Alter intermission I - invasion

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Alter intermission I - invasion

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Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 2:23pm

Time to begin the Book of Joshua.

Previous threads are

ETA - Judges and Ruth can also be found here.

Judges starts on post #69:
Ruth starts on post #142:

Jun 2, 2012, 11:22pm

Jun 2, 2012, 11:34pm

We will have to be without Alter to guide us through Joshua, and also Judges. Feeling a little lost without our guide, I've postponed reading a bit while I try to read Kugel and also the chapter in The Literary Guide to the Bible. What I've learned so far is that we will read about the Israelite conquering of Israel...and that it's all fiction. Kugel tells me that the archeological record is inconsistent with and contradicts the biblical record. Jericho was unpopulated at time, and other key places show no signs of late 13th-century destruction. Major Canaanite cities like Shechem aren't even mentioned. Bethel did burn in this era...but that's not mentioned in the Bible.

So, it's time for a story about the blood, gore, heroic whores, and other joys of a idealized, and divinely led invasion.

Jun 2, 2012, 11:35pm

If anyone who is reading along or following, let us know.

Jun 2, 2012, 11:42pm

I am

Jun 3, 2012, 2:02am

I'm in! I think I will use the French translation by Louis Segond, which has two advantages: it seems to be a good translation from what I can tell (but without footnotes, alas), and it is apparently in the public domain and therefore widely available as an e-book. But I will miss Alter's explanations.

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 6:43am

I'm following but mostly to lurk. I'm reading in a "study" version of the ESV bible. The notes seem to imply that there is some fit with the archaeology but then it's not exactly an unbiased source. Perhaps I should think about investing in Kugel.

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 7:09am

I started reading Joshua today on the pilgrim's road to Namugongo for the day of the Uganda Martyrs. It is from an "Easy-to-Read" edition that I bought by the side of the road. I miss Alter desperately, and am not impressed with the book. There were some ugly massacres in the Pentateuch, of course, but they were at least presented as exceptional--here, it's just business as usual to kill everyone always. I suppose there's a thin line of reasoning that says the whole conquest of Canaan was exceptional, since it was the Israelites taking control of their patrimony, but I think of that line from Leonard Cohen about "whatever makes a soldier sad will make a killer smile," and all those militant bornagain Christians who think Joshua is just great should face up to their cowardly/hypocritical/murderous beliefs. It enrages me that people can find beauty and inspiration in this. The trumpets are a nice image, of course--you can imagine Sauron's orcs using them.

But I met some nice people on the road!

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 8:29am

Is it me, or is there a change in the chain of commands? Or at least the way it's told. With Moses, the LORD gave detailed instructions and Moses repeated them more or less verbatim. He took a few initiatives, most infamously the massacre of the women and children before his death, but usually it looked like he was transmitting exactly what he was told.

With Joshua, the LORD's instructions are becoming terse and elliptic, and Joshua fills in a lot of blanks and even adds his own initiatives, comments and interpretation. A least that's how it seems to me with the crossing of the Jordan.

How is this book placed in terms of chronology? Was it written a long time before or after Deuteronomy? Is there a synoptic somewhere of when the different books of the Bible are thought to have been written? I'll go look at Wikipedia.

Jun 3, 2012, 8:28am

OK, Wikipedia says that Deutoronomy and Joshua may be part of the same editorial effort, although of course that hypothesis is challenged by some. Date would be during the Babylonian exile, in the 6th century BCE.

Jun 3, 2012, 9:01am

Oh, so my version includes a passage in parentheses (!) where after one man of each tribe takes a rock from the Jordan and places it at the campsite, it's like "(By the way, Joshua also took twelve rocks himself and then placed them there too.)" Then whe they actually reach the campsite, the twelve men are forgotten and it's all Joshua. Is this an effort to reconcile two traditions? It seems unusually hamfisted.

Jun 3, 2012, 9:27am

#9-10 - a big question. Deuteronomy began with Josiah's reforms. Joshua through Kings is probably more or less one effort, all post exile. But all the text use incorporate earlier texts and and stories. Surpassing Wonder argues that at some point, post exile, the entire first nine books, Genesis through Kings, are stitched together into one theme, a history up to something close to that present.

Jun 3, 2012, 10:05am

11> It didn't really strike me as a contradiction, the men are doing the heavy lifting (literally) but Joshua is the leader. It's like you would say Louis XIV built Versailles, which he didn't physically, he didn't even supervise the building probably, but he was the one who ordered it.

Jun 3, 2012, 10:13am

My version literally says "They put the rocks at the place where they had made their camp. (Joshua also put twelve rocks in the middle of the Jordan River.)" Oops, my mistake! His rocks were in a different place. Still seems weird to me.

Jun 3, 2012, 1:29pm

It's funny because in fact there is a sort of repetition in my version, where the men carry the rocks from the Jordan to the next camp (and yes, Joshua puts twelve more in the river, where they still are "to this day"), and then Joshua raises the twelve rocks they carried at Guilgal (I'm translating from my French version so the wording is mine), which sounds like it corresponds to a kind of ceremony.

Jun 3, 2012, 10:29pm

Have a few minutes to think...

Flo - I'm so curious what your French edition may offer

#7 PossMan - Kugel cites specifically: Weippert 1971, W. Dever 1991,1995, N Naaman 1994, Callaway and Miller 1999 (bibliography is here: ) Have at it. :)

#8 Martin - I'm just very entertained by your circumstances.

#9 Flo - "Is it me, or is there a change in the chain of commands?" -- This is a big theme. In Judges we will get even less divine intervention, although it's still significant.

Edited: Jun 3, 2012, 10:48pm

Kugel chose the Joshua chapter to talk about El Amarna Letters. I had never heard of these. These are letters from Canaanite rulers to the Egyptian Pharaoh in the 14th-century bce.

What is interesting is:
The language is a special communication language used for foreign correspondence, but there are hints of biblical Hebrew!
The Canaanite rulers clearly defer to Egyptian leadership and request Egyptian aide. They are vassals.
They complain a lot about the war of the 'apiru...
(at least) One letter complains about territory losses to the 'apiru and states: "Look, I am afraid the peasantry will strike me down"

A fascinating window. 'apiru was a generic middle eastern word of certain kinds of slave labor. Kugel sees a connection between the word 'apiru and the word Hebrew. He sees the 'apiru as a likely antecedent of the Hebrews. He doesn't attach himself to any argument, but talks mostly about the idea that these 'apiru were rebels, part of a grassroots rebellion against the Egypt-propped Canaanite rulers. His point is that the Hebrews were likely Canaanites.


Now, my imagination jumps to conclusions. Let's say all this is true. Egyptian rulers overthrown, slave rising up and breaking bondage...we have a motivation of a book about breaking out of slavery, leaving Egypt behind, taking a land over, getting a god's blessing, and so on...and then we need to justify taking owning that land...

Anyway, back to Joshua.

Edited: Jun 4, 2012, 6:17am

17> Wow, I'm getting dizzy. It would make sense, the slave angle.

I got lost for a while this week-end in the Wikipedia links, and found a site where you can see five different French translations of the Bible side by side. My version dates from 1910, but it seems there is a "new Segond Bible" which seems rather different from the one I have. In this new version the LORD is "le SEIGNEUR", in mine it's "l'Eternel". I could waste a lot of time comparing versions, so I guess I will stick to the 1910 Segond version since I already have one paper and several e-book editions of it.

There is also an intriguind iPad app called Bible Study Map. It's available in several languages, the French one is also the 1910 Segond translation. You can access the chapters using a visual map, and also see the original text and the translation side by side, which is not very useful for me. I thought the map was a neat idea, but since I mostly read the chapters in order I ended up deleting it from the iPad because I wasn't using it.

Also this week-end I tried to buy Scribal Culture but I can't buy it as an e-book because it's not available for French buyers. This is so frustrating.

Jun 5, 2012, 3:49pm

One thing about not having Alters does this read fast. I have my own notes on chaps 1-12, but the family is traveling and I'll be hard pressed to type them up before next week. Maybe I can just make one go - chapters 1-24?

Edited: Jun 5, 2012, 4:14pm

Take your time! I'm only at chapter 11 myself, but I agree, it's much faster reading without the notes. And Alter still helps, his notes help me understand what I'm reading now, so I'm not as lost as I feared.

It's rather chilling to read about this systematic destruction of peoples.

A prominent expression in Joshua is “put under the ban” (Alter's translation). It can mean one of two things: something that is dedicated to the cult and cannot be used for ordinary things. Or someone (a person or a city) who is condemned to be destroyed utterly, taking care not to leave a single trace of their existence.

In my Segond Bible (1910 version), this is translated by a rather awkward phrase: “dévouer par interdit”, something like “dedicate by putting under the ban”. I made a search in iBooks and came up with this:

Number of occurrences of the expression “put to the ban” in the sense of putting someone to death:

- Leviticus: 1
- Numbers: 2
- Deuteronomy: 6
- Joshua: 15
- Judges: 2

I stopped counting after that. The phrase keeps making appearances in the following books, but never as often as in Joshua. In all, iBooks counts 50 occurrences of the phrase, but some are related to things and not people. I didn't count those in my stats.

Jun 5, 2012, 4:20pm

I'm not seeing that phrase in KVJ...or am I missing it. I need to look up how it's translated.

Edited: Jun 5, 2012, 4:48pm

It may be translated differently in different contexts, or diluted in a longer explanation. In the other French translations I found on the web, the phrase is not so visible because it is translated as a longer sentence, and there are variations in the sentence so the repetition is not obvious. I think that Segond's translation is similar to Alter's in that it seeks to be as close as possible to the original text, including translating the same expression in the same way in different parts of the text. In Segond's case though, the result is sometimes a less than elegant French wording.

The other French translations (correction, only one of them, the new Segond translation) use the word anathema. Maybe the KJV uses it too?

Jun 6, 2012, 3:38pm

I downloaded the KJV bible to do some research. It seems that it doesn't always translate “put under the ban” the same way.
Joshua 2:10 : utterly destroyed
Joshua 6:17 : accursed
Joshua 6:21 : utterly destroyed

Utterly destroyed conveys the practical meaning better, but it hides the sacrificial aspect of the thing. On the other hand, put under the ban definitely needs a footnote in order not to miss the horror of it. Translation is not an easy thing.

Jun 6, 2012, 4:36pm

Holy Bible, Easy-to-Read Version:

Joshua 2:10 : destroyed
Joshua 6:17 : destroyed
Joshua 6:21 : destroyed

Jun 6, 2012, 6:37pm

#23 - Thanks!, #24 interesting

Jun 7, 2012, 7:20am

Joshua 10: the LORD stops the sun to let the Israelite finish off the Amorites. How nice of Him.

Then the Israelites go from city to city smiting and slaughtering and generally putting them under the ban. What an inspirational read.

Jun 7, 2012, 9:10am

You were probably thinking, said the lord, who was inside the ark, of asking me to stop the sun, Yes, lord, so that no Amorite will escape us, Unfortunately, I cannot do as you ask. Joshua opened his mouth wide in amazement, You can’t make the sun stop, he asked, and his voice trembled because he believed he was uttering a terrible heresy, No, I can’t stop the sun because it’s already stopped, it hasn’t moved since I put in there.

From Cain by José Saramago

Jun 7, 2012, 9:36am

27> :-)

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 4:02pm

Chapters 1-12

Success and obliteration everywhere. We can wonder about the morality of the massacres (and the collective punishment). I'm distracted by the fiction. There probably was no invasion. But, even if there was, the advertised success will be contradicted the very next book. The Israelites were never free or even safe from non-Israelites in Israel. They will spend Judges constantly getting enslaved by neighbors that aren't supposed to be around anymore.

So, why the fiction? Certainly propaganda was important. My impression is that after four books of what was essentially prolonged failure (excluding Genesis), the tone needed to change. Something good had to happen to justify the Exodus and the wandering and the curses. Here, in deepest myth, was a safe place to put it. My feelings on these Biblical books is that they are meant to appeal to everyone in some way. So we have awful, fear inspiring stuff; black and white laws, and other contradictory laws; and mixed in are touches of beauty, and hints of real history, explanations, folklore, purely literary touches. Somewhere we need to have a chance to cheer, and say, "yeah, they did it." This is one of those places.

Chapter 1 - God commands Joshua to cross the Jordan
- four times we hear about strength and courage
- Note 1:8 - "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein" - 'This book could be the laws of Deuteronomy, the whole first five books, or something else. Anyway, we are told to study the book a mere 8-lines post Moses. Consider that an emphatic request

Chapter 2 - Rahab hides the spies
- note the sending of spies has a parallel with Moses

Chapter 3 - Crossing the Jordan.
- note the arc halting the waters has a parallel with Moses dividing the Red Sea

Chapter 4 - Encampment at Gilgal
- note 12-stone memorials. Joshua's stones, which are in the Jordan, remain until this day. This phrase is repeated about 10 times in the first 12 chapters, giving an etiological sense to the whole invasion. I'm guessing they author is looking to establish authenticity; he or she is pushing, maybe.

Chapter 5 - mass circumcision
- The wilderness generation didn't circumcise their children!
- A sacrificial ritual - maybe even circumcisions in place of a child sacrifices??
- "And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from they foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy" (a phrase from the book sof Moses (Deuteronomy?))

Chapter 6 - siege and taking of Jericho
- Full destruction. Only valuable metals are saved.
- Rahab and family are let go. This is the first admission that the invasion is not a complete success. Non-Israelites remain.

