My focus for this post is Joshua 8:30-35.

For centuries scholars have considered the placement of Joshua 8:30-35 to be a odd problem in that book. The reason is that it is completely out of place (or so it seems) with the campaigns of Joshua. In Joshua 5 the new generation of Israelites are circumcised, the Passover is celebrated, and the Jordan is crossed. The location is central Canaan for obvious reasons. God had instructed Joshua to divide and conquer. The military goal was to take the center of Canaan, cutting off north and south from each other and thus preventing a unified force from forming against the Israelite army. In Joshua 6 we read of the conquest of Jericho. Joshua 7 takes us to nearby Ai and the incident with Achan. Ai is conquered after Achan is judged in Joshua 8:1-34, bringing us to the problem section. All of a sudden, after taking two of the cities in the center of Canaan, Joshua 8:30-35 tells us that Joshua (with all the people of the nation, no less) builds an altar at Ebal and renews the covenant.  Mount Ebal was the place where Moses had commanded the Israelites that they should build an altar when they entered the land.

Unless you know the geography, you don’t see the problem. The location of Mount Ebal is 70 miles from Ai/Jericho!  Why on earth would Joshua march the nation 70 miles? Not only would this disrupt the entire military strategy, but it makes no sense to go to Ebal AFTER beginning the conquest, when Moses had instructed the covenant renewal when they entered the land.  Now, IF this covenant ceremony had taken place in chapter 5, when the males were circumcised (which was part of the covenant!), THAT would make good sense.  But it isn’t in chapter 5, it’s in 8:30-35 . . . well, at least in one version of the book of Joshua.

There are two other text versions of the book of Joshua witnessed by manuscripts at Qumran. The ceremony at Ebal is in a different place in all three versions of Joshua! In the Masoretic text (MT), which our Bibles follow, it’s at 8:30-35, which has befuddled scholars for a very long time since it makes absolutely no sense in terms of the geography and military strategy. In the Dead Sea Scroll material of Joshua, it is located just before the observances of circumcision and Passover, between 5:1 and 5:2, which makes perfect sense. In the LXX, it is found just after the notice of a Canaanite coalition that came against the Israelites, after 9:2. To be a bit more precise, I’ll cite Dave Howard’s summary:

At this juncture in the text, one of the most important divergences from the Masoretic manuscript traditions upon which our Bible translations are based is found in the Qumran scrolls. In one short fragment, portions of Josh 8:34-35 and an editorial transition not found in any other extant Bible manuscript immediately precede Josh 5:2. The portion is very fragmentary, but it is almost certain that all of 8:30-35 preceded 5:2. This shows a radically different order and arrangement from the majority Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible upon which almost all Bible translations are based today. . . . Thus, the evidence from Qumran that Joshua and the Israelites fulfilled these instructions immediately after the crossing is very important. This evidence is buttressed by Josephus’s account (the first-century Jewish historian), who mentions the building of an altar immediately after the crossing. If the original manuscripts of Joshua did have this covenant renewal ceremony between 5:1 and 5:2, then this shows the Israelites attempting to obey Moses’ commands as closely as possible. This fits in very well with the following two episodes in chap. 5: the ceremonies of circumcision and Passover. Both of these (or all three) show the continuing attention in the book’s early chapters to the command-fulfillment pattern we have observed and to the Israelites’ ritual proper preparation before they began their military encounters (NAC, Joshua, p. 145).

My purpose here is not to solve the problem. Rather, it is to point out that three separate editions of the book of Joshua were extant in the Qumran evidence. At least one scribe at Qumran felt that there was a problem in what would become known as MT – the problem of having the ceremony at 8:30-35, which makes little sense. The scribe therefore moved that material and added a few words to make the rearrangement coherent. Someone corrected someone else. In this case, the Qumran editor corrected a text tradition that we inherited.

