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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Judges (1)

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JUDGES (Book of)

1. Name . The Heb. title Shôphetîm (‘Judges’) is parallel to Melâkhîm (‘Kings’); both are abbreviations, the full title requiring in each case the prefixing of ‘the Book of’; this full title is found for Judges in the Syriac Version, for Kings in, e.g. , 2 Chronicles 20:34 (where ‘of Israel’ is added) 2 Chronicles 24:27 . Just as the titie ‘Kings’ denotes that the book contains an account of the doings of the various kings who ruled over Israel and Judah, so the title ‘Judges’ is given to the book because it describes the exploits of the different champions who were the chieftains of various sections of Israelites from the time of the entry into Canaan up to the time of Samuel. It may well be questioned whether the title of this book was originally ‘Judges,’ for it is difficult to see where the difference lies, fundamentally, between the ‘judges’ on the one hand, and Joshua and Saul on the other; in the case of each the main and central duty is to act as leader against the foes of certain tribes. The title ‘judge’ is not applied to three of these chieftains, namely, Ehud, Barak, and Gideon, and ‘seems not to have been found in the oldest of the author’s sources’ (Moore, Judges , p. xii.). In the three divisions of which the Hebrew Canon is made up, the Book of Judges comes in the first section of the second division, being reckoned among the ‘Former Prophets’ (Joshua, Judges 1:1-36 Judges 1:1-36 ; Judges 2:1-23 Samam., 1 and 2Kings), the second section of the division comprising the prophetical books proper. In the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] the Book of Ruth is sometimes, in some MSS, included in that of Judges , other MSS treat the Pentateuch and Jos. [Note: Josephus.] , Jg., Ruth as one whole. [For the meaning of the word ‘judges’ see preceding article.]

2. Contents . The book opens with an account of the victories gained by Judah and Simeon; Caleb appears as the leader of the tribe of Judah, though he is not spoken of as one of the judges. There follows then an enumeration of the districts which the Israelites were unable to conquer; the reason for this is revealed by the messenger of Jahweh; it is because they had not obeyed the voice of Jahweh, but had made covenants with the people of the land, and had refrained from breaking down their altars. The people thereupon lift up their voices and weep (whence the name of the place, Bochim ), and sacrifice to Jahweh. The narrative then abrnptly breaks off. This section ( 1:1 2:5) serves as a kind of Introduction to the book, and certainly cannot have belonged originally to it; ‘the whole character of Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 gives evidence that it was not composed for the place, but is an extract from an older history of the Israelite occupation of Canaan’ (Moore, p. 4). As this introduction must be cut away as not belonging to our book, a similar course must be followed with chs. 17 21; these form an appendix which does not belong to the book. It will be best to deal with the contents of these five chapters before coming to the book itself. The chapters contain two distinct narratives, and are, in their original form, very ancient; in each narrative there occurs twice the redactional note, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel’ ( Judges 17:6 , Judges 18:1 , Judges 19:1 , Judges 21:25 ), showing that the period of the Judges is implied. Chs. 17, 18 tell the story of the Ephraimite Micah, who made an ephod and teraphim for himself, and got a Levite to be a ‘father and a priest’ to him; but he is persuaded by 600 Danites to go with them and be their priest; they then conquer Laish and found a sanctuary there, in which a graven image (which had been taken from Micah) is set up. The narrative, therefore, purports to give an account of the origin of the sanctuary of Dan, and it seems more than probable that two traditions of this have been interwoven in these two chapters. In chs. 19 21 the story is told of how a concubine of a certain Levite left him and returned to her father; the Levite goes after her and brings her back. On their return they remain for a night in Gibeah, which belonged to the Benjamites; here the men of the city so maltreat the concubine that she is left dead on the threshold of the house in which her lord is staying; the Levite takes up the dead body, brings it home, and, after having cut it up, sends the pieces by the hands of messengers throughout the borders of Israel, as a call to avenge the outrage. Thereupon the Israelites assemble, and resolve to punish the Benjamites; as a result, the entire tribe, with the exception of six hundred men who manage to escape to the wilderness, is annihilated. Although six hundred men have survived, it appears inevitable that the tribe of Benjamin must die out, for the Israelites had sworn not to let their daughters marry Benjamites; this causes great distress in Israel. However, the threatened disaster of the loss of a tribe is averted through the Israelites procuring four hundred maidens from Jabesh in Gilead, the remaining two hundred required being carried off by the Benjamites during the annual feast at Shiloh. The children of Israel then depart every man to his home. The narrative appropriately ends with the words, ‘Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.’ Although these chapters have been very considerably worked over by later hands, it is probable that they have some basis in fact; it is difficult to account for their existence at all on any other hypothesis, for in themselves they are quite purposeless; there cannot originally have been any object in writing such a gruesome tale, other than that of recording something that actually happened.

The Book of Judges itself is comprised in Judges 2:6 to Judges 16:31 ; and here it is to be noticed, first of all, that a certain artificiality is observable in the structure; the exploits of twelve men are recounted, and the idea seems to be that each represents one of the twelve tribes of Israel, thus: Judah is represented by Othniel, Benjamin by Ehud, the two halves of the tribe of Manasseh by Gideon (West) and Jair (East), Issachar by Tola, Zebulun by Elon, Naphtali by Barak, Ephralm by Abdon, Gad by Jephthah, and Dan by Samson; besides these ten there are Shamgar and Ibzan, two unimportant Judges, but against them there are the two tribes Reuben and Simeon, who, however, soon disappear; while the tribe of Levi, as always, occupies an exceptional position. This general correspondence of twelve judges to the twelve tribes strikes one the more as artificial in that some of the judges play a very humble part, and seem to have been brought in to make up the number twelve rather than for anything else. The following is an outline of the contents of these chapters:

There is, first of all, an introduction (Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6 ) which contains a brief but comprehensive résumé of the period about to be dealt with; as long as Joshua was alive, it says, the children of Israel remained faithful to Jahweh; but after his death, and after the generation that knew him had passed away, the people for sook Jahweh, the God of their fathers, and served Baal and Ashtaroth; the consequence was that they were oppressed by the surrounding nations. Judges 2:15-19 sound what is the theme of the whole book: the nation distressed, a judge raised up who delivers them from their oppressors, relapse into idolatry. The introduction closes with a list of the nations which had been left in the Promised Land with the express purpose of ‘proving’ the Israelites. [For the historical value of this Introduction, see § 5.] Of the twelve Judges dealt with, seven are of Quite subordinate importance, little more than a bare mention of them being recorded; they are: Othniel ( Judges 3:7-11 ), who delivers the children of Israel from Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia; he is mentioned incidentally in Judges 1:13 as marrying the daughter of Caleb; Shamgar ( Judges 3:31 ), of whom nothing more is said than that he killed six hundred Philistines; Tola ( Judges 10:1-2 ); Jair ( Judges 10:3-5 ); Ibzan ( Judges 12:8-10 ); Elon ( Judges 12:11-12 ); and Abdon ( Judges 12:13-15 ). Of real importance are the accounts which are given of the other five judges. (1) Ehud , who delivers Israel from Egloa, king of Moab ( Judges 3:12-30 ). (2) Barak , who is, however, rather the instrument of Deborah; chs. 4, 5 give accounts, in prose and poetry respectively, of the Israelite victory over Sisera. (3) Gideon . Of the last there are likewise two accounts ( Judges 6:1 to Judges 8:3 and Judges 8:4-27 ), with a later addition ( Judges 8:28-35 ); some introductory words ( Judges 6:1-10 ) tell of the Midianite oppression; Judges 6:11-24 describe the call of Gideon, of which a second account is given in Judges 6:25-32 ; the invasion of the Midianites and Gideon’s preparations to resist them ( Judges 6:33-35 ) follows; and in Judges 6:36-40 the story of the sign of the fleece is told. Ch. 7 gives a detailed account of Gideon’s victory over the Midianites, and Judges 8:1-3 contaios an appendix which tells of Ephraim’s dissatisfaction with Gideon for not summoning them to repel the Midianites, and the skilful way in which Gideon pacifies them. In Judges 8:4-21 comes the second account of Gideon’s victory, the result of which is the offer to him of the kingship and his refusal thereof ( Judges 8:22-28 ); Judges 8:29-35 forms a transition to the story of Gideon’s son, Abimelech (see below). (4) The history of Jephthah is prefaced by Judges 10:17-18 , which tells of the Ammonite oppression; Jephthah’s exploits are recounted in Judges 11:1 to Judges 12:7 ; a biographical note ( Judges 11:1-3 ) introduces the hero, and a long passage ( Judges 11:4-29 ) follows, describing how the conflict with the Ammonites arose; it is a question concerning the ownership of the lands between the Jabhok and the Arnon, which are claimed by the Ammonites, but which the Israelites maintain have been in their possession for three hundred years. As no agreement is arrived at, war breaks out. A section, which is of great interest archæologically ( Judges 11:30-40 ), tells then of a vow which Jephthah made to Jahweh, to the effect that if he returned victorious from the impending struggle with the Ammonites, he would offer up in sacrifice the first person whom he met on his return coming out of his dwelling. He is victorious, and the first to meet him was, as according to the custom of the times he must have expected (see Jdg 5:28 , 1 Samuel 18:6-7 , Psalms 68:11 ), his daughter the words in Judges 11:39 , ‘and she had not known man,’ are significant in this connexion; his vow he then proceeds to fulfil. The next passage ( Psalms 12:1-8 ), which tells of a battle between Jephthah and the Ephraimites, in which the latter are worsted, reminds one forcibly of Psalms 8:1-3 , and the two passages are clearly related in some way. (5) Lastly, the history of Samson and his doings is recorded, chs. 13 16; these chapters contain three distinct stories, but they form a self-contained whole. The first story (ch. 13) tells of the wonderful experiences of the parents of the hero prior to his birth; how an angel foretold that he was to be born, and that he was to be a Nazirite; and how the angel ascended in a flame from the altar on which Manoah had offered a sacrifice to Jahweh; Judges 13:24-25 record his birth and hie growth to manhood, the spirit of Jahweh being upon him. The fourteenth chapter gives an account of Samson’s courtship and marriage with the Philistine woman of Timnah: Judges 13:1-4 his first meeting with her, and his desire that his parents should go down to Timnah to secure her for him, they at first demur, but ultimately they accompany him thither. His exploit with the lion, his riddle during the wedding-feast, the craft of his wife in obtaining the answer to the riddle from him, and the way in which he paid the forfeit to the wedding guests for having found out the answer to the riddle, all this is told in the remainder of the chapter ( Judges 13:5-9 ). Further exploits are recounted in ch. 15: Samson’s burning of the Philistines’ fields by sending into them foxes with burning torches tied to their tails ( Judges 15:1-8 ); the Philistines attack Judah in consequence, but the men of Judah bind Samson with the purpose of delivering him up; he, however, breaks his bonds, and kills a thousand Philistines with the jawhone of an ass ( Judges 15:1-9 ); the remaining verses describe the miracle of the origin of the spring in En-hakkore ( Judges 15:18-20 ). In ch. 16 there is a continuation of Samson’s adventures: his carrying off the gates of Gaza ( Judges 16:1-3 ); his relationship with Delilah and her treachery, resulting in his final capture by the Philistines ( Judges 16:22 ); their rejoicing ( Judges 16:23-25 ); the destruction of the house, and death of Samson ( Judges 16:26-30 ); his burial ( Judges 16:31 ).

