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In Joshua 7:1, the text records that the Israelight Achan took spoils during the Israelightes' attack Jericho which was forbidden in 6:17-19:

Joshua 6:17-19

"'...The city and all that is in it must be set apart for the Lord, except for Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But be careful when you are setting apart the riches for the Lord. If you take any of it, you will make the Israelite camp subject to annihilation and cause a disaster. 19 All the silver and gold, as well as bronze and iron items, belong to the Lord. They must go into the Lord’s treasury.'"

Joshua 7:1

But the Israelites disobeyed the command about the city’s riches. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, stole some of the riches. The Lord was furious with the Israelites.

7:2-5 records that when the Israelite attacked Ai they were routed and retreated; losing 36 men.

In response (7:24-25), the people of Israel captured and killed the whole family after discovering that Achan had sinned:

Then Joshua and all Israel took Achan, son of Zerah, along with the silver, the robe, the bar of gold, his sons, daughters, ox, donkey, sheep, tent, and all that belonged to him and brought them up to the Valley of Disaster. Joshua said, “Why have you brought disaster on us? The Lord will bring disaster on you today!” All Israel stoned him to death. (They also stoned and burned the others.)

Why were Archan's children stoned and burned too?

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Joshua 7:1 says God was angry because Achan took spoil out of the city of Jericho, rather than allowing everything to be destroyed, as God had demanded:

Joshua 7:1: But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel.

The Israelites attacked the city of 'Ai, suffering a defeat which made them realise they needed to placate God. The first step towards this should have been when Achan acknowledged his sin, but God demanded that Achan and everything he possessed be burnt: the Old Testament regards wives and children as possessions, so this means the children did have to be burnt for Achan's sin:

Joshua 7:15: And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath: because he hath transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel.

William G. Dever (Who Were the Early Israelites, and where Did They Come From?, page 39) says "These are stories that we might well hope have no basis in fact." We now know that this is one story that does not appear to have any basis in fact, because 'Ai had been abandoned in 1500 BCE and was therefore unoccupied at the time these events would have taken place.

On page 47, Dever says that 'Ai was extensively excavated in 1933-1935. Evidence of a massively fortified Early Bronze Age city was found, but this was destroyed around 2200 BCE. After sparse reoccupation at the beginning of the second millennium, it was again abandoned around 1500 BCE. So there was no city to defeat Joshua on the first attack or for him to conquer the second time, no innocent, fleeing Canaanites to slaughter, and consequently no Achan or his innocent children to be executed needlessly.

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