Book of Judges

The Book of Judges (ספר שופטים, Sefer Shoftim) is the seventh book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. In the narrative of the Hebrew Bible, it covers the time between the conquest described in the Book of Joshua and the establishment of a kingdom in the Books of Samuel, during which Biblical judges served as temporary leaders.[1] The stories follow a consistent pattern: the people are unfaithful to Yahweh and he therefore delivers them into the hands of their enemies; the people repent and entreat Yahweh for mercy, which he sends in the form of a leader or champion (a "judge"; see shophet); the judge delivers the Israelites from oppression and they prosper, but soon they fall again into unfaithfulness and the cycle is repeated.[2] Scholars consider many of the stories in Judges to be the oldest in the Deuteronomistic history, with their major redaction dated to the 8th century BCE and with materials such as the Song of Deborah dating from much earlier.[3][4]


Judges can be divided into three major sections: a double prologue (chapters 1:1–3:6), a main body (3:7–16:31), and a double epilogue (17–21).[5]


The book opens with the Israelites in the land that God has promised to them, but worshiping "foreign gods" instead of Yahweh, the God of Israel, and with the Canaanites still present everywhere.[6] Chapters 1:1–2:5 are thus a confession of failure, while chapters 2:6–3:6 are a major summary and reflection from the Deuteronomists.[7]

The opening thus sets out the pattern which the stories in the main text will follow:[5]

  1. Israel "does evil in the eyes of Yahweh",
  2. the people are given into the hands of their enemies and cry out to Yahweh,
  3. Yahweh raises up a leader,
  4. the "spirit of Yahweh" comes upon the leader,
  5. the leader manages to defeat the enemy, and
  6. peace is regained.

Once peace is regained, Israel does right and receives Yahweh's blessings for a time, but relapses later into doing evil and repeats the pattern set forth above.

Judges follows the Book of Joshua and opens with a reference to Joshua's death (Joshua 24:29; cf. Judges 1:1). The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges suggests that "the death of Joshua may be regarded as marking the division between the period of conquest and the period of occupation", the latter being the focus of the Book of Judges.[8] The Israelites meet, most likely at the sanctuary at Gilgal or at Shechem (following on from Joshua 24:1–33) and ask the Lord who should be first (in order of time, not of rank) to secure the land they are to occupy.[8]

Main text

12 Tribes of Israel Map
Map of the tribes of Israel.

The main text (3:11–16:31) gives accounts of six major judges and their struggles against the oppressive kings of surrounding nations, as well as the story of Abimelech, an Israelite leader (a judge [shofet] in the sense of "chieftain") who oppresses his own people. The cyclical pattern set out in the prologue is readily apparent at the beginning, but as the stories progress it begins to disintegrate, mirroring the disintegration of the world of the Israelites.[9] Although some scholars consider the stories not to be presented in chronological order,[10] the judges in the order in which they appear in the text are:

There are also brief glosses on six minor judges: Shamgar (3:31), Tola and Jair (10:1–5), Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon (12:8–15).[11] Some scholars have inferred that the minor judges were actual adjudicators, whereas the major judges were leaders and did not actually make legal judgements.[12] The only major judge described as making legal judgments is Deborah (4:4).[13]


By the end of Judges, the Israelites are in a worse condition than they were at the beginning, with Yahweh's treasures used to make idolatrous images, the Levites (priests) corrupted, the tribe of Dan conquering a remote village instead of the Canaanite cities, and the tribes of Israel making war on the tribe of Benjamin, their own kinsmen.[14] The book concludes with two appendices (17–21), stories which do not feature a specific judge:[15]

Despite their appearance at the end of the book, certain characters (like Jonathan, the grandson of Moses) and idioms present in the epilogue show that the events therein "must have taken place… early in the period of the judges."[16]


Judges contains a chronology of its events, assigning amounts of years to each interval of judgment and peace. It is overtly schematic and was likely introduced at a later period.[17]


Maarten van Heemskerck 024
"Gideon thanks God for the miracle of the dew", painting by Maarten van Heemskerck (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg)

It is unclear if any of the people named as judges existed.[18][19][20]


The basic source for Judges was a collection of loosely connected stories about tribal heroes who saved the people in battle.[21] This original "book of saviours" made up of the stories of Ehud, Jael and parts of Gideon, had already been enlarged and transformed into "wars of Yahweh" before being given the final Deuteronomistic revision.[22] In the 20th century, the first part of the prologue (chapters 1:1–2:5) and the two parts of the epilogue (17–21) were commonly seen as miscellaneous collections of fragments tacked onto the main text, and the second part of the prologue (2:6–3:6) as an introduction composed expressly for the book. More recently, this view has been challenged, and there is an increasing willingness to see Judges as the work of a single individual, working by carefully selecting, reworking and positioning his source material to introduce and conclude his themes.[23]

