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Book of Judges

JUDGES, BOOK OF. The seventh book of the OT takes its name from the title of the men who ruled Israel during the period from Joshua to Samuel. They are called judges (shōphetîm, Judg.2.16), their principal function being that of military deliverers to the oppressed Hebrews.

It is difficult to date the historical period covered by the Book of Judges. It appears to have ended about a generation before Saul became king; thus we may place the end of the book at about 1020 b.c. The date of the death of Joshua, with which the book opens, depends on the date of the Exodus from Egypt, about which there is much dispute. Accordingly, some scholars date the beginning of the period of the judges at c. 1370-60; others, at c. 1220-10; still others, later. At first sight it appears that the book itself gives the answer, for it states the duration of the judgeships of the various judges. A close examination of the text, however, reveals that most of the judges were local, not national in their influence, and it appears likely that their periods overlapped. Further, the frequency of the number forty for the length of their office (Judg.3.11; Judg.5.31; Judg.8.28; Judg.13.1; 1Sam.4.18) makes it appear likely that this figure is a round number for a generation and not to be taken exactly.

The purposes of the Book of Judges are (1) to bridge in some manner the historical gap between the death of Joshua and the inauguration of the monarchy, (2) to show the moral and political degradation of a people who neglected their religious heritage and compromised their faith with the surrounding paganism, (3) to show the need of the people for the unity and leadership by a strong central government in the person of a king.

In its structure the book falls into three easily recognizable parts: (1) Introduction: the state of things at the death of Joshua, Judg.1.1-Judg.2.10; (2) Main body: the judges’ cycles, Judg.2.11-Judg.16.31; (3) Appendix: life in Israel in the days of the judges, Judg.17.1-Judg.17.13-Judg.21.1-Judg.21.25.

I. Introduction (Judg.1.1-Judg.2.10). This section gives a description of the state of the conquest of Canaan when Joshua died. It is a record of incomplete success. The less desirable hill country had been taken, but the fertile plains and the cities were still largely in Canaanite hands. This description does not contradict the record of the conquest (found in the Book of Joshua), which only claims that the Hebrew armies had “blitzkrieged” the whole land, while plainly stating that not all had been possessed (Josh.13.1-Josh.13.6). It was one thing for the Hebrew armies to sweep through the land; it was quite another for the individuals and tribes of the Hebrews to dispossess the Canaanites from the land and settle there. They failed to dispossess them, and this failure meant that the Hebrews lived as neighbors with pagan Canaanites; thus, the way was prepared for the syncretism (combining worship of the Lord with worship of idols) that so characterized the Hebrews during this period. This culture and religion were often largely Canaanite and pagan. This is the reason for the moral and spiritual degradation of the Hebrew people during the period of the judges.

II. Main Body of the Book (Judg.2.11-Judg.16.31). Here occur the accounts of the judges, the cycles of failure, oppression, and relief by a judge. The cycle is set forth in the abstract in Judg.2.11-Judg.3.6, and the accounts of the judges follow. It will be noted that these men were not principally civil magistrates. Rather, they were military deliverers, who led the people of Israel to freedom against their enemies, and seem frequently to have been singularly unfitted to be what we would today call judges. The judges and the part of Israel that they served (when that can be known) are listed here. For a discussion of the principal judges, see JUDGES.

1.Othniel (Judg.3.7-Judg.3.11).

2.Ehud (Judg.3.12-Judg.3.30): Central Palestine and Transjordan.

3.Shamgar (Judg.3.31): Philistine plain.

4.Deborah and Barak (Judg.4.1-Judg.4.24-Judg.5.1-Judg.5.31): Central Palestine and Galilee.

5.Gideon (Judg.6.1-Judg.6.40-Judg.8.1-Judg.8.35): Central Palestine and Transjordan.

6.Abimelech (Judg.9.1-Judg.9.57): Central Palestine. Abimelech is considered by many as merely an outlaw and not a judge.

7.Tola (Judg.10.1-Judg.10.2): Central Palestine.

8.Jair (Judg.10.3-Judg.10.5): Transjordan.

9.Jephthah (Judg.10.6-Judg.12.7): Transjordan.

10.Ibzan (Judg.12.8-Judg.12.10): Southern Palestine.

11.Elon (Judg.12.11-Judg.12.12): Northern Palestine.

12.Abdon (Judg.12.13-Judg.12.15): Central Palestine.

13.Samson (Judg.13.1-Judg.13.25-Judg.16.1-Judg.16.31): Philistine plain.

III. Appendix (Judg.17.1-Judg.17.13-Judg.21.1-Judg.21.25). The events recorded here seem to have occurred, not after the judges mentioned in the main part of the book, but during their judgeships. They are relegated to the appendix probably because they are narratives in their own right and if inserted in the main body would have marred the symmetry of the judge cycles there. These narratives describe life during this turbulent near-pagan period and give a frank and unvarnished description of the brutality and paganism that Israel was contaminated with because of her close association with her pagan Canaanite neighbors.

The Levite (Judg.17.1-Judg.17.13-Judg.18.1-Judg.18.31) was a priest who could follow his religious practice anywhere. He was hired as a family chaplain and soothsayer, and his presence was certain to bring “good luck” (Judg.17.13). He evidently functioned with idols (Judg.18.20) and was quite willing to change situations if the change involved a better salary (Judg.18.19-Judg.18.20). All of this is in direct contrast to the divine command concerning the priesthood in the Mosaic Law.

The migration of the Danites (Judg.18.1-Judg.18.31) was necessitated by their failure to capture the territory assigned to them (Josh.19.40-Josh.19.48; Judg.1.34-Judg.1.36). They then traveled to a northern valley, remote and defenseless, captured it, and settled there. Thus originated the northern Dan, known in the expression, “from Dan to Beersheba” (e.g., 1Sam.3.20; 2Sam.3.10; 1Kgs.4.25).

The narrative of the Levite’s concubine (Judg.19.1-Judg.19.30) casts a livid light on the brutality and bestiality of the times and introduces the war of the tribes against the Benjamites (Judg.20.1-Judg.20.48-Judg.21.1-Judg.21.25). This is not the only intertribal war of the period (Judg.8.1-Judg.8.3; Judg.12.1-Judg.12.6). In fact, it is clear that the loyalty of the Hebrews at this time was a merely tribal one, as is the case with the Bedouin until today. There was no real Hebrew nation; Israel was at best a very loose confederation of tribes around a central sanctuary, the tabernacle at Shiloh (Judg.18.31).

The cruelty and paganism of the narratives of Judges are often a stumbling block to readers. It should not be imagined that the writer is approving of everything he records. Rather, the book should be viewed as a history of the tragic judgment of God on a people who failed to keep their heritage of true religious faith by assimilating far too much of their surrounding culture. The history of the judges has been called “the struggle between faith and culture.” In this struggle, faith lost. And, of course, culture suffered also.

All this should not close our eyes to the beauty of the Book of Judges as literature. Many of the narratives would rank high in any collection of the short stories of the world. Even in the most brutal passages there is an austere dignity. Sin is never reveled in; it is always held up to the gaze of horror. In the pungent words of Jotham (Judg.9.7-Judg.9.15), Judges has preserved almost the only fable in ancient Hebrew literature. The song of Deborah, much studied by recent scholars, has a sonorous quality and vivid narrative power. The narratives of the book are amazingly brief. The Hebrew literary artist was at his best when he used only a few sentences to describe action- and emotion-packed events.

Bibliography: J. Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History: Joshua-Judges, 1931; A. E. Cundall and L. Morris, Judges and Ruth, 1967; L. Wood, Distressing Days of the Judges, 1975; J. A. Soggin, Judges: A Commentary, 1981.

JUDGES, BOOK OF (שֹֽׁפְטִ֑ים; Κριταί; Lat. Liber, Judicum; judge, ruler, magistrate).


Archeological background

It is apparent that the Israelites settled down immediately in the land, for archeological excavation at several of the cities destroyed at this time show no subsequent break in occupation. The absence of any transitional period is a witness to the fact that the Israelites were not typical nomads. There is, however, a clear distinction between the well-built Canaanite structures and the simpler, almost primitive type of Israelite occupation that succeeded it. This decline in architectural standards is illustrative of a lower cultural standard among the incoming Israelites.

