S. L. Hall, Conquering Character: The Characterization of Joshua in Joshua 1–11

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Hall, Sarah Lebhar, Conquering Character: The Characterization of Joshua in Joshua 1–11 (LHBOTS, 512; New York/London: T & T Clark, 2010). Pp. xii + 231. Hardcover. €65.00/US$120.00. ISBN 978-0-567-25703-1.

Readings of the Hebrew Bible sensitive to the poetics of biblical narrative have flourished over the past several decades in the field of biblical studies. Many of those readings have focused upon the stories of the patriarchs, the judges, or David, but few have examined the narrative portrayal of the character of Joshua. Sarah Lebhar Hall fills this gap very effectively with an engaging and insightful examination of the characterization of Joshua in her monograph, Conquering Character: The Characterization of Joshua in Joshua 1–11.

Hall's brief introduction indicates that her reading of Josh 1–11 focuses upon the MT, informed by conversation with other ancient versions. Hall notes features common to Hebrew narrative like contrast, narrative pacing, repetition, and analogy in the characterization of Joshua, drawing particularly on M. Sternberg's work on biblical poetics.[1] Hall proposes that Josh 1–11 does not portray Joshua “as a flat stereotype, but as a full-fledged character, one whose authority is established largely in relation to that of his predecessor, but whose leadership exhibits several distinctive features…” so that Joshua is not “merely a royal, prophetic, or priestly figure; rather, he exercises, and often exemplifies, the many different types of leadership that feature in the former prophets” (p. 9).

Each of Hall's following chapters examines a narrative subunit of Josh 1–11. The chapters largely follow the chapter divisions in the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of Josh 3–4, which together narrate the crossing of the Jordan and its memorialisation. The other exception is a chapter that focuses on the relationship of Josh 5:13–15 and Josh 6:1–5. Based on considerations such as the results of delimitation criticism, syntactical analysis, awareness of common locative setting, and narrative analogies between Joshua and Moses, and between Joshua and Assurbanipal's seventh campaign against Elam, Hall effectively argues that Joshua 5:13–15 should be seen in continuity with the divine speech of Josh 6:1–5. Curiously, while arguing for the inter-relationship of Josh 5:13–15 and Josh 6, Hall chooses to discuss the characterization of Joshua in Josh 5:13–15 separately from the characterization of Joshua in Josh 6. She notes how the narrative characterizes Joshua as obedient to Yahweh's commands in both Josh 5:13–15 (p. 90) and in Josh 6 (p. 93), and yet does not correlate the two characterizations, even though she has argued that they should be viewed as part of the same narrative unit.

Each of Hall's chapters analyzing Josh 1–11 begins by examining the structure, strategy, or role of that narrative unit within the whole before going on to discuss the various ways in which Joshua is characterized. Hall's observations about the characterization of Joshua make several important contributions to the study of the book of Joshua. For example, Hall notes the dynamic interplay between divine and human initiative in several places in the book (e.g. pp. 21–22, 166–8, 186–92), highlighting Joshua's bounded freedom in applying the commands of Yahweh and Moses. This dynamic is already evinced in Josh 1:6, which notes Joshua's role in leading the people into the land that Yahweh has given. Hall points out how this dynamic underscores that Joshua is not a carbon-copy of Moses and “no mere puppet in Yahweh's theocracy, but a decisive, creative leader” (p. 21). Hall also perceptively notes how Josh 1–11 frequently characterizes Joshua as a prophetic figure. The narrative uses multiple means to characterize Joshua in a prophetic manner, such as verbal analogies (pp. 26, 89), prophetic speech (pp. 127, 136–37), predictive prophecy (pp. 51, 109–110), and intercessory address (pp. 123–26). This aspect of Joshua's leadership is but one of the varied roles attributed to Joshua in Hall's analysis. Consequently, Hall rightly observes in her concluding chapter that the portrayal of Joshua's leadership does not simply conform to the oft-held emphasis upon the royal portrayal of a Josianic Joshua, but spotlights the multi-faceted nature of Joshua's leadership, encompassing kingly, priestly, and prophetic components (pp. 198–99).

Another effective element of Hall's work is her observations on the characterization of Joshua in light of the ancient Near Eastern context (e.g. pp. 83–84, 92–93, 100–103, 179). These observations place the portrayal of Joshua within a larger context of war-leadership and illustrate how Joshua both conforms to and deviates from typical ANE patterns, thereby spotlighting the Bible's unique characterization of Joshua.

One of Hall's key methodological techniques for analyzing Joshua's character is the use of analogy (p. 6). These analogies are identified by similar narrative structure, verbal correspondences, and the correlation of narrative elements, as in the similarities between Joshua's and Moses's encounters with Yahweh on holy ground and the removal of sandals (Exod 3:5; Josh 5:15). These analogies are convincing and effectively grounded in several analogical features, though the criteria for judging the strength of these analogies are never explicitly stated.

One methodological area that would be helpful for Hall to address in future writings is the role of various means of characterization in depicting character. R. Alter, followed by M. Sternberg, notes that characterization in biblical narrative is not monolithic, but occurs on a spectrum of explicitness and certainty.[2] The narrator's reliable comments and evaluations sit at one end of the spectrum while the portrayal of a character's appearance or the use of a narrative analogy sits at the other end, and direct speech lies somewhere along the middle of the spectrum. As a result, the portrayal of a character in a narrative is a combination of various techniques for rendering an individual which must be weighed together in order to arrive at a conclusion about a figure's character. While Hall seems to do this intuitively, drawing the various means of characterization together in her conclusion (pp. 195–6), it would be helpful to add a segment to her analysis reflecting the differences in weight and explicitness used in the various characterizations of Joshua.

Hall effectively shows how Joshua is portrayed as a multi-dimensional character whose leadership encompasses a variety of roles and traits. Her analysis is an excellent addition to the growing body of studies on the poetics of biblical literature, containing many insightful observations which impact discussions in areas that go well beyond the characterization of Joshua in Josh 1–11. This is a wide ranging study that is accessible, erudite, thorough, and creative. It is a work with which all those wanting to study the figure of Joshua will want, and need, to interact.

Gordon Oeste, Heritage Theological Seminary

[1]Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985). reference

[2] Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic, 1981), 116–17; Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, 476–81. reference