Judges 17-18: An Ephod and Teraphim


The next Judge is… uh… well, nobody. The rest of the Book of Judges is judgeless. They really did forsake Yahweh this time, huh? Chapters 17 and 18 are a weird amalgamation of several stories about Micah the Ephraimite, his nebulously identified priest, and some homeless Danites.

I’ve tentatively identified several source texts possibly integrated at some point by a hypothetical editor, and I will number them as I go.

The first story (vv. 1-4) is simple: Micah had stolen some money from him mom, and when he repaid her she used the cash to buy some household idols. Specifically, we’re told she bought a “carved idol and a cast image”. So that’s #1.

The next verse (17:5) is rather anomalous: the text is redundant, it uses strikingly different vocabulary, and its content contradicts what’s to come. I’m labelling it source #2, even though it’s just one line.

17:4 He returned the money to his mother, and she took two hundred pieces of silver and handed them to a silversmith, who made them into an idol and an image, which stood in Micah’s house.
17:5 This man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and teraphim and installed one of his sons to be his priest.

The following verse (17:6) is the Deuteronomist’s familiar “omg their was no king so Israel was totally lame” refrain, which is proof of editing. This creates an editorial divide between stories #1 and #3.

I’m wondering if perhaps story #1 (17:1-4) was added to explain the meaning and origin of the “ephod and teraphim” mentioned later. An ephod is supposedly a type of image (here, at least) and “teraphim” were household gods. These esoteric words are transliterated from Hebrew instead of directly translated.

Next, story #3. Out from Jerusalem comes a Levite priest named Ben-gershom. He is looking for a pad to crash at, and Micah offers him his digs.

17:10 Stay with me and be priest and father to me. I will give you ten pieces of silver a year, and provide you with food and clothes.’ The Levite agreed to stay with the man and was treated as one of his sons. Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and a member of his household. Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will make me prosper, because I have a Levite for my priest.”

You’re probably wondering: what happened to Micah’s son? This is why I said verse 5 contradicts. Micah’s son is mentioned once, and never again.

This story (#3, the bulk of chapter 17) was written specifically to say something about Levites. What, exactly? I’m not sure. An interesting question is whether “Levite”, as used here, refers to the priestly class (ya know, Leviticus, and all that) or is simply a word meaning “priest”. I am leaning towards the later, because, quite simply, Levites and idol worship seem mutually exclusive. The OSE editors raise the possibility that the object of this story is to simply point out to the reader that “Levite” once meant “priest”. Which it did.


This story continues the tale of Micah, but the main focus is on the actions of tribe of Dan. If you’re keeping track, this is source #4, heavily edited to line up with both #1 and #3.

I gotta tell you about a tribe named Dan. Remember Samson? He was a Danite. Its territory was down in the southwest of Canaan, bordering the Philistines Samson loved to slaughter. Sometimes after Samson’s adventures, the tribe uprooted itself and moved north. (No real reason is given in this story, but it’s thought to be because the Philistines were kicking their asses.)

So the tribe sends “five fighting men” up north to scout out new grounds. They pass through Ephraim and knock on Micah’s door.

18:3 They came to Micah’s house in the hill-country of Ephraim and spent the night there. While they were there, they recognized the speech of the young Levite; they turned there and then and said to him, ‘Who brought you here? What are you doing? What is your business here?’ He said, ‘This is all Micah’s doing: he has hired me and I have become his priest.’ They said to him, ‘Then inquire of God on our behalf whether our mission will be successful.’ The priest replied ‘Go in peace. Your mission is in the LORD’s hands.’

I have strong suspicion that this entire episode in Micah’s house is an embellishment. (Possibly related to source #3? An invention of the Deuteronomist?) First of all, this is the only mention of “Levite” in chapter 18. More importantly, this event contradicts the actions of the Danites later on.

So the five Danites go to Laish (which is way up in the north, above the Sea of Galilee), find it spiffy, and return to report this to their people. The tribe musters six-hundred men and they set off north. And again they come to Ephraim.

18:14 The five men who had been to explore the country round Laish spoke up and said to their kinsmen, ‘Do you know that in one of these houses there are now an ephod and teraphim, an idol and an image? Now consider what you had best do.’

I think the redundant wording “ephod and teraphim, idol and image” is later editing to link this story to the previous ones, which, taken together, used varying terminology.

So they take the army to Micah’s house and steal his shit. See how this contradicts? Their last visit to the house made no mention of the ephod and teraphim. They were suprised to see a Levite priest, asked him their fortune, and left. Why are they only now so concerned with idols?

It gets weirder. We’re used to Israelites tearing down pagan idols. I expected them to steal the ephod, etc. and smash them or something. But this isn’t what’s going on. They’re taking the idols… for their own use. They steal the idols and the priest, only to install them all in Laish!

18:19 ‘Be quiet; not a word. Come with us and be our priest and father. Which is better, to be priest in the household of one man or to be priest to a whole tribe and clan in Israel?’ This pleased the priest; so he took the ephod and teraphim, the idol and the image, and joined the company.

