In the Hebrew canon, the second book of the Earlier Prophets, placed between Joshua and Samuel.

§ I. Name:

The book derives its name from the fact that it deals with the "Judges," a term which, according to the statements found in the book (comp. ii. 11-19 and the constantly recurring formulas in iii. 7, vi. 1; iii. 12, iv. 1, x. 6, xiii. 1; iii. 8, iv. 2, 9, x.7), designates men who dealt out justice to the oppressed people (comp. , Ps. x. 18); hence it is used in the sense of = "rescuer" (ii. 16, 18). The word, however, means more than this and more than the modern "judge": it means the leaders or rulers (comp. the Suffetes [= ] in Carthage) who took charge of the affairs of the several tribes in case of war with the Canaanites or other neighboring peoples, and who also assumed leadership of their respective tribes in the succeeding times of peace. In accordance with the needs of the time, their functions were primarily judicial (iv. 5). The book itself announces that it will deal with the time of the Judges from the death of Joshua; but the description of Joshua's death at the beginning of the book is doubtless a later addition, and the introduction repeats (i. 1-ii. 5) the theme of the Book of Joshua, namely, the conquest of the country west of the Jordan. Nor does the Book of Judges give the conclusion of the history of the Judges; for the two stories appended to the book in its present form belong not to the end of that period, but to its beginning, and the narratives forming the kernel of the book break off before the period of the Judges ends. The thread is taken up again in the Book of Samuel. It may be assumed, however, that the original Book of Judges was carried down to the end of the period and concluded with the story of Eli and Samuel, which forms the beginning of I Samuel.

§ II. Synopsis of Contents:

Before discussing the several parts and their origin, it may be well to note the peculiar composition of the book. The introduction and additions may clearly be separated from the main text, giving the following three divisions: (1) introduction; (2) Book of Judges proper; and (3) appendixes.

  • (1) Introduction: (a) i. 1-ii. 5, a general view of the conquest of Canaan. The story is evidently intended to portray the great tribulations of the time of the Judges, which God inflicted because the Israelites partially spared the Canaanites in spite of His command to the contrary (see ii. 1-5, especially verse 3). (b) ii. 6-iii. 6, a general description of the conditions obtaining at the time of the Judges. The chief characteristic of this time is found in the recurring change from apostasy and punishment to repentance and deliverance. The account forms the introduction to the following stories, which are, as it were, summarized in ii. 11-19.
Sections of Book.
  • (2) The Book of Judges Proper, iii. 7-xvi. 31: This describes Israel's delivery, through divinely appointed judges, from the subjugation to the Canaanites and the neighboring peoples which it had brought upon itself. The accounts of the activities of the several judges vary considerably in length; only the five so-called "Great Judges" are treated in detail. The narratives may be summarized as follows: (a) iii. 12-30, account of the Benjamite Ehud, who overthrew the tyranny of the Moabites; (b) iv.-v., story of Barak (and Deborah), who overthrew the tyranny of the Canaanites (but see § III.); (c) vi. 1-viii. 32, story of Gideon of western Manasseh, who overthrew "the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the East"; (d) x. 6-xii. 7, story of Jephthah the Gileadite of the tribe of Gad, who vanquished the Ammonites; (e) xiii.-xvi., account of the Danite Samson, who vanquished the Philistines; (f) iii. 7-11, story of the Kenazite Othniel, from the tribe of Judah, who vanquished Chushan-rishathaim (iii. 10); together with various incidental remarks relating to the so-called Minor Judges: (g) iii. 31, story of Shamgar; (h) x. 1-5, stories of Tola of Issachar and Jair of Gilead (eastern Manasseh); and (i) xii. 8-15, stories of Ibzan of Beth-lehem, Elon the Zebulonite, and Abdon the Pirathonite of the tribe of Ephraim. With the exception of the priestly tribe of Levi and the two tribes of Reuben and Simeon, which soon became extinct, each of the tribes is represented by at least one judge. The section viii. 33-ix. 57, dealing with the leadership of Abimelech, is not strictly of the same order as the rest.
  • (3) Appendixes: Two stories from the time of the Judges: (a) xvii. and xviii., the campaign of the Danites, and the transference to Dan (Laish) of the sanctuary of Micah the Ephraimite; (b) xix.-xxi., the outrage at Gibeah, and the resultant punitive war against Benjamin, which is almost destroyed; the measures taken for the preservation of the tribe.
§ III. Sources: The Main Text, iii. 7-xvi. 31:

The earliest sources are found in the stories relating to the five Great Judges:

  • (1) The account of Ehud, iii. 12-30, which, with the exception of the Deuteronomistic framework (verses 12-15 and 30), is a uniform story, based doubtless on ancient tradition.
Song of Deborah.
  • (2) The story of Barak and Deborah, iv. and v., in which must be distinguished: (a) the Song of Deborah, v. 2-31, describing the sufferings and the victory of the people, and which was doubtless composed by an eye-witness. It is uncertain, however, whether Deborah herself composed this. Doubt arises from the exhortation (v. 12) "utter a song," and from the fact that the introduction does not say that she composed it, but only that Deborah and Barak sang it (ib. verse 1). Nor does it follow absolutely from the word (verse 7) that Deborah composed the Song. Although is probably intended as the first person and has been so interpreted down to recent times, yet it may also have been intended as an address to Deborah, as the second person feminine singular (= ; comp. , Jer. ii. 33)—"until thou hast arisen, Deborah!" And even its interpretation as the third person feminine singular (= , old form of , in which the י would be secondary, conditioned by the traditional conception, according to which the expression is in the first person) is not excluded, and the reading may be, "until Deborah arose." Nor is the first person in verse 3 decisive, as it may refer to any poet. The exhortation in verse 12, "Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song," formerly considered a direct proof of Deborah's authorship, really excludes this possibility, unless it is assumed that it is a poetic address of the author to herself. Aside from these doubtful arguments, the context, with its striking references to the deeds and thoughts of women (Deborah, Jael, Sisera's mother and her "wise women"), might point to apoetess as the author. Even if the Song was not composed by Deborah, it was at least the work of a contemporary; and as such it is the earliest source for the history of Israel, and a historical document of supreme value. It not only recounts a historical fact, but breathes the wild spirit of a heroic age, and with elemental force portrays especially the pitiless delight in battle and bloodshed, and the joy of deliverance from the yoke of tyranny.(b) The prose historical account in ch. iv. stands in a peculiar relation to the Song, inasmuch as the poetical account has been clearly changed into a historical narrative, which presents various contradictions to and exaggerations of the Song in regard to numbers and events. This prose account based upon the Song of Deborah is, however, only a part of the story told in ch. iv.; for, in the first place, the story of the victory of Barak and the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali over King Jabin of Hazor (iv. 10) is joined to it, and, in the second place, there are other details which are not found in the Song, and which therefore were derived from independent tradition, especially the reference to the attack made by the Israelites from Mount Tabor. The story in ch. iv., taken for the most part from the Song, and which may be called the story of Sisera in contrast to the story of Jabin, narrates the victory of Deborah and of Barak of Issachar over Sisera at the Kishon, and the death of the last-named at the hands of Jael. In consequence of the fusion of the stories, Sisera in the account in ch. iv. does not appear as the head of a coalition of the Canaanite kings, as he is represented in the Song, where he is the chief personage, but merely as the general of King Jabin. The stories are so closely fused that they can no longer be separated, this being doubtless due to the confounding of two heroes of the name of Barak (= "lightning"; comp. the surname in "Hamilcar Barcas"); namely, Barak of Kedesh of the tribe of Naphtali (iv. 5 [A. V. 6]) and Barak of Issachar (v. 15).
Account of Gideon.
  • (3) The account of Gideon, vi.-viii., consisting of two separate narratives brought into harmony by the passages vii. 25 and viii. 10. According to the main text, including vi. 2-6, 11-24, 33 et seq., vii. 1, and vii. 9-25 (except verse 12), as well as the passages vi. 35; vii. 2-8, 14, 16-22, preserved only in revised form, Gideon delivered the whole of Israel from the inroads of the Midianites, whose camp on Mount Gilboa he surprised. The Ephraimites then captured and killed the fugitives together with their kings Oreb and Zeeb at the fords of the Jordan (comp. especially vii. 24). According to another account, which forms a connected series of additions to the main text (i.e., to vi. 2-viii. 3), and which includes vi. 7-10, 25-32, 36-40 as well as the Deuteronomically revised passage viii. 4-27, Gideon with 300 men captured the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna beyond the Jordan, whither he had pursued them.A valuable remnant of the earliest Hebrew history has been preserved in the story of Abimelech, which is appended to the story of Gideon. Jotham's daring and original parable of the trees in search of a king, included in this story, was (as appears from ix. 57) probably added at a later time by an editor who took it from a source earlier than that of the main story. This parable, one of the few remnants of purely secular writing, can not have originated in the time of Abimelech, who reigned only three years at Shechem, as its criticism of the king was evidently the result of a clearer insight than could have been possessed by a contemporary. It was probably a product of the Northern Kingdom, where the people had unfortunate experiences with elected kings.
  • (4) The story of Jephthah, xi. 1-xii. 7, is in general uniform; the first two verses, however, are probably revised, as they do not fit in with verse 7, nor with the passage xi. 12-29, which appears as a learned disquisition applying in no wise to the Ammonites, to whom the message was to be addressed, but to the Moabites. In xi. 35-40, also, the editor, intent on abbreviating, seems to have made changes in order not to dwell on the human sacrifice which must have been described in the original narrative.
  • (5) The story of Samson, xiii-xvi., narrating in twelve sketches his deeds and tragic death. This, also, is a uniform composition, with the exception of a revision in xiii. and xiv., and is evidently the work of a single author.In general, it may be noted in regard to these old heroic stories of the Book of Judges that there is some resemblance in language and manner of description to the narrative sources of the Pentateuch; for this reason Cornill has designated the first version of the story of Gideon, the story of Samson, and the basis of x. 6-16 as Jahvistic in character, and the story of Sisera, the second version of the story of Gideon, together with the stories of Abimelech and Jephthah, as Elohistic (other scholars, however, as Budde, think differently). These resemblances are so slight that they may be explained as contemporaneous work or imitation, rather than as a continuation of the Pentateuch sources.
Original Book.