The Deuteronomistic History

A statement repeated throughout the epilogue, "In those days there was no king in Israel" (Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25) implies a date in the monarchic period for the redaction (editing) of Judges.[24] Twice, this statement is accompanied with the statement "every man did that which was right in his own eyes", implying that the redactor is pro-monarchy, (Judges 17:6 and 21:25) and the epilogue, in which the tribe of Judah is assigned a leadership role, implies that this redaction took place in Judah.[25]

Since the second half of the 20th century most scholars have agreed with Martin Noth's thesis that the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings form parts of a single work.[26] Noth maintained that the history was written in the early Exilic period (6th century BCE) in order to demonstrate how Israel's history was worked out in accordance with the theology expressed in the book of Deuteronomy (which thus provides the name "Deuteronomistic").[27] Noth believed that this history was the work of a single author, living in the mid-6th century BCE, selecting, editing and composing from his sources to produce a coherent work.[28] Frank Moore Cross later proposed that an early version of the history was composed in Jerusalem in Josiah's time (late 7th century BCE); this first version, Dtr1, was then revised and expanded to create a second edition, that identified by Noth, and which Cross labelled Dtr2.[29]

Scholars agree that the Deuteronomists' hand can be seen in Judges through the book's cyclical nature: the Israelites fall into idolatry, God punishes them for their sins with oppression by foreign peoples, the Israelites cry out to God for help, and God sends a judge to deliver them from the foreign oppression. After a period of peace, the cycle recurs. Scholars also suggest that the Deuteronomists also included the humorous and sometimes disparaging commentary found in the book such as the story of the tribe of Ephraim who could not pronounce the word "shibboleth" correctly (12:5–6).[30]

Themes and genre

Judges Bib Germ 1485 d.1 375
Illustrated page from the Book of Judges in a German Bible dated 1485 (Bodleian Library)

The essence of Deuteronomistic theology is that Israel has entered into a covenant (a treaty, a binding agreement) with the God Yahweh, under which they agree to accept Yahweh as their god (hence the phrase "God of Israel") and Yahweh promises them a land where they can live in peace and prosperity. Deuteronomy contains the laws by which Israel is to live in the promised land, Joshua chronicles the conquest of Canaan, the promised land, and its allotment among the tribes, Judges describes the settlement of the land, Samuel the consolidation of the land and people under David, and Kings the destruction of kingship and loss of the land.[31] The final tragedy described in Kings is the result of Israel's failure to uphold its part of the covenant: faithfulness to Yahweh brings success, economic, military and political, but unfaithfulness brings defeat and oppression.[32]

This is the theme played out in Judges: the people are unfaithful to Yahweh and he therefore delivers them into the hands of their enemies; the people then repent and entreat Yahweh for mercy, which he sends in the form of a judge; the judge delivers the Israelites from oppression, but after a while they fall into unfaithfulness again and the cycle is repeated.[2]

Further themes are also present: the "sovereign freedom of Yahweh" (God does not always do what is expected of him); the "satirisation of foreign kings" (who consistently underestimate Israel and Yahweh); the concept of the "flawed agent" (judges who are not adequate to the task before them) and the disunity of the Israelite community (which gathers pace as the stories succeed one another).[33]

The book is as intriguing for the themes it leaves out as for what it includes: the Ark of the Covenant, which is given so much importance in the stories of Moses and Joshua, is almost entirely missing,[a] cooperation between the various tribes is limited, and there is no mention of a central shrine for worship and only limited reference to a High Priest of Israel (the office to which Aaron was appointed at the end of the Exodus story).[b][34]

Although Judges probably had a monarchist redaction (see above), the book contains passages and themes that represent anti-monarchist views. One of the major themes of the book is Yahweh's sovereignty and the importance of being loyal to Him and His laws above all other gods and sovereigns. Indeed, the authority of the judges comes not through prominent dynasties nor through elections or appointments, but rather through the spirit of God.[35] Anti-monarchist theology is most apparent toward the end of the Gideon cycle in which the Israelites beg Gideon to create a dynastic monarchy over them and Gideon refuses.[36] The rest of Gideon's lifetime saw peace in the land, but after Gideon's death, his son Abimelech ruled Shechem as a Machiavellian tyrant guilty for much bloodshed (see chapters 8 and 9). However, the last few chapters of Judges (specifically, the stories of Samson, Micah, and Gibeah) highlight the violence and anarchy of decentralized rule.[37]

Judges is remarkable for the number of female characters who "play significant roles, active and passive, in the narratives."[13] Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote,

Most of the great women in the Bible either are married to a great man or related to one. … A rare exception to this tradition is the prophetess and judge Deborah, perhaps the Bible's greatest woman figure. Deborah stands exclusively on her own merits. The only thing we know about her personal life is the name of her husband, Lapidot.[38]

See also


  1. ^ The ark of the covenant is mentioned in passing in Judges 20:27.
  2. ^ Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron is mentioned in passing in Judges 20:28.