Chaper 7 - Achan (of Judah)
- Achan takes "the accursed thing", causing the first Ai invasion to fail.
- And he confesses! So the whole family is stoned and burned.
- Pick your lesson. The lesson I take is keep your mouth shut

Chapter 8 - Ai ambush and burning.
- It's odd that the story tells of destruction of Ai, but not of neighboring Bethel. The archeology shows that Bethel was actually burnt down at this time.

Chapter 9 - Hivites of Gebeon trick Israelites into pledge of peace. Instead they are merely enslaved
- The second admission that the invasion is not a complete success

Chapter 10 - The sun stands still to help the clean-up after a victory over allied Amorites
- "Is not this written in the book of Jasher?" - curious...

Chapter 11 - lots of victores
- the book makes quick work of all these, although "Joshua made war a long time with all those kings"
- Kugel mentions that the details in Jericho & Ai may imply some more authenticity in those place, verse these other places where the book merely glosses over the battles.

Chapter 12 - "Now these are the kings of the land, which the children of Israel smote..."

Jun 12, 2012, 1:49am

I haven't read at all beyond chapter 12, couldn't get there on vacation. Apologies for the set-back.

Jun 12, 2012, 2:41am

I wondered about the book of Jasher too. And then when I was trying to add Joshua to my LibraryThing I found Ancient Book Of Jasher: Referenced In Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18; And 2 Timothy 3:8 by Ken Johnson. The Wikipedia article is here; it seems, from what little there is, that it may have been some kind of epic-poetic rendering of Joshua's triumph, perhaps even a state epic (the alternative title is the "Book of the Just"). Kind of cool, although I think in general I prefer my lost texts to maintain some promise of breaking down orthodoxies rather than reinforcing them (I can't stop thinking of the Book of the Battles of YHWH as a secret history of God almost in the Grendel or Wicked or Wide Sargasso Sea or even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies way, and if that's unlikely it's still no doubt true that whatever was contained in it would be disappointing to church leaders at best and conniption-worthy at worst if rediscovered today).

Jun 12, 2012, 2:54am

PS Good lord I miss Alter. Has he done any other parts of the Bible other than the Book of Psalms? If not I may have to find some other scholarly edition, or at least a KJV.

Edited: Jun 12, 2012, 5:05am

Alter's latest published effort is The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes I think.

I was also struck by the number of references to physical mementos remaining "to this day" for all to see (well, not the stones in the Jordan presumably, those wouldn't be visible). I imagine they are supposed to prove the reality of the event described, and to link them to the present.

The Book of Jasher is "Le livre des justes" in my translation.

I'm at chapter 16. A couple of chapters before that one are just a list of the kings and cities destroyed, in a form that sounds like a poem or a song. I remember Alter imagined a scene where parts of the book would be recited at night when the family is gathered, for the enjoyment and education of children and adults. This part feels like it could play that role.

Jun 12, 2012, 5:04am

About Alter's translations: from what I can see, the next part of the Bible that he translated is The David Story (Samuel I and II). So we are on our own for Joshua, Judges and Ruth.

Jun 12, 2012, 10:56am

#34 - yup, that is correct. He also hasn't covered I & II Kings.

For a summary of what Alter has and hasn't covers, see message #63 here:

Jun 12, 2012, 10:59am

#32 Martin - About finding another scholarly edition, I don't even know where to look. Everything else I've come across has some theological (or anti-theological) point to make. So, let us know what you find.

Jun 12, 2012, 11:05am

I'm thinking about putting Judges and Ruth on this thread (I'll cover Ruth in KJV order, after Judges. In the Jewish versions, Ruth comes much later).

Jun 12, 2012, 11:12am

#31 Martin - very interesting, thanks for the link.

"although I think in general I prefer my lost texts to maintain some promise of breaking down orthodoxies rather than reinforcing them"

I would like to know the various scholarly takes. My first guess would be that anything that is lost, was lost on purpose. Because even if an only copy is burnt, surely there were others willing to paraphrase it and call it legit. My second guess would require some actually knowledge in the matter...

Jun 12, 2012, 11:17am

About chapter 7: the "accursed thing" is an example of the use of "put under the ban" when applied to things. At least if you can trust Segond, who also translates it as "dévoué par interdit". I don't remember if it was supposed to be destroyed utterly as the people of the city, or dedicated to the cult.

And I'm with you on keeping your mouth shut. When I was a child my mother used to say "a fault you confess to is half forgiven already" (faute avouée est à demi pardonnée). Not in this part of the Bible it isn't. And his whole family was stoned to death with him.

Jun 12, 2012, 11:29am

Wonder what Achan's final thoughts were...

Jun 12, 2012, 12:09pm

Probably "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!"

Jun 12, 2012, 12:55pm


(Just thinking what Monty Python could have have done Joshua...)

Jun 12, 2012, 6:47pm

For the parts of the Bible not covered by Alter you could get a complete study Bible. Many have an ax to grind, but The New Jerusalem Bible, if you pick the right edition, and The New Interpreters' Study Bible have served well even though they are not as detailed as the Alter volumes. I am going to look, one day soon, for my copy of The Geneva Bible which is interesting in its own way.


Jun 12, 2012, 7:28pm

"Study bible" - that is the key phrase I was missing. Thanks Robert.

My library has Cambridge, Oxford, HarperCollins, and something called The KJV Study bible. I requested them all.

Jun 13, 2012, 4:51am

My French translation is called the Geneva Bible, and it doesn't have a single note, just a couple of appendices, I think there is one about units of measure and a small glossary, which I haven't really looked at. This is the paper version, which I don't have with me, the e-book version just has the text.

Jun 13, 2012, 5:27am

I made a quick search and found something called the Oxford Companion to the Bible, which is available as an e-book for 58 euros!!! Any idea how good it is?

Jun 13, 2012, 5:01pm

The Geneva Bible of which I speak is a sixteenth century translation of the Bible into English with glosses and commentary. It was common among English readers of the Bible before the King James Version was published. I have a replica here somewhere.


Jun 13, 2012, 5:10pm

I have The Oxford Companion to the Bible from before internet times. I've dipped into it. There are lots of Bible references on the market. I don't, however, see any other commentary of similar size in my collection. If you have an ongoing interest in these matters, the book is probably good to have, but if you want merely to illuminate a close reading of scripture Wikipedia may be the way to go.


Jun 13, 2012, 10:55pm

Robert - I kind of want Alter everywhere. I already own all Alter's translations, but found myself unwilling to spurge on the Oxford Companion. So, my interest must be somewhere between mere illumination and ongoing interest. I would call it an interest of uncertain heft.

Jun 14, 2012, 2:38pm

A reminder

Jun 14, 2012, 2:39pm

I have notes through the end of Joshua (chapter 24) and will try to post them soonish, possibly today.

Jun 14, 2012, 3:29pm

I'm in the middle of chapter 24 myself. Some random thoughts:

The tribes that got territories on the other side of the Jordan return to their tents after helping to wipe out (well, not completely actually, as some of the people are spared for reasons not satisfactorily explained) indigenous peoples. Tents, not houses. So some of the Israelites remained nomads? And their relationship with their sedentarized cousins may have been a bit troubled, if the story of the altar by the Jordan has any historical root. Which it probably hasn't I suppose.

This story of the altar by the Jordan I find very interesting. Especially the reminder of Achan's story and the fact that many people were punished for his fault. If an Israelite starts worshipping the wrong gods, he is endangering the whole people. Hence a narrowly avoided civil war.

Joshua's last speech is much shorter than Moses'. A very neat summary of the story so far, and exhortations to love and worship the LORD. And a reminder not to mingle with other people.

Jun 14, 2012, 3:37pm

Joshua 24:22

"And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses."

First time I notice any sign that they are given a choice. Even though there's been much talk of covenants, so far it has seemed rather one-sided to me. Or rather, since Israel obviously gets something from it - the land of Canaan - it seemed to me that the covenant was rather forced on them rather than a mutual agreement.

Edited: Jun 14, 2012, 4:01pm

Flo - I'll post a bit on alter Ed later (really, Ed?)

I hadn't thought about the tents. My guess is that trans-Jordan will have had more shepherds per capita than Canaan...but I wonder whether the tent comment has that kind of significance.

Good point about Joshua, he's not Moses. He gets a two chapter farewell speech (chap 23 & 24) while Moses got a whole book.

This whole of chapter 24 is quite interesting to me. The language he uses, and concepts about the pre-Abraham fathers and their different Gods...this is new as far as I recall. We haven't come across anything like this. We read about those fathers on "the other side of the flood", but I don't think they ever came up again, until here.

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 4:10pm

Chapters 13-24

A synopsis - It seems the success was incomplete. There are Canaanite and Jebusites and whatnot everywhere and there is plenty more land to conquer. But, the invasion has halted and the land is at "rest". Joshua and Eleazar divide the spoils, mapping out the lands of Judah, Ephraim and the rest of Manasseh. Then the other seven tribes have their land set out by lot at Shiloh. Dan doesn't like their lot (or maybe they were evicted by the Philistines), so they simply invade another territory farther north. All this settled, Joshua gives his farewell speeches in Shechem. The pointed threats and curses are there, but don't take up very much space, and feel a little soft after Moses' harangue in Deuteronomy. Finally Joshua and Eleazar pass. Phinehas (the insane) inherits the priesthood, but no successor to Joshua is named.

Chapter 13

Joshua is "old and stricken in years".
The invasion halts, but "there ramaineth yet very much land to be possessed." and Gershurite and Macchathites "dwell among the Israelites to this day."
Reuben, Gad and 1/2 Manasseh have their lands in trans-Jordan/Moab mapped out

Chapter 14

Joshua, Eleazar & "the heads of the fathers of the tribes" distribute the land in Canaan...or at least they begin to.
Caleb (and Judah) get Kirjath-Arba, renamed Hebron.

Chapter 15

The lot of Judah includes Jerusalem, where Jebusites "dwell to this day"
Othniel's wife Achsah, who "lighted off her ass", appears to get some special treatment."lighted off her ass" is apparently KJV English for "she got off her donkey".

Chapter 16

The lot of Joseph, which runs from Jericho (Ephraim) to Bethel
"but the Canaanites dwell among the Ephraimites unto this day, and serve under tribute." - so much for giving Jericho the ban
Side Note - Joshua is from Ephraim.

Chapter 17

Continuation of Joseph, the lot of Manasseh

Chapter 18

Assembly of Shiloh to divide the final seven tribes by lot
- It's not clear to me whether this whole process was the assembly of Shiloh, or whether Shiloh only covered the remaining seven tribes
- for the record, Shiloh is in Ephraim
- Only Benjamin is covered in this chapter

Chapter 19

Continuation of the assembly of Shiloh, the final six. The last line says this occurs "before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation"
- Also, towns are mentioned multiple times. It seems they are often borders, and not actually part of the tribal land...not sure. Maybe they are strictly Levite territory.

Chapter 20

Refuge cities

Chapter 21

Levites are allotted their cities
There are four divisions: Kohathites of Aaron, rest of Kohath, Gershon & Merari

Chapter 22

Curious chapter. The trans-Jordan tribes build an alter on the Jordan. Mad Phinehas leads a war party, but first their is some discussion where the trans-Jordan tribes explain that they need the alter as a "witness between us" and for the later generations. And further that this alter is not for offerings and sacrifice. Phinehas, remarkably, says OK. War is averted and the alter gets named "Ed".

The point, presumably, is to define the limits and purpose of places of worship outside Jerusalem.

Chapter 23

Joshua "waxed old and stricken in age" addresses Israel. It's not clear to me whether this is at Shiloh, Shechem or elsewhere.
Lots of key phrases repeated:
- Be courageous, follow the laws of the book of Moses, don't stray "to the right and or left hand"
- We are again told that God has fulfilled all this promises "and not one thing failed thereof"
And we get a curse. And when (not if) you fail, "ye shall perish quickly from off the good land"

Chapter 24

Joshua speaks to leaders in Shechem and a new covenant is established, and written into a stone.
- for the record, Shechem was in Ephraim in the hills, see
- Joshua is buried on Mnt Ephraim
- Eleazar passed, and Phinehas becomes head priest

Side Note 1 - A curious history is given here which emphasizes the pre-flood fathers and their different gods, and which skips Sinai altogether.

Side Note 2 - Some interesting phrases
- 24:14 "put away the Gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood"
- 24:15 "chose you this day whom ye will serve" - meaning which God you will serve.

Side Note 3 - I had forgotten Joshua was from Ephraim. I'm wondering if he is the reason why Ephraim got the right hand blessing from Joseph, over his brother, Manasseh.

Edited: Jun 14, 2012, 7:55pm

And in summary?

They came, they conquered, well, the mostly conquered because well, here and there were some bits clearly unconquered...well, anyway, then they split the spoils, and Joshua dies after his farewell threats that, after Moses in Deuteronomy, are pretty wimpy.

Seems too simple to me.

Jun 15, 2012, 1:36am

Thanks for the notes and great summary! You're right, I hadn't seen it that way but it is too simple. This is the story of the conquest of the promised land, you'd expect more action, suspense, heroic deeds. Something like the Iliad or the story of Roland.

Maybe the answer is in Joshua 24:13
"And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat."

Maybe the whole point is that is not a human conquest but a divine one, and that's why there is no human story in it. And especially no heroics. No human is allowed to steal the show. And the main lesson, of course, is that they owe it all to the LORD and not to their own effort.

Jun 15, 2012, 3:39am

I have to say that when Rahab housed those spies and it was all kind of Trojan Horse style I came the closest to relating to this story. And when the walls came down. We are so Greek-epic-Hollywood conditioned.

Jun 15, 2012, 3:41am

(they say the Bible is a "foundational text," but the only insight it's given me into our tradition really is to when people make Bible references. Maybe it's because I'm not religious. Feeling really two-solitudes today. Maybe it's because of the woman I met who hypothetically threatened my sister (!) in the event that she turned ot to be an atheist. Her name was Baby Justin).