The main text of Judges, including the above-named stories, constituted, with the exception of later additions, the earlier book, which began therefore with ii. 6; and as the initial words, "And when Joshua had let the people go," correspond with the words introducing the first valedictory in Josh. xxiii. 2, it follows that the original Book of Judges continued the original Book of Joshua. Furthermore, it follows that the second valedictory with the accompanying statements in Josh. xxiv., and the first account of Joshua's death, in Judges ii. 8 et seq., as well as the present introduction to Judges, were added later; this is also apparent from the present beginning of Judges: "Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass."

The Introduction: It has been shown that the introduction is a later addition; and the fact is further proved by its contents, the story of the conquest of the country west of the Jordan, which is the theme of Joshua, being here repeated. But while the Book of Joshua narrates the story of the complete destruction of the Canaanites by the people of Israel under one commander-in-chief, the introduction to Judges says that the tribes of Israel fought singly; and it does not refer to the complete destruction of the Canaanites (comp. Judges i. 27-33, ii. 1-3). Ofthese two accounts the introduction to Judges is doubtless more objective, and shows a better comprehension of the actual facts, while the narrative in Joshua is founded on the Deuteronomistic revision. The introduction itself, however, is not uniform; according to i. 8, the children of Judah conquered and burned Jerusalem and killed its inhabitants, while, according to i. 21, the children of Benjamin did not drive the Jebusites out of that city, but dwelt together with them in Jerusalem "unto this day" (according to the parallel account in Josh. xv. 63, some scholars read in this passage instead of , which is derived from Josh. xviii. 28). Cornill ascribes a Jahvistic origin to the passages i.-ii. 1a, 5b, 23a; iii. 2-3, and an Elohistic origin to i. la; ii. 13, 20-22a; iii. 5-6.

