Review in: JETS 42/2Review door: J. Robert Vannoy
Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary. By Richard S. Hess. TOTC. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996, 320 pp., $11.99 paper.
In this most recent addition to the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series, Richard Hess gives us what is certainly the best, currently available, and up-to-date commentary on Joshua written from an evangelical perspective. Hess is thoroughly familiar with the whole range of contemporary Joshua studies including its literary, historical, archaeological and theological dimensions. He provides competent overviews and assessments of current discussions on all these matters along with his own conclusions. He provides abundant evidence that many features of the book (he discusses nine of these on pp. 26–31) can best be explained by tracing their origin to the 2d millennium BC, although he comments that this “commentary will not attempt to ‘prove’ the historicity of any part of Joshua . . . it will accept the work as preserving authentic and ancient sources that attest to events in the late second millennium BC” (p. 31).
In a very useful discussion of the theology of the book (pp. 42–53), Hess calls attention to four theological themes: “Holy war and the ban;” “the inheritance of the land”; “God’s covenant with Israel”; and “the holy and redeeming God.” Hess regards the holy war concept as something not unique to Israel, but rather as an ancient Near Eastern political ideology that Israel shared with other nations of that time (e.g. Mari, Moab, Egypt). What he does see as unique to Israel is that “God did not approve of all wars” (cf. e.g. Ali [p. 43]). In developing his discussion of the holy war theme, Hess traces the theme on into the NT and sees Christ as “the victim of the holy war that God wages against sin (2 Cor 5:21). The earthly army that Christ leads introduces the other focus of holy war: the engagement of Christians in a lifelong spiritual struggle against the powers of sin and evil (2 Cor 10:3–5; Eph 6:10–18) This war also requires the total extermination of the enemy. It allows for no involvement with sin, but demands a complete separation from it” (p. 46).
Hess places the boundary lists of chaps. 13–21 in a covenantal context. He notes that this important section of the book is not only placed between the covenant ceremonies of Joshua 8 and 24, but it also corresponds in placement with the legal stipulations of other Biblical covenants and serves the function of defining the fulfillment of promises made to the nation’s ancestors (see pp. 40, 47, 59). The land is clearly presented as a divine gift with ownership remaining with God. The use and enjoyment of the land and the life it sustained were gifts from God for which he is to be worshipped and praised. Here too Hess traces this theme into the NT and suggests that the tension in the book of Joshua between the land as something already given in its entirety and yet as also something which Israel must still occupy is the way in which God still works with his people. He comments: “For Christians, the promise of victory over sin and death has been accomplished through Christ. However, this must be claimed through a life of faith in Christ’s work and of faithfulness to him (Rom 3–8). The theme of the inheritance of the land thus provides a model for the Christian life” (p. 47).
Interspersed throughout the commentary proper are seven “Additional Notes” addressing specific issues arising in the book of Joshua that have provoked extended discussion, but little agreement on conclusions. These provide good brief surveys of each of the issues along with nuanced assessments of the available evidence. The topics addressed are: (1) etiologies, (2) the archaeology of Jericho, (3) the date of the entrance into Canaan, (4) the archaeology of Ai, (5) Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal, (6) the location of Heshbon, and (7) a partial or complete conquest. At the end of the book there are 9 maps, for the most part dealing with various tribal allotments. In the commentary proper Hess gives particular notice to literary techniques and close readings of the Hebrew text. All in all, this commentary is a very welcome and useful addition to the TOTC series.
J. Robert Vannoy
Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA