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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Reading through the Book of Judges

Understanding the Time of the Judges ( Jgs 1, 1–3, 6 )

The book begins by raising the question of leadership: “Who shall be first among us to attack the Canaanites and to do battle with them?” ( 1, 1 ). The initial answer is Judah, the tribe that eventually became the nucleus of the Southern Kingdom. After some initial success, the tribes' progress bogged down, and the first chapter concludes with a list of areas over which the Israelites were not able to assert their control ( 1, 27–35 ). The picture here is just the opposite of that given in the book of Joshua according to which Joshua “captured the whole country, just as the Lord had foretold to Moses. Joshua gave it to Israel as their heritage, apportioning it among the tribes” (Jos 11, 23 ). The process by which the Israelites achieved control over Canaan was clearly long and complicated. Once the Egyptians no longer dominated the region, the political and military reins they held were gone. The indigenous population of Canaan had to face raiders from the fringes of the settled areas, various kinship groups, refugees from economically and politically volatile regions, and invaders looking for new settlement possibilities—all of whom converged on the area between the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the desert on the east, the mountains of Lebanon on the north and the Sinai peninsula on the south. Eventually the national states of Edom, Moab, and Ammon arose east of the Jordan River. The Israelite kingdoms were established west of the Jordan about two hundred years later because, apparently, the Israelite tribes seemed to prefer a more decentralized polity supported by a religious ideology that held that Israel's king was not a human being but the Lord. Until the rise of their national states, the Israelites had to make do with local and temporary leadership.

The second chapter describes the price Israel had to pay for its preferred pattern of leadership: the Israelite tribes found themselves in danger of being overcome by the other groups competing for the limited territory of Canaan. The explanation for this potential disaster is the failure of the Israelites to keep their covenant with the Lord. Israel will have to deal with other contenders for the land by themselves. God's help will not be forthcoming. The contrast between the period of Joshua and that of the Judges could not be more absolute. Under Joshua's leadership, “Israel served the Lord” (Jos 24, 31 ) and it had experienced victory after victory and came to possess “all the land.” Without the type of leadership Joshua provided, the Israelite tribes were on the verge of annihilation because of their failure to obey the Lord. The Israelite response was lamentation at a place named Bochim, (weepers) (Jgs 2, 5 ).

The next section ( 2, 6–3, 6 ) elaborates on the religious interpretation of the problems the Israelite tribes had in maintaining a foothold in the land promised to their ancestors. The reason for Israel's difficulties is simple enough: “the Israelites offended the Lord by serving the Baals” ( 2, 11 ). The threat to Israel's continued presence in Canaan was a direct by‐product of the Israelite worship of Baal, which presented a most serious threat to the exclusive service that Israel owed to its God. Baal is the title (“Lord” or “Owner”) by which Hadad, the Canaanite god of the storm and fertility, was known.

One of the principal sources of anxiety in the Bronze and Iron Ages in Canaan and Israel was having enough food to eat. The problem was not the soil—it was fertile enough. The problem was water. The region was not blessed with a river system as were Egypt and Mesopotamia, whose river systems made large‐scale irrigation possible. In Israel, whatever moisture there was to water the land had to come as rain. The Israelites, following the lead of the Canaanites, relieved their anxiety about having enough rain to make the land provide enough food by worshipping Baal and his consort Ashtaroth ( 2, 13 ) because rain and fertility were their specialties. Israel's ancestral deity, by way of contrast, came from southern, arid regions (see Hb 3, 3 ). It is likely that most Israelites did not consider the worship they offered to Baal and Ashtaroth as incompatible with loyalty to the Lord, but certainly the author of Judges did. It took centuries for the people of Israel to be convinced of how critically important it was for them to serve the Lord alone. The book of Judges was an important contribution to this process.

