Judges, Book Of



1. Title

2. Place in the Canon

3. Contents

(1) Introductory, Judges 1-2:5

(2) Central and Main Portion, Judges 2:6-16

(3) An Appendix, Judges 17-21

4. Chronology

5. Authorship and Sources

6. Relation to Preceding Books

7. Relation to Septuagint and Other versions

8. Religious Purpose and Value


1. Title:

The English name of the Book of Jud is a translation of the Hebrew title (shopheTim), which is reproduced in the Greek Kritai, and the Latin Liber Judicum. In the list of the canonical books of the Old Testament given by Origen (apud Euseb., HE, VI, 25) the name is transliterated Saphateim, which represents rather "judgments" (shephatim; krimata) than "judges." A passage also is quoted from Philo (De Confus. Linguarum, 26), which indicates that he recognized the same form of the name; compare the Greek title of "Kingdoms" (Basileiai) for the four books of Samuel and Kings.

2. Place in the Canon:

In the order of the Hebrew Canon the Book of Judges invariably occupies the 7th place, following immediately upon Joshua and preceding Samuel and Kings. With these it formed the group of the four "earlier prophets" (nebhi'im ri'shonim), the first moiety of the 2nd great division of the Hebrew Scriptures. As such the Book of Jud was classified and regarded as "prophetical," equally with the other historical books, on the ground of the religious and spiritual teaching which its history conveyed. In the rearrangement of the books, which was undertaken for the purposes of the Greek translation and Canon, Jud maintained its position as 7th in order from the beginning, but the short historical Book of Ru was removed from the place which it held among the Rolls (meghilloth) in the 3rd division of the Jewish Canon, and attached to Jud as a kind of appendix, probably because the narrative was understood to presuppose the same conditions and to have reference to the same period of time. The Greek order was followed in all later VSS, and has maintained itself in modern Bibles. Origen (loc. cit.) even states, probably by a mere misunderstanding, that Jud and Ru were comprehended by the Jews under the one title Saphateim.

3. Contents:

The Book of Jud consists of 3 main parts or divisions, which are readily distinguished.

(1) Introductory, Judges 1-2:5.

A brief summary and recapitulation of the events of the conquest of Western Palestine, for the most part parallel to the narrative of Joshua, but with a few additional details and some divergences from the earlier account, in particular emphasizing (Judges 1:27-36) the general failure of the Israelites to expel completely the original inhabitants of the land, which is described as a violation of their covenant with Yahweh (Judges 2:1-3), entailing upon them suffering and permanent weakness. The introductory verse (Judges 1:1), which refers to the death of Joshua as having already taken place, seems to be intended as a general indication of the historical period of the book as a whole; for some at least of the events narrated in Judges 1:1-2:5 took place during Joshua's lifetime.

(2) The Central and Main Portion, Judges 2:6-16.

A series of narratives of 12 "judges," each of whom in turn, by his devotion and prowess, was enabled to deliver Israel from thralldom and oppression, and for a longer or shorter term ruled over the people whom he had thus saved from their enemies. Each successive repentance on the part of the people, however, and their deliverance are followed, on the death of the judge, by renewed apostasy, which entails upon them renewed misery and servitude, from which they are again rescued when in response to their prayer the Lord "raises up" for them another judge and deliverer. Thus the entire history is set as it were in a recurrent framework of moral and religious teaching and warning; and the lesson is enforced that it is the sin of the people, their abandonment of Yahweh and persistent idolatry, which entails upon them calamity, from which the Divine longsuffering and forbearance alone makes for them a way of escape.

(a) Judges 2:6-3:6:

A second brief introduction, conceived entirely in the spirit of the following narratives, which seems to attach itself to the close of the Book of Joshua, and in part repeats almost verbally the account there given of the death and burial of Israel's leader (Judges 2:6-9 parallel Joshua 24:28-31), and proceeds to describe the condition of the land and people in the succeeding generation, ascribing their misfortunes to their idolatry and repeated neglect of the warnings and commands of the judges; closing with an enumeration of the peoples left in the land, whose presence was to be the test of Israel's willingness to obey Yahweh and at the same time to prevent the nation from sinking into a condition of lethargy and ease.