The evidence of continuing Canaanite occupation of the low-lying areas (e.g. at Megiddo and Beth-shan), where their extensive chariot forces gave them a tactical advantage, confirms the Biblical admission that these areas were not occupied in the earlier part of the Judges’ period (e.g. Josh 11:13; 13:1ff.; 17:16; Judg 1:19, 27, etc.).

Before the Israelite invasion, because of the uncertain water supply, there was limited Canaanite occupation of the central hill country. Coincident with the entry of Israel was the widespread employment of underground cisterns to store water during the prolonged summer drought, facilitated by the use of a waterproof lime plaster that made them leak proof. This discovery made possible the extensive Israelite settlement in areas that previously were sparsely populated.

The fact that no Israelite sanctuary of the Judges’ period has yet been discovered may be attributable to their inferior building techniques. However, it may also be an indication of the divine prohibition against an indiscriminate erection of sanctuaries (Exod 20:24-26; Deut 12:1-7).

Many clay figurines representing a naked female about to give birth have been found. The lack of any insignia of a goddess calls into question an identification with the fertility goddesses of Canaan; they may simply have been good luck charms associated with childbirth. It is not impossible, however, that this may be an incidental witness to the fundamental prohibition against idol worship (Exod 20:4-6, etc.). No representation of a male deity has been found at any known Israelite site of this period.

The decisive victory of Deborah and Barak took place “at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo” (Judg 5:19). This cryptic allusion to Megiddo has been illumined by archeological research, which suggests that Taanach and Megiddo, about five m. apart, were not occupied simultaneously. The inference is that Taanach was settled at the time of this battle, whereas Megiddo was in ruins. The convergence of historical, archeological, and literary evidence has made a date c. 1125 b.c. virtually certain.

Archeological research in Trans-Jordan has illumined the state of the small kingdoms, which were as thorns in Israel’s side during the period (esp. Moab and Ammon). Westward, our knowledge of the culture and organization of the Philistines has been enriched by discoveries in the Negeb, the Shephelah, and even as far away as Cyprus. It is clear that the Philistines formed a ruling class over a subject population whose religion and culture they assimilated. The god of the Philistines was Dagon, an old Amorite deity (1 Sam 5:2ff.). The extent of the Philistine penetration of the hinterland may be estimated by the degree of distribution of a distinctive type of pottery known generally as “Philistine ware.” This accords with the literary evidence of Judges and 1 Samuel.

The destruction of the amphictyonic shrine at Shiloh is not mentioned in Judges, but its place in Israelite tradition is witnessed by Psalm 78:60 and Jeremiah 7:12; 26:6. Archeological research shows that it was, in fact, destroyed by fire c. 1050 b.c. It is clear that this followed the double defeat inflicted upon the Israelite army at Aphek (1 Sam 4). Other Israelite cities were destroyed at this time, doubtless by the same agency, which reflects the Philistines’ dominance in the immediate premonarchic period. (See also Period of Judges.)


The purpose of the editor of the Book of Judges determined his selection and use of material. The book covers the period from the death of Joshua (Judg 1:1; 2:8) to the point when the Philistine menace had become acute, i.e. c. 1060 b.c. His concern was to account for, as well as to describe, the political, moral, and religious decline during the period, and to demonstrate its effect upon the life of the community. This general observation will throw light upon the consideration of such things as structure, unity and date.

Composition, unity, and date


The individual stories undoubtedly had a history of their own before they were gathered together. Possibly they were preserved in both oral and written forms (Judg 8:14 is an important attestation to an early, widespread diffusion of the art of writing) in the areas in which the exploits were performed. Some of the difficulties of the stories, and the alleged duplications, are readily explicable on this assumption. The author of this selection may have used more than one account of the same event, e.g. the prose and poetical accounts of deliverance from the Canaanites (Judg 4; 5). Or there may be an incidental witness to the art of the storyteller with his use of reiteration to preserve the vital thread of the narrative. Recent literary conventions should not be imposed upon the lit. of the ancient Near E. One of the fallacies of the Graf-Wellhausen documentary hypothesis was its examination of the text of the OT without reference to lit. from Israel’s contemporaries. The criteria used for dissecting the early books of the Bible, including double names of individuals, groups, places, common nouns, the deity, and even changes of style, are, in fact, features that are paralleled in contemporary documents from Israel’s neighbors. For this and many other reasons, the documentary hypothesis has been widely abandoned or modified. In particular, it is not now generally held that the so-called Elohist or Yahwist sources can be traced in Judges.

The composition of this section, therefore, reflects a certain artistry and a clear point of view. It may be described as interpretative history.


Attention has been drawn to the diversity of the contents of the Book of Judges. However, there is an inward unity in that all the contents witness in one way or another to the political, social, moral, and religious decline in the period between the death of Joshua and the institution of the monarchy. The first section traces the incompleteness of the Conquest, with at least a hint of deterioration within the dismal record of the first chapter. Judah and Simeon enjoy a measure of success, and Benjamin, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Naphtali seem to have dominated over local Canaanite populations, but in the case of Asher and the Danites, the reverse is true.

The second section traces the recurring cycle of apostasy and deliverance through the exploits of the judges. Once more there is a general deterioration with the passage of time, and from Abimelech onward there is no mention of peace. Gideon was able to avoid civil war with Ephraim (8:1-3), but Jephthah failed (12:1-6). The story of Abimelech demonstrates the clash between Israelite and Canaanite elements in the neighborhood of Shechem (9:1-57), and illustrates the effects of an incomplete conquest. Samson effected no real deliverance from the Philistines, and the chs. concerned with his exploits (chs. 13-16) show a decline in the religious comment of the editor, perhaps even suggesting that the stories speak for themselves.

The final section is a graphic picture of the disorders of the period and is devoid of specifically religious comment, the implication being that the nonexistence of the monarchy was the cause of the national malaise. Thus there is an inherent unity in the whole book, and an unmistakable impression is created that this was the “Dark Ages” of Israel’s history.


The period of the early monarchy is the most likely date for the composition of Judges in what was basically its present form. The collection of the material in the main section (2:6-16:31), i.e. the exploits of the individual judges, could hardly have taken place before the restoration of national unity. The time of David and Solomon was such a period, and the awakening of national pride would lead to an interest in recording past traditions (the literary activities of Samuel, Nathan, and Gad are noted, in 1 Chron 29:29; 2 Chron 9:29). Moreover, there was a human motive underlying the promulgation of the Book of Judges. The monarchy in the early period faced opposition from the champions of the old traditions. There was an active concern to show that the monarchy had achieved what the amphictyony had singularly failed to win—namely, a complete conquest and the establishment of law and stability, which indicates an early, rather than a post-Disruption (922 b.c.) date. The favorable attitude to the monarchy thus implied, makes the Talmudic tradition that Samuel himself was the author of Judges appear unlikely. His attitude to the monarchy is clearly revealed in 1 Samuel 8. So, to the main corpus of the Book was added a prologue, itself a selection from an otherwise unknown source, showing the incompleteness of the conquest (Judg 1:1-2:5). Similarly, an epilogue (17:1-21:25) was appended, underlining the low standards of the period now replaced by the monarchy.

It is impossible to determine precisely the date of the Book of Judges, or whether more than one hand was involved in its production. The difference in attitude between the second and third sections points to two editors. One fact may be of significance, namely, that Bethlehem (in Judah) figures in both of the incidents narrated in the third section (17:7-9; 19:1, 2) as well as in the events of the Book of Ruth (Ruth 1:1, 2, 19, 22). This lends slight support to a date in the reign of David, himself a native of Bethlehem. Although admitting the absence of definite proof, it seems most probable that the Book of Judges was compiled during the reign of David, and that its human motive was to demonstrate the advantages of the monarchy in contrast to the ineffective system operating since the death of Joshua.