The pattern for the way the stories of the judges will be told is set in 2, 11–23 . The book introduces the narrative of each of the judges with the formula found first in 2, 11 : “Israelites offended the Lord …” The consequence of this infidelity was domination over the Israelite tribes by their rivals for hegemony in Canaan. But the period of the judges was marked not only by divine judgment but by divine mercy. The Lord always heard the sounds of Israel's pleading and responded by raising up a leader who rescued Israel from the oppression they were experiencing. Unfortunately, at the death of the judge who rescued them, the Israelites returned to their evil ways. God determined, then, that Israel would have to continue facing the threat of extinction as long as it continued to serve the Baals ( 2, 16–23 ). The introduction to the book ends with 3, 1–6 , which explains that Israel's competitors will remain in the land to test the loyalty of future generations. But one consequence of this intermingling will be that some Israelites will marry Canaanite spouses, which will often mean that the Israelite partners in such unions will abandon their ancestral religion.

Two final observations need to be made about the introduction. In the stories that follow, the threat and resistance are usually local. But Judges transforms the stories of local heroes into stories that have a significance for all Israel. Second, as readers work their way though the stories of the judges, the question arises about how long God will continue to abide Israel's infidelity. Is there some limit to God's forbearance?

The Stories of the Judges (Jgs 3, 7–15, 20 )

Othniel (Jgs 3, 7–11 )

The book of Judges begins with a divine oracle that names the tribe of Judah as the leader of the Israelites in the attempt to take control over Canaan ( 1, 1–2 ), and the first of the judges, Othniel, is from Judah. He has already made an appearance in the book as the conqueror of Debir, a city in the southern hill country of Judah ( 1, 11–13 ). Here Othniel's story is told with a minimum of detail, but its basic pattern will be repeated throughout this section of Judges: The Israelites served Baal instead of the Lord. God allowed an enemy to oppress them—in this case for eight years. They cried out for deliverance, and God sent a judge to rescue them. God endowed the judge with the spirit of the Lord, which empowered him to accomplish extraordinary deeds. Israel then served the Lord for the lifetime of the judge—in this case forty years.

The NAB accepts the reading of the Hebrew Bible for the name of Cushan's base: Aram Naharaim, a city on the Euphrates River in northern Syria. This reading cannot be correct since the judges all deal with threats from within Canaan. One suggestion is that the text should read Armon‐harim (“fortress in the hills”).

Ehud (Jgs 3, 12–30 )

Ehud came from the tribe of Benjamin, whose territory is immediately north of Judah. The first detail given about Ehud is that he was left‐handed. While the people of the ancient world considered left‐handedness abnormal, it was a distinct advantage in hand‐to‐hand combat. Although the name Benjamin means “the son of my right hand,” the tradition behind the book associates this tribe with a high incidence of left‐handedness. Judges 20, 16 asserts that Benjamin could boast of seven hundred highly skilled lefthanders.

Israel's sin was responsible for the oppression, which took the form of raids by Eglon, the king of Moab. Moab was a kingdom located in the central part of the Transjordan directly across the river from Benjaminite territory. While engaged in these raids, Eglon made “the City of Palms” (probably Jericho) his headquarters. These raids continued over an eighteen‐year period. Ehud, who was supposed to bring Benjamin's tribute to Eglon, instead assassinated him. After making his escape, Ehud was able to convince men from the tribe of Ephraim to join him in expelling the Moabites from Israelite territory. So total was Ehud's victory that Israel had peace for eighty years.

The story of Ehud's assassination of Eglon ridicules the Moabites for their carelessness, naïveté, and stupidity. Of course, the story must have been highly entertaining because it was retold countless times. Certainly one can picture the Israelite audience having a good laugh at the expense of the Moabites. The book takes this entertaining story about a Benjaminite hero and makes it part of a comprehensive theological presentation about the importance of serving the Lord alone.

Shamgar (Jgs 3, 31 )

There is some doubt whether Shamgar ought to be understood as a judge like the others in the book. His name is not Semitic nor does the text claim that God raised him up in response to Israel's cries. The Song of Deborah (Jgs 5 ) notes that the caravan trade was interrupted “in the days of Shamgar” (v. 6 ). Perhaps he was responsible for this disruption. In any case, Shamgar single‐handedly defeated an entire Philistine force. While his service on Israel's behalf may have been indirect, he did make life easier for some Israelites by defeating the Philistines. The book mentions him after Ehud—someone else who single‐handedly delivered Israel.