The section dealing with Abimelech (ch. 9), though certainly belonging to the Gideon chapters (6 8) stands on a somewhat different basis, inasmuch as Abimelech is not reckoned among the judges (see following section): Abimelech is made king of Shechem (Judges 9:1-6 ); Jotham his brother, delivers his parable from Mt Genzim, and then flees (( Judges 6:7-9 ); the quarrel between Abimelech and the Shechemites ( Judges 9:22-25 ); Gaal raises a revolt among the Shechemites ( Judges 9:26-33 ); Abimelech quells the revolt ( Judges 9:34-41 ); Shechem is captured and destroyed ( Judges 9:42-45 ); its tower burned ( Judges 9:46-49 ); Abimelech’s attack Thehez, and his death ( Judges 9:50-57 ). Lastly, there is the short section Judges 10:6-16 , which, like Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 , partakes of the nature of Introduction, and is of late date.

3. Arrangement and Sources . The question of the sources of our hook is a difficult and complicated one; the different hypotheses put forward are sometimes of a very contradictory character, and proportionately bewildering. It seems, indeed, not possible to assign, with any approach to certainty, the exact source of every passage in the hook; but there are certain indications which compel us to see that the book is compiled from sources of varying character and of different ages; so that, although we shall not attempt to specify a source for every passage believing this to be impossible with the hook as we now have it yet it will he possible to point out, broadly, the main sources from which it is compiled.

