After Moses: Joshua, Jericho, Joseph, and the Unification of the Hebrews

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Joshua Commands the Sun to Stand Still
The 12th-century B.C. successor to Moses was Joshua, who led the Israelite tribes in their conquest of the Promised Land. As described in the Bible, he was a combination of prophet, judge, and military leader. After Joshua's death, the people were governed by judges. With the exception of Deborah, these were not judges in the technical sense, but rather inspired leaders who arose in a crisis, guided by the Spirit of God. As temporary leaders, they generally had limited influence, so the period was one of political and social instability. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

Samuel - who lived in the 11th century BC - was the last of the judges and a prophet who led Israel during a transitional period. Faced with a growing threat from the neighboring Philistines, conflict among the tribes of Israel, and the weak and corrupt leadership of the judges, the people called on Samuel to anoint a king over them. In accordance with God's will, Samuel anointed Saul, but only after warning the people of the disadvantages of a monarchy. In fact, Samuel was deeply disappointed in the king and secretly anointed David to replace Saul. Jewish tradition places Samuel on a par with Moses.

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Judaism Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook Christianity: BBC on Christianity ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Sacred Texts website ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Biblical Images: Bible in Pictures ; Bible Blue Letter Images ; Biblical Images


Joshua was successor to Moses and regarded as the Bible's most famous warrior. He led the Jews into Canaan after they had spent 40 years wandering in the Sinai. In Canaan, the Jews evolved from a nomadic people into a strong nation. Joshua united the tribes into a strong fighting force.Joshua led a number of fabled military campaigns in Canaan against the Moabites, Ammonites, the Philistines and other peoples and tribes. There is no archaeological evidence that any of these campaigns ever took place. Archaeologists have uncovered ash layers and other signs of destruction at only one of the many battlegrounds mentioned in the Bible.

Michael Symmons Roberts of BBC wrote: “It was Joshua, the great general, who assembled the Hebrews on the east bank of the Jordan, and led them across the river into the land of Canaan. And so began the final conquest of the promised land, beginning with that most historic armed struggle, the battle of Jericho. |By the end of his military campaign, Joshua had completed what Moses began. He had given birth to the Jewish nation. The Jewish people of Jesus' time were not just looking for the new Moses. They were waiting for a military saviour who could do to the Romans both what Moses did to the Egyptians and what Joshua had done to the Canaanites. In other words, they were waiting for the man who would reclaim the promised land for the Jewish people. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18. 2009 |::|]

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “It is clear that Joshua did not write the book bearing his name, for some passages reflect a post-conquest point of view (cf. "to this day" in Josh. 4:9; 5:9; 7:26; 9:27; 15:63) and Joshua's death and burial are reported in Josh. 24:29 f. A number of inconsistencies and repetitions (cf. Josh. 3:17 and 4:10 f.; 4:8, 20 and 4:9; 6:5 and 6:10; 8:3 f. and 8:12; 10: 26 and 10:37; 10:36 and 15:14) have led some scholars to extend Pentateuchal sources into Joshua, but so thoroughly has the Deuteronomist integrated and overwritten the work that the analyses are not very satisfactory. As a result, serious difficulties are encountered in any attempt to reconstruct the invasion history. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

Walls of Jericho

20120502-735px-Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_069 Jericho.png

Jericho, in the West Bank of Palestine, is considered one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities. It is the spot where the Bible says Israelites ended their desert-wandering and where the Israelites led by Joshua scored their first big victory in the Promised Land. According to the Bible, the walls of Jericho "fell flat down" during the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites after Joshua ordered his the children to unleash " a great shout" and his priests to blow their trumpets as they circled the city seven times. There is little historical evidence to back up any of it. Jericho wasn’t even inhabited at the time it was said to have been attacked.

Archaeologists contend a more likely explanation for the tumbling walls was an earthquake. Jericho sits right on the active Jordan fault between the Syrian plate and Arabian plate. Jericho has been leveled many times by earthquakes, most recently in 1927.