Deborah and Barak (Jgs 4, 1–5, 31 )

With the story of Deborah and Barak, the scene shifts northward—to the vitally important Jezreel Valley. The valley, which extended southeast from the Plain of Acco on the Mediterranean coast to the Jordan Valley, separated Galilee from the central highlands. Once under Israelite control, communication between the tribes in the Galilee and the those in the highlands to the south became possible. Also significant was the agricultural and trade potential of the Jezreel Valley. Israel had to control this important piece of real estate. But standing in its way was Jabin, the king of Hazor, who wanted to keep the Jezreel for himself. He dispatched his general Sisera with a force that included nine hundred chariots to keep Israel out of the valley. The story and poem about Deborah and Barak testify to the significance that the Jezreel Valley held. It is the celebration of a great and unexpected victory: that of an army of peasants over professional soldiers with the best of equipment.

The book of Judges presents Deborah as the hero of the conflict with Sisera's army. Barak made his contributions with great reluctance. The story labels Deborah as a prophetess and a judge ( 4, 4 ) without further explanation. Because judges and prophets were charismatic leaders, these roles were open to women. The patriarchal structures of ancient Israelite society did not obstruct the “spirit of the Lord,” and clearly people understood this. Deborah shamed Barak into raising a force from Naphtali and Zebulun to oppose Sisera and his chariots. Naphtali and Zebulun were Galilean tribes, and their territory was located just to the north of the Jezreel Valley. As the reader expects, God gave victory to the Israelites. Sisera escaped the rout only to be killed by the Kenite Jael while assuming she was protecting him from the pursuing Israelites. This event fulfilled, in an unforeseen way, Deborah's prophecy, which was intended to goad Barak into action ( 4, 9 ).

The book of Judges preserves what many consider to be one of the oldest texts found in the Bible: the song of Deborah (5). This is a hymn celebrating the victory of Israel over Sisera's army. Here readers find out how the victory was achieved. A sudden rain causing a flash flood in the valley rendered the chariot force immobile and eliminated Sisera's advantage. Also, the poem asserts that the Israelite force included not only Zebulun and Naphtali but also Ephraim, Benjamin, Issachar, and Machir, which may be that portion of Manasseh west of the Jordan. Other tribes are criticized for not responding to the threat posed by Sisera: Asher, Dan, Reuben, and Gilead, which may be that portion of Manasseh east of the Jordan. The poem does not mention Judah, Gad, or Levi.

The poem contrasts two mothers: Deborah, mother of Israel, and Sisera's unnamed mother. Deborah was responsible for a great victory, while Sisera's mother came to realize that Sisera's failure to return promptly from the battle means that she would never see her son again.

Gideon ( Jgs 6, 1–8, 35 )

No judge receives more attention from the book of Judges than Gideon. His story begins with Israel being harassed by the Midianites, who enjoyed a great advantage over Israel. The Midianites were mounted on camels when they raided Israelite territory at harvest time. These mounted attacks made the Midianites unstoppable. They simply confiscated the harvest that the Israelites produced, making life impossible for the Israelite peasants ( 6, 1–6 ). An unnamed prophet announces the religious cause of the Midianite oppression ( 6, 7–10 ). To the angel sent to recruit Gideon to deliver Israel, the reluctant general points out his lack of suitability—a motif also found in the call of Moses (Ex 3, 10 ) Isaiah (Is 6, 5 ) and Jeremiah (Jer 1, 6 ).

There is a great anomaly in Gideon's story: he is frequently called Jerubbaal, a name that seemingly honored Baal, the Lord's rival for Israel's loyalty. The meaning of that name (let Baal sue or take action) helps explain the anomaly. Gideon's dismantling of an altar for sacrifices to Baal aroused the anger of the local populace, and they were ready to kill Gideon for his sacrilege. Gideon's father suggests that they should leave the matter up to Baal—let Baal sue—“since he destroyed his altar” (Jgs 6, 25–32 ).

