Notes on Judges

*These thoughts are not intended to be fully developed. For the most part, they are musings about my current coursework at the University of Chicago.

For our reading of Judges, we are asked to “isolate folklore motifs, repetitions, foreshadowing, and other literary features in these chapters.” There are other questions as well; however, these are my primary concerns for reading Judges and 1 Samuel 1-16.

Notes on Judges

  • 1:1-2:5 establishes that, from the beginning, the Israelites failed to complete the task of eliminating the people living in the land.
  • 2:9 Joshua is buried immediately North of the Judah and Benjaminite territories.
  • 2:13 worship of Baalim and Ashtaraoth is a historical fact. The primacy of Yahweh developed between the 7th and 3rd centuries BCE (Davies, 2016).
  • 2:1-23 seems to contextual and shape how the reader should think about the remaining material.
  • 3:9-10 notes Othniel the Kenizzite, upon whom the spirit of the LORD descended. This is a folkloric tradition.
  • 3:31 briefly notes another folkloric tradition: Shamgar son of Annath, who slew six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad. That is an impressive CV.
  • NOTE: In Judges much more occurs North of Jerusalem, traditionally Benjaminite and Judahite regions.
  • To what extent is there humor in the statement of 4:9? “the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” It may reflect quite a bit about the authors understanding of gender roles.
    • This is an example of her prophetic statement, perhaps more accurate to the practice of prophecy in history than prophetic literature itself.
  • There is a consistent motif of entering a room, expecting one thing, and seeing another (Death of Eglon, King of Moab; death of Sisera; etc.).
  • 5:1-31 seems to be an older, poetic tradition.
  • 5:15b-18 seemingly critiques how certain tribes failed to join the troops who routed Sisera’s forces.
  • 6:7-10 repeats a message similar to 2: 1-5: it critiques Israelites for failing to obey Yahweh.
  • 6:15 contains a similar motif as David: Gideon is the youngest and humblest.
    • This may be part of the reason some scholar claim that Gideon was, at one point, a king within Israelite tradition (I need to double check on this).
  • 6:19 offering under a terebinth may reflect traditions and history which considered trees to be a sort of holy place.
  • Gideon’s calling is an etiology for Adonai-shalom as a holy place and altar.
  • 6:27 has a sense of irony. If the cult of Baal represented is in some way reflective of chthonic deity worship, this is a humorous passage.
  • 6:35 Asher responds, unlike in Judges 5.
  • 7:13-14 prophetic activity is a perfect example of an oracle.
  • 8:1-3 tradition reflective of regional conflict?
  • 8:21 what are the crescents on the necks of the camels of Zebah and Zalmunna?
  • 8:23 Gideon’s claim the LORD will rule over the men of Israel reflects (1) a similar situation to that of Samuel and (2) perhaps an older tradition of Gideonite kingship (check sources; I recall reading this).
  • 9:6 “pillar at Shechem” reflective of an older holy site?
  • 9:42-45 demonstrates extraordinary knowledge of military tactics.
  • 9:53 is so abrupt and humerous: “But a woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and cracked his skull.”.
  • 9:54 connects to the moftif of women killing men.
  • 9:55 is hilarious because, again, the army abruptly returns home once Abimelech dies.
  • 11:1-12 is similar to texts like Enuma Elish in which the warrior agrees to fight only with the agreement that he become the leader.
  • 11:38-40, in contrast to other texts which vividly describe death and violence, avoids describing Jephthah as a burnt offering. Contextualizing it within any reality of child sacrifice, real or imaged, Jephthat, even though he trusted the Lord, is made out to be wicked.
  • 13:19-23 echoes sacrifice in Leviticus, Leviticus 9-10 in particular, and involves the sacrifice as a “rock to the LORD.”
  • The transition between Chapter 15 and Chapter 16 is not smooth. Perhaps it reflects two distinct traditions about Samson? Or else it is just bad writing on the part of the editor.
  • Samson was really not an outstanding guy.
  • 18:1 is interesting because the Danites do not yet have territory. Some scholars suggest the Danites emerged from the Sea peoples.
  • 18:5-10 reads like Joshua.
  • 18:20 priests go with the money and prestige.
  • 19:25 a woman finally dies, after they’ve been the ones doing the saving up to this point.
  • In some ways, based off of what I am aware of from archaeology of the Levant, Judges seems more historically probably than Joshua.
  • 21:19-24 is more or less about how the Benjaminites kidnapped, raped, and married women dancers from other tribes during a feast at Shiloh.

Reflections on the Book of Judges

I recently read through the book of Judges for fun. While it is one of the most uncomfortable books with regard to its blood, gore, and violence, it is a fascinating composition. And although many have already noted what I am about to write about, I will write anyway because discovery is new with every man.

Within Judges, there were three things that stood out to me which may help in the broad scope of biblical studies.

  1. The role of women has been noted by many. Unlike many biblical narratives and theological-histories, women play significant roles which affect the direction of the various legends, for better or for worse. It would be interesting to examine how their roles relate to roles of other women and men across the Hebrew Bible. Furthermore, after establishing a date of composition for Judges, it would be interesting to explore how roles of women are used in later composed books of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Period literature. To expand horizons, such a study should also explore how women are represented in the ancient Near East.
  2. The dynamics between the tribes of Jacob stand out. Any quick reading of Judges can be confusing because the conflict is so rooted in a time of geographical and political upheaval. Thus the complex dynamics and interactions between the various tribes is fascinating in how it relates tribes.
  3. Although Samson is an important character and is included in the longest narrative, it would interesting to analyze reception of the Samson narrative. As I read Judges, something was wrong with Samson and his actions. I am not sure if it is my own morality creating a layer of film over the text, or if the text is actually indicating the sense I am receiving. Regardless, an in depth study of, first, the Samson narrative and, second, reception of the Samson narrative through Church history and Jewish tradition would be fascinating.