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.
requiring loyalty from the grant recipient to the grantor, coupled with warnings of the loss of the grant for disloyalty; and (4) witnesses and oaths to enforce the agreement.
This correlation with an ancient Near Eastern text provides the clearest and most complete similarities with major features of the book of Joshua. Of course, a single text, such as AT 456, does not establish a genre. Indeed, the diversity of forms in land grants has been demonstrated. Land grants that bestowed towns and cities were unusual, especially in West Semitic archives. However, the proximity of forms between this text and Joshua remains too close to be coincidental. AT 456 provides the only West Semitic example of a royal grant that includes the outright gift of cities and towns while preserving a conditionality and other aspects of a distinctive style of land grant, one found elsewhere only in the book of Joshua.
This comparison provides a comprehensive and pre-deuteronomistic form in which to situate the book of Joshua. However, the rarity of this "form" and its sporadic appearance can demonstrate little about the overall date of the book or the incorporation of this form as a structuring device. The pattern of Joshua as a land grant document may have been received by the deuteronomist and incorporated into the larger history as it now appears. The structure of the book of Joshua provides a formal basis for the theological presentation of the book of Joshua as one in which the nation of Israel received its long promised land as a gift from God and as part of a covenant that preserved that people’s unique relationship with its God and affirmed the requirement of God’s sole lordship over his people.