The rest of Gideon's story describes his efforts to deal with the Midianites and others that were threatening the Israelite tribes in the central highlands. He rallied to his side not only members of his own tribe (Manasseh) but the militia of three others (Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali). But Gideon refused to proceed without receiving another sign that his mission was from God ( 6, 36–40 ). Next came a test of Gideon's militia administered by God, who had Gideon dismiss those who lapped up drinking water and thus reduced their vigilance. Gideon received additional orders from God, requiring him to keep only three hundred fighters to insure that the militia could not ascribe the coming victory to their military skills but to God ( 7, 1–8 ). The three hundred vanquished the Midianites by a surprise nighttime attack without doing any actual fighting—again underscoring the divine origin of Israel's victory. The Ephraimite militia joined in the pursuit of the Midianites. They captured and executed two Midianite kings, Oreb and Zeeb. The story concludes with Gideon pursuing the fleeing Midianites into the Transjordan where he took two more Midianite kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon also engaged in an act of private vengeance against the town of Penuel that refused to help his men during their campaign.

Gideon's story then takes a new twist as the Israelites ask Gideon to rule as king and thus establish a dynasty to provide ongoing protection from groups like the Midianites. Gideon refused, citing the Israelite notion that the Lord is king of Israel. Gideon then uses part of the valuables confiscated from the Midianites to construct an ephod, a priestly vestment probably used for divination. The book does not consider this a positive development but notes that, nonetheless, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years ( 8, 22–28 ).

Gideon's story ends with a transition to what follows by introducing his many wives who bore him seventy children. The one child mentioned by name is Abimelech, who will be the principal character in the next story. After Gideon died, the people of Israel reverted to the worship of Baal and forgot both the Lord and Gideon's achievements ( 8, 29–35 ).

Abimelech (Jgs 9, 1–36 )

Although it is in the middle of the book of Judges, the story of Abimelech is an oddity because Abimelech is not a judge. He did not free Israel from any oppression. Abimelech convinced the people of Shechem to accept him as the sole ruler of their city and its environs, replacing the more diffuse pattern of leadership as exercised by Jerubbaal's seventy sons. To solidify his one‐man rule Abimelech murdered all his brothers except Jotham, who survived, cursed his brother and then fled the Shechem area—never to be heard from again.

The book places on Jotham's lips a bitter diatribe against his brother ( 9, 7–15 ). Jotham addresses Shechem's leadership in a fable about trees who were looking for a king but could persuade only a worthless thornbush to accept the position. Is this a criticism of the monarchy as an institution or merely a criticism of Abimelech? The book can barely hide its animosity toward Abimelech. It is important to remember that the book of Judges—in the form in which it now exists—was the product of someone who witnessed the fall of the Davidic dynasty and the end of the Judahite national state. Certainly the failure of the monarchy to prevent the disaster that came upon Jerusalem had to weigh heavily on the writer's mind. The role of the monarchy in Israelite life, then, was not simply a theoretical question. It is important to note that the setting of this story is Shechem, where earlier Israel had reaffirmed its covenant with the Lord (Jos 24 ). In Abimelech, Shechem accepts a human being as its lord. Such a choice will be disastrous.

Abimelech's rule in Shechem was indeed a disaster for him and for the city. Although Abimelech claimed to be a Shechemite “flesh and bone” ( 9, 2 ), a revolt was fomented by Gaal, who implied that Abimelech was only a half‐Shechemite. The trouble started by Gaal was serious enough that Abimelech had to be ferocious in his response ( 9, 42–49 ). Abimelech died as he was putting down the revolt. The book implies that his ignominious death was a fitting conclusion to a bad episode. In 2 Samuel, Joab and David will recall the story of Abimelech's death as they scheme to have Uriah die during the siege of Rabbath‐Ammon as part of the cover‐up of David's adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sm 11, 18–24 ). After Abimelech's death, the Israelite militia, which Abimelech also led, dispersed (Jgs 9, 22.55 ).

