Judges 8-10


As noted in the previous post, there is a fragmentary bit of text stuck in at 7:22b-8:3. Verse 8.4 has Gideon chasing down the Midianites in what is either the original continuation of the weird jar-torch escapade, or a separate tale.

Like in the fragment, Gideon is in pursuit of two Midianite kings, here called Zebah and Zalmunna. (Their possible connection to Oreb and Zeeb is noted by the OSE editors.) 8.4-8.21 is the story of their capture. In hot pursuit, Gideon gets no help from the locals. At two cities, he is refused aid; At both stops, he curses them for being such total dicks. At Succoth he vows to thresh them with desert thorns and at Penuel he vows to pull down their castle. After an anti-climatic battle, in which the two kings are captured (their army conveniently “melts away”) Gideon comes across a young man from Succoth. The kid rattles off the 77 rulers and elders of his town (yeah, huh?) and then Gideon fulfills both of his vengeful promises.

We still gots the kings to deal with. The references here, to Mount Tabor and Gideon’s brother’s, are strange details not previously mentioned.

8:18 Then he said to Zebah and Zalmunna, ‘What of the men you killed in Tabor?’ They answered, ‘They were like you, every one had the look of a king’s son.’ ‘They were my brothers,’ he said, ‘my mother’s sons. I swear by the LORD, if you had let them live I would not have killed you’; and he said to his eldest son Jether, ‘Up with you, and kill them.’ But he was still only a lad, and did not draw his sword, because he was afraid. So Zebah and Zalmunna said, ‘Rise up yourself and dispatch us, for you have a man’s strength.’ So Gideon rose and killed them both, and he took the crescents from the necks of their camels.

Verses 22-28 is the final story of Gideon. It’s pretty short and simple. Gideon’s men have taken a large booty of gold earrings from their enemy. Everyone knows Ishmaelites wore gold earrings. (Ishmaelites are descendants of Ishmael, a son of Abraham. Apparently, the Midianites are Ishmaelites? Or we have a bad edit job.) Gideon takes this 1,700 shekels worth of gold and turns it into an “ephod”(אֵפוֹד).

8:27 Gideon made it into an ephod and he set it up in his own city of Ophrah. All the Israelites turned wantonly to its worship, and it became a trap to catch Gideon and his household.

We never hear about this ephod again, but we encounter a different ephod in chapter 18, another tale set in the hill-country of Ephraim.

Then Gideon finally dies, and the stupid Israelites go RIGHT BACK to worshipping Baal, goddamnit.


The story passes on to Gideon/Jerubbaal’s son Abimelech (אֲבִימֶלֶךְ “my father the king”), who is a nasty piece of work. Chapter 9 appears to be made up of two individual texts, but they form a tidy story of Abi’s rise and fall.

We begin in Shechem, a city we’ve met before. Apparently it is under the control of Abimelech’s mother’s (Gideon’s concubine’s) clan. Abi wants power, so he wormtongues his way into his uncles’ good graces, and they give him a bunch of silver. (Incidentally, the money comes from the temple of Baal-berith.) Abi takes this money and does the obvious: he hires a bunch of hooligans and massacres his brothers.

9:5 He came to his father’s house in Ophrah and butchered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerubbaal, on a single stone block, all but Jotham the youngest, who survived because he had hidden himself. Then all the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo came together and made Abimelech king beside the old propped-up terebinth at Shechem.

Terebinthspotters, take note.

Jotham is quite unhappy with this turn of events, so he gets on his soapbox (the summit of Mount Gerizim) and tells a little parable about trees. If they were too dense to get his message, he then resorts to sarcasm:

9:19 In this day’s work have you acted fairly and honestly by Jerubbaal and his family? If so, I wish you joy in Abimelech and wish him joy in you! If not, may fire come out of Abimelech and burn up the citizens of Shechem and all Beth-millo; may fire also come out from the citizens of Shechem and Beth-millo and burn up Abimelech.’

Unfortunately Jotham runs off and hides and this part of the story ends. Next (9:22-25) comes what I believe to be a short insert setting up the next story. It gives a theological spin on what is an otherwise Yahweh-less enterprise. The original tales are, problematically, all about unabashed Baal-worshippers!

A guy named Gaal struts in to town and the Shechemites inexplicably switch their allegience his way. What follows is a mildly interesting battle between Abi and Gaal’s forces; it ends with Abi utterly destroying Shechem, sowing the ground with salt (insult to injury there) and burning the survivors alive in a castle.

Two minor notes of interest: Terebinthspotters will be pleased to learn that there is a reference to “the Soothsayers’ Terebinth” at 9:37. And the soon-to-be-not-survivors take refuge in the “temple of El-berith”- as in El, the Canaanite deity.

Abimelech’s death is randomly misogynistic. He’s off sacking another castle, in the city of Thebez. A woman throws a millstone onto his head and it fractures his skull. His response is classic Abi:

9:54 He called hurriedly to his young armour-bearer and said, ‘Draw your sword and dispatch me, or men will say of me: A woman killed him.’ So the young man ran him through and he died.


Chapter 10 is pretty short and fragmented. It begins with two very brief entries in the list o’ judges- Tola and Jair. Tola isn’t worth discussing, but Jair is, for one reason: he’s also mentioned in Numbers!

Here is his story in Judges:

10:3 After him came Jair the Gileadite; he was judge over Israel for twenty-two years. He had thirty sons, who rode thirty asses; they had thirty towns in the land of Gilead, which to this day are called Havvoth-jair. When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon.

And now, from Numbers. Which, you’ll remember, takes place well before the judges!

Numbers 32:41 Moses then assigned Gilead to Machir son of Manasseh, and he made his home there. Jair son of Manasseh attacked and took the tent-villages of Ham and called them Havvoth-jair.

Oh jeez. If you are still in your “omg the Bible is FULL OF LIES” stage, this is probably a good unsurmountable contradiction to stick in a fundy’s face.

Me, I’m still giggling over “he had thirty sons who rode thirty asses.”

The rest of chapter 10 is basically a prologue to the tales of 11 and 12. God has had his last fucking straw with these god-damn Israelites worshipping the fucking Baalim and stupid Ashtaroth. He’s apparently tired of having judges do his dirty work, so he rebukes the naughty Israelites himself. Then he…  well, he does something. The Hebrew (around 10:7-10) appears to be a bit muddled. The Israelites are sold to the Ammonites, who then harass the Israelites living east of the Jordan for 18 years, but then they’re suddenly attacking Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim. Who knows what’s going on.

There is an interesting discrepancy noted by the OSE editors. Several mentions here are made to the “Midianites”. But the Masoretic text- the Hebrew tradition- uses the word “Maonites”. Both KJV and NIV use the term Maonites. “Midianites” is taken from the Septuagint- the Greek translation used by early Christians, including the writers of the New Testament. I am not sure why the New English Bible translators chose to use this version.

The differing translation traditions are fascinating (to me, at least) but I am not going to get into that just yet.

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