Rewriting Joshua 22
Joshua 22 tells the story of the construction of an altar to the Lord beyond the river Jordan by two of the tribes of Israel. The people of Israel on the west side of the Jordan sought to punish those on the east side for a possible transgression of the Mosaic code. In Joshua 22, the potential misunderstanding is clarified when it is explained that the altar of the Lord was built “to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings; lest your children say to our children in time to come, ‘You have no portion in the LORD.’”[i]
Josephus rewrites Joshua 22. In the preamble, Josephus has Joshua remind the tribes departing for their territories beyond the Jordan that Abrahamic descent carries with it the responsibility to fulfill Mosaic religious duties,[ii] and that this responsibility is not negated by one’s place of residence.[iii] According to Josephus, observance of the Law will ensure God’s alliance, while turning away “to imitate other nations” will result in God turning away from them.[iv] When the people of Israel learn of the altar being built beyond the Jordan by their kinfolk, they quickly mobilized to punish them, “For they held they should take no account of their kinship . . . but of the will of God and the fashion in which He delights to be honored.”[v] For Josephus, ethnic descent from Abraham imposes the requirement of obedience to the Mosaic Law. At the end of story as told by Josephus, the trans-Jordanian tribes state they had been guilty of “new-fangled ways that are perversions of our customary practices” and that they deserved to be extirpated.[vi]
To whom is the rewriting of Joshua 22 directed? Apparently at the end of the first century when Josephus published Antiquities, there are Jews asserting that because they are living outside of the land of Israel they do not have to have to strictly obey the Mosaic Law in order to maintain their Jewish identity. Josephus believes that Abrahamic descent requires strict obedience of the Mosaic Law by all Jews regardless where they might reside.
On February 13, 2005 in my blog on circumcision I stated: Covenant identity, election and associated laws and ordinances do not apply outside Israel.[vii] I further stated:
The fact that the debates occurred inside and outside Israel is perhaps indicative that the boundary markers had not been firmly set. In rewriting Joshua 22, Josephus joined the debate.[viii] Was Josephus directing his comments to the Jews who associated with the followers of Jesus as depicted in Acts of the Apostles?
[i] Joshua 22:27.
[ii] Ant. 5.97.
[iii] See also Ant. 5.109.
[iv] Ant. 5.98.
[v] Ant. 5.102.
[vi] Ant. 5.113.
[vii] Christiansen, The covenant in Judaism and Paul: a study of ritual boundaries as identity markers, (Leiden; New York, 1995), 92.
[viii] Josephus and Paul agree in one respect as evidenced by Romans 3:1-2, which states: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God.”