Tola and Jair (Jgs 10, 1–5 )

There were several judges about whom the book provides almost no information, but they are mentioned to leave the reader with the impression that judges were part of the experience of people in every region of Israel. Tola judged in Ephraim, the western portion of the central highlands, and Jair in Gilead, the northern part of the Transjordan controlled by Israel. References to their service provide the outer frame for the much more developed story of Jephthah.

Jephthah (Jgs 10, 6–11, 40 )

Because Jephthah, as the son of a prostitute, had an even lower social standing than Gideon or Deborah, he too was at first an unlikely candidate for the leadership of the Israelite militia. He did, however, possess one advantage. As the leader of a group of raiders, Jephthah had military experience and was just the kind of man that the elders of Gilead were looking for when the Ammonites were trying to push their border northward into Gilead's territory. Gilead was an Israelite territory east of the Jordan; Ammon was a kingdom to the south of Gilead.

There are several unique features to Jephthah's story. First, before resorting to armed conflict, Jephthah tried to negotiate a settlement with the Ammonites ( 11, 12–28 ). When the negotiations failed to convince the Ammonites to stop their incursions, the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, empowering him for the extraordinary efforts necessary to neutralize the Ammonites. But then there is a second unusual detail in the story. Jephthah makes a hasty and carelessly worded vow before the battle. The reader wonders if this indicates that the judge was less than confident in the outcome of the approaching battle. When Jephthah handily defeated the Ammonites, it was time to act on the vow he made. The NAB translation of 11, 31 suggests that the victim was to be a human being, but that is misleading. A better translation is “the first thing to come out …” But Jephthah thought that he was trapped by the imprecise wording of his vow, and so he believed that he had to sacrifice the daughter who ran out to meet him on his return from the battle with the Ammonites ( 11, 34–35 ). The religious and cultural significance of the practice of lamenting for Jephthah's daughter ( 11, 37–40 ) is not clear.

The third unique episode in Jephthah's star‐crossed career is a brief war between the Israelites from Gilead and those from Ephraim. The latter were jealous of Jephthah's victories and angry that they were not invited to join his expedition against the Ammonites. The conflict between Ephraim and Gilead may reflect an attempt by the former to dominate the latter. Jephthah tried negotiations a second time and failed again. In the ensuing conflict, the Ephraimites suffered severe casualties. Those who tried to escape were caught because they did not pronounce the sh sound in the Hebrew word shibboleth (current) because of their Ephraimite dialect.

Though Jephthah did neutralize the Ammonite threat and judged Israel for six years, the impression left by the book is that Jephthah's career was marked by failure and tragedy. He was not able to successfully negotiate with either the Ammonites or the Ephraimites. He lost his daughter because of a carelessly worded vow, and his victories ignited an intertribal war. The picture of Israel during the time of the judges is getting darker.

Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (Jgs 12, 8–15 )

The second part of the frame surrounding the story of Jephthah is a brief notice about three more judges, each of whom judged Israel in the region west of the Jordan River. Since Elon and Abdon were from the north, it is likely that Ibzan was too. The village of Bethlehem that was Ibzan's home was located in Zebulun (Jos 19, 15 )—not in Judah. There are no warfare stories connected with any of the three.

Samson (Jgs 13, 1–15, 20 )

Although Judges 15, 20 states that Samson was a judge in Israel for twenty years, his career was different from that of the judges whose stories the book has told so far. Samson never led the Israelite tribal militia. His was more of a solo act. The setting of Samson's story is the long conflict between the Israelites and the Philistines for control of Canaan. When the Egyptians and Hittites exhausted themselves vying for control of the trade routes that ran through Canaan, this left a vacuum of power waiting to be filled. The first to try to take advantage of Egypt's weakness were the Philistines. Who these people were and where they came from are not clear. Perhaps they were Mycenaeans who crossed the Mediterranean from Greece following the collapse of their empire in the thirteenth century BC. Mycenaeans served as mercenaries in the Egyptian army and knew the strengths and weaknesses of Egyptian defenses, but their invasion of Egypt still failed. The would‐be conquerors of Egypt retreated to the southern part of Canaan's coastal plain, which in Hebrew was known as peleshet. The Bible calls these people pelishtim (Philistines), i.e., the people who live in the peleshet. The Philistines organized themselves politically into a confederation of five city‐states: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. As the Philistines expanded to the north, they threatened the tribe of Dan, which was located on the central part of the coastal plain. Samson was a Danite.

