Sefer Yehoshua – Evolving Plans

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Introduction

Often, readers of Tanakh come to the text with knowledge of the end of the story.  This frequently means that we forget that the written outcome was not necessarily the only possible one, and that the Biblical characters were not privy to it.  Below are several examples drawn from throughout Sefer Yehoshua where it is possible that there was a change in plan. In each case, such a hypothesis explains otherwise difficult aspects of the narrative.

Crossing of the Yarden

Chapters 3-4 describe the miraculous splitting of the Yarden.  It is possible, however, that the initial plan was to cross the Yarden naturally, at the river's fords, and that Yehoshua was only told of the miracle immediately beforehand.  This would explain several difficulties and inconsistencies in the text:

Conquest of Yericho

Yehoshua 6 depicts the conquest of Yericho and the supernatural tumbling of its walls.  It is likely that here, too, Yehoshua was initially unaware of Hashem's plans and assumed that the city was to be destroyed via natural means in a human battle.  After all, it is first in Chapter 6, right before the conquest, that Hashem mentions the miracle. 

Canaanite Plan of Attack

Sefer Yehoshua does not provide enough information to know with certainty how the Canaanites had planned to defend themselves against the Israelite attack.  It is likely, however, that here, too, plans evolved and the tactics taken were not necessarily those originally prepared:

Dividing of the Land

Sefer Yehoshua appears to describe two separate stages in the division of the land.  In Chapter 14, a lottery is drawn by Yehoshua and Elazar in Gilgal to apportion the land among the 9 1/ 2 tribes.5 Chapters 15-17 then describe the borders of the lands to be inherited by the tribes of Yehuda and Yosef. Surprisingly, though, Chapter 18 does not continue to list the lands of the other tribes but instead describes how scouts are sent to split the remaining land among the seven tribes who had not yet inherited.  Afterwards, they return to Shiloh where the inheritances are affirmed by Divine lottery. What was the need for two different phases in the distribution of the land? 

It is possible that this, too, is the result of a change in plans.  E. Assis6 suggests that in reality all 9 tribes received their allotted portions with the first lottery, but only Yehuda and Yosef managed to conquer their individual territories.7  As such, there was a need to redivide the already conquered land among the remaining tribes.  This hypothesis can account for many of the differences between the two divisions:

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