Micah runs after them and asks, basically, “what the fuck are you assholes doing?” And they reply, basically, “Do not mess with us unless you want a world of hurt.” So the Danites go north and kill the Laish and steal their land and set up the priest (who’s name is finally revealed: Jonathan. Which contradicts #2 and #3!) and the idols in their new territory. And Micah is out an ephod and a teraphim. Poor Micah 😦

Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this story. It is fascinatingly heathenistic; we have a vision of Israelite culture where idolatry is standard practise. It seems a bit odd the Deuteronomist let this slide.

So, that’s the story of Micah. The three or four stories of Micah.

Posted in Judges | 4 Comments

Judges 14-16: Samson!

Three chapters are devoted to the wild and crazy adventures of the He-Man from Mahaneh-dan. According to the OSE, “modern criticism considers these stories choice examples of early Israelite folklore.” The story of Samson and Delilaha is the most well-known narrative from the Book of Judges.


Chapter 14 contains, as best I can tell, two stories about Samson which are meshed around verses 5-9. The text before and after this stretch is coherent, but during 5-9 something weird is going on.

14:1 Samson went down to Timnah, and there he saw a woman, one of the Philistines. When he came back up, he told his father and mother that he had seen a Philistine woman in Timnath and asked them to get her for him as his wife.”

He asks his parents to score him some sweet Philistine tail, but they refuse. I won’t bother to type all of it up (you should really read these three chapters for yourself) but the opening section (14:1-4) is internally consistent. Then it gets weird:

14:5 Samson and his father and mother went down to Timnath and, when he reached the vineyards there, a young lion came at him growling. The spirit of the LORD suddenly seized him and, having no weapon in hand, he tore the lion in pieces as if it were a kid. He did not tell his parents what he had done. Then he went down and spoke to the woman, and she pleased him. After a time he went down again to take her to wife; he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion, and he saw a swarm of bees in it, and honey. He scraped the honey into his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave them some and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had scraped the honey out of the lion’s carcass. His father went down to see the woman, and Samson gave a feast there as the custom of young men was.

(The NEB translates v. 14:5 as “Samson went down to Timnath…” It asserts this is the “probable reading”, while the Hebrew adds “and his father and mother.” I can only guess this “probably reading” was invented to remove one of many obvious inconsistencies. The translators attempt to “fix” the text in this manner quite frequently.)

I haven’t been able to come up with a satisfactory answer for this passage’s disunity. The movement of Samson’s parents is contradictory and the bits about the lion don’t mesh with the bits about his wife. But I can find no clean way to “split” the passage.

What follows this is a lengthy tale regarding Samson at his wedding feast. Samson’s wife and his encounter with the lion are still major plot elements.

Samson goes down to Philistine and he gives a feast. He’s shown “thirty young men to be his escort”. He asks them a riddle, saying that if they can guess it, he will give them 30 lengths of linen and 30 spiify outfits. Samson’s riddle:

14:14 Out of the eater came something to eat;
Out of the strong came something sweet.

The men can’t get it, so they threaten Samson’s wife, demanding she coax the answer from him. In turn, she gets upset with Samson because he won’t tell her the answer. Samson consoles her: he didn’t tell his folks either. Samson is serious about his riddles. Nonetheless, Samson’s unnamed wife (this isn’t Delilah, if you’re wondering) cries for seven days straight, until he gives in and tells her. Immediately she passes on the answer to the male escorts. Then, just as she and Samson are about to consummate their wedding, the thirty men rush up to Samson and give him his answer:

14:18 What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?

Samson is livid, because he realizes his wife has betrayed him. (‘If you had not ploughed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle’) Plus, now he had to go all the way down to Ashkelon and kill 30 people to get the 30 pairs of clothes he promised. Yeah, the bastard promised stuff he didn’t have.

So, back to the weirdness of 14:5-10. What was going on? I think perhaps vv. 1-4 were originally a separate story fragment. The style seems different; it seems a little more “big picture” than the rest of the folktale:

14:4 His father and mother did not know that the LORD was at work in this, seeking an opportunity against the Philistines, who at that time were masters of Israel.

The wedding feast tale originally began with Samson slaying the lion; it’s content dovetails directly into the wedding feast tale in several ways. (Note the references to Samson concealing the lion from his parents, which is acknowledged later.) The opening story, while thematically relevant, doesn’t really contain any salient details. I believe it was integrated into the larger story by careful (sloppy?) editing of the lion story.


Chapter 15 describes escalating battles between Samson and the Philistines. I think it might be a fusion of two stories, with the split being after verse 8. Samson goes to visit his wife, but her dad has decided Samson didn’t like her, so he gave her away Samson’s groomsman. (Yay for traditional marriage?) Samson takes this out on the Philistines:

15:4 So he went and caught three hundred jackals and got some torches; he tied the jackals tail to tail and fastened a torch between each pair of tails. He then set the torches alight and turned the jackals loose in the standing corn of the Philistines.

Brilliant plan, brilliant execution. The Philistines, in retaliation, torch Samson’s wife and her father. Good riddance to the in-laws, I guess, but what did she ever do? Then it says Samson “smote them hip and thigh with great slaughter”.