Excavations by archaeologists at Jericho of layers dated to around the time Biblical event reveal walls that all fell in one direction (consistent with an earthquake, those leveled by armies are scattered) and food was found underneath them (showing the walls fell suddenly without warning before it could be hauled away). The Bible also says the Jordan River stopped flowing. During Dead Sea zone earthquakes it is not unusual for the banks of the Jordan River to collapse briefly damming it. [National Geographic Geographica, January 1992].

There is clear archaeological evidence that Jericho was destroyed but the timing of the evidence is off. From what can be gleaned by the Bible, Joshua's conquest of Jericho took place in the 13th century B.C. but according to the archaeological record Jericho was abandoned between the 15th century and 11th century B.C.

Historical Jericho

Jericho — the Biblical city of Joshua, trumpets and falling walls — is regarded by some as the oldest city in the world. Established around 7,500 B.C. in an arid valley 600 feet below sea level in Palestine near the Dead Sea., ancient Jericho was home to 2000 to 3000 people that survived on plants that thrived in a fertile area around an oasis. Strains of wheat and barley and obsidian tools have been discovered that came from elsewhere. Ancient Jericho had an elaborate system of walls, towers and moats. The circular wall that surrounded the settlement had a circumference of about 200 meters and was four meters high. The wall in turn was surrounded by a 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep moat. The technology used to build them was virtually the same as those used in medieval castles. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

20120502-Walls_of_Jericho_Fall_Down.jpg Located near a permanent spring a few miles west of the Jordan River and excavated by Kathleen Kenyon, Jericho is certainly one of the world’s oldest fortified settlement but whether it qualifies as a city is a matter of some debate. There are indications of settlement after 9000 B.C.. This settlement grew to city-like status by 7000 B.C. The archaeological site is situated in the plain of the Jordan Valley two kilometers northwest of modern Jericho city. It is a large artificial mound, rising 21 meters high and covering an area of about one acre.

In 7000 B.C., Jericho encompassed of about eight to ten acres and was home to estimated two to three thousand people. It was inhabited by people who depended on collecting wild seeds for food. It is appears that they did not plant seeds, but harvested wild grains using scythes with flint edges and straight bone handles and used stone mortars with handles for grinding them. Some people lived in caves, while others occupied primitive villages with round huts made from sun-dried bricks. They buried their dead with jewelry in graves made out of rock.

The early inhabitants of Jericho dug out canals to bring water from nearby sources to where they lived and perhaps to irrigate land with wild plants they harvested for food. They constructed huge two-meter-thick walls around their villages. Inside the main fortified settlement was a circular stone tower, nine meters in diameter, and ten meters high, built for protection and requiring thousands of man hours to build. The people of ancient Jericho practiced the domestication of animals, and weaving mats, as well as animal hunting, and perhaps, agriculture. They used spears and flint-capped arrows. They also used hatchets to cut tree branches. Some inhabitants expanded from their settlements in search of new homes outside their boundaries.

The Archeological Museum of Jordan has a stunning collection of 9,000-year-old sculptured heads from Jericho. Consisting of on an actual skull with plaster skin and sea shell eyes, each head is different. Some archeologists claim they were sealed "spirit" traps," designed to keep the soul from wandering around. Jericho.

Story of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho

According to the BBC: “The story of the walls of Jericho is one of the most violent episodes in the Bible. An army of nomads emerges from the desert and destroys a heavily fortified city... not by force, but by faith. The story is set in the Middle East, some 3000 years ago. Even then, the area was plagued by war. The story begins with Joshua and his army preparing an attack in the mountains to the north-east of the Dead Sea. From the mountains, Joshua looks west across the river Jordan toward his destination. According to the Bible, this was the territory God once pledged to Abraham and his descendants. At Joshua's command are some 40,000 Israelite men, descendants of the Hebrew slaves who fled Egypt. There is one problem: the country is already inhabited by Canaanites. [Source: BBC, July 6, 2009 |::|]

Jericho today
“Like any good military commander, Joshua's first requirement is to gather military intelligence. He sends out two spies across the Jordan River ahead of time. They go immediately to an inn that's run by a prostitute. In the ancient world, brothels and taverns were obvious places to gather information. The spies meet a prostitute called Rahab. But things soon go wrong. No sooner have they come to her house than the King of Jericho sends his men, because he knows that the spies have arrived. Rahab takes charge of the whole situation. She hides the spies in the stocks of grain on her roof. |::|

