ISRAEL STORY 03 – Age of Joshua, Judges, Ruth


Albertz, Rainer.  A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period.  Volume I: From the Beginnings to the End of the Monarchy.  Translated by John Bowden in 1994.  Part of the Old Testament Library series edited by James L. Mays, Carol A. Newsom, and David L. Petersen.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1994).

Albertz, Rainer.  A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period.  Volume II: From the Exile to the Maccabees.  Translated by John Bowden in 1994.  Part of the Old Testament Library series edited by James L. Mays, Carol A. Newsom, and David L. Petersen.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 1994).

Boling, Robert G.  Judges.  Part of the Anchor Bible series, W.F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman general editors.  (Doubleday, Garden City, 1975).

Bright, John.  A History of Israel, second edition.  (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1972).

Campbell Jr., Edward F..  Ruth.  Part of the Anchor Bible Series, W.F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman general editors.  (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1975).

Cotter, David W.  Genesis.  Part of the Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry series, edited by David W. Cotter.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2003).

Creach, Jerome F. D..  Joshua.  Part of the Interpretation Bible commentary series edited by James L. Mays.  (John Knox Press, Louisville, 2003).

De Vaux, Roland.  The Early History of Israel.  Translated by David Smith. (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1978).

Gordon, Cyrus H. and Gary A. Rendsburg.  The Bible and the Ancient Near East, fourth edition.  (W. W. Norton, New York, 1997).

Hayes, John H. and J. Maxwell Miller.  Israelite and Judaean History.  Part of the Old Testament Library series edited by John H. Hayes and J. Maxwell Miller.  (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1977).

Hawk, L. Daniel.  Joshua.  Part of the Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry series, David W. Cotter editor.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2000).

LaCocque, Andre.  Ruth.  Part of the Continentl Commentary series.  Translated by K. C. Hanson.  (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2004).

Linafelt, Tod.  “Ruth” in Ruth & Esther.  Part of the Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry series, David W. Cotter Editor.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1999).

Mazar, Amihai.  Archaeology of the Land of the Bible : 10,000 – 586 B.C.E.  Part of the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library edited by David Noel Freedman.  (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1990).

Myers, Eric M. and Mark A. Chancey.  Alexander to Constantine: Archaeology of the Land of the Bible.  Volume 3 of the Anchor Bible Reference Library edited  by John Collins.  (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012)

Niditch, Susan.  Judges.  Part of the Old Testament Library series, editorial advisory board Brown, Newsome, Petersen. (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2008).

Propp, William H. C..  Exodus 1-18: A new translation with introduction and commentary.  Volume 2 of the Anchor Yale Bible, William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman General Editiors.  (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999).

Provan, Iain, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III.  A Biblical History of Israel.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2003).

Sakenfeld, Katherine Doob.   Ruth.  Part of the Interpretation Biblical commentary series, James L. Mays series editor.  (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1999).

Sarna, Nahum M.  Genesis.  Part of The JPS Torah Commentary, edited by Nahum M. Sarna.  (The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1989).

—————–.  Exodus.  Part of The JPS Torah Commentary, edited by Nahum M. Sarna.  (The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1991).

Scherman, Rabbi Nosson.  The Prophets: Joshua / Judges: The early prophets with  commentary anthologized from the Rabbinic writings.  (Mesorah Publications, New York, 2000).

Scherman, Rabbi Nosson and Meir Zlotowitz, editors.  The Mishnah: Seder Zeraim vol. IIa PEAH.   A new translation with a commentary anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and rabbinic sources.  Part of the Artscroll Mishnah series.  (Mesorah Publications, New York, 1990).

Scherman, Rabbi Nosson and Meir Zlotowitz, editors.  The Mishnah: Seder Zeraim vol. 1a SEDER MOED.   A new translation with a commentary anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and rabbinic sources.  Part of the Artscroll Mishnah series.  (Mesorah Publications, New York, 1982).

Schneider, Tammi J.  Judges.  Part of the Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry series, David W. Cotter editor.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2000).

Silver, Daniel Jeremy.  A History of Judaism: Volume 1, From Abraham to Maimonides.  (Basic Books Inc., New York, 1974).

Stern, Ephraim.  Archaeology of the Land of the Bible.  Volume II: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods (732 – 332 B.C.E.).  Part of the Anchor Bible Reference Library edited  by David Noel Freedman.  (Doubleday, New York, 2001)

Zlotowitz, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Nosson Scherman.  The Book of Ruth: A new translation with a commentary anthologized from Tlmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic sources.  (Mesorah Publications, New York, 1976).



