In Numbers Chapter 13, Moses appears to rename Hoshea the son of Nun as Joshua the son of Nun:

Verse 8

from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; (ESV)

Verse 16

These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua. (ESV)

It would seem from here that until the incident with the scouts that is discussed in this chapter, Joshua's name was still Hoshea. Yet earlier in Exodus and Numbers we already find him referred to as Joshua son of Nun:

Exodus 33:11

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. (ESV)

Numbers 11:28

And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, "My lord Moses, stop them." (ESV)

(There are several other places where he is called Joshua as well, but since it doesn't say "the son of Nun" in those cases one might argue that there was another Joshua. E.g. Exodus 17:9, Exodus 24:13, Exodus 32:17.)

Both of these incidents appear to have occurred prior to the incident with the scouts. So how do we reconcile the names?

  • Could it be that the incident with the scouts actually took place prior to the other two incidents, despite its appearing later in the text?
  • Could it be that he is referred to as Joshua all along because that was his final name, even though it wasn't given to him until the incident with the scouts?
  • Could this simply be a contradiction between two books (or between chapters in Numbers)?
  • Some other possibility?
  • 1
    My instinct would be to go with your second option. Retronymy is the hallmark of the OT! Jun 10, 2018 at 18:35
  • One thing seems certain enough having perused the other answers, that he was named Joshua no later than Exodus 17:14, either by Moses or God, given that he was explicitly named in that verse, not just referenced in narration.
    – user21676
    Jun 11, 2018 at 6:31

3 Answers 3


There are a number of possible answers:

One group of commentaries (Rashbam and others) suggests that in fact, Moses called Hosea "Joshua" from much earlier on, as evidenced by the verses quoted from Exodus. There are two basic problems with this approach, which go hand in hand. One issue is that he is referred to as Hosea here - why would that be the case. Secondly, why is the "renaming" incident mentioned here if it in fact took place at an earlier time?

This prompts Luzzatto and others to suggest that until now, Hosea was known by his simple name, and at this point, Moses began to call him Joshua (see Rashi). As we see with various other details in the bible (such as names of places), an earlier text often references a later event, whether through later editing or prophecy. So too here, remaining references to Hosea were changed to Joshua for the entire Bible. This is also somewhat questionable, as we don't see this with various other Biblical Characters whose names were changed.

Both of the above groups cite support from Joseph and Daniel, whose names were also changed, although Rashbam understands that their names were changed when they became "attendants", whereas Luzzatto understands that they were renamed when they were given a special task to perform.

Berlin suggests a very stretched interpretation that tries to resolve this conflict by suggesting that Moses changed Hosea's name to Joshua prior to the battle with Amalek in Exodus, and that afterwards it was "forgotten" and reused in specific cases, but that he was still known as Hosea.

I would suggest a modification of Rashbam's explanation, namely, that Joshua was a form of nickname that Moses had given Joshua, that only he called Hosea, whereas to everyone else, Hosea remained Hosea. Therefore, when Hosea was publicly being appointed as the leader of his tribe, he was known by his formal name, although when associated with Moses, he was always called Joshua. After the story of the spies, the name simply caught on. (Or, to modify Luzzatto, perhaps until now it was a nickname, and he was formally renamed at this point.)

(Ellicott suggests something akin to this, that it was a confirmation at this point.)

The Cambridge Bible notes that this is the first mention of Joshua in P (Priestly source), which would resolve the contradiction, as he is only called Joshua from his renaming and on.

  • I wrote my answer before seeing yours, and it looks like we cited a bunch of the same sources.
    – Alex
    Jun 10, 2018 at 18:57

A number of rabbinic commentators address this. Samuel Ben Meir, Joseph Bekhor Shor, and Hezekiah Ben Manoah (in one interpretation) argue that his name had already been changed to Joshua long before the incident with the scouts. However, they do not cite the earlier places where he is already called Joshua, and more importantly, they do not explain why the name change is mentioned by the scouts if it occurred much earlier.

Another rabbinic commentator, Bahye Ben Asher, does specifically note the earlier places where he is referred to as Joshua. He assumes that his name was only changed now, but the Pentateuch used Joshua all along to honor Moses's choice of name.

As for why he would be called Hoshea (in Numbers 13:6) one time, this could be explained, as Bahye mentions, that the Pentateuch took one opportunity to tell us his real name and explain that Moses changed it.

A more out-of-the-box interpretation is suggested by Naphtali Zvi Judah Berlin, wherein the name was already changed to Joshua by the battle against Amalek (Exodus Chapter 17) but only temporarily. The name then reverted back to Hoshea until this point where he was rechristened as Joshua. As for the usage of Joshua son of Nun in Numbers 11:28, this could be explained by one of Berlin's suggestions for the precise time that the name went back to Joshua. He suggests that this occurred when it became apparent that Joshua, not Moses, would lead the people into Israel, and this was by the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad, which is precisely where he is referred to as Joshua son of Nun.

  • BTW, Netziv's answer, as explained by you, would not explain Numbers 11:8. Also, neither of the first two interpretations you quoted explain why he would be referred to as Hosea now.
    – user22655
    Jun 10, 2018 at 19:31
  • @רבותמחשבות I left out the details that address these points, as they were not part of what directly addressed the question. But since you raise these issues I will edit the answer to explain.
    – Alex
    Jun 10, 2018 at 20:09

Why would this be a discrepancy?

If you watch a documentary about what various actors did as teenagers, would you want the announcer to be calling them: "Norma Mortensen", "Archibald Leach", "Eileen Edwards", "Chaim Witz", "Caryn Johnson", and "Maurice Micklewhite", or would it be a lot easier to understand the program if he used the names they eventually became known by: "Michael Caine", "Whoopi Goldberg", "Gene Simmons", "Shania Twain", "Cary Grant", and "Marilyn Monroe"?

Similarly, there really wasn't any need to continually refer to "Joshua, who used to be known as Hoshea, ...".

Another possibility is that the name Joshua is a title rather than a personal name.

Joshua is Hebrew for "GOD is salvation". It is the same word that was written in Greek as "Iēsous", or in Latin as "Jēsūs".

Joshua was a saviour of the ancient Israelites, just as Jesus is a saviour of the modern Israelites.

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