The second story finds Samson living at the Rock of Etam. Philistines are encamped up in Judah- apparently intent on capturing the dreaded Samson. The men of Judah beg Samson to surrender, and he does so graciously, as long as they keep him alive for the Philistines to dispatch themselves. He’s brought to Lehi (לחי‬), a place in Judah with a name very close to the word for “jawbone” (לחי‬). There, he does a real he-man stunt, bursting his ropes and melting his binds and then killing lots and lots of Philistines with, yep, the jawbone of an donkey. Then he names the place Ramath-lehi  (רמת~לחי) “Jawbone Hill”, which is a bit redundant considering the place was already called Lehi.

There is an interesting translation difficulty. This is the given translation of 15:16:

With the jaw-bone of an ass I have flayed them like asses;
with the jaw-bone of an ass I have slain a thousand men.

For the first line the OSE gives the following alternate translations:

With the jaw-bone of an ass I have reddened them blood-red.
With the jaw-bone of an ass I have heaped them in heaps.

Then, in desperation, it just gives the Hebrew: חֲמֹור חֲמֹרָתָיִם “hamor himmartim”. Basically, nobody has any idea what 15:16 is saying. It’s a pun of some kind. “Hamor” means donkey (unless it doesn’t) and “himmartim” is a similar but not identical word with a masculine plural suffix. All we have here are the translator’s best guesses. (Note that the KJV translaton is “heaps upon heaps.”)

Those who think the Bible is God’s word should ask him what “hamor himmartim” means, because currently his message is incomplete.

Chapter 15 ends with the formulaic conclusion to Samson’s reign as judge, which we’re told lasted twenty years.


Oh, that was just shitty editing. Samson’s story isn’t over.

The first three verses of 16 are an unconnected and rather opaque story about Samson going to meet a whore in Gaza and then carrying the city’s gate to Hebron. Moving on…

Enter Delilah.

For all the press it gets, the famous story of Samson and Delilah is about a page long and rather simple. It is also remarkably similar to the wedding-feast story we just heard. Like before, a group of men (here the “lords of the Philistines”) try to get Samson’s ladyfriend to coax an important secret out of him. But rather than being a trivia game for clothes, these men want to learn the secret to Samson’s power. Spoiler: like any good Nazarite, it’s his hair.

16:6 So Delilah said to Samson, ‘Tell me what gives you your great strength, and how you can be bound and held captive.’ Samson replied, ‘If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings not yet dry, then I shall become as weak as any other man.’

This is, needless to say, a lie. Delilah yells “OMG PHILISTINES” and Samson breaks himself free and isn’t killed by the men Delilah already has staged in the other room. So Delilah asks him again, and for some reason they play this game several times, with Samson lying and Delilah trying to get him killed and I don’t know why he just didn’t leave already.

Finally, stupidly, Samson tells her the real secret: if you shave my hair, I’m boned. Guess what happens?

16:19 She lulled him to sleep on her knees, summoned a man and he shaved the seven locks of his hair for her. She began to  take him captive and his strength lefth him. Then she scried, ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!’ He woke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as usual and shake myself’; he did not know that the LORD had left him. The Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza.

I don’t want to be crass, but does “she lulled him to sleep on her knees” really mean what I think it means? (And what exactly is “shake myself” a euphemism for?)

So Samson is brought to Gaza, which is on the coast to the southwest of Judah, basically Philistine country. (Can you tell I just bought a Bible atlas?) Here Samson is made to pay dearly for all his Philistine-slaughtering antics. Now blind, he is first forced to grind corn in prison. Then, during some sort of festival for the god Dagon, he is forced to fight (who or what is not described) for the amusement of the Philistines.

16:25 So they summoned Samson from prison and he made sport before them all. They stood him between the pillars, and Samson said to the boy who held his hand, ‘Put me where I can feel the pillars which support the temple, so that I may lean against them.’

“The pillars” are mentioned there for the first time, as if we should know they are there. It turns out they are holding up a temple, which contains 3,000 Philistines “watching Samson as he fought.” A couple problems involving the science of OPTICS. First, isn’t Samson blind? How’s he know about the pillars? And two, how can the pillars be holding up a temple so that the people in the temple can see Samson standing between the pillars? Was he taking a little breather in the shade during his deathmatch?

Okay, anyway, Samson grabs those pillars and pulls them down on himself and kills the 3,000 people. And himself. And there ends the story of Samson. He sure killed a lot of Philistines!

The CBC radio show Wiretap did an episode devoted to Samson; look for “Samson and Delilah” in the season 2 archive. Jonathan Goldstein delivers an interesting retelling of Samson’s story, one that perhaps improves on the Bible’s garbled account.


Posted in Judges | Tagged , | Leave a comment

NOVA Documentary: The Bible’s Buried Secrets

While I’m finishing the post on Samson, I thought I’d share this very interesting NOVA documentary on Biblical archaeology, the origin of the Israelites, and the Documentary Hypothesis. It has the rather vague title “The Bible’s Buried Secrets.” If you take it with a grain of salt, it’s pretty interesting and informative.

Moving chronologically, it contrasts the (sparse) historical record against the first 11 books of the Hebrew Bible. It begins with the earliest recorded mention of Israel and the first Hebrew inscription. When the Bible is unsupported by any archaeology, it explains possible origins for the myths. When the Bible is kinda-sorta backed up, it sorts out how much truth is behind it.

For instance, did you know that there is one (1) extra-biblical reference to King David? One. We found it in 1992. And what exactly was he king of? I’ve heard theories that his kingship was overblown. Well, this documentary has tentatively convinced me that the Bible is correct when it says David and Soloman ruled over all of Israel and Judah. But not for very long.

Cross-dating with Egyptian sources date Solomon’s death to 930 BCE. We have pretty accurate dates for the time of David’s kingdom. It’s really neat how history starts creeping into the Bible right around the Book of Samuel.

The show’s main theory about the origin of the Israelites is that they were underclass Canaanites who revolted against their rulers… and they mixed with a small group of Canaanites who actually did escape from slavery in Egypt, who had assimilated the local god YHW(H) as they passed through Midian. (Richard Friedman echos some of this theory in passing in Who Wrote the Bible, but just as speculation.) I don’t know if I agree with every detail, but it provides good evidence to the hypothesis that the Israelites were Canaanites. They’re finding plenty of pagan idols in Israelite houses, and inscriptions to YHWH along with Asherah, a Canaanite deity. The Israelites were polytheistic Canaanites. It’s about as obvious as anything.

Side point of interest: There is a temple in Syria that bears an incredibly strong resemblance to the Temple in Jerusalem. (Complete with cherubim!) The Hebrews and their religion sure fit right into the cultural milieu.

The Documentary Hypothesis is somewhat of a secondary topic, but the show ends with P being written by the Hebrews while in exile in Babylonia. It’s a twist on the DH I haven’t heard before. Richard Friedman places P after their return from exile, in the time of the second temple. (He acknowledges exile-era writings in the Bible, like Lamentations and certain Psalms.) The doc says that the exile experience basically turned the Israelites into monotheists, and this is a Big Deal. I guess the switch to monotheism had to happen at some point… but the importance is a bit overblown. This the weakest point in the show.

Overall, I think it’s very well done, and there is a minimum of apologetics or such stuff that would annoy the atheist viewer. While I didn’t learn anything new about the Documentary Hypothesis, it has definitely piqued my interest in “biblical archaeology”, or whatever they call that now.

Readers in the US can watch it free (with lots of ads) on Hulu. PBS’s website has even more information which I have yet to dig into.

Posted in Media | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Judges 11-13: שבלת שמבלת

11 (cont.)

I got so bogged down in stupid analyzation in my last post that I didn’t even finish the chapter. There is one section of Jephthah’s story left, and it’s the most well known. (otherwise I’d just get on with it. There’s a long ways to go!)

So! Jephthah’s attempt at peaceful negotiation has failed. He has to resort to the ol’ standard, wanton slaughter. Getting God on his side, he makes a blunderously stupid vow:

11:30 If thou wilt deliver the Ammonites into my hands, then the first creature that comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return from them in peace shall be the LORD’s; I will offer that as a whole-offering.’

So he effortlessly decimates the Ammonites (not much suspense in that department) and returns home. Guess what comes out of his front door to greet him?

His daughter. (Yeah. She counts as a “creature”.) To make the situation extra horrible, she comes out dancing with a tambourine- sickeningly innocent.

The intelligent thing to do would be say “Hey God, when I said ‘creature’, I obviously meant, like, a goat, or a chicken. Right? Obviously.” But apparently to Jephthah, a vow is a vow. Before carrying this order out, he agrees to let her “mourn her virginity” up in the hills for two months. With some mysterious “companions”. Then, obedient to his legalistic God, he kills his only daughter.

This story obviously raises a lot of moral questions, such as: Why did Jephthah obey his evil, evil God? The OSE editors delve into rare apologetics here. Sometimes the Bible is just so disgusting that they need to put some spin on the story. They explain the moral:

“The point of this pathetic story is that man cannot play fast and loose with God as Jephthah had done in his oath.”

Was that the original point of the story? Who knows. I don’t really have a handle on the Israelite morality system yet. (All I can tell is it’s nothing I’d want to ascribe to.) The tale itself seems to mainly serve as an explanation for a minor tradition, which is so minor it’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible:

11:40 It became a tradition that the daughters of Israel should go year by year and commemorate the fate of Jephthah’s daughter, four days in every year.


This chapter inexplicably begins with Jephthah embroiled in civil war between Gilead (his tribe) and Ephraim, the familiar neighbors. The Ephraimites are incredibly jealous that Gilead got to fight the Ammonites with them. Or something? Personally I think it’s all a crude device to link two completely unrelated stories.

12:4 Jephthah then mustered all the men of Gilead and fought Ephraim, and the Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan and held them against Ephraim. When any Ephraimite who had escaped begged leave to cross, the men of Gilead asked him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’, and if he said, ‘No’, they would retort, ‘Say Shibboleth.’ (שבלת) He would say ‘Sibboleth’ (סבלת), and because he could not pronounce the word properly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of Jordan.

I love this story. An ancient bit of linguistics! It seems Gilead and Ephraim, despite being neighbors, spoke different dialects of Hebrew. Apparently the Ephraimites did not have the /ʃ/ (‘sh’) phoneme, but the Gileadites did distinguish /ʃ/ and /s/. It’s interesting (maybe?) to note that the Hebrew character ש (Shin) is used to represent both /ʃ/ and /s/; the distinction is made with a dot above on the left or right.

