08 Concubine and chaos


Frymer-Kensky, Tikva   Reading the Women of the Bible: A new Interpretation of their Stories.  (Shocken Books, New York, 2002).


Prologue   Judges 19:1-4

1 In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a there was a Levite residing in remote parts of the mountain region of Ephraim who had taken for himself a concubine from Bethlehem of Judah.   2 But his concubine spurned him and left him for her father’s house in Bethlehem of Judah, where she stayed for some four months.  3 Her husband then set out with his servant and a pair of donkeys, and went after her to soothe her and bring her back. He arrived at her father’s house, and when the young woman’s father saw him, he came out joyfully to meet him.  4 His father-in-law, the young woman’s father, urged him to stay, and so he spent three days eating and drinking and passing the night there.

Do not spend the night with strangers!   Judges 19:5-14

5 On the fourth day they rose early in the morning and he prepared to go. But the young woman’s father said to his son-in-law, “Fortify yourself with a little food; you can go later on.”  6 So they stayed and the two men ate and drank together. Then the young woman’s father said to the husband, “Why not decide to spend the night here and enjoy yourself?”  7 The man made a move to go, but when his father-in-law pressed him he went back and spent the night there.  8 On the fifth morning he rose early to depart, but the young woman’s father said, “Fortify yourself!” He coaxed him, and he tarried until the afternoon, and the two of them ate.  9 Then when the husband was ready to go with his concubine and servant, the young woman’s father said to him, “See, the day is wearing on toward evening. Stay for the night. See, the day is coming to an end. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow you can start your journey home.”  10 The man, however, refused to stay another night; he and his concubine set out with a pair of saddled donkeys, and traveled until they came opposite Jebus, which is Jerusalem.

11 Since they were near Jebus with the day far gone, the servant said to his master, “Come, let us turn off to this city of the Jebusites and spend the night in it.”  12 But his master said to him, “We will not turn off to a foreigner’s city, where there are no Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah.  13 Come,” he said to his servant, “let us make for some other place and spend the night in either Gibeah or Ramah.”  14 So they continued on their way until the sun set on them when they were opposite Gibeah of Benjamin.


Lodging in Gibeah    Judges 19: 15-21

15 There they turned off to enter Gibeah for the night.  The man went in and sat down in the town square, but no one took them inside to spend the night.  16 In the evening, however, an old man came from his work in the field; he was from the mountain region of Ephraim, though he was living in Gibeah where the local people were Benjaminites.  17  When he noticed the traveler in the town square, the old man asked, “Where are you going, and where have you come from?”  18 He said to him, “We are traveling from Bethlehem of Judah far up into the mountain region of Ephraim, where I am from. I have been to Bethlehem of Judah, and now I am going home; but no one has taken me into his house.  19 We have straw and fodder for our donkeys, and bread and wine for myself and for your maidservant and the young man who is with your servant; there is nothing else we need.”

20  “Rest assured,” the old man said to him, “I will provide for all your needs, but do not spend the night in the public square.”  21 So he led them to his house and mixed fodder for the donkeys. Then they washed their feet, and ate and drank.


An outrage in Israel    Judges 19:22-26

22  While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a bunch of scoundrels, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They said to the old man who was the owner of the house, “Bring out the man who has come into your house, so that we may get intimate with him.”  23 The man who was the owner of the house went out to them and said, “No, my brothers; do not be so wicked. This man has come into my house; do not commit this terrible crime.  24 Instead, let me bring out my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. Humiliate them, or do whatever you want; but against him do not commit such a terrible crime.”

25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and thrust her outside to them. They raped her and abused her all night until morning, and let her go as the sun was coming up.  26 At the approach of morning the woman came and collapsed at the entrance of the house in which her husband was, and lay there until morning.




The bloody body   Judges 19:27-30

27 When her husband rose in the morning and opened the door of the house to start out again on his journey, there was the woman, his concubine, collapsed at the entrance of the house with her hands on the threshold.   28 “Come, let us go,” he said to her, but there was no answer. So the man placed her on a donkey and started out again for home.  29  On reaching home, he got a knife and took hold of the body of his concubine. He cut her up limb by limb into twelve pieces and sent them throughout the territory of Israel. 30 He instructed the men whom he sent, “Thus you shall say to all the men of Israel: ‘Has such a thing ever happened from the day the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt to this day?  Take note of it; form a plan and give orders.’”

