Book of Judges

Gregory Mobley and Joanna Kline

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Book of Judges

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This frontier epic located among the former prophets in the Jewish Bible and the historical books in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible narrates the adventures and misadventures of the Israelites between their entrance into Canaan (narrated in the preceding book of Joshua) and the emergence of kingship and a political state under David (narrated in the subsequent books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel). The subjects of its title, the “judges,” are the tribal leaders and protagonists of the stories in the book, who lead Israel in this transitional period between the era of the covenant-making heroes Moses and Joshua in the books of Moses (that is, the Pentateuch) and Joshua and the nation-making (and -breaking) heroes Samuel, Saul, David, and various monarchs in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Since the 19th century, biblical studies have been dominated by attempts to isolate literary documents that were composed prior to the existing books and then braided together to form the extant biblical literature. This inspired a century of research into the literary prehistory of Judges and scores of competing analyses that offered schemes isolating stages in the development of Judges and assigning dates and likely authors to these hypothetical documents. The results of this literary detective work were ingenious, inventive, and inconsistent. Since the second half of the 20th century, the focus in research has shifted away from both literary reconstruction and attempts to coordinate the sources of Judges with those of the Pentateuch and the former prophets. A number of studies focus on the organization and themes of Judges itself as an integrated literary whole. Another set of studies has utilized Judges as a window into the history of early Israel, arguing for the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Israelite “conquest” of Canaan near the end of the second millennium bce. Virtually every narrative in Judges includes vivid female characters, and there are many studies of Judges from the perspectives of feminism and gender studies. The advent of folklore studies and the array of reading strategies that are grouped under the rubric of “deconstruction” have changed the terrain by posing new questions and eroding the foundation of historical and literary schemes that attempt to impose single or grand maps on the entire landscape of the book. Accordingly, scholarship has recently come full circle, modestly focusing on the individual narratives themselves with their memorable characters and engaging plots, rediscovering why Gideon’s trumpet and Samson’s long hair have become enduring cultural motifs, why the wise among us still avoid shibboleths, and why so many girls continue to be named “Deborah” but not “Delilah.”

Article.  14774 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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