We are not viewing this tenth-century luxury object as its commissioner would have done: the sheets would have been glued together to form a roll slightly more than 10.5 metres long. This explains why this sheet may seem unlocalized—the town of Gibeon, a seated female figure personifying the town, and the sun standing still overhead all appear at the end of the previous sheet. On this sheet we see Joshua speaking to the Lord (Joshua 10:12), the battle beneath God’s cloud of hailstones (10:11), and the report to Joshua of the finding of the five kings (10:16). On the next sheet the five kings hang from their forked staves.
These images must have struck a chord with the wider public, for they were widely copied in subsequent centuries, in illustrated Octateuch manuscripts, and on ivories.
The Byzantines were practised at typology, so they mined the book of Joshua, the sixth book of the Octateuch, for a variety of models. They saw themselves as an elect nation, the new Israel, so would have taken pride in scenes of God raining down destruction on Israel’s enemies (Eshel 2018: 106). Joshua’s role in leading the Israelites into Canaan made him a role model for military leaders campaigning to recover the Holy Land from the Arabs. The parakoimomenos (keeper of the king's bedchamber) Basil, a well-known art patron, and emperors Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces, all of whom campaigned in Syria and Palestine, have been put forward at various times as possible patrons of the Roll.
Joshua belongs to the pre-kingly period of Israel, yet the Roll depicts him enthroned, haloed like a Byzantine emperor and with his feet on a suppedaneum (foot rest), surrounded by his soldiers, as he prepares to pass judgement on the defeated Amorite kings. Here it is clearly the righteous ruler who is being invoked.
The current flattened state of the Roll limits our understanding of the sense of motion it must have originally conveyed, as Joshua’s divinely-inspired victories rolled inexorably on, like those of the Roman emperors related on the triumphal columns which were still standing in Constantinople when the Roll was made.
Eshel, Shay. 2018. The Concept of the Elect Nation in Byzantium (Leiden: Brill)
Wander, Steven H. 2012. The Joshua Roll (Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag)
10 When Adoʹni-zeʹdek king of Jerusalem heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were mighty. 3So Adoʹni-zeʹdek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhiʹa king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4“Come up to me, and help me, and let us smite Gibeon; for it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” 5Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces, and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon, and made war against it.
6 And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants; come up to us quickly, and save us, and help us; for all the kings of the Amorites that dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” 7So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. 8And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; there shall not a man of them stand before you.” 9So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horʹon, and smote them as far as Azeʹkah and Makkeʹdah. 11And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horʹon, the Lord threw down great stones from heaven upon them as far as Azeʹkah, and they died; there were more who died because of the hailstones than the men of Israel killed with the sword.
12 Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the men of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand thou still at Gibeon,
and thou Moon in the valley of Aiʹjalon.”
13And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. 14There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord hearkened to the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.
15 Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.
16 These five kings fled, and hid themselves in the cave at Makkeʹdah. 17And it was told Joshua, “The five kings have been found, hidden in the cave at Makkeʹdah.” 18And Joshua said, “Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them; 19but do not stay there yourselves, pursue your enemies, fall upon their rear, do not let them enter their cities; for the Lord your God has given them into your hand.” 20When Joshua and the men of Israel had finished slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were wiped out, and when the remnant which remained of them had entered into the fortified cities, 21all the people returned safe to Joshua in the camp at Makkeʹdah; not a man moved his tongue against any of the people of Israel.
22 Then Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave.” 23And they did so, and brought those five kings out to him from the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon. 24And when they brought those kings out to Joshua, Joshua summoned all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, “Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings.” Then they came near, and put their feet on their necks. 25And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and of good courage; for thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.” 26And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; 27but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day.
28 And Joshua took Makkeʹdah on that day, and smote it and its king with the edge of the sword; he utterly destroyed every person in it, he left none remaining; and he did to the king of Makkeʹdah as he had done to the king of Jericho.
29 Then Joshua passed on from Makkeʹdah, and all Israel with him, to Libnah, and fought against Libnah; 30and the Lord gave it also and its king into the hand of Israel; and he smote it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left none remaining in it; and he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.
31 And Joshua passed on from Libnah, and all Israel with him, to Lachish, and laid siege to it, and assaulted it: 32and the Lord gave Lachish into the hand of Israel, and he took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it, as he had done to Libnah.
33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish; and Joshua smote him and his people, until he left none remaining.
34 And Joshua passed on with all Israel from Lachish to Eglon; and they laid siege to it, and assaulted it; 35and they took it on that day, and smote it with the edge of the sword; and every person in it he utterly destroyed that day, as he had done to Lachish.
36 Then Joshua went up with all Israel from Eglon to Hebron; and they assaulted it, 37and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and its king and its towns, and every person in it; he left none remaining, as he had done to Eglon, and utterly destroyed it with every person in it.
38 Then Joshua, with all Israel, turned back to Debir and assaulted it, 39and he took it with its king and all its towns; and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed every person in it; he left none remaining; as he had done to Hebron and to Libnah and its king, so he did to Debir and to its king.
40 So Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded. 41And Joshua defeated them from Kaʹdesh-barʹnea to Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, as far as Gibeon. 42And Joshua took all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. 43Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal.