Who Wrote Joshua 22?

I was thinking about the authorship of Joshua 22.  I don’t know anything about the scholarly discussion on this issue, but I was just looking at elements of the chapter and I was asking myself who could have written it.

In Joshua 22, Israel, led by the priest Phinehas, confronts the tribes that live in the Transjordan, namely, Reuben, Simeon, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.  The reason is that these two-and-a-half tribes have constructed a replica of the altar that’s at the central sanctuary, and Phinehas and the rest of Israel believe that this Transjordanian construction is a competing altar, on which sacrifices will be offered.  But the two-and-a-half tribes assure Phinehas and company that the Transjordanian altar is not for sacrifice, but rather is a memorial to the rest of Israel that the Transjordanian tribes are a part of Israel (even though the Jordan River separates them) and thus have a right to worship God at the central sanctuary.

At first, I asked if the Deuteronomist could have written Joshua 22.  The reason is that this chapter strongly supports limiting worship to one central sanctuary, which is part of the Deuteronomist ideology.  After all, Israel is criticizing the Transjordanian tribes because it believes that they are constructing an alternative altar for sacrifices, and the Transjordanian tribes retort that they are not doing that at all.  This controversy makes sense if there is an assumption at the outset that sacrificial worship must only be conducted at the central sanctuary, the place God chose to put God’s name.

But there appear to be considerations that militate against this chapter being Deuteronomistic.  For one, the two-and-a-half tribes in Joshua 22:21 call the LORD the God of gods.  That presumes that other gods exist, but the LORD is superior to them in rank and power.  But, as Moshe Weinfeld documents, the Deuteronomistic school did not just believe that the LORD was superior to other gods; rather, it denied that the other gods even existed!  Second, in Joshua 22:25, the two-and-a-half tribes express their fear that Israelites in times to come would not allow the Israelites from the Transjordan to worship the LORD.  But I don’t think that such a restrictive policy on who can worship God at the central sanctuary would have been on the radar of the Deuteronomist, for the Deuteronomist envisioned even people from other nations coming to the temple to worship the LORD (I Kings 8:41-43).  I have a hard time believing that the Deuteronomist would write a story in which the Transjordanian tribes would have to build a replica of an altar to convince other Israelites of their right as fellow Israelites to worship God at the central sanctuary, for my impression is that, as far as the Deuteronomist is concerned, even Gentiles can worship at God’s house. Joshua 22, by contrast, seems to presume that only Israelites can worship at the central sanctuary, and so the two-and-a-half tribes have to build a replicated altar to convince the rest of Israel that they (the two-and-a-half tribes) are indeed Israelites and thus have a right to worship at the central sanctuary.

I wondered then if P could be the author of Joshua 22.  For one, the phrase “God of gods” could fit P, since the Books of Chronicles, which supposedly reflect a priestly sort of ideology, use that sort of language at times.  Second, as Julius Wellhausen held, P assumed that sacrificial worship could only take place in the central sanctuary.  Third, Phinehas is a prominent player in Joshua 22, and Phinehas was the ancestor of the Zadokite priesthood.  The chapters in the Pentateuch that exalt Phinehas are (if I’m not mistaken) usually attributed to P.  But there is a problem.  According to Jo Ann Hackett (see my post here), P does not recognize the Transjordan as part of Israel.  Joshua 22, by contrast, does regard the Transjordanian tribes as full members of Israel.  Then I thought something: Phinehas is not exactly portrayed positively in Joshua 22, but rather as one who impulsively rushes to condemn the Transjordanian tribes, without full knowledge of the facts.  So I have my doubts that P wrote Joshua 22.

Who could have written Joshua 22?  It was probably written in a time when the sole legitimacy of the central sanctuary was largely accepted, or at least it was written by someone who may not have been a Deuteronomist himself, but who still agreed with the Deuteronomist idea that only one sanctuary was legitimate.  The one who wrote Joshua 22 probably disagreed with the priests who held that the Transjordan was not a part of Israel.  The writer of the chapter seems to be aware only of an exclusivist viewpoint that holds that God can only be sacrificially worshiped at the central sanctuary by actual Israelites.  The writer uses terminology for God that acknowledges the existence of other gods, which may reflect an early stage of Israelite thought, or it could be a remnant—-as the Chronicler, a late (post-exilic) writer, uses that sort of language for God.  On how to put all this together and identify the author, well, that will require more thought!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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