1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Judges, The Book of
JUDGES, THE BOOK OF, in the Bible. This book of the Old Testament, which, as we now read it, constitutes a sequel to the book of Joshua, covering the period of history between the death of this conqueror and the birth of Samuel, is so called because it contains the history of the Israelites before the establishment of the monarchy, when the government was in the hands of certain leaders who appear to have formed a continuous succession, although the office was not hereditary. The only other biblical source ascribed to this period is Ruth, whose present position as an appendix to Judges is not original (see Bible and Ruth).
Structure.—It is now generally agreed that the present adjustment of the older historical books of the Old Testament to form a continuous record of events from the creation to the Babylonian exile is due to an editor, or rather to successive redactors, who pieced together and reduced to a certain unity older memoirs of very different dates; and closer examination shows that the continuity of many parts of the narrative is more apparent than real. This is very clearly the case in the book of Judges. It consists of three main portions: (1) an introduction, presenting one view of the occupation of Palestine by the Israelites (i. 1–ii. 5); (2) the history of the several judges (ii. 6–xvi.); and (3) an appendix containing two narratives of the period.
1. The first section relates events which are said to have taken place after the death of Joshua, but in reality it covers the same ground with the book of Joshua, giving a brief account of the occupation of Canaan, which in some particulars repeats the statements of the previous book, while in others it is quite independent (see Joshua). It is impossible to regard the warlike expeditions described in this section as supplementary campaigns undertaken after Joshua’s death; they are plainly represented as the first efforts of the Israelites to gain a firm footing in the land (at Hebron, Debir, Bethel), in the very cities which Joshua is related to have subdued (Josh. x. 39). Here then we have an account of the settlement of Israel west of the Jordan which is parallel to the book of Joshua, but makes no mention of Joshua himself, and places the tribe of Judah in the front. The author of the chapter cannot have had Joshua or his history in his eye at all, and the words “and it came to pass after the death of Joshua” in Judg. i. 1 are from the hand of the last editor, who desired to make the whole book of Judges, including ch. i., read continuously with that which now precedes it in the canon of the earlier prophets.
2. The second and main section (ii. 6–xvi.) stands on quite another footing. According to Josh. xxiv. 31 the people “served Yahweh” during the lifetime of the great conqueror and his contemporaries. In Judg. ii. 7 this statement is repeated, and the writer proceeds to explain that subsequent generations fell away from the faith, and served the gods of the nations among which they dwelt (ii. 6–iii. 6). The worship of other gods is represented, not as something which went on side by side with Yahweh-worship (cf. x. 6), but as a revolt against Yahweh, periodically repeated and regularly chastised by foreign invasion. The history, therefore, falls into recurring cycles, each of which begins with religious corruption, followed by chastisement, which continues until Yahweh, in answer to the groans of his oppressed people, raises up a “judge” to deliver Israel, and recall them to the true faith. On the death of the “judge,” if not sooner, the corruption spreads anew and the same vicissitudes follow. This religious explanation of the course of the history, formally expounded at the outset and repeated in more or less detail from chapter to chapter (especially vi. 1–10, x. 6–18), determines the form of the whole narrative. It is in general agreement with the spirit as also with the language of Deuteronomy, and on this account this section may be conveniently called “the Deuteronomic Book of Judges.” But the main religious ideas are not so late and are rather akin to those of Josh. xxiv; in particular the worship of the high places is not condemned, nor is it excused as in 1 Kings iii. 2. The sources of the narrative are obviously older than the theological exposition of its lessons, and herein lies the value and interest of Judges. The importance of such documents for the scientific historian lies not so much in the events they record as in the unconscious witness they bear to the state of society in which the narrator or poet lived. From this point of view the parts of the book are by no means all of equal value; critical analysis shows that often parallel or distinct narratives have been fused together, and that, whilst the older stories gave more prominence to ordinary human motives and combinations, the later are coloured by religious reflection and show the characteristic tendency of the Old Testament to re-tell the fortunes of Israel in a form that lays ever-increasing weight on the work of Yahweh for his people. That the pre-Deuteronomic sources are to be identified with the Judaean (J, or Yahwist) and Ephraimite (E, or Elohist) strands of the Hexateuch is, however, not certain.
To the unity of religious pragmatism in the main stock of the book of Judges corresponds a unity of chronological scheme. The “judges,” in spite of the fact that most of them had clearly no more than a local influence, are all represented as successive rulers in Israel, and the history is dated by the years of each judgeship and those of the intervening periods of oppression. But it is impossible to reconcile the numbers with the statement elsewhere that the fourth year of Solomon was the 480th from the exodus (1 Kings vi. 1). See Bible: Chronology.
