Joshua 8:32 reads:

And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel. (KJV)

Other translations are very similar.

What exactly did Joshua write?

  1. What was the content of what he wrote? Was it the legal parts of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and all of Deuteronomy? Just the Ten Commandments? Verse 34 seems to indicate that Joshua read what he'd written and refers to a singular "Book of the Law" (capitalized in some translations and not in others).

  2. How do we explain this in terms of plausibility? The context indicates that the nation of Israel was standing there as Joshua "wrote on stones" (chiseled?) the law. I have never chiseled but I have to think it's a very slow process. The text doesn't tell us how long this operation took but I would think that if it's truly "the law of Moses" (all the law?) then it must have taken months...? Did the nation stand there for all this time?

The text does not strictly say that Joshua completed it in one sitting. However, verse 33 is very specific on how the Israelites stood, so either it was done in one sitting or they reassembled precisely each day.

2 Answers 2


Book of the Law

The “Book of the Law” (Josh 8:31, 34) is a common phrase that refers to the book of Deuteronomy as an expansion of the Moral Law, or Covenant Law based around the 10 Commandments. “Book of the Law” is referenced in Deut 28:61, 29:21, 30:10, 31:26, Josh 1:8, 8:31, 34, 24:26, 2 Kings 22:8, 11, 2 Chron 17:9, 25:4, 34:14, 15, Neh 8:1-3, 8, 18, 9:3 (and 17:18). The Book of Deuteronomy (up to Ch 30) was placed beside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut 31:26). [Contrast the 10 Commandments which were placed inside the Ark.]

The centrality and importance of the book of Deuteronomy can be gauged by the requirement for each king of Israel to personally write out a copy of the book and keep it with him (Deut 17:18).

Deuteronomy consists of the last 4 orations of Moses to the Israelites on the border of the Promised Land.

First Oration: Deut 1:6 – 4:43. Historical background

Second Oration: Deut 4:44 – 26:19. The Law of the Ten Commandments expanded

Third Oration: Deut 27:1 – 28:68. Blessings and Curses of the law

Fourth Oration: Deut 29:1 – 30:20. Renewal of the Covenant

Some authors suggest that the third and fourth orations listed above were part of the same speech. A more complete analysis of Deuteronomy is listed below:

  • Preamble Deut 1:1-5
  • Historical prologue Deut 1:6 – 4:49
  • General stipulations Deut 5 – 11
  • Specific stipulations Deut 12 – 26
  • Blessings and Curses Deut 27 – 28
  • Witnesses Deut 30:15-20
  • Deposition of Text Deut 31:9, 24-26
  • Public reading Deut 31:10-13
  • Lawsuits against vassals Deut 32

The specific stipulations listed above can be broken down more precisely into sections dealing with each of the commandments.

1 & 2:  Deut 12:1 – 31 – Worship
3:  Deut 13:1 – 14:27 – name of God
4:  Deut 14:28 – 16:17 – Sabbath
5:  Deut 16:18 – 18:22 – Authority
6:  Deut 19:1 – 22:8 – Homicide/murder
7:  Deut 22:9 – 23:19 – Adultery
8:  Deut 23:20 – 24:7 – Theft
9:  Deut 24:8 – 25:4 – False Charges
10: Deut 25:5 – 16 – Coveting

Finally, the blessings and curses referenced in Deut 8:34 are found in Deut 27 – 28.

Therefore, Joshua either wrote the 10 commandments on the stones (most likely) or less probably, the book of Deuteronomy.

  • Kings were expected to write the entire Torah, not just the book of Deuteronomy. Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 21:46
  • @ShamanSTK - "this book of the law" (Deut 17:18), I believe, is referring to the book of Deuteronomy, the "second law" (as the Greek title has it). However, writing the entire Torah would be several years of effort for a full-time scribe - unlikely. However, this question might be the subject of another question.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 21:50
  • Elicott comments about Deut 17:18 - (18) He shall write him a copy of this law.—This phrase is the source of the Greek title of the book, Deuteronomion, or in English, Deuteronomy. The word appears also in Joshua 8:32. The English conveys the right sense of the word, which primarily denotes repetition. In Hebrew it is Mishneh, the name afterwards given to the “text” of the Talmud, of which the idea is to repeat the law; though it is a somewhat peculiar repetition, in which minutiœ are chiefly dealt with, and weightier matters left out.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 21:54
  • kings were actually required to write two scrolls, one for being Israel prior to ascension, and a second after that was to accompany him as a king. See M"T Mel. uMil. 3:1. Mishneh Torah as Deut. in Joshua is anachronistic. Mishnah literally means repetition or copy, see BDB. Deut. was referred to as a Mishneh Torah in Greek and early Hebrew because it contains a summary of the first four books. But a Humash (literally a fifth, denoting a single book of the Torah) was never written for ritual purposes, and referring to Devarim as a Mishneh Torah is later than the close of the TaNaKh. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 18:21
  • The earliest I can find for Deuteronomy being referred to as a Mishneh Torah is Genesis Rabbah. Commented Dec 14, 2022 at 18:22

Joshua was obeying the specifications Moses gave him before, simply.

In fact, we read at Deuteronomy 27:1-3: “And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, ‘Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan to the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster. And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou hast passed over, that thou mayest enter in to the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee.” (Webster)

Note, please, that Moses did not say to Joshua to carve or grave the letters on the stones, but simply to write them on the stones. Interestingly, those great stones must be ‘plastered with plaster’. This entails that the letters were traced out (probably with an apt stylus).

As regards the amount of words Joshua had to write, is interesting what John Gill (Exposition of the Entire Bible) asserted (bold is mine): “[…] which copy of the law was not the whole book of Deuteronomy, as some, at least only an abstract of the laws in it; but rather the decalogue, as Abarbinel [wrote].”

So, the problem you asked for is put in its right perspective (a limited time for a limited amount of words): Joshua had to write the Decalogue on two plastered (white-washed) great stones, before the eyes of all Israel.

I hope this answers to your question.

  • 1
    The stones, see the previous verse, were not to be stones upon which any iron (tool) had been used. Thus it would be assumed that no tool should be used on them in future. Therefore writing with paint of some kind seems correct, not engraving. (Or your suggestion of scoring the plaster with a stylus.) And your reference to Deuteronomy supports this. (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 19, 2020 at 15:49
  • 1
    Thanks, Nigel, for your extra information. Commented Mar 19, 2020 at 15:52

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