Book of Judges (Hebrew: Sefer Shoftim ספר שופטים) is a book of the Bible originally written in Hebrew. It appears in the Tanakh and in the Christian Old Testament. Its title refers to its contents; it contains the history of Biblical judges (not to be confused with modern judges), who helped rule and guide the ancient Israelites, and of their times.
As Judges stands today, the last judge it mentions is Samson, and although there are two further stories, the traditional view is that Samson's exploits probably synchronise with the period immediately preceding Eli, who was both high priest and judge. Both academic views and traditional thought hence view the narrative of the judges as ending at Samson, picking up again at 1 Samuel 1:1 to consider Eli, and continuing through to 1 Samuel 7:2. As for the stories at the end of the Book, which are set in the same time period as the judges but discuss people other than the judges, there is much affinity between these and the Book of Ruth, and many people believe Ruth originally belonged amongst them. There were thirteen Biblical Judges.
- Summary and Introduction: Israel's Disobedience (1:1-3:6)
- Summary: Incomplete Conquest of the Canaanites (1:1-36)
- Introduction: Judgment of Israel (2:1-3:6)
- Selected History of the Judges: Israel's Deliverance (3:7-16:31)
- Othniel (3:7-11)
- Ehud (3:12-30)
- Shamgar (3:31)
- Deborah and Barak (4:1-5:31)
- Gideon (6:1-8:32)
- Tola and Jair (8:33-10:5)
- Jephthah (10:6-12:7)
- Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8-15)
- Samson (13:1-16:31)
- Epilogue: Israel's Decay (17:1-21:25)
The Introduction (1:1-3:10 and 3:12) gives a summary of the book of Joshua, in some cases giving additional details.
- The choosing of Judah to lead the attack (Judges 1:1-3)
- The capture of Adonibezek, and destruction of Jerusalem, (Judges 1:4-8)
- The story of Othniel Ben Kenaz (Judges 1:11-15) almost identical to its mention in Joshua (Joshua 15:15-19)
- A list of the successes and failures of Judah and Simeon's campaigns (1:17-20)
- Caleb driving away the sons of Anak from Hebron (Judges 1:10 and 1:20) as mentioned in Joshua (Joshua 15:14)
- The destruction of Luz and sparing of an individual who aided the Israelite spies (1:22-26)
- A list of the failures of the campaigns by the northern tribes (1:21-36)
- A threat by an angel at Bochim (2:1-5)
- The death of Joshua (Judges 2:6-9) similar to the account in Joshua (Joshua 24:28-31)
- An introduction to the role of Biblical judges (2:10-3:6)
- The falling of the Israelites into heathen practices (2:10-14)
- A very brief overview of the main part of the Book of Judges (2:15-19)
- An explanation of why God allowed some Canaanites to remain (2:20-3:4)
- A recap of the Israelites falling into heathen practices, as the start of the main part of the book (3:5-6)
- The story of Othniel Ben Kenaz (Judges 3:7-10) again, presented differently to the prior mention (Judges 1:11-15)
The Main text (3:11-16:31) discusses the five Great Judges
and Abimelech. It consists of six stories each concerning a major judge and their struggles against an oppressive foreign overlord. There are also brief glosses of the rule of lesser judges, often only giving their name and the number of their sons.
The Appendices (17:1-21:25) give two stories set in the time of the judges but do discuss the judges. The stories have no apparent narrative connection to each other, or the remainder of the text.
While the authorship of Judges has traditionally been ascribed to Samuel
, the great majority of modern scholars have come to a much more complex conclusion, regarding the work as having hardly any literary unity at all. Many suspect the brief Book of Ruth
to have originally been part of the Appendices
of Judges, owing to its style, linguistic features and the time period in which its contents are set. It is thought that the Book of Ruth became disconnected and misplaced at a later date.
