Sermon on the Mount, The Emmaus View

Appendix R: The judges and inter-tribal links (Version 1.3)

Judges often declares the tribe, family or region with which the judge was associated. However, inter-tribal marriages certainly could lead to people being considered sons of their father-in law, as was claimed for the priestly sons of Barzillai who were called after their Gileadite ancestor (Ezra 2:61). Judges clearly provides an alternative paternal ancestry for Jair (Judg 10:3-5, 1 Chr 2:22) and, with inter-tribal marriages used as a means of maintaining networks of control, such ambiguity could easily be the case with other judges as well. This appendix reviews where the Book of Judges says that each judge’s affiliations lay, then presents assorted evidence that they may have had strong connections with groups other than those mentioned in the text. The result shows such a strong bias toward the primary authorities during the exodus and conquest, and especially Benjamin, that it is as if someone wanted to throw us off the scent that Benjamin was significant. One could certainly imagine the political motivation for such a move following the battle of Gibeah1, the event which dominates the closing chapters of Judges and saw Benjamin disgraced, or later on as David sought to supplant the Benjamite Saul.

The following paragraphs consider each judge in turn.

Othniel was brother, or nephew, of Caleb and held land in Judah’s allocation. He was therefore clearly part of Judah (Judg 3:9).

Judges claims Ehud was a Benjamite (Judg 3:15), and his left-handedness is in keeping with this. The name appears again in Benjamite genealogies (1 Chr 7:10, 8:6).

Shamgar was the son of Anath. The presence of a Beth-anath, or house of Anath, in the territory of Naphtali (Judg 1:32), leads naturally into the account of Barak and Deborah, with the inference that Shamgar was from Naphtali. However, It has been suggested that Anath, rather than being a personal name (it being strange for an Israelite to bear the name of a foreign god), relates to Anathoth, a Levitical city in Benjamin (Jer 1:1, Josh 21:18)2.

Deborah was based in one of the pockets of Ephraimite-cleared hill-country that peppered the territory of Benjamin (Judg 4:5)3. Whilst generally it was just leaders from each tribe who rallied to her call, it was the people of Benjamin who came (see Chapter 11), suggesting she may have been their de-facto leader rather than an Ephraimite (Judg 5:14). Deborah’s earlier namesake was involved in the events that led up to the birth of Benjamin (see Chapter 11).

Gideon was an Abiezerite from Ophrah (Judg 6:11) and claimed to be from the smallest family in Manasseh (Judg 6:14). Whilst there was an Abiezer amidst Manasseh’s clan, this branch must have married into Benjamin to be holding land in Ophrah, for Joshua assigned the city to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh 18:23). An individual called Abiezer, a Benjamite, served as one of David’s mighty men (2 Sam 23:27). That Abiezer was an Anathothite, as possibly was the judge Shamgar (see above).

Tola is described as descended from Puah, the son of Dodo, and from the tribe of Issachar (Judg 10:1). Tola and Puah are certainly names associated with Issachar (Num 26:23). However, Tola based himself in Shamir, a city which Judges places within the hill country of Ephraim (Judg 10:1). Joshua assigned a hill-country city by that name to Judah (Josh 15:48). It was entirely possible for a city occupied by Judah to be effectively surrounded by Ephraimite hill-country, so it looks as if Tola had probably married into Judah. Tola’s grandfather Dodo has a namesake amongst David’s mighty men (2 Sam 23:24), who came from Bethlehem.

Judges’ calls Jair a Gileadite and treats him as if he were from the tribe of Manasseh (Judg 10:3-5). However, the genealogies of 1 Chronicles suggest a different picture (1 Chr 2:19-22). An earlier Jair, descended from Hezron and acquiring cities in Gilead4, was almost certainly an ancestor of his namesake judge5. Hezron’s descendants also include the fathers of Bethlehem (1 Chr 2:50-51). Moreover, the name Jair occurs again amidst David’s warriors born by a fighter from Bethlehem (2 Sam 21:19, 1 Chr 20:5).

Jephthah, like Jair, was descended from Machir. Jephthah was also the name of a city allocated to Judah (Josh 15:43).

Judges says Ibzan (Judg 12:8-10) was a man of Bethlehem, but not whether this was Bethlehem in Judah or Bethlehem in Zebulun. The later may be inferred by the subsequent verse’s focus on Zebulun. Yet the name Bethlehem itself is strongly linked with Judah.

Elon (Judges 12:11-12), was designated a Zebulunite, but they buried him in Aijalon, which elsewhere always refers to a city in the allocation of Dan that was given as a Kohathite levitical city (Josh 19:42, 21:24). Following the conquest, its Canaanite inhabitants became vassals of the sons of Joseph (Judg 1:35), but at some point between then and the reign of Rehoboam its ownership transferred to the Benjamites (1 Chr 8:13, 2 Chr 11:10).

Abdon (Judg 12:13-15) was the son of a Pirathonite. He was buried in the Ephraimite hill-country that lay amidst the Amalekites, recalling those who rallied to Deborah (Judg 5:14). The name Abdon occurs elsewhere only in the genealogies of the tribe of Benjamin, where two individuals bear it (1 Ch. 8:23, 30; 9:36).

Judges describes Samson’s father as a Danite from Zorah (Judges 13:2), however Joshua allocated Zorah first to Judah (Josh 15:33) and only later to Dan (Josh 19:40). Moreover, by the reign of Rehoboam it was part of either Judah or Benjamin (2 Chr 11:10), probably the former. The Zorathites were descendants of Caleb’s son Kiriath-Jearim (1 Chr 2:50-53), a connection underlined when six hundred warriors, from Samson’s home region, chose to camp near the Benjamite boundary of Judah, by Kiriath-Jearim (Judg 18:12)6. Moreover, one should not overlook the fact that the Nazarite regulations appear applicable to Levites (see Chapter 22).

The last judge, Samuel, is portrayed in 1 Samuel as descended from the Ephraimite (or Ephrathite in ESV) Zuph, via Tohu, Elihu, Jeroham and Elkanah (1 Sam 1:1). However, 1 Chronicles represents Jeroham and Elkenah as Kohathites or the clan of Levi. Elkanah was of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim but went regularly to the tabernacle on set days, so either he was linked to Ephraim by marriage, or he was a Levite based there, or perhaps both, given his son’s Nazirite lifestyle in early life (see Chapter 22). Samuel’s parent’s home town, Ramah (1 Sam 1:19), the town Samuel was later so closely associated with, was probably the Benjamite town of that name (Josh 18:25). The suggestion that Ramah relates to Ramathaim, taken with zophim meaning “watchers”, introduces the possibility that Elkanah was one of a group of Levites, linked to Benjamite Ramah and responsible for watching over the adjacent hill country of Ephraim7.

Barak, as a failed judge, also deserves to be considered. Judges states he came from Kadesh in Naphtali. This suggests that he was a Levite, for Kadesh in Naphtali was a city of Refuge given to the sons of Gershom (Josh 21:32, 1 Chr 6:76).

From the above it is clear that, aside from their stated affiliations, the judges names and their associations frequently point to the tribes who exerted control as Israel moved from Egypt to Canaan. This hints that the pre-existing network of authority prevailed, though more informally, throughout the period of the judges, until it re-emerged in the period of Eli from Levi (1 Sam 2:27-28), Samuel from Ephraim (1 Sam 1:1, 19-20), Saul from Benjamin (1 Sam 10:21) and David from Judah (1 Sam 17:12).

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1 Judg 20:14, 43-44

2 Maier, Walter A, “Anath (Deity),” ABD, 1:225-7; Lowery, Kirk E., “Anath (Person),” ABD, 1:227.

3 After allocating the cleared land, the interspersed wilderness hill country was then made available to Ephraim on condition that they cleared it (Josh 17:17).

4 Segub, son of Hezron, married a great granddaughter of Manasseh (Num 26:29), a daughter of Machir, the father of Gilead. Segub’s son, an earlier Jair, then acquired cities in Bashan, a part of Manasseh’s inheritance. As a member of the tribe of Judah, Jair had no right to hold those cities, however there was nothing to prevent Manasseh incorporating Jair into their tribe and thus keeping within the letter of the law.

5 Robert G. Boling, “Jair,” ABD, 3:614-15.

6 C. E. DeVries, “Kiriath-jearim,” ISBE, 3:42.

7 Terry L. Brinsenger, “Zophim (Place),” ABD, 6:1168.