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Joshua, Jehoshuah, or Yehoshua ('יְהוֹשֻׁעַ, Tiberian: jə.ho.ˈʃu.aʕ, Israeli: Yəhoshúa), born in Egypt, was a biblical Israelite leader who succeeded Moses. His story is told in the Hebrew Bible, chiefly in the books Exodus, the Numbers, and Joshua. He was one of the twelve spies sent on by Moses to explore the land of Canaan who would later lead the conquest of that land, the Bible's Promised Land.

Joshua supposedly lived sometime in the late Bronze Age, around 1200 BCE (Before Common Era). However, he is associated with problems concerning the evidence for the Exodus from Egypt. Various reconstructions of the Biblical data about the Exodus have not yet matched the archeological evidence. Accordingly, archeologists dispute the historicity of the many details in the Biblical account of the Exodus and often treat it as legendary embellishments of an earlier (still unidentified) event. However, others have taken the account to be legitimate and have based their scholarship on this, including Richard A. Gabriel who has viewed Biblical narratives from what he calls a "military" perspective, including the Conquest of Canaan by Joshua. Still others refer to the ancient letters of appeal by Canaanite leaders to Egypt seeking assistance against the invasion of the Hapiru (see Amarna letters), who may or may not be the ancient Hebrews.

Joshua in the Bible

According to the Bible, Joshua was the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, which would become known as the most militaristic of the tribes of Israel, largely through Joshua's campaigns. He was born in Egypt during the Israelite enslavement, and was probably the same age as Caleb, with whom he is generally associated.

Joshua shared in all the events of the Exodus. He was Moses' apprentice, and accompanied him part of the way when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments (Exd. 32:17). He was also one of the twelve spies who were sent on by Moses to explore the land of Canaan (Num. 13:16, 17), and only he and Caleb gave an encouraging report. He was commander at their first battle after exiting Egypt, against the Amalekites in Rephidim (Ex. 17:8-16), in which they were victorious.

Joshua was appointed by Moses to succeed him as leader of the Israelites upon Moses' death. The first major part of his book is when he commanded the subsequent conquest of Canaan. As the Israelites came to the Jordan River, the waters parted, as they did for Moses at the Red Sea. The first major battle was in Jericho, a heavily fortified city just five miles west of the Jordan River, northwest of the Dead Sea which he took by following God's instruction, ordering his host to march around the city for seven days, whereupon the city walls fell, just as God said they would. The Israelites then slaughtered "every living thing" inside Jericho and completely destroyed the city except for Rahab and her family, who had aided the two spies sent by Joshua to check out the city. Although they had been forbidden by God to take any of the spoils, Achan disobeyed and took some garments and silver, hiding them in his tent. When Israel tried to conquer Ai, a small neighboring city just West of Jericho, they were defeated and 36 Israelite warriors were killed. Achan's sin was exposed, he and his family and his animals were stoned to death, and the favor of God was again restored towards His people. Next, through clever ambush tactics, Joshua defeated Ai. The Israelites faced a Southern alliance of the Amorite kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon. At Gibeon Joshua defeated them by causing the Sun to stand still at Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, so that he could finish the battle in daylight. Then Joshua faced a northern Canaanite king, Jabin of Hazor, whom he defeated at the Waters of Mermon, possibly referring to Lake Huleh.

In the second main part of his book, Joshua divided the conquered land among the tribes of Israel as God had told him to. The framing narrative, describing the process by which the land was divided (12:1-6, 13:1-14, 13:21b-22, 13:32-14:3, 15:63, 16:10-17:6, 17:12-18:10, 19:51, and 22:1-9). First a description is given of the domains east of the Jordan which were conquered and given to Reuben, Gad, and Machir (half of Manasseh). After God gave Joshua a gloss concerning the unconquered region, he reminded him about Reuben, Gad, and Machir (half of Manasseh), already having been allocated land by Moses, and about the Levites not being given territory, only cities. The territory was handed out by lot, Judah gaining the first lot, although they failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Jerusalem. Then the house of Joseph got its territory, Ephraim failing to drive out the Canaanites of Gezer, and it is pointed out that the daughters of Zelophehad, part of the tribe of Manasseh, were also given territory of their own. The house of Joseph was given the mountain region, including the forest, and they are told that they will be able to drive out the Canaanites living there despite the presence of iron chariots. The Israelites then assembled at Shiloh, and Joshua sent out a survey team. When the survey was complete, the remaining land was divided amongst the lesser tribes. Finally, the tribes whose lands are east of the Jordan were allowed to go to their lands.

When he was "old and well advanced in years" Joshua convened the elders and chiefs of the Israelites and exhorted them to have no fellowship with the native population because it could lead them to be unfaithful to God. At a general assembly of the clans at Shechem he took leave of the people, admonishing them to be loyal to their God, who had been so mightily manifested in the midst of them. As a witness of their promise to serve God, Joshua set up a great stone under an oak by the sanctuary of God. Soon afterward he died, at the age of 110, and was buried at Timnath Serah.

In rabbinical literature

In rabbinic Jewish literature Joshua is regarded as a faithful, humble, deserving, wise man. Biblical verses illustrative of these qualities and of their reward are applied to him. "He that waits on his master shall be honored" (Pro. xxvii. 18) is construed as a reference to Joshua (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xii.), as is also the first part of the same verse, "Whoso keepes the fig-tree shall eat the fruit thereof" (Midrash Yalk., Josh. 2; Numbers Rabbah xii. 21). That "honor shall uphold the humble in spirit" (Pro. xxix. 23) is proved by Joshua's victory over Amalek (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xiii). Not the sons of Moses — as Moses himself had expected — but Joshua was appointed successor to the son of Amram (Midrash Numbers Rabbah xii). Moses was shown how Joshua reproved that Othniel (Yalḳ., Num. 776). Joshua's manliness recommended him for this high post. David referred to him in Psalms lxxxvii. 25, though without mentioning the name, lest dissensions should arise between his sons and those of his brothers (Yalḳ., quoting Sifre).

In later literature

In the Divine Comedy Joshua's spirit appears to Dante in the Heaven of Mars, where he is grouped with the other "warriors of the faith".

Baroque composer Georg Frideric Handel composed an oratorio "Joshua" in 1747.

Composer Franz Waxman composed an oratorio "Joshua" in 1959.

Hebrew name

The original Hebrew name Yehoshua often lacks a Hebrew letter Vav after the Shin allowing a misreading of the vocalization of the name, as if Yehoshea and indeed his name was Hoshea before his namechange to Yehoshua by recommendation of Moses (). Nevertheless, the use of a mater lectionis was an orthographic innovation, and although the use of two Vavs is well attested as (for example, ), traditional orthography tended to avoid the second Vav as too intrusive when spelling Yehoshua. The name Yehoshua` in Hebrew means "Yahweh is Salvation," "Yahweh delivers" or "Yahweh rescues" from the Hebrew root , "to deliver," "to be liberated," or "to be victorious


The annual commemoration of Joshua's yahrtzeit is marked on the 26th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. Thousands make the pilgrimage to Kifl Hares on the preceding night.


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