And what does shibboleth even mean? It is used exactly three times in the Bible (thank you, Interlinear Scripture Analyzer!) Here in Judges, in Psalm 69, and once in Job. In Psalm 69 it means “surge” (of water), in Job it means “ear” or “spike” of corn.

Anyway after this little story, Jephthah dies, and is given the familiar funerary passage. The chapter ends with super-brief mentions of two more judges, Elon and Abdon. Remember Jair and his 30 sons who rode 30 asses? Abdon has him beat: he had 40 sons and 30 grandkids, so a grand total of  70 asses got rode.


This chapter is a lead-in to the following three chapters, which are a collection of “folktales” regarding Samson, who you have probably heard of. (He’s strong!) Here we are given the story of his birth.

Samson’s parents are Manoah and… well… we aren’t given the wife’s name. Even though she plays equal role in the story. The unnamed wife is, like most mothers of Israelite folk-heros, mysteriously barren. And, again by trope, she is visited by an angel and promised a miracle super baby:

13:3 ‘You are barren and have no child, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. Now you must do as I say: be careful to drink no wine or strong drink, and to eat no forbidden food; you will conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall touch his head, for the boy is to be a Nazirite consecrated to God from the day of his birth. He will strike the first blow to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines.’

The references to the Nazirite vows are very similar to some Priestly law from Numbers 6:1-5. I’ve checked the Hebrew, and the two phrases translated as “no razor shall touch his head” actually use different words for “razor”. I’m going to use that factoid as an excuse to delve no further because after the last post the last thing I want to do is delve into a possible textual connection between Judges and Numbers. I’m sure the Nazarine Vow was just something people knew about.

BTW, the reference to “strong drink” is apparently why Mormons don’t drink coffee. Which frankly is their loss.

Anyway, wifey tells her husband about the vision, and he prays to the LORD, who answers his prayer and sends an “angel of the lord” down to her. The angel (whatever the fuck an angel really is) helpfully repeats the Nazirine vow for us, basically the third time we’ve heard it in half a page. They ask the angel its name, it replies:

13:18 How can you ask my name? It is a name of wonder.

FUN FACT: The KJV translation is rather different: “Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it [is] secret?” The word translated as “wonder” or “secret” actually appears nowhere else in the Bible. So I’m pretty sure they’re just guessing at the meaning.

Anyway, they start to prepare Mr. Angel a whole-offering and the angel randomly bursts into flames. Manoah and wife are freaked out:

13:22 He said to his wife, ‘We are doomed to die, we have seen God [or a god]‘, but she replied, ‘If the LORD had wanted to kill us, he would not accepted a whole-offering and a grain-offering at our hands; he would now have let us see and hear all this.’

Honestly, I don’t see how this weird story has much to do with Samson. There is the possibility that the details about the Nazarine vow and Samson were tacked on. Who knows. In 1 Samuel we will see strong evidence of extensive tampering in a very similar birth story.

Posted in Judges | Leave a comment

Judges 11: The J in Jephthah


You probably know the Book of Judges formula by now. Insert “Jephthah the Gileadite” as the savior of Israel, and “Ammonites” as the requisite evil other in need of slaughter.

Chapter 11 consists of three sections. I won’t guess about the textual makeup- they seem reasonably cohesive. My focus here will be mainly on the second section.

The first part regards Jephthah’s (וְיִפְתָּח) origin story. Like Abimelech, he was the son of a prostitute. And also like Abi, he had a strained relationship with his many half-siblings. They drive poor Jephthah out of town. Then the Ammonites invade; the elder’s of Jephthah’s hometown (Gilead) come begging him for aid. Jephtah is all “aw shucks, I can’t stay mad at you!” and pledges to protect his people.

Jephthah does something pretty surprising: he wants to know why the Ammonites are being antagonistic. So he just asks them. And we get a little history lesson, which, most interestingly, references the book of Numbers! This is very unusual for Judges. What’s going on here? According to the OSE editors, Judges 11:12-28 extensively references Numbers 20-24. This isn’t quite right. Really, it’s only a few sections of Numbers 20-22. And if I may engage in some amateur critical theorizing… the sections it references are strictly from J- the Jawhist source.

First thing I did when I came across the connection to Numbers was to pop open my copy of The Bible with Sources Revealed, Richard Friedman’s translation of the Torah color-coded by source. And while Numbers 20-24 consists of a mix of Priestly, Jawhist, and Elohist sources… the details of Jephthah’s history lesson are all taken from J text. Not all the J text is used, but none of the E and P information is referenced.

What follows is ALL of Judges 11:12-28 (left column) with relevant selections from the J text of Numbers (right column). Not all the J text is relevant, but none of the E or P text is even hinted at. I’m reverting to the NKJV translation simply because I can’t type this much myself.

Judges 11 Numbers
12 Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, “What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?”
13 And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably.”
14 So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon,
15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon;
16 for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. (Familiar details of the Exodus myth.)
17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. 20: 14 Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. “Thus says your brother Israel: ‘You know all the hardship that has befallen us… 20: 17 Please let us pass through your country. (The King of Moab is not mentioned.)
18 And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. 21: 13 From there they moved and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites; for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.
19 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our place.” 21: 21 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, 22 “Let me pass through your land…
20But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 21: 23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.
21 And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country.
22 They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 21: 24 Then Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the people of Ammon; for the border of the people of Ammon was fortified.
23 ‘And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it?
24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess. 21: 29 Woe to you, Moab!
You have perished, O people of Chemosh! (There are several references to their god Chemosh.)
25 And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them? 22: 2 Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites
26 While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover themwithin that time? (A map of Israel/Judah is handy to look at here. All this makes sense geographically. 300 years is the supposed time elapsed since Moses.)
27Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.’