(b) Judges 3:7-3:11:

Judgeship of Othniel who delivered Israel from the hand of Cushan-rishathaim.

(c) Judges 3:12-30:

Victory of Ehud over the Moabites, to whom the Israelites had been in servitude 18 years. Ehud slew their king Eglon, and won for the nation a long period of tranquillity.

(d) Judges 3:31:

In a few brief words Shamgar is named as the deliverer of Israel from the Philistines. The title of "judge" is not accorded to him, nor is he said to have exercised authority in any way. It is doubtful, therefore, whether the writer intended him to be regarded as one of the judges.

(e) Judges 4; 5:

Victory of Deborah and Barak over Jabin the Canaanite king, and death of Sisera, captain of his army, at the hands of Jael, the wife of Kenite chief; followed by a So of Triumph, descriptive and commemorative of the event.

(f) Judges 6-8:

A 7-year oppression at the hands of the Midianites, which is described as peculiarly severe, so that the land became desolate on account of the perpetual raids to which it was subject. After a period of hesitation and delay, Gideon defeats the combined forces of the Midianites and Amalekites and the "children of the east," i.e. the wandering Bedouin bands from the eastern deserts, in the valley of Jezreel. The locality and course of the battle are traced by the sacred writer, but it is not possible to follow his account in detail because of our inability to identify the places named. After the victory, Gideon is formally offered the position of ruler for himself and his descendants, but refuses; nevertheless, he seems to have exercised a measure of restraining influence over the people until his death, although he himself and his family apparently through covetousness fell away from their faithfulness to Yahweh (Judges 8:27,33).

(g) Judges 9:

Episode of Abimelech, son of Gideon by a concubine, who by the murder of all but one of his brethren, the legitimate sons of Gideon, secured the throne at Shechem for himself, and for 3 years ruled Israel. After successfully stamping out a revolt at Shechem against his authority, he is himself killed when engaged in the siege of the citadel or tower of Thebez by a stone thrown by woman.

(h) (i) Judges 10:1-5:

Tola and Jair are briefly named as successive judges of Israel for 23 and 22 years respectively.

(j) Judges 10:6-12:7:

Oppression of Israel for 18 years by the Philistines and Ammonites. The national deliverance is effected by Jephthah, who is described as an illegitimate son of Gilead who had been on that account driven out from his home and had become the captain of a band of outlaws. Jephthah stipulates with the elders of Gilead that if he undertakes to do battle on their behalf with the Ammonites, he is afterward to be recognized as their ruler; and in accordance with the agreement, when the victory has been won, he becomes judge over Israel (Judges 11:9; 12:7).


(k) (l) (m) Judges 12:8-15:

Three of the so-called "minor" judges, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon, judged Israel in succession for 7, 10 and 8 years respectively. As they are not said to have delivered the nation from any calamity or oppression, it is perhaps to be understood that the whole period was a time of rest and tranquillity.

(n) Judges 13-16:

The history of Samson (see separate article).

(3) An Appendix, Judges 17-21.

The final section, in the nature of an appendix, consisting of two narratives, independent apparently of the main portion of the book and of one another. They contain no indication of date, except the statement 4 times repeated that "in those days there was no king in Israel" Judges 6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). The natural inference is that the narratives were committed to writing in the days of the monarchy; but the events themselves were understood by the compiler or historian to have taken place during the period of the Judges, or at least anterior to the establishment of the kingdom. The lawless state of society, the violence and disorder among the tribes, would suggest the same conclusion. No name of a judge appears, however, and there is no direct reference to the office or to any central or controlling authority. Josephus also seems to have known them in reverse order, and in a position preceding the histories of the judges themselves, and not at the close of the book (Ant., V, ii, 8-12; iii, 1; see E. Konig in HDB, II, 810). Even if the present form of the narratives is thus late, there can be little doubt that they contain elements of considerable antiquity.

(a) Judges 17-18:

The episode of Micah the Ephraimite and the young Levite who is consecrated as priest in his house. A war party, however, of the tribe of Da during a migration northward, by threats and promises induced the Levite to accompany them, taking with him the priestly ephod, the household goods of his patron, and a costly image which Micah had caused to be made. These Micah in vain endeavors to recover from the Danites. The latter sack and burn Laish in the extreme North of Palestine, rebuilding the city on the same site and renaming it "Dan." There they set up the image which they had stolen, and establish a rival priesthood and worship, which is said to have endured "all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" (18:31).

