A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges/Preface

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The interest and importance of the Book of Judges lie chiefly in the knowledge which it gives us of the state of society and religion in Israel in the early centuries of its settlement in Palestine, for which Judges and Samuel are our only sources. In addition to this, parts of the book are of preëminent historical value: in particular, ch. 1, which contains by far the oldest and most trustworthy account of the invasion of Canaan; and ch. 5, the Song of Deborah, the only contemporary monument of Israelitish history before the Kingdom. In the following commentary matters of history, antiquities, and especially the social and religious life of the people in this period, are properly given the largest place; not only for their intrinsic interest, but because the knowledge of these things is indispensable to any right understanding of the history of Israel and of its religion. The work of the prophets can only be comprehended in its relation to the national religion of Israel. But before there was a national religion, there was a common religion of the Israelite tribes which was one of the most potent forces in the making of the nation. What this religion was, which they brought with them into Canaan, and what changes it underwent in contact with Canaanite civilization and the religions of the land, we learn in no small part from the Book of Judges; while here and there, as in the Song of Deborah, we have glimpses of a remoter past, the adoption of the religion of Yahweh by the tribes at Horeb, the work of Moses.

To make such a use of the book, it is necessary to distinguish carefully between the work of the principal author, who wrote in the 6th century B.C., separated from the times of the judges by as many centuries as lie between us and the crusades, and the much older sources from which the stories of the judges themselves are derived. We must also, as far as possible, define the age and character of these sources, which are not all of the same antiquity or historical value. Nor is it solely on historical grounds that this is required. The difficulties which the interpreter finds in the book are in considerable part of a kind for which exegesis and textual criticism have no solution. They have arisen from the changes and additions which the author made in transcribing his sources, or from the attempt to combine and harmonize two parallel but slightly different versions of the same story, and can be cleared up only by ascertaining how this was done. Criticism is thus not only obligatory upon the historian, it is an essential part of the work of the exegete. That the task is delicate and difficult, and in the nature of the case largely conjectural, cannot exempt the commentator from trying to solve these knotty questions. At the worst, the uncertainties of criticism are infinitely preferable to the exegetical violence which is the only alternative. In the commentary, especially in the introductions to the several stories, I have discussed the particular problems of criticism with such fulness as they seemed to demand; in the Introduction (§ 3–6) the reader will find set forth the general results to which these investigations lead.

The Hebrew text of Judges, with the exception of part of ch. 5, is comparatively well preserved; but in very many places the ancient versions have a better reading, or a variant which may not be neglected. The Greek translations of this book are of peculiar interest, and perhaps nowhere in the Old Testament can the difficult problems which this version presents be approached with more hope of illuminating results. I trust that the somewhat full registration of the readings of G in this commentary may not be unwelcome to students of the Greek as well as of the Hebrew Bible. An edition of the Hebrew text, with critical apparatus, is in preparation, and will shortly appear in "The Sacred Books of the Old Testament," edited by Professor Paul Haupt.

In the philological notes, I have been mindful of the fact that it is the commentator's duty, not to follow the lexicographer and the grammarian, but to precede them; and have investigated afresh, and as far as possible exhaustively, all questions of etymology, usage, and construction which seemed to require it. If, in many cases, I cannot flatter myself that these investigations have added much light, they have often performed at least the negative service of showing that commonly accepted interpretations are unsound. In the hope that the commentary may be used to some extent by students, for whose reading the Book of Judges is peculiarly well suited, some notes of a more elementary character on the forms of words and on grammatical points have been added.

In conformity with the general plan of the series, all matters of textual criticism and Hebrew philology, together with more detailed and technical discussions of points of criticism, antiquities, and topography, have been kept apart from the body of the commentary, and will be found in smaller type at the end of the paragraphs. It is one of the evils of this arrangement that the grounds of an interpretation must often be sought in another place from the interpretation itself, while in other instances some repetition is unavoidable. It is believed, however, that the separation will prove convenient to many who may use the commentary; and I have endeavoured to diminish its disadvantages by cross-references and full indexes.

I have tried to make good use of all that has been done hitherto for the criticism and interpretation of the book. The commentators whom I have chiefly consulted are named in the Introduction, § 9, the critics at the end of § 6; other works are referred to in the foot-notes of the commentary. It is not improbable that, in this extensive and scattered literature, I may have overlooked some things of importance; I have not intentionally ignored any. Several books of great value have appeared during the printing of this volume, so that I have, to my regret and loss, been able to use them only in the later chapters; among these I may name particularly Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, 1894; Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie, 1894; G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 1894; and the 12th edition of Gesenius' Handwörterbuch, thoroughly revised by Buhl, 1895.

A list of the principal abbreviations employed will be found on p. 474. They conform, by the editors' desire, to those used in the new Hebrew Lexicon, in course of publication under the editorship of Professors Brown, Driver, and Briggs. The references in the commentary have been carefully verified, and will, I trust, be found accurate. In the few instances in which I have not been able to consult a book which is cited, the fact is indicated by a (°) affixed to the title. The citations of Scripture in the body of the commentary follow the chapter and verse numeration of the Authorized Version as given in the Queen's Printer's Bible; in the critical notes the verses are those of the Hebrew Bible (Van der Hooght's ed., 1705).

It is a pleasant duty to acknowledge the assistance which I have received in the preparation of this volume from my colleague and friend, Dr. Charles C. Torrey, Instructor in the Semitic Languages in Andover Theological Seminary, who has read nearly all the proofs, and to whom I am indebted for some valuable suggestions and corrections.

G. F. M.

July, 1895.