Fables From the Book of Judges

There is no lack of blood and guts in the Old Testament.  Exodus gives us Godly plagues cast for the benefit of the Israelites, and God mercilessly drowned the pharaoh’s army for daring to pursue God’s alleged favorites.  Leviticus lists twenty-eight alleged God-approved methods for killing any persons who did not knuckle-under to priestly judgement.  Joshua is praised for being the instigator of a grand-scale holocaust extermination of the inhabitants of Canaan.  And the book of Judges is primarily a collection of war stories that focus on Israelite personalities who felt driven to eliminate their neighbors.  The book is commonly defined as containing the “history” of the Israelites during the rule of the Judges.

What is never explained is why God should have neurotic need for mortals’ militant devotion, or why he would feel so much prejudice for everyone in the world except the Israelites.  If he is the omniscient Creator of everything as presented in Genesis, then this claim fails to ring true.  Certainly the assertion provides absolutely no spiritual enlightenment for seekers, for it dwells totally on material acquisitions.  (This may, perhaps, explain why the radical right-wing religionists campaign so shamelessly for a “God-based government” in the US.)

It should be remembered that these bloody biblical stories were written in Jerusalem in the 7th century BCE.  In considering the book of Judges as revealed history, a careful reader will ponder over the fact that the time span that is presented is much too long if it is supposed to cover events from instituting the rule of Judges to the anointing of Saul in the mid-eleventh century BCE.  The book of Judges does not coordinate the savior-judges to each other for the simple reason that the book is a collection of stories that circulated about separate tribal heroes.  And there is the typical editorial contrivance of having the traditional twelve starring characters.  The actual featuring of individual “judges” is not taken up until Judges 3:7, and the tales conclude at 16:31; but the alleged bloody events were all said to have been carried out “in the spirit of Yahweh.”

The book of Judges is part of the Deuteronomists collection assembled by priest-authors in 7th century BCE Jerusalem.  The intent, more political than spiritual, was to present a version of heritage for the people of Israel that would inspire and unite the people.  But the stories in Judges cannot be taken as factual history of Canaan in the earlier timeframe of the 12th or 11 centuries BCE.  For one thing, the chronological order can only be described as surreal; if taken at face value the events cover approximately 400 years.  Tradition place the Exodus events in the 13th century BCE; the exploits of the savior-judges, therefore, would have only 200 years to play out all their heroic parts.

The  reason for the distorted time line is to imply that the various tribal myths took place as a continuous history involving persons who arose out of obscurity to perform heroic deeds to save the dream of Israel.  The priestly rewrite of tribal myths never failed to place the blame for Israel suffering under the assaults of oppressors as being the result of the people having repeatedly backsliding in their worship of Yahweh.

Among the traditional twelve Judges of Israel there are listed:  Othniel (Judges 3:7-11), of the Caleb tribe, who supposedly beat back a Mesopotamian foe named Cushanrishathaim;  Ehud (3:12-30), of the Benjamin tribe, who assassinated the Moab king Eglon;  Smamgar (3:31), portrayed as having slain 600 Philistines with an ox goad.  Then there is Yael, the wife of Herber, a Kenite, who is glorified for killing a Canaanite general named Sisera by driving a tent stake through his skull while he slept.  Deborah and Barak shine in Judges 4:1-23, but Barak is said to have killed Jabin, the king of Hazor, which is weird, for it is said in the book of Joshua that Joshua did the bloody deed.  Another judge was Gideon (6:1-8.35), who summoned the Israelites to attack the Midianites and pursued them to the river Jordan.  He was offered a crown for his leadership, but refused, asking only for the many gold earrings captured from the enemy, from which he is said to have fashioned an ephod (for the meaning of ephod see post Sex in Sacred Disguise, March 2009).  Gideon then sacrificed his loving daughter in appreciation of victory over the Ammonites (11:34-40).  And we must not forget Samson (13:1-16.31), and the hair-raising story of his killing 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of and ass.

Samson is something of a misfit as a “judge” for he is not portrayed in any leadership action against enemies of the Israelites; his are personal battles with the Philistines.  His inclusion in the book of Judges is based solely on his alleged bringing down the Philistine temple, thus implying the superiority of the god Yahweh.  Samson is the Hebrew version of the Greek Heracles (Hercules), mixed with Apollo.  The name means “man of the Sun,” so what we are offered is really an allegory of the sun’s power.  That it is myth, not history, is also revealed in the style of story development.  All Pagan and scriptural myths depict only briefly a demigod’s or hero’s birth.  As are some other biblical heroes, Samson’s mother had been barren, but an angel of the Lord told her that she would bear a son, and then the story leaps to his adult life.   The secret of Samson’s strength was in his hair; in other words, the sun’s rays.  It is a Hebrew myth mimicking of the Apollo myth, the Greek sun god, of whom Homer said, “…he of unshorn hair.”  The Philistine vixen, Delilah, is said to have discovered the secret of Samson’s strength, and while he slept she cut off his “seven locks” of hair.  Embedded in the name of the villainess is the Hebrew word lilah, which means “darkness” or “night.”  Prefacing lilah with D, the Hebrew daleth, which means “door,” indicated that De-lilah personified darkness, which in all mythological tales always symbolized the underworld. 

The Deuteronomists examples of God’s alleged favoritism of the Hebrew/Israelites continue in the books of Samuel, the alleged king-maker.

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7 Responses to “Fables From the Book of Judges”

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