According to some (but not all) experts in textual analysis known as textual criticism, the majority of Judges was originally part of a continuous work known as the Deuteronomic History stretching from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings, which was later broken up—according to the documentary hypothesis—when the Torah was constructed by its redactor from the early parts of the Deuteronomic History and other writings such as JE and the Priestly source. It is for this reason that many textual critics also treat 1 Samuel 1:1-7:2, which discusses Eli and Samuel, as having originally been part of the Judges section of the Deuteronomic History narrative.
Some passages (1:12-15, 2:6-9 and 3:7-11) of the introduction are almost identical to ones in the Book of Joshua. On the other hand, part of the text which surrounds them (1:1-11, 1:16-2:5) instead presents a summarised overview of the events in Joshua, recording differing traditions, such as that concerning Adonibezek (cf. Joshua 10), or those concerning the continuing presence of Jebusites in Jerusalem to this day
(1:21) or not (1:8). For those who support Hexateuch
-like theories, where the sources that the documentary hypothesis ascribes to the Torah extend through the Book of Joshua, these passages are often seen as deriving from such sources parallel to the corresponding ones of Joshua.
The majority of critical scholars believe that that first part of the introduction (1:1-2:5) was a late addition to the text, added after the Deuteronomist version of Judges was constructed. Hence 2:6-3:7 is viewed as the original introduction by the Deuteronomist to the Judges period, spinning the later stories to imply that the history of the period involved the Israelites repeatedly turning to worship of other gods, suffering for it, and being alleviated of their suffering by five great leaders, and Abimelech; whereas the original source texts were independent and without the Deuteronomist's alterations, some could be regarded as parallel local events rather than sequential national ones.
The text is believed under textual criticism to contain further compositional structure. The Deuteronomist here is believed to have combined together six earlier separate texts, one for each of the five Great Judges
and one for Abimelech, adding passages to join them together (4:1a, 8:29-31, 10:17-18, and 13:1
), sometimes interrupting the narrative to do so.
The text is believed to have been further altered by the (possibly later) addition of passages concerning Minor Judges (10:1-5 and 12:8-15) in order to make the total number of Judges a more religiously significant number, harmonizing them chronologically so that the total number of years of their reign (71) is close to the number of years of oppression under the Great Judges (70). The presence of 3:31, placing Shamgar in the list of Judges, is believed to be a later recension, created in order to remove Abimelech from being counted amongst the judges without disturbing the total number, in order that someone so apparently wicked not taint the role.
Three of these six earlier texts each contain partly duplicate accounts:
- Judges 4 is believed to be based on two separate stories, one based on the ancient Canticle of Deborah (Judges 5) concerning Sisera, the other a story concerning Jabin, which had merged together when Barak of Issachar (identified at 5:15 as the one who defeats Sisera) was confused with Barak of Naphtali (identified at 4:6 as the one who defeats Jabin), and consequently Sisera is reinterpreted in Judges 4 as Jabin's general rather than as the chief of a confederation (as in Judges 5)
- Although difficult to separate, there are considered to be two distinct interwoven narratives about Gideon; the first narrative (which includes at least 6:2-6, 6:11-24, 6:33-35, 7:1, and 7:9-25) describing a surprise assault on the Midianites on Mount Gilboa with the fugitive Kings Oreb and Zeeb being killed, and the second narrative (which includes at least 6:7-10, 6:25-32, and 6:36-40, and 8:4-27) discussing Gideon capturing the fugitive Kings Zebah and Zalmunna.
- The narrative of Judges 9, concerning Abimelech, is thought not to have originally contained the parable of Jotham (9:7b-20), it being inserted into the story at a later date. However, the parable is believed to be earlier than the rest of the narrative, which is thought to be at least partly based upon it.
In addition, the Samson narrative (13-16) contains two distinct cycles; the first a series of tableaux concerning his romance of a Philistine woman and subsequent problems arising from it; the second is the tale of his relationship with Delilah, which begins with him standing between two gateposts at dawn and ends with him standing between two temple pillars in the evening. Though these two cycles may have been collected separately from each other, textual criticism favours the view that the whole Samson narrative originates from one author. That the narrative of Samson is easily broken into 12 episodes is considered to be a deliberate literary conceit, owing to the significance of the number 12 to the Israelites.
