The LORD was already half out the door in Joshua, but by Judges, he is only checking in on the Israelites every 40 years or so. They are still His people, technically, but His heart hasn’t been in it since Moses. He’s clearly spending the bulk of His time elsewhere and I’m curious on what, because the LORD is not the sort of deity to entertain himself with books or board games. If He’s not torturing an Israelite, He’s got some other chosen people on some other planet that he’s toying with.
In this book, the Israelites repeatedly fall off the wagon and start worshipping pagan gods (as we always knew they would), at which point, the LORD gets angry and delivers them into the hands of their enemies. They are enslaved for many decades, and then a man among them prays to the LORD for deliverance, and He sends an angel or similar to help that man deliver the Israelites from bondage and then that man rules over them as a Judge for the rest of his lifetime and things are peaceful. Then, he dies, the Israelites go “a-whoring after other gods” (a-whoring we will go, hi ho!), and the whole cycle repeats.
We’ll examine each Judge in turn, and then I shall rank them worst to best.
At the start of Judges, Joshua has died, but there’s still territory to be conquered, and the people ask the LORD who will be in charge now. The LORD says that Judah will, but it’s not a big deal like when Moses passed the torch to Joshua. This is our first indication that the nature of the deity/people relationship has changed. Judah asks his brother Simeon to come along, and they capture a man named Adonibezek and cut off his thumbs and great toes. Why? Why not! Of this experience, Adonibezek says:
Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me.
No further explanation for this is given.
Next, remember that random story from Joshua where Caleb’s daughter asks him for extra springs for her husband and I couldn’t figure out why it was included? It’s recounted again here! Still no explanation for why it is featured at all, much less twice.
Anyway, Judah and Simeon continue to conquer territory and here we are told a number of exceptions the Israelites make to the “kill every man within the territory of Canaan no exceptions” policy (which had seemed pretty firm and non-negotiable in Deuteronomy, so I’m not sure why there ended up being so many permissible exceptions to it, and all I can figure is the LORD just sort of lost interest as things went fairly well, and he became less invested in the proceedings):
First, the children of Benjamin do not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem, and they still dwell there with the children of Benjamin to this day. First of all, they don’t. But second, the LORD really emphasized that the Israelites were to leave absolutely no men alive in Canaan at all. So I don’t know why the Jebusites were an exception.
Second, the house of Joseph goes to conquer Bethel and sees a man coming out, and they say that if this man shows them the entrance to the city, they will let him live. Now, this very man has just walked out of the city entrance, so it’s unclear to me why they need him to help them find it. Even if he didn’t, wouldn’t it presumably be rather easy to identify the entrance to a city? But he shows them the entrance and they let him and his family live, and this man then builds a city in the land of Hittites which he names Luz, which had been the old name of his city that the Israelites conquered and razed.
Third, a shitload of other communities and assorted tribes. In the end, the Israelites let a ton of Canaanites just hang out. Things get quite lax under the reign of Judah. Moses would never have allowed it. And sure enough, after one tribe gets a bit pushy with the house of Dan (as a side note, I like to envision the tribes of Israel as drag queen houses), the absentee LORD sends an angel down to remind everyone that they had a covenant. In Moses’s day, the LORD would have followed up that reminder by setting half the people on fire, but in these chiller times, the angel merely says this quite sternly, and the people cry and offer up a sacrifice, and then everyone just moves on.
There’s a sort of “time passes” summary here, wherein the pattern of Judges is established and then everyone intermarries through the years, and Canaan becomes diverse. The only colorful thing in this long passage is that the Bible takes the time to fat-shame one of the kings that held Israel captive for a time. When that particular leader came to deliver them from the fat king, the hero’s dagger got stuck in the king’s fat and the hero couldn’t get it back out again. Because he was fat.
Now we have a story about a prophetess named Deborah. A woman! With a name and a job and everything! This is unexpected! In Deborah’s time, Israel is enslaved by a king called Jabin and after twenty years of this, they came to Deborah for judgement. Deborah calls up an Israelite named Barak and tells him that the LORD has commanded that ten thousand men of the houses of Naphtali and Zebulun shall march toward Mount Tabor, and the LORD will send out Jabin’s army (which is captained by a guy named Sisera), and deliver it into their hands. Barak says he’ll only go if Deborah goes along, too. Aww. Then Deborah says:
I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sistera into the hand of a woman.
Deborah is displaying internalized misogyny here, but she deploys it in order to give Barak a pretty wicked burn, so I’ll allow it.
So they all march up toward Tabor, and Sisera mobilizes in their direction, and the LORD “discomfits” Sisera and his army and they start to flee. Barak pursues them and the Israelites slay all of them, but Sisera himself escapes. Meanwhile, a guy named Heber the Kenite, who is descended from Moses’s father-in-law, has left his people and is camping out alone in the nearby plain of Zaanaim. Sisera runs to Heber’s wife Jael’s tent, because King Jabin is friendly with Heber and his family. Jael obligingly hides Sisera under a blanket. Then, he says he is thirsty and asks her for water, so she gives him a bottle of milk, and hides him under the blanket again. Then, he tells her to stand in the door of the tent and if a man comes and asks her if there is a man in her tent, she should say no.
Nowadays, we call this mansplaining. They didn’t call it that in Jael’s time, but it was just as aggravating to women, so Jael takes a tent spike and hammers it through Sisera’s temple. Then she sashays out and tells Barak, hey, I got your guy.
I love Jael.
The LORD takes credit for all of this, and Barak and Deborah sing a little song together to celebrate. Nice!
The betrayal/enslavement/libration cycle continues apace and our story next slows down with a man called Gideon. The Israelites are at this point enslaved to the Midianites and an angel appears to Gideon, the puniest son of a poor man, and after the angel proves it’s divine by setting fire to an offering Gideon puts on a rock, Gideon follows its instructions. At night, he knocks down his father’s pagan altar, builds a new altar to the LORD, and sacrifices a bullock in it. In the morning, everyone sees this and they call upon Gideon’s dad to send him out to die because of it. And Gideon’s dad says, “if Baal has such an issue with my kid destroying his altar, then let Baal complain about it. IF HE EXISTS!” Gideon’s dad, serving up some realness! But I think the LORD wouldn’t be as amused at us pulling that same move on HIM today.
Then all these people gather together somewhere, and Gideon contrives another test for the LORD to prove that He really means it about Gideon being the new champion for Israel. Gideon already tested the LORD with the earlier sacrifice, so I don’t know why he gets away with doing it again. But he puts a fleece on the floor and informs the LORD that if the fleece is wet with dew in the morning but all the surrounding floor is dry, then he will believe he is to be champion. This is a very poor test; if you’re on gauntlet-throwing terms with a deity, have it do something impressive. Regardless, the fleece is wringing wet the next morning and then!
He tests the LORD again!
I don’t understand this. The LORD has really mellowed since Moses’s day that he’s putting up with all this shit from a pissant like Gideon. Gideon now instructs the LORD to the next day make the floor wet and the fleece dry, and the LORD does that, too.
This finally satisfies Gideon the Sceptic, and the army masses, but the LORD tells Gideon that he does not want the army to be large, because He wants it to be clear to the Israelites that they only prevailed because the LORD intervened on their behalf. At this point, if the LORD still thinks that message is every going to stick with them, He is fully delusional. Gideon tells everyone they can go home if they want to, and that knocks it back to ten thousand, and then the LORD tells Gideon to lead them all to the river to drink, and those who lap water out of their hands like a dog will be the army. But everyone else who kneels down and puts their faces in the river will go home. Three hundred men drink the right way.
Quick pause for me to point out that this is a funny mental image, because it is ten thousand people!! Where did they even find a river long enough for ten thousand men to kneel down and drink from it all at once? How did Gideon coordinate that? How long did those men have to keep drinking for Gideon to canvas all ten thousand of them and distinguish which ones of them drank which way? How did he explain it to them? I have so many questions about this bizarre maneuver.
Next, there’s a very boring bit where the army of three hundred is getting ready to march on Midian, but I guess there are still some doubts about it, so we have to be reassured by one old man telling another that he dreamed that a barley cake fell on a Midianite tent and smashed it and the other old man said, wow, that means Gideon is going to conquer Midian. And this — this! — is what finally convinces Gideon that he really is going to be victorious here. I have zero respect for Gideon; he seems like a total fool.
