Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Ernst Axel Knauf, Josua (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 2008). Pp. 203. Paperback. €32. ISBN 978-3-290-17456-9.

This commentary is volume 6 of the Zürcher Bibelkommentare edited by Thomas Krüger, Konrad Schmid and Christoph Uehlinger for the Old Testament. The series offers solid academic commentaries to a broad audience in German. Knauf has managed to pack this volume with fresh ideas presented with little jargon and few footnotes.

After 40 pages of introduction the Hebrew text of Joshua is translated phrase by phrase and succinctly commented on over the next 160 pages. Graced with numerous helpful tables, some good quality black and white illustrations, and three pages of bibliography at the end, this volume is written in very readable German. It is obviously geared to a Germanic audience, but its insights will greatly benefit every reader.

As introduction to Joshua, the book of the land, the reader is reminded that Eretz Israel remains God's property that is Israel's only as a result of a divine grant. The introduction continues with a useful discussion of six quite different biblical themes—the precise circumscription of the Promised Land, Joshua's place in the Torah, the similarities between his portrayal and that of Moses, as well as a discussion of the name “Joshua.” The history of the formation of the Torah and the Prophets presupposed in the commentary is sketched in seven major stages. Joshua began as part of a Moses-Joshua narrative (ca. 600 bce) that went through a Deuteronomistic or Pentateuch redaction (Exodus 2*—Joshua 11*), and then received a response from the Priestly Document (ca. 515 bce) whose concluding verses are found in Joshua 4*; 5* and 18.1. In the second half of the fifth century bce, once Jerusalem regained its leading position, an Hexateuch redaction characterized by priestly additions couched in Deuteronomistic language (Josh 3—4; 6; 14—17; and 21:43-45) established a bridge with 1 Kings 8. With the additions of Joshua 1 and 24 Joshua becomes a self-standing prophetic book. Later still, Joshua 18—19; 23 link the book with Judges, which may have been introduced into the prophetic collection at the same time as Ezekiel. Finally, a Torah-Prophets redaction serves the interests of the Hasmoneans who could not legitimize their rule on the basis of only the Torah.

In a half-dozen pages (p. 22-30) Knauf reduces to naught the notion of a conquest of the land. The gift of the land, he argues, never implied a conquest of Canaan. A short description of the reception of Joshua in the Hebrew and Greek Bible, in Rabbinic Judaism, in Islam and in Christianity follows. A quote from Voltaire demonstrates the moral problem that arises when Joshua is disconnected from the liturgical cycle of Torah and historicized. The introduction closes with an explanation of the translation technique.

Each chapter is then translated and receives an average of six pages of commentary. Knauf's great knowledge of the cultural, linguistic, historical, archaeological and geographical context shines through on each page. Chronological and tactical aspects are treated with particular attention. The main thrust of the commentary is to counter the notion of a genocide of the Canaanites and the moral problems it entails by insisting that only 5 out of 24 chapters of Joshua are battle narratives (p. 70). Israel is at home before the first battle is waged (p. 63). Joshua 2 and 9 are major critiques of herem theology (p. 90). The role of the Israelite is often limited to collecting booty while YHWH does the actual fighting (p. 97). Joshua 11:23 states that the war for the occupation of the Promised Land was done once for all and is not to be repeated (pp. 117-19), or catastrophic consequences always follow (p. 189).

This commentary applies new ideas developed elsewhere in Knauf's prolific publication record. The most salient aspects of the Redaktionsgeschichte are a long version of the Priestly narrative closing at Joshua 18:1 and the insertion of the Book of Judges between Joshua and 1 Samuel at a very late stage. Thus freed from the straitjacket of the Deuteronomistic History, Knauf's commentary marks the dawn of a truly post-Nothian era in the study of the book of Joshua. Hence, Joshua is a mine of new insights. Noteworthy are a detailed discussion of the links with the Torah and the Prophets in Joshua 1, the discussion of Benjaminite territory in Josh. 18:11-28 and a new etymology for Dan (p. 168). The volume makes for a most rewarding read.

Philippe Guillaume, British Academy Fellow, University of Sheffield, UK