(1) It may be taken for granted that the exploits of tribal heroes would be commemorated by their descendants, and that the narrative of these exploits would be composed very soon, probably immediately in some cases, after the occurrences. So ingrained is this custom, that even as late as the Middle Ages we find it still in vogue in Europe, the ‘Troubadours’ being the counterpart of the singers of far earlier ages. It is therefore clear that there must have existed among the various Israelite tribes a body of traditional matter regarding the deeds of tribal heroes which originally floated about orally within the circumscribed area of each particular tribe. Moreover, it is also well known that these early traditions were mostly sung or, to speak more correctly, recited in a primitive form of poetry. The earliest sources, therefore, of our book must have been something of this character.

(2) It is, however, quite certain that some intermediate stages were gone through before the immediate antecedents of our present book became existent. In the first place, there must have taken place at some time or other a collection of these ancient records which belonged originally to different tribes; one may confidently assume that a collection of this kind would have been put together from written materials; these materials would naturally have been of varying value, so that the collector would have felt himself perfectly justified in discriminating between what he had before him; some records he would retain, others he would discard; and if he found two accounts of some tradition which he considered important, he would incorporate both. In this way there would have arisen the immediate antecedent to the Book of Judges in its original form . The ‘Song of Deborah’ may be taken as an illustration of what has been said. At some early period there was a confederacy among some of the tribes of Israel, formed for the purpose of combating the Canaanites; the confederates are victorious; the different tribes who took part in the battle return home, and (presumably) each tribe preserves its own account of what happened; for generations these different accounts are handed down orally; ultimately some are lost, others are written down; two are finally preserved and incorporated into a collection of tribal traditions, i.e. in their original form they were the immediate antecedents of our present accounts in Judges 4:4 ff; Judges 5:1 ff.

(3) We may assume, then, as reasonably certain, the existence of a body of traditional matter which had been compiled from different sources; this compilation represents our Book of Judges in its original form; it is aptly termed by many scholars the pre-Deuteronomic collection of the histories of the Judges. This name is given because the book in its present form shows that an editor or redactor took the collection of narratives and fitted them into a framework, adding introductory and concluding remarks; and the additions of this editor ‘exhibit a phraseology and colouring different from that of the rest of the book,’ being imbued strongly with the spirit of the Deuteronomist (Driver). It is possible, lastly, that some still later redactional elements are to be discerned (Cornill). Speaking generally, then, the various parts of the book may be assigned as follows: Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 , though added by a later compiler, contains fragments, probably themselves from different sources, of some early accounts of the first warlike encounters between Israelite tribes and Canaanites. In the introduction, Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6 , to the central part of the book, the hand of the Deuteronomic compiler is observable, but part of it belongs to the pre-Deuteronomic form of the book. The main portion, Judges 3:7-16 , is for the most part ancient; where the hand of the Deuteronomist is most obvious is at the beginning and end of each narrative; the words, ‘And the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord …,’ at the beginning, and ‘… cried unto the Lord, … and the land had rest’ so and so many years, at the end, occur with monotonous regularity. ‘It is evident that in this part of the book a series of independent narratives has been taken by the compiler and arranged by him in a framework, designed for the purpose of stating the chronology of the period, and exhibiting a theory of the occasion and nature of the work which the Judges generally were called to undertake’ (Driver). The third division of the book, chs. 17 21, is ancient; ‘in the narratives themselves there is no trace of a Deuteronomic redaction’ (Moore); but they come from different sources, chs. 17, 18 being the oldest portions.

4. Text . A glance at the apparatus criticus of any good edition of the Massoretic text, such as Kittel’s, shows at once that, generally speaking, the Hebrew text has come down to us in a good state; ‘it is better preserved than that of any other of the historical books’ (Moore). A number of errors there certainly are; but these can in a good many cases be rectified by the versions, and above all by the Greek version. The only part of the book which contains serious textual defects is the Song of Deborah, and here there are some passages which defy emendation. In the Greek there are two independent translations, one of which is a faithful reproduction of the Massoretic text, and is therefore not of much use to the textual critic.

5. Historical value . There are few subjects in the Bible which offer to the student of history a more fascinating field of study than that of the historical value of the Book of Judges. It will be clear, from what has been said in § 3 , that to gauge its historical value the component parts of the book must be dealt with separately; it is also necessary to differentiate, wherever necessary, between the historical kernel of a passage and the matter which has been superimposed by later editors; this is not always easy, and nothing would be more unwise than to claim infallibility in a proceeding of this kind. At the same time, it is impossible to go into very much detail here, and only conclusions can be given. Judges 1:1 to Judges 2:5 is, as a whole, a valuable source of information concerning the history of the conquest and settlement of some of the Israelite tribes west of the Jordan; for the period of which it treats it is one of the most valuable records we possess.