  1. ^ Niditch, pp. 2–3.
  2. ^ a b Soggin, p. 4.
  3. ^ Bacon, pp. 563–66.
  4. ^ Alter, p. 105.
  5. ^ a b Guest, p. 190.
  6. ^ Spieckermann, p. 341.
  7. ^ McKenzie, p. 14.
  8. ^ a b Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Judges 1, accessed 9 October 2016
  9. ^ Guest 2003, p. 190.
  10. ^ Amit, p. 508.
  11. ^ Bacon, pp. 563–65.
  12. ^ Bacon, p. 564.
  13. ^ a b Bacon, p. 561.
  14. ^ Guest, pp. 202–4.
  15. ^ Soggin, p. 5.
  16. ^ Davis, pp. 328–61.
  17. ^ Hughes, pp. 70–77.
  18. ^ Thompson, Thomas L. (1 January 2000). Early History of the Israelite People: From the Written & Archaeological Sources. Brill. p. 96. ISBN 978-90-04-11943-7.
  19. ^ Brettler, Marc Zvi (2002). The Book of Judges. Psychology Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-415-16216-6.
  20. ^ Davies, Philip R. (1995). In Search of "Ancient Israel": A Study in Biblical Origins. A&C Black. p. 26. ISBN 978-1-85075-737-5.
  21. ^ Knight, p. 67.
  22. ^ Soggin, pp. 5–6.
  23. ^ Guest, pp. 201–02.
  24. ^ Malamat, p. 132.
  25. ^ Davis, p. 328.
  26. ^ Knoppers 2000a, p. 1.
  27. ^ Walton, pp. 169–70.
  28. ^ Knoppers 2000b, p. 119.
  29. ^ Eynikel, p. 14.
  30. ^ Bacon, p. 562.
  31. ^ Knight, p. 61.
  32. ^ Niditch, p. 11.
  33. ^ Guest, pp. 193–94.
  34. ^ Matthews, p. 4.
  35. ^ Alter, p. 106.
  36. ^ Davis, pp. 326–27.
  37. ^ Alter, pp. 107–9.
  38. ^ Telushkin, p. 58.


External links

Original text
Jewish translations
Christian translations
Brief introduction

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEaston, Matthew George (1897). "article name needed". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.

Book of Judges
Preceded by
Hebrew Bible Succeeded by
Old Testament
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Abimelech (Judges)

Abimelech (; אֲבִימֶלֶךְ ’Ǎḇîmeleḵ) was the King of Shechem and a son of Biblical judge Gideon. His name can best be interpreted "my father is king", claiming the inherited right to rule. He is introduced in Judges 8:31 as the son of Gideon and his Shechemite concubine, and the biblical account of his reign is described in chapter nine of the Book of Judges. According to the Bible, he was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war with his own subjects.


Barak ( or ; Hebrew: בָּרָק, Tiberian Hebrew: Bārāq, Arabic: البُراق‎ al-Burāq "lightning") was a ruler of Ancient Israel. As military commander in the biblical Book of Judges, Barak, with Deborah, from the Tribe of Ephraim, the prophet and fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel, defeated the Canaanite armies led by Sisera.

Biblical judges

The Biblical judges are described in the Hebrew Bible, and mostly in the Book of Judges, as people who served roles as military leaders in times of crisis, in the period before an Israelite monarchy was established.


Dagon (Phoenician: 𐤃𐤂𐤍, romanized: Dāgūn; Hebrew: דָּגוֹן‎ Dāgōn) or Dagan (Sumerian: 𒀭𒁕𒃶, romanized: dda-gan) is an ancient Mesopotamian and ancient Canaanite deity. He appears to have been worshipped as a fertility god in Ebla, Assyria, Ugarit, and among the Amorites.

The Hebrew Bible mentions him as the national god of the Philistines with temples at Ashdod and elsewhere in Gaza.A long-standing association with a Canaanite word for "fish" (as in Hebrew: דג‎, Tib. /dɔːg/), perhaps going back to the Iron Age, has led to an interpretation as a "fish-god", and the association of "merman" motifs in Assyrian art (such as the "Dagon" relief found by Austen Henry Layard in the 1840s). The god's name was, however, more likely derived from a word for "grain", suggesting that he was in origin associated with fertility and agriculture.


