Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Judges, the Book of, ot Bible book containing stories of the period between Joshua and Samuel, which were collected early in the monarchy, later edited into a national history (late seventh century b.c.), and finally re-edited after the destruction of Jerusalem (in 587 b.c.).
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
The Book of Judges
I. Introduction: from invasion to stalemate (1:1-3:6)
II. Ideal and office (3:7-16:31)
III. Supplements: more lessons from the past (17:1-21:25)
The book begins with Israel united for offensive war (chap. 1) and recapitulates materials reported earlier in Joshua chaps. 14-15, though with several significant changes in detail and orientation. Through these changes the historian of Judges 1 could present a different view of the nature of the conquest and Israel’s role in it. The editorial prologue attributed to a deuteronomic redactor (2:11-23) articulates the evaluation of the period that pervades the book: cycles of idolatry, divine punishments, the appeal for divine aid, the emergence of a ‘savior’ figure, and a period of rest when the people were ruled or judged by the heroic savior. This pattern is also found as a connective element between the various traditions of the book (for another evaluation, see 3:1-5). The Hebrew verb used in connection with the military judge, shaphat, has the broader sense ‘to rule.’ From notices about ‘minor’ judges (10:1-5; 12:8-15) it appears that such influence rarely extended beyond the Judge’s neighboring tribes. The stories, however, laud exploits of saviors in time of crisis for the federation, ‘major’ judges. There then appears to be an overlap of semantic uses for the verb, which includes military and administrative-legal functions. The ‘major’ judges seem to have performed both tasks; the ‘minor’ ones only the latter.
The body of the book is arranged didactically, alternating between good and not-so-good examples of leadership. Othniel is presented as an ideal leader. He is followed by Cushan-rishathaim who may be Irsu, a Syrian usurper in Egypt (late thirteenth century b.c.). The next judge is Ehud, whose ‘left-handed’ dagger diplomacy dealt with Eglon, king of Moab (3:15-23).
The story of the prophetess Deborah and the commander Barak (chap. 4), followed by a virtual eyewitness poem (Song of Deborah and Barak, chap. 5), recounts a war for the fertile plains, especially Esdraelon. The Israelite population was concentrated in upland villages founded after ca. 1200 b.c. Forces of the ‘kings of Canaan’ (5:19) were led by Sisera (a non-Semitic name) from Harosheth ‘of the nations.’ Sisera’s overlord was ‘Jabin king of Canaan’ at Hazor (4:2, 24; cf. Josh. 11). Possibly (but not necessarily) two battle accounts are conflated. Victory ‘at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo’ may be dated to ca. 1125 b.c., when Megiddo was unoccupied and Taanach violently destroyed.
Gideon (Jerubbaal), who led the rout of the Midianites (camel-riding raiders), piously declined the offer of kingship and requested instead the trappings of diviner-judge.
Abimelech, the son of Gideon by a Shechemite concubine, accepted funds from the covenant sanctuary at Shechem and became king of Shechem, while serving as commander of the tribal militia. When local support collapsed, he used the militia to destroy Shechem; after his victory he sowed the city with salt. Massive mid-twelfth-century destruction at Tell Balata witnesses to the violence.
Jephthah, the Gileadite son of a harlot, gathered a band of mercenaries in the north and was later recalled by the elders of Gilead to lead Israel against the Ammonites. He sacrificed his daughter to fulfill a vow and turned back an Ephraimite force using the password shibboleth.
Samson appears as a tragic figure who opposed the Philistines, the eleventh-century successors to the earlier Sea Peoples. A cycle of adventures of this hero have been artfully gathered and crafted in chaps. 13-16. As against other judges, Samson appears less as a national savior figure than as a person with private exploits and vendettas. The account may draw from old folk motifs.
With examples of charismatic leadership inconclusive, stories of escalating internal chaos follow. Micah (chap. 17) was proprietor of a free-lance shrine (probably Bethel) and a maker of graven images, whose young levitical priest from Bethlehem was taken by migrating Danites to become founder of the far northern priesthood. ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eye’ (17:6).
The southern polemic against northern sanctuaries is countered in the sequel (chaps. 18-21). A northern Levite rallied the militia to avenge the rape and murder of his southern concubine, glossing over his own responsibility in the affair (chaps. 19-20). A tragic civil war is recounted with grim humor, ‘all Israel’ versus Benjamin. Finally, to secure wives for the six hundred Benjaminite survivors, the elders recommend one more massacre and then authorize the kidnapping of Shiloh maidens. ‘In those days…right in his own eyes’ becomes the last word (21:25), lamenting such behaviors and commending the establishment of the monarchy. The negative example of the Benjaminites in the last section may have been deliberately arranged so as to climax the chaotic period and serve as an anti-Saulid polemic (Saul was a Benjaminite) by pro-Judean monarchists.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer