The Making of the Sin of Achan (Joshua 7)


In: Biblical Interpretation

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.


  • 1

    H. Wheeler Robinson, Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964), pp. 1-20.

  • 3

    See David M. Howard, Joshua (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998), p. 194.

  • 4

    See Jurrien Mol, Collective and Individual Responsibility: A Description of Corporate Personality in Ezekiel 18 and 20 (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

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  • 7

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire (III: 12-14) (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1995) p. 139.

  • 8

    Joel Kaminsky, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible (JSOTSS 196; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 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.

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  • 10

    Nelson, Joshua, pp. 98-99.

  • 11

    Robert G. Boling, Joshua (AB 6; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), p. 229.

  • 13

    Nelson, Joshua, p. 99.

  • 18

    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.

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  • 20

    Larry May, Sharing Responsibility (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 47.

  • 21

    Marten H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 130.

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