For the understanding of the early history and religion of Israel, the book of Judges, which covers the period from the death of Joshua to the beginning of the struggle with the Philistines, is of inestimable importance; and it is very fortunate that the elements contributed by the later editors are so easily separated from the ancient stories whose moral they seek to point. That moral is most elaborately stated in ii.6-iii.6, which is a sort of programme or preface to iii.7-xvi.31, which constitutes the real kernel of the book of Judges -- chs. xvii.-xxi., as we shall see, being a supplement and i.1-ii.5 an introduction. Briefly stated, the moral is this: in the ancient history, unfaithfulness to Jehovah was regularly followed by chastisement in the shape of foreign invasion, but when the people repented and cried to Jehovah He raised up a leader to deliver them. Unfaithfulness, chastisement; penitence, forgiveness. This philosophy of history, if such it can be called, had of course the practical object of inspiring the people with a sense of the importance of fidelity to Jehovah. Both the ideas and the phraseology of this passage, ii.6-iii.6, are unmistakably those of Deuteronomy: therefore here, as in Joshua, we speak of the Deuteronomic redaction.

The moral expressed in the preface and repeated in a less elaborate form elsewhere, vi.7-10, x.6-16, is amply illustrated by the stories that follow -- the stories of Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. This does not exhaust the list of judges, but it exhausts the list of those whose stories are used to illustrate the Deuteronomic scheme. The story of Abimelech, e.g. (ix.), has no such preface or conclusion as these six have; neither has the notice of Shamgar in iii.31; the preface is also lacking in the very bald notices of the five minor judges, x.1-5, xii.8-15. It is clear, therefore, that they fell without the original Deuteronomic scheme; but it is equally clear that the later editors of the book intended to represent the period by twelve judges, Abimelech being apparently reckoned a judge, though he is not called one. Another computation, which ignored Abimelech, reached the number twelve by adding Shamgar, iii.31, whom a comparison of iii.31 with iv.1 shows not to have belonged to the original book; the name was probably suggested by v.6a.

Chs. xvii.-xxi., which consist of two appendices (xvii., xviii, the origin of the sanctuary at Dan, and xix.-xxi., the vengeance of Israel on Benjamin for the outrage at Gibeah), also clearly fell without the Deuteronomic redaction: the section is untouched either by the language or ideas of Deuteronomy. Further, these chapters are clearly out of place where they stand; for, generally speaking, the order of the book is chronological, beginning with the death of Joshua and ending with the Philistine invasion which lasted on into the days of Samuel, whereas both stories in the appendix refer to quite an early period, two of the characters named being the grandsons of Moses and Aaron respectively (xviii.30, xx.28).[1] [Footnote 1: In ch. xviii.30 the word now read as Manasseh was originally Moses.]

The introduction, i. I-ii.5, also plainly falls without the scheme, for the book proper, ii.6ff., is a direct continuation[1] of Joshua xxiv.27, and i. i-ii.5 really duplicates, in the main, accounts and isolated notices scattered through Joshua xv., xvi., xvii., xix. The incidents related in these chapters are assigned to Joshua's lifetime; the phrase with which the book of Judges begins -- "It came to pass after the death of Joshua" -- is clearly a later attempt to connect the two books, and inconsistent with ii.6ff., which carries the story back to a period before Joshua's death. [Footnote 1: 2 Ch. ii.6, 7=Josh. xxiv.28, 31; Jud. ii.8, 9=Josh. xxiv.29, 30.]

The original book of Judges, then, as edited by the Deuteronomist, is represented[1] by ii.6-xv., minus the notices of Shamgar, Abimelech and the minor judges. The moral pointed by the redaction, valuable as it may be, is not always suggested by the history. The redaction assigns the national misfortunes to idolatry, though only once is idolatry mentioned with reprobation in the ancient stories themselves, vi.25-32. The redaction shows a further indifference to history in giving a national[2] turn to the tale of apostasy and deliverance, whereas the original stories show that the interests are really not as yet national, but only tribal. The chronology of the book -- which is also part of the redaction -- with its round numbers, 20, 40, 80, etc., appears to contain an artificial element, and to form part of the scheme indicated in i Kings vi.1, which assigns 480 years, i.e. twelve generations, to the period between the exodus and the building of the temple. Many considerations make it practically certain that the periods of the judges, which are represented as successive, were often really synchronous, and that therefore the period covered by the entire book is only about two centuries.
[Footnote 1: Note that ch. xv.20 was apparently designed to conclude the story of Samson, raising the suspicion that ch. xvi. (with a similar conclusion) was added later.]
[Footnote 2: Cf. iii.12. The children of Israel did evil again in the sight of Jehovah, and Jehovah strengthened Eglon the King of Moab against Israel; so vv.14, 15, etc.]

There is reason to believe that the original Deuteronomic book of Judges included the stories of Eli and Samuel, and ended with I Samuel xii. It is expressly said in Judges xiii.5 that Samson is to begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and it is reasonable to suppose that the completion of the deliverance was also related; besides, Samuel's farewell address contains many reminiscences of the familiar formulae of the book of Judges (I Sam. xii.9ff.) and an appropriate summary of the teaching and some of the facts of that book (cf. v.11). It is easy to imagine, however, why the stories of Eli and Samuel were ultimately separated from the book of Judges: partly because they were felt to be hardly judges in the old sense of defenders, deliverers -- Eli was a priest, and Samuel a prophet -- and still more because the story of Samuel, at any rate, was bound up with the history of the monarchy.

