THE CHRONOLOGY OF JUDGES
A PATCHWORK OF EXCERPTS FROM
JOURNEY THROUGH JUDGES
From Win Corduan's Blog
Late 2007--Early 2008 (No Longer Directly Accessible)
Note: This is neither under construction nor a finalized presentation. It is simply a handful of entries touching on a common topic.
In response to a friend's request if I had anything on the chronology of Judges, I looked through the various stubs I have left of my blog of a couple of years ago and, without trying to create a sequence or mount a single argument, scotch-taped together the following pieces. However, I think there may be enough of value here to leave it up for a while.
Bible Reading: Judges 1:1-3
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the LORD, "Who will be the first to fight for us against the Canaanites?"
Don't be misled by the time indicator, "after the death of Joshua." This phrase indicates that most of what the ensuing narrative will cover is going to be some time after Joshua's death, but it does not imply a tight temporal sequence at first. There will be some information that is also given in the book of Joshua.
The originating setting is that under Joshua the Israelites had taken control of Canaan. They held most of the strategic strongholds in all of the land, but that fact does not mean that there were no pockets of resistance. Each tribe had been allocated their area, but they still had to claim all of the specific localities. The tribes who had wanted to live on the east side of the Jordan (Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh) had been obligated to fight alongside the western ones, but by now had been allowed to return to their new areas, where their women, children, and livestock were waiting for them.
Now it was time for some serious work by each of the tribes, and God selected Judah for the leadership role. Since Simeon's territory was right next to Judah's, the Simeonites and Judahites decided to fight alongside each other. In the long run, their proximity would lead to Simeon losing its identity and being absorbed into Judah.
As usual, I'm going to need a number of days to provide background material for the book. Did you know that we know about the situation in Canaan around that time not only from the Old Testament, but also from Canaanite sources themselves? More on that shortly. For now, here is a map that shows the basic distribution of the tribes in the promised land.James E. Smith, The Books of History (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1995).
Bible Reading: Judges 1
After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the LORD, "Who will be the first to fight for us against the Canaanites?"
In order to get the full benefit of understanding the events in Judges, we need to know about its historical setting, and being familiar with the historical setting requires that we have a sense of the time when the events occurred. There continues to be a lot of debate concerning the date of the exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land. A large number of scholars associate the exodus with Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled in the thirteenth century B.C. We could spend a lot of time and effort going through the arguments, but the bottom line is that, as I keep saying, if we are trying to place biblical data into the context of general history, and if we have to revise biblical data in order to do so, we are not accomplishing anything.
If I may quote from my Chronicles commentary: If we proceed with the date that the Bible helps us establish for the exodus (1 Kings 6:1; Judg. 11:26; Acts 13:20), the Pharaoh during Moses’ life time was Tutmoses III, who ruled for fifty years during the fifteenth century B.C. When he finally died, God told Moses, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead” (Ex. 4:19), a statement that definitely included the pharaoh (Ex. 2:15). The new Pharaoh was named Amenhotep II, and he was the Pharaoh of the exodus. 3
This places the exodus around 1456 B.C. Forty years of wandering in the wilderness launches the conquest in 1416 B.C., and so the book of Judges begins in the first half of the fourteenth century.
We must get away from the idea of the "fertile crescent" in order to understand the history of Palestine. The very first civilizations may have arisen in the crescent Egypt-Palestine- Mesopotamia, but at least by the time we get into serious biblical history there are high civilizations to the north (the Hittites) and to the south (Arabian kingdoms, such as the Sabateans--think of the Queen of Sheba) as well. Palestine became the connecting bridge between the various powers. When the other kingdoms were powerful, chances are that whoever lived in Palestine (e.g., the Canaanites or the Hebrews) would be subdued, but when they were weak or preoccupied, Palestine could maintain a certain amount of autonomy, which sometimes led to stability, but sometimes also left it in turmoil.
This time was an era when none of the potentially strong empires had their act together completely, and Canaan was in total confusion. More on this next time.
Bible Reading: Judges 1
The men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it. They put the city to the sword and set it on fire. Afterwards, the men of Judah marched down to fight against the Canaanites who were living in the hill country, the Negev, and the Judean foothills. Judah also marched against the Canaanites who were living in Hebron. . . . They struck down Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. From there they marched against the residents of Debir . . .
