When Was the Book of Joshua Written?

Gerald Vreeland
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Two dates for the book are ably defended by scholars. Some defend a date parallel with the 19th Dynasty of Egypt (1300s BC). The events, however, may be safely dated in the late 15th and early 14th century BC. In 1 Kg 6:1, readers are told, “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, . . . he began to build the house of the Lord.” This date for the beginning of the temple construction would be spring of 966 BC. Counting backward 480 years to the exodus from Egypt and then adding 40 years for the wilderness wandering, one arrives at the date of 1405/6 for entrance into the land. This also fits the 300 years later indicated by Jephthah (Jdg 11:26).

From the standpoint of secular history, the Merneptah Stela should be considered. Merneptah reigned 1236–1223 BC. Merneptah was the pharaoh after Raamses II, the pharaoh of the exodus by adherents of the later exodus theory (for these matters, see the introduction to the commentary on Exodus). The monument mentions Israel as already in the land (ANET 3, 376–78). Thus the exodus would be dated at about 1230 BC. The stela does not regard Israel as emerging; it views her as an indigenous enemy. At the time of the Merneptah Stela, Israel occupied a prominent place regionally and a distinct position culturally. Recent studies on the Berlin Pedestal, the base of a recently rediscovered monument with hieroglyphic writing on it naming Israel, indicate that Israel was an enemy of Egypt in the late 18th Dynasty, perhaps in the early 1300s BC. Again, it shows Israel as an indigenous enemy.

The events of the book cover 25 to 30 years. The three initial campaigns took about seven years (Jos 14:7, 10). If Joshua was 79 at the time of the invasion and 110 at death, the total period covered is about 31 years. This makes it likely that the events of the book of Joshua span about 1406 BC to approximately 1375 BC.

For Further Reading:

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