Here we have an account of the definitive formation of the twelve-tribe league incorporating people who may well have had ancient ties with Israelite tribes but who only now pledge their undivided allegiance to the God of Israel."
Thus, Shechem is, according to Hillers, one of the most important place for the Covenant renewal, since it was the first that was witnessed by the united Israelite tribes.
John Van Seters, on the other hand, offers a different explanation for the origins of the text in Joshua 24. He concludes that the resemblances in form between the Covenant at Shechem and the Deuteronomy Covenant makes it plausible that the Joshua 24 has to be just an addition to the Deuteronomy work:
There is only one solution to this dilemma and that is that Joshua 24.1-27 was composed as an addition to the Dtr. work. It is post-Dtr. And was inserted before chapter 23's original ending as a second conclusion to the history of Joshua. All our literary analysis confirms the fact that while Joshua 24 was influenced by the Dtr. tradition, it was in fact a later development of that tradition in the exilic age and must be viewed as post-Dtr."
In his analysis, Van Seters carefully investigates the similarities between the Deuteronomy work and that of Joshua 24, thus concluding that the text in Joshua is not more ancient than the former, but has actually been created afterwards as a continuation of the Deuteronomy tradition:
Already it is possible to say something about the form of the text. It is modeled directly upon Dtr. parenesis. It is not just a question of some vague prophetic influence but the kind of prophetic style that is the hallmark of Dtr tradition both in DtrH and in the late prophetic works."
Van Seters analyzes the form of Joshua 24 to collect his evidence that the Covenant at Shechem is a later addition to the Deuteronomy work. He notices, for instance, that the dialogue formulas such as "you/your fathers" and "we/us, our fathers" are very common and specific to the Deuteronomy tradition.
Also, the historical summary of the generations of Israel since Abraham and going on to Joshua, is another parallel to the Deuteronomy tradition. However, Van Seters observes that there are many differences in detail, between the two texts compared- Joshua 24 seems to be filled with new information as regards the historical context. The mentioning of new episodes has been the basis of the arguments that most of the scholars brought to prove the anteriority of this chapter, but Van Seters sees this as a certain piece of evidence that the text is only an addition to Deuteronomy.
Van Seters also argues that the text doesn't have to be interpreted as a sovereign-vassal pattern, since the manner of the Covenant making has is not a liturgy because the allegiance of the people comes only as a logical argument like that of the Deuteronomy preaching.
Moreover the scholar sees has a very different theory than that of Hillers for the amphictony problem. He believes that, according to Joshua 24, the people are summoned to make the Covenant to the God of Israel not as a nation, but as so many individual households:
The challenge is made to the people no longer as a nation but as so many individual households who were called to follow Joshua's example. Joshua does not function as the centralized authority to keep the nation pure -as in the story of Achan- but as a religious leader who leads by admonition and example."
Other scholarly sources make the connection between the "gods beyond the flood" which are mentioned in the fragment and the historical context of the domination of Assyrian domination of Israel:
Perlitt finds the key to this in the striking references, unique to this passage, to 'the gods whom your fathers worshipped beyond the river' (vv. 2, 14, 15). Here we have no mere historical allusion to what once was; the 'of old' in v. 2 is matched by the 'and now' of v. 14 which with its appeal to 'put away' the worship of these gods means that such worship is a present reality in Israel. It is from 'beyond the river' that this threat now endangers Israel's life, 'beyond the river' where the Assyrians live and whose gods have been installed for worship here and now in the midst of Israel. For this only one period comes into consideration, the seventh century, and that is the period in which and from whose religious necessities the Deuteronomic preaching arose.' (p. 251.) it was a situation in which the gods of Mesopotamia and Palestine, here specified by 'the gods whom your fathers worshipped' and 'the gods of the Amorites' respectively, stood in opposition to Yahweh. Thus the subject matter and the purpose as well as the form and style of this passage converge in the historical setting of Assyrian domination of Israel and Judah and the rise of the Deuteronomic movement. And this renders attempts to find a different setting, with the splitting up of verses or the separation of literary layers or motifs which this involves, quite unnecessary."
Perlitt considered that there are three possible alternatives for the origins of Joshua 24:
It is possible, therefore, that Joshua 24 originated in northern Israel, in the newly constituted province of Samaria. Shechem was chosen as the location for the setting of the scene described because it had long since ceased to be politically significant, was associated with an ancient Yahweh sanctuary, and besides had not been disavowed by prophetic threats. From northern Israel the text would subsequently have found its way to Judah, perhaps at the hands of refugees.(...) Alternatively, a Judaean setting for the composition of the passage is also possible. Judah had become a vassal of Assyria already in the time of Ahaz and was to remain so for over a century. The virtually complete subordination of Ahaz to the Assyrians is evidenced by his reconstitution of the temple in Jerusalem into a sanctuary for the Assyrian god Asshur (cf. 2 Kgs. 16:10-18). A third possibility remains: the period of the downfall of Assyrian power and the actions of Josiah who not only dismantled the religious and political concessions made by Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kgs. 23:5), but also in so doing renounced Judah's vassaldom to Assyria. More favourable conditions than those which existed in Hezekiah's days now presented themselves; the Assyrians were probably no longer able to take effective action, and so Josiah began his march northwards to Bethel (2 Kgs. 23:15), to the province of Samaria (2 Kgs. 23:19), and to Megiddo (2 Kgs. 23:29) where he met his death. But before the tragedy at Megiddo new hopes had been kindled and fanned. In such a situation Joshua 24 may have been composed with those in northern Israel in mind as its addressees."
The origins of the Joshua 24 chapter are therefore much disputed, both as to what regarded the historical context and to the possible interpretations. The conclusions are that the actual tribes involved could have been either the entire amphictyony of Israel, as Delbert Hillers suggests, or the tribes belonging to North Israel in the province of Samaria or a Judaeic province, as Perlitt supposed or, finally as Van Seters puts forth - merely a textual addition to the Deuteronomy work, and addressed rather to the "individual households" of Israel than to the nation as such or to certain tribes.
Van Seters' arguments are convincing since the form of the text is very close to that of Deuteronomy preaching. Either way though, the essence of Joshua 24 consists of the settlement of the people of Israel on a new land, on the one hand, and the religious crossroads of Israel who were making the shift from the local tribal gods to an universal God, who could lead them and accompany them anywhere:
Thus the alternative lies in a choice between a personal deity, who accompanies those who believe in him wherever they go, and above all in migrations made in his name (an unheard-of thing at that period, found only amongst nomads), and the various local gods who have to be worshipped as soon as one enters their sphere of influence."
Joshua 24 is thus a very important fragment for the understanding of the religious transformations that lead from the primitive cults to the universal God religion, and also for the Covenant making
Boling, Robert G., and G. Ernest Wright. Joshua. AB 6. Garden City, New York.:Doubleday, 1982.
Harris, J. Gordon, Cheryl a. Brown and Michael S. Moore. Joshua, Judges, Ruth. NIBC. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2000.
Nelson, Richard J. Joshua: A Commentary.Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.