All of those references are from what Friedman has established as J text. The only iffy bit is the story of Balak; he admits it’s an enigmatic mix of E and J.

If you’re not sure what E and J are, I’d better bring you up to speed. (This post gets pretty dense.) J (Jahwist) is a text that came from the southern Kingdom of Judah. E (Elohist) is a very similar work that came from the northern Kingdom of Israel. Sometime after 722 BCE, when Israel was destroyed, both were combined into one semi-cohesive mess we call JE. This document, in whole, was paired with a longer, painfully dull work (P) to form Genesis through Numbers. Got it?

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Most of the folktales from Judges are set in Ephraim or other northern tribal areas- all part of the Kingdom of Israel. As far as I can tell- I spent an entire couple minutes cross-referencing place-names on a map- all the judges are from northern tribes. None are from Judah. Some are right on the border- Samson is from Gad, for instance. The final story in Judges (which isn’t even about a judge) has characters returning from Judah- but the bulk of the story takes place in Benjamin. In short: Judges is a product of Israel, not Judah.

And Judges might be referencing J, which is from Judah. Whadup with that? Is it even possible? Is there a more likely scenario?

Let’s answer the question with SCIENCE or something resembling a very silly attempt at it.

I primarily want to know: What text was the author of Judges ch. 11 working off? He had to have some sort of source document on hand, for the references are exact. I jumped to the conclusion the author was using J itself. But it’s way premature to declare that. There’s several other options:

-The Torah itself (JE + P)
-The combined JE text.
-The original J text.
-A 3rd source from Judah that was used by both J and the Judges author.

We can dismiss the Torah being used. This is simply chronologically impossible, as the Deuteronomical Histories (compiled c. 622 BCE) precede the Torah’s assemblage. (The individual component texts in each work vary considerably in age, of course. Judges was written before P was added to JE, is what I’m sayin’.)

The combined JE is a possibility. While the author only references J, this does not prove he wasn’t using JE. There is only one E story within the sourced portion of Numbers- a very strange tale about Moses making a bronze snake. The author could have simply ignored it because it was off-topic. And there were relevant J sections that remain unused.

One snafu under this hypothesis is a slight time crunch. We have less than a century during which a several things need to happen. J and E were combined some time after the fall of Israel in 722 BCE. If the ch. 11 author was using JE as a source, he was writing after it had become an established document. Then his work needs to be collected into an anthology of northern folklore (almost all of what we call Judges). And then Judges needs to become part of the Deuteronomical Histories, which was assembled c. 622 BCE.

Besides the time crunch, this hypothesis says that proto-Judges (before D messed with it) had to have been compiled in Judah, after Israel’s destruction. This is certainly a possibility. But given the age of some of the material in Judges (the oldest anywhere in the Bible!) and it’s strict focus on Israel, I’m inclined to assume it was written in Israel before 722 BCE.

Was the ch. 11 author using the J text? This is the conclusion I initially lept to. Under this hypothesis, the author of Judges ch. 11 was using J itself, the collection of Judah folklore which would later be combined with E- a similar work from the north. (The exact relationship between E and J is fuzzy, and that’s all I’ll say for now.) J and E predate the 722 fall of Israel. If we assume ch. 11 was written in Israel, we now have a slight problem. He’s referencing a document from Judah. How did he get his hands on that? Well… a quick geography lesson should clear things up: the kingdoms’ capitals, Shechem and Jerusalem, are about thirty miles apart. Thirty miles!

So it’s possible the author was living in Israel, using a Judah source. But maybe he was a refugee in Judah following 722. Then there’s the possibility that J stuck around as it’s own thing even after someone combined it with E. I think a pre-722 date is most likely, but I can’t really prove that.

The final hypothesis is that the author of Judges ch. 11 used bits of a local history for reference; portions of this unknown text later made its way into the anthology of Judahic folklore we call J.

To see if this is more likely than simply having J on hand, we have to analyze the actual content of the relevant J sections. There are basically four or five:

Ch. 20
P 1-13 (the waters of Meribah)
J 14-21 (Moses near Edom)
P 23-29 (Aaron’s death)

Ch. 21
J 1-3 (Israel gets Hormah)
E 4-9 (Moses’s bronze snake)
J 12-20 (Israelites near Moab)
J 21- 35 (Israel vs Amorites)

Ch. 22
J/E 2-?(Balak)

The J text here is clearly an amalgamation of various sources, but artfully arranged. Edom, Moab, and Ammon are geographically sequential. The odd story out is the one regarding Hormah. It’s geographically nebulous (show me Atharim on a map, please) but references places in the Negeb, which is far to the southwest, in southern Judah. Not only is wrong geographically, but its the only J portion not cited by the Judges author.

Verses 21:12-20 are an especially murky mess. They contain a very tantalizing citation of “The Book of the Wars of YHWH”, another of the Bible’s mystery references.

