While reading the Old Testament, you probably noticed there are moments of violence in which the role of the antagonist is played by the Hebrew people. The Book of Joshua, following on the heels of the Moses and the time in the wilderness, presents a narrative of the way Israel took possession of the land of Canaan, making it the land of Israel – by conquest.
The Book of Joshua is not a newspaper report or a historical reporting – most scholars hold that it was not composed at the time of Israel’s entry in the Promised Land, but is a later composition that preserves older oral narratives of Israel’s settlement of the land – especially the division of the land among the 12 tribes of Israel. If the people entered the land of Canaan circa. 1200 BCE, the initial composition is thought to be sometime between the fall of the 10 northern tribes (722 BCE) and the fall of Jerusalem (587 BCE) – some 500+ years later. The Book of Joshua should be read not so much as imparting information about how Israel took over the land of Canaan as teaching a lesson about how Israel is to avoid losing the land. It should be remembered that by the time the book was written, the Canaanites were long gone.
A comparison of Joshua with the account of Israel’s early history found in the first chapter of the Book of Judges shows that Israel’s emergence as the dominant presence in the land was a slow and piecemeal affair, not achieved at one stroke and with great ease: the Book of Joshua, with its highly idealized depiction of the “conquest,” is a cautionary tale about what the people are to do and not do in order to avoid the fate of the Northern Kingdom in losing the land.
The folks at the Bible Project have produced a nice video overview of the Book of Joshua and offers insight as to the violence described in the book.
As always, I encourage you to support the not-for-profit work of The Bible Project.