(b) Judges 19-21:

Outrage of the Benjamites of Gibeah against the concubine of a Levite lodging for a night in the city on his way from Bethlehem to the hill country of Ephraim. The united tribes, after twice suffering defeat at the hands of the men of Benjamin, exact full vengeance; the tribe of Benjamin is almost annihilated, and their cities, including Gibeah, are destroyed. In order that the tribe may not utterly perish, peace is declared with the 600 survivors, and they are provided with wives by stratagem and force, the Israelites having taken a solemn vow not to permit intermarriage between their own daughters and the members of the guilty tribe.

4. Chronology:

The period covered by the history of the Book of Jud extends from the death of Joshua to the death of Samson, and adds perhaps a later reference in Judges 18:31, "all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh" (compare 1 Samuel 1:3). It is, however, difficult, perhaps impossible, to compute in years the length of time that the writer had in mind. That he proceeded upon a fixed chronological basis, supplied probably by tradition but modified or arranged on a systematic principle, seems evident. The difficulty may be due in part to the corruption which the figures have suffered in the course of the transmission of the text. In 1 Kings 6:1 an inclusive total of 480 years is given as the period from the Exodus to the building of the Temple in the 4th year of the reign of Solomon. This total, however, includes the 40 years' wandering in the desert, the time occupied in the conquest and settlement of the Promised Land, and an uncertain period after the death of Joshua, referred to in the Book of Judges itself (Judges 2:10), until the older generation that had taken part in the invasion had passed away. There is also to be reckoned the 40 years' judgeship of Eli (1 Samuel 4:18), the unknown length of the judgeship of Samuel (Judges 7:15), the years of the reign of Saul (compare 1 Samuel 13:1, where, however, no statement is made as to the length of his reign), the 40 years during which David was king (1 Kings 2:11), and the 4 years of Solomon before the building of the Temple. The recurrence of the number 40 is already noticeable; but if for the unknown periods under and after Joshua, of Samuel and of Saul, 50 or 60 years be allowed--a moderate estimate--there would remain from the total of 480 years a period of 300 years in round numbers for the duration of the times of the Judges. It may be doubted whether the writer conceived of the period of unsettlement and distress, of alternate oppression and peace, as lasting for so long a time.

The chronological data contained in the Book of Judges itself are as follows:

A total of 410 years, or, if the years of foreign oppression and of the usurpation of Abimelech are omitted, of 296.

It has been supposed that in some instances the rule of the several judges was contemporaneous, not successive, and that therefore the total period during which the judges ruled should be reduced accordingly. In itself this is sufficiently probable. It is evident, however, that this thought was not in the mind of the writer, for in each case he describes the rule of the judge as over "Israel" with no indication that "Israel" is to be understood in a partial and limited signification. His words must therefore be interpreted in their natural sense, that in his own belief the rulers whose deeds he related exercised control in the order named over the entire nation. Almost certainly, however, he did not intend to include in his scheme the years of oppression or the 3 years of Abimelech's rule. If these be deducted, the resultant number (296) is very near the total which the statement in 1 Kings 6:1 suggests.

No stress, however, must be laid upon this fact. The repeated occurrence of the number 40, with its double and half, can hardly be accidental. The same fact was noted above in connection with earlier and later rulers in Israel. It suggests that there is present an element of artificiality and conscious arrangement in the scheme of chronology, which makes it impossible to rely upon it as it stands for any definite or reliable historical conclusion.