All Israel gathers    Judges 20:1-11

1 So all the Israelites came out as one, from Dan to Beer-sheba  including the land of Gilead, and the assembly gathered to the LORD at Mizpah.   2 The leaders of all the people, all the staff-bearers of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God—four hundred thousand foot soldiers who carried swords.  3 Meanwhile, the Benjaminites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah. The Israelites asked, “How did this evil thing happen?”  4 and the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, testified: “It was at Gibeah of Benjamin, which my concubine and I had entered for the night. 5 The lords of Gibeah rose up against me and surrounded me in the house at night. I was the one they intended to kill, but they abused my concubine and she died.  6 So I took my concubine and cut her up and sent her through every part of the territory of Israel, because of the terrible thing they had done in Israel.  7 So now, all you Israelites, give your judgment and counsel in this matter.”

8 All the people rose as one to say, “None of us will leave for our tents or return to our homes.  9 Now as for Gibeah, this is what we will do: We will go up against it by lot,  10 taking from all the tribes of Israel ten men for every hundred, a hundred for every thousand, a thousand for every ten thousand, and procuring supplies for the soldiers who will go to exact from Gibeah of Benjamin the full measure of the terrible thing it committed in Israel.”  11 So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one.






Refuge in Sovereignty   Judges 20:12-16

12 The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin to say, “What is this evil that has occurred among you?  13 Now give up the men, the scoundrels who are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and thus purge the evil from Israel.” But the Benjaminites refused to listen to their kindred, the Israelites.  14 Instead, the Benjaminites assembled from their cities at Gibeah, to march out to battle with the Israelites.  15 On that day the Benjaminites mustered from their cities twenty-six thousand swordsmen, in addition to the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered seven hundred picked men 16 who were left-handed, every one of them able to sling a stone at a hair without missing.


The war   Judges 20: 17-48

17 The men of Israel, without Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them warriors.  18 They went up to Bethel and consulted God. When the Israelites asked, “Who shall go up first for us to do battle with the Benjaminites?” the LORD said: Judah first.  19 The Israelites rose in the morning and encamped against Gibeah.

20 The men of Israel marched out to do battle with Benjamin and drew up in battle array against them at Gibeah.  21 The Benjaminites marched out of Gibeah that day and felled twenty-two thousand men of Israel.  22 But the army of the men of Israel took courage and again drew up for battle in the place where they had drawn up on the previous day.  23 Then the Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening. “Shall I again engage my brother Benjamin in battle?” they asked the LORD; and the LORD answered: Attack!

24 When the Israelites drew near to the Benjaminites on the second day, 25 Benjamin marched out of Gibeah against them again and felled eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them swordsmen.  26 So the entire Israelite army went up and entered Bethel, where they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and communion offerings before the LORD.  27 The Israelites consulted the LORD (for the ark of the covenant of the LORD was there in those days, 28 and Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was standing in his presence in those days), and asked, “Shall I again go out to battle with my brother Benjamin, or shall I stop?” The LORD said: Attack! For tomorrow I will deliver him into your power.   29  So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah.

30 When the Israelites went up against the Benjaminites on the third day, they drew up against Gibeah as on other occasions. 31 When the Benjaminites marched out to meet the army, they began, as on other occasions, to strike down some of the troops along the highways, one of which goes up to Bethel and one to Gibeah in the open country; about thirty Israelites were slain.  32 The Benjaminites thought, “They are routed before us as previously.” The Israelites, however, were thinking, “We will flee and draw them out from the city onto the highways.”  33 And then all the men of Israel rose from their places, forming up at Baal-tamar, and the Israelites in ambush rushed from their place west of Gibeah  34 and advanced against Gibeah with ten thousand picked men from all Israel. The fighting was severe, but no one knew that a disaster was closing in.