Okay, we're in fourteenth-century Canaan. Nominally, the Pharaoh of Egypt was in charge of this region, but subsequent to the trashing of the army of Amenhotep II, Amenhotep III was not in a position to fling his power far and wide. He also was having a personal feud with the king of Babylon over a marriage alliance having gone sour. The king of Babylon, Kadashman Enlil, had given his sister as wife to the Pharaoh, and rumors were in the air that the girl had died. When KE sent an emissary to Egypt to check on the situation, a woman who was supposed to be the bride was paraded before him, heavily attired and without speaking, thereby strengthening the king's suspicions. Furthermore, KE was pretty ticked that A3 had not sent him his daughter in return nor, for that matter, had given his representative a lot of gold as a present. So, the air was tense between Egypt and Babylon, and A3 was not about to send an army into Canaan, lest KE consider it a provocation.
In the meantime, there was a group of invading nomads wreaking havoc in Canaan. They were widely known as the Habiru or 'Apiru, and the various kinglets were blaming each other and calling on the Pharaoh to rescue them from both the Habiru and their untrustworthy neighbors.
One of A3's successors was Akh-en-Aton, who tried to change Egypt's religion from the customary polytheism to the exclusive worship of the disk of the sun. Needless to say, this innovation was thoroughly unacceptable to the professional priesthood, and their anger was exacerbated by the fact that AeA moved his capital from Memphis (not the one in Tennessee) to a new city, called Amarna. As soon as AeA traded in his throne for a sarcophagus, Amarna was shut down, and everything was brought back to the status quo ante, just as the priests desired it. In the process of destroying the city, an archive of letters on clay tablets became covered up and went undiscovered (or at least unrecognized for what they were) until 1887. The content of these "Amarna tablets" gives us a lot of insight into the state of affairs in Canaan in the early fourteenth century B.C.
Among these letters we find an appeal from Shuwardata, prince of the greater Hebron metropolitan area to AeA, appealing for military help against the Habiru. He claimed to have "smitten" the Habiru's leader, but this seems to have been a fairly dubious victory since he lost territory to the Habiru in the proces and the threat persisted. Here is a part of this letter. 1
Let the king, my lord, learn that the chief of the 'Apiru has risen (in arms) against the lands which the god of the king, my lord, gave me; but I have smitten him. Also let the king, my lord, know that all my brethren have abandoned me, and it is I and 'Abdu-Heba (who) fight against the chief of the 'Apiru. And Zurata, prince of Accho, and Indaruta, prince of Achshaph, it was they (who) hastened with fifty chariots—for I had been robbed ( by the 'Apiru)—to my help; but behold, they are fighting against me, so let it be agreeable to the king, my lord, and let him send [the Egyptian viceroy] Yanhamu, and let us make war in earnest, and let the lands of the king, my lord, be restored to their (former) limits!
'Abdu-Heba, the king of Jerusalem, was making similar appeals to the Pharaoh. 2
Let the king turn his attention to the archers, and let the king, my lord, send out troops of archers, (for) the king has no lands (left)! The 'Apiru plunder all the lands of the king. If there are archers (here) in this year, the lands of the king, my lord, will remain (intact); but if there are no archers (here) the lands of the king, my lord, will be lost!
To the scribe of the king, my lord: Thus `Abdu-Heba, thy servant. Present eloquent words to the king, my lord.—All the lands of the king, my lord, are lost!
In another letter, in which 'Abdu-Heba complained about being let down by his neighbors, he mentioned the town of Bethlehem: 3
But now even a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit- Lahmi by name, a town belonging to the king, has gone over to the side of the people of Keilah. Let my king hearken to 'Abdu-Heba, thy servant, and let him send archers to recover the royal land for the king! But if there are no archers, the land of the king will pass over to the 'Apiru people. . . . So let my king take care of [his] land!
