Judges 1-3


With Joshua dead (OR IS HE?) the narrative momentarily reverts to the brothers Judah and Simeon. These are classic personified-tribe characters from Genesis. They played a major role in the great Joseph in Egypt story from the 2nd half of Genesis. Why are they popping up now?

Judges 1-2.6 cover the same territory as the Book of Joshua, while wildly contradicting it. This is the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. But this time, Joshua is nowhere to be seen. (There is a reference to his tribe, Ephraim.) And the conquest is not remotely complete. Instead, each tribe conquers (or occupies) its own territory for itself. Judah (personified as a person) takes Jerusalem and a bunch of other cities. Ephraim kind of takes Gezer.

The text is markedly different from Joshua, and the OSE editors comment on its antiquity. It’s very fragmentary and enigmatic. And it emphases Judah, the souther region (as opposed to the rest of Judges, which has a distinct northern flavor.) Given all that, and the re-appearance of Genesis characters, I’m going to tentatively wonder if this is related to the Jahwist source.

A short bit regarding Caleb is repeated verbatim from Joshua 15. The story was there inserted during the tribal allotment boregasm; here it occurs in midst of war. Here is the Judges version; the Joshua text has a slightly different beginning which identifies the Hebronites as Anakim (giants.)

1:11 Judah attacked the Canaanites in Hebron, formerly called Kiriath-arba, and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. From there they marched against the inhabitants of Debir, formerly called Kiriath-sepher. Caleb said, ‘Whoever attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah in marriage.’ Othniel, son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, captured it, and Caleb gave him his daughter Achsah. When she came to him, he incited her to ask her father for a piece of land. As she sat on the ass, she made a noise, and Caleb said, ‘What did you mean by that?’ She replied, ‘I want to ask a favour of you. You have put me in this dry Negeb; you must give me pools of water as well.’ So Caleb gave her the upper and lower pool.

Such a great story, obviously deserved to be included twice. Which context is the original? Who knows. Joshua and Judges both use something the OSE editors refer to as an “ancient source that indicate that the conquest was less complete than the late editor of Joshua usually states.” This includes a lot of verses that begin with “but x did not drive out the x”. I was very excited to see that the Caleb story is identified by the editors as being of that source! It’s treatment of the tribes as tribes, not characters, is consistant (in both iterations.)


Judges 2 begins with a rather contextless bit about “the angel of the LORD” making the Israelites cry. He’s basically all like “you guys pissed me off so the Canaanites are going to give you a really hard time.”

Joshua is alive! Oh my god! Has Jesus risen him from the dead? No… its an editing issue. He dies again right away.

Most of Chapter 2 is an introduction to the stories of the judges; they are presented in a rather formulaic manner. The Israelites have been VERY NAUGHTLY. They have been worshipping “the Baalim” and “the Ashteroth”, Canaanite deities. So god gives them judges, to set them straight. It works, until the judge dies. Then the cycle repeats.

What the heck are judges? They are kind of a chimera of legal, military, and religious authorities.

2:18 Whenever the LORD set up a judge over them, he was with that judge, and kept them safe from their enemies so long as he lived. The LORD would relent as often as he heard them groaning under oppression and ill-treatment. But as soon as the judge was dead, they would relapse into deeper corruption than their forefathers and give their allegiance to other gods, worshipping them and bowing down before them. They gave up none of their evil practices and their wilful ways.

This is the framework for the book of Judges. According to Friedman, this introduction was prepared by the Deuteronomist, and the rest of Judges is fit into this cycle.


Chapter 3 ends D’s intro and begins (finally) the meat of Judges: the judges!

The first judge is Othniel.

Just to prove I’m not Friedman’s lackey, he ascribes all of 3:1-11 to D. I stridently disagree! It’s clearly 3:1-7. Othniel’s story begins at 3:8, and I think it clearly matches the following text, not the introduction. Anyway, here it is, it’s very interesting:

3:8 The LORD was angry with Israel and he sold them to Cushan-rishathaim, king of Aram-naharaim, who kept them in subjection for eight years. Then the Israelites cried to the LORD for help and he raised up a man to deliver them, Othniel son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, and he set them free.

The OSE notes that Aram-naharaim means “Aram of the Two Rivers”, and that’s a reference to Mesopotamia. It also adds: “The geographic improbability of an invasion from Mesopotamia leads some to conjecture that “Aram” should be emended to the more probable “Edom.”  Eh. Edom was a country to the immediate southeast; it was associated with Esau. Could be. But the text is out of context; and if it’s an old legend, it doesn’t really have to be probable. This is the Bible we’re talking about.

Next, the Israelites are subjugated by one King Eglon of Moab. (Which is immediantly north of Edom, be that what it may.) The hero of the day is Ehud. He was left-handed. His story is quite good. Here is a portion:

3:19 ‘My lord king,’ he said, ‘I have a word for you in private.’ Eglon called for silence and dismissed all his attendants. Ehud then came up to him as he sat in the roof-chamber of his summer palace and said, ‘I have a word from God for you.’ So Eglon rose from his seat, and Ehud reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right side and drove it into his belly. The hilt went in after the blade and the fat closed over the blade; he did not draw the sword out but left it protruding behind.

I won’t give away the ending, but it involves toilet humor.

Shamgar‘s story is “notably brief”, according to the OSE editors, and “is to be found in some manuscripts after 16:31.” Here it is:

3:31 After Ehud there was Shamgar of Beth-anath. He killed six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad, and he too delivered Israel.

An ox-goad is basically a cattle-prod. Shamgar, you are a badass!

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