Hawk stresses the particular dependence of the book of Joshua on Deuteronomy (without however using the term deuteronomistic, speaking instead only of deuteronomic). For intertextual relations based on a common genre, the genre-specific characteristics are described, as for example in the case of Rahab, the spies and Jericho (Joshua 2, 6) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:1-29). Both texts have five episodes in common (1. Two Strangers Enter the City, 2. The Strangers Are Sought. 3. Destruction Is Announced. 4. Protest and Escape, 5. Destruction and Deliverance), which also contain other respective details. (cf. p. 36). Following each introduction is a subsequent close reading of the text.

The question of Israel’s identity as a point of departure for the interpretation of the book of Joshua ("what distinguishes ‘Israel’ from all other peoples?") is well chosen and well supported by Hawk. This innovative focus aids in protecting Joshua from any fundamentalist use in justifying certain land-claims or instances of ethnic cleansing (as was the case e.g., with the Boers of South Africa), and demonstrates that the identity of the people of Israel is based on their participation in the covenant, without denying the significance of the land, religious practice or ethnicity. Hawk’s scholarship is sound and his conclusions are presented in a clear manner. Therefore, the book is to be recommended.

Specific points of critique are: 1. Intertextual relationships to texts following Joshua could have also been considered. E.g., Hawk notes correctly that Joshua concludes with an open question of Israel’s leadership. In this case, a reference to the crisis of leadership in the book of Judges and its subsequent solution—i.e., the Davidic kingship—would have been appropriate. 2. The historical question regarding the origin of the final form of the text of Joshua, erroneously called Masoretic (the MT is a medieval text), is mentioned only in passing (xxxi, n. 19). The reader who deliberately turns to Berit Olam has the right to expect a thematic discussion about the origin of the book that goes beyond a single footnote. Furthermore, Hawk considers it possible that Joshua has its origins already in the context of the Josianic reform, in spite of the fact that this reform is very questionable in terms of historical evidence.(2) 3. Since Hawk claims to provide a literary analysis of the MT, it appears counterproductive to speak of the Red Sea (53) instead of the Reed Sea. Red Sea is a term which does not appear at all in the MT, but is derived from the Septuagint.

Uwe F.W. Bauer, Kirchliche Hochschule Bethel


1.Cf., E. Zenger et al., Einleitung in das Alte Testament (3rd. ed; Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln: Kohlhammer, 1998), pp. 191-193. Back

2. Cf., Chr. Uehlinger, "Gab es eine joschijanische Kultreform?," in W. Groß, ed., Jeremia und die "deuteronomische"Bewegung (Bonner biblische Beiträge 98, Beltz: Athenäum, 1995), 57-89. Back