The book received its present form from post-exilic redactors. This is rendered certain by the unmistakable marks of the influence of the priestly code in chs. xx., xxi. The unanimity with which Israel acts, the extraordinarily high numbers,[1] the prominence of such words as "congregation," constitute indubitable evidence of a priestly hand. Some post-Deuteronomic hand, if not this same one,[2] added the other appendix, xvii., xviii., the introduction, i.-ii.5, and the sections in the body of the book already shown to be late.[3]. The motives which prompted these additions were varied. With regard to the minor judges, e.g., some suppose that the object was simply to make up the number twelve; but generally speaking, the motive for the additions would be the natural desire to conserve extant relics of the past. The introduction, and appendix, though added late, contain very ancient material. Many of the historical notices in ch. i. are reproductions of early and important notices in the book of Joshua, though with significant editorial additions, usually in honour of Judah; [Footnote: Cf. ch. i.8, which contradicts i.21; and i, 18, which contradicts i.19.] and the story of the origin of the sanctuary at Dan, with its very candid account of the furniture of the sanctuary and the capture of the priest, is obviously very old. Doubtless also there is a historical element in xix.-xxi., though it has been seriously overlaid by the priestly redaction -- possibly also in the notices of the minor judges.
[Footnote 1: Ch. xx.2 (of. Num. xxxi.). Contrast Jud. v.8.] [Footnote 2: Note the phrase in both stories. "In those days there was no king in Israel," xviii. i, xix. I.]
[Footnote 3: Shamgar iii.31; Abimelech (ix); minor judges, x.1-5, xii.8-15; Samson (xvi.)]

This raises the question of the sources and historical value of the stories in the body of the book, which, as we have seen, are very easily separated from the redactional elements. Indeed, as those elements are confined to the beginning and the end of the stories, we may assume that the stories themselves were not composed by the redactors, but already reached them in a fixed and finished form. Further, it is important to note that, just as in the prophetic portions of the Hexateuch, duplicates are often present -- very probably in the stories of Ehud, iii.12ff., Deborah and Barak (iv.), Abimelech (ix.), and Micah (xvii., xviii.), but certainly in the story of Gideon[1] (vi.-viii.). According to the later version, Gideon is the deliverer of Israel from the incursions of the Midianites, and the princes slain are Oreb and Zeeb, vii.24-viii.3; according to the earlier version, viii.4-21, which is on a smaller scale, Gideon, accompanied by part of his clan, takes the lives of Zebah and Zalmunna to avenge his brothers, whom they had slain. In the case of duplicated stories, the Deuteronomic redactors apparently found the stories already in combination, so that the original constituent documents must be further back still. As the narratives, with their primitive religious ideas and practices and their obvious delight in war, are clearly the echo of an early time, we shall be safe in relegating the original documents, at the latest, to the eighth or ninth century B.C. It is a point on which unanimity has not yet been reached, whether these documents are the Jehovist and Elohist of the Hexateuch; but considering the fact that the older notices in i.-ii.5, on account of the prominence of Judah and for other reasons, are usually assigned to J, and that some of the characteristics of these two documents recur in the course of the book, the hypothesis that J and E are continued at least into Judges must be regarded as not improbable.
[Footnote 1: In the story of Jephthah, ch. xi.12-28, which interrupt the connexion and deals with Moab, not with Ammon, is a later interpolation.]

Fortunately we are able in one case to trace the source of a story. The story of Deborah and Barak is told in chs. iv. and v. Ch.5, which is so graphic that it must have come from a contemporary-one had almost said an eye-witness -- is undoubtedly the older form of the story, as it is in verse. Partly on the basis of this poem ch. iv. has been built up, and the account of Sisera's death in this chapter, iv.21, which differs from that in v.26, 27, rests on a misunderstanding of the situation in v.26. Here we see the risks which the ballads ran when turned into prose, but more important is it to note the poetical origin of the story. Probably ch. v. originally belonged to such a collection as the book of the wars of Jehovah or the book of Jashar, and it is natural to suppose that other stories in the book of Judges -- e.g. the exploits of Gideon -- may have similarly originated in war-ballads.

The religion of the book of Judges is powerful but primitive. The ideal man is the ideal warrior. Grim tales of war are told with unaffected delight, and the spirit of God manifests itself chiefly in the inspiration of the warrior. Gideon and Micah have their idols. Chemosh and Dagon are as real, though not so powerful, as Jehovah. Unlike the redaction, the earlier tales are not given to moralizing, and yet once at least the moral is explicitly pointed, ix.56ff. But elsewhere the power of religion in life is suggested, not by explicit comment, but rather by the naturalness with which every interest and activity of life are viewed in a religious light. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the priceless song of Deborah[1] (v.). Israel's battles are the battles of Jehovah; her triumph is His triumph. The song is inspired by an intense belief in the national God, but there was little that was ethical in the religion of the period. Jephthah offers his child in sacrifice. Jael is praised for a murder which was a breach of the common Semitic law of hospitality. By revealing, however, so candidly the meagre beginnings of Israel's religion, the book of Judges only increases our sense of the miracle which brought that religion to its incomparable consummation in the fulness of the times. [Footnote 1: The song is not necessarily and not probably composed by Deborah. In v.12 she is addressed in the 2nd person, and v.7 may be similarly read, "Till thou, Deborah, didst arise."]

the prophetic and priestly documents
Top of Page
Top of Page