The PRE-HISTORY period   (Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away)

  •         Adam and Eve
  •         Cain and Abel
  •         Noah and the Flood
  •        The tower of Babel

The PATRIARCHAL period   (1800 – 1200 BCE)

  •         Abraham
  •         Isaac
  •         Jacob
  •         Joseph / 400 years in Egypt

The SETTLEMENT OF THE LAND & MONARCHICAL  period    (1200 – 600 BCE)

  •         Moses
  •         Joshua
  •         Judges
  •         Saul        somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 BCE
  •         David
  •         Solomon
  •         split kingdom
  •         767 – Assyria conquers the Northern Kingdom (ten lost tribes)

The FOREIGN DOMINATION period    (600 BCE – 70 AD)

  •         586 Babylon conquers the Southern Kingdom
  •         Persian King Cyrus sets the Jews free 50 years later
  •         some return to devastated land, Temple is rebuilt
  •         Selucids and then the Romans rule through appointed kings
  •         Rise of apocalyptic writings

The CHRISTIAN period (0 to 100AD)

  •         Paul writes 45 to 65
  •         Mark 65 to 70
  •         Luke and Matthew in the 80’s
  •         John 95AD



Mazar p. 295: In this time period (1200 – 1000 BCE, loosely called the early Iron Age) the peoples and cultures of Palestine changed.  “The Bronze Age Canaanite city-state system was replaced by an ethno-political structure in which the various regions of the country were inhabited by different peoples.  Thus, in western Palestine there were Israelites; Philistines and other related Sea Peoples; and the remnants of the indigenous Canaanite population.  In Transjordan, there were Israelites, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Arameans.”

Egypt still dominated the region.  Mazar p. 305: “… It appears that the arrival and settlement of the Sea Peoples within the Egyptian kingdom was one of the factors which eventually led to the decline of that empire and to the end of its rule in Canaan.”  (from Mediterranean, Turkey)  came as migrants not just as an invading army.  Settled along coast of modern Israel.

Mazar p. 313: “The Philistines were thus responsible for a vivid and dynamic settlement process, during which large planned cities as well as smaller rural settlements were founded and intensively developed in Philistia.  In contrast to this situation, major Canaanite cities such as Hazor and Lachish were abandoned during the same time.  Thus the Philistines, … were responsible for the continuation of urban life in Palestine during the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C.E.”

Mazar p. 328: “The origins of the Israelites and the crystallization of their national entity are among the most controversial topics of biblical history.  Various opinions have been put forth, ranging from the fundamentalist approach – which strictly adheres to the biblical text regarding the patriarchal traditions, the enslavement in Egypt, the Exodus, and the conquest of Canaan – to the contradictory position, which entirely negates any historicity in the biblical tradition, regarding it as fiction and proposing various alternative reconstructions of Israelite origins.”

He – archeological data are open to various interpretations and don’t settle anything.

Mazar p. 334: “Thus, the conquest tradition must be understood as a telescoped reflection of a complex historical process in which some of the Canaanite city-states, weak and poor after three hundred years of Egyptian domination, were replaced during Iron Age I by a new national entity, Israel.”

Mazar p. 334:  during this same time hundreds of small cities / settlements are created in Galilee and central hill country of Palestine.  All over the biblical Israel territory.

Mazar p. 355: The working theory: semi-nomadic people took advantage of the changes of the times (general poverty, weakness) to re-settle the lands.  “This interpretation can be linked with the theory that the Israelites emerged from local unsettled Late Bronze groups, such as the Habiru and Shasu known from the Egyptian sources.  Such a theory perhaps explains the origin of most of the components of the Israelite confederation, but it still does not elucidate the identity of that confederation’s nuclear group, which initiated Yahwism and was responsible for the traditions concerning slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, Mount Sinai, and the role of Moses.  At present archaeology can contribute nothing to answering this question.”

In this time period (early Iron Age) iron was rare and expensive.  Used mostly for jewelry and small objects, some for larger tools and weapons.



Intent of the book is to provide instruction to the Jewish community on how to deal with outsiders, a corrective to hyper-nationalism.  This was an area of controversy throughout:

  •  in the period of Judges (1200 to 1000BCE) the problem was conquest and the temptations of idolatry with foreigners in their midst,
  •  in the time of the monarchy (1000 to 600) the problem was foreign wives brought in by the kings (along with their gods, temples, and priests),
  • and after the return from Babylon(520BCE) the problem was foreign wives brought back with them, a concern for re-establishing a Jewish state.

And is quite a contrast to Joshua and Judges with regard to inter-marrying and tolerance.

