Judges 19:1-21:25

Background

The assignment this week is to explain Judges 19:1-21:25 looking at the historical context and trying to determine whether or not the story told as it is written would be strange or offensive to listeners in our social context today. First, we need to look at the historical context and it is important to remember a few things we have been learning about the Hebrew Bible and how it came to be. Earlier this semester we learned how biblical writers often wrote about events which had happened several years before they lived and they used these stories to pass on an ideological viewpoint they wanted listeners of their day to hear and glean truth from. Our lessons this week focus on trying to prove the timeline and events depicted in Joshua and Judges.

In his lectures, Dr. Lester discusses how historians take the biblical writings, other writings from other cultures written in the same time period, and combine them with archaeological evidence to better understand what the writer and his audience may have been like. In the writings in the book of Joshua and Judges, the dates and the archaeological findings do not match up leading scholars to come up with theories on how the Israelites settled after the Bronze Age and before the time of the Israelite kings in the monarchical time period.

Theories

According to Dr. Lester, there is a stark difference between the book of Joshua where conquest theory states an almost complete genocide of the Canaanites and the book of Judges instead is seen as a peaceful infiltration theory. Most likely is the gradual infiltration model based on evidence found at historical sites. Ann Killebrew discusses three newer theories for the establishment of the Israelites. Social revolutionary theory where the early Israelites rebel against the Canaanite leadership, the pastoral Canaanite theory which states that the Israelites were nomads who settled in the land of Canaan after the collapse of the Bronze Age sometime in the twelfth and eleventh centuries, and her theory called the mixed multitude theory that combines the rest because archaeological evidence contradicts what is written in Joshua.

Excavation uncovers contradictions

As a modern society, we continue to learn and problem-solve using new techniques to try and learn from the past by looking at clues that have been left behind from ancient societies. New means for excavating in ancient cities disproved dates thought to be correct when analyzing the biblical texts when archaeology looked more intensely at small areas in homes discussed in an article by Margeet Steiner.  Author Paula McNutt shares her perspective on how anthropology, the study of social organizations in specific societies and cultures in their particular historical context, is used by historians to explain specific events. Historian rely on the information from anthropologists to make sense of things. She further explains subsets of this study are ethnohistory which documents texts both oral and written plus archaeological information and ethnoarchaeology which integrates historical and anthropological data using contemporary information about societies studying it from an anthropological understanding.

Narratives

As referenced earlier Dr. Lester stated in his lecture scholars must compare the Biblical texts with those from other sources and find the truth or essence of the story instead of focusing only on historical facts. Carol Meyers further describes that we as students learning the Bible need to be mindful that biblical narratives were less about getting history right and more about what the writer wanted to promote as ideology. As a storytelling technique, it is exciting to speak of a past historical event and make it bigger or more important that it might actually have been. The goal becomes trying to understand why the storyteller is using this position to teach the lesson or moral they want their listeners to hear. In his article, Eric Cline talks about how it is believed that Philistines overtook certain areas but don’t appear to have done so violently and military style as first believed. Instead, they probably intermarried and joined cultural practices with the people already living there. In doing so they integrated their practices and traditions which then blended to form a new culture over time. Cline also points out that the Canaanite civilization would have eventually come to an end for all civilizations do and an ending is a new beginning we call that the “circle of life”.

Setting the scene for this story

Barry Banstra’s description of the final chapters of Judges tells how the tribes were quarreling and how the tribe of Dan moved locations and how the other tribes banded together to try and wipe out the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19:1-21:25) because after Joshua’s death they couldn’t seem to cooperate and lost focus on Yahweh. I speculate that the writer of Judges found it disturbing that when cultures combined parts of the existing culture were modified and changed. He was afraid of losing the traditions, practices, and rituals that were important to him. Why not create a story where if you were to do certain things it would be bad for your tribe? Stories which were preserved and shared with following generations would have done so to teach lessons of the behaviors seen as desirable for living together and worshiping Yahweh. Later in the tale, the writer softens his view knowing that to completely destroy the tribe of Benjamin is not an appropriate behavior. His message is to honor Yahweh by being hospitable and welcoming to others while working with the other tribes but keeping true to your tribe’s culture and keeping unlawful tribes accountable for their heinous actions. It would have been important in the story teller’s day to use an illustration of what might happen to your tribe if you don’t follow the rules between tribes. The rest will rise up and you may become extinct.

The story

Judges 19:1-21:25 shares that there was a Levite who spoke harshly and offended his second wife so she went home to the safety and security of her own family. After four months the Levite goes to woo her back. The second wife’s father demonstrates hospitality and extends it constantly but finally, the Levite decides he needs to leave. Because the group leaves so late in the day they are not able to get far before nightfall. His servant suggests staying at the closest town, but the Levite says no because it is foreign and not Israelite. Instead, they make it to the closest Israelite town which is in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin also Israelites. An old man finds them struggling to find a place to house for the night so he takes them in. The story tells he is not a Benjaminite, but from Ephraim and living in the town, Gibeah. Townsmen come to the house and demand the Levite come out so they may rape him. The old man suggests he will give them his virgin daughter and the Levite’s second wife. The men refuse. The Levite forces his second wife out where she is brutally raped and abused throughout the night, dying from her injuries. He cut her body into twelve pieces and sent one to each of the tribes as a summons. The Benjaminites chose to not give up the abusers and instead rose against the rest of the tribes assembled. After three days of fierce fighting where the Benjaminites won the battles the first two days and prayers to Yahweh were offered each night God told God’s people that they would prevail on the third day and it was so. A small band of Benjaminites fled and the rest of the tribes of Israel took pity on them and let them live. Since the rest of their tribe, including the women and children, had been killed these men needed wives but couldn’t have any from another tribe for the others had taken an oath not to give their women as brides to the remaining Benjaminites. It was decided to find these men wives from another settlement. The town of Jabesh-gilead had not sent men to battle so they were destroyed and the virgin women taken for wives. It was discovered that there were not enough women for the number of men so it is suggested that the remaining men lie in wait and abduct the women of Shiloh when they go dancing in the vineyards. When the fathers and brothers complain to the council they are told to be generous for there were not enough women captured in battle for the men left. Once the matter was settled the rest of the Israelites returned home to their respective tribes and families.

My thoughts

In the time before there were kings in Israel Judges clearly illustrates that each of the tribes had chiefs and when necessary they created an assembly, much like ancient Icelanders gathered for Althing. In the story, these chiefs are summoned when they receive the pieces of the second wife’s body. In our society, this is absolutely unacceptable and United Nations sanctions would be administered to any country thinking this would be an acceptable way to inform others to gather.

In the storyteller’s day her destroyed and dismembered body is symbolic of the actions against her Levite husband for the loss of his property and that in reality, the offending abusers wanted to perpetuate this crime to the Levite personally. Further compounding that fact that the Benjaminites had not offered him hospitality in their own land was a crime towards Yahweh. I surmise it was seen as benevolent to spare the lives of the remaining 600 men even though another town was decimated except for the women who had not yet had sexual intercourse. It is perceived that the rest of the Israelites are making amends to be sure to keep twelve tribes alive honoring their cultures within the greater body. In the idea to right the wrong to each of the Benjaminites, the final abduction of Shiloh’s women still considered pure to become wives for the men without brides then finally corrected the wrongs committed in war by the other tribes.

Again I feel these practices are offensive or should be, to members of society today especially to anyone who identifies as a woman. Women are not property and clearly, the telling of this story in our context today would make a survivor of rape question her worth in the eyes of God. She would want to know if there was such a thing as a loving God. Interpretation of this story might confirm her personal experience and the answer would very likely be no since the woman in this story is abused so severely she dies from her injuries.

Links

Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-11-ch7.html

BibleGateway https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Judges+19%3A1-21%3A25&version=NRSV

Cline, Eric http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/01/cli398005.shtml

Killebrew, Ann http://bibleodyssey.org/tools/video-gallery/a/archaeology-and-conquest-killebrew.aspx

Lester, Dr. Brook lectures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2DKycttjhw&feature=youtu.be&list=PL-VPCh99l1-mh0JGg9zQ6zbUO1GfLWIrG

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdOIwlysU-0&list=PL-VPCh99l1-mh0JGg9zQ6zbUO1GfLWIrG&index=20

McNutt, Paula http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/mcnutt_ancientIsrael.shtml

Meyers, Carol http://bibleodyssey.org/tools/bible-basics/does-the-bible-relate-to-history-meyers.aspx

Steiner, Margreet http://bibleodyssey.org/places/related-articles/kathleen-kenyon-and-jericho.aspx

6 thoughts on “Judges 19:1-21:25”

  1. I learned a lot from your presentation! Personally, I always do not understand why this terrible happening was recorded in the bible. How could we understand? For me, it is really difficult topic. Your new approach is very insightful and understandable. Great Job!

  2. Your thoughts on speculations that the writer of Judges found it disturbing that mixing of existing culture would result in them being modified are on point even for modern believers as well. You did a great job of bringing in additional resources for understanding the background for such stories in preserving culture and where they might have come from as well.

  3. Hi, Debi, I really enjoy reading your blog about Judges 19:1-21:25. I like your organized writing which presents the process of your understanding and developing the ideas about how to read and understand the biblical narrative in the given passage, the approach of which is a little bit different from mine, but which allows me to better understand the central message of the story. Thank you again for your thorough work!

  4. I agree with both Jesse and Lana- it is absurd to imagine this today and also powerful to be reminded of the potential that this never happened. I especially appreciated your final point- when one can identify with this specific form of abuse and suffering, it is heartbreaking to imagine someone feeling removed from God and unworthy because of a wrong inflicted upon them.

  5. I agree with your on the treatment of this man’s secondary wife. The idea that woman were considered property is totally absurd is this day and age. The thought of rape and/or murder is wrong and the tribes of Israel were right in seeking justice for not only the Levite but also the remaining tribes.
    While I agree that this story may have been used to teach the next generation of Israelites how to live and worship within a group of fellow believers; could it not also be a keeping the covenant with Yhwh pure and clean (sin free)?

  6. I really appreciate how you can imagine that this story is entirely made up. Because it was so disturbing to me, it made me feel better to think that it never happened. I found your ideas about the author’s motivations intriguing, “just to tell them how to live together.”
    No better way than to scare them straight, right?? You bring up good points about ancient writers and the conventions they use to get their points across. I am learning a great deal about the constructs and reasoning for the stories of the Old Testament. Good Job.

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