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Joshua 7:25: And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.

The above verse says that Achan was stoned alone (him). But there was a plural (them) when he/they were burned. How can we understand this - was Achan's family punished along with Achan? Or was Achan alone when punished?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

We know from Joshua 7:15 that the guilty party "and all that he has" will be punished, so Achan and all his family (and their livestock) were killed. This evokes the memory of Korach, leader of the rebellion against Moshe and Aharon; when he and the other rebels were killed (by the earth swallowing them up) their families were also killed (Num 16:33).

But the present verse is unclear; who was stoned, just Achan or also his family, and was anybody instead killed by burning? (We know from the vow that they were killed somehow.)

The end of the verse reads (JPS):

וַיִּרְגְּמוּ אֹתוֹ כָל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶבֶן, וַיִּשְׂרְפוּ אֹתָם בָּאֵשׁ, וַיִּסְקְלוּ אֹתָם בָּאֲבָנִים.

And all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire, and stoned them with stones.

One possibility is that there were two stonings: Achan was stoned, the spoils and other property were burned, and then Achan's family (and perhaps the livestock) were stoned. This supports the singular ("him") in the first clause and the plural ("them") in the last one. Rashi takes a similar approach, saying that the latter stoning ("them") refers to the animals. (Rashi does not comment on Achan's family.)

Some other translations, including the (unidentified) one in the question, clarify the timing:

And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, [after] they [had] stoned them with stones. (Judaica Press)

I do not know on what basis these translations make this elaboration. This approach doesn't change the "him", meaning Achan, but suggests that others were stoned either at the same time or immediately after, and then everything was burned.

Arguably the text leaves open the possibility of execution by burning (perhaps Achan was stoned but his family members were burned). This seems unlikely; burning is specified in the text for only two offenses, a man having relations with both his wife and his wife's mother (Lev 20:14) and the daughter of a priest who plays the harlot (Lev 21:9). Neither of these has much to do with Achan's offense. In the biblical text stoning is by far the more prominent method of execution, particularly for public wrongs such as Achan's.

Conclusion

Achan and his family were all stoned. Achan, being the focus of the episode, is called out specifically (they stoned him), and was probably killed first. But we know that he and all his family and all their property were to be destroyed (they burned and stoned them), so in the end everybody died, not just Achan.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Monica - great explanation! Thanks. –  taurivalor Aug 5 '13 at 18:48

Hebrew in other places will use the singular when there is a group acting as one or being acted upon as one. From that, I would understand the "he" used in the first part to be "a group referred to in the singular." After that, the writer used the plural.

I answered a similar question about subject-verb agreement previously. Short answer, a reader would expect agreement throughout but that isn't always what happens.

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Frank, thanks for the response. But it is still not very clear as to why the text was made complicated for layman to understand. –  taurivalor Aug 3 '13 at 12:38
    
@taurivalor, it's a translation issue. The Hebrew reader would roll with it and not even blink. –  Frank Luke Dec 18 '13 at 19:40

Frank's textual answer seems very tenuous to me. Verb-subject disagreement is far more prevalent than the form here (inconsistent numeration within the same verse when referring to the same subject). So it seems irrelevant to invoke that to justify this construct. Moreover, verb-subject disagreement has literary function (emphasis) which is sorely lacking under that reading. That reading makes the text feel sloppy and redundant.

So while we seem to both agree that the family was burnt along with Achan (the vow in verse 15 clearly states that the perpetrator and all he has will be punished, and so too in verse 24 they clearly take Achan, his family and his possessions), it seems clear to me that the first "him" is a reference to Achan and Achan alone.

I see no necessity in wrapping the singularity in an abstract reference to the entire group as a single entity. Mentioning Achan's punishment first makes emphatic sense (precisely the same reason verb-subject disagreement makes literary sense). He was the perpetrator, so they mention him in his own right.

Moreover, it matches the wording of the vow itself, which mentioned that the person (singular) caught will burn (singular), him and all he owns (a reference to plural entities afterwards). It is more common a construct that two related verses (e.g. a vow and its fulfilment) have similar form, so it makes sense that when the vow is fulfilled it is reminiscent of the original verse.

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bjorne, Thanks your explanation is reasonable. –  taurivalor Aug 3 '13 at 12:33

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