The Making of the Sin of Achan (Joshua 7)

in Biblical Interpretation
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The ascription of blame to an entire people for the infraction of a nondescript individual found in the account of the sin of Achan (Joshua 7) is without parallel in the Hebrew Bible and in the legal and treaty literature of the ancient Near East. Attempts to explain the account through concepts such as “corporate personality” or the “contagion” to be found in devoted goods have rightly come under great scrutiny. This paper seeks to understand collective punishment in Joshua 7 by engaging in a close reading of the final form of the text and with recourse to notions found in contemporary ethical theory. The paper introduces the rhetorical use of minor characters as markers of collective attitudes in biblical narrative. Central to the exposition of the Achan account is the role of the spies’ report (7:2-3) as such a marker of collective attitudes shared by the polity as a whole.

The Making of the Sin of Achan (Joshua 7)

in Biblical Interpretation




H. Wheeler RobinsonCorporate Personality in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press1964) pp. 1-20.


See David M. HowardJoshua (Nashville: Broadman & Holman1998) p. 194.


See Jurrien MolCollective and Individual Responsibility: A Description of Corporate Personality in Ezekiel 18 and 20 (Leiden: Brill2009).


Joseph A. FitzmyerThe Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire (III: 12-14) (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico1995) p. 139.


Joel KaminskyCorporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible (JSOTSS 196; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press1995) pp. 80-87; Trent C. Butler Joshua (WBC; Waco TX: Word Books 1983) p. 86; L. Daniel Hawk Joshua (Collegeville: Liturgical Press 2000) pp. 108-109; Richard D. Nelson Joshua: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox 1997) p. 103; Ronald Ernest Clements “Achan’s Sin: Warfare and Holiness” in David Penchansky and Paul L. Redditt (eds.) Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do What Is Right? Studies on the Nature of God in Tribute to James L. Crenshaw (Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns 2000) p. 120.


NelsonJoshua pp. 98-99.


Robert G. BolingJoshua (AB 6; Garden City, NY: Doubleday1982) p. 229.


Jonathan Grossman“‘Gleaning among the ears’ – ‘gathering among the sheaves’: Characterizing the Image of the Supervising Boy (Ruth 2),” JBL 126:4 (2007) pp. 703-716.


Larry MaySharing Responsibility (Chicago: University of Chicago Press1992) p. 47.


Marten H. WoudstraThe Book of Joshua (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans1981) p. 130.


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