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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Judges Book of

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Judges, Book of, the third in the list of the historical compositions of the Old Testament. It consists of two divisions, the first comprising Judges 1-17; the second, being an appendix, Judges 17-21.

That the author, in composing this work, had a certain design in view, is evident from , where he states the leading features of his narrative. He introduces it by relating (Judges 1) the extent to which the wars against the Canaanites were continued after the death of Joshua, and what tribes had spared them in consideration of a tribute imposed; also by alluding () to the benefits which Jehovah had conferred on them, and the distinguished protection with which he had honored them. Next he states his leading object, namely, to prove that the calamities to which the Hebrews had been exposed since the death of Joshua were owing to their apostasy from Jehovah, and to their idolatry. 'They forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth' (); for which crimes they were deservedly punished and greatly distressed (). Nevertheless, when they repented and obeyed again the commandments of the Lord, he delivered them out of the hand of their enemies by the 'judges' whom he raised up, and made them prosper (). To illustrate this theme, the author collected several fragments of the Hebrew history during the period between Joshua and Eli. Some episodes occur; but in arguing his subject he never loses sight of his leading theme, to which, on the contrary, he frequently recurs while stating facts, and shows how it applied to them; the moral evidently being, that the only way to happiness was to shun idolatry and obey the commandments of the Lord. The design of the author was not to give a connected and complete history of the Hebrews in the period between Joshua and the kings; for if he had intended a plan of that kind, he would also have described the state of the domestic affairs and of the government in the several tribes, the relation in which they stood to each other, and the extent of power exercised by a judge; he would have further stated the number of tribes over whom a judge ruled, and the number of years during which the tribes were not oppressed by their heathen neighbors, but enjoyed rest and peace. The appendix, containing two narratives (that of Micah with his 'house of gods,' and the brutal outrage committed by the Benjamites of Gibeah), further illustrates the lawlessness and anarchy prevailing in Israel after Joshua's death.

If the first and second divisions had been by the same author, the chronological indications would also have been the same. Now the author of the second division always describes the period of which he speaks thus: 'In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes' (; ; ; ); but this expression never once occurs in the first division. If one author had composed both divisions, instead of this chronological formula, we should rather have expected, 'In the days of the judges,' 'At a time when there was no judge,' etc. which would be consonant with the tenor of the first sixteen chapters. The style also in the two divisions is different, and it will be shown that the appendix was written much later than the first part. All modern critics, then, agree in this, that the author of the first sixteen chapters of our book is different from him who composed the appendix. The authorship of the first sixteen chapters has been assigned to Joshua, Samuel, and Ezra. There is no evidence, however, in support of any of these opinions, and various conclusive reasons can be assigned to show that they are incorrect.

But though we cannot determine the authorship of the book of Judges, still its age may be determined from internal evidence. The first sixteen chapters must have been written under Saul, whom the Israelites made their king in the hope of improving their condition. Phrases used in the period of the Judges may be traced in them, and the author must consequently have lived near the time when they were yet current. He says that in his time 'the Jebusites dwelt with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem' (): now this was the case only before David, who conquered the town and drove out the Jebusites. Consequently, the author of the first division of the book of Judges must have lived and written before David, and under King Saul. If he had lived under David, he would have mentioned the capture of Jerusalem by that monarch, as the nature of his subject did not allow him to pass it over in silence. The omission, moreover, of the history, not only of Samuel but also of Eli, indicates and author who, living in an age very near that of Eli, considered his history as generally known, because so recent. The exact time when the appendix was added to the book of Judges cannot indeed be determined, but its author certainly lived in an age much later than that of the recorded events.

It was published at a time when the events related were generally known, and when the veracity of the author could be ascertained by a reference to the original documents. Several of its narratives are confirmed by the books of Samuel (comp. ; ; Judges 11, with ; with ). The Psalms, not only allude to the book of Judges (comp. , with ), but copy from it entire verses (comp. ; ; with ). Philo and Josephus knew the book, and made use of it in their own compositions. The New Testament alludes to it in several places (comp. with ; ; ; ). This external evidence in support of the authority of the book of Judges is corroborated by many internal proofs of its authenticity. All its narratives are in character with the age to which they belong, and agree with the natural order of things. We find here that shortly after the death of Joshua the Hebrew nation had, by several victories, gained courage and become valorous (Judges 1, 19); but that it afterwards turned to agriculture, preferred a quiet life, and allowed the Canaanites to reside in its territory in consideration of a tribute imposed on them, when the original plan was that they should be expelled. This changed their character entirely: they became effeminate and indolent—a result which we find in the case of all nations who, from a nomadic and warlike life, turn to agriculture. The intercourse with their heathen neighbors frequently led the uncultivated Hebrews to idolatry; and this, again, further prepared them for servitude. They were consequently overpowered and oppressed by their heathen neighbors. The first subjugation, indeed, by a king of Mesopotamia, they endured but eight years; but the second, more severe, by Eglon, lasted longer: it was the natural consequence of the public spirit having gradually more and more declined, and of Eglon having removed his residence to Jericho with a view of closely watching all their movements (Joseph. Antiq. 5:5). When Ehud sounded the trumpet of revolt, the whole nation no longer rose in arms, but only the inhabitants of Mount Ephraim (); and when Barak called to arms against Sisera, many tribes remained quietly with their herds (; ; ). Of the 30,000 men who offered to follow Gideon, he could make use of no more than 300, this small number only being, as it would seem, filled with true patriotism and courage. Thus the people had sunk gradually, and deserved for forty years to bear the yoke of the Philistines, to whom they had the meanness to deliver Samson, who, however, loosed the cords with which he was tied, and killed a large number of them (Judges 15). It is impossible to consider such an historical work, which perfectly agrees with the natural course of things, as a fiction: at that early period of authorship, no writer could have, from fancy, depicted the character of the Hebrews so conformably with nature and established facts. All in this book breathes the spirit of the ancient world Martial law we find in it, as could not but be expected, hard and wild. The conquered people are subjected to rough treatment, as is the case in the wars of all uncivilized people; the inhabitants of cities are destroyed wholesale (; ). Hospitality and the protection of strangers received as guests is considered the highest virtue (Judges 19; comp. Genesis 19).

In the state of oppression in which the Hebrews often found themselves during the period from Joshua to Eli, it was to be expected that men, filled with heroism, should now and then rise up and call the people to arms in order to deliver them from their enemies. Such valiant men are introduced by our author, and he extols them, indeed, highly; but on the other hand he is not silent respecting their faults, which he discloses in a way proper to true history, but impossible to fiction, which could have no other object than the aggrandizement of the national character and exploits. And this frank, impartial tone pervades the whole work. It begins with displaying the Israelites as a refractory and obstinate people; and the appendix ends with the statement of a crime committed by the Benjamites, which had the most disastrous consequences. At the same time due praise is bestowed on acts of generosity and justice, and valiant feats are carefully recorded.

Objections have been made to the authenticity of this book, in consequence of the remarkable exploits ascribed to its heroes. But it will be easy to show that, when properly understood, these exploits do not necessarily exceed the limits of human power. Extraordinary indeed they were; but they are not alleged by the Scripture itself to have been supernatural. Those, however, who do hold them to have been supernatural cannot reasonably take exception to them on the ground of their extraordinary character. Considering the very remote period at which our book was written—considering also the manner of viewing and describing events and persons which prevailed with the ancient Hebrews, and which very much differs from that of our age—taking, moreover, into account the brevity of the narratives, which consist of historical fragments, we may well wonder that there do not occur in it more difficulties, and that not more doubts have been raised as to its historical authority.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Judges Book of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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