In the initial post on this subject, I described archaeology as first the defender and then the attacker on the Book of Joshua. It must be admitted that the contemporary challenges to the historicity of the Bible via the Book of Joshua are formidable. In some ways, they are more formidable than the older challenges to the historicity of the patriarchs in Genesis. While Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as real people have been dismissed by skeptics for a long time (not to mention virtually all the other characters in the Book of Genesis that are earlier than the patriarchs), the fact that the patriarchs lay so far back in antiquity was, in a sense, a safeguard. No one expected to find any material evidence of individuals as far back as nearly four millennia ago, so they were largely exempted from speculation based on such things. To be sure, the new literary theories about the Pentateuch tended to dismiss the patriarchs as fictional, but literary theories are easier to ignore than artifacts, and for the most part, conservative Christians, apart from a few notable exceptions, have done just that with the literary theories—largely ignored them. However, there is a concreteness about the archaeological investigations of Canaanite city-states mentioned in Joshua that raises the bar. Conservative Christians very well may choose to ignore this area too, but it certainly will be more difficult.
There is, however, a way forward short of blissful ignorance. Admittedly, Christians who follow this path will be a minority in the larger academic community, but they often have survived as the minority in any number of adverse circumstances throughout their history. If such Christians believe anything at all, they believe in the sovereignty of God in all things! They must mentally prepare themselves, of course, for regular put-downs from the intellectual elite, but this is not new either. What they must NOT do is abandon the field. To a large degree they did abandon the field in the old modernist-fundamentalist debate after the Scopes “monkey trial” in the early 20th century. Their refusal to engage in dialogue with the reigning opinions of an increasingly secular culture left them marginalized and with no platform from which to speak. Isolationism was anything but helpful. Ironically, they might do well to take a chapter from their ancient Christian brothers and sisters in the Medieval World, who vigorously interacted with the likes of Aristotle, Plato and others.
The way forward must include solid scholarship at high levels, for this is where the heart of the dialogue will continue. It must also include an irenic spirit, for very little will be accomplished by a shouting match—even a scholarly shouting match. Thankfully, some high level scholars committed to biblical fidelity are deeply engaged in this discussion (for instance, Alan Millard and Kenneth Kitchen, to cite just two), and though they may be swimming against the current, they still are swimming! Here, it would seem, is the forward path.
It should also be clearly understood that the issues concerning the Book of Joshua and the historicity of the Old Testament are part of a larger picture. That larger picture affects not only the history of the Bible, it affects the history of nearly everything! History in general is being rewritten by deconstructionist literary theorists and political activists with their own special axes to grind: New Left ideologies, radical feminists, Two-Thirds World liberation theologians, social reconstructionists, multiculturalists, New Age pop-psychologists and a host of other special interest groups are offering their versions of the past. Postmodernism, with its negative evaluation of any claims toward historical objectivity, is the handmaiden of this trend. Hence, while the historicity of the Bible is deeply important to many Christians, they should at least realize that the de-historicizing of the past is a broad cultural movement affecting everything from recent history to ancient history. It remains to be seen whether this will be a passing fancy or an enduring challenge with which to grapple.
Kenneth Kitchen (University of Liverpool) trenchantly observes that in the biblical story the campaigns of Joshua were primarily disabling forays, not territorial conquests with Hebrew occupation as is popularly conceived. To be sure,
and Ai were burned (6:24; 8:28), as was Hazor (11:13), but there is no biblical
indication that this fate happened to any other Canaanite cities, though many
Canaanite kings were killed in conflicts. Furthermore, after these conflicts
the Israelites did NOT occupy the various cities but returned to the base camp
at Gilgal (Jos. 10:15, 43; 14:6). To be sure, there was some localized
occupation in central Canaan (Jos. 14:6-15; 15:13-19; 17:14-18; 18:1-2). Still,
the first clear indication in the biblical text of a movement toward full
occupation is not until Joshua 18:4ff. Hence, the fairly common interpretation of a
sweeping conquest with nearly immediate occupation of the whole land is not
what the Book of Joshua actually describes. Therefore, to expect archaeology to
demonstrate such an action is misplaced. Christians, therefore, must be careful
about their handling of such texts. In too many case, they have set themselves
up for failure because their own hermeneutic has been deficient. Good historical
method and sound principles of interpretation work hand-in-hand, and if
Christian thinkers will be judicious in the use of both, they will find the way
forward not nearly as gloomy as is sometimes assumed. In the end, it is always
well to remember that while error is usually in a hurry, truth has time on its
side. Archaeology is an ongoing discipline. Not too long ago, some scholars, particularly the Scandinavians, were dismissing David and his dynasty as a convenient fiction, no more historical than, say, King Arthur and the round table. Then Avraham Biran discovered the now-famous inscription at Tel Dan that directly mentions the "house of David". Christians can afford to wait while leaving some questions unanswered. But at all costs, they must not abandon the field! Jericho