Book of Judges

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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]


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).[3]


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.[4] 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.[citation needed]

The opening thus sets out the pattern which the stories in the main text will follow:[3]

  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.[5] 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.[6] The Israelites meet, most likely at the sanctuary at Gilgal or at Shechem[7] and ask the Lord who should be first (in order of time, not of rank) to secure the land they are to occupy.[6]

Main text

Map of the tribes of Israel

The main text 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.[8] 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.[3] Although some scholars consider the stories not to be presented in chronological order,[9] 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).[10] Some scholars have inferred that the minor judges were actual adjudicators, whereas the major judges were leaders and did not actually make legal judgements.[11] The only major judge described as making legal judgments is Deborah (4:4).[12]


By the end of Judges, Yahweh's treasures are used to make idolatrous images, the Levites (priests) become corrupt, the tribe of Dan conquers a remote village instead of the Canaanite cities, and the tribes of Israel make war on the tribe of Benjamin, their own kinsmen.[13] The book concludes with two appendices,[14] stories which do not feature a specific judge:[15]

  • Micah's Idol (Judges 17–18), how the tribe of Dan conquers its territory in the north[16]
  • Levite's concubine (Judges 19–21): the gang rape of a Levite's concubine leads to war between the Benjamites and the other Israelite tribes, after which hundreds of virgins are taken captive as wives for the decimated Benjamites.[17]

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."[18]


Judges contains a chronology of its events, assigning a number of years to each interval of judgment and peace. It is overtly schematic and was likely introduced at a later period.[19]

Manuscript sources

Four of the Dead Sea Scrolls feature parts of Judges: 1QJudg, found in Qumran Cave 1; 4QJudga and 4QJudgb, found in Qumran Cave 4; and XJudges, a fragment discovered in 2001.[20][21]

The earliest complete surviving copy of the Book of Judges in Hebrew is in the Aleppo Codex (10th century CE).[22][23]

The Septuagint (Greek translation) is found in early manuscripts such as the Codex Colberto-Sarravianus (c. AD 400; contains many lacunae) and the Fragment of Leipzig (c. AD 500).[24][25][26][27]

See also



  1. Niditch 2008, pp. 2–3.
  2. Soggin 1981, p. 4.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Guest 2003, p. 190.
  4. Spieckerman 2001, p. 341.
  5. Joshua 24:29; cf. Judges 1:1
  6. 6.0 6.1 Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Judges 1, accessed 9 October 2016.
  7. following on from Joshua 24:1–33
  8. 3:11–16:31
  9. Amit 2004, p. 508.
  10. Bacon & Sperling 2007, pp. 563–65.
  11. Bacon & Sperling 2007, p. 564.
  12. Bacon & Sperling 2007, p. 561.
  13. Guest 2003, pp. 202–4.
  14. 17–21
  15. Soggin 1981, p. 5.
  16. 17–18
  17. 19–21)
  18. Davis & Wolf 2002, pp. 328–61.
  19. Hughes 1990, pp. 70–77.
  20. Eshel, Esther; Eshel, Hanan; Broshi, Magen (2007). "A New Fragment of Xjudges". Dead Sea Discoveries. 14 (3): 354–358. doi:10.1163/156851707782177468. JSTOR 40387582 – via JSTOR.
  21. Rezetko, Robert (2013). "The Qumran Scrolls of the Book of Judges: Literary Formation, Textual Criticism, and Historical Linguistics". Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. 13 (2): 9. doi:10.5508/jhs.2013.v13.a2.
  22. "Scholars search for pages of ancient Hebrew Bible". Los Angeles Times. September 28, 2008.
  23. "The Aleppo Codex".
  26. McNamara, Martin (July 26, 2010). Targum and Testament Revisited: Aramaic Paraphrases of the Hebrew Bible: A Light on the New Testament, Second Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 9780802862754 – via Google Books.
  27. Waltz, Robert B. "The Encyclopedia of New Testament Textual Criticism". Robert B. Waltz – via Google Books.


External links

Original text
Jewish translations
Christian translations
Brief introduction
Book of Judges
Preceded by
Hebrew Bible Succeeded by
Old Testament
Succeeded by