Place in canon

In the Heb. Bible, as in the Eng., Judges occupied seventh place. It was the second book of the “Former Prophets” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). The designation “prophet” is a witness to the belief that the will and purpose of God was mediated through the facts of history as well as by the mouths of the prophets. This section of the Heb. Bible frequently is described as “Deuteronomic History,” since it illustrates, both by example and editorial comment, the principles enunciated in the Book of Deuteronomy. So long as no critical undertones concerning the date of Deuteronomy attach to this expression, no objection need be taken to its use. The Book of Ruth was originally in the third section of the Heb. canon, the Writings. In the LXX it was placed immediately after the Judges, presumably because it related to the same period. This order was followed in the Vul. and most modern VSS. The canonicity of Judges never has been seriously questioned.


The Heb. text of Judges has been remarkably well preserved. One exception to this, the Song of Deborah (ch. 5), is generally reckoned to be contemporary with the events it described. The poetical form and its archaic features present considerable problems to the tr. and prob. have resulted in slight damage to the text in its transmission.

A unique problem relates to the LXX text, where there are two apparently independent VSS of Judges. The first is represented principally by the A (5th cent. a.d.), supported by most of the uncial and cursive MSS of the Gr. texts. The second finds its main witness in the B (4th cent. a.d.), which has the support of texts emanating from Upper Egypt. There is no unity among scholars about the inter-relationship of these recensions, or to which approximates most closely to the original LXX text; each textual variant must be considered on its own merits. In Rahlf’s ed. of the LXX, the unusual expedient has been adopted of printing the two principal VSS side by side.

The moral problem of Israel’s judges

The reader of Judges soon becomes aware of a difference in its leading characters when compared with Israel’s leaders of other periods. The blemishes of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David, for example, are depicted honestly, without affecting the general estimate of the high quality of their lives. In the Judges, the characters are of lesser stature; their shortcomings are more obvious, and there is a certain popular delight in their less reputable exploits. Ehud appeared as an assassin; Jael was praised for a treacherous act (4:17-21; 5:24-27); Gideon settled his family feud in the course of his victory over the Midianites (8:18-21); whereas Jephthah is a brigand chief with a vindictive streak and a scant concept of the requirements of the Lord. The situation becomes most acute in connection with Samson, who, in spite of his Nazirite state, shows a regrettable lack of genuine consecration and indulges his own sensual appetite in an irresponsible manner. These were men who were anointed with the Spirit of the Lord, i.e. they were charismatic individuals. How is this divine endowment to be equated with the low moral and spiritual tone of their lives? The following points must be considered:

First, one must differentiate between the popular verdict of contemporary Israelites and the viewpoint of the editor who collected these stories. No doubt those who had firsthand experience of the various oppressions exulted in every savage detail of the overthrow of their overlords. But the editor who selected these incidents may not have been unaware of these moral and religious blemishes. Indeed, part of his concern may have been to illustrate the low standard of leadership of the period, cf. his condemnation of Gideon in 8:27. The judges were men who lived in an age of low standards, and this fact is reflected in the narratives, giving a graphic representation of conditions in a period of apostasy, when the Mosaic covenant, with its high standards, was in partial abeyance.

Therefore, the charismatic anointing of the Judges’ period was for a limited but definite purpose. It must not be understood as parallel to the NT doctrine of the Spirit, which invariably is associated with holiness of life. The Lord made the Judges a channel of His power or the means of His revelation, without any necessarily direct influence upon their moral character. Elsewhere in the OT God employed unlikely agents, such as Balaam, a professional prophet (Num 22-24); Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who was called His servant (Jer 25:9; 27:6; 43:10); and the Pers. Cyrus, described as “my shepherd” and “his (God’s) anointed,” Isa 44:28; 45:1; cf. 45:4). The wisdom of God’s choice is not always observable to men, and there must always remain an inscrutable element. He could use a man like Samson, whose short career centered upon his illicit relationships with Philistine women, some of whom were of dubious character. It must be stressed, however, that Samson and others should have lived up to the standards already revealed in the Mosaic law.

Permanent value

The Book of Judges illuminates the political, social, and religious condition of Israel during the vital period between the Conquest and the institution of the monarchy. The manner in which this is done, allows the reader to capture the atmosphere of the period in a way that would be impossible in a formal history.

It provides a dramatic illustration of the effect of apostasy upon every aspect of life. The root cause of Israel’s decline was that the covenant relationship with the Lord, with its requirement of absolute and loyal obedience to His commands, was broken. This led to disintegration in the political, religious, social, and family spheres and to a sharp increase in immorality. The Book of Judges serves as a reminder that a nation cannot live on its past glories. The author of Judges was, of course, a preacher to his own generation, but his message has a permanent and universal application, and may be summed up in the words of Proverbs 14:34:

“Righteousness exalts a nation,

but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Israel’s chronic inability to profit by its own bitter history is a solemn exhortation to profit from the lessons of experience, whether observed or experienced.

Against this somber background, the enduring character of God stands out more clearly. He remained faithful to His covenant, not making a final end of His people in spite of their repeated infidelity. His righteousness is seen in His judgments, for sin is an affront to Him which He cannot pass over lightly. The sovereignty of God is revealed in His use of the surrounding nations as the rod of His anger against Israel. He is able to save by few as well as by many (cf. Judg 7:2-7). The forces of nature are at His disposal (5:20, 21). When His Spirit comes upon a man, such an anointing makes that man invincible (3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 14:6; etc.). God’s longsuffering evidences itself in His willingness to hear the cry of His distressed people, and to give them a new chance, however short-lived that repentance might be. While the solemn note of judgment may appear to predominate, it does not silence the undertones of grace.


The partial conquest of Canaan (1:1-2:5).

2. The destruction of Bethel (1:22-26), although attested by archeology, is not recorded in Joshua, but the men of Bethel assisted in the defense of Ai (Josh 8:17), which was adjacent to Bethel. Some connection between the two accounts must be assumed, but the question is complicated by archeological evidence from the site of Ai, which appears to have been unoccupied from c. 2200 b.c. Since Ai is described as a small city (Josh 7:3), whereas the identified site of Ai shows a relatively large and well-defended city, the most likely explanation is that the survivors of the earlier city resettled at another adjacent site. The Hittites (Judg 1:26) were a major power c. 1800-1200 b.c. Their empire spread over modern Asia Minor and Syria. Hittite influence is prominent in the patriarchal narratives (e.g. Gen 23:7; cf. Josh 1:4).

4. Judges 2:1-5 records the Israelites confronted with their great sin of disobedience, which was, in effect, a breaking of their covenant with Yahweh. The idea of covenant, which was fundamental in the early history of Israel, has been illumined by archeological evidence of covenant treaty forms (mainly Hitt.) of the second millennium b.c. This provides further attestation of the reliability of the early OT records. The movement of the angel of the Lord from Gilgal to Bochim prob. is to be associated with the transference of the central sanctuary from Gilgal. The LXX connects Bochim (i.e. Weepers) with Bethel, where the sanctuary was subsequently located (Judg 20:18-28; 21:1-4). Confronted with this challenge, and with the manifestation of the deity, the people wept, but their subsequent conduct shows that there was no permanent reformation.

Israel’s judges (2:6-16:31)

Judges 2:6-10 is paralleled in Joshua 24:28-31, a reminder that the death of a great man both begins and ends an era. It is a tribute to Joshua that the people remained faithful to the Lord in his generation, although they all had firsthand experience of the great works of the Lord. Timnath-heres (Judg 2:9) should be read as Timnath-serah (Josh 19:50; 24:30); a scribe reversed the consonants.

The general tendency of the whole of the Judges’ period is summarized (Judg 2:11-15). It was a period of apostasy in which the nature-gods of Canaan were worshiped. Baal, the god of the thunderstorm and the rain, was the great, active figure in the Canaanite pantheon. Astarte was one of the goddesses of war and fertility. The pl. forms (vv. 11, 13) may hint at the many local variants and name derivatives (e.g. Num 25:3; Josh 11:17; Judg 9:4; 2 Kings 1:2), but more likely it refers to the totality of the Canaanite gods who were worshiped in the fertility cults. These gods were thought responsible for fertility in man, beasts, and agriculture, and possibly a semipagan generation of Israelites considered it wise to pay them due respect. They ignored the absolute sovereignty of the Lord, who chastised them for their infidelity.

