And Joshua Said
There are many of us (Karaites) that refer to Joshua as a prophet and those that do are certainly entitled to hold that belief. I tend to view him somewhat differently but only because Joshua’s primary purpose was to relay the words and writings that had been given to him by Moses and deal in his present with the conquest of Canaan. Of his being a servant of the Lord, there is no doubt, and one of the greatest in that respect because God did speak directly to him, but prophecy was not one of the attributes that he is renowned for. Relaying visions about the future which to me is the definition of a prophet is not something that Joshua who was very much grounded in the issues of his own time did. But therein lies my own personal struggle with Joshua being called a prophet because although he never directly prophesized as I understand the term, he did do so indirectly and in this particular case that I’ll discuss he may have been the most farsighted prophet of all. So you decide. Prophet or not, certain statements he made over three thousand years ago impinge heavily on our existence today and the current situation in Judaism.
What is most important in my mind is Joshua’s confirmation of Karaism as the proper path of Judaism. Those that denigrate Karaism will be quickly pointing out in regards to the statement I just made that Karaism didn’t exist at the time of Joshua, therefore he couldn’t possibly be an advocate of it. Which exactly highlights my dilemma of his being a prophet or not. Since Karaism didn’t exist during his time, how did he know that it was going to be an issue far into the future? Hence, the indirect comments I referred to where it would appear as if he was giving a forewarning of a schism that could happen a long way in the future. And if that was the case, then those that refer to him as a prophet are most certainly correct.
The Book of Joshua
It begins with Joshua 1:8 in which the Lord tells Joshua ‘that the Book of The Law must never depart from his mouth’ and ‘he must do all according to that which is written therein.’ An interesting choice of words. The Lord could have easily said, you must never forget the law and you must follow them but he uses specific terms that refer to oral and written. In this case, he must always speak of the laws but only in direct reference to what was written. They must always be the same; no departures. It is the written word that he must always refer back to and adhere to strictly. Why so pedantic you might ask? Just like the game Chinese Whispers, if he was just to relate it orally without precisely stating the exact wording it would eventually be altered. Not maybe, not perhaps, but will as a certainty. Therefore only the written Law was to be spoken, nothing else. No summaries, no adaptations, and certainly no commentaries.
The completeness of the Law is confirmed in Joshua 8:34, where it says, “He read all the words of the law, the blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the law.” The word ‘all’ is emphasized twice in this single sentence. It does so to ensure that everyone understands that the law was complete. All meant ‘all that there is.’ It existed in its entirety at the time Moses wrote it and it needed nothing in the way of additions. But almost as if Joshua knew that sometime in the future there would be those amongst the Jews that would claim this was not all the law, his stance was reinforced in 8:35 where it reads, “There was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua did not read before the congregation of Israel.” Joshua wanted everyone to know that there was nothing else. No hidden rules, no oral laws, nothing that wasn’t already written in the Law as it was handed down by Moses. He was delivering the complete package.
Closing in on the time of his death, Joshua still feared that Israel would sometime in the future abandon the Laws or alter them. So at Shechem he gathered them together in one final act where he had them swear and sign an ordinance as testimony that they would not stray from the written law. This is recorded in Joshua 24:25-26 and then this document he had them swear to was incorporated into the Book of Law, the Torah itself. That’s what it says. We can only imagine what the wording of this ordinance would have been. Something to the effect as follows: “That you shall keep these laws as given to you by God through his servant Moses. You will not add to them nor shall you subtract from them. And those that fail to keep this ordinance will be cut off from the Children of Israel.” A commandment or oath of fidelity that all the princes of the tribes, and their captains, and their judges would have signed on behalf of the people and it would have born witness to them for all time. Yet, here we have an ironic situation where the Torah or Old Testament which has been successfully copied for three thousand years but this ordinance, which Joshua purposely makes note that he added to the Torah is gone. Vanished, obliterated, whatever way we want to explain it, but in actuality intentionally removed because you can’t have everything else copied for posterity and something as important as this ordinance disappearing all on its own. Especially since Joshua made certain the editors and copiers would have known it was supposed to be there
Prophet or Not?
If Joshua had prophetic abilities then he suspected this would happen and he wanted to focus our attention on this added ordinance because he feared the people may alter the laws in the future. When and why this ordinance disappeared, I have my suspicions but more importantly because it was gone, it gave later generations the green light to make subtle changes. Until there came a time when the Pharisees arose and proclaimed there was a second set of laws, in existence from the time of Moses, an oral code that was even larger and greater than the written laws and commandments presented by Moses. And the changes weren’t subtle any longer, they were major. The entire concept of a voluminous code of laws that co-existed is in defiance with everything that Joshua had presented to the people. Had these oral laws been in existence since the time of Moses, then Joshua would have mentioned that there was this secondary code in existence. But he didn’t, and he warned against it, and he even had the representatives of the people sign that they would not attempt to add or subtract from the laws in any manner. Now because of this failure to preserve the laws as originally presented, nor the retention of the ordinance fully showing that the people understood the immutable nature of the laws we have what Joshua may have foreseen; Karaite and Rabbanite Judaism or in other words the former which stand by the ordinance that their ancestors signed at Shechem to adhere to the Torah and the latter that believe there were other laws that overrode any such sworn statement. If he did, then I will have to admit that perhaps he was a prophet after all.