Who Were the Loyal Scouts?
The story of the scouts is filled with doublets (two largely parallel versions of the same story). One such doublet is the scene of the loyal scouts. When the wicked scouts begin to complain about the power of the natives, Caleb jumps in to say that the Israelites can defeat the Canaanites (13:30). Next, when the people say that they wish to return to Egypt, Joshua and Caleb together jump in to counteract this rebellion and convince the people to trust in God (14:6-9).
Most academic scholars understand the scout story to be a combination of two originally separate scout accounts stemming from different sources (P and J). In one version (J), only Caleb is the hero; in the other Caleb and Joshua are both heroes (P).
The Evidence for an Independent Account
The evidence that the J account did not have Joshua as a loyal scout—in fact J seems not to have Joshua as a character in any capacity—is found in a number of biblical passages that are otherwise inexplicable.
Source 1 – God’s Speech in Numbers 14:24
In God’s first reaction to the people’s rebellion due to the spies, God says the following:
וְעַבְדִּ֣י כָלֵ֗ב עֵ֣קֶב הָֽיְתָ֞ה ר֤וּחַ אַחֶ֙רֶת֙ עִמּ֔וֹ וַיְמַלֵּ֖א אַחֲרָ֑י וַהֲבִֽיאֹתִ֗יו אֶל הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁר בָּ֣א שָׁ֔מָּה וְזַרְע֖וֹ יוֹרִשֶֽׁנָּה׃
But My servant Caleb, because he was imbued with a different spirit and remained loyal to Me—him will I bring into the land that he entered, and his offspring shall hold it as a possession.
Why only Caleb? What happened to Joshua mentioned earlier (16:6)? The answer is that this speech is part of the original J stratum, before it was spliced with P. It is only in the second speech of God, which is part of the P stratum, that Joshua is referenced as having been loyal together with Caleb (14:30).
Source 2 – Moses’ Retelling of the Scout Story in Deuteronomy
In Deuteronomy 1:35-36, Moses retells the story of the scouts. In this retelling, he only seems to know about Caleb’s part in the events.
אִם יִרְאֶ֥ה אִישׁ֙ בָּאֲנָשִׁ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה הַדּ֥וֹר הָרָ֖ע הַזֶּ֑ה אֵ֚ת הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטּוֹבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר נִשְׁבַּ֔עְתִּי לָתֵ֖ת לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶֽם׃ זֽוּלָתִ֞י כָּלֵ֤ב בֶּן יְפֻנֶּה֙ ה֣וּא יִרְאֶ֔נָּה וְלֽוֹ אֶתֵּ֧ן אֶת הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר דָּֽרַךְ בָּ֖הּ וּלְבָנָ֑יו יַ֕עַן אֲשֶׁ֥ר מִלֵּ֖א אַחֲרֵ֥י יְ-הוָֽה
Not one of these men, this evil generation, shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers—none except Caleb son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his descendants will I give the land on which he set foot, because he remained loyal to Yhwh.
In Deuteronomy, Moses does know of Joshua, but not as a scout. According to Deuteronomy, Joshua survives the wilderness period simply because he is Moses’ protégé and slated to replace him (1:37-38). The standard explanation for this is that D had access to the J source as an independent document, before it was spliced with P. In other words, the P source in the Torah was combined with the J source after the preamble to Deuteronomy (chs. 1-4) was written.
Source 3 – Caleb Requests Land from Joshua
Perhaps the strongest piece of evidence comes from the book of Joshua (14:7-9). When Caleb relates the story of the scouts to Joshua himself, he fails to mention Joshua’s own roll in attempting to calm the people and stand up for God and God’s promise. Here is Caleb’s description:
בֶּן אַרְבָּעִ֙ים שָׁנָ֜ה אָנֹכִ֗י בִּ֠שְׁלֹחַ מֹשֶׁ֙ה עֶֽבֶד־יְ-הוָ֥ה אֹתִ֛י מִקָּדֵ֥שׁ בַּרְנֵ֖עַ לְרַגֵּ֣ל אֶת הָאָ֑רֶץ וָאָשֵׁ֤ב אֹתוֹ֙ דָּבָ֔ר כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר עִם לְבָבִֽי׃ וְאַחַי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָל֣וּ עִמִּ֔י הִמְסִ֖יו אֶת לֵ֣ב הָעָ֑ם וְאָנֹכִ֣י מִלֵּ֔אתִי אַחֲרֵ֖י יְ-הוָ֥ה אֱ-לֹהָֽי׃ וַיִּשָּׁבַ֣ע מֹשֶׁ֗ה בַּיּ֣וֹם הַהוּא֮ לֵאמֹר֒ אִם לֹ֗א הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֙ר דָּרְכָ֤ה רַגְלְךָ֙ בָּ֔הּ לְךָ֙ תִֽהְיֶ֧ה לְנַחֲלָ֛ה וּלְבָנֶ֖יךָ עַד עוֹלָ֑ם כִּ֣י מִלֵּ֔אתָ אַחֲרֵ֖י יְ-הוָ֥ה אֱ-לֹהָֽי׃
I was forty years old when Moses the servant of Yhwh sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I gave him a forthright report. While my companions who went up with me took the heart out of the people, I was loyal to Yhwh my God. On that day, Moses promised on oath, ‘The land on which your foot trod shall be a portion for you and your descendants forever, because you were loyal to Yhwhmy God.’
How can Caleb tell Joshua the story of how he (Caleb) was a loyal scout, without mentioning that Joshua himself—the very person he is petitioning—was his partner when he did this?! Clearly the most compelling explanation of Caleb’s speech to Joshua is to assume that it is in conversation with or derives from the independent J source.
Scholars may debate many of the exact details of the two accounts but as Jacob Milgrom writes (JPS Excursus 29) the Caleb inconsistency is “irrefutable.” It is one of the stronger pieces of evidence for understanding the Torah as a composite document. The evidence from Joshua is also an important reminder that the Jewish Bible is comprised of more than the Torah, and selections from the Prophets and Writings can often clarify the meaning of the Torah and help us better understand its history of composition.
TheTorah.com is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
We rely on the support of readers like you. Please support us.
June 12, 2014
January 3, 2020
Essays on Related Topics:
Previous in the Series
Next in the Series