35  The LORD defeated Benjamin before Israel; and on that day the Israelites killed twenty-five thousand one hundred men of Benjamin, all of them swordsmen.  36 Then the Benjaminites saw that they were defeated. The men of Israel gave ground to Benjamin, trusting in the ambush they had set at Gibeah.  37 Then the men in ambush, having made a sudden dash against Gibeah, marched in and put the whole city to the sword.  38  The arrangement the men of Israel had with the men in ambush was that they would send up a smoke signal from the city,  39 and the men of Israel would then wheel about in the battle. Benjamin, having begun by killing off some thirty of the men of Israel, thought, “Surely they are completely routed before us, as in the earlier fighting.”

40 But when the signal, the column of smoke, began to rise up from the city, Benjamin looked back and there was the whole city going up in smoke toward heaven.   41 Then when the men of Israel wheeled about, the men of Benjamin were thrown into confusion, for they realized that disaster was closing in on them.  42 They retreated before the men of Israel in the direction of the wilderness, but the fighting kept pace with them, and those who had been in the city were spreading destruction in between.  43 They surrounded the men of Benjamin, pursued them from Nohah and drove them along to a point east of Gibeah.  44 Eighteen thousand from Benjamin fell, all of them warriors.

45 They turned and fled into the wilderness to the crag of Rimmon. The Israelites picked off five thousand men on the highways and kept pace with them as far as Gidom, where they struck down another two thousand of them.  46 The total of those from Benjamin who fell that day was twenty-five thousand swordsmen, all of them warriors. 47 Six hundred men turned and fled into the wilderness to the crag of Rimmon, where they remained for four months. 48 Then the men of Israel turned back against the Benjaminites, putting them to the sword—the inhabitants of the cities, the livestock, and all they came upon. Moreover they destroyed by fire all the cities they came upon.

Let not a tribe vanish from Israel    Judges 21:1-14

1 The men of Israel took an oath at Mizpah: “None of us will give his daughter in marriage to anyone from Benjamin.”  2 So the people went to Bethel and remained there before God until evening, raising their voices in bitter weeping.  3 They said, “LORD, God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel that today one tribe of Israel should be lacking?”   4 Early the next day the people built an altar there and offered burnt offerings and communion offerings.


5 Then the Israelites asked, “Are there any among all the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the LORD for the assembly?” For there was a solemn oath that anyone who did not go up to the LORD at Mizpah should be put to death.  6 The Israelites were disconsolate over their brother Benjamin and said, “Today one tribe has been cut off from Israel.  7 What can we do about wives for the survivors, since we have sworn by the LORD not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?”  8 And when they asked, “Is there one among the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the LORD in Mizpah?” they found that none of the men of Jabesh-gilead had come to the encampment for the assembly.  9 A roll call of the people was taken, and none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gileadc was present.


10 So the assembly sent twelve thousand warriors there with orders, “Go put the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead to the sword.  11 This is what you are to do: Every male and every woman who has had relations with a male you shall put under the ban.”  12 Finding among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young virgin women, who had not had relations with a man, they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, in the land of Canaan. 13 Then the whole assembly sent word to the Benjaminites at the crag of Rimmon, offering them peace.  14 So Benjamin returned at that time, and they were given as wives the women of Jabesh-gilead who had been spared; but these proved to be not enough for them.










The rape of the Shiloh women    Judges 21:15-25


15 The people had regrets about Benjamin because the LORD had made a breach among the tribes of Israel.  16 The elders of the assembly said, “What shall we do for wives for the survivors? For the women of Benjamin have been annihilated.” 17 They said, “There must be heirs for the survivors of Benjamin, so that a tribe will not be wiped out from Israel.  18 Yet we cannot give them any of our daughters in marriage.” For the Israelites had taken an oath, “Cursed be he who gives a wife to Benjamin!”


19 Then they thought of the yearly feast of the LORD at Shiloh,i north of Bethel, east of the highway that goes up from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.  20 And they instructed the Benjaminites, “Go and set an ambush in the vineyards.  21 When you see the women of Shiloh come out to join in the dances, come out of the vineyards and catch a wife for each of you from the women of Shiloh; then go on to the land of Benjamin.  22 When their fathers or their brothers come to complain to us, we shall say to them, ‘Release them to us as a kindness, since we did not take a woman for every man in battle. Nor did you yourselves give your daughters to them, thus incurring guilt.’”


23 The Benjaminites did this; they carried off wives for each of them from the dancers they had seized, and they went back each to his own heritage, where they rebuilt the cities and settled them.  24 At that time the Israelites dispersed from there for their own tribes and clans; they set out from there each to his own heritage.


               25   In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their

               own sight.





F-K p. 118: “The story is set when ‘there was no king in Israel.’   This is the same historical period, ‘when the judges judged’, in which the Book of Ruth takes place.  These two contemporaneous stories present radically different views of life at that time.  Ruth depicts an orderly society in which everyone behaves well; Judges 19-21 relates a process of implosion and dissolution in which everyone behaves badly.  The story set ‘when the judges judged’ has no villains; the story set when ‘there was no king’ has no heroes.”   Two different points of view looking back at a historical period, seeing differently.  As Democrats and Republicans might today.


Prologue   Judges 19:1-4

Levites did not get a territory as the other tribes did – instead they were given towns scattered about all of Israel.  They supported themselves by being the local religious experts and by their 2 weeks a year at the Temple.

The Levite takes a concubine – a second class wife with far less status than a ‘first’ wife (who didn’t have a lot of status).

Do not spend the night with strangers!   Judges 19:5-14

Note that neither the Levite, the woman, nor the father are hostile.  The visit goes well.  The hospitality is almost excessive, in contrast to what happens soon.

F-K p. 122: “There is no royal authority in Israel; and the Levite doesn’t trust the Jebusites to observe the codes of hospitality.  With great dramatic irony, the narrator reports the Levite’s preference to stay in the Israelite towns of Gibeah or Ramah.  There he will be safe!”

Lodging in Gibeah    Judges 19: 15-21

The only person who offers hospitality is himself an outsider in the city – another miscalculation by the Levite.

An outrage in Israel    Judges 19:22-26

F-K p. 124: “The purpose of such a rape is neither enjoyment nor love: it is the assertion of dominance and the dishonoring of the one forced to submit.”

The Levite is a guest, the woman is not – she is simply part of the entourage.

The bloody body   Judges 19:27-30

In 1 Samuel 11, a later story about Saul that is an inverted parallel, an ox is cut up and sent out.  Here it is the woman’s body.  Things have degenerated pretty badly is the point.

All Israel gathers    Judges 20:1-11

All of Israel, except Benjamin, is united against the city.

Refuge in Sovereignty   Judges 20:12-16

F-K p. 130: “The Gibeonites find themselves – in their own eyes – in a situation similar to that in which the Levite found himself in Gibeah.  The Gibeonites surrounded the house and threatened force against the Levite; the tribes are doing the same to Benjamin and Gibeah.  There is a question of territory here, of the protection of boundaries.  The tribes are invading Benjamin’s turf and jurisdiction, demanding extraterritorial rights to punish an event that happened within the tribe of Benjamin.  In the absence of a nation-state and supreme ruler, Benjamin is concerned with its own sovereignty.”

The war   Judges 20: 17-48

F-K p. 132: “Only six hundred Benjaminite men remain.  The threatened death of the Levite, which led to the real death of the concubine, has now led to the deaths of many, and to the threatened death of a whole tribe.”

The women apparently had been killed or carried off.

Let not a tribe vanish from Israel    Judges 21:1-14

F-K p. 135: “When Israel attacks Jabesh Gilead, it takes the cycle of violence up yet another notch.  The violent rape and death that first came upon the concubine and then befell the women of Benjamin is now visited on a city that was not a party to the war.  And the tale is not yet done.  There are only four hundred virgins in Jabesh-Gilead, not enough to go around.  Two hundred Benjaminites still don’t have wives.”


The rape of the Shiloh women    Judges 21:15-25

The violence now extends to their own.


F-K p. 137: “They encourage the men of Benjamin to violate Israelite families and take Israelite daughters with impunity; there will be no retaliation.  To Israelite eyes, this is an emergency, and in emergencies, daughters are expendable.”   They haven’t learned anything.

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