Review of H. Rösel, Joshua

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Rösel, Harmut N., Joshua (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament; Leuven: Peeters, 2011). Pp. xxx + 386. Hardback. €45.00. ISBN 978-90-429-2592-2.

As required by the series Historical Commentaries of the Old Testament, each chapter of Harmut Rösel's Joshua provides a fresh translation, a short bibliography, and a section called “Essentials and Perspectives” that in a few lines provides a very informative overview of the main issues. The verse-by-verse exposition that follows makes abundant reference to German and Israeli exegetes, which makes this volume a valuable tool for readers who do not master these languages.

The volume opens with a 10-page general bibliography and a 20-page introduction that discusses the place of the Book of Joshua in the Bible, the emergence of the book, and its theological significance—in particular the ban and how Calvin dealt with it. Also addressed are the historicity of the Conquest (“Israel emerged within its country, not before its country”), etiological stories, the figure of Joshua, Joshua in Judaism, and the text-critical issues in Joshua. A map of the geography of Joshua 1–13 appears here as well.

Although the commentary focuses on the final text, Rösel does not shy away from diachronic issues. He refrains, however, from mentioning specific historical contexts and only assigns early, late, or very late dates to the different pericopes. On the one hand, this approach saves on endless speculations concerning when and why each section of Joshua arose. On the other hand, stating that a passage is late or very late begs the historical question without revealing the intricate scaffolding that supports it. This results from the paradox of this series of commentaries, which uses the term “historical” in its title while assigning priority to the final stage of the text. This issue is a faithful reflection of the present dilemma of the exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures, stuck between the excesses of redaction criticism and the impossibility of dealing with a book like Joshua without taking into account its development in stages. In this sense, Rösel has managed the impossible, and the volume is a case study for the current situation.

Taking a post-Noth stance, Rösel insists on the presence of very late post-Deuteronomistic stages often shaped under Priestly influence, and thus ignores the hypothesis according to which Josh 5:10–12; 18:1 constitute the conclusion of the Priestly Document (a hypothesis that does not imply the existence of a Hexateuch). In line with his earlier work demonstrating the lack of a comprehensive leitmotiv in the Deuteronomistic History,[1] Rösel drops the notion of “Deuteronomistic History” and reveals the weaknesses of Noth's celebrated hypothesis in regard to the Book of Joshua. This is probably one of the major contributions of the volume, an important read at a time when it is fashionable to save oneself the trouble of drawing the full consequences of the current state of research by adding the words “so-called” in front of the designation “Deuteronomistic History.”

Rösel's excellent command of the literature enables him to offer several options to various issues with clear explanations of which solution seems more probable. The volume closes with a six-page index of site identifications that lists the Arabic name of its likely location, the map coordinates, and the references in the Book of Joshua.

The realization of this long-time dream by a student of Martin Noth and Rudolph Smend is a remarkable accomplishment thanks to the breadth of knowledge written in such concise fashion. At 45 Euros, it is an excellent deal, and the crown of a fruitful career.

Philippe Guillaume, Grub, Switzerland

[1] “Does a Comprehensive ‘Leitmotiv’ exist in the Deuteronomistic History?” T. Römer (ed.), The Future of the Deuteronomistic History (BETL, 147; Leuven: Peeters 2000), 195–211. reference