Anyway, Gideon and his 300 march against Midian and blow trumpets and swing lamps around and are generally victorious and then they pursue the fleeing Midianites across the land and they make friends and enemies with various peoples as they go. At the end of it all, the men of Israel ask Gideon to be their king and he says no, the LORD is your king, and then he asks them all to give him their golden earrings, which they do. Then, Gideon makes an ephod out of the earrings and all his other loot, and puts it in his city, and “all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.” This does not sound like a good thing, but it’s not explained.
Forty peaceful years go by. But the second Gideon dies, the Israelites go a-whoring after Baalim again.
Ugh, there are so many names in this next bit, I’m exhausted just looking at it. So many names, so little action! It takes a lot of work to sort out all the various people and who they are. There will be like 10 chapters about 7 specific people, but the actual story is just “a couple guys fought a couple other guys and conquered them, and one said to the other ‘I’ve shewn you my foot, for the LORD.’” And that sort of story simply isn’t worth the time investment of untangling and recounting it.
But since I’ve come this far, ok, here we go (deep breath): for this anecdote, we have Abimelech, of House Jerubbaal, who I think is a descendent of Gideon, and he goes to Shechem where his mother’s family lives. He asks them whether they would prefer that all the sons of Jerubbaal rule over them, or just the one son — namely himself? Shechem says, put it that way, let’s have just you. They give Abimelech some money, and he uses it to hire “vain and light persons” to follow him. Then, he and his entourage of dummies go to his father’s house at Ophrah and they murder all his brothers, but the youngest, Jotham, hides. Then, the men of Shechem crown Abimelech king.
When Jotham hears that Abimelech has been made king, he goes to the top of mount Gerizim and calls out a parable about trees. This is the first parable of this sort I can recall in the Bible so far. Jotham is a bit of an intellectual. He calls out that the trees once wanted to elect a Tree King, and they asked the olive tree, and the olive tree said it was too fat and honored by God to bother with a new job. Then they asked the fig tree, and it said it was too sweet and full of fruit. Then, they asked the vine, and it said it was too drunk. Then, they asked the bramble and it said sure, but if you change your mind, I’ll catch on fire and devour all the cedars of Lebanon.
So, concludes Jotham, if you’re happy with Abimelech and he is the right choice, then I hope you’re all happy together. But if this is a bloody mistake, I hope he burns you and your houses and himself all down to the ground.
Not the best or most coherent story I’ve ever heard, but I appreciate the attempt.
Jotham runs away after that, and dwells in Beer (haha).
Abimelech reigns for three years, but then the LORD comes back around and decides to fuck things up a bit, and he sends an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem and the men of Shechem crouch up in the mountains and rob everyone who comes by until someone tattles to Abimelech. The men of Shechem take up with a man named Gaal, and all of them go into the fields and get a bunch of grapes and make wine and have a big old party and curse Abimelech, and Gaal says, fuck Abimelech and fuck Shechem, too! So then Zebul who rules this city (?), gets mad at Gaal and he tells Abimelech to storm the city at dawn. So Abimelech’s troops mass in the misty mountains in the morning, and Gaal sees them off in the haze and tells Zebul, and Zebul says, those are just shadows. And Gaal is like, no, that’s an army, and Zebul (ice cold) is like, oh, that’s the army you were just bragging about how much you’d like to defeat the other night when you were drunk! Isn’t this lucky for you, now you can put your money where your mouth is and go fight them!
So Gaal has no choice but to go to war, and he is quickly trounced. Abimelech sacks the city and burns a big tower that a thousand people have taken refuge in. Then he goes to Thebez and the people run into its tower, and he goes to burn that one too, but a woman drops a millstone on his head like a boss. Abimelech immediately asks a friend to slay him so “that men say not of me, A woman slew him.” Male fragility at its finest.
Then, the LORD takes all the credit:
Thus God rendered the wickedness of Abimelech, which he did unto his father, in slaying his seventy brethren.
Like fun He did! Does the LORD mean us to believe that the best way he could think of to deal with Abimelech was to orchestrate all this robbery and mayhem and war and treachery and get drunk Gaal involved and make him fight with Zebul and everything else just to bring about a situation where a woman in the NEXT TOWN OVER drops a millstone on this fool’s head? No. Come on, LORD, you barely even show up these days, this was not your handiwork.
The next time the action slows down, it is to focus on a man named Jephthah. Now the Israelites are enslaved in the land of Gilead, and they cry out to the LORD and the LORD tells them in no uncertain terms to get fucked, so they look for a champion amongst the sons of Gilead. Jephthah is Gilead’s son with a lady of the evening, so all the legit sons have cast him out. But now the children of Ammon attack Israel and they ask Jephthah to come back and be their captain in the war. It’s not explained why; I guess they just know he’ll be a scrapper. He enjoys his moment and gives them a bit of a hard time about it, but then he does come back. But rather than go right into battle like most Judges, Jephthah reaches out to the Ammonites to discuss why they are attacking, and they reply with…a really long history lesson. I cannot, it is so boring. But the point of this story is that Jephthah promises the LORD that if he is victorious in battle, then he will sacrifice to the LORD the first thing that comes forth from his home to greet him when he returns home. His only daughter comes out to meet him, and this is played like a big O’Henry twist, but who the hell did he think was going to come out? It was going to be his child or his wife. I guess maybe his dog? But it’s not as if his daughter was an unforeseen possibility! He’s really upset and shocked by it, though.
His daughter takes it like a man, and the Bible will have us believe that she says, a promise is a promise, Dad, but let me and my girlfriends go on a retreat in the mountains first, so I can bewail my virginity. Oh, for sure she does! This is some real #menwritingwomen shit right here.
Anyway, she comes back as promised and he murders her to glorify this God we’re all supposed to love so much and to believe is more civilized than the gods the pagans worship.
Then the men of Ephraim come to fight with Japhthah because they’re mad he didn’t call them to come join in the war. There’s another war about that. After which, it becomes important to know if a man coming into Gilead is secretly an Ephraimite, and the way you can judge this is to tell the man to say “Shibboleth” and if he says “Sibboleth” then he is an Ephraimite because they can’t pronounce “sh” sounds and so you know to murder him. The Israelites manage to identify and murder 42,000 Ephraimites this way! Which sounds brutal, but I have to say, if this is the policy at the border and tens of thousands of Ephraimites just keep on trying to cross it anyway without even learning how to pronounce a “sh” sound first, then, not to victim blame, but they are kind of asking for it. What even is in Gilead that they want that bad? Minimum wage?
Time passes, and the Israelites are now enslaved by the Philistines. A man name Manoah has an unnamed barren wife and the angel of the LORD appears to her and tells her she will have a child. This happens to a number of women throughout the Old and New Testaments. The angel tells her that this child will be a Nazarite (remember, the Nazarites are the longhaired hippies of Israel), and he’ll deliver the Israelites from the Philistines.
Guess who her son is? Samson! I’m so excited to finally get to a real story in all this tedious recounting.
Samson grows up and he sees a Philistine woman and he likes what he sees, so he tells his parents they should get him this woman to wive. His parents are predictably dismayed by this news, but they all go down to this woman’s town, Timnath, and on the way, Samson kills a lion with his bare hands, but he doesn’t mention it to anyone. He and the unnamed woman hit it off, and on another trip down to visit her later, Samson sees a colony of bees have created a hive in the dead lion’s corpse. So he takes some honey to eat, and he gives some to his parents also.
Next, Samson has a giant party and at the party he challenges all the guests with a riddle. If they can guess the riddle within a week, Samson will give them 30 sheets and 30 outfits. But if they can’t, they have to give him 30 sheets and 30 outfits. (I, a contemporary woman, have about six sheets and maybe 14 outfits. Although I guess I also have a washing machine.)
Here’s Samson’s riddle:
Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.
This is not a riddle! This is a poetic description of a weird thing Samson saw in the woods! That’s not a riddle by any definition. A riddle is something that anyone, if they think creatively, can figure out. This is not something anyone who hadn’t been with Samson that day could possibly determine. If anything, this is sort of a bad faith version of “I Spy.”
Anyway, as always when men start a game for fun, it ends up getting really intense and involves everyone abusing a woman: the party-goers can’t guess it, so they threaten Samson’s wife that if she doesn’t wheedle it out of her husband, they’ll burn her and her father’s house. What a fun party game!
So she weeps before Samson, and he ignores her until she has cried for seven solid days. Then he tells her the answer, she tells them, they guess the “riddle” and he says, “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.”
You know, as I read this book again, I’m discovering that every single hero we’re meant to revere is in fact a sadistic psychopath. I mean, what about Samson endeared him to the LORD? Samson basically cons his party guests out of a bunch of bedding and T-shirts, is a dick to his wife, and then insults her. But yet, the LORD is fully on his side in all this, because the spirit of the LORD comes upon him, and Samson kills 30 random innocent men and takes their outfits and gives them to the guys he owes for guessing the riddle, and then he leaves his wife and goes back to his parents’ house.
Think that’s bad? Guess what’s next.
Time passes, and Samson gets horny so he goes back to his wife (who now lives with her father) and says to her parents that he wants to go in and fuck her, but her dad won’t let him. Her father (also a colossal dick) says that since Samson had abandoned her, he’s since given her to Samson’s friend. Then he suggests that her little sister is prettier, so Samson should have her instead.
Samson does not care for this, so he catches 300 foxes (!), ties them into pairs by the tail with a firebrand between their tails, and then sets them loose in the Philistines’ pastures and vineyards.
At this point, my intense loathing of Samson is such that I lack the words to articulate it. Is he the worst Biblical “hero” yet? Each one seems to outdo the one before for pure assholery.
THEN, the people ask who did this nonsense with the fire foxes, and it gets around that Samson did because his FIL gave his wife to his friend, so the Philistines BURN THE UNNAMED WIFE AND HER FATHER!!!!
Samson kills all of them, and then he climbs a big rock, Etam, and sulks there.
Eventually, the Philistines go into Judah and pitch their tents and when the locals ask them what they’re doing there, they say they’re there to capture and kill Samson. So, 3000 of the men of Judah go up on Etam and tell Samson that he’s pissed off the Philistines, and they actually own Judah, so this is a problem for the Judah-ites. They bind Samson up with rope and bring him down. But when the Philistines approach him, his bindings just go up in smoke and then he takes an ass’s jawbone and kills a thousand men with it. When he was thirsty from all the killing, the LORD made water spout out of the jawbone for his refreshment.
Samson is a seven-year-old boy’s idea of a badass.
Next, Samson heads over to Gaza and visits a sex worker, and while he’s availing himself of her services, the Gazites surround him and plan to kill him in the morning. They hide in the city gate. But he gets up at midnight and goes out by the city gate, and he just picks up the whole city gate, walls and columns and all, and carries it on his shoulders up to the top of a hill. Ok, this is a pretty funny flex.
Time passes, and Samson falls in love with a woman named Delilah. The Philistines (who’ve been after him for years by this time, I guess) tell her to seduce him and figure out where his strength comes from, and they’ll give her a ton of cash. So she asks him, and he says, “if they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.” She does this, but he had been lying to her and when she tells him the Philistines are near, he snaps the withs easily.
She asks Samson on another night, and he tells her to use new ropes. Same results. They repeat this once more, and he says if she weaves the seven locks of his hair. Same story again. But she keeps at him, and eventually he does tell her the truth.
Why? None of this makes any sense at all.
He tells her he’s a Nazarite and has never cut his hair and if she shaves his head, he’ll lose his superpower. So she calls in the Philistines, they pay her, and she makes Samson “sleep upon her knees” and then they shave his head. The Philistines put out his eyes and bind him with brass fetters and throw him in jail.
Let’s pause here for one second, so I can talk about how awesome Delilah is. Every other woman in this chapter gets done super dirty by everyone, but Delilah seems to have clout. The Philistines don’t threaten her to get her to cooperate with them; they bribe her. And despite her obvious betrayal of Samson well over three times, he stays with her and even does tell her his genuine secret eventually! She must have been one hell of a lay. And in the end, she’s not punished for any of this in any way, by the LORD or anyone else. She walks away with her riches and, one assumes, lives as baller a life as it’s possible for a woman to live in the valley of Sorek. She probably buys a hundred bed sheets and just wallows around on them all day.
Meanwhile, the Philistines have a giant party and are having a grand old time dancing and sacrificing to their god, Dagon, and they decide to bring Samson out and tie him between two pillars so they can make sport of him. Samson prays to God about this, and God answers his prayer and gives Samson the strength to pull the columns down, killing 3000 Philistines and himself.