The Priest of Micah.

The Appendixes: The first appendix, xvii. and xviii., is a very valuable old story. Bertheau, Budde, Kittel, Cornill, and others assert that two accounts must be here distinguished. According to one, the Ephraimite Micah made an ephod and teraphim, and hired a Levite to be to him "a father and priest"; 600 Danites then persuaded the Levite to go with them and become their priest, whereupon they conquered Laish and set up there for their tribal sanctuary the image that Micah had made. According to the other account, Micah made a "pesel" (graven image) and "massekah" (molten image), and engaged a young Levite as priest, whom he held as a son; but the Danites, who stole the pesel and massekah, made Jonathan, Moses' grandson, their tribal priest instead of the Levite, and through the descendants of Jonathan the priesthood was transmitted in the tribe of Dan. But according to Oort, Wellhausen, Kuenen, Baudissin, and others, it is more probable that the discrepancies in the narrative may be explained on the ground of interpolations (compare and , which always follow and ). The story itself is unique in that it describes a cult and a priesthood which are nowhere else found in the Old Testament. This fact itself points to an early date of composition.

As two dates are given in the text, xviii. 30 and 31, the question arises which of these two statements is the original—that is, the earlier—one. The first statement, xviii. 30, points to the time of the fall of Ephraim (722 B.C.), or at least to that of the deportation of the northern and eastern inhabitants of the country (735 B.C.); the second, to a time near the beginning of the royal house of Israel, as the destruction of the Temple of Shiloh probably occurred during the Philistine wars, in which the priestly house of Eli, officiating at Shiloh, perished. The first statement, also, originated at a time that had become remote to later generations, as is shown by the fact that the ascription of these deeds to a grandson of Moses caused offense to the people, and a copyist tried to remove it by interpolating a נ in so as to change the name to (this has recently been denied by Sinker).

The second appendix, xix.-xxi., in its main text, which can now hardly be determined with certainty, might similarly be traced back to an ancient story, as is indicated by expressions similar to those found in the first appendix; e.g., the Levite sojourning as a stranger in the country (xix. 1). The formula common to both appendixes, "in those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (xvii. 6, xxi. 25; comp. xviii. 1, xix. 1), perhaps also indicates that the original text was composed before the Exile; although it is possible that in the second appendix it is a later addition, or was introduced by the author in imitation of the first appendix. For the story as a whole dates from a very late period, since there is evidence that it is based on the Priestly Code. This is especially evident in the fact that the community of Israel is represented as a compact body pronouncing punishment upon Benjamin as with one voice, while elsewhere in Judges every tribe attends to its own affairs. The fact that all the personages named, with the exception of Aaron's grandson Phinehas in xx. 28, are anonymous indicates that this is a piece of fiction and not a historical narrative. The story may have some historical foundation; for Hosea (x. 9), speaking of course quite independently of this story, also mentions the sin of Israel since the days of Gibeah. Nor is it impossible that the story, as Nöldeke was the first to assume, describes the ruin of Benjamin by the war between David and Saul's son and the insurrections under David.

§ IV. Combination and Revision of The Sources: Additions by Deuteronomist.

The earlier Book of Judges, a compilation of the stories of the five Great Judges together with the additions of the redactor, was practically Judges in its present form, with the exception of the Deuteronomistic framework (together with the story of Othniel), the six Minor Judges, and some later revised additions. The Deuteronomistic editor added to the earlier book the following passages; namely, ii. 6-9 and iii. 7-11 (the account of Othniel being taken from Josh. xv. 17), all the additions by which he adapted the old material to his conception of history, and the strictly chronological arrangement taken from I Kings vi. 1, the 480 years being divided by him into 12x40 years or generations, 20, 40, or 80 years respectively being assigned to each of the judges. This Deuteronomistic arrangement was again supplemented by an editor following the Priestly Code, who partly revised the work, inserted passages of his own (viii. 29-31 and x. 17, 18), and added the portions relating to the five Minor Judges (x. 2-5 and xii. 8-15), in order to round out the number of the twelve judges. This last-named portion has been skilfully harmonized with the chronological arrangement of the Deuteronomistic editor; for the sum of the years of office of the five Minor Judges (23 + 22 + 7 + 10 + 8 = 70) is practically equal to that of the years of oppression under the five Great Judges (8 + 18 + 20 + 7 + 18 = 71). The last editor, finally, added to iii. 31 the personage of Shamgar (from the Song of Deborah, v. 6) because at his time the judgeship of Abimelech caused offense, and the editor wished to remove Abimelech without disturbing the number of the judges.

§ V. Age of the Sources: Story of Samson.

The sources from which the material for the various heroic stories was taken are in part very old, the Song of Deborah having originated as early as the time of the Judges.These old sources, however, were committed to writing a considerable time after the date of the events which they narrate. Samson certainly lived a long time before the account of his life was written down, because it has a very evident admixture of mythic elements, as, for instance, his heroic deeds and the virtue ascribed to his hair. His deeds remind one of the deeds of Hercules, and his name ( = "the sunny") shows a resemblance in attributes to the Phenician sun-god Melkart, the prototype of the Greek Herakles. Although the story of Samson may be based on historical fact, it must be noted that Samson's deeds differ from those of the other warrior judges in that these latter are "saviors of their tribe" while Samson fights with the Philistines on his own account. Hence the compilation of the stories of the five Great Judges must be dated soon after the division of the kingdom. Single passages, like the basis of ch. xvii. and xviii., may be much older. The editor who combined his own additions with the book containing the stories, producing thereby the earlier Book of Judges, probably wrote in the last decades of the kingdom of Israel. The Deuteronomistic edition was undertaken during the Exile, at which time the other additions were probably also incorporated. The two appendixes were added very much later, as appears not only from the date of composition of the second appendix (xix.-xxi.), but also from the fact that the Deuteronomistic revision, which may be traced throughout the Book of Judges down to ch. xvi., did not include the two appendixes. Had they been added earlier, moreover, they would have been inserted in a different place, namely, in the beginning, where they belong, according to the dates mentioned in them (xviii. 30 and xx. 28). Although these references to the time may be glosses, they can not have been added after the book was completed.

§ VI. Literary Characteristics:

As a result of difference in sources originating at different times, the book has no literary unity. Side by side with the stereotyped formulas, which reveal the historical point of view of the compiler of the earlier Book of Judges (iii. 7, vi. 1; iii. 12, iv. 1, x. 6, xiii. 1; iv. 2, 9, x. 7), and the passages added in the spirit of these formulas, there are stories popular in character, to which have been added snatches of old folk-poetry, old proverbs, descriptions of popular customs, popular etymologies, and other characteristics of naive popular composition. The mythological elements, which are especially predominant in the story of Samson, are also derived from popular beliefs. Yet the historical narrative, in spite of various legendary additions, is on the whole true to fact, as appears from the frankness with which religious and moral conditions, widely differing from later customs, are discussed.

Bibliography: Commentaries:
  • G. L. Studer, Das Buch der Richter, 2d ed. 1842;
  • J. Bachmann, Das Buch der Richter, mit Besonderer Rücksicht auf die Gesch. Seiner Auslegung und Kirchlichen Verwendung Erklärt, vol. i., ch. i.-v., 1868-1869;
  • E. Bertheau, Das Buch der Richter und Ruth, in Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch, 1845, 1883;
  • P. Cassel, in Lange's Theologisch-Homiletisches Bibelwerk. 2d ed. 1887;
  • C. F. Keil, Josua, Richter, Ruth, in Biblischer Kommentar, 2d ed. 1874;
  • S. Oettli, Das Deuteronomium und die Bücher Josua und Richter, in Strack and Zöckler, Kurzgefasster Kommentar, 1893;
  • G. F. Moore, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges, in The International Critical Commentary, 1895;
  • K. Budde, Das Buch der Richter, in K. H. C. 1897;
  • W. Nowack, Richter und Ruth, in Nowack's Hand-Kommentar, 1900.
  • Criticism of Sources: Th. Nöldeke, Untersuchungen zur Kritik des A. T. 1869, pp. 173-198;
  • J. Wellhausen, in Bleek's Einleitung, 4th ed. 1878, pp. 181-205;
  • idem, Prolegomena zur Gesch. Israels, 4th ed. 1895, pp. 229-247;
  • B. Stade, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 1881, i. 339-343;
  • S. R. Driver, in J. Q. R. 1889, i. 258-270;
  • K. Budde, Die Bücher Richter und Samuel, Ihre Quellen und lhr Aufbau, 1890, pp. 1-166;
  • Rudolph Kittel, Die, Pentateuchischen Urkunden in den Büchern Richter und Samuel, in Theologische Studrien und Kritiken, 1892, pp. 44-71;
  • G. Kalkoff, Zur Quellenkritik des Richterbuches (Gymnasial-Programm), Aschersleben, 1893;
  • W. Frankenberg, Die Composition des Deuteronomischen Richterbuches (Richter ii. 2-xvi.) Nebst einer Kritik von Richter xvii-xxi. 1895;
  • G. Moore, Judges, in Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl.;
  • H. Winckler, Alttestamentliche Untersuchungen, 1892, pp. 55-59 (on Judges iii. 12-31), and 42 et seq., 93 (on vi.-ix.);
  • and the following articles in Stade's Zeitschrift: Ed. Meyer, in i. 117 et seq., B. Stade, in i. 146 et seq., and K. Budde, in vii. 93-166 and in viii. 148, on Judges i. 1-ii. 5;
  • W. Böhme, in v. 86, 251 et seq. on Judges vi.-ix.;
  • B. Stade, in iv. 250-256, and W. Böhme, in v. 251-274, on Judges xiii. et seq.;
  • K. Budde, in viii. 285-300 on Judges xvii-xxi.;
  • W. Böhme, in v. 30-36 on Judges xxi.;
  • Güdemann, in Monatsschrift, xviii. 357 et seq.
  • Criticism of Texts and Translations: O. F. Fritzsche, Liber Judicum Secundum LXX Interpretes, 1867;
  • A. van Doorninck, Bijdrage tot de Tekstkritick van Richteren i.-xvi. 1879;
  • P. de Lagarde, Septuaginta-Studien, 1892, pp. 1-72 (Abhandlungen der K. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 1891, xxxvii.);
  • A. Mez, Die Bibel des Josephus, 1895.
  • On the historical substance of the book see bibliography to Judges, Period of;
  • and on the mythological elements of the story of Samson see F. Schwally, Semitische Kriegsaltertümer: I. Der Heilige Krieg im Alten Israel, 1901.
  • For the Song of Deborah: J. Marquart, Fundamente Israelitischer und Jüdischer Gesch. 1896, pp. 1-10;
  • G. A. Cooke, The History and Song of Deborah, 1896;
  • C. Bruston, Le Cantique de Debora, 1901;
  • and the bibliography to Deborah, The Song of.
  • Text: edition G. F. Moore, in S. B. O. T.
E. G. H. V. Ry.