We all know about Moses, and the dramatic scenes of him facing Pharaoh, him leading the captive Israelites out of Egypt, miraculously through a massive body of water, his receiving of the tablets with the 10 Commandments on them, and practically to the very doorstep of the Promised Land.
It is from there that we learn of Joshua’s inheriting the leadership role from Moses as leader of Israel. In the book of Joshua this is supplemented with divine approval, “I will be with you as I was with Moses” (Josh 3:7). However, a brief analysis of the textual tradition suggests, deliberately, that he was not quite as great as was the great Moses.
We find that while Moses leads Israel dramatically through the Red Sea in the book of Exodus, Joshua leads them, less dramatically, through the Jordan River (compare Josh. 4:19–24 with Exo. 14).
We also find that much like Moses, Joshua experiences a divine encounter (compare Josh. 5:13–15 with Exo. 3:1–6) where both are instructed to remove their sandals. However, we find that whereas Moses encounters God directly, Joshua encounters an angelic “commander of the Lord’s army.”
Thirdly, and perhaps most vividly, is that when Joshua crosses the Jordan River with Israel the waters “stand in a single heap” (3:13), whereas in Exodus 14:22 they form “a wall on their right and on their left.” Moses gets two heaps of water, while Joshua gets only one, which tends to make him a kind of “half-Moses.”
Again, we find a deliberate, yet creative, crafting of historical traditions by the biblical authors. We see this elsewhere too in the case of the infancy narratives of Jesus, in the very conquest narratives of Joshua, as well as within Luke’s portrayal of the Apostle Paul. This is interesting stuff; just some food for thought.