Now, I need to clarify that the term "Habiru" initially covered unwanted nomadic people of various ethnic backgrounds, not just the Israelites. However, it seems to me pretty clear that the term became increasingly associated with those, whose name has come down to us as "the Hebrews." Thus, a part of what we are seeing in these tablets is the conquest, as recorded in Joshua and Judges, from the point of view of some of the Canaanites. Incredible? Taking out of context the words of Mut-ba'lu, prince of Pella, in a letter to viceroy Yanhamu: 4
Indeed, ask Ben-ilima, ask Taduwa, ask Yashuya!
Next time: So, who conquered Jerusalem, and when did he do it?
1James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1958), p. 269. This invaluable book provides ancient texts that correlate with events or texts from the Bible.
2 Ibid, p. 270.
3Ibid, p. 274.
1Ibid, p. 267.
Bible Reading: Judges 1
8 The men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it.
As promised, a few words about the puzzle of the conquest of Jerusalem. On the one hand, we have verses such as the one above that claim that Jerusalem had been captured. Already in Joshua 10 we read that the king of Jerusalem had made an alliance with the king of Hebron and three others, all of whom were defeated by Joshua. But according to chapter 15:63,
The descendants of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. So the Jebusites live in Jerusalem among the descendants of Judah to this day.
Even our chapter here in Judges states the same thing in v. 21; only it substitutes the "Benjamites" for the "descendants of Judah."
It's not until the time of David's kingship that Jerusalem is captured definitively:
David and all Israel marched to Jerusalem (that is, Jebus); the Jebusites who inhabited the land were there. The inhabitants of Jebus said to David, “You will never get in here.” Yet David did capture the stronghold of Zion (that is, the city of David). 1 Chron. 11:4-5.
As long as one assumes that the biblical historians had even a grain of sense and neither wrote, let alone pasted together, totally contradictory statements, there has to be a straight- forward resolution for this ambiguity. As a matter of fact, it is not unusual for an ancient town to consist of two parts: the area where the general population lived, and a special fortification. In the case of Jerusalem, the larger part of the city was occupied by Amorites (Canaanites), and it was defeated, destroyed, and occupied by Judahites and Benjamites. This locality was at the foot of the hill; I'm guessing it may have been on the site of today's Palestinian town of Silvan. On top of the hill was the citadel, in which the Jebusites lived for several centuries until they were finally conquered by David and his general, Joab.
Bible Reading: Judges 1
15 "Be extremely careful for your own good—because you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire.
A sidelight: Here's what I love about liberal scholarship. As I mentioned on Friday, if you accept the years mentioned in the Bible itself, there is no question that the exodus took place in the fifteenth century. I also told you that "Habiru" of the fourteenth -century Amarna tablets, who were wreaking havoc throughout Canaan, can thereby easily thought to include the Hebrews. Here's what we read in the Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land: "On the strength of the similarity between the terms Habiru and Hebrews, many scholars have suggested identifying the Habiru of the 16th-15th centuries BC with the Hebrew conquerors of the 13th century, but this connection has not yet been satisfactorily proved." 1 Maybe that's because they weren't the conquerors of the thirteenth century, but of the fifteenth and fourteenth?
Please allow me dwell on the Amarna tablets just a little longer. One obvious fact is that the names of the Canaanite kings mentioned in the Bible do not coincide with the names on the tablets. For example, the kings of Hebron and Jerusalem are called Shuwardata and 'Abdu-Heba in the tablets and Hoham and Adoni-zedek in Joshua 10 respectively. However, this is no problem insofar 1) the kings of the Amarna tablets may be a generation later than Joshua, and 2) these kings went by different names, depending on the language context anyway. In the Amarna tables we find Akkadian, Egyptian, and even IndoEuropean mixtures of names, and so it is not surprising that the Hebrew author (perhaps Samuel in the eleventh century) should use Hebrew names or even titles. Adoni-zedek, means "Lord of Righteousness," which may have been a routine title for the king of Jerusalem.
There is no reason to assume that Adoni-bezek and Adoni- zedek are the same person. Adoni-bezek is the "Lord of Bezek." Bezek is a little town not too far away from Jerusalem. I don't think that God's commandment to the Hebrews to expunge the Canaanite population necessarily entailed having kinglets die of exsanguination by having their thumbs and toes cut off, but it appears that A-B had been asking for it. The fact that he had seventy thumb-and-toe-less "kings" crawl under his table for crumbs shows both his cruelty and the little value that the term "king" had in that culture. But then, human life had as little value as human dignity.
We will find a great amount of inhumanity in Old Testament history. That does not mean that God approved of it, but God did intend for the Israelites to eradicate the Canaanite population. We may run across some reasons as we move along.
1 A. Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (3rd ed.; New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990, 1996). Back to text.
|Journey through Judges
What We're Not Reading in Judges
I've mentioned before how difficult it is to reconstruct a coherent chronology of Judges. We have roughly 350 years into which to fit the various accounts from the beginning of the conquest (ca. 1400) to the coronation of Saul (ca. 1050). If we went with the date of the exodus and conquest provided by the theory that does not accept the biblical numbers, we would have to fit it all together in about 200 years, moving from difficulty to virtual impossibility. But then, most people who take the late date wind up committing the usual silliness of revising the data of the Bible in order to accommodate their model, in which case one hasn't pinpointed the biblical event, but an event of their own imagination, in history. The latter is considerably easier, but accomplishes nothing particularly worthwhile.
The following table is loosely based on J. E. Smith, The Books of History (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1995). It assumes that the 300 years mentioned by Jephthah (Judges 11:26) and the 480 years from the conquest to Solomon's temple are at least close approximations.
The table on the right shows some of the important items that are not mentioned in Judges. We find that two important matters are left out. One is the ministry of Samuel. He was still a young child when Jephthah was judge, and he worked concurrently with Samson. Even though they were contemporaries and were both heavily involved in the fight against the Philistines, Samuel worked up north in the region of Ephraim, whereas--as we're seeing in these chapters--Samson was way down south virtually in the Philistines' area. It is very likely that Samuel wrote Judges, and so it makes a certain amount of sense that he might have left himself out of the story.
The other omission is the various invasions by Egyptian pharaohs. In fact, advocates of the late (non-biblical) date of the exodus like to ask rhetorically why--if the Israelites were alredy in the land since about 1400 B.C., why the book of Judges does not mention the massive invasion in 1279 by Ramses II (the purported pharaoh associated with the late date).
But this argument for the late date loses all force when you realize that there were subsequent "visits" by other pharaohs, specifically Meneptah in 1229 and Ramses III around 1200.
For reasons not clear to us, the author of the book of Judges did not care to mention the Egyptian factor. A part of the reason may be that the pharaohs did not come specifically to bother Israel, except for Meneptah, and a larger part may be that their invasions were not tied to the spiritual cycles of apostasy followed by bondage, the cry to God for help, and a judge to liberate the people.
Nevertheless, it is important to know that, while Samson, for example, was carrying out his work, God was simultaneously using other persons and events for the sake of his people as well. As a matter of fact, let me clarify that point a little more the next time I write about Judges.
From the original manuscript of my Holman Bible Commentary: 1 and 2 Chronicles.A. Who Was Shishak? (12:2)
Prior to the appearance of Shishak, the
Let me mention as an aside here that, if we
proceed with the date that the Bible helps us establish for the exodus (1 Kings
6:1; Judg. 11:26; Acts 13:20), the pharaoh during Moses’ life time was Tutmoses
III, who ruled for fifty years during the fifteenth century B.C. When he finally died, God told
On the whole, during much of early Old
Shishak, however, left a definite mark on biblical history. Known as Sheshonk I in Egyptian histories, he finally was able to bring some unity of structure and purpose to the Egyptian nation. This feat was somewhat paradoxical in two respects. First, Shishak himself was Libyan, not a native Egyptian, though this standing undoubtedly helped him create his multinational army. Second, as Wilcock (1994, p. 407) points out, Shishak was able to bring off the project of unifying his country at just about the same time as Rehoboam allowed his to split apart.
As we saw, Shishak took a part in
In the inscription in which Shishak tells
the world about his accomplishments in this Palestinian campaign lists 150
cities that he crushed. Remember that in
the biblical account, even though he forced the king to pay tribute--in fact,
he marched off with the royal treasury--he did not actually besiege and destroy
In the larger picture, Shishak’s adventure
did not contribute to the permanent greatness of
B. The Kings of
The chronicler brings up the kings of