5. Authorship and Sources:

Within the Book of Jud itself no author is named, nor is any indication given of the writer or writers who are responsible for the form in which the book appears; and it would seem evident, also, that the 3 parts or divisions of which the book is composed are on a different footing as regards the sources from which they are drawn. The Talmudic tradition which names Samuel as the author can hardly be seriously regarded. The historical introduction presents a form of the traditional narrative of the conquest of Palestine which is parallel to but not identical with that contained in the Book of Joshua. Brief and disconnected as it is, it is of the greatest value as a historical authority, and contains elements which in origin, if not in their present form, are of considerable antiquity. The main portion of the book, comprising the narratives of the judges, is based upon oral or written traditions of a local and perhaps a tribal character, the value of which it is difficult to estimate, but which undoubtedly in some instances have been more carefully preserved than in others. In particular, around the story of Samson there seem to have gathered elements derived from the folklore and the wonder-loving spirit of the countryside; and the exploits of a national hero have been enhanced and surrounded with a glamor of romance as the story of them has passed from lip to lip among a people who themselves or their forefathers owed so much to his prowess. Of this central part of Jud the So of Deborah (Judges 5) is the most ancient, and bears every mark of being a contemporary record of a remarkable conflict and victory. The text is often difficult, almost unintelligible, and has so greatly suffered in the course of transmission as in some passages to be beyond repair. As a whole the song is an eloquent and impassioned ode of triumph, ascribing to Yahweh the great deliverance which has been wrought for His people over their foes.

The narratives of Jgs, moreover, are set in a framework of chronology and of ethical comment and teaching, which are probably independent of one another. The moral exhortations and the lessons drawn from hardships and sufferings, which the people of Israel incur as the consequence of their idolatry and sin, are conceived entirely in the spirit of Deuteronomy, and even in the letter and form bear a considerable resemblance to the writings of that book. In the judgment of some scholars, therefore, they are to be ascribed to the same author or authors. Of this, however, there is no proof. It is possible, but perhaps hardly probable. They certainly belong to the same school of thought, of clear-sighted doctrine, of reverent piety, and of jealous concern for the honor of Yahweh. With the system of chronology, the figures and dates, the ethical commentary and inferences would seem to have no direct relation. The former is perhaps a later addition, based in part at least upon tradition, and applied to existing accounts, in order to give them their definite place and succession in the historical record. Finally, the three strands of traditional narrative, moral comment, and chronological framework were woven into one whole by a compiler or reviser who completed the book in the form in which it now exists. Concerning the absolute dates, however, at which these processes took place very little can be determined.

The two concluding episodes are distinct, both in form and character, from the rest of the book. They do not relate the life or deeds of a judge, nor do they, explicitly at least, convey any moral teaching or warning. They are also mutually independent. It would seem therefore that they are to be regarded as accounts of national events or experiences, preserved by tradition, which, because they were understood to have reference to the period of the Judges, were included in this book. The internal nature of the narratives themselves would suggest that they belong rather to the earlier than the later part of the time during which the judges held rule; and their ancient character is similarly attested. There is no clue, however, to the actual date of their composition, or to the time or circumstances under which they were incorporated in the Book of Jgs.

6. Relation to Preceding Books:

The discussion of the relation of the Book of Jud to the generally recognized sources of the Pentateuch and to Joshua has been in part anticipated in the previous paragraph. In the earliest introductory section of the book, and in some of the histories of the judges, especially in that of Gideon (Judges 6-8), it is not difficult to distinguish two threads of narrative, which have been combined together in the account as it now stands; and by some scholars these are identified with the Jahwist (Jahwist) and the Elohist (E) in the Pentateuch. The conclusion, however, is precarious and uncertain, for the characteristic marks of the Pentateuch "sources" are in great measure absent. There is more to be said for the view that regards the introduction (Judges 1:1-2:5), with its verbal parallels to Joshua as derived ultimately from the history of JE, from which, however, very much has been omitted, and the remainder adapted and abbreviated. Even this moderate conclusion cannot be regarded as definitely established. The later author or compiler was in possession of ancient documents or traditions, of which he made use in his composite narrative, but whether these were parts of the same historical accounts that are present in the books of Moses and in Joshua must be regarded as undetermined. There is no trace, moreover, in Jud of extracts from the writing or school of P; nor do the two concluding episodes of the book (Judges 17-21) present any features which would suggest an identification with any of the leading "sources" of the Pentateuch.

The moral and religious teaching, on the other hand, which makes the varied national experiences in the times of the Judges a vehicle for ethical instruction and warning, is certainly derived from the same school as Deuteronomy, and reproduces the whole tone and spirit of that book. There is no evidence, however, to identify the writer or reviser who thus turned to spiritual profit the lessons of the age of the Judges with the author of Deuteronomy itself, but he was animated by the same principles, and endeavored in the same way to expound the same great truths of religion and the Providence of God.