Another unique feature of Samson's story is the narrative about the events surrounding his conception and birth that took place after Israel suffered forty years of Philistine oppression ( 13, 2–25 ). Samson's mother is told that the son she will conceive is to be a Nazirite. The word Nazirite comes from a Hebrew root that means “to separate, consecrate, abstain.” Numbers 6 describes the lifestyle of the Nazirite. They were not to drink fermented beverages, wine, or vinegar. They were not even to drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. This prohibition probably was meant to insure that Nazirites would not lose the spirit of the Lord because of intoxication. Second, Nazirites were not to cut their hair. This prohibition likely reflects a belief that a person's hair was especially significant as a place where spirits dwelt. Finally, Nazirites were not to touch any corpse because they were to remain ritually pure, and contact with a corpse rendered a person impure. A person could take the vows of a Nazirite for a set time, or a person could become a permanent Nazirite.

Samson's conflicts with the Philistines appear to be private in nature. The first comes as a result of a lost wager that Samson made with the Philistines during the celebration of his marriage to a Philistine woman ( 14, 1–20 ). The second is a reaction to his wife being given to another man ( 15, 1–7 ). The third involves an attempt by some Judahites to turn Samson over to the Philistines ( 15, 8–20 ). The story affirms three separate times that the spirit of the Lord came upon Samson. Each time the spirit gave Samson strength in situations when his life was in danger. The book implies that while Samson's struggles with the Philistines were personal, he caused the Philistines the type of setbacks that eased pressure on Dan for twenty years.

Israel's Self‐Destruction (Jgs 16, 1–21, 25 )

As readers make their way through the stories of the judges, the question arises, How long will God allow this pattern of apostasy and repentance to repeat itself? Will Israel ever learn to serve the Lord alone? The book of Judges answers those questions by concluding with a series of stories that show Israel clearly on the path of self‐destruction. What God would not allow the Moabites, the Midianites, the Ammonites, or the Philistines to do, Israel seems bent on doing to itself. The final chapters make it appear that the Israelites become addicted to chaos—chaos that threatens their continued existence as a people.

As the previous section ends with the stories of Samson's private vendettas easing the pressure that the Philistines were bringing to bear on Israel, so this final section begins with Samson's descent into self‐destruction. What is even worse is that Samson nearly took Israel with him. In Judges 16, 1–3 , Samson's visit to a prostitute nearly cost him his life. Apparently, he learned nothing from that brush with death, and his affair with Delilah did end with his death. Delilah was from the Valley of Sorek, located about thirteen miles west of Jerusalem. The land there was much more agriculturally valuable than the land the Israelite tribes had in the central highlands. Its one disadvantage was that it abutted Philistine territory; there was a constant threat of harassment hanging over the Israelite farmers in the Sorek because the Philistines too had moved into that valley. The book of Judges suggests that the Philistines soon dominated the region (Jgs 13, 1 ). Delilah is never actually called a Philistine, but the implication is there. The cutting of a Nazirite's hair was a public statement that he was released from his vows (see Acts 18, 18 ). In Samson's case, it meant that he was no longer equipped to defend Israel from the Philistine threat. His hair grew back, and Samson had one more opportunity to avenge himself, but at the cost of his life (Jgs 16, 23–30 ). Samson's flaws proved fatal. His death presaged that of the Israelite kingdoms whose story is introduced by that of the judges.