Judges 2:6 to Judges 3:6 , which forms the introduction to the main body of the book, is, with the exception of isolated notes such as Judges 2:9 , Judges 3:5 , of very little historical value; when, every time the people are oppressed, the calamity is stated to be due to apostasy from Jahweh, one cannot help feeling that the statement is altogether out of harmony with the spirit of the book itself; this theory is too characteristic of the ‘Deuteronomic’ spirit to be reckoned as belonging to the period of the Judges.

Judges 3:7-11 , the story of Othniel, shows too clearly the hand of the ‘Deuteronomic’ redactor for it to be regarded as authentic history; whether Othniel is an historical person or not, the mention of the king of Mesopotamia in the passage, as having so far conquered Canaan as to subjugate the Israelite tribes in the south, is sufficient justification for questioning the historicity of the section.

On the other hand, the story of Ehud, Judges 3:12-30 , is a piece of genuine old history; signs of redactional work are, Indeed, not wanting at the beginning and end, but the central facts of the story, such as the Moabite oppression and the conquest of Jericho, the realistic description of the assassination of Eglon, and the defeat of the Moabites, all bear the stamp of genuineness. In the same way, the brief references to the ‘minor’ judges Shamgar ( Judges 3:31 ), Tola ( Judges 10:1-2 ), Jair ( Judges 10:5 ), Ibzan ( Judges 12:8-10 ), Elon ( Judges 12:11-12 ), and Abdon ( Judges 12:13-15 ) are historical notes of value; their Interpretation is another matter; it is possible that these names are the names of clans and not of individuals; some of them certainly occur as the names of clans in later books.

The ‘judgeship’ of Deborah and Barak is the most important historical section in the book; of the two accounts of the period, chs. 4 and 5, the latter ranks by far the higher; it is the most important source in existence for the history of Israel; ‘by the vividness of every touch, and especially by the elevation and intensity of feeling which pervades it, it makes the impression of having been written by one who had witnessed the great events which it commemorates’ (Moore); whether this was so or not, there can be no doubt of its high historical value; apart from the manifest overworking of the Deuteronomic redactor, it gives a wonderful insight into the conditions of the times.

Chs. 6 8, which combine two accounts of the history of Gideon, have a strong historical basis; they contain much ancient matter, but even in their original forms there were assuredly some portions which cannot be regarded as historical, e.g. Judges 6:36 ff.

Ch. 9, the story of Abimelech, is one of the oldest portions of the book, and contains for the most part genuine history; it gives an instructive glimpse of the relations between Canaanites and Israelites now brought side by side; ‘the Canaanite town Shechem, subject to Jerubbaal of Ophrah; his balf-Canaanite son Abimelech, who naturally belongs to his mother’s people; the successful appeal to blood, which is “thicker than water,” by which he becomes king of Shechem, ruling over the neighbouring Israelites also; the interloper Gaal, and his kinsmen, who settle in Shechem and Instigate insurrection against Abimelech by skilfully appealing to the pride of the Shechemite aristocracy all help us better than anything else in the book to realize the situation in this period’ (Moore).

The section Judges 10:6-18 contains a few historical notes, but is mostly Deuteronomic. The Jephthah story ( Judges 11:1 to Judges 12:7 ), again, contains a great deal that is of high value historically; the narrative does not all come from one source, and the Deuteronomist’s hand is, as usual, to be discerned here and there, but that it contains ‘genuine historical traits’ (Kuenen) is universally acknowledged.

Chs. 13 16, which recount the adventures of Samson, must be regarded as having a character of their own: if these adventures have any basis in fact, they have been so overlaid with legendary matter that it would be precarious to pronounce with any degree of certainty any part of them in their present form to be historical.

Chs. 17, 18 are among the most valuable, historically, in the book; they give a most instructive picture of the social and religious state of the people during the period of the Judges, and bear every mark of truthfulness.

Chs. 19 21. Of these chapters, 19 is not unlike the rest of the book in character; it is distinctly ‘old-world,’ and must be pronounced as, in the main, genuinely historical; Judges 21:19-24 has likewise a truly antique ring, but the remainder of this section is devoid of historical reality.

W. O. E. Oesterley.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Judges (1)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/j/judges-1.html. 1909.

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