Darrell's Reviews > The Father of Joshua/Jesus

The Father of Joshua/Jesus by Saul Levin
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Jun 26, 11

bookshelves: reviewed, bible-study
Read from June 16 to 26, 2011

"The whole subject, as I approach it, belongs to philology rather than history or theology. In dealing with accounts of divine procreation, it would be chimerical to play the historian, as though I knew what actually happened to certain persons at such-and-such a time in such-and-such a place. [...] The primary evidence consists of texts, mostly but not altogether literary; and I look upon them less as sources of information about the material life of the past than as artifacts of importance and interest in their own right."

The Biblical hero Joshua, who became the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses, is said to be the son of Nun. However, Joshua's patronymic is kind of strange. Hebrew usually uses "ben" to indicate "the son of" (for example Joseph ben Mattathias). However, in Joshua's name, "bin" is used instead. Also, his father's name, Nun, is simply one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It's equivalent to saying he is the son of N.

Also, while the Hebrew versions of the Bible, the Massoretic and Samaritan texts, present Joshua as the son of Nun, the Septuagint, which is written in Greek, presents him as the son of Naue. Scholars usually just chalk this up to a corruption of the text, but in his book The Father of Joshua/Jesus, Saul Levin uses philology to argue against this. He demonstrates that Naue cannot be the Aramaic form of Nun, it can only be an Aramaism of the divine name. Joshua wasn't originally the son of Nun, but rather the son of the Lord.

So if Joshua is the son of the Lord, what does this mean? Was he literally God's son, or was "son of the Lord" simply an honorific title applied to a great man? Odysseus, for example, was called the son of Zeus in an honorific, not a literal, sense (Iliad 2.173). Calling someone the son of a god doesn't fit Jewish culture very well, so its origins are most likely Pagan, although there are vestiges of proof that Samson was originally the son of a sun god.

Sterile couples miraculously having children with the help of God or an angel is a common theme in the Bible. Samson's mother seems to have gotten pregnant by having sex with an angel since the Hebrew phrase for "a man comes to a woman" is most often used euphemistically for sexual intercourse.

A man of God has come to me [had sex with me], and his looks were like the looks of God's messenger [an angel], very awesome; I did not ask him where he was from, and he did not tell me his name. (Judges 13:6)

The prophet Samuel also had a miraculous birth. Reading between the lines, Levin suggests that it may have been the priests at the temple who got Samuel's mother pregnant.

Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (1 Samuel 2:22)

When a childless woman goes to the temple to pray for offspring and comes back pregnant, is this what's happening? In the ancient world, if you got impregnated by a temple worker, or "hallowed one", the pregnancy was considered a gift from God and the child produced would be called a son of god. Temple prostitution was a common fertility rite in the ancient world, but was it practiced in Israel?

There shall be no hallowed woman from the daughters of Israel; and there shall be no hallowed man from the sons of Israel. You shall not bring a prostitute's hire or the price of a dog (male prostitute?) to the house of the Lord your God for any vow; for both of them are an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 23:17-18)

Notice how the above passage doesn't condemn temple prostitution outright, it only forbids Israelites from being temple prostitutes. As long as the "hallowed ones" are strangers, the practice seems to have been acceptable.

The three kings of Judah (Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah) all dedicated themselves to eradicating the hallowed ones from the temple.

And he demolished the houses of the hallowed ones [temple prostitutes] that were in the house of the Lord where the women wove coverings [literally "houses"] for the May-pole. (2 Kings 23:7)

So it appears that temple prostitution did occur in Israel, although it became unpopular in later times.

In search of more information about Joshua, Levin explores the Talmud, the Zohar, and other rabbinical writings. He goes on to provide evidence that the text of the Bible has been altered. Often character names are changed if their original name was considered blasphemous in some way. Thus, Joshua son of the Lord would have been changed to Joshua son of Nun, a change that could be made easily with only minor changes to the Hebrew letters.

Although the names of Jesus and Joshua are different in English translations, they are both the same name in Greek and Hebrew. In fact, Jesus seems to have been named after Joshua. While the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have completely different nativity stories from one another, one thing they both agree on is that Jesus was named by an angel. In Luke, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says "You shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus" (Luke 1:31). In Matthew, the angel appears to Joseph, so the wording only differs by a pronoun: "She shall bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." (Matthew 1:21) Luke goes on to call Jesus "son of the Highest" (Luke 1:32), perhaps with Joshua son of the Lord in mind.

Since I don't know Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, I can't vouch for how persuasive Levin's arguments are, but I did quite enjoy reading this book.
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