Richard S. Hess, «The Book of Joshua as a Land Grant», Vol. 83 (2002) 493-506
Despite a variety of attempted identifications of the book of Joshua, or portions of it, with other ancient Near Eastern legal documents, the form of the royal land grant remains the closest of those studied in terms of structure and content. In particular, the form of this type of document, as illustrated in the archive of the Middle Bronze Age site of Alalakh, provides an important and useful set of parallels with those found in the sixth book of the Bible. The essay considers the strengths and weaknesses of identifying the book of Joshua in this manner, as well as its implications for the interpretation of the book. In addition, the origin of these documents in the West Semitic world invites consideration of a specific genre or literary type that flourished in those cultures and perhaps provided a link for related documents in the Mesopotamian and Mediterranean worlds.
unlike the promises to Abram and David, the text of Joshua does not promise something. Rather, like the royal grants, it claims to record the actual deeding of land to the tribes of Israel, whose vassal status in relation to God is undeniable. Like many of the royal grants, it demands loyalty or faithfulness to the suzerain (chaps. 7-8, 23-24). Further, the book of Joshua exists as a discrete document; not one that is embedded in other contexts. Finally, the book of Joshua is marked by its conditionality in relation to the giving of the land. Israel will receive the land only so long as it faithfully adheres to its suzerain’s wishes.
Thus the land grant from Middle Bronze Age Alalakh Level VII, AT 456, provides a unique text that invites comparison in form and purpose with the sixth book of the Hebrew Bible. This is not an arbitrary comparison. Rather, AT 456 is the only royal land grant that: (1) includes the gifts of a major area on the size of a city state, with all its subsidiary lands and villages (rather than a royal grant of a parcel of land or a village such as one finds at Ugarit); (2) is nearly complete in its preserved tablet; and (3) originates in a West Semitic cultural context, i.e. Middle Bronze Age Alalakh. The tablet, found by Sir Leonard Woolley at Tell Atchana and presently housed in the Hatay Museum in Antakya, is a significant example of a land grant whose major structural elements parallel those of the book of Joshua9.