In addition to such parallel narratives, the story of Jephthah (11:1-12:7) is often suspected to have been subject to later editing in three locations, though the reasons for the first two are not at all clear
- According to 11:1-2, it is Jephthah's own brothers which expelled him, whereas according to 11:7 it is the elders of Gilead
- The message to the Ammonites at 11:12-27 is written as if directed at Moabites.
- 11:35-40 has the appearance of abridging a more extensive original text, glossing over the existence in the text of human sacrifice to Yahweh, which is mentioned fairly obviously at 11:31
The Appendices cover two stories from the time of the Judges, rather than Judges themselves, and so only have contextual relationship in passing with the remainder of the work. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Appendices is that they cover events occurring at the start of the period of Judges and so chronologically belong before the remainder of the book, not after it. Even more noticeable is that the narrative preceding the Appendices continues in 1 Samuel, as if the narratives of the Appendices are not present. Hence scholars view the Appendices as texts that were not originally present but later added because of the shared time frame, though the reason they were inserted at the end rather than the beginning is unclear.
The story of Micah and his Idols (17-18) is thought by some scholars (e.g. Ernst Bertheau, Karl Budde, Rudolf Kittel, and Carl Heinrich Cornill) to be composed from two distinct accounts, one recording Micah making an Ephod and Teraphim and hiring a Levite to be "father and priest"; the other recording Micah making a graven image and a molten image and hiring a Levite as a priest whom he treated as a son. Were this to be the case, it may indicate that at least part of the Appendices could be considered further continuations of the Jahwist, Elohist, or Priestly sources, hence explaining their origin. However, other critical scholars have proposed that such discrepancies may simply be later scribal interpolations. The story is notable because it describes a cult and priesthood at Dan which is mentioned nowhere else in the entire Hebrew Bible, and hence is considered to be based on a particularly early source, prior to later recensions glossing over cult centres of Yahweh outside Jerusalem and Shiloh.
The other story of the appendices (19-21), concerning the Levite and his concubine, is thought to date from a similarly early era based on linguistic similarities to the first appendix. However, since everyone in the story is anonymous except Phinehas, many Biblical critics regard the story as fictional. Nevertheless, Hosea (10:9) says that "...since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel...", evidencing at least the presence of traditions resembling parts of the story, though some scholars, beginning with Noldeke, believe the story is actually based on something from a slightly later time period—the ruining of the tribe of Benjamin by the war between David and the son of Saul.
Repeated references throughout Judges to a time when there was no king in Israel (17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25) suggest there was a king at the time of writing; therefore, the time of writing would need to be after ca. 1043 B.C. when Saul began his reign. Also, since the Jebusites were still in Jerusalem, the time of writing would need to be before David's capture of Jerusalem ca. 1004 B.C. Therefore, the date of authorship can be estimated between ca. 1043 B.C. - ca. 1004 B.C.
The Book of Judges uniquely illustrates God bringing strength out of human weakness:
- Left-handedness of Ehud (3:12-30): the left hand being thought of as weaker than the right
- Shamgar's use of an oxgoad as a weapon (3:31): relative to slaying 600 enemies
- Sex of Deborah (4:1-5:31): thought to be the "weaker sex" although she herself was not weak
- Barak's 10,000 soldiers on foot vs. Sisera's 900 iron chariots (4:10,13)
- Jael (4:21, 5:26): thought to be the weaker sex although used a tent pin to kill Sisera, holding it in her left hand (Septuagint)
- Reduction of Gideon's army (7:1-8): Lord reduced from 32,000 to 300, yet still won
- Barley bread (7:13): food of the poor suggests poverty and feebleness
- Weapons of Gideon's army (7:16): pitchers, torches, trumpets
- Abimelech's fall (9:53): due to woman's hand throwing millstone
- Etymology of Tola (10:1): means worm
- Samson's mother (13:2): a nameless, barren woman
- Samson's victory and weapon (15:15): over 1000 Philistines with a donkey's jawbone