The first oppression came from Mesopotamia (lit. “Aram of the two rivers”). Mesopotamia itself is a Gr. form that usually describes the area drained by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The reference could be to the Euphrates and one of its tributaries. The name of the oppressor is disguised in the text; Cushan-rishathaim means “Cushan of double-wickedness.” The Israelites were sufficiently united at this early period for Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, who was associated with the southern tribe of Judah (cf. Josh 14:13-15; Judg 1:10-15), to lead them against an invader from the N.

Here is no mention of Israel’s apostasy or cry for deliverance, or of an actual oppression, nor any reference to divine enablement. Moreover, Judges 4:1 takes up the story from the death of Ehud, not Shamgar. Since his name is non-Israelite, possibly Hittite or Hurrian, it has been conjectured that he was a foreigner whose exploits benefitted Israel. Anath was another of the Canaanite goddesses of war, etc., and the expression “the son of Anath” may refer to his warlike propensities. An ox-goad was a metal-pointed implement about nine ft. long. Such a weapon may indicate that the Philistine policy of depriving the native population of weapons was already in force (1 Sam 13:19-22). Certain Gr. VSS place Shamgar after the Samson stories (i.e. after 16:31), but 5:6 confirms the chronology of the Heb. text.

It is not necessary to assume that chs. 4 and 5 are contradictory accounts. Archeology confirms the destruction of Hazor by fire (cf. Josh 11:11-13) about the time of the Israelite invasion. Thereafter, only the upper city (c. twenty-five acres) was occupied, the lower city (c. 150 acres) remaining unoccupied. Hazor, however, occupied a strategic position dominating a major trade route, and its emergence as the leader of a coalition of Canaanite city-states a cent. later is not surprising. It was prob. more convenient to maintain the chariot force at Harosheth ha-goiim (Judg 4:2) under the control of the local king, Sisera, where they could deal more effectively with any Israelite uprising.

Historians were concerned to give God the glory for the victory rather than to give a detailed account, but the following reconstruction is reasonable. Deborah, who was a civil judge (4:5) before she became a military judge, encouraged Barak to break the Canaanite yoke, the initial movement being confined to the tribes principally affected, Naphtali and Zebulun. A considerable success was gained between Tabor and Kishon, which was followed by a general summons to the tribes, with the exception of Judah and Simeon, who were isolated because of geographical and political factors. The rout of Sisera’s army was completed by this reinforced Israelite army in the vicinity of Taanach (5:19), which resulted in the precipitant westward flight of the Canaanites. Sisera’s attempted escape was foiled by the treachery of Jael, who efficiently dispatched the man whom she had lulled into a false sense of security. Hazor itself, and Jabin, survived the events of this campaign (4:23, 24), but the Canaanite power was shattered.

Among the incidental details of these chs. are: (1) the picture of a God who controls the forces of nature (5:4, 5, 20, 21), prob. an unseasonable thunderstorm immobilized the Canaanite chariotry and nullified Sisera’s advantage. (2) The condition of Israel under the crippling bondage of the Canaanites (5:6-8). (3) The evidence of partial unity among the Israelites; six tribes participated in the deliverance, whereas four (Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher, 5:15-17) were upbraided for their nonparticipation. The inference is that they ought to have been present, which confirms the existence of the tribal league. (4) The song of Deborah witnesses to a genuine faith in God.

There is greater detail concerning the oppression by the Midianites and their allies, and Gideon’s liberation of his people, than any other of the episodes narrated in Judges. Possibly the author combined two or more of the popular accounts of this great deliverance, including all that he considered significant. Or the apparent repetitions may be due to the technique of the ancient storyteller, who needed an occasional recapitulation; not unrelated to the natural element of repetition that appears in the parallelism of poetry, and which prob. influenced prose composition.

The seasonal incursions of the Midianites and their allies had disastrous effects upon the economy of the land and the morale of the Israelites (6:1-6). In the patriarchal period there was a similar seasonal movement between the Negeb and the central hill-country, which occasionally resulted in friction even though the land was sparsely populated (cf. Gen 34). The Midianites came into areas that had a setted population and their annual predatory raids reduced Israel to poverty. The full-scale use of camels is the first historically documented employment of this beast in warfare. It struck terror into the hearts of the Israelites. Gideon’s action in beating out wheat in a wine press (Judg 6:11) shows both his fear and the smallness of his crop. His reply to the angelic visitor (6:13) illustrates the popular explanation of their plight; the Lord had forsaken them. But Gideon seemed unaware of the reason for this rejection (cf. 6:1, 7-10).

Gideon’s hesitation to accept the divine commission is paralleled in the case of Moses (Exod 4:13), Barak (Judg 4:8), and Jeremiah (Jer 1:6; cf. 2 Cor 3:5, 6). Before he could deliver Israel, work was to be done nearer at hand, for the syncretistic tendencies of the age were illustrated in the shrine of Baal, of which his father Joash was custodian. This Gideon broke down, and also cut down the Asherah, a Canaanite cult-symbol (with undoubted sexual connections) made of wood, prob. a formal substitute for a sacred tree. Joash was a man of good sense who saw that if Baal was a real god he could deal personally with this affront.

The audacious plan of attack was implemented with careful attention to detail (7:19-25). The aim was to make as much noise as possible from all sides, the lights giving the impression of a great host. As the watch had just changed, more men than usual would be moving about in the darkness, thus increasing the confusion. The effect of the clamor upon the camels would be disastrous. A full scale panic ensued, in which every man’s sword was against his neighbor, followed by a desperate flight for the fords of Jordan. Gideon’s men hardly seem to have been engaged in this phase, and they suffered few, if any casualties (Judg 8:4).

Such was the sense of gratitude of the Israelites that they offered Gideon the kingship (8:22). Some scholars believe that his refusal was in fact an acceptance, but couched in ambiguous terms, hinting that such an honor would be within the kingly rule of the Lord. Support for this is seen in the fact that Gideon subsequently exercised the functions of a king, and it was assumed that his sons would rule after his death (9:2; cf. 8:35). However, v. 29 does not indicate any great accession of power and in any case his influence would be limited to a small area and prob. was not significantly greater than that of the other judges. His construction of an ephod, for oracular purposes, prob. was innocent enough in its intention, but its very preciousness (8:26, 27) meant that it became itself an object of worship, indicating that idolatry was not far removed from the average Israelite at that time. Gideon’s indulgence (8:31) involved his family in near extinction subsequently (9:1ff.), and his example in his declining years made a sad contrast to his earlier devoted leadership.


Abimelech was not one of Israel’s judges (Judg 9:1-56). His mother lived in Shechem, a city that retained many Canaanite characteristics; possibly it was incorporated into Israel by treaty. Since Abimelech’s mother was a concubine, his own citizenship was attached to Shechem rather than to his father’s family in Ophrah. Abimelech himself appears as a vindictive and utterly unscrupulous individual, and the story witnesses to the tensions that existed between the Israelites and the original inhabitants of the land. His three-year rule in Shechem and its district was hardly an antecedent of the monarchy in Israel; rather it was a reversal to the localized rule of the king of a Canaanite city-state.

Abimelech’s first act was to arrange the massacre of the legitimate sons of Gideon, securing the help of the men of Shechem by appealing to their self interest. The scheme was financed by funds from the heathen sanctuary (Judg 9:4). The one survivor, Jotham, fled after delivering his famous fable (vv. 7-21) from the top of Mt. Gerizim. The point of the fable was that the Shechemites had made the wrong choice of a king, the useless bramble created a fire hazard and was incapable of giving shade. The doom of the Shechemites already was sealed by their treacherous ingratitude to the house of Gideon.