Jun 15, 2012, 10:53am

Martin - I vacillate. One hand I think about how we, as a culture, have put so much more into this then is actually there. On the other hand I realize that that is precisely why there is more here. It's the response that most makes the work special, and the response to this work is enormous.

(I took a moment to realize I should stop this post here and just close with an acknowledgement of uncertainty as to where to take my own comments...)

What I've noticed as I read this is that almost everything else I read is richer. Because every western-influenced work has the bible in there somewhere - whether is obvious, like Moby Dick, or something derived from something that was a response to something and so on...that eventually leads here.

And I would like to say that this is what is driving me. Unfortunately, my main personal drive is the text itself, without the response. Which means I'm looking backward, and wondering where this came from. And without the response, it's still old and interesting and oddly complex. But, either I missed something important in Joshua, or there just isn't much here.

And as I write I realize I have glossed many interesting bits and pieces here. We are seeing a mythological invasion that never took place, and backhanded concession to the reality. And, we are seeing clear statements that all is not well. Israelites aren't of one YHWH-ic mind here. They are still religiously all over the place. Joshua is begging, forget about the stuff, it's old and stupid, it's for people way back, on the other side of the flood. Come on, get with our program.

And there is Achan, and Ed (giggle), and Achsah, and there is quite a bit in chapter 24 to wonder about. Flo keeps quoting chapter 24 and I keep realizing that I probably should spend more time on that one chapter.

Jun 15, 2012, 2:49pm

I guess my take on Joshua is that it's a continuation of Deuteronomy, in the sense that is sums up the story so far, but here it's reduced to the bare essentials. Of course this is not true of the events described, those are new, but somehow the teachings in Josha's sermon seem to be a boiled down version of Deuteronomy, which itself is a boiled down version of the previous books. Which is also not exactly true, but well, that's kind if the feeling I get from it. And yes, I found this last chapter interesting.

Edited: Jun 15, 2012, 2:55pm

French version of the naming of Ed:

"Les fils de Ruben et les fils de Gad appelèrent l'autel Ed, car, dirent-ils, il est témoin entre nous que l'Éternel est Dieu."

Which I didn't much pay attention to when I read it, but I suppose it means that ED is an acronym for Eternel (this version's translation of the LORD) and Dieu (God).

And in 21st century France, Ed is the name of a chain of discount grocery stores. Hmmmm.

Jun 15, 2012, 4:07pm

Flo - Deuteronomy summarized the first four books in such a way that the meaning was altered. I'm not sure whether or not Joshua is doing the same thing, but it seems to be more about plot - about summarizing the invasion story - then about re-interpretation.

Thanks for the info on Ed.

Jun 17, 2012, 10:42am

I picked up the Cambridge and New Oxford annotated bibles. They both rely on the New Revised Standard Version translations, and have notes. Cambridge also has little summaries of each section. Looking at the parts of Joshua I was most interested in, neither offered very much.

However, both interpret Alter Ed as "the alter Witness", which makes more sense. And both note the Hebrew Masoretic versions lacks "Witness'

The full text Joshua 22:34
The Reubenites and the Gadites called the alter Witness. "For," said they, "it is a witness between us that the LORD is God."

But, this does leave me in a quandary of Judges. Do I (1) just read the KJV, which I like, (2) read one of these annotated bibles with the NRSV, which I find bland, (3) read both...that might be too much or (4) maybe read the KJV and the notes from one of the annotated version?

Jun 17, 2012, 3:55pm

I tend to read mostly the Segond translation. Reading too many versions would become a bit overwhelming, but I look up a passage in the KJV once in a while, both to keep track of what you guys are reading and to compare translations. I like the KJV but I think I'd find the language hard to follow.

I started Judges this weekend. Looks like a drastic change of viewpoint. We start by going back and retelling some parts of Joshua's conquests, but this time with heavy emphasis on all the people that were left among the Israelites. Turns out, if I understood correctly, that these were left there by the LORD to test the fidelity of Israelites by tempting them to worship false gods. Which is a rather clever explanation I must say.

Then it's a succession of conquest and defeat phases for the Israelites, defeat being explained by their forgetting the LORD and worshipping other gods, and conquest by the LORD commissioning various prophets and judges to return things (temporarily) to their normal order.

These stories are told in a very different way from the impersonal style of Joshua. This time there are heroes, and plenty of them it seems. I'm only at around chapter 6 though, who knows what happens next.

Jun 17, 2012, 4:04pm

I was thinking of waiting a bit, but maybe I'll jump on in to Judges and try to catch up with you. I'll try to put an intro of sorts together over the next couple days.

Jun 18, 2012, 10:47am

Oops, sorry, I didn't mean to jump ahead. Take your time. I think I'm getting close to the end of Infinite Jest so I should probably work on that for a while. I'm getting tired of reading the same two books, it's been months!

Edited: Jun 18, 2012, 11:58am

Well, I haven't started yet, but I've mentally shifted. Tonight I'll read more Kugel and tomorrow I'll try reading the Cambridge Annotated version. I got more attached to it as I began to pick up on more of the extra information added in there

Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 3:30pm

I seem to have read too much on Judges, the intro will be tough.

This is essentially a collection of old folk tales with various origins that have been reworked into the biblical narrative. Some famous stories here. We will find Samson and Delilah, and Gideon, and Jephthah sacrificing his daughter and the Song of Deborah - one of the oldest texts in the bible. Also, we see connections with ancient greek influences. The Philistines are Greek and greek mythology includes the port of Joppa - that is where Andromeda is from in the Perseus myth. And note the Samson-Hercules parallels. So, this brings us straight back into history and there is much to wonder about.


1. “Judges” are actually chiefs or leaders. They are usually described as "saviors" or "deliverers", instead of "judges".

2. Events are dated 1200-1020 bce...but last from 410 to 480 years depending on source

These are simply a collection of folk tales reworked into bible stories. The stories themselves are very old. In origin, they may have been educational, and designed to show good and not-so-good leadership.

3. These may be Northern tales because they generally only mention northern tribes, and don't mention Judah at all.

4. These are old. The Song of Deborah is one of the oldest part of the Bible.

The HarperCollins study bible present the following stages of creation:

Stage 1. Originate as highland Stories
Stage 2. Collected mid 8th century bce, in Davidic times
Stage 3. Re-worked into the Deuteronomical history.
--- a. Probably added theme of loyalty to god here
--- b. Add themes of weakness because of the lack of a king
Stage 4. Reworked post-Exile

More coming.

Edited: Jun 22, 2012, 8:56am

Gustav Dore's Deborah

Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 3:30pm

Some structural notes:

There is cycle to these stories, which I think is expressed somewhere in the text (Chapter 2?) – `

1. Israelites forget YHWH or follow other gods,
2. therefore they are punished by suffering oppression by another ethnic group
3. They cry out for YHWH
4. A savior is raised by YHWH – usually of lowly origin
5. Savior defeats oppressor
6. The land has rest
7. Chief dies and there is a relapse

The implication is that it's God who does all the punishing and saving, he (it's a clear "he" at this point) is in full control. When the Israelites go bad, and turn to other God's or whatnot, YHWH punishes. When the Israelites are good and loyal, YHWH saves them...from his punishment. I think it's safe to assume that this general theme is due to the reworking of these texts, perhaps for the Deuteronomic history.


1-3:6 (or 3:5 in some notes) – an introduction, the death of Joshua, and some war stories

The judges
1. Othniel 3:7-11
2. Ehud 3:12-30
3. Shamgar 3:31 (maybe not a judge)
4. Deborah (and Barak) 4 & 5
----a. Chapter five is the Song of Deborah
5. Gideon 6 to 8
- Abimelech – the failed king, not a judge - 9
6. Tola 10:1-2
7. Jair 10:3-5
8. Jephthah 10:6 – 12:7
9. Izban 12:8-10
10. Elon 12:11-12
11. Abdon 12:13-15
12. Samson 13-16
- Micah and the Dan migration 17-18
- Conclusion and descent into war & chaos 19-21

Jun 22, 2012, 9:13am

more coming...but not sure when.

Jun 22, 2012, 9:44am

71: I haven't read much since my last post, but my first impression was that there was a sort of couple, with a prophet announcing the salvation (e.g. Deborah) and a judge who does the saving (e.g. Barak). Maybe I saw a pattern that wasn't there.

Jun 22, 2012, 10:00am

I haven't actually started reading the text yet, just about it... but I think Deborah & Barak are the only pair. The cycles above are generalized for all stories combined. Not every story follows them, and maybe none exactly. Samson doesn't actually lead or save anyone.

Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 3:33pm

What does Judges say about the pre-Davitic era?

Note especially the Song of Deborah – one of the oldest selections in the bible. Notice the tribes that are mentioned and how, and the tribes that aren't mentioned - most-pointedly, Judah. This marks a era in Israel where the tribes are not united, nor even all working together. There is some clear bonds or agreements between some tribes in a war-like sense...hints of a loose confederation

Kugel puts it this way:

“what underlies the stories in the book of Judges is a fluid and fractious political situation involving many different groups, mountain dwellers and valley dwellers, Egyptian overlords who sometimes cared and sometimes did not, Canaanite city-states plus marauding Midianites, Moabites, Hivites, Benjaminites and other discrete groups, all moving in and out of ever-shifting coalitions and political alignments. This situation may have gone on for centuries; no one involved even thought of independent nationhood as a possibility. Then, at first slowly but soon with increasing strength, the idea of some sort of loose federation or common bond began to emerge. “

The idea here is that religion played a roll in some way in these interactions

“Perhaps, some scholars say, sometime not much before the composition of this song (The Song of Deborah)…a new God appeared in Canaan, a deity previously unknown, whose principal association was with warfare. “

This leads to Kugel to a chapter on the history of the Israelite God...

Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 3:35pm

El came from Canaan. The Canaanites had two main Gods: El - the name of God and the father of all Canaanite gods & Baal - which means "master" and was originally an epithet for another god, Hadad.

El is found repeatedly in the bible:

- ‘el shaddai – Ex 6:2, Gen 49:25, Num 24:16
- ‘el ‘elyon – Gen 14:22, Num 24:16, Deu 32:8-9, Ps 73:11, 107:11
- ‘el ‘olam – Gen 21:33
- ‘el ‘elohei ysira’el – Gen 33:20
- ‘elohim – plural form of El (Translated by Alter an others as THE LORD)

YHWH has a southern origin, according to the "Medianite hypothesis". Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, and Midianite in Exodus (but a Kenite in Judges) is the key link here. Moses is with Jethro when he meets YHWH. Also, YHWH is usually associated with southern mountains - Sinai, Seir, Temah & Paran (even if no one knows where these mountains were). Anyway, this puts YHWH in an Edomite, Kenite, Midianite, Amalekite, or other southern nomadic origin.

side note - there were plenty other gods. Some suggest that "The god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, and the god of Jacob" were originally three separate gods.

OK - history via names:
El & Baal gets place names: Bethel, Peniel, Elaleh. Baal has, according to Kugel, 41 associated places names. YHWH has no place names.

El gets pre-Davidic names - Ishmael, Eliezer, Israel. Baal gets Jerubaal. YHWH has Joshua, but mostly post-Davidic names we haven't gotten to yet - Jonathan, Joab

Tying this altogether gives the following history:
1. Early religion is Canaanite
2. Nomads come from south and take the highlands (?? – seems reverse of norm). They bring YHWH with them.
3. Religions intermix. YHWH from highlands, El from the plains.
4. Confederations begin to form
5. Later bond begin to tighten for war
6. So, they follow a warrior god - YHWH - to bind these confederations
7. YHWH evolves to something like a king
8. 10th bce - forming of religion under war god YHWH - but still polytheistic religions
9. 622 - Josiah's reforms roughly mark a time of monotheism, and the beginning of the re-writing of history as monotheistic.

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 10:21am

Hope it's not too late for me to join. I have my New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV. All I remember about Joshua is that it's supposed to be the most violent book in the Bible, in terms of ounce of blood spilled per chapter. Unfortunately I'm overseas and have most of my reference books at home, including all my Alter stuff and Literary Guide to the Bible. I have taken two Old Testament courses, one in a church setting, and one at a community college. I much preferred the one the church class used by Lawrence Boadt.

Edited: Jun 23, 2012, 1:40pm

Welcome over Jonathan. We are starting Judges - although we aren't all reading at the same pace. I'm curious about Boadt - wonder if my local public library has anything.

By way of introduction, Jonathan (lilbrattyteen) comes over from Club Read, where he's recently been posting on philosophy, theology, and Neil Gaimon...

Jun 24, 2012, 11:13am

Okay, first post on Judges.

My first encounter with Judges was in a Scripture Institute class. This is a four-year program for lay ministry eductaion in the Catholic Church. It combines literary, historical, and theological analysis. The first year covered Genesis-Kings and I remember how nobody particularly enjoyed slogging through the Deuteronomistic history. I don't hear it much in the lectionary either. I guess for Christians it is a relatively ignored part of the canon.

The main thing I remember learning about it is that it is written (or edited) in the post-exilic period, where people were trying to understand how the nation of Israel fell when God promised David that his line would rule forever. So it's history, but a theologically-driven history with a narrative superimposed on it. This narrative is that the success of Israel is directly tied to their worship of YHWH and YHWH only. History, as always, is written through the lens of the problems of the present.

Interesting tidbit: when I was learning Biblical Hebrew the rabbi told me that these books of the Tanakh - Judges, Samuel, Joshua - are the easiest to read. Lots of straghtforward "and then this happened...." sort of narrative. Perhaps the poetic sections such as the Song of Deborah are an exception.