Micah (Jgs 17, 1–13 )

The scene shifts from the fate of Samson to that of Israel as a whole. The story about Micah is a symptom of the disease that afflicts Israel—the failure to serve the Lord alone. Micah built himself a shrine and, with his mother's help, outfitted it with images and an ephod, the latter probably used in divination. Micah had one of his sons serve as the priest of the shrine until a Levite happened to come by. What follows reflects the preference that Israelites had for priests from the tribe of Levi, who were likely seen as authentic representatives of the Yahwistic tradition. Indeed, Micah himself believes that as a result of his installing a Levite as a priest of his domestic shrine, he will enjoy blessings from the Lord (Jgs 17, 13 ). The only comment that the author of Judges makes on what he considers to be a warped notion of Israelite religious traditions is found in Judges 17, 6 : “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best.” Without some central authority, religious anarchy reigned in Israel.

Chapters 18 describes the migration of the tribe of Dan from the central part of the coastal plain to the far north of Galilee. The story begins by repeating the refrain “At that time there was no king in Israel” (Jgs 18, 1 ). The story continues to describe the religious anarchy among the tribes. The Danites steal the liturgical appurtenances from Micah's shrine and abduct his priest. After they take the city of Laish, they install the Levite and the shrine in their new home, which they rename Dan. Finally, the identity of the Levite is revealed. His name is Jonathan, and he is a grandson of Moses. The book of Judges regards this shrine as illegitimate because the “house of God” was located at Shiloh (Jgs 18, 31 ). That Moses' grandson was associated with an illegal shrine so scandalized later scribes that they introduced another letter into the name of Moses in 18, 30 , changing it to Manasseh, which was also the name of the most notorious apostate of all Judah's kings (see 2 Kgs 21 ).

The story of the corrupting of a young Levite from Bethlehem (Jgs 19 ) is followed by the story of a well‐established Levite from Ephraim. This story, too, begins with the refrain: “At that time … there was no king in Israel” (v. 1 )—a warning that what follows is another example of the religious anarchy that plagued Israel in the time of the judges. On his way home from reclaiming his secondary wife (concubine), who had returned to her father in a fit of anger, the Levite and his concubine spend the night in Gibeah, a town in the territory of Benjamin. In what has been aptly characterized as a “text of terror,” the Levite's wife is gang‐raped and murdered (vv. 11–30 ). Evidently, the hospitality and protection due a stranger in Benjamin did not extend to a secondary wife who may accompany him. Despite his own implication in facilitating this crime, the Levite summons the Israelite militia for vengeance. The tribal militia is not engaged in a defensive war against oppression but now fights in civil war. After two terrible losses, the Israelite militia finally defeats the Benjaminites, leaving only six hundred surviving males.

While the militia reassembles at Bethel, the people realize what they have done. When they seek an oracle from God to determine why one tribe has been virtually wiped out, none is forthcoming. The answer should be obvious: the Israelites try to undo what they have just done, and their solution involves them in another civil war against the people of Jabesh‐gilead, who did not join in the muster against Benjamin and, thus, were likely candidates to supply wives for the six hundred remaining Benjaminites. When the war did not provide enough women, the supposedly wise elders suggested that the Benjaminites kidnap as many as they needed from Shiloh. With that, the militia disbands.

The author of Judges has painted a very bleak picture of the Israelite tribes. He leaves his readers with the by‐now‐familiar comment on the religious and civil anarchy that gripped the life of Israel in its land: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best” (Jgs 21, 25 ). What follows is the story of Israel's experience with the monarchy, which ultimately proved just as incapable of forestalling disaster for the people of Israel.

While the book of Joshua is a highly stylized portrait of Israelite beginnings, the book of Judges reflects the disordered state of life in Canaan at the end of the Late Bronze Age in Canaan. It was a very unsettled time in the region, and certainly the book of Judges gives some idea of the chaos that affected the Israelite tribes who were trying to gain a foothold in the region. This is not to suggest that the book of Judges is a historical account of events as they happened. To some extent the narratives in Judges present an idealization of the early years of Israel's existence in Canaan: the stories of local heroes are arranged in what appears to be chronological order. What these stories show is that loyalty and commitment to the Lord are what stand between Israel's well‐being and its destruction.

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