The remainder of the ch. documents the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Shechemites soon tired of their new loyalty and when open rebellion was advocated, Abimelech acted ruthlessly to crush it. The “Tower of Shechem” (v. 46), unlike that at Thebez (v. 50) and most ancient cities, was apparently outside the city. It was reduced by a stratagem that Abimelech sought to reapply at Thebez, with disastrous results. His request to his armorbearer (v. 54) reflects the sense of dishonor at dying at the hands of a woman. His reputation, however, was not saved (2 Sam 11:21). No reason is given for the campaign against Thebez, but the attitude of rebellion against Abimelech prob. was widespread.

The lack of personal detail means that the minor judges do not appear as living characters, as do the major judges. Verse 4 is an indication of prestige and prosperity.

This editorial section (10:6-16; cf. 2:6-3:6) introduces the oppressions of the Ammonites and the Philistines, which prob. were contemporary (10:7). It outlines again the main characteristic of the period, viz. Israel’s apostasy, which was oblivious to the Lord’s past deliverances; Israel’s weakness under the pressure of her neighbors; Israel’s repentance and reformation, and the renewal of the Lord’s mercy. The Ammonite raids had extended beyond the Jordan to include Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim (v. 9), although the attack that brought Jephthah to leadership apparently was confined to Gilead (vv. 17ff.). “Maonites” (v. 12) possibly refers to the Midianites.

The Gileadites (Judg 10:17-11:1), in despair, turned to Jephthah, the leader of a band of brigands. Jephthah was the son of a harlot, but unlike Abimelech, his lineage attached to his father’s family and his expulsion was clearly illegal. Nevertheless, he was opportunist enough to pocket his pride when he was offered the leadership of his people.

Judges 11:12-28 is surely one of the earliest diplomatic wrangles in recorded history. Jephthah met the Ammonite claim by reminding them of Israel’s care not to offend Edom and Moab during the wilderness journeyings. Sihon, the Amorite king, had attacked Israel and consequently lost his kingdom. The disputed territory, therefore, had been Amorite, not Ammonite, and in any case, any Ammonite claim had lapsed with the passage of time (v. 26). As in many subsequent diplomatic exchanges, the Ammonites remained unconvinced. Two factual errors may be noted in Jephthah’s message: Chemosh (v. 24) was the god of the Moabites, not the Ammonites; the 300 years (v. 26) can hardly be taken literally. Possibly it was unwise to expect absolute accuracy in the statement of a robber chief.

Jephthah’s sweeping victory, under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, is dealt with briefly (Judg 11:32, 33). The main interest of the historian concerns Jephthah’s rash vow and its tragic fulfillment. The vow, which was intended to secure the Lord’s favor, was both unnecessary and undesirable. The practice of child sacrifice in the ancient world was usually reserved, as here, for an emergency (cf. 2 Kings 3:27). It was alien to true-Israelite worship and was not widely practiced until the latter period of the monarchy (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6). Jephthah obviously intended a human sacrifice (Judg 11:31), but the emergence of his only daughter at his victorious return (v. 34) was unanticipated. The text will not allow any other interpretation than that Jephthah literally fulfilled this vow. There is something magnificent, if pathetic, about the acquiescence of Jephthah’s daughter in her fate (vv. 36-40).

Although on an earlier occasion (Judg 8:1, 2) Gideon had pacified the jealous Ephraimites with conciliatory words, Jephthah was not a man of peace, and he resented the nonintervention of the Ephraimites in Gilead’s crisis. Recalling his recently dispersed army, he smote the Ephraimites and seized the fords of Jordan to prevent their escape. The Ephraimites were incapable of pronouncing “sh.” Any word with this sound included would have revealed their identity, and it was the word “shibboleth” (lit. “ear of corn”) that was employed. This word has become proverbial as a catchword for certain groups.

The Philistine menace (Judg 13:1) was the greatest threat to Israel’s existence during the period of the Judges and the early monarchy. This was, in measure, due to the nature of Philistine control—a Philistine overlordship was superimposed upon an alien population, backed up by a military efficiency unknown in Israel. The men of Judah did not find this kind of rule particularly onerous, and they resented Samson’s activities (15:11). This apathetic acceptance of the situation was dangerous and the value of Samson’s exploits was in bringing the conflict out into the open. Samson waged a one man war on the Philistines, who had penetrated into the territory of Dan and Judah. During the time of Samuel and Saul, Israel was engaged in a life and death struggle with the Philistines, whose power finally was broken by David (2 Sam 5:17-25).

A fourth act of revenge was thwarted by Samson’s incredible strength. A large force of Philistines sought to capture Samson in his hideout at the rock of Etam, which has been tentatively identified about two and a half m. SE of Zorah. The apathetic acceptance of Philistine rule is shown by the concern of 3,000 men of Judah not to alienate their overlords. Even after Samson’s exploit, they made no effort to secure their freedom. It is equally obvious that the Philistines did not regard the actions of Samson as representative of Israel generally. The “fresh jawbone of an ass” (v. 15) would be a formidable weapon in the hands of a determined man. The name of the place, Lehi (“jawbone,” 15:14, 15), or Ramath-lehi (“the hill of the jawbone,” 15:17) was given as a result of this episode. Another etiological feature is the name En-hakkore (“the well, or spring, of him who called,” v. 19). 1 Kings 19:4ff. provides a parallel to God’s gracious care for His overwrought servant. Judges 15:20, which records the length of Samson’s judgeship, may have marked the end of an earlier VS of Judges.

Gaza was the southernmost of the five Philistinian cities, and here Samson (Judg 16:1-3), a man of unbridled passions, sought the company of a prostitute. A plot to seize him when morning broke was foiled by Samson’s incredible feat of uprooting gates, posts, and securing-bar. City gates were strong, for this was an obvious danger point in time of siege, but Samson transported this heavy load to the top of a prominent hill on the way to Hebron, thirty-eight m. distant. Small wonder that the Philistines were subsequently unwilling to approach him until they were sure he was rendered helpless.

Dagon (v. 23) was an Amorite grain or vegetation god, and his worship by the Philistines shows their propensity to accept the culture and even the religion of the people they dominated. Samson’s one act of true devotion is noted in v. 28, and even this contains a grim jest in the reference to “one of my two eyes.” The house (v. 26, etc.) was supported by wooden pillars set on stone bases. The whole structure was rendered unstable because of the large number of spectators on the roof, pressing forward to see this Samson who had taken cover between the pillars. Samson’s last feat of strength displaced two of the pillars from their bases and the whole building crashed in ruins. More Philistines died in this catastrophe than the total killed by Samson in his lifetime prior to this (16:30; cf. 14:19; 15:8, 15).

The final estimate of Samson is one of an unrealized potential, because his massive strength was not matched by discipline and genuine devotion.

Appendices (17:1-21:25)

Danites move to the north.

The setting of the account of Micah and the Danites (Judg 17:1-18:31) is the later period of the Judges, when the intertribal organization had decayed and when the Danites, reduced by the Philistine pressure (chs. 13-16) to a small area around Zorah and Eshtaol (18:2), were compelled to migrate northward. Thus the events of the first appendix followed soon after those of the Samson narratives.

The low standards and the religious irregularities (Judg 17:1-13) are clearly evidenced. Micah’s mother may have suspected her son, hence the uttering of a curse in his hearing (17:2). In the ancient world, a curse was considered to have effective power of fulfillment, but it could be countermanded by a blessing. Only part of the restored fortune was used to make an image, although this whole amount had been dedicated (17:3). Micah bypassed the Levitical priesthood by consecrating his own son, but when a true Levite appeared he was immediately engaged in preference. His genealogy (18:30) confirms that the Levitical priesthood was operative at this period and the reference in 17:7 must be construed accordingly. He was not of the tribe of Judah, but was a Levite attached to that tribe. However, some disorder is evident for he had no secure place of service. The idolatrous nature of Micah’s shrine is evident by the presence of an ephod, a teraphim, and a molten image. The teraphim prob. were household gods and, like the ephod, were used to ascertain the divine will.

Civil war against the Benjaminites.