The general introduction (ii. 6–iii. 6) is a blend of Deuteronomic and other sources. The intimate relation between it and the separate narratives (Josh. xxiv. 1–27, a late [Ephraimite] record inserted by a second Deuteronomic hand, and xxiii., D) appears both from their contents and from the fact that Judg. ii. 6–10 is almost identical with the narrative appended to Joshua’s address (Joshua xxiv. 28–31). Judg. i.–ii. 5, however, is not touched by D, and hence was probably inserted in its present position at a later date. According to the highly intricate introduction the Hebrews were oppressed: (a) to familiarize them with warfare—it is assumed that they had intermarried with the Canaanites and worshipped their gods (iii. 2, 6); (b) to test their loyalty to Yahweh (ii. 22; iii. 1); or (c) to punish them for their marriage with the heathen and their apostasy (D in ii. 12; cf. Josh. xxiii., and ibid. v. 12).
To this succeeds a noteworthy example of the Deuteronomic treatment of tradition in the achievement of Othniel (q.v.) the only Judaean “judge.” The bareness of detail, not to speak of the improbability of the situation, renders its genuineness doubtful, and the passage is one of the indications of a secondary Deuteronomic redaction. The case, however, is exceptional; the stories of the other great “judges” were not rewritten or to any great extent revised by the Deuteronomic redactor, and his hand appears chiefly in the framework. Thus, in the story of Ehud and the defeat of Moab only iii. 12–15, 29–30 are Deuteronomic. But the rest is not homogeneous, vv. 19 and 20 appear to be variants, and the mention of Israel (v. 27b) is characteristic of the tendency to treat local troubles as national oppressions, whereas other records represent little national unity at this period (i., v.). See further Ehud.
According to the Septuagint addition to Josh. xxiv. 33, Moab was the first of Israel’s oppressors. The brief notice of Shamgar, who delivered Israel from the Philistines (iii. 31), is one of the later insertions, and in some MSS. of the LXX. it stands after xvi. 31. The story of the defeat of Sisera appears in two distinct forms, an earlier, in poetical form (v.), and a later, in prose (iv.). D’s framework is to be recognized in iv. 1–4, 23 seq., v. 1 (probably), 31 (last clause); see further Deborah. The Midianite oppression (vi.–viii.) is contained in the usual frame (vi. 1–6; viii. 27 seq.), but is not homogeneous, since viii. 4, the pursuit of the kings, cannot be the sequel of viii. 3 (where they have been slain), and viii. 33–35 ignores ix. The structure of vi. 1–viii. 3 is particularly intricate: vi. 25–32 does not continue vi. 11–24 (there are two accounts of Gideon’s introduction and divergent representations of Yahweh-worship); vi. 34 forms the sequel of the latter, and vi. 36–40 (with “God”) is strange after the description of the miracle in vv. 21 seq. (with “Yahweh”). Further, there are difficulties in vi. 34, vii. 23 seq., viii. 1, when compared with vii. 2–8, and in vii. 16–22 two stratagems are combined. There are two sequels: vii. 23 seq. and viii. 4; with the former contrast vi. 35; with viii. 1–3 cf. xii. 1–6, and see below. Chapter viii. 22 seq. comes unexpectedly, and the refusal of the offer of the kingship reflects later ideas (cf. 1 Sam. viii. 7; x. 19; xii. 12, 17). The conclusion, however, shows that Jerubbaal had only a local reputation. Finally, the condemnation of the ephod as part of the worship of Yahweh (viii. 27) agrees with the thought in vi. 25–32 as against that in vi. 11–24. (See Ephod; Gideon.) Chapter ix. (see Abimelech) appears to have been wanting in the Deuteronomic book of Judges, but inserted later perhaps by means of the introduction, viii. 30–32 (post-exilic). It has two accounts of the attack upon Shechem (lx. 26–41 and 42–49).