I remain mystified as to why Samson is a Judge. He does absolutely nothing for the LORD or the people of Israel. His entire life revolves around one silly bet he makes and the women he sleeps with. Why does the LORD get involved in this at all? I guess Samson does kill a lot of Philistines in his rampages; maybe the motive doesn’t matter to the LORD so much. Ah, well. RIP Samson, brute muscle for the LORD. At least you inspired a beautiful Regina Spektor song.
We meet Micah confessing to his mother that the eleven hundred silver shekels she thought had been stolen from her were actually taken by him. It’s a weird place to begin. His mom’s happy about this and she says she intended to melt them down and make a graven image out of them — I can now see why he took over her funds, because she’s batshit. She does this, and Micah makes himself a little priest outfit and some little effigies to go with the graven image, and he consecrates his son into the priesthood as well.
I guess people just didn’t have a lot to do or spend money on back then. I mean, you could gamble, but just for bed sheets and T-shirts. And you could visit prostitutes but that only takes up so much of the day. The food was terrible. So, make your own play temple it was!
Presently, a Levite happens by and visits Micah, and Micah is like, “Hey, you’re a real live priest! I have a temple and a priest outfit and everything. I’ve been being the priest, but I’d rather have a real priest. You be my priest and I’ll pay you ten shekels a year and feed you.”
Side note, but can you imagine when Micah told his wife this great news? I’m sure she worked like an absolute dog making everything they ate from scratch and making all their clothing from the raw animal hide. Meanwhile, her husband plays “priest” for ten minutes and then is like, “nah, this is too hard, this is worth hiring domestic labor to do for me.”
From here, we cut to the tribe of Dan, a hard luck tribe that never got its inheritance from Joshua, and have been wandering around trying to beg, borrow, or steal some land to live on for many Judges now. They scout out Micah’s territory and are very surprised to find a genuine Levite priest posted up in a fake temple with a molten image! They ask the Levite to ask God if their way is clear, and he says sure, God says you’re fine, and the people of Dan head on to Laish. They see that the people of Laish are sitting ducks, just a bunch of peaceful morons, loners with no friends, rife for the conquerin’. So they call up all the other Danites to come rendezvous at Micah’s house to march on Laish, and when they get there, the original scouting party tells them that this fool has a play pretend temple with a graven image.
It seems this story is headed in a certain direction, but there’s a twist! It turns out the Danites want the temple paraphernalia, complete with real priest, for themselves! They easily convince the priest to come along, and they take him and his outfit and the graven image and the effigies and they all go out to conquer Laish. Micah gets his friends together and overtakes them, and they have a little confrontation about it, but he is outnumbered and goes home. The Danites easily smite Laish and set up a city there, which they call (creatively) Dan, and they set up a temple there with Micah’s household gods and personal priest.
Abruptly, we switch focus to another Levite who is living on the side of Mount Ephraim and takes a concubine from a nearby city, but she “plays the whore” against him and goes home for four months. So her husband goes after her, and it’s all very confusing. First, she’s referred to as a concubine, then as his wife. “Playing the whore” apparently means just going home to her family? Anyway, her father is thrilled when her husband comes to collect her. Her family rolls out the red carpet and they have a really great visit, and every time the husband gets ready to go home, this awesome family convinces him to stay another day. Finally, though, the Levite and his concubine/wife (concuwife?) go home, but because they get a late start, they have to stay overnight somewhere. The Levite and his servant argue about where to spend the night — they won’t spend it in Jebus, the city of the Jebusites. Instead, they will press on to Gibeah, which belongs to House Benjamin. But in Gibeah, no one will give them lodging. Meanwhile, a neighbor of the Levite, an old field worker who also lives on Mount Ephraim, is also wandering around Gibeah, and the two meet up. So the old man says the Levite can stay with him.