The affair of the Levite’s concubine and the subsequent war between Israel and Benjamin prob. took place in the earlier part of the Judges’ period (Judg 19:1-21:25). There is no hint of Philistine oppression and the tribal unity was still evident; the amphictyony moved swiftly to deal with the outrage. Phinehas (20:28; cf. Josh 24:33) was still alive and the central sanctuary appears to be at Bethel, not Shiloh.

This sordid and tragic story began simply enough (Judg 19:1-15) with a Levite seeking to win back his estranged concubine. The joy of the father is understandable, since his daughter’s return would bring shame to his house. This joy and the leisureliness, characteristic of the E, are reflected in the prolonged festivities. The Levite and his party cannot have left much before 3 p.m. on the fifth day, when there was no possibility of reaching their destination before nightfall. Jerusalem, five or six m. to the N and still a Jebusite city (cf. 2 Sam 5:6-9) was avoided because it was non-Israelite—a fact that has added significance in the light of the sequel. Gibeah and Ramah were respectively four and six m. N of Jerusalem. Sunset made a continuation of the journey impossible, so Gibeah was, of necessity, their stopping place; but they were met with an ominous lack of the traditional Eastern hospitality.

This omission of the Benjaminites was made good by a generous sojourner (Judg 19:16-30), another detail that highlights the boorish conduct of the men of Gibeah. Faced by an intimidatory, homosexual demand, the Levite’s host placed the claims of hospitality above those of family relationship and was willing to sacrifice his own daughter and the Levite’s concubine (cf. Gen 19:1-11). The Levite, confronted with acute personal danger, saved his own skin by thrusting out his concubine to endure a night of shame and terror. His reaction the next morning was no more creditable, for there was no indication of any intent to ascertain the fate of his concubine before setting off. His subsequent action is paralleled in 1 Samuel 11:1-8 and was clearly an urgent and solemn challenge to the tribes. There may have been a sacramental significance in that the nation was involved in the life that had been taken, or a magical connection invoking a curse of the blood of the life taken upon those who failed to respond. The inference is that the tribe of Benjamin was included in this summons.

A certain recapitulation, characteristic of the storyteller anxious not to omit any details, makes it difficult to understand the events of the third day (Judg 20:29-48). Further complication is the proximity of Gibeah, Gibeon, and Gebah, which frequently are confused. But the general movement is clear. A small ambush was set W of Gebah, which was NE of Gibeah (v. 33). The main attack came from the same direction as previously, i.e. the NW, toward Gibeon (which should be read in v. 31, since two roads are indicated, viz. the Gibeah-Bethel and the Gibeah-Gibeon highways). The main army, feigning flight, drew the Benjamites away from Gibeah (v. 32), which was then taken and burned by the force in ambush (v. 37). The smoke of the doomed city was the signal to the Israelite main force to turn (v. 38), and the Benjamites, fleeing eastward, prob. between Gebah and Gibeah, were trapped in a pincers movement (v. 42) and decimated. The survivors turned northwards to the Rock Rimmon (v. 47), and the victorious Israelites put all that remained to Benjamin to the ban, which involved a dedication of total destruction to the Lord in fulfillment of a vow.


C. F. Burney, The Book of Judges, 2nd ed. (1930); J. Garstang, The Foundations of Bible History: Joshua-Judges (1931); J. M. Myers, “The Book of Judges,” IB, II (1953); F. F. Bruce, “Judges,” NBC (1954); C. A. Simpson, Composition of the Book of Judges (1957); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (1960), 179-187; A. Weiser, Introduction to the Old Testament (1961), 147-157; A. E. Cundall and L. Morris, Judges and Ruth (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Title

2. Place in the Canon

3. Contents

(1) Introductory, Judges 1-2:5

(2) Central and Main Portion, Judges 2:6-16

(3) An Appendix, Judges 17-21

4. Chronology

5. Authorship and Sources

6. Relation to Preceding Books

7. Relation to Septuagint and Other versions

8. Religious Purpose and Value


1. Title:

The English name of the Book of Jud is a translation of the Hebrew title (shopheTim), which is reproduced in the Greek Kritai, and the Latin Liber Judicum. In the list of the canonical books of the Old Testament given by Origen (apud Euseb., HE, VI, 25) the name is transliterated Saphateim, which represents rather "judgments" (shephatim; krimata) than "judges." A passage also is quoted from Philo (De Confus. Linguarum, 26), which indicates that he recognized the same form of the name; compare the Greek title of "Kingdoms" (Basileiai) for the four books of Samuel and Kings.

2. Place in the Canon:

In the order of the Hebrew Canon the Book of Judges invariably occupies the 7th place, following immediately upon Joshua and preceding Samuel and Kings. With these it formed the group of the four "earlier prophets" (nebhi’im ri’shonim), the first moiety of the 2nd great division of the Hebrew Scriptures. As such the Book of Jud was classified and regarded as "prophetical," equally with the other historical books, on the ground of the religious and spiritual teaching which its history conveyed. In the rearrangement of the books, which was undertaken for the purposes of the Greek translation and Canon, Jud maintained its position as 7th in order from the beginning, but the short historical Book of Ru was removed from the place which it held among the Rolls (meghilloth) in the 3rd division of the Jewish Canon, and attached to Jud as a kind of appendix, probably because the narrative was understood to presuppose the same conditions and to have reference to the same period of time. The Greek order was followed in all later VSS, and has maintained itself in modern Bibles. Origen (loc. cit.) even states, probably by a mere misunderstanding, that Jud and Ru were comprehended by the Jews under the one title Saphateim.

3. Contents:

The Book of Jud consists of 3 main parts or divisions, which are readily distinguished.

(1) Introductory, Judges 1-2:5.

A brief summary and recapitulation of the events of the conquest of Western Palestine, for the most part parallel to the narrative of Joshua, but with a few additional details and some divergences from the earlier account, in particular emphasizing (Jud 1:27-36) the general failure of the Israelites to expel completely the original inhabitants of the land, which is described as a violation of their covenant with Yahweh (Jud 2:1-3), entailing upon them suffering and permanent weakness. The introductory verse (Jud 1:1), which refers to the death of Joshua as having already taken place, seems to be intended as a general indication of the historical period of the book as a whole; for some at least of the events narrated in Jud 1-2:5 took place during Joshua’s lifetime.

(2) The Central and Main Portion, Judges 2:6-16.

A series of narratives of 12 "judges," each of whom in turn, by his devotion and prowess, was enabled to deliver Israel from thralldom and oppression, and for a longer or shorter term ruled over the people whom he had thus saved from their enemies. Each successive repentance on the part of the people, however, and their deliverance are followed, on the death of the judge, by renewed apostasy, which entails upon them renewed misery and servitude, from which they are again rescued when in response to their prayer the Lord "raises up" for them another judge and deliverer. Thus the entire history is set as it were in a recurrent framework of moral and religious teaching and warning; and the lesson is enforced that it is the sin of the people, their abandonment of Yahweh and persistent idolatry, which entails upon them calamity, from which the Divine longsuffering and forbearance alone makes for them a way of escape.

(a) Judges 2:6-3:6:

A second brief introduction, conceived entirely in the spirit of the following narratives, which seems to attach itself to the close of the Book of Joshua, and in part repeats almost verbally the account there given of the death and burial of Israel’s leader (Jud 2:6-9 parallel Jos 24:28-31), and proceeds to describe the condition of the land and people in the succeeding generation, ascribing their misfortunes to their idolatry and repeated neglect of the warnings and commands of the judges; closing with an enumeration of the peoples left in the land, whose presence was to be the test of Israel’s willingness to obey Yahweh and at the same time to prevent the nation from sinking into a condition of lethargy and ease.

(b) Judges 3:7-3:11:

Judgeship of Othniel who delivered Israel from the hand of Cushan-rishathaim.

(c) Judges 3:12-30:

Victory of Ehud over the Moabites, to whom the Israelites had been in servitude 18 years. Ehud slew their king Eglon, and won for the nation a long period of tranquillity.

(d) Judges 3:31:

In a few brief words Shamgar is named as the deliverer of Israel from the Philistines. The title of "judge" is not accorded to him, nor is he said to have exercised authority in any way. It is doubtful, therefore, whether the writer intended him to be regarded as one of the judges.

