Joshua and Deuteronomy (2)



This is the second post on “Joshua and Deuteronomy.” Previously, I dealt with the book of Deuteronomy to explain the subject’s background. Now let’s talk about the relationship between the two books.

Why bother?

You may wonder, “why the relationship between Joshua and Deuteronomy matters so much to you?” In fact, it seems natural to assume that the two books are connected because Joshua follows Deuteronomy. However, that “this book” follows “that book” in the Hebrew Bible does not mean that those books are related.

The book of Psalms follows Job, but Psalms’ contents do not flow into the book of Job. By the same token, the book of Isaiah follows Song of Songs, but the narratives of the two books are not related. Various writers and editors created the biblical texts, and later those texts were compiled (with editing in various degrees). That is, the Hebrew Bible is not a book authored by one author. So, the arrangement of the books is a matter of “interpretation,” and the current order of the Christian Old Testament (or Jewish Tanak) is the result of their own interpretations. Jewish Tanak, as the name implies, is arranged by their own understanding of the genres of the books, such as Torah (laws), Neviim (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). Categorization of the genre is also an interpretation. So, one should not expect “this book’s contents or narratives” follow “that book’s” just because the two books are in order. We should not assume that the document that follows Deuteronomy should also follow Deuteronomy’s narrative. Even Joshua and Deuteronomy belong to two different categories such as “Historical Books” and “Pentateuch” (or Prophets and Torah). Sometimes, two books in order in the same section, for example, Numbers and Deuteronomy in Torah, are not essentially related. So we must not automatically assume the relatedness of two books in order just because they appear in order. Nonetheless, the two books are connected closely, and it is worth our investigation to explain their commonalities.

Note: In the Jewish tradition, Neviim (Prophets) contain many historical books such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel (1, 2), Kings (1, 2), and they are also designated as Former Prophets. On the contrary, prophetic books in Christianity, such as Daniel and Lamentations, are categorized as Ketuvim (Writings).

The Connection between Joshua and Deuteronomy

By and large, there can be five features commonly attested in the two books.

(1) Holy War

Wars to conquer the land of Canaan in Joshua are holy and ritualized, and the concept of holy war reflects Deut 20. In Deuteronomy, priests are to declare or initiate wars, and God fights the war. The battle of Jericho is a representative case. It was not the Israelites but God who fought the battle, and priests’ ritualistic performances initiated it.

(2) Conquest and Distribution

Deuteronomy lists which parts of the land of Canaan are Israel’s. For example, mentioned in Deut 1:7 are hill country of the Amorites, the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, and the seacoast—the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. These are the names that Joshua mentions too. 

Moreover, in Deuteronomy, the “end” of conquest is conceptualized as “rest.” Let’s take a look at the following passages.

Deut 3:20 When the LORD gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the LORD your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.”

Deut 12:10 When you cross over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is allotting to you, and when he gives you rest from your enemies all around so that you live in safety,……


The book of Joshua reflects the concept of “rest” attested in Deuteronomy

Josh 23:1  A long time afterward, when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies all around, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years,


(3) Unity

“Unity” is one of the most important concepts in Deuteronomy. In the book, there is one God, one people of God, and one place to worship God. Joshua also represents the concept of unity, especially the unity of God’s people very seriously. For example, the tribes of the east side of Jordan already had their territories to settle before crossing the Jordan River. So they did not need to participate in the conquest wars. Nonetheless, they were obliged to join all the battles as a united people of God. After the conquest, we find a seed of disunity but the problem is solved peacefully. According to Josh 22, the eastern tribes built a big alter by the Jordan as they returned to their territories and made a sacrifice. When the western tribes heard of the news, they thought that the eastern tribes built “an alter other than the alter of YHWH our God” and criticized it. Then, the eastern tribes pleaded that the alter they built was only to make it witness that they were also YHWH’s people like the eastern tribes even though they were separated by the river. The western tribes understood their good intention, and the problem is solved. The story implies that the book of Joshua does emphasize the unity of God’s people living in harmony with each other. Moreover, we can also find that the story shows a negative perspective about multiple worship places.

(4) Joshua as a leader after Moses

Deuteronomy 31:7 tells us Joshua is the successor of Moses, and the book of Joshua follows the storyline.

(5) Israel’s fulfillment of YHWH’s commandments (or torah)

Deuteronomy emphasizes that Israel is the people of God’s covenant, and the Israelites are the people who have “this Torah,” specific laws that Moses recited and taught before the Israelites cross the Jordan in the land of Moab. Here we should note that ‘the Torah in Deuteronomy is what “YHWH commanded Moses,” and the book of Joshua emphasizes Israel’s fulfillment of the torah that “YHWH commanded Moses”.

Josh 11:15 As the LORD (YHWH) had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses.

Josh 11:23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD (YHWH) had spoken to Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Josh 22:2 and said to them, “You have observed all that Moses the servant of the LORD (YHWH) commanded you, and have obeyed me in all that I have commanded you;


As discussed, Joshua does not belong to the Torah or the Pentateuch; it is the first book in the historical books (or Prophets). Within the historical books, we can expect the storyline to flow into the following books, for instance, from 1 Sam to 2 Sam, and then to 1 Kgs. But when it comes to the relationship between Deuteronomy and Joshua, the connection between the books is significant as one book is from the Torah and the other is from Historical books or Neviim (Prophets). Why are these books related? It is a matter of interpretation. 

Closing words

What do the commonalities tell us? Starting from this question, we should raise further questions trying to find better answers to them to get closer to the truth and facts about the Bible. For example, as mentioned in the previous post, Martin Noth found the commonalities between Deuteronomy and some historical books and came up with a new idea, “Deuteronomy and Deuteronomistic History,” and suggested a new way to understand the compositional process of the Hebrew Bible. And he also inspired later scholars, and they keep suggesting newer and more sophisticated ideas about the truth and facts about the Bible.

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