Witness is the name of an altar in Joshua 22:34. The name appears in this form in the New King James Version, the English Standard Version and the New Living Translation. The King James Version merely transliterates the original Hebrew word Ed, while the New International Version regards all of the following words as the name of the altar: "A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God."
In Joshua 22, the Transjordanian tribes cross over the Jordan River after having assisted in the conquest of the land. They then build a massive altar by the Jordan. This causes the "whole congregation of the Israelites" to prepare for war, but they first send to the Transjordanian tribes a delegation led by Phinehas. They accuse them of making God angry and suggesting that their land may be unclean. In response to this, the Transjordanian tribes say that the altar is not for offerings, but is only a "witness". The western tribes are satisfied, and return home.
The altar's construction concerned the other tribes who felt that there should only be one altar, but the eastern tribes built it only as a testimony to their faith, and not as a working altar. The eastern tribes named the altar "Witness" to fit this.
Assis argues that the unusual dimensions of the altar suggest that it "was not meant for sacrificial use", but was, in fact, "meant to attract the attention of the other tribes" and provoke a reaction. Davis regards the Transjordanians' action as "the first in a series of independent acts on the part of the various tribes which would lead to a later fragmentation of the tribes of Israel," and the construction of the altar as a "departure of God's plan for centralized worship."
The name of the altar is not clear in the Masoretic Text, and the text could be corrupted at this point. It reads "The Reubenites and the Gadites named the altar because it is a witness between us that Yahweh is God." Some textual scholars suspect that the name of the altar must have been dropped by a copyist, either deliberately or unintentionally.
- Elie Assis, "For it shall be a witness between us: a literary reading of Josh 22," Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 18 (2004), 216-217.
- John J. Davis, Conquest and Crisis: Studies in Joshua, Judges and Ruth (Grand Rapids, Baker, 1977), 86–87.
- N. H. Snaith, "The Altar at Gilgal: Joshua 22:23-29," Vetus Testamentum 28 (1978) 335.