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Oxford Bible Atlas Contextualizes the stories and lands of the Bible through user-friendly maps and illustrations.

The Judges

The Book of Judges tells the stories of a number of major ‘judges’ and gives brief details of some minor ‘judges’. The term ‘judge’ is misleading, certainly as a description of the major ‘judges’ since, with one exception (Deborah, see Judg. 4: 4–5 ), they are not described as administering justice. It is possible that the so‐called minor ‘judges’ (Judg. 10: 1–5; 12: 8–15 ) were envisaged as having some sort of administrative role, and it has been suggested that the term ‘ruler’ might be more appropriate. They are each said to have ‘judged Israel’, but they are associated with different places and it is not clear whether they were thought to have had some sort of responsibility for the whole land. Even the term ‘ruler’ is hardly appropriate for the major ‘judges’. A better description is a term used within the stories, that is, ‘deliverer’ (Judg. 3: 9, 15 ).

The Judges

Examples of weapons from Mesopotamia, dating from about the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE. A two‐edged sword or dagger is mentioned in the story of Ehud (Judg. 3: 16 ).

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Zev Radovan, www.BibleLandPictures.com

They are presented as charismatic leaders, raised up by God to confront particular enemies who threatened different parts of the land at different times. Othniel is associated with the defeat of Cushan‐rishathaim, said to be from Aram Naharaim, that is, Mesopotamia, but ‘Aram’ may be a corruption of ‘Edom’, with Naharaim subsequently having been added in error (Judg. 3: 8 ). Ehud, a Benjaminite (there is irony here because Benjamin means literally ‘son of the right hand’ yet his left‐handedness contributes to his success) kills the Moabite king, Eglon (Judg. 3: 12–30 ). There is a passing reference to Shamgar whom the text describes as ‘son of Anath’, possibly implying that he was from Beth‐anath, and his slaying of 600 Philistines (Judg. 3: 31 ). Deborah summoned Barak to gather an army from Naphtali and Zebulun on Mount Tabor and fight against Sisera in the Plain of Esdraelon/Jezreel. The understanding of this episode is helped by an awareness of geographical factors. There are two accounts of the victory over Sisera; one in prose in Judges 4 , and the other in the ancient ‘Song of Deborah’ in Judges 5 . It is the latter which enables the reader to appreciate how Israelite infantry were able to defeat Sisera's chariotry despite having left the security of Mount Tabor for the plain where chariots would have supremacy. Torrential rain turned the River Kishon into a raging torrent, sweeping some chariots away (Judg. 5: 4, 21 ), while the surrounding land doubtless became waterlogged so that the chariots could not function, accounting for Sisera's flight on foot (Judg. 4: 15 ).

Gideon is recorded as having summoned an army from Manasseh, Asher, and Zebulun, and achieved victories over the Midianites and the Amalekites (Judg. 6–8 ). Jephthah led the men of Gilead against the Amalekites (Judg. 11 ). And the mighty Samson is described as engaging in various exploits against the Philistines, before being blinded and then dying when he brought down the building in which he had been forced to entertain his captors (Judg. 12–16 ).

The general picture of tumultuous times presented by the Book of Judges is completed with a description of how the tribe of Dan found a new home in the far north (Judg. 17–18 ) and of conflict between Benjamin and the other tribes (Judg. 19–21 ).

The opening verse of the Book of Ruth states that the events it describes took place ‘in the days when the judges ruled’. Hence it has been placed after the Book of Judges in the Christian canonical order, although in the Hebrew Bible it is included among the Writings. The book tells how Ruth, a Moabite, accompanied her mother‐in‐law Naomi back to Bethlehem, married Boaz, and was an ancestor of King David.

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