According to the Book of Judges, Deborah (Hebrew: דְּבוֹרָה, Dəḇōrāh, "bee") was a prophetess of the God of the Israelites, the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel and the only female judge mentioned in the Bible, and the wife of Lapidoth. Deborah told Barak that God commanded him to lead an attack against the forces of Jabin king of Canaan and his military commander Sisera (Judges 4:6–7); the entire narrative is recounted in chapter 4.

Judges chapter 5 gives the same story in poetic form. This passage, often called The Song of Deborah, may date to as early as the twelfth century BC, and is perhaps the earliest sample of Hebrew poetry.


Delilah (; Hebrew: דלילה‎ (meaning "She dwindles") Dəlilah, Dəlila, Tiberian Hebrew Dəlilah; Arabic Dalilah; Greek Δαλιδά Dalida; meaning "faithless one") is a woman mentioned in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible.

She is loved by Samson, a Nazirite who possesses great strength and serves as the final Judge of Israel. Delilah is bribed by the lords of the Philistines to discover the source of his strength. After three failed attempts at doing so, she finally goads Samson into telling her that his vigor is derived from his hair. As he sleeps, Delilah orders a servant to cut Samson's hair, thereby enabling her to turn him over to the Philistines.

Delilah has been the subject of both rabbinic and Christian commentary; rabbinic literature identifies her with Micah's mother in the biblical narrative of Micah's Idol, while some Christians have compared her to Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus. Scholars have noted similarities between Delilah and other women in the Bible, such as Jael and Judith, and have discussed the question of whether the story of Samson's relationship with Delilah displays a negative attitude towards foreigners. Notable depictions of Delilah include John Milton's closet drama Samson Agonistes and Cecil B. DeMille's 1949 Hollywood film Samson and Delilah. Her name has become associated with treacherous and voluptuous women.


Ehud ben‑Gera (Hebrew: אֵהוּד בֶּן־גֵּרָא, Tiberian ʾĒhûḏ ben‑Gērāʾ) is described in the biblical Book of Judges as a judge who was sent by God to deliver the Israelites from Moabite domination. He is described as being left-handed and a member of the Tribe of Benjamin.


Gideon () or Gedeon, also named Jerubbaal, and Jerubbesheth, was a military leader, judge and prophet whose calling and victory over the Midianites are recounted in chapters 6 to 8 of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible.Gideon was the son of Joash, from the Abiezrite clan in the tribe of Manasseh and lived in Ephra (Ophrah). As a leader of the Israelites, he won a decisive victory over a Midianite army despite a vast numerical disadvantage, leading a troop of 300 'valiant' men.


Jael or Yael (Hebrew: יָעֵל Ya'el, meaning Ibex) is a woman mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible, as the heroine who killed Sisera to deliver Israel from the troops of King Jabin.


In the Biblical Book of Judges, Yair (Hebrew: יָאִיר Yā’îr, "he enlightens") was a man from Gilead of the Tribe of Manasseh, east of the River Jordan, who judged Israel for 22 years, after the death of Tola, who had ruled of 23 years. His inheritance was in Gilead through the line of Machir, the son of Manasseh. Yair was the son of Segub, the son of Hezron through the daughter of Machir (1 Chronicles 2).

According to Judges 10:3–5, Yair had thirty sons, who rode thirty ass colts, and controlled 30 cities in Gilead which came to be known as Havoth-Yair (Judges 10:4; cf. 23 towns in 1 Chronicles 2:22). The word chawwoth ('tent encampments') occurs only in this context (Numbers 32:41; Deuteronomy 3:14; Judges 10:4), and is a legacy word remaining from the early nomadic stage of Hebrew culture.Yair died and was buried in Camon (or Kamon). W. Ewing suggests that Kamon probably corresponds to Kamun taken by the Seleucid king Antiochus III, on his march from Pella to Gephrun (Polybius Book V.70:12). After his death there were 18 years of infidelity to the God of the Israelites and oppression at the hands of their Philistine and Ammonite neighbours.King David appointed a Yairite named Ira as his chief ruler or priest after Sheba's rebellion.