7. Relation to Septuagint and Other Versions:

There are two early Greek translations of the Book of Jgs, which seem to be on the whole independent of one another. These are represented by the two great uncial manuscripts, B (Codex Vaticanus) and A (Codex Alexandrinus). With the former is associated a group of cursive manuscripts and the Sahidic or Upper Egyptian version. It is therefore probable that the translation is of Egyptian origin, and by some it has been identified with that of Hesychius. It has been shown, moreover, that in this book, and probably elsewhere, the ancient character of the text of B is not always maintained, but in parts at least betrays a later origin. The other version is contained in AV and the majority of the uncial and cursive manuscripts of the Greek texts, and, while certainly a real and independent translation from the original, is thought by some to show acquaintance with the version of B. There is, however, no definite evidence that B's translation is really older. Some of the cursives which agree in general with A form sub-groups; thus the recension of Lucian is believed to be represented by a small number of cursives, the text of which is printed by Lagarde (Librorum VT Canonicorum, Pars Prior, 1883), and is substantially identical with that in the "Complutensian Polyglot" (see G. F. Moore, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges, Edinburgh, 1895, xliii). It is probable that the true original text of the Septuagint is not represented completely either by the one or the other version, but that it partially underlies both, and may be traced in the conflicting readings which must be judged each on its own merits.

Of the other principal versions, the Old Latin and the Hexaplar Syriac, together with the Armenian and the Ethiopic, attach themselves to a sub-group of the manuscripts associated with A. The Bohairic version of the Book of Jud has not hitherto been published, but, like the rest of the Old Testament, its text would no doubt be found to agree substantially with B. Jerome's translation follows closely the Massoretic Text, and is independent of both Greek VSS; and the Peshitta also is a direct rendering from the Hebrew.

8. Religious Purpose and Value:

Thus the main purpose of the Book of Judges in the form in which it has been preserved in the Old Testament is not to record Israel's past for its own sake, or to place before the writer's contemporaries a historical narrative of the achievements of their great men and rulers, but to use these events and the national experiences of adversity as a text from which to educe religious warning and instruction. With the author or authors spiritual edification is the first interest, and the facts or details of the history, worthy of faithful records, because it is the history of God's people, find their chief value in that they are and were designed to be admonitory, exhibiting the Divine judgments upon idolatry and sin, and conveying the lesson that disobedience and rebellion, a hard and defiant spirit that was forgetful of Yahweh, could not fail to entail the same disastrous consequences. The author is preeminently a preacher of righteousness to his fellow-countrymen, and to this aim all other elements in the book, whether chronological or historical, are secondary and subordinate. In his narrative he sets down the whole truth, so far as it has become known to him through tradition or written document, however discreditable it may be to his nation. There is no ground for believing that he either extenuates on the one hand, or on the other paints in darker colors than the record of the transgressions of the people deserved. Neither he nor they are to be judged by the standards of the 20th century, with its accumulated wealth of spiritual experience and long training in the principles of righteousness and truth. But he holds and asserts a lofty view of the character of Yahweh, of the immutability of His wrath against obstinate transgression and of the certainty of its punishment, and yet of the Divine pitifulness and mercy to the man or nation that turns to Him with a penitent heart. The Jews were not mistaken when they counted the Book of Jud among the Prophets. It is prophecy, more than history, because it exhibits and enforces the permanent lessons of the righteousness and justice and loving-kindness of God.


A complete bibliography of the literature up to date will be found in the Dicts. under the word "Judges," D B2, 1893; HDB, II, 1899; EB, II, 1901; compare G. F. Moore, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jgs, Edinburgh, 1895; SBOT, Leipzig, 1900; R. A. Watson, "Jgs" and "Ruth," in Expositor's Bible, 1889; G. W. Thatcher, "Jgs" and "Ruth," in Century Bible; S. Oettli, "Das Deuteronomium und die Bucher Josua und Richter," in Kurzgefasster Kommentar, Munchen, 1893; K. Budde, "Das Buch der Richter," in Kurzer HandKommentar zum Altes Testament, Tubingen, 1897; W. Nowack, "Richter," in Hand-kommentar zum Altes Testament, 1900.

A. S. Geden

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'JUDGES, BOOK OF'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.