After a brief notice of two “minor judges” (see below), follows the story of Jephthah. It concludes with the usual Deuteronomic formula (xii. 7), but is prefaced by a detailed introduction to the oppression of Israel (x. 6 sqq.). By the inclusion of the Philistines among the oppressors, and of Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim among the oppressed (x. 7, 9), it appears to have in view not merely the story of Samson, a hero of local interest, but the early chapters in 1 Samuel. This introduction is of composite origin (as also ii. 6–21; Josh. xxiii.–xxiv. 25), but a satisfactory analysis seems impossible. As it stands, it has literary connexions with the late narrative in 1 Sam. (vii. seq., xii.), and appears to form the preface to that period of history which ended with Samuel’s great victory and the institution of the monarchy. But this belongs to a later scheme (see Samuel), and the introduction in its earlier form must have been the prelude to earlier narratives. The story of Jephthah’s fight with Ammon is linked to the preceding introduction by x. 17 seq.; for the framework see x. 6 (above), xii. 7. Chapter xi. 12–28 (cf. Num. xx. seq.) is applicable only to Moab, vv. 29 and 32 are variants, and Jephthah’s home is placed variously in Tob. (xi. 3) and Mizpeh (v. 34). In xi. 1–10 the outlaw stipulates that he shall be chief of Gilead if successful, but in vv. 12–28 a ruler speaks on behalf of Israel. Both Moab and Ammon had good reason to be hostile to Gilead (Num. xxi.), but the scene of the victory points rather to the former (v. 33, possibly conflate). There is a general resemblance between the victories of Gideon and Jephthah, which is emphasized by the close relation between viii. 1–3 and xii. 1–6, the explanation of which in its present context is difficult. See further Jephthah.
The old stories of Samson the Danite have been scarcely touched by the redaction (xiii. 1; xv. 20; xvi. 31b, where he is a “judge”); only xiii. appears to be rather later (v. 5 represents him as a forerunner of Samuel and Saul), and gives a rather different impression of the hero of the folk-tales. The cycle illustrates some interesting customs and is in every way valuable as a specimen of popular narrative. See Samson.
Grouped among these narratives are the five so-called “minor judges” (x. 1–5; xii. 8–15). By the addition of Shamgar (iii. 31) the number is made to agree with the six more important names. They are not represented as having any immediate religious importance; they really lie outside of the chronological scheme, and their history is plainly not related from such lively and detailed reminiscence as gives charm to the longer episodes of the book. The notices are drawn up in set phraseology, and some of the names, in harmony with a characteristic feature of early Hebrew history, are those of personified families of communities rather than of families.
3. The third and last section of the book embraces chapters xvii.–xxi., and consists of two narratives independent of one another and of the main stock of the book, with which they are not brought into any chronological connexion. They appear to owe their position to the latest redactor (akin to the latest stratum in the Hexateuch) who has heavily worked over xix–xxi., and put the book into its present form by the addition of i.–ii. 5, ix. and possibly of v.
The first narrative, that of Micah and the Danites, is of the highest interest both as a record of the state of religion and for the picture it gives of the way in which one clan passed from the condition of an invading band into settled possession of land and city. Its interest (xvii. seq.) lies in the foundation of the Ephraimite sanctuary by Micah as also in that of Dan. There are some repetitions in the account, but there is not enough evidence to restore two complete stories. The history of the Levite and the Benjamites is of quite another character, and presupposes a degree of unity of feeling and action among the tribes of Israel which it is not easy to reconcile with the rest of the book. In its present form this episode appears to be not very ancient; it resembles Ruth in giving a good deal of curious archaeological detail (the feast at Shiloh) in a form which suggests that the usages referred to were already obsolete when the narrative was composed. It appears to consist of an old story which has been heavily revised to form an edifying piece of exposition. The older parts are preserved in xix.: the account of the Levite of Mt Ephraim whose concubine from Bethlehem in Judah was outraged, not by the non-Israelite Jebusites of Jerusalem, but by the Benjamites of Gibeah; there are traces of another source in vv. 6–8, 10, 13, 15. The older portions of xx. seq. include: the vengeance taken by Israel (e.g. xx. 3–8, 14, 19, 29, 36–41, 47), and the reconstruction of the tribe by intermarriage with the women of Shiloh (xxi. 1, 15, 17–19, 21–23). The post-exilic expansions (found chiefly in xx., xxi. 2–14, 16, 24 seq.) describe the punishment of Benjamin by the religious assembly and the massacre of Jabesh-Gilead for its refusal to join Israel, four hundred virgins of the Gileadites being saved for Benjamin. How much old tradition underlies these stories is questionable. It is very doubtful whether Hosea’s allusion to the depravity of Gibeah (ix. 9; x. 9) is to be referred hither, but it is noteworthy that whilst Gibeah and Jabesh-Gilead, which appear here in a bad light, are known to be associated with Saul, the sufferer is a Levite of Bethlehem, the traditional home of David. The account of the great fight in xx. is reminiscent of Joshua’s battle at Ai (Josh. vii.–viii.).