Now, to be fair, there are scholars who argue that MT should be retained, even though it violates the geography, the divine military strategy, and (apparently) the divine command through Moses. For instance, Butler argues in the Word Biblical Commentary that the placement of the Ebal ceremony at 8:30-35 is done for theological reasons (recall the Chronicler does this sort of thing for theological purposes). Since the covenant had been violated at Ai, after Achan was judged, Joshua needed to go to Ebal and make things right. The editor of what would become MT then either deliberately fashioned his text tradition this way, or he corrected an existing text tradition that would have matched the Qumran edition.

The question is, of course, who corrected who? We can’t be selective with appeals to providence, either. Providence can work both ways. One could say, “well, MT is the right one since God preserved that in the rabbinic community” (of course we’d conveniently be forgetting that the same community preserved a text that had deliberate changes in it for arguing against points of Christian theology). Conversely, one could say (as conservative evangelicals argue every day for text critical issues) that God providentially brought the right text to light (which would be the Dead Sea version in this example) – but realize that the correction of MT would have already taken place in ancient times, likely the period after the exile when basically everyone agrees the final form of the canon was completed. Nevertheless, the separate traditions (versions) of Joshua survived in manuscript copies and libraries beyond that date.

So how does this relate to the inspiration model I’m sketching? Well, in either case (I don’t really care how the chicken or egg problem resolves), I would say that God was in the process-the correction that was needed was made (whichever direction that went – we have both, so the need to know lessens for me). There was one “correct” version that God would have approved at the end of the inspiration process. He then left if to men to copy the results. Men muddied the waters by keeping both (all three) text traditions alive.  Maybe they couldn’t decide which one had emerged at the end of the inspiration process, and so they kept all three afloat rather than make the wrong choice and kill off the right tradition. We just don’t know what was in their heads on this. Maybe they didn’t care what arrangement order was right – perhaps we are unique in caring because of our modern, rational, empiricist outlook on such things in nailing down God as the source of each word while forbidding human authors as the source in any way. At any rate, since I have humans as the immediate authors and God as ultimate, providentially invested in the process, I don’t need greater certainty than what I’ve expressed. If I thought that humans were not to be seen as the originators of the Scripture in any way (if I denied anthropopneustos), then I’d feel like I needed an answer as to WHICH text originated with God and which didn’t. Since I’m not omniscient, I’d never be able to scratch that certainty itch, which would be annoying, and perhaps disturbing. But I just don’t think we need to look at things that way. My view of inspiration relieves me of the burden of pretending to have answers to such questions as knowing which one text was “the” text God (alone) originated, and – more importantly – of pretending that such questions matter. I can let God surprise me in heaven with which text was the one he wanted at the end of the inspiration process. I can say “who cares” when a critic says the biblical text existed in several versions and was edited after the exile (the oldest evidence we have). I’d EXPECT the text to get edited since that’s how books are made (and were made – see my denial of the holy stapler idea in the last post). God was in the process. We know there were rounds of editing because of the manuscript data, but we don’t know the order of the rounds. That would matter only if I denied editing happened and I needed to know the order. I don’t on both counts.

By the way – one addendum here.  If one acknowledges that any editing occurred, how does the view of inspiration that denies anthropopneustos deal with it? It is one thing to say that every word originated with God and not with man and then gloss over the problems that entails in the inspiration process. It is quite another to say, on one hand, that God himself selected every word and then, on the other hand, say that some of the words were changed. If God selected every word (if he was the immediate source), then why would any correction be needed? Mind you, we’re not talking about textual transmission and manuscripts. As the last post indicated, we’re talking about (1) added explanatory notes (did God need to go back and do a better job?); (2) marks of the merging of material (cf. Ezekiel 1 and changes of person; why did God choose to vary person? If he was breathing it out and humans weren’t selecting the material, why not just stick with first or third person?); and (3) re-purposing material. We haven’t even gotten to how NT authors occasionally change the wording of verses from the OT they quote (why would God do that if HE had given the original wording – wasn’t it sufficiently clear or suited to his purpose? Wouldn’t he have known it needed changing if he selected the words in light of his own omniscience?). Isn’t just adopting something like the model I’m trying to articulate easier? Why create these theological grenades by denying the obvious place of humans as the immediate source of the text?

In the next post, I’ll hit on the granddaddy of the “more than one version” problems and then hopefully move on to quotation examples.