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The Seder Olam states that Joshua was a judge over Israel for 28 years. (Seder Olam 12) We know that he succeeded Moses 40 years after leaving Egypt (Joshua 1:1), and that he died at the age of 110. (Joshua 24:29) So, that makes him 42 years old at the time of the Exodus. (110 – 28 – 40 = 42)

However, Numbers 11:28 describes Joshua as a ‘youth’ when he started as Moses assistant, so I suspect that his ‘judgeship’ is deemed to have begun at a point later than the invasion of Canaan.

My question therefore is, at what stage of Joshua's leadership did Joshua actually become Judge?

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Why this must be wrong

The Gemara Zevachim 118b derives from Kalev’s statement that he was 40 when he was a spy (Joshua 14:7), 85 when he said those words (v. 10), and 78 when they crossed the Jordan (40+38=78) that the Jews fought for 7 years (85-78). Based on a complicated algebra regarding when the Temple was destroyed (which comes from Seder Olam itself) or a comparison to the fighting, the Gemara concludes that they took 7 years to settle as well. As such, the 28 yers mentioned here must overlap Moses’ leadership - there were only 14 years after Moses died.

Therefore, I suspect that you’re reading a corrupted text or translation.


What the text actually says

You don’t cite where in Seder Olam exactly you got this from, so I’m basing the following based on guesswork. Seder Olam 12 begins with the following statement:

יהושע פרנס את ישראל עשרים ושמנה שנה ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה וימת יהושע בן נון וגו׳ ויקברו אותו וגו׳

Joshua was a provider for the Jews for 28 years. “And it was after these things that Joshua son of Nun died...and they buried him...”

The quote at the end is toward the end of Joshua 24. The important part is the beginning. He wasn’t a judge for 28 years; he was a provider. The word שופט means judge; the word פרנס refers to someone who provides for people’s needs.


Where your text may have come from

The remainder of the chapter, after addressing Elazar son of Aaron’s death, goes down the list of judges. Perhaps the translator assumed that Joshua and Elazar are also judges for that reason.

Further, the following chapter opens up with the following statement about Eli the Priest:

עלי פרנס את ישראל ארבעים שנה

Eli was a provider for the Jews for 40 years.

And this same Eli is identified as having judged the Jews for the same 40 years in I Samuel 4:18:

והוא שפט את ישראל ארבעים שנה

And he judged the Jews for 40 years

So perhaps whoever translates your copy of Seder Olam confused פרנס for שפט for that reason, and since the same word is used by Joshua, that error extended to him.


TL;DR, and questions left hanging

When did Joshua become a judge? Never. When did he become a provider? Fourteen years before entering Israel. What does being a provider mean in a world in which they have food raining from the sky and water flowing from a miraculous well? I’m not sure exactly. But that’s what the Midrash says - feel free to ask, maybe someone can help you out with that piece, because I’m at a loss.

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