Jephthah (pronounced ; Hebrew: יפתח Yiftāḥ), appears in the Book of Judges as a judge who presided over Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7). According to Judges, he lived in Gilead. His father's name is also given as Gilead, and, as his mother is described as a prostitute, this may indicate that his father might have been any of the men of that area. Jephthah led the Israelites in battle against Ammon and, in exchange for defeating the Ammonites, made a vow to sacrifice whatever would come out of the door of his house first. When his daughter was the first to come out of the house, he immediately regretted the vow, which would require him to sacrifice his daughter to God. Jephthah then carried out his vow, though some commentators have disputed as to whether or not the sacrifice was actually carried out. Traditionally, Jephthah is listed among major judges because of the length of the biblical narrative referring to him, but his story also shares features with those of the minor judges, such as his short tenure—only six years—in office.


Luz (Hebrew: ל֥וּז‎ Lūz) is the name of two places in the Bible.


Manoah (Hebrew: מָנ֫וֹחַ Mānoaḥ) is a figure from the Book of Judges 13:1-23 and 14:2-4 of the Hebrew Bible. His name means "rest" or "quiet".


Othniel (; Hebrew: עָתְנִיאֵל בֶּן קְנַז, Otniel ben Kenaz) was the first of the Biblical judges. The etymology of his name is uncertain, but may mean "God/El is my strength" or "God has helped me".


Samson (; שִׁמְשׁוֹן, Shimshon‎, "man of the sun") was the last of the judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible (chapters 13 to 16) and one of the last of the leaders who "judged" Israel before the institution of the monarchy. He is sometimes considered to be an Israelite version of the popular Near Eastern folk hero also embodied by the Sumerian Enkidu and the Greek Heracles.The biblical account states that Samson was a Nazirite, and that he was given immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including slaying a lion with his bare hands and massacring an entire army of Philistines using only the jawbone of a donkey. However, if Samson's long hair was cut, then his Nazirite vow would be violated and he would lose his strength.Samson was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies, who gouged out his eyes and forced him to grind grain in a mill at Gaza. Whilst there his hair began to regrow. When the Philistines took Samson into their temple of Dagon, Samson asked to rest against one of the support pillars; after being granted permission, he prayed to God and miraculously recovered his strength, allowing him to grasp hold of the columns and tear them down, killing himself and all the Philistines with him. In some Jewish traditions, Samson is believed to have been buried in Tel Tzora in Israel overlooking the Sorek valley.

Samson has been the subject of both rabbinic and Christian commentary, with some Christians viewing him as a type of Jesus, based on similarities between their lives. Notable depictions of Samson include John Milton's closet drama Samson Agonistes and Cecil B. DeMille's 1949 Hollywood film Samson and Delilah. Samson also plays a major role in Western art and traditions.


Sisera (Hebrew: סִיסְרָא Sîsərā) was commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin of Hazor, who is mentioned in Judges 4-5 of the Hebrew Bible. After being defeated by the forces of the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali under the command of Barak and Deborah, Sisera was killed by Jael, who hammered a tent peg into his temple.


Talut (Arabic: طالوت‎, Ṭālūt) is considered to be the Qur’anic name for Saul, as he was the Malik (Arabic: مَـلِـك‎, King) of Israel, or Gideon, with the reasoning that the Quran references the same incident of the drinking from the river as that found in the Book of Judges (7:5-7), and other factors associated with the latter.

Tribe of Issachar

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Issachar (Hebrew: יִשָּׂשכָר, Modern: Yissakhar, Tiberian: Yiśśâḵār) was one of the twelve tribes of Israel. It is one of the ten lost tribes. In Jewish tradition, the tribe of Issachar was seen as being dominated by religious scholars and influential in proselytism.In the Biblical narrative of the Book of Joshua, following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes, Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. The territory which it was allocated was immediately north of (the western half of) Manasseh, and south of Zebulun and Naphtali, stretching from the Jordan River in the east, to the coast in the west; this region included the fertile Esdraelon plain . There is a consensus among scholars that the accounts in the Book of Judges are not historically reliable. Alternatively, scholars and historians such as Barry G. Webb believe Judges to be a challenging book to parse and grasp, but nevertheless believe it possesses substantially greater historicity than most modern secular scholars give it credit for.

Wife of Manoah

The wife of Manoah is an unnamed figure in the Book of Judges. She is introduced in Judges 13:2 as barren woman. The angel of the Lord appears to her and tells her she will have a son. She later gives birth to Samson.

J. Cheryl Exum argues that the wife of Manoah is more perceptive than her husband, in that she "senses at once something otherworldly" about the man of God who visits her, and "recognizes a divine purpose behind the revelation." Bruce Waltke regards her as cynical, noting that, unlike Hannah, she neither prays for a child nor praises God afterwards.Ancient Rabbinic tradition identifies this woman as the Hazelelponi mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:3, though the Talmud identifies Samson's mother as a woman named "Tzelelponit" (Hebrew: צללפונית‎).

Books of the Bible
See also


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