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While reading Joshua 3 with some of my Hebrew students, I drew a bit more complicated version of the picture below on the whiteboard:

Hermeneutics of Joshua 3

Hermeneutics of Joshua 3

This shows the complicated nature of this text in Joshua. An original event occurred long ago; the story of this event was probably handed down via oral tradition; the story was written down from at least two perspectives (in the case of Joshua 3, from the perspective of a writer focussing on the ark and priests, while another focussed on the crossing of the river); a redactor put these stories together to more or less form the story as we now have it in the Masoretic text tradition. Each of these “retellings” of what happened at the original event was penned in a specific time, with a message for that time. The story of the redactor was then handed over via the textual tradition – which adds a few twists and turns. Finally, we have the text as we know it today – mostly read in different translations.

When looking back into the past, then, from today’s perspective, one can hardly speak with absolute certainty about the original event – removed from our context by quite a few steps. In any case, which of these contexts are the legitimate one? Is it the redactor’s that should be taken as the context – the one with authorial intent? Is it the event itself? Why then is it told from a certain perspective? Doesn’t Author 1 and Author 2 also deserve some attention? Finally, what does this text mean for today?

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