“When the King's guards come, Rahab says to them: "Some men came, you're right, but they left a long time ago when the city gate closed. If you rush ahead and go down to the Jordan, I think you'll find them there." Having thus diverted the pursuers, she goes up to the roof and tells the spies that she knows that Israel will conquer the land. She knows that God has promised the land to them. |::|

“The Bible tells how the army walked around the walled city of Jericho once a day for six days. Each time they walked priests blew trumpets. On the seventh day they circled seven times and the walls of the city came crashing down. Joshua and his army conquered the city, massacring every person they found. Only Rahab and her family were saved. The once mighty city of Jericho had been set alight. Joshua and his people then continued to destroy other towns and cities and Joshua succeeded in conquering Canaan.” |::|

Evidence of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: According to the Bible, and a religious song you may know, Joshua fought a battle at Jericho. The one-time spook and former assistant to Moses led the Israelites around the city walls on successive days until, after seven circuits on the seventh day, the walls fell down. Then the Israelites, following divine commands, slaughtered every living thing in the city — adults, children, and their pets. It’s not a happy story so you should breathe a sigh of relief that these events never took place. When archaeologists excavated the site at Tell es-Sultan, where the battle was supposed to have taken place, they discovered that it had been abandoned long before Joshua’s arrival. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, October 30, 2022]

According to the BBC: “Many archaeologists have struggled to find evidence of a historical battle at Jericho at the time the story takes place in the Bible. Through their quests they have uncovered many intriguing facts about the Canaanites and Israelites which challenge many assumptions. Archaeologists have discovered that a series of earthquakes swept through the Eastern Mediterranean, including where Jericho stood, in around 1250 BC, and certainly brought walls crumbling down. However, the dates don't match with the time Joshua was supposedly conquering the land. Maybe the memory of the destruction of the towns inspired scribes to write about a great warrior who conquered cities with God's will. Or perhaps the catastrophic collapse of the old world through the earthquakes gave way to opportunism and Israelite groups took advantage of the destruction of the existing Canaanite cities and began to settle in Israel. [Source: BBC, July 6, 2009 |::|]

“There is a twist to the story. Recent DNA research shows that the Canaanites and Israelites were not just similar in their cultures, they were genetically identical. Perhaps the Israelites did not conquer the land at all - they were there all along. Is then, the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho complete fiction? Well, perhaps not. Joshua's military tactics are plausible and it is possible that some Israelites did travel across from Egypt. Authors could have embellished stories of their ancestors. The story is most probably a culmination of separate oral traditions. Maybe there as a historical figure called Joshua who travelled with his people to a new land.” |::|

Hazor and Joshua’s Victory There

Hazor was the site of one Joshua's most important victories in the conquest of the Promised Land. Joshua 11:10-11 reads: "And Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor and smote its king with his the sword for Hazor formally was the head of all those kingdoms. And he put to the sword all who were in it, utterly destroying them: there was none left that breathed, and he burned Hazor with fire."

Hazor is one of the most important Old Testament sites in Israel. Covering 200 acres and commanding a view of the Jordan River and the Huleh Valley, it was the most important of the Canaanite city-states and the only Canaanite city mentioned in the royal archives from Mabolonian Mari in Mesopotamia. It was also mentioned in the battles of the Israelites led by Deborah and Barak, and mentioned as a city rebuilt by Solomon. It ruins lay near Mount Herman and the Golan Heights in present-day northern Israel.

In Hazor, archaeologists unearthed cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, ivory objects, bronze swords, armor and figures, a basalt statue of a Canaanite god. Hazor was destroyed by a fire sometime in the late 14th or early 13th century B.C. This is sometimes offered as evidence that the battle fought here by Joshua really took place..

Invasion of Canaan

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The only written reports of the Hebrew invasion of Palestine are found in Joshua and in the first chapter of Judges, both of which are part of the Deuteronomic history, and in Num. 13; 21:1-3, a combination of materials from J, E and P sources. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“The general picture presented in the book of Joshua is that of a swift, complete conquest by invaders who were enabled, through Yahweh's miraculous intervention, to overcome the most powerful Canaanite fortress without difficulty, and who engaged in a program of massive annihilation of the Canaanite populace. Despite this picture numerous passages reveal that the conquest was not complete (cf. 13:2-6, 13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12), and the impact of Canaanite life and thought through the period of the monarchy reveals the continuation of strong Canaanite elements within the culture.

