The Judges: Diving into one of the Bible’s Most Violent Books
I’ve written about the Deuteronomic Histories before. These are a run of books that begin with Deuteronomy and culminate in First and Second Kings. In between these books ends you’ll find Joshua, Judges, and First and Second Samuel. You may also find Ruth, but that’s not part of the Deuteronomic Histories. These Histories are believed to have been composed and compiled by a group of scholars known as the Deuteronomists, who sought to provide an ideological basis for a number of reforms to the Israelite religion. Deuteronomy is the legal basis for these reforms, and the Histories lay out an ideological history, among the first of it’s kind, intended to explain how exactly Israel came to be conquered by the Babylonians. The Deuteronomists believed it was because of Israel’s unrighteousness, because Israel turned away from God, and so God sent Israel into exile. The Deuteronomic Histories seek to illustrate this point by showing Israel, well, turning away from God.
There’s a lot going on in these histories, and a lot of it is quite violent. There’s the brutal (many would say genocidal) conquest of the Holy Land in Joshua, the constant warfare and royal politics of First and Second Samuel, and the multitude of invasions in First and Second Kings. But the most brutal of all is the book of Judges, which sits between Joshua and Samuel. Judges is a fascinating book of the Bible, as much for its violence as for the window it provides into an earlier world and an interesting period in human history. We’ll touch on the historical aspects of Judges later, but first, let’s get into the content, purpose, and theology.
Judges takes place after the conquest of the Promised Land in Joshua. In Judges, the Hebrews have spread out across the land, organized by tribe. Many of the larger cities appear to be still occupied by Philistines and other groups. (Check here for an alternative theory of the Exodus). Judges follows a pretty basic pattern: the Hebrews are doing fine, then they begin to turn from God’s laws, then a crisis hits, then a Judge, or ad hoc military leader, rises up to end the crisis, then the Hebrews promise not to stray ever again. Rinse and repeat.