21:23-35 are where the bulk of the information is drawn. It contains some prose, a poem, and some more prose. The first block of prose and the poem are both referenced in Judges.

And finally, Balam. He is just name-checked in Judges, but the story in Numbers is relatively long. Friedman is not sure if the Balam story is J or E; there is evidence of both. I’d guess that a short J version was intermeshed with a much longer E tale.

Based on all this, I’m declaring the “pre-J source” not a very good hypothesis. The cited texts are a mixed bag, obviously drawn from several sources by whoever compiled J. While there are some obvious inserts, some parts show affinity to the J text that precedes and follows. They are not a unified document in and of themselves.

So I guess the winner of this stupid game is… J! That’s my final answer. The author of Judges ch. 11 had J, or knew J well, and used it as a reference when discussing Moab and Ammon. My primary reasoning is:

-Judges most likely predates JE.
-Only J is referenced.
-J was around before 733 and probably accessible.
-The J references cross obvious source boundaries, discounting the possibility of a 3rd source.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

…Oh fuck, we still have the third section of Jephtah’s story to deal with. This post is long enough and needs to be put out of its misery. Tell ya what, I’m going to tack that onto the next post, which will cover the last Jephtah chapter and the prelude to Samson.

Posted in Judges | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Judges | Tagged | Leave a comment

Judges 6 & 7: A Smidgen of Gideon.


Judges now introduces a relatively important character, who will carry us through the next three chapters: Gideon, also known as Jerubbaal. He’s a folk-hero renowned for destroying the altar of Baal, killing lots of Midianites, and having really trippy prophetic visions.

Is there an etymological connection between “Jerubbaal” and “Baal”? Of course! What it is, well, let’s see. In the text of the Bible, the explanation is this:

6:32 That day Joash named Gideon Jerubbaal, saying ‘Let Baal plead his cause against this man, for he has torn down his altar.’

But… the OSE editors are quick to point out:

This popular explanation of Jerubbaal, “Let Baal plead,” is not the natural one; a person with this name, which really means “May Baal take action,” would be a worshipper of Baal, not a foe.”

This enigmatic information will make more sense (in an enigmatic way) once we see Gideon’s story. But CONSIDER THIS: Perhaps Gideon/Jerubbaal was originally a Canaanite folk-hero. PERHAPS.

Anyway, on to his story. It’s compiled from various sources, the seams of which show. It takes place mostly in Ephraim, on the eastern border of Canaan.

As you might have guessed, the Israelites are again in trouble (this time from the Midianites, a nomadic people.) They again need a saviour. We first meet Gideon when he is threshing wheat at his father’s winepress. Gideon is visited by an “angel of the LORD” (or the LORD himself, it’s contradictory) and called to kick some Midianite ass. Gideon doesn’t believe his own eyes. Is this really an angel of the LORD and/or the LORD himself? Only one way to find out! One very very strange way to find out.

I’m just going to type up the next bit because it’s really pretty bizzare, and typical of this section of the text. Here is what Gideon does:

6:17 ‘If I stand so well with you, give me a sign that it is you who speak to me. Please do not leave this place until I come with my gift and lay it before you.’ He [the angel and/or LORD] answered, ‘I will stay until you come back.’ So Gideon went in, prepared a kid and made an ephah of flour into unleavened cakes. He put the meat in the basket, poured the broth into a pot and brought it out to him under the terebinth. As he approached, the angel of God said to him, ‘Take the meat and the cakes, and put them here on the rock and pour out the broth’, and he did so. Then the angel of the LORD reached out the staff in his hand and touched the meat and the cakes with the tip of it. Fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the cakes; and the angel of the LORD was no more to be seen. Then Gideon knew that it was the angel of the LORD and said, ‘Alas, Lord GOD! Then it is true: I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face.’ But the LORD said to him, ‘Peace be with you; do not be afraid, you shall not die.’ So Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it Jehovah-shalom. It stands to this day at Ophrah-of-the-Abiezrites.

Very bad edit job at the end: the angel disappears like a stage magician; then suddenly returns to give a few parting lines. As for the rest of the text, what can I say? The OSE editors seem at a loss as well. The really important details to note are the “terebinth” (this is some sort of a “sacred tree”) and the altar to Yahweh he builds.

The next story regards Gideon, per the LORD’s orders, tearing down the altar to Baal. This altar is coincidentally located on Gideon’s land. And next to the altar, there is a “sacred pole”. If we take the account at face value, Gideon’s father has two altars, to two different Gods, with two sacred pole-ish objects, all co-existing on his land.

This bizzare state of affairs is easily explained by the existence of several sources being muddled together.  What we have are two distinct but related stories involving Gideon and an altar on his father’s land. This sounds to me like two folk-explanations for a real place in Canaan. I’d guess the Israelites knew of the remains of an altar to Baal at this site. Jerubbaal was somehow historically connected to it. When the Israelites moved in, they had to explain it’s existence. So they made up stories. One involved Gideon/Jerubbaal having built the altar for Yahweh. The other involved Gideon/Jerubbaal having torn the altar down, for Yahweh. Both make sense, in and of themselves. But when Judges was edited together, these two traditions found themselves in uncomfortably close quarters, leading to a confusing and contradictory text.

