A review of David Howard's, "Joshua," by Dr. Richard Hess.
Howard, David M., Jr. Joshua. The New American Commentary Volume 5. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998. 464 pp. Hardback. ISBN 0-8054-0105-0.
Howard has produced an important and helpful commentary on the book of Joshua. Readers who wish to understand the meaning of this Old Testament book will be well served when they consult Howard’s work. It provides a verse by verse study of the book in what may well be the largest English language exegetical commentary available in recent years. All the major theological and exegetical difficulties are discussed, often at some length either in the introduction or in the main body of the commentary itself. Thus while noting the textual variants of the Dead Sea Scrolls in his introduction, Howard consistently opts for the Massoretic Hebrew text over these and other versions. He accepts an early date for the exodus and therefore places the events of Joshua c. 1400 B.C. The main text that we today call Joshua was written shortly after the events described in it. Happily, Howard sees the initial activities and confessions of Joshua, Israel, and Rahab as positive. Thus the spies of ch. 2 are basically faithful and not representatives of a degenerate Israel. Jericho’s walls are probably the Middle Bronze Age ones that should be redated to this period following the arguments of Bimson and Wood. Ai should probably be relocated at another site than et-Tell, following the arguments of Livingstone. The “ban” required the destruction of all Canaanites because of their idolatry, other sins, and rebellious attitude. It was just and appropriate due to the holiness of God. Rahab and others could be saved from this destruction if they ceased to be Canaanites and converted to the Israelite faith. Thus the fact that Israel did not kill Rahab and her family was not a violation of the “ban.” Israel was unfaithful in its failure to consult God before believing the Gibeonites’ lie and making a treaty with them. However, their subsequent southern and northern campaigns were blessed by God and therefore victorious. The land allotments are God’s gift to Israel as he owns the land. They reflect the unity of the entire nation as they all receive this blessing. The purpose of all the specific detail is to demonstrate that these places were truly and historically given to the tribes. The final chapters are concerned with farewells as Joshua presents a pastoral address in ch. 23 and then a report of a covenant renewal (modelled on second millennium B.C. treaties) in ch. 24.
This is a useful and important commentary that a scholar, pastor, or student of the Bible could consult with profit. Howard’s particular strengths lie in his word studies of virtually all the significant theological and other vocabulary and phrases in each text. He is constantly referring the reader to similar usages of words and concepts elsewhere in the Old Testament, and especially in the Pentateuch. This commentary is also helpful at drawing the reader into a deeper appreciation of many of the theological truths found here.
The reader will not find here certain other items. There is no extended analysis of sources and critical arguments for the construction of the text. While these are acknowledged from time to time, the reader is instructed to look elsewhere for this sort of thing. The Hebrew text is studied more from a vocabulary and grammatical perspective than from a literary one. Thus the analysis of God’s promise to Joshua in 1: 6-9 and of Rahab’s confession in 2: 9-11 do not mention the envelope structures in both texts which provide a balance of God’s grace and Joshua’s responsibility in the first passage, and demonstrate the way in which God’s historical acts of salvation form a key to Rahab’s faith in the second. There is also an absence of much discussion of the archaeological evidence from the period, that is beyond the obvious data used to discuss the date of the exodus, the sites of Jericho and Ai (and some mention with reference to Hazor), and the Hittite treaty structures for ch. 24. However, the massive amount of settlement evidence that has emerged in the past two decades is hardly touched upon with reference to Israel’s allotment. Nor are the literary comparisons with conquest accounts (Younger) used for chs. 8-12 or those with reference to border descriptions, land grants, and place name lists (Hess) used for chs. 13-21. In addition, no attempt is made to analyze the personal names (other than Joshua) or to locate the many place names in reference to known archaeological sites (in this regard, Hannathon’s location is well known [contra p. 369]). For this sort of material and its substantial relevance for the exegetical and theological interpretation of the text, the reader will need to look elsewhere.
In general the book is well presented and the format easy to read. However, why is it necessary to work through more than twenty pages, including all of the abbreviations, before reaching the Contents page? Also, the following abbreviations are not explained but occur in the text: DBH (p. 313), HALOT (passim), NIV (passim), NJPSV (p. 363), and NLT (p. 354). Finally, why is et cetera always written out, instead of the common, etc.?
These are quibbles, however. They are not meant to detract from the real value of this commentary which should rightly find a place in the library of those who wish to preach and teach on this dramatic and “faith stirring” book of the Old Testament.
Richard S. Hess
Professor of Old Testament