So far, Joshua has been something of a secondary character. He does get mentioned, but the context is usually that he’s assisting someone, or shadowing some other character around.
Exodus 17: In our first encounter with Joshua, he is leading the battle against the Amalekites while Moses waves his arms in the air to cheer them on (his unwavering support giving Joshua’s forces the drive they needed to win the day). This story feels out of place in the narrative – What were the Amalekites doing there, anyway? Why is the defeat of the Amalekites not mentioned again – say, when the Hebrews actually get close to Amalekite territories? It feels like there was a tradition where Moses casts his weird hand-waving spell to win a battle and, when it was being added to the narrative, the editor/author added Joshua – known leader of armies – into the story.
Exodus 24: Joshua goes up the mountain with Moses, then mysteriously disappears. At the time, I wondered if there might be a separate strain of narratives about Joshua that included a bit where he gets to meet God on Mt. Sinai – with or without Moses – and that this portion of the story was grafted onto the tale of Moses receiving the commandments. Another possibility being that a pro-Joshua camp has been trying to lend him (or his descendants) extra legitimacy by setting him up as some sort of apprentice or trusted friend to Moses.
Exodus 32: Joshua is suddenly on the mountain with Moses again when they hear noises coming from below. In a cutesy bit of foreshadowing (perhaps a joke about how war-obsessed Joshua will later prove himself to be), Joshua assumes that it’s the sound of battle. Moses, more level-headed, recognizes the sound of partying and idol worship.
Exodus 33: Joshua is pitted against Aaron in two competing traditions. According to the Levites, the tent of meeting is located in the centre of the camp and it is tended by the priests. But in Exodus 33, the tent is located outside of camp and it’s tended by Joshua.
Numbers 11: When two elders suddenly start prophesying in the middle of camp, Joshua fears that they might be competition for Moses. He runs to warn Moses of the possible threat and is rebuked because the elders are legit. In this story, Joshua is set up as being a do-gooder, looking out for Moses. And while he is rebuked, he isn’t given leprosy or stricken with a plague as others are when they misinterpret something God has said or done. From this, I get the impression that Joshua was grafted in an existing story to show how loyal he is to Moses.
Numbers 13: Oshea, son of Nun Joshua, is listed among the spies sent into Canaan. While all the other spies are only mentioned once, his presence is highlighted a second time, emphasising him (and possibly indicating him as the leader of the spies, though this is unclear). The name is clearly similar to that of Joshua, son of Nun, but it still differs from every other instance that we’ve seen so far. When the spies give their “evil report,” only Caleb is mentioned opposing them. From the context, it seems that Oshea is going along with what the others are saying.
Numbers 14: In our most recent sighting, Joshua is quite clearly shown as part of Moses’ inner circle, and he is aligned with Caleb among the spies. Though we are never told that Joshua had sided with Caleb in Numbers 13, the two of them are the only spies spared of the original 12.
If I had to venture a guess, it would be that the Oshea in Numbers 13 is part of one tradition and may or may not refer to the Joshua we meet just a chapter later, though that Joshua has clearly assumed Oshea’s role as the story progresses.
But in all of these examples, Joshua feels unnatural, as though he’s been stitched into the narrative. The purpose seems propagandish – he is clearly being set up as a successor to Moses, and therefore shown assisting him and displaying his loyalty. Does anyone else have thoughts about the possible reasons for pasting Joshua into these stories? Or want to tell me that I’m reading into it too much?