Yes, this is all highly speculative, but I have read convincing theories that much of Joshua is geographically (but not historically) accurate. What we may have here is the early Israelites wandering Canaan and explaining what they see- the ruins of cities, etc- and incorporating the locations into the mythology of their people.

Anyway, back to the second story.

Gideon does as he’s told and, under cover of night, destroys the altar, tears down the sacred pole and performs one of those “whole-offering” sacrifices. The next day, the townspeople are apoplectic at the destruction of their sacred site. They tell Gideon’s father (Joash) to narc on his son so they can deliver some mob justice. But Joash is emminently sensible:

6:31 But as they crowded round him Joash retorted, ‘Are you pleading Baal’s cause then? Do you think that it is for you to save him? Whoever pleads his cause shall be put to death at dawn. If Baal is a god, and someone has torn down his altar, let him take up his own cause.’

I’m a bit confused by the line “Whoever pleads his cause shall be put to death at dawn.” (By whom?) But Joash conveys a nice sentiment. Next time a believer gets super-offended on behalf of their omnipotent deity, just go JUDGES SIX THIRTY-ONE!!!!!!!11111 Your God should be able to take care of himself. If he’s so existent and all.

Oh, and obviously, the mob relents. The last bit of Chapter 6 returns to the original narrative and we find Gideon rather abruptly in command of his army, heading off to destroy the Midianites, who have allied with the Amalekites and other “eastern tribes”. There is more prophetic weirdness, this time involving undamp wool.


Gideon/Jerubbaal has his troops ready at En-harod, but there is a problem: Too many troops! Seriously. God thinks there are too many soldiers: when they win, he will not recieve enough glory. He needs to wheedle their numbers down, so that the inevitable victory is more dramatically satisfying and so the glory goes to him, not the stupid puny humans. I’m being serious. This is what is says! So fucking weird.

So how do you turn 32,000 Israelites into a measly 300?


Round One: Tell the pussies to fuck off home! This simple yet effective strategy eliminates 22,000 of the “scared or frightened” Israelites. Only 10,000 manly men left.

Round Two: The “drinking style” test.

7:5 So Gideon brought the people down to the water and the LORD said to him, ‘Make every man who laps the water with his tongue like a dog stand on one side, and on the other every man who goes down on his knees and drinks.’

The score for round 2 is 300 lappers, and 9,700 kneelers. The latter are to go home; the 300 are the elect few who will glorify God in their ethnic cleansing.

Now we get down to the battle. The Midianites and related baddies are encamped in a valley, and there are a SHIT TON of them. So Gideon and a servant go a-spyin’. They overhear a very strange conversation between two soldiers. It goes something like this:

“Oh man, dude, I had such a fucked up dream last night. There was a barley-cake, dude, totally hard and stale, and it was, like, rolling… right through our camp! Dude, and it rolled up to a tent… and oh man… the tent COLLAPSED. It was so weird, dude, I don’t know what it meant.”

His companion interprets the dream:

7: 14 “Depend upon it, this is the sword of Gideon son of Joash the Israelite. God has delivered Midian and the whole army into his hands.

The OSE editors, for once, have an explanation for this weirdness. Barley-cake = farmers (Israelites). Tent = nomads (Midianites). Gotcha.

So the Israelites attack the camp, with trumpets, and torches in jars. I don’t know why they put torches in jars. But they do. SO WEIRD.

Here the text loses its coherence. I’m seeing giant contradictions that signify various sources being mixed, but it’s hard to delineate them. Still, I can’t help but try. (It will be my undoing.)

The Midianites flee. The average reader wouldn’t realize it, but the OSE editors note that the places they flee to are all east of the Jordan (outside of Canaan). If you’ve been paying ANY attention you’ll know all the action has taken place in Ephraim, west of the Jordan. So, logically, the Midianites have crossed the Jordan. TAKE NOTE OF THIS.

Here is the end of chapter 7:

7:23 The Israelites from Naphtali and Asher and all Manasseh were called out and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent men through all the hill-country of Ephraim  with this message: ‘Come down and cut off the Midianites. Hold the fords of the Jordan as far as Beth-barah.’ So all the Ephraimites were called out and they held the fords of the Jordan as far as Beth-barah. 7:25 They captured the two Midianite princes, Oreb and Zeeb. Oreb they killed at the Rock of Oreb, and Zeeb by the Winepress of Zeeb, and they kept up the pursuit of the Midianites; afterwards they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb across the Jordan to Gideon.

See any problems? The Ephraimites are trying to prevent the Midianites from crossing the Jordan… and apparently they succeed (the fords are held, right?) But the Midianites, we know from their locations, just crossed the river. Major, major contradictions here. And then what is up with the king’s heads? Which side of the river are they even headed towards? HAHAHA.

How to solve these contradictions? Sift out the sources. After a lot of puzzlement, here is my FINAL ANSWER. I believe that the main text of chapter 7 ends abruptly partway through verse 22. Then, 7:22b-7:24 is a short bridge, drawn from several fragments. Finally, 7:25-8:3 is a cohesive insert. The text beginning 8:4 apparently continues the main story from Chapter 7.

I really should round out this post with the final chapter of Gideon’s adventures, but this is quite long enough!

Posted in Judges, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment