AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). ©W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Contents, Structure, and Redactional Elements. | i.l‑ii.5. | ii.6‑xvi.31. | xvii‑xxi. | Sources. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint Version. | Historical and Religious Value.


The book of Judges contains three clearly distinguishable divisions:

(a) i.1-ii.5: The fortunes of various tribes during the conquest of Palestine.
(b) ii.6-xvi.31: Stories of Hebrew heroes living during the period between the conquest of the country and establishment of the monarchy.
(c) xvii-xxi: Appendices describing events assigned to this period

It will be convenient to start by discussing these three divisions quite independently of one another.

(a) i.1-ii.5.

This is an introduction to the book as a whole; it contains a summary of the conquests of different districts of Canaan by individual tribes. Most of the material here included is also found in the book of Joshua, although that book presents, in general, a very different interpretation of the conquest. As we have seen, in the main, the book of Joshua [See pp.71 ff.] represents the conquest as having been completely carried out by Joshua himself; but in Jdg.i the tribes wage war individually, and not wholly successfully, against their predecessors after the death of Joshua. It is, however, important to observe that there are indications of this latter view in the book of Joshua itself; cp. e.g. Jdg.i.21 with Josh. xv.63, where the former speaks of "Benjamin", the latter of "Judah"; cp. also Josh.xvii.12,13 with Jdg.i.27,28, and Josh.xvi.10 with Jdg.i.29. Clearly the compiler of this division had at his disposal one of the sources used by the compilers of Joshua. He also had other sources, which included more detailed narratives, viz. the story of Adoni-bezek (i. 4-7), and the record of the capture of Kiriath-sepher (i.11-15).

(b)  ii.6-xvi.31.

Here we have the kernel of the book. The contents are as follows:

ii.6-iii.6: Introduction.
iii.7-11: Othniel.
iii.12-30: Ehud.
iii.31: Shamgar.
iv.I-v.31: Deborah and Barak.
vi.I-viii.35: Gideon.
ix: Abimelech.
x.1, 2: Tola.
x.3-5: Jair.
x.6-.7: Jephtah.
x. 8-10: Ibzan.
x.I I,12: Elon.
x.13-15: Abdon.
xi-xvi: Samson.


The section ii.6-iii.6 is an introduction, which gives a summary of the whole period about to be dealt with. Particularly noticeable about this introduction is the interpretation it gives of the historical events, the accounts of which follow. Until the death of Joshua and those of his contemporaries who survived him, it is said, the people remained faithful to their God, but after the demise of these another generation arose

"which knew not Yahweh, nor yet the work which he had wrought in Israel" (ii.10).

It then goes on to explain that whenever the people forsook the worship of the God of their fathers, He raised up an enemy to punish them. Thereupon they turned to Him again, and, as a result, He gave them a deliverer who overcame their enemy, and they lived in peace for a season. When the deliverer died, the process of unfaithfulness, punishment, and deliverance was repeated again and again (ii.11-19).

When we pass on to the narratives we find that a number of them are prefaced by an introductory formula, which offers a contrast to the body of the narrative both in the description of the judge and in the style of writing. In the latter the judge usually appears as a leader in some particular district; he calls together his followers from the immediate surroundings, accomplishes what he has taken in hand, and then disappears. But in the introductory formula the judge is represented as a ruler over the whole people.

These formulae do, however, illustrate the theory of history contained in the introduction proper (ii.6-iii.6), the point of view being that of the Deuteronomic school of thought. [Seepp.48 n.1, 71 ff.]

They occur, though not in identical form, 11.iii.7, 11; iii.12-14; iv.1-3; vi.1; x.6-16; i.1 (that in x.6-16 is considerably expanded). They are found, therefore, prefixed to the narratives of the judges Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. The story of Abimelech (ix) is also preceded by a short introduction in viii.33-35, which is thoroughly Deuteronomic in tone and style. It is clear that this "hero" could not be treated as the other six had been, for he did not deliver Israel from an enemy, and appears rather as an illustration of the sinfulness of the people. We can, therefore, quite understand that the place of the usual formula should be taken by this short introduction. [Moore, however, following Budde, regards these verses

"not as an introduction to chap.ix, but as a substitute for it."

(A critical and exegetical Commentary on Judges, p.234 (1903)).]

The "Deuteronomic introduction" does not occur in connexion with the other six ("lesser") judges. In these cases we have another, more or less stereotyped, formula:

"And after ... there arose to save Israel," or, "And after ... arose ... and he judged Israel ... "

There is also a concluding formula:

"And ... died, and was buried in"

In these cases there is no reference to the sins of the people or to their punishment, and the Deuteronomic viewpoint is entirely absent. It is possible that originally a formula similar to this stood in the place of the Deuteronomic prefaces to the narratives of the other six ("greater") judges, and to the Abimelech section.

From this general survey two reliable conclusions may be drawn. The first is that a writer, inspired by the ideals of Deuteronomy, selected a certain number of narratives about various judges from the collections available to him in order to illustrate his theory of history. But, in the second place, there were stories of other judges, which clearly he did not use, or he would have prefixed to them his characteristic formula. These were, however, inserted by a later editor at various points in the "Deuteronomically" edited book.

We may, then, distinguish three distinct stages in the formation of this section (ii.6-xvi.31) of the book of Judges. We have, first, the writing down of various narratives; then the collection of the narratives of the six "greater" judges by a Deuteronomic editor who added prefaces and concluding words expounding his philosophy of history. And finally, the insertions about the six "lesser" judges by the redactor to whom we owe the present form of this part of the book.

(c)  xvii-xxi:

these chapters contain two Appendices (xvii, xviii and xix-xxi), the former (xvii, xviii) recounts the story of Micah's idols, and describes the foundation of the sanctuary of Dan; the latter (xix-xxi) gives the gruesome accounts of the outrage of the men of Gibeah on the Levite's concubine, and the punishment of the tribe of Benjamin. Like the six "minor" judges sections, and the Abimelech section, the Deuteronomic redactor cannot have added these Appendices, for they exhibit no mark of his influence. On the other hand, it is quite obvious that they contain ancient material; it would, therefore, seem probable that they, too, owe their presence in the book to the post-Deuteronomic editor who obtained them from some ancient source. If this was the case, as seems probable, it is an interesting fact, for it shows that at least as late as the eve of the Exile documents were extant containing data about the very early history of the people.

To sum up:

The steps in the composition of our book may be indicated thus: First, the "hero" - narratives in oral form, in course of time, these were written down. Then, collections of them were made. The first compiler of the book of Judges utilized more than one of these collections. Later, a Deuteronomic redactor worked over the book thus formed with the object of explaining to his contemporaries what he believed to be the divine method of dealing with His people. Later still, another redactor added further material from some other early collections.


It is clear that the narratives, included in the "Deuteronomic" book-stage (b), above came into the hands of the compiler practically in their present form. Only so can we explain the inclusion of Abimelech among the judges; and, as we have seen, the compiler himself felt that this figure could not be treated as the judges proper were. But further, it is evident that even at this stage the work was already the result of a process of compilation, and we must look further for the sources used in its construction. What were these sources, and what was their origin?

The Hebrews, in common with many other ancient peoples, commemorated, at first orally, the exploits of their tribal heroes. Often, we may conjecture, a village would treasure the memory of a local warrior whose tomb was a conspicuous object in the neighbourhood; [Note the frequent mention of the hero's place of burial, viii.32; x.2, 5; .7, 10, 12, 15; xvi.31.] and families would doubtless have preserved a record of the deeds of some great ancestor. Sooner or later these oral accounts were reduced to writing; isolated written narratives would thus have come into being. In course of time, within the different tribes, such narratives would be gathered, and thus written collections would be formed. These collections, or some of them, were clearly the documents utilized by the Deuteronomic compiler. But there is evidence to suggest that some at least of these collections were composite. There are, for instance, two accounts of the victory of Deborah and Barak over Sisera. One of these (Jdg.v) is in verse, and is probably the oldest Hebrew poem of any length preserved in the Old Testament. It is written with stirring vigour, and frequent beauty of expression, and is generally held to have been composed by a contemporary, even by an eyewitness, of the events described. The prose version in ch.iv, though later in its present form, seems to have been independent of the poem, since the manner of Sisera's death differs in the two accounts. In the story of Gideon, again, there were probably three separate narratives from which selections were taken. It may well be that Jerubbaal and Gideon were originally different men, whose histories have been confused and combined. The account of the pursuit and capture of Zeba and Zalmunnah seems to have come from a source different from that of the story of the night attack of the three hundred, and the slaughter of Oreb and Zeeb. It would appear, moreover, that there were two recensions of even this last story, one of which attributed the surprise to the use of torches, and the other to the blowing of trumpets. And, once more, two nearly complete narratives of Abimelech's dealings with Shechem may be constructed by isolating from the rest those portions of Jdg.ix.23-45, which deal with the plot and fate of Gaal. In all these cases it is clear that the combination of the sources preceded the work of the Deuteronomic compiler, since the composite narratives in themselves show no trace of his influence.

Since a considerable portion of our book contains ancient historical material far older than the seventh century, i.e., long before the Deuteronomic school of thought arose, many critics have raised the question as to whether any marks of the influence of the Jehovistic and Elohistic circles are not to be discerned in it. There would be an a priori presumption that this should be the case since, in the book of Joshua which, as we have seen, has close affinities with Judges, there are obviously J and E elements. (See above, pp.69 f.)

"There is the best reason to believe," says Moore, "that neither J nor E ended with the conquest of Canaan, but that both brought the history down to a much later time, if not to their own day. The parting speech of Joshua (Josh. xxiv, substantially E) looks not only backward but forward; it is the end of a book, not of the historical work of which it formed a part; and Judg.ii.6-10 (Josh.xxiv.28-31), from the same hand, is unmistakeably the transition to the subsequent history." [Op. cit., p.xxv; as Moore also remarks: "The symbols J and E represent, not individual authors, but a succession of writers, the histeriography of a certain period and school."]

 It is, indeed, quite evident that in certain parts of our book some of the characteristic marks of the writers belonging to these circles are to be traced. In the story of Gideon's call, for example, the use of the name Yahweh occurs throughout one form of the narrative (vi.11ff.), while in the other form (vi.36-40) Elohim is used. But for the study of this subject, in regard to the details of which critical opinion is not unanimous, recourse must be had to the Commentaries. [See especially, Budde, Das Buch der Richter, pp. ff. (1897).]


Taking it as a whole, the Hebrew text of our book has come down to us in a comparatively pure form. Though textual corruptions of various kinds occur, especially in the Song of Deborah, the text is, generally speaking, in a satisfactory state. Where corruptions occur it is from the Septuagint that most help for emendation is to be derived. At the same time, it is to be noted that the relation between the Septuagint and the Massoretic text is very complicated, for there are two Greek translations of the Hebrew text of Judges.

This interesting fact was first shown to be the case by Grabe; [Epistola ad Millium (1705).] it was dealt with and more fully developed by Lagarde; [Septuaginta-Studien, pp.1-72; Lucianic text (1892).] and later Moore independently treated it. [Op. cit., pp.xliv-xlvi, and throughout his Commentary.]

The great majority of the Septuagint MSS represents the earlier of these two translations. Especially important, however, are three groups of cursives that are related to this translation; one of these groups consists of "Lucianic MSS., i.e. they contain Lucian's revision of the Septuagint, [Beginning of the fourth century AD.] which, according to Budde, is, so far as Judges is concerned, the oldest and best Greek text. The other translation is represented by the Vatican Codex (B) and a number of cursives, as well as the Sahidic Version; it is considerably Moore assigns it to well into the fourth century A.D., it follows the Massoretic text more closely than the other translation. Cod. B, which offers otherwise such an excellent text, must be regarded as quite secondary in importance so far as judges is concerned.


From what has been said about the sources of our book, some of which go back in origin to an early time, it is evident that the book of judges is of great historical value. Indeed, without it we should lack almost all detailed knowledge of the history of Israel, from the period of the gradual rise to predominance in Palestine of the Israelites, to the eve of the foundation of the monarchy. It is true, the records are fragmentary and tell us only of certain outstanding episodes during the long drawn-out process of conquest; nevertheless, they give us a real insight into the way in which this process was carried out. It is but a bird's-eye view, dotted here and there with a few decisive events; but the general course of the history is unmistakeable. Moreover, the Deuteronomist has, all unconsciously and in spite of his theological ideas, indicated the true course of the history, viz. in a word, the ups and downs in the laborious task of conquest.

Of greater importance even is the insight obtainable of the nature of Hebrew religion during the pre-monarchic period. Here we are able to see plainly enough what, in spite of the acceptation of Yahweh worship, the pre-prophetic religion of Israel really was. This is notthe place to go into details; [See Oesterley and Robinson, Hebrew Religion, pp.175 ff. (1930).] it must suffice to say that, together with many primitive ideas dating from time immemorial, it was a mixing-up of the worship of Yahweh with the Canaanite Baal-cult. That, in spite of several redactional processes dating from times when religious beliefs had greatly developed, the records of these early forms of worship should have been left untouched is a matter of profound interest. We are able, on the one hand, to realize the stupendous task with which the prophets were faced, and, on the other, to see an illustration of the truth expressed by the apostolic writer that God makes Himself known "by divers portions and in divers manners."