Historical Value.—The book of Judges consists of a number of narratives collected by Deuteronomic editors; to the same circles are due accounts of the invasions of Palestine and settlement in Joshua, and of the foundation of the monarchy in 1 Samuel. The connexion has been broken by the later insertion of matter (not necessarily of late date itself), and the whole was finally formed into a distinct book by a post-exilic hand. The dates of the older stories preserved in ii. 6–xvi. 6 are quite unknown. If they are trustworthy for the period to which they are relegated (approximately 14th–12th cent. B.C.) they are presumably of very great antiquity, but if they belong to the sources J and E of the Hexateuch (at least some four or five centuries later) their value is seriously weakened. On the other hand, the belief that the monarchy had been preceded by national “judges” may have led to the formation of the collection. It is evident that there was more than one period in Israelite history in which one or other of these stories of local heroes would be equally suitable. They reflect tribal rivalry and jealousy (cf. Isa. ix. 21, and the successors of Jeroboam 2), attacks by nomads and wars with Ammon and Moab; conflicts between newly settled Israelites and indigenous Canaanites have been suspected in the story of Abimelech, and it is not impossible that the post-Deuteronomic writer who inserted ch. ix. so understood the record. A striking exception to the lack of unity among the tribes is afforded by the account of the defeat of Sisera, and here the old poem represents a combined effort to throw off the yoke of a foreign oppressor, while the later prose version approximates the standpoint of Josh. xi. 1–15, with its defeat of the Canaanites. The general stand-point of the stories (esp. Judg. v.) is that of central Palestine; the exceptions are Othniel and Samson—the latter interrupting the introduction in x., and its sequel, the former now entirely due to the Deuteronomic editor. Of the narratives which precede and follow, ch. i. represents central Palestine separated by Canaanite cities from tribes to the south and north; it is the situation recognized in Judg. xix. 10–12, as well as in passages imbedded in the latest portions of the book of Joshua, though it is in contradiction to the older traditions of Joshua himself. Chapters xvii. seq. (like the preceding story of Samson) deal with Danites, but the migration can hardly be earlier than David’s time; and xix.–xxi., by describing the extermination of Benjamin, form a link between the presence of the tribe in the late narratives of the exodus and its new prominence in the traditions of Saul (q.v.). As an historical source, therefore, the value of Judges will depend largely upon the question whether the Deuteronomic editor (about 600 B.C. at the earliest) would have access to trustworthy documents relating to a period some six or seven centuries previously. See further Jews, §§ 6, 8; and Samuel, Books of.
Literature.—Biblical scholars are in agreement regarding the preliminary literary questions of the book, but there is divergence of opinion on points of detail, and on the precise growth of the book (e.g. the twofold Deuteronomic redaction). See further W. R. Smith, Ency. Brit. 9th ed. (upon which the present article is based); G. F. Moore, International Critical Comm. (1895); Ency. Bib., art. “Judges”; K. Budde, Kurzer Handcommentar (1897); Lagrange, Livres des juges (1903); G. W. Thatcher (Century Bible); also S. R. Driver, Lit. of Old Testament (1909); Moore, in the Sacred Books of Old Testament (1898); C. F. Kent, The Student’s Old Testament, vol. i. (1904). (S. A. C.)
- This is confirmed by the circumstance that in Judg. ii. 1 the “angel of Yahweh,” who, according to Exod. xiv. 24, xxiii. 20, xxxii. 34, xxxiii. 2, 7 seq., must be viewed as having his local manifestation at the headquarters of the host of Israel, is still found at Gilgal and not at Shiloh.
- The chapter was written after Israel had become strong enough to make the Canaanite cities tributary (v. 28), that is, after the establishment of the monarchy (see 1 Kings ix. 20–21).
- Hence, it is to be inferred that the reviser had older written records before him. Had these been in the oral stage he would scarcely incorporate traditions which did not agree with his views; at all events they would hardly have been written down by him in the form in which they have survived. The narratives of the monarchy which are preserved only in Chronicles, on the other hand, illustrate the manner in which tradition was reshaped and rewritten under the influence of a later religious standpoint.
- It may be conjectured that the introduction originally formed the prelude to the rise of Saul: the intervening narratives, though not necessarily of late origin themselves, having been subsequently inserted. See S. A. Cook, Crit. Notes O. T. Hist., p. 127 seq.
- Tola and Puah (x. 1) are clans of Issachar (Gen. xlvi. 13), for Jair (v. 3), see Num. xxxii. 41, and for Elon (xii. 11), see Gen. xlvi. 14. See Genealogy: Biblical.
- To the same post-exilic hand may also be ascribed the introduction of the “minor judges” (so several critics), and smaller additions here and there (ch. i. 1 opening words, vv. 4, 8 seq. [contrast 21] 18; viii. 30–32: xi. 2, &c.).