(e) Judges 4; 5:

Victory of Deborah and Barak over Jabin the Canaanite king, and death of Sisera, captain of his army, at the hands of Jael, the wife of Kenite chief; followed by a So of Triumph, descriptive and commemorative of the event.

(f) Judges 6-8:

A 7-year oppression at the hands of the Midianites, which is described as peculiarly severe, so that the land became desolate on account of the perpetual raids to which it was subject. After a period of hesitation and delay, Gideon defeats the combined forces of the Midianites and Amalekites and the "children of the east," i.e. the wandering Bedouin bands from the eastern deserts, in the valley of Jezreel. The locality and course of the battle are traced by the sacred writer, but it is not possible to follow his account in detail because of our inability to identify the places named. After the victory, Gideon is formally offered the position of ruler for himself and his descendants, but refuses; nevertheless, he seems to have exercised a measure of restraining influence over the people until his death, although he himself and his family apparently through covetousness fell away from their faithfulness to Yahweh (Jud 8:27,33).

(g) Judges 9:

Episode of Abimelech, son of Gideon by a concubine, who by the murder of all but one of his brethren, the legitimate sons of Gideon, secured the throne at Shechem for himself, and for 3 years ruled Israel. After successfully stamping out a revolt at Shechem against his authority, he is himself killed when engaged in the siege of the citadel or tower of Thebez by a stone thrown by woman.

(h) (i) Judges 10:1-5:

Tola and Jair are briefly named as successive judges of Israel for 23 and 22 years respectively.

(j) Judges 10:6-12:7:

Oppression of Israel for 18 years by the Philistines and Ammonites. The national deliverance is effected by Jephthah, who is described as an illegitimate son of Gilead who had been on that account driven out from his home and had become the captain of a band of outlaws. Jephthah stipulates with the elders of Gilead that if he undertakes to do battle on their behalf with the Ammonites, he is afterward to be recognized as their ruler; and in accordance with the agreement, when the victory has been won, he becomes judge over Israel (Jud 11:9 f; 12:7).

See Jephthah.

(k) (l) (m) Judges 12:8-15:

Three of the so-called "minor" judges, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, judged Israel in succession for 7, 10 and 8 years respectively. As they are not said to have delivered the nation from any calamity or oppression, it is perhaps to be understood that the whole period was a time of rest and tranquillity.

(n) Judges 13-16:

The history of Samson (see separate article).

(3) An Appendix, Judges 17-21.

The final section, in the nature of an appendix, consisting of two narratives, independent apparently of the main portion of the book and of one another. They contain no indication of date, except the statement 4 times repeated that "in those days there was no king in Israel" Jud 6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). The natural inference is that the narratives were committed to writing in the days of the monarchy; but the events themselves were understood by the compiler or historian to have taken place during the period of the Judges, or at least anterior to the establishment of the kingdom. The lawless state of society, the violence and disorder among the tribes, would suggest the same conclusion. No name of a judge appears, however, and there is no direct reference to the office or to any central or controlling authority. Josephus also seems to have known them in reverse order, and in a position preceding the histories of the judges themselves, and not at the close of the book (Ant., V, ii, 8-12; iii, 1; see E. Konig in HDB, II, 810). Even if the present form of the narratives is thus late, there can be little doubt that they contain elements of considerable antiquity.

(a) Judges 17-18:

The episode of Micah the Ephraimite and the young Levite who is consecrated as priest in his house. A war party, however, of the tribe of Da during a migration northward, by threats and promises induced the Levite to accompany them, taking with him the priestly ephod, the household goods of his patron, and a costly image which Micah had caused to be made. These Micah in vain endeavors to recover from the Danites. The latter sack and burn Laish in the extreme North of Palestine, rebuilding the city on the same site and renaming it "Dan." There they set up the image which they had stolen, and establish a rival priesthood and worship, which is said to have endured "all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" (18:31).

(b) Judges 19-21:

Outrage of the Benjamites of Gibeah against the concubine of a Levite lodging for a night in the city on his way from Bethlehem to the hill country of Ephraim. The united tribes, after twice suffering defeat at the hands of the men of Benjamin, exact full vengeance; the tribe of Benjamin is almost annihilated, and their cities, including Gibeah, are destroyed. In order that the tribe may not utterly perish, peace is declared with the 600 survivors, and they are provided with wives by stratagem and force, the Israelites having taken a solemn vow not to permit intermarriage between their own daughters and the members of the guilty tribe.

4. Chronology:

The period covered by the history of the Book of Jud extends from the death of Joshua to the death of Samson, and adds perhaps a later reference in Jud 18:31, "all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" (compare 1Sa 1:3). It is, however, difficult, perhaps impossible, to compute in years the length of time that the writer had in mind. That he proceeded upon a fixed chronological basis, supplied probably by tradition but modified or arranged on a systematic principle, seems evident. The difficulty may be due in part to the corruption which the figures have suffered in the course of the transmission of the text. In 1Ki 6:1 an inclusive total of 480 years is given as the period from the Exodus to the building of the Temple in the 4th year of the reign of Solomon. This total, however, includes the 40 years’ wandering in the desert, the time occupied in the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land, and an uncertain period after the death of Joshua, referred to in the Book of Jud itself (2:10), until the older generation that had taken part in the invasion had passed away. There is also to be reckoned the 40 years’ judgeship of Eli (1Sa 4:18), the unknown length of the judgeship of Samuel (Jud 7:15), the years of the reign of Saul (compare 1Sa 13:1, where, however, no statement is made as to the length of his reign), the 40 years during which David was king (1Ki 2:11), and the 4 years of Solomon before the building of the Temple. The recurrence of the number 40 is already noticeable; but if for the unknown periods under and after Joshua, of Samuel and of Saul, 50 or 60 years be allowed--a moderate estimate--there would remain from the total of 480 years a period of 300 years in round numbers for the duration of the times of the Judges. It may be doubted whether the writer conceived of the period of unsettlement and distress, of alternate oppression and peace, as lasting for so long a time.

The chronological data contained in the Book of Judges itself are as follows:

A total of 410 years, or, if the years of foreign oppression and of the usurpation of Abimelech are omitted, of 296.

It has been supposed that in some instances the rule of the several judges was contemporaneous, not successive, and that therefore the total period during which the judges ruled should be reduced accordingly. In itself this is sufficiently probable. It is evident, however, that this thought was not in the mind of the writer, for in each case he describes the rule of the judge as over "Israel" with no indication that "Israel" is to be understood in a partial and limited signification. His words must therefore be interpreted in their natural sense, that in his own belief the rulers whose deeds he related exercised control in the order named over the entire nation. Almost certainly, however, he did not intend to include in his scheme the years of oppression or the 3 years of Abimelech’s rule. If these be deducted, the resultant number (296) is very near the total which the statement in 1Ki 6:1 suggests.

No stress, however, must be laid upon this fact. The repeated occurrence of the number 40, with its double and half, can hardly be accidental. The same fact was noted above in connection with earlier and later rulers in Israel. It suggests that there is present an element of artificiality and conscious arrangement in the scheme of chronology, which makes it impossible to rely upon it as it stands for any definite or reliable historical conclusion.

5. Authorship and Sources:

Within the Book of Jud itself no author is named, nor is any indication given of the writer or writers who are responsible for the form in which the book appears; and it would seem evident, also, that the 3 parts or divisions of which the book is composed are on a different footing as regards the sources from which they are drawn. The Talmudic tradition which names Samuel as the author can hardly be seriously regarded. The historical introduction presents a form of the traditional narrative of the conquest of Palestine which is parallel to but not identical with that contained in the Book of Joshua. Brief and disconnected as it is, it is of the greatest value as a historical authority, and contains elements which in origin, if not in their present form, are of considerable antiquity. The main portion of the book, comprising the narratives of the judges, is based upon oral or written traditions of a local and perhaps a tribal character, the value of which it is difficult to estimate, but which undoubtedly in some instances have been more carefully preserved than in others. In particular, around the story of Samson there seem to have gathered elements derived from the folklore and the wonder-loving spirit of the countryside; and the exploits of a national hero have been enhanced and surrounded with a glamor of romance as the story of them has passed from lip to lip among a people who themselves or their forefathers owed so much to his prowess. Of this central part of Jud the So of Deborah (Judges 5) is the most ancient, and bears every mark of being a contemporary record of a remarkable conflict and victory. The text is often difficult, almost unintelligible, and has so greatly suffered in the course of transmission as in some passages to be beyond repair. As a whole the song is an eloquent and impassioned ode of triumph, ascribing to Yahweh the great deliverance which has been wrought for His people over their foes.

