An Undesigned Coincidence in The Book of Joshua

The Book of Joshua tells us about Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who ends up becoming an unlikely champion of faith. Jericho was one of the main hubs of idol worship, being particularly devoted to the moon goddess Ashtaroth. Here centered the most offensive and shameful aspects of the Canaanite religion. Despite her rough background, Rahab recognized that the LORD was with Israel and would give them the Promised Land. So hid two men who had been sent to scout the city before their attack, helping them conquer the city. 

A weighty argument for the authenticity of the narrative is discussed in JJ Blunt’s book Undesigned Coincidences. This is all the more important as its central events are miraculous. 

As I’ve talked about before, an undesigned coincidence is an instance where various narratives describe some event containing insignificant details which, although they are meaningless in themselves, fit together consistently with other insignificant details to provide a consistent picture. Often an undesigned coincidence will provide additional depth to the narrative and will illuminate elements of the situation that otherwise would’ve gone unnoticed.

To give some background, the Children of Israel were camped on the east side of the Jordan river, primed to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. They crossed into the Promised Land just before the Passover. This can be seen from two verses in the book of Joshua:

Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. (Joshua 4:19)  
While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal, they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho. (Joshua 5:10) 

It was shortly before the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan that they sent out a couple of scouts to spy out the land. This is when they met Rahab. Some locals spotted the spies, and a search party was sent out after them. This is when they came knocking on Rahab’s door. The writer of Joshua tells us what happened next:

“But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof.” (Joshua 2:6) 

So what’s with this detail of the stalks of flax? It’s important because of the time of the flax harvest. In that area, flax is harvested the month before the Passover. Unrelated to Joshua, Exodus 9:31 tells us about the flax of Egypt being destroyed in the plague of the hail. This plague hit Pharoah right before the Passover. We also learn that it was the flax harvest season from the Gezer Calendar. The Gezer calendar is a small limestone tablet with an early Canaanite inscription discovered in 1908 by archaeologist R. A. Macalister. It dates to around the 10th century and contains an agricultural calendar of the time.

By oncenawhile – Istanbul Archaeology Museums, CC BY-SA 3.0,

So what’s my point? Simply put, there’s no description of the time of the year at which the scouts hid under the flax. The time of year has to be inferred from the fact of a pile of flax on the roof, something that would only happen right after the harvest. The date of the crossing is stated more clearly, but there’s no reminder of this in the story of the spies. 

So how do we account for this? It seems to me that there’s two options:

1.) The writer of Joshua was either super clever and ensured that the text could withstand the most rigorous scrutiny, or…

2.) The author of Joshua didn’t consider the season at all but included the details since they reflected the way he (or his source) remembered historical events that actually occurred.

It’s quite improbable that the author of Joshua was capable of producing such a detailed correspondence. This kind of thing doesn’t generally happen in ancient fictions, even in cases where the writer is working hard to produce a convincing story. When a writer does manage to produce a coincidence of this type, they’ll typically make sure it doesn’t go unnoticed. It won’t be seen in this casual and subtle kind of way that we only find by paying close attention. And this is what we have smack dab in the story about the miraculous passing through the Jordan River and the destruction of Jericho. This is a great example of an undesigned coincidence which points to truth in the narrative, and in the words of Blunt “and that assuredly truth leads us by the hand to the very edge of the miracle, if not through the miracle itself?”

Admittedly, it’s possible that the writer of Joshua concocted this coincidence, and this single undesigned coincidence doesn’t constitute robust evidence on its own. Nevertheless, when we consider the numerous undesigned coincidences scattered throughout the Old Testament, this particular one does warrant some attention.

If you’re interested in more, check out this lecture by Tim McGrew on Undesigned Coincidences in the Old Testament.

Liked it? Take a second to support Erik Manning on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
Is Jesus Alive?