“The Deuteronomic interpretation of the invasion in terms of a holy war adds further problems to our efforts to understand what actually happened. Holy war was waged under the aegis of the deity. Battles were won not by might of human arms, but by divine action. The hosts of heaven assisted human soldiers who represented the family of worshipers, and battles were waged according to divine directions. Ritual purification was essential. Conquered peoples and properties came under the ban or herem and were "devoted" to the deity.

Jericho Disappointing 10,000th Birthday

On October 10th 2010, Jericho celebrated it reputed “10,000th Birthday.” The celebration turned out to be a poorly planned dud. Edmund Sanders wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Imagine you turned 10,000 years old — and nobody showed up at your birthday party. That's a bit how they're feeling in the ancient West Bank city of Jericho, believed to be one of the world's oldest continually inhabited settlements.” In 2007, “Palestinians made big plans for Jericho's historic birthday. Nobody really knows the exact anniversary, but Palestinians thought 10-10-10 had a good ring to it. The idea was to host an international blowout to rival the 2000 millennium, including fireworks, laser shows, half a million guests and a who's who of international dignitaries. They dreamed of bringing singer Shakira to perform, and city officials figured they'd need to build at least a couple of new hotels and some restaurants to handle the crowds. [Source: Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, October 14, 2010 -]

modern Jericho

“But when Oct. 10 rolled around, the party — to say the least — fell flatter than the city's walls once did. A single balloon floated over the city square, a local band named Culture Shock performed on a portable stage, and some new artwork and an ancient mosaic were unveiled. No foreign diplomats attended the opening ceremony, Shakira was not there to sing or shake, and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a no-show. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, greeted by a few dozen Jericho children, unveiled a Jericho-themed postage stamp. -

“Like much in the West Bank, Jericho's birthday fete appears to have fallen victim to inadequate finances, poor organization and political infighting. City officials said they received no funds to prepare. A planning committee fell into disarray as members and chairpersons kept changing. And a publicity firm was not hired until 10 days before the event. "Unfortunately, we've been late in everything," Jericho city spokeswoman Weaam Iriqat said, sighing. -

“Jericho has a history of high hopes and lost opportunities. With skeletal remains dating to the Stone Age and a prominent place in the Bible, the renowned city has long been seen as the West Bank's most promising tourist destination. This is the spot where the Bible says Israelites ended their desert-wandering and brought down Jericho's walls with a trumpet. There's a sycamore tree said to be the one Jesus once passed and a monastery built into a hillside where Jesus is said to have resisted Satan's temptations. -

“After the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Jericho blossomed, drawing Palestinian investors and throngs of Israeli tourists enjoying a new casino and luxury hotel. But after the 2000 Palestinian uprising, the Israeli military banned its citizens from visiting Jericho. The casino was shuttered, and today tourists generally swing through town in a couple of hours, barely getting off the bus. The historic Old City, which wasn't included in Sunday's celebration, is little more than some dirt mounds, with no guides or signs to orient visitors. Indeed, there is nary a placard in sight to show where the walls once stood.” -


According to the BBC: “The story of Joseph is one of the best known tales in the Bible. The events of Joseph's life are also found in the Torah and the Qur'an. Today it is perhaps most associated with the West End and Sunday school. Written down by scribes about 1000 years after the events supposedly took place, it is often thought that the story may have some historical tradition, but with a healthy portion of dramatic license. Egyptologists, however, have uncovered some intriguing evidence. [Source: BBC, July 6, 2009 |::|]

“The story begins in Canaan - modern day Palestine, Syria and Israel - around 1600 to 1700 BC. Joseph was 11th of 12 sons of a wealthy nomad Jacob and his second wife Rachel. His story is told in the book of Genesis 37-50. Joseph was very much loved by Jacob because he had been born to him in his old age. He was given a special gift by his father - a richly ornamented coat. This favouritism wasn't well received by his brothers. |::|

Joseph's dream

“Anthropologists today have found that this sibling rivalry is a common by-product of polygamous marriages. Children were often born by different wives, and each wife wanted the best for their child. The Bible tells us that Joseph and Benjamin are the sons of Jacob's second wife, while all the other sons are from different wives. Being given a special coat would have only fuelled the brothers' jealousy. The choice of colours in the coat held great prestige. In the ancient world colour was a precious commodity and vivid colours such as red and purple were held in high esteem, as it was very costly to create the dyes. Joseph's coat of red and purple reinforced the message to his brothers that he was Jacob's favourite. |::|

“Joseph's brothers were also suspicious of the strange and vivid dreams he had and did not like the interpretations he told them. His brothers eventually took their revenge by selling Joseph as a slave to passing merchants. While Joseph was being taken to Egypt, his brothers faked his death by rubbing goat's blood into the multi-coloured coat. |::|

“In Egypt, Joseph became a house servant to a rich, high-ranking Egyptian, Potiphar. In the household he was noticed by Potiphar's wife who tried to seduce him, but he resisted her and was put in prison. Whilst in prison Joseph used his power to interpret the dreams of prison officials, and when the Pharaoh had two disturbing dreams Joseph was called to interpret them. |::|

“According to Joseph's interpretation, there were to be seven years of plenty in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph was able to advise the Pharaoh on how to prepare for the famine and as a result gained the favour of the Pharaoh who promoted him to Prime Minister. During the famine Joseph had to make key decisions. His acquisition of grain provisions enabled Egypt to withstand and survive the famine. |::|

Evidence of the Joseph Story

Joseph and the Pharaoh

According to the BBC: “The idea of a foreigner reaching the top of Egyptian society sounds unlikely and there is no archaeological or written record of a Prime Minister in Egypt called Joseph. However some new scientific evidence helps to support the case of a historical Joseph. Studies in 'ice cores' found in Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania - the mountain which supplies the Nile with its water - have revealed that a drought did take place around 3600 years ago - around the time the Bible sets Joseph's story. [Source: BBC, July 6, 2009 |::|]

“We also know of another event around the same time. One of the most fertile areas in Egypt was the land around Lake Quarun. This lake was fed with water from one of the branches of the Nile. Droughts in Egypt used to cause this branch to dry up, leaving the land around the Lake destitute. We do know that between 1850 and 1650 BC a canal was built to keep the branches of the Nile permanently open, enabling water to fill Lake Quaran and keep the land fertile. This canal was so effective that it still successfully functions today. There is no record of who built the canal, but for thousands of years it has only been known by one name. In Arabic it's the Bahr Yusef. This translates into English as The Waterway of Joseph. Could this canal have been built by a certain Prime Minister called Joseph as part of his work to save Egypt from famine? Was this Prime Minister the son of a Canaanite called Jacob? |::|

“The Bible tells us that the Pharaoh allowed Joseph to bring Jacob and his family to Egypt, where he took care of them. Generations later, Moses was to lead the descendents of Jacob out of slavery and Egypt to their promised land. Among the items that Moses brought from Egypt were the bones of his predecessor, Joseph. Whatever the truth behind the life of Joseph, his story accounts for a pivotal period in the history of the Israelites.” |::|

Hebrews Unite

Deborah Praises Jael
Before the Jewish kingdom was formed. The Jews were led by officers known as judges. Among these were the warrior Gideon, the great judge Deborah, and Samson, known for his long hair and feats of strength

Threatened by the Philistines and resolved to renew their relationship with God, the Israeli tribes were unified under Saul of the tribe of Benjamin around 1023 B.C. Saul helped build a powerful nation and won many victories. His reign ended when he and his son Jonathon were killed in a battle with the Philistines.

At first the Hebrew monarchy was very powerful. The height of ancient Israel was between 1000 and 930 B.C. when David and Solomon forged the Hebrew tribes into a small but strong state. Then the Hebrew monarchy was split into two weaker kingdoms — Israel and Judea — which were conquered and ruled by Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. The Jewish kingdom returned again between 162 and 48 B.C., until they were surmounted again, this time by Romans.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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