The narratives of Jgs, moreover, are set in a framework of chronology and of ethical comment and teaching, which are probably independent of one another. The moral exhortations and the lessons drawn from hardships and sufferings, which the people of Israel incur as the consequence of their idolatry and sin, are conceived entirely in the spirit of Deuteronomy, and even in the letter and form bear a considerable resemblance to the writings of that book. In the judgment of some scholars, therefore, they are to be ascribed to the same author or authors. Of this, however, there is no proof. It is possible, but perhaps hardly probable. They certainly belong to the same school of thought, of clear-sighted doctrine, of reverent piety, and of jealous concern for the honor of Yahweh. With the system of chronology, the figures and dates, the ethical commentary and inferences would seem to have no direct relation. The former is perhaps a later addition, based in part at least upon tradition, and applied to existing accounts, in order to give them their definite place and succession in the historical record. Finally, the three strands of traditional narrative, moral comment, and chronological framework were woven into one whole by a compiler or reviser who completed the book in the form in which it now exists. Concerning the absolute dates, however, at which these processes took place very little can be determined.

The two concluding episodes are distinct, both in form and character, from the rest of the book. They do not relate the life or deeds of a judge, nor do they, explicitly at least, convey any moral teaching or warning. They are also mutually independent. It would seem therefore that they are to be regarded as accounts of national events or experiences, preserved by tradition, which, because they were understood to have reference to the period of the Judges, were included in this book. The internal nature of the narratives themselves would suggest that they belong rather to the earlier than the later part of the time during which the judges held rule; and their ancient character is similarly attested. There is no clue, however, to the actual date of their composition, or to the time or circumstances under which they were incorporated in the Book of Jgs.

6. Relation to Preceding Books:

The discussion of the relation of the Book of Jud to the generally recognized sources of the Pentateuch and to Joshua has been in part anticipated in the previous paragraph. In the earliest introductory section of the book, and in some of the histories of the judges, especially in that of Gideon (Judges 6-8), it is not difficult to distinguish two threads of narrative, which have been combined together in the account as it now stands; and by some scholars these are identified with the Jahwist (Jahwist) and the Elohist (E) in the Pentateuch. The conclusion, however, is precarious and uncertain, for the characteristic marks of the Pentateuch "sources" are in great measure absent. There is more to be said for the view that regards the introduction (Jud 1-2:5), with its verbal parallels to Joshua as derived ultimately from the history of JE, from which, however, very much has been omitted, and the remainder adapted and abbreviated. Even this moderate conclusion cannot be regarded as definitely established. The later author or compiler was in possession of ancient documents or traditions, of which he made use in his composite narrative, but whether these were parts of the same historical accounts that are present in the books of Moses and in Joshua must be regarded as undetermined. There is no trace, moreover, in Jud of extracts from the writing or school of P; nor do the two concluding episodes of the book (Judges 17-21) present any features which would suggest an identification with any of the leading "sources" of the Pentateuch.

The moral and religious teaching, on the other hand, which makes the varied national experiences in the times of the Judges a vehicle for ethical instruction and warning, is certainly derived from the same school as Deuteronomy, and reproduces the whole tone and spirit of that book. There is no evidence, however, to identify the writer or reviser who thus turned to spiritual profit the lessons of the age of the Judges with the author of Deuteronomy itself, but he was animated by the same principles, and endeavored in the same way to expound the same great truths of religion and the Providence of God.

7. Relation to Septuagint and Other Versions:

There are two early Greek translations of the Book of Jgs, which seem to be on the whole independent of one another. These are represented by the two great uncial manuscripts, B (Codex Vaticanus) and A (Codex Alexandrinus). With the former is associated a group of cursive manuscripts and the Sahidic or Upper Egyptian version. It is therefore probable that the translation is of Egyptian origin, and by some it has been identified with that of Hesychius. It has been shown, moreover, that in this book, and probably elsewhere, the ancient character of the text of B is not always maintained, but in parts at least betrays a later origin. The other version is contained in AV and the majority of the uncial and cursive manuscripts of the Greek texts, and, while certainly a real and independent translation from the original, is thought by some to show acquaintance with the version of B. There is, however, no definite evidence that B’s translation is really older. Some of the cursives which agree in general with A form sub-groups; thus the recension of Lucian is believed to be represented by a small number of cursives, the text of which is printed by Lagarde (Librorum VT Canonicorum, Pars Prior, 1883), and is substantially identical with that in the "Complutensian Polyglot" (see G. F. Moore, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges, Edinburgh, 1895, xliii ff). It is probable that the true original text of the Septuagint is not represented completely either by the one or the other version, but that it partially underlies both, and may be traced in the conflicting readings which must be judged each on its own merits.

Of the other principal versions, the Old Latin and the Hexaplar Syriac, together with the Armenian and the Ethiopic, attach themselves to a sub-group of the manuscripts associated with A. The Bohairic version of the Book of Jud has not hitherto been published, but, like the rest of the Old Testament, its text would no doubt be found to agree substantially with B. Jerome’s translation follows closely the Massoretic Text, and is independent of both Greek VSS; and the Peshitta also is a direct rendering from the Hebrew.

8. Religious Purpose and Value:

Thus the main purpose of the Book of Judges in the form in which it has been preserved in the Old Testament is not to record Israel’s past for its own sake, or to place before the writer’s contemporaries a historical narrative of the achievements of their great men and rulers, but to use these events and the national experiences of adversity as a text from which to educe religious warning and instruction. With the author or authors spiritual edification is the first interest, and the facts or details of the history, worthy of faithful records, because it is the history of God’s people, find their chief value in that they are and were designed to be admonitory, exhibiting the Divine judgments upon idolatry and sin, and conveying the lesson that disobedience and rebellion, a hard and defiant spirit that was forgetful of Yahweh, could not fail to entail the same disastrous consequences. The author is preeminently a preacher of righteousness to his fellow-countrymen, and to this aim all other elements in the book, whether chronological or historical, are secondary and subordinate. In his narrative he sets down the whole truth, so far as it has become known to him through tradition or written document, however discreditable it may be to his nation. There is no ground for believing that he either extenuates on the one hand, or on the other paints in darker colors than the record of the transgressions of the people deserved. Neither he nor they are to be judged by the standards of the 20th century, with its accumulated wealth of spiritual experience and long training in the principles of righteousness and truth. But he holds and asserts a lofty view of the character of Yahweh, of the immutability of His wrath against obstinate transgression and of the certainty of its punishment, and yet of the Divine pitifulness and mercy to the man or nation that turns to Him with a penitent heart. The Jews were not mistaken when they counted the Book of Jud among the Prophets. It is prophecy, more than history, because it exhibits and enforces the permanent lessons of the righteousness and justice and loving-kindness of God.


A complete bibliography of the literature up to date will be found in the Dicts. under the word "Judges," D B2, 1893; HDB, II, 1899; EB, II, 1901; compare G. F. Moore, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jgs, Edinburgh, 1895; SBOT, Leipzig, 1900; R. A. Watson, "Jgs" and "Ruth," in Expositor’s Bible, 1889; G. W. Thatcher, "Jgs" and "Ruth," in Century Bible; S. Oettli, "Das Deuteronomium und die Bucher Josua und Richter," in Kurzgefasster Kommentar, Munchen, 1893; K. Budde, "Das Buch der Richter," in Kurzer HandKommentar zum Altes Testament, Tubingen, 1897; W. Nowack, "Richter," in Hand-kommentar zum Altes Testament, 1900.

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