Speaking of Hebrew, the different titles or appelations for God that you list are interesting. One of them looks familiar, el olam. "Olam" can mean both universe (spatially big) or eternity/forever (temporally big). Yes, it's nice imagery, but for me it evokes that scene in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life where the Anglican priest begins his prayer, "Oh Lord, you are so very big..."

Okay, next post will be more formal.

Edited: Jun 24, 2012, 11:14am

Though I am overseas for two months I did bring one book with me that provided some good background info. This is taken from Jo Ann Hackett's article "'There Was No King in Israel': The Era of the Judges" in The Oxford History of the Biblical World. dchaikin, the stuff you psted was really good, so I'm just building on it rather than repeating it.

The term for "judge" in Judges is sh-p-t, which has both theological and historical overtones. In the Hebrew Bible the term refers to someone who resolves disputes as well as the military leader bit. Specifically the word is used elsewhere to refer to someone who defends those who have no rights or are powerless. A judge is not a ruler, but someone who rules in a ruler's absence. Who is the absent ruler? Wait and see...

The social organization of the Israelite tribes at this time was groups of kin-based tribes in a loose confederation - not a nation. Large families - extended families under one roof - were the core social unit. These tribes had no formal power structure, which meant no process for selecting leaders. Judges were charismatic leaders who led the people when there was a crisis, such as warfare. Because charisma was the only necessity, anyone could step forward, including women (Deborah) or youngest sons (Gideon). These were people who would be excluded from power in a monarchical dynastic system. The absent ruler who appointed the judges to lead the people was, of course, God.

So Judges is a history of "big leaders" much like American history is taught to kids as being about the "big men": Washington, Lincoln, etc. It's a simplistic way to tell history but makes for a more fun story about how great these leaders were. The cycles revolve around major judges, who have narratives about them, and minor judges, who are listed by name and dates.

Hackett states most scholars believe Judges is not historical. The history is retold in ways that seem too perfect. Everything happens in increments of 20 and the judges switch between people from the north and people from the south. Also, Judges claims to cover 400 years which is simply not realistic.

The warrior poetry, such as the Song of Deborah, is part of a larger genre of warrior poetry scattered throughout the Tanakh. These poems describe YHWH as the divine warrior who fights for His people. This includes the song of deliverance in Exodus, in which YHWH defeats (literally) Sea. Hackett remarks that "this 'divine warrior' is typical of ancient Near Eastern myths, and in Israel's early poetry he often begins his battles by marching out to war, usually from the region to the south or southeast of Biblical Israel, with a tumultuous effect on nature and the heavens" (159).

Thanks for the introduction by the way. :)

Jun 24, 2012, 3:00pm

Welcome, Jonathan. Thank you for these comments, very interesting. Between you and Dan I feel that I can do without Alter :-)

Jun 24, 2012, 3:52pm

Good stuff Jonathan. Very entertained by The Meaning of Life reference, thought that might work better for the New Testament...

The Oxford History was one of several books I've checked out the library, but I didn't give myself time to look into it before I returned. Perhaps I re-check it out for this...anyway I won't have much time for it. Very happy to have your post.

Jun 24, 2012, 4:02pm

Well guess what, the Oxford history of the biblical world is available as an ebook, and I just bought it. Right now reading the preface, and I'm hooked already. This is not going to do much good to my reading of the bible itself though. Not to mention Infinite Jest, but I'll probably be reading that one for the rest of my life anyway.

Jun 24, 2012, 4:09pm

>73 FlorenceArt: It's a stretch, but could you possibly also be thinking of Samuel and David?

I also just want to say thanks for the interesting and useful comments, everyone. I pushed the car out of four ditches hiking in this weekend and got soaked to the skin as many times (juuuuust got home and changed out of my wet things), so I'll just stick to parasite status for now.

Jun 24, 2012, 4:40pm

>84 MeditationesMartini: No. I tried to find what gave me this idea, and there is a mention of a prophet in Judges 6:8, who plays the role of the messenger god sends a few chapters before. He even uses the first person when transmitting God's message. If he is a human prophet, he is only a mouthpiece, nothing like Deborah.

So I guess I jumped to the conclusion that there was a pattern when I saw the word prophetess associated with Deborah.

Edited: Jun 25, 2012, 12:53pm

Okay, finished Judges. Not the most interesting book in the OT. Too many names.

The first and most obvious thing that struck me about this book was the sheer amount of violence. From the obese Eglon being run through until his fat closed over the hilt of the blade, to the rape of the concubine, to all the myriad battles and cities razed to the's no wonder Christians tend to avoid this book. People have a hard time seeing how this could be divinely inspired. As a Christian, I see no issue here, because for me "divinely inspired" doesn't have to mean it all has to be rosy and lovey like the Sermon on the Mount. I like that this is a realistic chronicle of how short, violent, and chaotic life was in the midst of these pre-kingdom tribes all doing battle. It's important to not impose modern standards of violence and social equality on the text. I don't feel that it's fair to kill women and children in war, but in these stories everyone gets killed and the city razed to the ground. Tribes would do this so that when they conquered "in the name of the LORD," nobody could say that they were only doing it for the riches of the city they conquered. They had a reason that made sense in context.

Speaking of equality, women in this text get such a weird rap. On the one hand, we have women like Deborah and Jael, women who fight for their tribe and come out as heroines. But then we also get that scene where Abimelech asks one of his men to kill so he wouldn't have been killed by a woman - apparently a shameful humiliation. Then there is Samson, who is always getting in trouble because some woman is nagging him, whether it be his new bride or Delilah. It seems like women are a threat to a man's honor, because even the women who are heroines might just be there not to portray a positive female character but to show how humiliated the enemy was to have been killed by a woman (i.e. Jael killing Sisera).

Going back to violence, here we have a deity who is strongly connected to violence. Remember the "warrior God" poetry scattered throughout the Tanakh. In these stories God appoints a military leader (judge). In Gideon's case, he made Gideon make the army smaller and blow trumpets just so people would know this was YHWH's army. If God is not blessing the army it will not win. Since we can only think about the unnameable God through metaphor and image, we tend to think of God in ways accessible to our own lives. This book has God as a military ruler who appoints generals in his absence, as a strong and powerful and mighty figure. While I can see why that made sense for tribes in conflict, I can't exactly connect with this image of God as a warrior. This is something that bounces around my head a lot - how I (as an urban Westerner in a democratic society) am supposed to make any sense of God as warrior, God as King, God as Lord....these words that permeate the Bible are empty for me. And this is why I (and perhaps other believers) tend to skip Judges. It just feels irrelevant, as interesting as it is historically and as a story (in places).

As a side note, my favorite part was the whole Samson saga, both feeling the joy of his parents (typology, anyone?) and laughing at how irreverent and comically strong he was.

Jun 25, 2012, 1:11pm

>86 JDHomrighausen: I relate to many of your comments here--I relate to Judges, insofar as I do, as sort of a fantasy annals in a Tolkien vein, with a strong "things fall apart" theme--but without forcing you to take up the role of Christian representative (since I think you're the only one currently here who is reading explicitly from that perspective), how do you as a believer see the relationship between Joshua and Judges in this context? It woud seem that much of what you say here could be equally applied to Joshua, and yet that's one of the most beloved books of the Old Testament among Christians (isn't it? I'm only giving one perspective, perhaps sadly limited) and this one, like you say, languishes somewhat. I'm in Uganda currently, and many of my friends here are born again, and they always got really happy when they heard I was reading Joshua but seem to get really indifferent when they hear I'm reading Judges. As far as I can see, though, the major difference between the two is the triumphalism of Joshua vs. the doubt and somewhat dark outlook on (a continuation of) the same events in Judges--if anything, the theme of God-as-warrior is stronger in Joshua, and more troubling.

I don't mean to hold you specifically hostage for an answer, so feel free to ignore if you prefer (and these comments hopefully have some general relevance); it's just that as a nonbeliever who wishes to have the most positive attitude I can toward Christian faith, the wide popularity of Joshua, which I can't help but see as one of the uglier books, is a difficulty--I felt more comfortable with Judges because to a greater extent it seems to be dispassionately relating the annals of dark times instead of revelling in bloodshed (although as you say, there's some of that too).


Jun 25, 2012, 4:01pm

I haven't read all of Judges yet, but I would tend to agree with MM that Joshua feels much more violent than Judges. In fact they are probably just as violent, but in very different ways. The violence in Joshua is systematic, cold and calculated. The violence in Judges (what I have read so far) feels much more personal, perpetrated in one on one battles rather than collective massacre. This may seem strange, but I think it makes it more acceptable to me as a reader.

I tend to forgive lots of things in characters in a book, when I get a chance to connect and identify with them, sympathize with their motivations. It's hard to sympathize with a motivation that goes Sorry guys, nothing personal, you're just occupying our land that the LORD gave us, so you all have to die, no hard feelings about it. In Judges the stories are about people who do what they do from personal conviction or loyalty, and even though I can't approve of their actions, I can understand their motivation somehow.

Jun 25, 2012, 4:05pm

One small detail that puzzles me: what's the story behind the substitution of milk for water in Jael's story? He asks for water and she gives him milk, and then kills him. In Deborah's song it sounds as if it's a kind of ruse, as if she wouldn't have been allowed to kill him if he'd drank water? Some kind of rule of hospitality? I'm curious.

Edited: Jun 25, 2012, 11:04pm

That's interesting that some Christians might value Joshua highly. I was aware that the names Joshua and Jesus are identical in Greek and that, possibly for that reason, there is a Christian affinity to Joshua.

I've read Judges 1-8, and won't finish anytime soon, well, I don't think I will... but, I find Joshua and Judges to have almost nothing in common. Joshua never wavers, never fails, never does anything human. He sticks to his plan, he's very simple. In Judges, there are heroic characters that are exaggerated humans with exaggerated flaws - the types were used to encountering fiction.

On a side note, I have this idea of Judges as Genesis lite. We have the same kinds of oddball stories with the same skeletal feel where little explained. But Genesis forms a foundation - Abraham, Isaac & Jacob and so on. Judges doesn't go anywhere. It just fills a time gap. Also, Judges is all about battles so far, with leaders leading hordes against other foreign hordes. Genesis feels more like a family tales, where all the characters at any one time could fit inside a large tent.

Jun 25, 2012, 6:22pm

Flo - no clue on the milk. The point seems to be that Jael made Sisera especially comfortable, and it's possible there is some sexual aspect implied.

Edited: Jun 25, 2012, 7:45pm

I’m using The Harper Collins Study Bible (abbreviated HCSB below) and most of my notes come from there, or just from observation. The translation is New Revised Standard Version

Chapters 1-5

Chapter 1

Feels like an appendix to Joshua. HCSB tells me 1-2:5 would have been added later.
- Repeats some stories from Joshua, but with some differences – note Othniel and Achsah again.

- Judah is prevalent and successful – taking Bezek, Jerusalem, Hebron, Debir, Zephath…
- but not quite the Philistine cities. Ironically, in the same line “The LORD was with Judah...” yet he couldn’t kick the Philistines out of the plains, he only gets the hill country “because they had chariots of iron.”
- Note - Philistines were known for having iron when no one else around did.
- Note - HCSB tells me Judah’s successes bookend Judges.

- Six other tribes are notable for the failures of their genocidal aspirations. Dan even gets kicked out by the Amorites. Reuben, Gad and Issachar don’t get a mention.

Chapter 2

I associate this with a scientific abstract at the beginning of a scientific paper. Here is the root problem (Israelite religious infidelity with Baal and Asherah) and here is the cycle (see post #71).

2:3 “So now I say, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become adversaries to you, and their gods shall be a snare to you.

Three reasons given for non-Israelite remnants:
1. Punishment for disloyalty (2:20-21)
2. As a test of obedience (2:22-23)
3. To train Israel in the art of war (3:2)

Chapter 3 - first three judges

Othniel (of Judah) - delivers from King Cushan-rishathain (Cushan-double-wickedness)

Ehud (of Benjamin) – delivers from King Eglon (“fat calf”) with a trick, “I have a message from God to you.

Note1 - Ehud is left-handed, which may be a Benjaminte thing, and helps him conceal his sword
Note2 - this story tells me the Israelites didn’t have much of an army. They could only act on stealth

Shamgar son of Anath gets a one liner about killing Philistines. Note that Anath was a wargoddess…curious.

more coming...

Edited: Jun 26, 2012, 8:18am

Chapter 4 - Deborah and Barak in narrative

This would presumably be a later interpretation of the much older Song of Deborah. In this version Deborah demands of Barak to go get his Napthtali and also get Zebulon help to wipe out the army of King Jabin, an army of iron chariots led by the commander Sisera.

Deborah says to Barak, “I will surely go with you, nevertheless the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” – by which she happens to mean Jael

Sisera’s army panics (without explanation) and Barak chases the chariots. Meanwhile Sisera has left by foot, and so escapes, un-pursued, to a friendly Kenite group. There Jael makes him comfortable and then hammers a tent peg through his head while he sleeps.

– may be a misinterpretation. Kugel tells me Daborah means prophetess. So, in the song, Deborah may not have been intended as a name, but just as a generic prophetess.
- Wife of Lappindoth – which means torches
- Under a palm – Kugel finds this significant and thinks it was originally an oak…

Barak means lightning.

HCSB notes that this was an important battle. The highlander Israelites win the rich plains of Esdraelon, Acco & the north Sharon plains.

Chapter 5 - The Song of Deborah

HCSB dates this song to the twelfth century bce “not far removed from the events being celebrated”. The song has many interesting parts and some key differences from chapter 4. Also, it’s difficult to translate, as the NRSV and the KJV differ widely in places. This is a wonderful window into early impressions of God and into the early tribal alliances, among other things. I recommend reading it again.

- “Here, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing.” – so take that little kings
- The LORD is clearly from the south – from Seir, Edom and Sinai
- “The earth trembled, the heavens poured, the clouds indeed poured water. The mountains quaked before the LORD” – this is Deborah’s God
- Tribes
--- Four extra tribes here: Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir (Manasseh) & Issachhar
--- Four tribes criticized for not assisting: Reuben, Gilead (Gad), Dan and Asher
--- Judah, Simeon and Levy aren’t even mentioned!
- “The torrent of Kishon swept them away” – now we have an (Exodus-like) explanation for the panic.
- “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds” – ah, the lovely sound of retreat
- Curse Meroz - no explanation of who this is
- Here Jael bashes in Sisera’s head while he’s standing. He falls “between her feet”
- Sisera’s mother, gazing "through her lattice" speaks two poignant ironies
1. “Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?” – playing on the hoofbeats quoted above
2. “Are they not finding and dividing the spoil? — a girl or two for every man…” – Sisera is, of course, between a woman’s legs…

Jun 26, 2012, 12:19am

>93 dchaikin: ugh, I left my Easy-to-Read Bible in the car, so I can't quote verse as evidence, but it's especially dumb to give the simplified-English treatment to poetry. Just based only on those snippets, I'm suddenly realizing that the Song of Deborah probably isn't the literary waste of space it seemed like.

Also, "some Christians might" value Joshua highy is a much more gracious formulation than the reductive way I put it. I don't think they're closely aligned in spirit at all--my review is kind of about that--but they both have that focus on acts of violence. I agree about Joshua--maybe its his "perfect" inhumanity in the service of God that appeals to some? As opposed to Judges, which is all messy business?

I like that thought about Genesis. I've actually been thinking that from a modern editorial or marketing perspective, the place to break the book into smaller, novel-sized chunks would be after Numbers--it would completely change both the "Tetrateuch" and the book of the invasion, of course, but there would be a lot less repetition in the former and a thematic drive to the latter--volume 2: Moses gives his speech about following God and showing no mercy and then dies, and the war begins. I think, and there are no doubt much better examples available, of Animal Farm, with the old, prophetic Karl Marx pig who has to die before the young revolutionary pigs can begin carrying out his vision.

... "Marketing perspective"? Animal Farm? Um, take everything in that paragraph with a grain of salt.

Jun 26, 2012, 6:56am

> 87

Actually, I don't mind answering your question at all. :) I'll just be clear that I'm answering only for myself and not for all of Christendom. That is to say, I am Catholic, not a Ugandan born-again, so I don't know what your born-again friends would make of my answer.

One easy way to measure how emphasized a particular text is in Catholicism is by looking at the lectionary. In the three-year cycle of readings, we have exactly two from Joshua and zero from Judges. So while Joshua could hardly be called a 'popular' OT book in Catholicism, it certainly is more than Judges. Given how many Catholics never get exposed to the Bible outside Mass, some of them may have never heard Judges in their life. If you're curious:

Notice how many readings there are in Isaiah! It can be very interesting to look at the lectionary as 'reception history' and look at which texts different denominations emphasize. (I.e. Protestants emphasize Romans' "faith alone" while Catholics point out James' "faith and works.") But that's a side issue....

Having just joined the group read so not having read Joshua recently, I will go from older memories of the book. Perhaps one reason Joshua is more well-liked is that it has a clear sense of victory and a unifying story. Judges seems to just have a lot of different story-cycles (Gideon, Samson, etc.) strung together so does not make for a good, "yeah we triumphed!" kind of story.

And yeah, I don't really connect with the "warrior God" imagery, but a society at war (or in constant conflict with neighbors) likely would. Especially if they believe their war is just and God is on their side. And who doesn't? After all, who is your friend when you're being attacked, an all-loving, nonviolent God or a big, mighty God? I don't see many wars that have a clear good vs. evil dichotomy so this partial, even tribalistic idea of God doesn't make sense to me. But I can't judge Judges (lol) by my modern standards.

However, one way traditions deal with stuff in past scripture that may be embarrassing or archaic to later readers is to allegorize. So one could say that this warrior God is helping one fight against spiritual evil rather than humans labeled as evil. I connect with that more. The fun thing about religious texts is that the possibilities are always open. :)

Jun 26, 2012, 10:09am

#95 Jonathan - This is all very interesting to me. I had no idea that Catholicism or any denomination would skip Judges. Skipping Leviticus might be expected, but Judges seems more useful somehow. Also interesting about Joshua fighting spiritual evil.

#94 Martin - Sorry, I probably shouldn't laugh at your predicament with the simplified-English version... The Song of Deborah is definitely one to look up in a better quality translation.

I've come a across some contradictory ideas about how to group and break-up the first nine books (Genesis-to-Kings) and I mixed on all of them. I think that Genesis stands on it's own. Exodus-to-Numbers are closely knit by the Levitical laws, which are synthesized in Deuteronomy - which may mean that Deuteronomy should be separated, or grouped with those books, not sure. Joshua is a break. It's unlike anything before it in the straight forward, simple success, but has thematical connections to Deuteronomy. And Joshua is unlike Judges. That's as far as I can comment right now.

Jun 26, 2012, 12:01pm

> 96

So how does this group read move time-wise? Like is there a set amount of time for each book or do we move onto the next one when most people are finished?

Jun 26, 2012, 1:14pm

#96 - The second way, we move on as everyone seems to finish. There is no set pace. My only goal was to keep it slow, as that seemed like the way to do this, and takes the pressure off. Maybe I'm going too slow with Judges??

Jun 26, 2012, 5:00pm

Slow is fine by me. I don't have a lot of time to read these days.

Jun 27, 2012, 3:49pm

>95 JDHomrighausen: thanks for that answer. I feel pretty comfortable with it, especially the allegorization and the idea that different people in different eras can find the different things they need in the same God without that making Him invalid. I think I've just been talking to too many (literalist Ugandan bornagain) people lately.

And that lectionary is so interesting! It's funny, because it's so New Testament–focused (as it should be, for followers of Jesus, of course), and in general I can see why many Christians might embrace a strategy of deemphasizing the OT in favour of the NT (as opposed to one that sees it as rich and allegorical, or a terrifying one that sees it as literal and still relevant); all of that, and yet from a secular perspective I feel like I have as strong or stronger a handle on so many Old Testament episodes (like, the big ones--most of Genesis and Exodus; Joshua; Samson; David; Solomon; Daniel) than on much of the Jesus story. I guess I'm just trying to get a handle around how the parts of the book might grow and shrink in significance in relation to each other from a Christian perspective (or any of a number of Christian perspectives), and this helps. What's with Isaiah? All I know about him is that a some people think he predicted the coming of JC?

Jun 27, 2012, 3:50pm

Also, I left my Easy-to-Read Bible in the mountains, so now's my chance to get a better!

Edited: Jun 27, 2012, 4:50pm

#101 I'm also curious. In The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, Timothy Beal brings up a description of Jesus reading from Isaiah in order to make a statement of ... oh crap, I forgot... a protest(?), something important. It was his first big splash. Beal uses it in the context of delving into what the bible originally was (a collection of scattered writings), and pointing out that Isaiah was just another scroll, but happened to be the scroll Jesus used...and further in pointing how these scrolls were used. It's quite interesting, and through Beal, a vivid and powerful description. Of course, the description would be in the NT, not Isaiah, so a long way off (and the reading quoted in the NT is a bit different that the actual text in Isaiah. But, then a lot happened from there (the Isaiah script of that time and place) to here (a canonized translated Isaiah and NT) )

Jun 27, 2012, 11:16pm

> 100

I'm glad my perspective helped. :) I think Christians in general ignore the OT. It's strange but proportionally it's a much bigger part of the Bible than the NT. And when the OT is read, it's often just to try to find Jesus in it. I've even seen seminary courses titled "Old Testament Christology." Like, huh? It seems forgotten that texts like Isaiah had a non-Christological meaning within Judaism long before Christians re-read it.

Yes, Isaiah is seen as predicting Jesus, as are many of the prophets. Read Matthew 1-2 and notice how many "and this was to fulfill...." quotes from the OT there are.

To me, religious texts in general are just fun, and I rather like the rich tradition of Jewish scriptural interpretation.

Edited: Jun 29, 2012, 2:07pm

I have notes through chapter 12, but haven't found time to post. Maybe I can find some time in the later part of the weekend.

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 1:01am

I’ve read through chapter 16 and Samson. Judges feels obscure. Random things are happening, but the implications seem to be mainly about this as a somewhat chaotic time of transition. How often does the hero seem to be just the guy who managed to surround himself with enough ruffians to become something of a force? And it does seem to be a very tenuous line that differentiates these heroes from bad Abimelech.

My general sense is still that these are folk tales, and that each folk tale has some kind of regional component to it. Several events are duplicated (Ephraim getting left out, Samson’s passive-aggressive girls, the oaks, etc.), which must indicate that the same story evolved differently in different places. Of course, we have seen this elsewhere, but not with such distinctive tribal identities.

What is interesting to me is how important the tribal identity seems to be. I almost have the sense that there was an effort to insert one Judge from each tribe…and there are twelve Judges. Clearly that isn’t the case, and anyway their tribal connections aren’t always all that clear.

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 12:11am

Chapters 6-8 - Gideon

Chapter 6

In the shadow of overwhelming Midianite and Amalekite annual raids, made possible by the camel, lowly Gideon is called and tears down his own father’s shrine to Baal, and cuts the Asherah Poles. He even uses the wood from the Asherah poles to burn everything. The doubting fearful Gideon questions his god, his calling, and finally takes down the altars at night, in stealth. But, when called, his father saves him saying, “If he {Baal} is a god, let him contend for himself”. The chapter ends as Gideons rounds up troops from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali (but not Ephraim) and sets to fight the raiders. But in his doubt he requires one more sign – the sign of the fleece.

Gideon (of Manasseh – Abiezerite clan)
--- means “hewer” or “hacker”, presumably in reference to his cutting down the poles of Asherah.
---called at the Oak of Ophrah (source of Oprah Winfrey’s name, but her’s was misspelled by mistake.)
---“But sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds…
---late called Jerubaal – meaning “Let Baal Contend Against”

Chapter 7

This chapter further sets up the battle, then finally presents the route.

First, to help God make his point, Gideon trims his army (or did they desert). He first by requests that ”Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him go home.”Then makes a selection based on how the remaining men drink water at a river. The lappers stay. Why? Maybe because they are less cautious. Not sure.

The still doubtful Gideon scouts out the camp with his servant Purah. Purah is the first of several key squire-like servants in this book. There they hear the dream of the great army getting overwhelmed by “a cake of barley bread”, that is by farmers.

Gideon assured, the raid is on under the battle cry ”A sword for the LORD and for Gideon” (which somewhat explains my own curiosity about the title of an obscure TV movie, The Sword of Gideon). The raiders routed, Ephraim is called to assist the chase and the raider’s leaders, Oreb and Zeeb, are captured and killed

Chapter 8

This chapter has a battle wrap up, with a few questionable bits of info. Gideon will refuse the crown, but takes up idolatry before dying.

To Ephraim's complaints about not being called (instance 1), Gideon resorts to flattery, “Is not the gleaning of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer?” – i.e. the least of Ephraim is better than the best of Abiezer.

Then we capture the raider’s leaders again, except this time they are called Zebah and Zalmunna, and this time at Succoth and Penuel . Here we learn this is actually a blood feud. About the men killed by the Midianite and Amalekite raiders at Tabor, Gideon tells us, ”They were my brothers, the sons of my mother.” OK…this changes any meaning behind the entire story…assuming there was one.

Also interesting to note the cowardice of Gideon’s son, Jether, and the bravery of Zebah and Zalmunna, ”You {Gideon} come and kill us; for as the man is, so is his strength”, meaning that, while it would be disgraceful to be killed by the boy Jether, it would be OK if someone like Gideon kills them.

Offered a kingship of Israel, Gideon says, ”I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” In another aside this reminds me of the pre-Caesar Roman generals who refused the chances to become emperor in order to preserve the Republic. On one hand we can assume that Gideon wasn’t really in a position to take power, and his refusal is tactful acknowledgement of his limitations. On another hand, we might interpret this to mean the tribes actually really liked their state of independence and alliance. This interpretation is mine, and not from any notes. Or, we can take Gideon at face value, and see is as a praise to God .

Then Gideon turns on his God! (Jud 8:27). Taking a collection of gold, Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare of Gideon.…maybe we shouldn’t take Gideon’s praise of God at face value…

And Gideon dies.

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 10:26pm

Chapters 9-12 - My retellings of Abimelech, Jephthah and several minor judges.

Chapter 9 - Abimelech’s failed kingship

Abimelech is a son of Gideon by a Shechem woman. Seeing himself as a possible king, he first uses his connections to Shechem to build his powerbase. Then hiring “vain and light persons (That’s KJV. NRSV says “worthless and reckless fellows”, a translation which, from a literary perspective, is criminal.) he wipes out all possible challengers except one, killing every son of Gideon’s except Jotham, “upon one stone”. The stone makes this something like a sacrifice. This done, Abimelech has Shechem declare him king “by the oak of the pillar at Shechem”.

That’s six lines. The rest of this long chapter covers Abimelech’s three year reign of trouble and his embarrassing death (by another squire-like assistant). Along the way Jotham tells an antimonarchical parable where he essentially called Abimelech a bramble; and Abimelech happens to wipe out Shechem, massacring his one-time main supporters and salting the earth to make the destruction more permanent.

Notable about this story are several striking lines:

9:2 “ remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.

9:23 “ Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; ” – meaning a sense of distrust developed.

9:54 “ Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, ‘A woman slew him.’

Note: Beth-millo and the Tower of Shechem (or the stronghold of the temple of El-berith) are probably the same thing.

Chapter 10

Tola (of Issachar, but lived in Ephraim)
- two lines
- Name means “worm”- huh?

Jair (Gileadite – from Manasseh)
- three lines, but Jair is also mentioned in Joshua 13:30 & 1 Kings 4:13

Oppression by Ammonites

- note the list of Gods the Israelites follow: “the Baals and the Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines.

The LORD has had enough: (10:13-14) ”Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.”

But alas, “he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” – don’t expect a perfect hero at this point, just sayin’. The annoyed god is only going to offer the bare minimum.

Finally, the Ammonites are encamped at Gilead and Gilead prepares to fight back. Just need a leader…

Chapter 11

Jephthah (Gilead again, meaning Manasseh?)
- son of Gilead by a prostitute – did I mention bare minimum…
- childhood abandonment echo’s Ishmael…and, according to HCSB, also David
- settles in Tob where he becomes a leader of of outlaws – echoing Abimelech!

So, Israel is forced to look to the son of a prostitute and leader of a band of outlaws to save them. This probably isn’t going to be very good. And he’s not coming cheaply. Jephthah refuses the offer to be commander, he wants to be head over all…

An interesting aspect is Jephthah’s negotiating with the Ammonites, which he does through a messenger.

Anyway, Jephthah makes the vow, defeats and raids the Ammonites, then does a child sacrifice…

Chapter 12

Ephraim complains again about not being left again, but this time they are dealing with a less-than-great judge. The negotiation is interesting, but Jephthah finally responds with violence and massacres the Ephraimites, who can’t pronounce “Shibboleth”.

Ephraim’s complaint (12:4): ”You are fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites—in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh” - so maybe not Gad…

In the next line, the fugitives of Ephraim, this time literally fugitives on the run, are massacred by the Gileadites (Jephthah is not specifically mentioned)

Ibzan of Bethlehem
- three lines
- from Zebulun/Asher border
- lots of children and therefore lots of political marriages

Elon the Zubulunite
- two lines, but also found in Gen 46:16 & Num 26:26
- Buried in Aijalon – same pronunciation as Elon

- three lines
- son of Hillel the Pirathonite – Manasseh ,but near Ephraim
- 70 children on donkeys

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 4:15pm

blinding of Samson by Rembrandt

Jul 1, 2012, 10:05pm

Monoah's sacrifice to the LORD after Samson's annunciation - also Rembrandt

Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 10:25pm

And some musical accompaniment - care of the Pixies.



OK, full disclosure, I fucking love this song, probably way more than its actual goodness. And, I simply can't say how much I like without that little four letter word. Apologies and all that.
chained to the pillars
a 3-day party
i break the walls
and kill us all
with holy fingers

Jul 2, 2012, 12:13am

Yaaaay! That got me out of bed. Have you seen them on their recent reunion and post-reunion touring?

Thanks for the notes, Dan. Gideon is a complicated and flawed character to be naming your Bible society after, isn't he?

And it was good to encounter the s(h)ibboleth story, which figures prominently in every introductory sociolinguistics textbook probably ever. Check out this amazing list, from the 'pedia:

Jul 2, 2012, 12:17am

(oops, but only the top part, the rest is just, like, place names or something, which kind of misses the point)

Jul 2, 2012, 10:45am

#111 - Haven't seen a live band since my first child was born (and then some before that)...

Edited: Jul 2, 2012, 10:55am

Oh, I missed the mention of the Gideon's bibles! Good catch Martin.

From wikipedia ( ):

The organization describes its link to the story of Gideon:
Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character. This is the standard that The Gideons International is trying to establish in all its members, each man to be ready to do God's will at any time, at any place, and in any way that the Holy Spirit leads.

Which only makes me think that these guys really should have read their own bible much more carefully. For me, personally, Gideon is notable, even likable, because of his constant doubt, his pointed questions, and based on his final apostasy, his free-thinking. He's a token for atheists. (Apparently there is more for atheists in Ecclesiastes)

Also, Martin, thanks for highlighting the Shibboleths and the link. Is Zenomax around, lots of New Zealander examples. If they are going to list place names, they really needed to include New Orleans...

Jul 2, 2012, 11:14am

You mean Nnyawwlyuynh?

Jul 2, 2012, 11:28am

I can't wait to get to Ecclesiastes, I've been hearing a lot about it. But first I need to start reading Judges again. I am a bit busy right now (selling my place and buying a new one) but I'll try to make some progress this week.

Jul 2, 2012, 11:40am

#115 - Careful, you could get killed for saying it like that...

#116 - Wow, Flo, stressful. Good luck with all that.

Jul 3, 2012, 11:20am

I thought I'd take a second look at the Samson cycle (chapters 13-16) since those are my favorite stories from Judges, and he is (along with Gideon) the most culturally known figure in this book.

What I love about Samson: like Mary's cousin Elizabeth in Luke and Abraham and Sarah, his parents get an angel telling them that this child is to be a special kid. So we learn from the start that Samson has God working through him. Growing up as a nazirite, especially consecrated to God, one might expect Samson to stay on the straight and narrow.

Until he defiles himself and his parents by eating from a dead animal (TOTALLY impure!), sleeping with foreign women, and slaughtering lots of people over petty little arguments. Samson is more reckless than saintly.

Samson's story reminds me of what one of my Bible teachers said: there was nothing special about the burning bush. God uses any old bush that burns. Samson was the "any old bush." He may have pissed off his own people, who gave him to the enemy, but he was the right man for the time. His recklessness, arrogance, and lust got him into a lot of trouble, from defiling his parents to eventually getting killed, but without that gutsiness he would not have had the courage to bring down the temple and kill the enemy king. And so his judging was a success at the end.

As for sleeping with foreign women, well, to me that seems like more figurative way of saying don't let anything foreign in: customs, women, and ESPECIALLY gods! The foreign women take his strength and lead to his downfall, just as YHWH is the strength of the Israelites who leaves when they turn to foreign gods.

Plus he just makes for some fun stories. Just none that are in the lectionary. *eyeroll*

Jul 3, 2012, 11:55am

Yes, definitely a wild-man, contradictory hero. (Like the lappers in Gideon...if we interpret lappers as less-cautious. Caution curtails bravery.)

His annunciation echoes Isaac, but takes a different tack. There is humor in Isaac's annunciation, and I think we left with the impression the Abraham really was Isaac's father. Here, it's not so clear that Samson has a father; or was God himself the father? We haven't read about Immanuel in Isaiah yet, but certainly this divine, fatherless annunciation gets taken up again as central piece of the Christian myth. And, if like Jesus, Samson is divinely fathered, this would be another parallel with his Greek counterpart, Hercules.

Jul 3, 2012, 3:07pm

"Samson's story reminds me of what one of my Bible teachers said: there was nothing special about the burning bush. God uses any old bush that burns. Samson was the "any old bush."

That. I love that.

Jul 3, 2012, 8:38pm

> 119

I'm guessing that if Samson were divinely fathered it would make a bigger deal of it in the text. Instead the angel speaks to Samson's dad as if he really is the father. Contrast to Jesus where Gabriel talks to Mary.

Can you elaborate on the Samson-Hercules connection? I've never heard of that!

Jul 4, 2012, 2:08am

I think Victor Mature played both Samson and Hercules :-P

Jul 4, 2012, 9:05am

> 122

I'm young enough that the only Hercules movie I know was animated. :P

Edited: Jul 4, 2012, 12:29pm

Oh wait, maybe it was Maciste that Victor Mature played... looking up ... um no, he did play Samson but no Hercules or Maciste. A couple of gladiators too, but I guess that doesn't count.

Jul 4, 2012, 10:39am

I haven't come across a study, but both Samson and Hercules are the same general flawed mythological characters who have super-human strength. As I mentioned above, both may have divine fathers and human mothers. Both fight beasts - in Samson's case it's a Lion. Both have a holy aspect - Samson is a nazarite, and Hercules later becomes immortal, iirc.

Finally, it's probably not a coincidence that Samson is associated with the Philistines - the one group with close Greek cultural connections.

I think Samson is an Israelite transformation of Hercules.

Jul 4, 2012, 11:20am

> 125

Or is Hercules an Israelite transformation of Samson? Eh?

Since you claim to be done with Judges, I am fairly ready to move on as well. I vote to cover Ruth since a nice short book with a big female character would be a nice change of pace. Also I read part of Ruth in Hebrew and want to try again.

This is my first LT group read and I'm loving it!

Jul 4, 2012, 11:26am

Ruth will be covered in this thread. Yes, I'll move on to 1 Samuel soon (not sure Flo knew). But it will take some time before I can type up my remaining notes here...much less and intro there. 1 & 2 Samuel will have it's own thread.

Jonathan - glad you're enjoying, it's certainly nice having you here.

Jul 5, 2012, 3:58am

Finished Judges last night. A rather disturbing read due to the alien morals at work here.

Especially impressive to me were the arithmetics of rape: better to gang rape two women than one man. Although one can't help noticing that in the end only one woman is offered and it's the levite's concubine instead of the host's virgin daughter, but that's understandable human weakness on the part of the host who chooses to hurt a stranger rather than a member of his family.

Also interesting is the strong similarity of this story with the Sodom episode in Genesis. Obviously they must have a common traditional source.

I think I had a few other random observations in mind, especially about the puzzling and disturbing story of the massacre of the Benjaminites, but I forgot them during the night. :-P

Anyway, ready for Ruth when you guys are.

Jul 5, 2012, 7:36am

The massacre of the Benjaminites was a bit weird to me. Like, the guy who (as you say, Florence) offered the woman up to be raped and mutilated her body is 100% righteous, and the Benjaminites who wouldn't offer up the Gibeahites (?) fr punishment on the word of this twisted individual are 100% wrong and deserve to die in their thousands? I mean, of course the Gibeahites DID do it, and maybe the assumption is that God is letting everyone know who's guilty and so the minority must by definition be wrong--you know, victor's justice--but it surprises me that given that the Benjaminites in general were not implicated in the crime and were from one of the tribes and all (and Benjamin! The apple of his father's eye! It's not like they were from a loser tribe like Dan), so little lamentation is wasted on their massacre. There is just zero room for-not even moral ambiguity, but, like, hermeneutics here. Dare to disagree, dare even to say "hold on a minute here guys," and you die.

It troubles me because it reminds me so much of other stories--I've met a few people lately who seem to feel that their own righteousness gives them a status, allows them to dominate the conversation and shout down anyone who disagrees. This seems to be a disease prevalent among pastors here in Uganda (it's prevalent among doctors at home, but that's another story). Like, "God wants ME to talk now, and for the rest of the night, and if you disagree or want to demur or have anything resembling a recognizable human conversation, you'd better get with God and shut up before something bad happens to you." Or like, my friend was telling me about this guy who dicked her around and treated her like crap and then decided that God had told him he was meant to be with her friend and dumped her. (It didn't work out with the friend.) To be clear, I'm not condemning God or religion on this score--it's human perversity--the slaughter of the Benjaminites just chilled me a little, since the ultimate justification for it seems to have been "we killed 'em, and therefore by definition it was what God wanted" or in short, "God wants whatever we tell him to want."

Maybe I'm just getting tired of being harangued by born-again people who think that as soon as they say "Praise Jesus" the normal rules of human decency don't apply to them.

Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 10:56am

I'll try to make quick works of the rest of Judges over the next day or few days. I won't have much an intro for Ruth, certainly don't wait for me.

For Samuel - I will be using Robert Alter's The David Story

Jul 5, 2012, 9:12am

Yay, back to Alter! I'll look for an e-book version.

Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 11:22am

One thought I had yesterday and that just came back to me is that in at least two cases, after making sure that God is on their side through repeated appeals to portents and prophecies, the Israelites do indeed prevail, but also after applying some shrewd tactics to compensate for their disadvantages. This is especially obvious with Gideon, who asks for one sign from God, then another. Then he follows the instructions from above to reduce his army, but also tricks the other side to mask their small number. Wise man, I'd say.

And there is a similar episode afterward, is it with Dan or the Benjaminites, I can't remember.

Also, the succession of the Dan episode (trick a generous man to steal his gods and priest from him, then massacre a peaceful people to take their land, and live happily ever after) and the ferocious punishment of the Benjaminites is, again, truly disturbing.

Jul 5, 2012, 11:10am

Wondering what the other episode was. I think it's funny the author/editor chose to have Gideon shrink his army rather than have him start with a smaller army - leaving a strong sense of a cover-up. And then, compounding that with the lapping bit...

And yes, wow disturbing - the stories and the author's apparent blessing.


Martin - I'm just now seeing your post...


"God wants whatever we tell him to want." - yeah - that's the bible up to now, and presumably going forward. Kill first, justify by righteous command in the histories later...or something like that.

But, Benjamin is getting shelled. The apple of Joseph's eye, but maybe not of the northern tribes. Kugel mentions that (1) the name Benjamin seems to come from the word for southerners and (2) the text seems to indicate the Benjamintes were, to an extent, just another group of raiders harassing everyone else. It's just a side note in Kugel, he doesn't go into depth.

Jul 5, 2012, 1:15pm

>133 dchaikin: oh, interesting. So despite the clear indication that we are meant to be rooting for Joseph and Benjamin and to greater and lesser degrees execrating the other brothers (I guess except for Judah, to an extent?), this doesn't carry over in any meaningful way. I come back to Tolkien again, where the houses of Elves and Dwarves and Men and even hobbits are characterized for all time by their founders--the Noldor are deep-thinking, intense, and good with their hands, like Finwe; etc.--this is not the case here. By this point they could have been descended from anyone.

Jul 5, 2012, 1:29pm

133> The second episode is in Judges 20:28 and following. The Benjaminites have been cutting down the other Israelites, who keep asking god whether they should continue going after their brothers. The third time they ask, God announces that he will deliver the Benjaminites into their hands. And at this point the Israelites change their tactics to lure the Benjaminites away from their city and ambush them. And of course they win.

Jul 5, 2012, 1:57pm

#135 - recognition flickers...

#134 - Tolkien would be a nice follow-up to all this...actually a lot of books would serve as nice follow-ups...

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 9:41am

Did I mention how frustrating buying e-books can be? Well, The David Story is apparently only available at Amazon, and not to French buyers. I can't even order it as a dead tree book on I'm going to have to crack open my Perfect Spy kit and construct a fake identity with a U.S. address. Sigh. On the other hand, I'm sure I will look dashing with a false mustache and dark glasses.

Jul 6, 2012, 9:36am

#137 - Nationality seems so unnecessarily bureaucratic with e-books... Good luck. Alter has a nice intro, by the way.

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 2:05pm

Chapters 13-16 - Samson - the quick and dirty version

My intro was going to talk about Samson and the Greek connection (aka the Philistines) and the Hercules association, but we've covered that. Call him Greek, or call Hercules Israelite, but they probably have some kind of association. As far as I know, Hercules is not associated with this region - while Andromeda is (with Joppa, or modern Jaffa). So, my assumption is the Philistines brought Hercules along with their version of Greek-ish religions and passed it on to the annoying and backward hillbillies - our Israelites.

Chapter 13

The story of Samson's conception to Danites Manoah and his unnamed wife. This is the bible's second annunciation (after Sarah) and third trouble with barrenness (Sarah and Rebekah). This is also a very personal story, more Genesis like than elsewhere. Only Manoah, his wife, the angle and the unborn, soon-to-be rebellious nazarite Samson.

13:18 "Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful." (wonderful the NRSV translation, meaning beyond human comprehension)

I think Manoah asking the angle his name parallels Jacob when he wrestles the angel...

Chapter 14

Samson's trial with his first passive-aggressive wife, unnamed. She is "a woman in Timnah."
---here is where Samson "tore the lion apart"
---and then later scraped out honey from it's corpse and fed it to his parents. Some nazarite.
---leading to the riddle
---leading to the passive-aggressive wife, "You hate me' you do not really love me."
---and so on.
---and, he Samson kills 30 men from Ashkelon - but they aren't Israelite, so, you know, it's kind of OK...

Chapter 15

Here Samson becomes a judge because he's is such a nice guy...
---finding out his abandoned wife has remarried, he starts a huge fire in Timnah
---so the Philistines burn the woman and her father - strange justice
---Samson hides in a cleft in Judah
---Allows himself to be bound to save Judah from the Philistine wrath - an important note of valor
---Then the jawbone massacre, which includes the Song of Samson - the oldest fragment in the story.

Chapter 16

Samson and Delilah (aka, passive-aggressive wife #2)
---prostitute in Gaza episode - Gaza is Philistine at this time
---Then he falls in love with Delilah.

Who is Delilah?
from valley of Sorek, which implies she was Philistine.
Was she a prostitute too? Text implies she would do anything for money. I think it can be read that way.

---While Delilah goes passive aggressive, dumb Samson hangs on a bit and misleads her three times
---but Samson can't hold out forever ("He was tired to death" - this phase will reappear in 1 kings 19:4 and Jonah 4:8)
---and then gouging...and the almost sacrifice to Dagon (Philistine God of grain)...and so on...
---but what an interesting house Samson brought down.

Jul 6, 2012, 2:03pm

So, what do we make of Samson?

1. Given a gift, pledged to be a nazarite, he does everything wrong. He's a a dumb in a society that loves cleverness. He is irreverent and disrespectful of his parents, in a society that pledges holiness and respect for parents. He marries whores from other cultures in a society that values genetic purity (although they don't use the idea of genetics)...well, values racial purity except when it doesn't.

2. But he's not all bad. He sacrifices himself to help the Judahites and he reigns as judge for 20 years.

Another flawed hero, but he is so much more colorful then the others that he stands out.

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 2:04pm

The rest will need to await until I find time, hopefully later in the weekend...

Jul 7, 2012, 2:48pm

To my great surprise, I just finished Ruth. I didn't expect it to be so short. Good thing I finally managed, after only a few hours of spy work, to acquire The David Story. Also surprised and a bit frustrated that Alter didn't include Ruth in this book, since it is presented as a kind of prologue to David's story, Ruth being his great-grand-mother. But maybe Alter is following the Jewish order of the books, I think you said, Dan, that in the Jewish tradition Ruth comes later. And maybe the fliation between Ruth and David is not part of the Jewish tradition?

But I would have welcomed some explanation about this right of a next of kin to buy back a widow's land. I suppose that in this highly patriarchal society a woman was not in a position to make a living out of land, so that Boaz was saving Naomi and Ruth from poverty by buying back their land. And the right of the next of kin is to avoid the land being diverted from the family's heritage.

Anyway, now sitting down comfortably to read the introduction to David.

Jul 7, 2012, 2:51pm

140> It's true that Samson is a kind of anti-hero in a way, I hadn't seen it that way. To be honest I didn't pay much attention to his story. I guess I felt I knew it already, which I didn't really. I blame Hollywood.

Edited: Jul 7, 2012, 8:47pm

The notes in my Harper Collons Study Bible makes small effort to disentangle to legal aspects of Ruth and the property, then conclude that they aren't critical to the story anyway. : )

Ruth is such a change - Everyone is so touchingly nice.

As far as the David connection - probably a late editorial add on.

Jul 8, 2012, 9:29am

144> "Ruth is such a change - Everyone is so touchingly nice."

True, nobody gets smitten or put to the ban, and no wrath flares up. Nice. :-D

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 11:38am

Okay, my thoughts on the book of Ruth....

First off, it's a big relief to read something short where nobody gets slaughtered. Also, this feels like one of the few places in the Bible where women speak to one another without a man around. The Bible definitely seems to devalue womens' discourse. It's especially nice that Naomi and Ruth are such likeable characters. The close familial affection they have reminds me of the scene where Mary visits Elizabeth in Luke's Gospel. It seems even more unsual that Orpah and Ruth love Naomi since (as I understand) a woman's relationship with her mother-in-law was as tense in Biblical times as it is now.

I took the time to buy James Kugel's monstrously deep commentary on the Tanakh, How to Read the Bible. Despite its size his comments on Ruth (tucked away in the Judges chapter) are scant. First, he points out that this text has a fable-like quality to it. That's apparent when one reads it in the Hebrew and can see how everyone's name has some specific meaning:

Elimelech: "God is my king"
Mahlon: "Sickly" and Chilion: "Frail" (since they both die off pretty early!)
Naomi: "Pleasant", but when her life is in the pits she changes it to "Mara," which means bitter. (Interestingly the narrator never calls her Mara.)
Also note that in 1:1, the characters go from a place of famine to Bethlemen, which means "House of bread." So they're going from famine to plentiful food. Later at the beginning of chapter 2 Naomi and Ruth come into Bethlehem to again find it a place of plenty at harvest time.

Kugel points out that the unusual names combined with the high-falutin' speak of the characters makes this text feel like a folktale invented by a later tradition (perhaps post-exile) rather than an earlier author. But why would they write this story?

Kugel points out that most of the Hebrew Bible is not a fan of intermarriage. Look where it got Samson, whose love for the Philistine Delilah got him killed. Look at Ezra, who forces the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives. With foreign wives come foreign gods and foreign idols. Yet here is Ruth, a Moabite, not only marrying an Israelite but being the great-grandmother of King DAVID, for crying out loud! Kugel compares this to finding out that the Queen of England has Indian blood - not quite as 'blue' as we expect it to be. So Kugel sees this text as a polemic in favor of mixed marriage, written later but written to sound like it was written earlier for persuasive effect.

Of course, what makes Ruth different is that she specifically renounces her own religion, when she says to Naomi, "your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (1:16). Compare this to Solomon's foreign wives in Judges, who bring their foreign idols with them and get him (and therefore the kingdom) to worship idols. Ruth is modeled as the ideal convert in later Jewish tradition. Apparently it's one practice for a women converting to Judaism to change her name to Ruth.

I wish I could read this in Hebrew, but all my Hebrew stuff is at home. I actually have a textbook with a guided walkthrough of reading Ruth in Hebrew, since it's super short and the language is relatively straightforward (A Workbook for Intermediate Hebrew: Grammar, Exegesis, and Commentary on Jonah and Ruth). Another day.

Jul 8, 2012, 12:42pm

Phew! So much! And I am on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi, and internet is so slow here but we saw gorillas and I regret nothing! Anyway, I liked this thought of Kugel's

Kugel points out that the unusual names combined with the high-falutin' speak of the characters makes this text feel like a folktale invented by a later tradition (perhaps post-exile) rather than an earlier author. But why would they write this story?

and I am finding that on a purely emotional or maybe synaesthetic level it changes how I read the books a lot when I think of them as legendary (e.g. the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch) or older and "authentic," if mundane, or younger and claiming an older pedigree for rhetorical purposes.

Jul 8, 2012, 1:04pm

> 147

Gorillas! Last weekend I was at Pashupati, one of the biggest Hindu sites in Nepal. It's often called "monkey temple" for the creatures that roam around there freely. I was posing for a photo and one came up to me and took my water bottle out of my hand! She even chewed through the plastic to get a drink! Good thing I didn't have a banana. (There's another story there.)

I think a parallel to what you're talking about is the difference between the ancient exegetes Kugel writes about, who saw Scripture as sacred and full of cryptic and deep meaning, and modern historical-critical scholars who tend to (and this is a caricature) look at the texts through a sharp analytic lens and desacralize it. I'm currently on Kugel's first chapter and it is phenomenal. I'll post some stuff up here on it tomorrow. (It's 10:45 PM here.)

Jul 8, 2012, 1:55pm

Kugel is a mixture of terrific, and annoyingly incomplete. And why put Psalms between Saul and David? Anyway, just be sure to read his notes, as that is where he hides his most interesting information.

Now to finish Judges...

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 1:58pm

Chapters 17-21

”there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold.”

I wanted to be quick here, but these stories have so many interesting details that seem to get lost after the rape. That rape scene is so extraordinarily disturbing, that it overshadows almost everything else here except for one repeated comment – “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

Despite the antimonarchial tilt in Judges, the main take away points are strongly pro-monarchial. The lessons are (1) without kings there is violence and chaos and (2) as you can see by all these failed louts, it takes a pretty special person to be a king (presumably you can add – like the wonderful king we have now that you should pledge full allegiance to). So forget Gideon turning down the crown, and forget Jotham’s parable; the Israelites desperately need a king.

They will even put up with a Benjaminite for a bit…because these stories set up for Saul, the first and failure king, from Benjamin.

Chapter 17 Micah and the Levite priest from Bethlehem.

This is about the flawed foundation of shrine. Micah (of Ephraim) steals 1100 pieces of silver from his own mother, and she curses the unknown thief. Then he tells her what he has done, and returns the money. The curse has already been uttered. His mother first tries a blessing to counteract the curse. Not satisfied, she vows to build a shrine with the money…but only contributes 200 pieces.

So, the shrine is built, and Micah makes is son a priest. Clearly not worthy, Micah replaces him as soon as a real Levite arrives. And Micah’s conclusion, “Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.” And so we have a shrine of Micah, founded in hopes of profit…and what is maybe biblical humor.

Chapter 18 Danites found Dan

More crazy stuff. In essence here, the Danites need land. So they find a weak settlement in the far north (Laish), wipe them out. Along the way they ransack Micah’s shrine, taking everything, including the Levite (who now has name, Jonathan) and found a shrine in Dan that will last “until the time the land went into captivity” – ie until the Assyrian exile in 722-1 bce.

---18:3 the scouts “recognized the voice of the young Levite -- they recognized his southern accent, because the Dan’s are still in the south.
---18:7 “When they came to Laish, the observed the people who were there living securely, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth, and possessing wealth” – sounds like an ideal Israelite community …
---18:28 for Laish, ”There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealing with Aram” -- Sidon is on the coast

What is the point of this all (chapters 17 & 18)? HCSB tells me that Dan was a major northern shrine. The story undermines this shrine in numerous ways.

Edited: Jul 8, 2012, 2:03pm

Chapter 19 the rape

--- This Levite is an inversion of Jonathan. He begins in Ephraim, and travels to Bethlehem, where he takes a concubine.
---19:2 “But his concubine became angry with himi, and she went away from him… -- which may or may not indicate adultery...but does pin the blame on her! If she stays, the whole traveling episode doesn’t happen.
---delayed by the concubines father, the Levite finally sets out, but now finds himself out late and exposed. He avoids non-Israelite Jerusalem for an Israelite community in Gibeah.

Saul side note1: Gibeah, in Benjamin, is the home town of Saul. In essence, this story is a criticism of Saul’s origins. (Kugel tells me that Saul probably only ruled Northern tribes – hence the Judah-tilted dislike of him)

---first Gibeans offer no shelter. Then one man, finding the group is already well supplied, offers, “Peace be with you. I will care for all your wants."
---and then the parallels to Lot sheltering the angels of destruction – house surrounded, request to rape the male guest, two girls are offered instead
---but, unlike Lot, the men take one girl, the concubine, and rape her ”all through the night until morning”, and to death
---Deciding readers are not yet disturbed enough, the story goes on – the Concubine is cut into twelve pieces, one for each tribe, and then sent out as a call to arms…

Saul side note2: Saul will do the same thing later, except he uses a bull, not a human sacrifice.

Chapter 20 destruction of Gibeah

400,000 troops gather to pay Benjamin back for this crime. But Benjaminites rally to Gibeah and put up a remarkably good fight. It’s not until the Israelites, under priest Phineas (the insane), get the LORD’s blessing that “I will give them into your hand” that they are able to defeat the Benjamintes and commence on their slaughter…through the exact same trick they used against Ai.

Ambushed, the Benjaminites look back "and there was the whole city going up in smoke toward the sky!” And all male Benjaminites are wiped out except for 600 at Rimmon

Note: There are two different accounts of the final battle – verses 29-36 & 36-43

Chapter 21 Preserving the Benjaminite line (leading to Saul)

The Israelites revert to principals of their own making – disturbing as always. Peace is made with the 600 Benjamintes , but now 600 wives are needed.

First Jabesh-Gilead is wiped out for not assisting in the slaughter of the Benjamitnes – and 400 virgins are saved. This is another Saul tie-in, as Jabesh-Gilead will be friendly to Saul.

For the remaining 200, they wait for a vintage festival: “when the young women of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and each of you carry off a wife for himself…

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

Jul 8, 2012, 2:07pm

#146-148 - I'm not quite ready to comment on Ruth, but fascinated by your primate adventures around the world...and wondering at our four (Flo, Jonanthan, Martin, and me) longitudes.

note that HCSB has a little intro that is consistent with everything in Jonathan's post 146.

Edited: Jul 9, 2012, 10:00am

I am loving James Kugel and feel bad for not having discovered him before!

These are my thoughts on the first chapter of his book, How to Read the Bible. I like the idea of a commentary that juxtaposes ancient interpretation and modern 'scientific' 'higher' criticism.

Kugel's intro provided a short history of Biblical interpretation. The story begins when the Jews came back into Judah from the exile in 538 BCE (thanks Cyrus!). They wanted to rebuild their tradition but had no clue what it was. So they looked to their written history. Chronicles, a retelling of Samuel and Judges from a different angle, isa product of his period.

From this situation the practice of ancient interpretation developed. Four principles were at work here:
1. The Bible is highly cryptic, so many hidden meanings can be found.
2. The Bible is all about today, and if its connection to today is not obvious we have to search harder!
3. The Bible is very precisely written. So not only is everything little detail or verbal nuance tremendously meaningful, but there are no contradictions or mistakes.
4. The Bible is divinely inspired.
These assumptions led to readings of Biblical stories that seem bizarre at first glance, but over time as this practice of interpretation became institutionalized into midrash the interpretations seemed more and more plausible and less and less invented.

Christians took over this practice of ancient interpretation, including the Hellenistic practice of allegorizing a text (starting with Homer) that the Jews had picked up (e.g. Philo). Christians, however, added the typological sense, and by the Middle Ages this had crystallized into the fourfold sense of Scripture:
1. Literal or historical meaning.
2. Moral meaning, or how the text relates to one's own soul.
3. Allegorical meaning, or how Christian doctrine or Christ is allegorized in the text.
4. Anagogical meaning, or how this text relates to the end times.
As the Jews did before, Christians interpreted and interpreted the Bible until a large body of meanings had been built up over the original text. Christian exegetes simply said that Jews read their Bible too literally to see Christ predicted and prefigured in it - this despite the fact that Jews began allegorizing before Christians did! This whole tradition became very conservative, emphasizing retelling a famous exegete's meaning over rereading it oneself, until....

The Reformation, when Protestants threw off all the Church's accumulated readings, began studying Hebrew, and said that properly reading and understanding the Bible alone was crucial. The focus changed from allegorical to literal meanings. Add the Enlightenment into the mix and people became unafraid to question such time-honored beliefs as Moses' composition of the Torah. Most famously, Spinoza was excommunicated for arguing not only that Moses didn't write the Torah, but also ripping apart the four assumptions of ancient interpretation.

This all culminated in the birth of higher criticism, which began in Germany with a close look at the Torah. Different words for God, writing styles, and retellings of the same story led Julius Wellhausen to publish his documentary hypothesis in 1883. This fell like a bomb on Biblical studies, as he held that there were four different authorial voices in the Torah, each with a different viewpoint and time period. Wellhausen is often held to be the grandfather of modern historical-critical method, which has dominated Bibical Studies ever since.

Kugel's intro raises some interesting questions. First, it's interesting that the ancient and the modern interpreters both practice a rhetoric of unveiling. One is unveiling the hidden meanings in the text, while the other is unveiling it in the sense of an archaeological dig, finding it in its original context. Should we privilege the modern interpreters? Why does the original meaning of the text (as far as we can discern) get privileged over any other reading? This is a question about authorial intent.

The purpose of a Biblical scholar is relatively uncomplicated when they are working independently. But many Biblical scholars are employed by a church, either as a priest or pastor or in a professorship at a church-affiliated university. How should the Biblical scholar relate to the pastor or the layperson? Should a scholar curtail their investigation or publishing its findings if it would harm the faith of the laypeople? Where does one draw the line between simplifying scholarly debates for the pulpit and simply ignoring them? What if a scholarly reading undermines the traditional meaning of a text used to support key doctrines?

When I was taking Catholic scripture classes we discussed the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. Our teachers said that these were, in context, not written as history but as a figurative way to talk about who Jesus was and prove that he was a hero. But would one say that to the average Catholic in the pew? What if that made them feel they were lied to, and destroy their faith? The opposite, not telling them for fear of upsetting their faith, seems just patronizing. But some people are not willing to think beyond simple conceptions they learned in 2nd grade catechism. (This is true of many Catholics I've met.)

Okay, my mind is scattered, I'm done. Peace.

Jul 9, 2012, 10:14am

153> Oh great, now I want to read Kugel too, even though I bought two books already that I barely opened. Sigh...

Thank you for a great post, very illuminating. Is this all from Kugel (I mean the first part of your post with the historical recap) or also from your own knowledge?

Jul 9, 2012, 10:55am

#153 Great post Jonathan. Thinking of your last questions, my only worries about answering are concern about whose feeling or beliefs I might be offending. To me it's very simple, if a religious faith is based merely on facts that can be undermined, then it's not much of a faith. I would think any religious leader should be able to handle the facts as they are known and blend it into their faiths. Alas, I'm aware that is not the normal case. Also, being atheist, I'm aware that's an easy position for me to take.

Jul 9, 2012, 1:33pm

> 154

Alas, all the historical info is from Kugel, though hopefully it will stay in my head and become my own knowledge!

> 155

No worries about offending. I definitely agree with you that that is the ideal. But we're not in an ideal world where laypeople care to be educated on the nuances of Biblical scholarship and its methods. (Or even many pastors and priests for that matter - many priests I have met are very kind pastoral men, not bookish.)

An example: also in my Bible class, one teacher told us that when her brother was in college, he took a physical anthropology course. The professor had drawn on the board the entire timeline of homo species, from erectus, sapiens. Her brother raised his hand and asked where Adam and Eve were, and the professor kind of sarcastically just drew a dot arbitrarily and put "Adam and Eve."

Her brother lost his faith then. Because he couldn't integrate what he had learned as a child with what he was learning as an adult. From what I've seen in the Catholic Church this is a HUGE problem. There's often this idea that "religious education" stops when you're confirmed at 10 or somesuch age. Given the psychological research showing that kids can't really understand subtle categories such as myth or allegory, how do you, say, present the story of Adam and Eve to 10 year olds in a way that doesn't distort it but that they understand? Because given Piaget's categories (and Fowler's based on that) the kid thinks concretely and would think of it as a concrete story.

I think a lot of peoples' issues with Biblical scholarship stems from just that: they can't conceive that what they learned as a kid may only be part of the story, or the way they had the capacity to understand as a kid. And sometimes people see things in very concrete, black and white terms, and it can be hard to suddenly tell them to see it in gray terms and balance many different perspectives in their minds, say the balancing-act Kugel does between ancient interpretation and modern scholarship. And so Biblical scholars can get vilified, because sometimes people feel that their primary purpose should not be following the research wherever the evidence leads but toeing the party line of Church doctrine.

Just some totally irrelevant thoughts.

Jul 9, 2012, 2:14pm

I am not really reading but have been lurking on this thread. I don't think people losing and finding and losing and finding their faith because of such thinking exercises is a problem at all. It is part of growing up. A lot of people later on decide to believe again. Or not. (In the end I tend to believe we're all forgiven, as it is hard for me to believe that God is basically infinitely petty, despite all of these OT stories that seem to intimate the opposite).

Jul 9, 2012, 6:24pm

I agree Anna. But again, it's not my issue. My kids will have to figure this one out for themselves. I'll just try to be supportive.

But, hey, back to Ruth..or Kugel...or some literature...

Jul 9, 2012, 6:27pm

(that was my attempt to strangle cute little furry religious discussion before it turns gremlin like...kind of felt like killing baby seals.)

Jul 9, 2012, 6:34pm

second attempt - distraction - I've posted my summary thoughts on Judges here (message #64):

Jul 9, 2012, 6:59pm

158: Point taken - Sorry to barge in, actually. Bad form on my part. My partner and I love these types of theological wranglings but I appreciate not everyone is as twisted as we are.

Edited: Jul 9, 2012, 7:28pm

no no no, not against you no no no...

If it weren't for those insane "Let's Talk About Religion" groups, I wouldn't even mind in the slightest.

The problem is this stuff is fascinating...your posts, Jonathan's, the whole thing...

And I saw what I was about to post myself and then I saw the gremlin...


Jul 9, 2012, 7:30pm

I need Freeque...

Jul 9, 2012, 9:21pm

> 162

Well, dchaikin, you're not a Biblical scholar in a religious institutional setting, so you don't have to worry about this stuff anyway. Also, my thoughts above were probably designed to distract, as I was really sleepy when I wrote them and they read rather incoherently to me.

Let us know your thoughts on Ruth!

Jul 10, 2012, 11:21am

love to lurk here...

Jul 10, 2012, 1:30pm

I'm still moping over killing the conversation here.

#164 - hopefully I'll find time soon. Trying to do too much on LT lately...without actually having any time for it.

#165 - welcome over Jane. That comment is a pick-me-up.

Jul 10, 2012, 2:55pm

Great work dch:, My contributions are ever so brief on any subject these days.

Jul 11, 2012, 9:31pm

#167 Porius - A much too delayed response, but thank you!

Edited: Jul 11, 2012, 10:51pm


Ruth is different from anything in Judges in practically every way except for time period. While Judges is made up of simplified narratives and seems to be composed of ancient folktales reworked in a biblical narrative, Ruth feels like a younger story projected backwards. I am able sense a storyteller sitting in front of me narrating Ruth…I have certainly not felt that in any other part of the bible.

Just re-read the opening:
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.

Now look at the first line of Judges:
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites enquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?”

In Judges, in line one we have the briefest of setting, merely a few words, and then immediately action. In Ruth the narrative actually begins by setting the scene and making an attempt to bring us into the story. And this setting continues through seven lines before Naomi begins the action by commanding her daughters-in-law to go back to their mothers’ houses.

And, like the style, the content is radically different from anything we have encountered in this bible. It has been a very cold bible. But here in Ruth, only the setting is cold. Naomi has had an unfortunate stretch, losing her husband and two sons. But her reaction is kind, and considerate. And Ruth’s response, her complete commitment to the mother of her deceased husband, is even kinder.

Do not press me to leave you,
Or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God my God…

I found as I was taking notes on Ruth that it was the first time I regretted reading and taking notes at the same time in this book. I was interrupting the narrative for what felt like irrelevant, distracting, and worse, deconstructive information. I recommend Ruth without notes.

Of course, we could butcher the story. The strong woman characters willing submit to the rule of men, and the beautiful, kind Ruth gets stuck with a man a generation older, whose main attribute may be merely his wealth. And we maybe could pick apart the calculated details of Boaz’s apparent kindness. But, even that doesn’t really seem to distract from the touching kindness carried throughout the story. If every bible story has a lesson, this is one is rare one that we can project onto modern idealism. To sum, there is something beautiful about when kindness is repaid with kindness.

And then I must ruin this all to point out the Judahist themes running through here. These Ephraithites should not be confused the Ephraim, they are a Judah tribe from around Bethlehem. Later, at the end of the story the elders tell Ruth and Boaz, “may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” And finally we learn that Boaz and Ruth, who is a Moabite convert (“your people shall be my people, and your God my God”), are part of a patriarchal line that leads from Judah and Perez through to their grandson David.

Jul 11, 2012, 10:51pm

When I started writing this, it was for an intro. But I think this is all I will say on Ruth.

Jul 12, 2012, 12:46am

Ruth shows up in Johnny Keats' poem.

Edited: Jul 12, 2012, 2:43am

Of course, we could butcher the story. The strong woman characters willing submit to the rule of men, and the beautiful, kind Ruth gets stuck with a man a generation older, whose main attribute may be merely his wealth. And we maybe could pick apart the calculated details of Boaz’s apparent kindness. But, even that doesn’t really seem to distract from the touching kindness carried throughout the story. If every bible story has a lesson, this is one is rare one that we can project onto modern idealism. To sum, there is something beautiful about when kindness is repaid with kindness.

And the fact that we can pick it apart that way, like we would a modern novel, says a lot about how closely aligned with our sensibilities this book is.

Jul 12, 2012, 5:03am

> 172

The fact that there is even character development to speak of, rather than just people butchering one another? I can dig that.

So does this mean we can start 1 Samuel??? :D

Jul 12, 2012, 7:29am

Yes. I'll start a thread soon.

Jul 12, 2012, 1:34pm