Next, we have a flashback to Sodom. The men of Gibeah come bang on the door and ask for the old man to bring the Levite out so they can rape him. I think it’s unlikely that this really happened twice (to the extent that anything in the Old Testament “really happened”), but is more likely the confusion of oral tradition finally being recorded and these tales cropping up in multiple places by the varying scribes of the books of the Old Testament. Anyway, the old man instead offers up his daughter and the Levite’s concuwife. They accept the concuwife and gang rape her all night long and then finally let her go at daybreak, and she collapses in the doorway. Her winner of a husband, who has meanwhile been sleeping the sleep of the innocent and doesn’t check up on her until he’s all dressed and ready to go, trips over her unconscious, battered body in the doorway, and tells her, “get up, let’s go.” But she doesn’t answer because she’s been raped and beaten to the point that she is now unconscious, so he tosses her over an ass and they go on their way. When they get home, the Levite takes a knife and carves her into twelve pieces and he mails them to all the coasts of Israel.
I’d just like to pause here and remind everyone that we read this book to children.
Apparently this was done to summon all the forces of Israel to the Levite, so that they can discuss what happened and decide how to punish Gibeah. A smarter feminist than I could write a book on the symbolism of all this — the way in which a raped woman’s mutilated corpse serves as a mere token of a property violation against men. But more to the point: what is this messaging system, functionally? Like, if I’m the head of a tribe and I open up a package and find a decomposing thigh, how do I conclude from that, “uh oh, better get out to Mount Ephraim; it looks like an unnamed Levite has a grievance!”
Anyway, there’s a war and the LORD gets involved, and it’s sort of a big deal because they’re fighting against House Benjamin which is one of their own tribes, but the LORD insists that they must. There’s a lot about battle strategy and early losses and the LORD being confusing and withholding in his messaging, but who cares about any of that. Ultimately, the rest of Israel smites the Benjaminites, and then they agree not to intermarry with them going forward. But, because Benjamin is still a tribe of Israel, they are worried about providing them with wives. So they take an inventory of the tribes that do not come to some conference they hold, and they find that no one from Jabeshgilead has come. Perfect! They march on Jabeshgilead, kill everyone, and capture 400 virgins, which they hand over to the tribe of Benjamin. But oh noes, it isn’t enough virgins!
The rest of Israel is really worried about one of their tribes (even an outcast one) going extinct, and so they begin to doubt their resolution not to give their own daughters to the Benjamites. But they have sworn and they cannot go back on it. They identify a nearby town, Shiloh, that has a feast for the LORD every year, and the people come out to celebrate in the fields. So they advise the Benjamites to lie in wait nearby and then seize all the daughters who come out to dance in the fields and carry them off.
And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favorable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.
I’m not sure what this means; I think it means the men of Shiloh didn’t participate in the war, so this is fair. Anyway, the Benjamintes do that, and they capture plenty of virgins, and all is well in the land once more.
As promised, here’s my personal ranking of the various Judges from worst to best (or worst to worst, really, since they are all horrible):
8. The unnamed Levite: It’s unclear whether the unnamed Levite was a Judge or not, but if he was, he was without doubt the worst Judge, and possibly also the worst person who has ever lived.
7. Samson: Without doubt, Samson is the second evilest of all the Judges. He is 100% self-absorbed, he spends his entire life screwing people over and fighting and being an asshole to everyone he comes across and torturing animals, and he’s also astoundingly stupid (witness the whole Delilah episode). He’s just a roided up frat boy.
6. Jephthah: Murders his own daughter just to follow through on a dumb thing he said in passing.
5. Abimelech: Unable to control his own people, and felled by a millstone from an upper window. Uses his dying breath to express some pathetic misogyny.
4. Gideon: Unbelievably obnoxious. He requires a whole series of tests before he’ll believe the LORD or do anything, and while I would normally be happy to see a skeptic in the Bible, this is taking things to such an unjustifiable extreme it’s obvious he really just doesn’t want to get off his ass.
3. Judah: The first Judge, Judah is relatively inoffensive. He leads some battles, and he doesn’t do much of note. You forget about Judah the moment you’ve done with him.
2. Micah: Micah barely does anything but make himself a little temple to play with and let any army who wanders by camp on his land. It’s unclear whether he’s an Israelite at all, but no one gives him any shit about it; even the LORD knows that Micah is harmless. I love a batty eccentric in the wilderness. Live your life, Micah.
1. Deborah: The only woman Judge, and a snarktastic Queen for the ages. She achieves all her aims without breaking a sweat, she pals around with other awesome women like Jael, and she celebrates with a big karaoke party. Deborah for the win!