LaCocque p. 13 and previous : this is a novella or short story, a work of fiction.  A central part is the genealogy which is fictitious.  The figure of Ruth the Moabite was invented.  There was a real Bethlehem and a real Boaz – though nothing was known about him – hence he was a good choice for the storyteller.

Sakenfeld p. 45 “The story from start to finish illustrates the ways in which loyal action, kindness, and good will produce a surplus that can both break down dividing walls of hostility and open new horizons to shattered lives.”

LaCocque in preface: “How is Ruth the Moabite a saintly woman from among the nations (Gentiles)?  Through her hesed (goodness of heart, steadfast love and fidelity), that compels the host society of Bethlehem to interpret the Torah (the charter of Jewish identity before God) in a generous and amplificatory way …  The book of Ruth, therefore, is not just a touching and delightful story of two women, Ruth and  Naomi, gaining respect and honor in a patriarchal and chauvinistic society, but is a vibrant plea for the adoption of a consciousness moved by expansive love rather than by restrictive legal definitions.”

Underlying questions:

  • Who is faithful?
  • Who is my neighbor (that I must care for them)?
  • “Who is my brother?”
  • Where is “home”?
  • Who is an Israelite?” (One who acts like one – not in war but in loving kindness according to the Law!)

Date of authorship – most scholars put it in the Babylonian exile and return period of 550 to 500 B.C.E. – though the story in simpler form may have been around much longer.  This time period was one of upheaval as some Israelites returned from Babylonian captivity and began to rebuild the Temple and society – there was a conscious attempt to define who was and wasn’t Jewish, and to insist on re-creating and preserving Jewish identity.  Men of Israel were required to divorce foreign wives and send them home.  Hence, perhaps the book stands guard to prevent over-reaction or over-zealous behaviors, a corrective of sorts.  At this time of return Israel ruled by Ezra & Nehemiah, “new” judges, returning from exile in a foreign land to a situation that was not ideal.   Those scholars who argued for a much earlier date (around 1,000 BCE / in the time of David) do so based on linguistic analysis of the Hebrew.  Neither group makes a case convincing enough to change the others’ opinions.

Most scholars believe that the focus on the women in the story is so strong and unique that this story was created by a woman, passed on by women story tellers.  No way to know.  The rabbinic tradition is that Samuel (transition point between the time of the Judges and Kings, last of the Judges and first of the prophets) was the author of Ruth.

Underlying traditions:

  • Gleaning – the practice of allowing the poor to go through the fields after the harvesters in order to gather what they missed.  Eventually the rabbis and tradition became established that harvesters ought to deliberately leave about 10% of the harvest for the gleaners.  See Leviticus 19:9, Lev. 23:22, and Deut. 24:19.  There were lots of rules about who, when, where, and how this practice worked.  They were allowed into a field only behind the harvesters, taking what was left.  They could only pick up 1 or 2 stalks at a time – not handfuls.  Etc.
  • Levirate marriage – If a married man were to die without a male heir his brother or other near relatives were to take the wife of the dead man into their home, marry  her, provide protection for her, and give her a son who would carry on the dead mans name.  The heir would also inherit the dead man’s land / property thereby keeping it in the family.  Surprisingly – the biblical record is not real clear as to the extent of the practice or its details.  Was the woman obliged to agree?   See Deut. 25:5  and Genesis 38  Eventually this practice felt too close to incest and the rabbis forbade it altogether.
  • redemption of land and persons – the ‘redeemer’ involved the right / responsibility of near relatives to purchase land to keep it in the family.  with regard to persons the right / responsibility to pay to keep someone out of slavery or to buy them out of it and their indebtedness.  The land is kept as a sort of trust for the eventual heir.

How is the Book of Ruth used?  One of the five “Festival Scrolls” read at Jewish feasts during the year – this one is read at Shevuot – Feast of Weeks / Pentecost.  This is so because it is associated with harvesting.  (Sheva means 7, 7 weeks after Passover plus one day = 50 (Pentecost).  The barley harvest came first, then the wheat harvest took place – taking a total of about 7 weeks.  Hence a harvest festival and offering was timely.)  These days this feast celebrates the giving of the Torah and is one of the most important holy days of the year.


We are very used to the idea of turning to Scripture for ‘answers’.  A deeper reading my be that we turn to Scripture to confront and meditate upon the big questions.  Not expecting or demanding answers, but guidance in our asking and thinking.

In Rabbinic tradition Samuel is the author of the Book of Judges.

Baal means lord, refers to the idols and gods of the Canaanites.

The lure of idolatry is consistently cited by the prophets as the sin of the whole people that causes God to be angry and to punish them.

The pattern in Judges: sinfulness leads to troubles and peril, the people call out to God in repentance and need, God raises up a leader to rescue them.

  • Othniel filled with spirit of God – helps to define the leadership of the judges, becomes the ‘definition’.
  • Ehud tale has strong details and perhaps lots of euphemisms.  Were the people ordered out so that the king could relieve himself?  Did they stay out because of the smell that they thought was gas but came from his mortal wound?  The upper / cool room a bathroom?  The throne a reference to toilet?  If so – Samuel and David story plays against it.    OR, perhaps simply a summer and breezier room.  The Hebrew is ambiguous but Niditch seems to go with the first reading.
  • Deborah is described as both a judge and prophetess.
  • The killing of Sisera by Jael is a complicated tale.  A play on the normal story of “woman hides soldier/male” such as was the case with Rahab in Joshua and Jericho.  Here she seems to take care of him – something to drink, to eat, to cover up with, and to guard.  Then she sneaks in to kill him with a hammer and a stake.  Jael’s husband, Heber the Kenite, was an ally of Sisera’s king – hence he expected that Jael would be bound by her husbands wishes.
  • The Song of Deborah may be one of the oldest pieces contained in the bible.  Celebrates both Jael and Deborah and the victory they helped God bring about – from their point of view.
  • Gideon: Rabbis say: this took place during Passover, on the second day of which Jews bring the annual offering of barley – the Omer offering in the temple.  This offering symbolizes the recognition that all blessings come from God, even the produce of the fields in which men labor.  It reminded Gideon and his warriors that the field of battle, like the field of grain is under God’s control.
  • Abimelech (judge or king?,  generally a hated king) does not really rule the nation – he rules multiple clans, a portion of the whole..  He does not inherit power but seizes it with violence, rules with violence, and dies by violence.  Makes the point that legitimate (later) kingship will require divine selection and recognition of God.  The story of the trees emphasizes that Abimelech is lowly and unworthy – like thornbush. He salted the fields to kill the vineyards and deprive the rebels of a way to live.  Tree parallel here?   Abimelech appears to defeat his enemies in Schechem – only to die in the end from a blow delivered by a woman.
  • Jepthah is a complicated person – beginning as a ‘social bandit’ and outcast.  The emphasis again – the Lord chooses from the unlikely.  extensive rabbinic commentary on Jepthah’s vow.  Some: he should have set aside the monetary equivalent of his daughter; others- invalid vow, only if it had been an acceptable animal could it have been valid; others – he is to be judged harshly for not seeking Torah advice; still others – he built a house for his daughter where she lived in solitude except for 4 days a year when her friends could visit to mourn with her her fate.  Hence she was a figurative offering only.  Finally – others say he did in fact sacrifice her for which he deserves great punishment, as a non scholar he should have sought input, as a ruler / leader he did what he thought was best without consulting the right people.  God punished him by giving him a disease in which his limbs atrophied and fell from his body, so that he died in stages.
  • Samson has a miraculous birth – as did Isaac and others before him, as did John the Baptist and Jesus after him.  Pattern emerges.  The name Samson translates to Sun-child.  To be holy is to be set apart – this is what the Nazirite vows accomplish – not drinking, not cutting hair etc.  As he is to be holy – so too is Israel called to be holy.  Yet they find they cannot be …   The Philistines were the Sea People.  They lived along the coast and were distinctly different from other inhabitants of the region.  They raised and ate pigs.  Apparently they were beardless and less hairy than Semitic peoples.   Delilah – may have root in ‘night’ (lilah) or the word ‘slight, small’  Rabbis say it is a play on the Hebrew word for ‘depleted’, as in ‘depleted his strength’.   If it was really his hair – why does not everyone under a Nazirite vow have superhuman strength?  Rabbis say – not the hair but his dedication to God.  Due to his sin God departed from him and hence so did his strength.  But afterwards, he repented, at the same time his hair began to re-grow, and his strength came back.[

In addition to the above there are indications of “minor” judges: Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.

Niditch notes on page 114:  “It has often been suggested that the book of Judges projects an image of a period of national failure and political chaos, making necessary the establishment of the monarchy.  In this commentary I make the case that Judges provides a more complex, ambivalent, and self-critical portrait of the monarchy and of preceding experiments in statehood.




1. God keeps God’s covenants with us, we tend to not be faithful.

2.  God is with us and demonstrates that with mighty power.  Crossing the sea, destroying the Egyptians, conquering the land.  Of extreme importance – it is God who does it all, not the army, not the king, not anyone else but God.

3.  Israel must be faithful in order to conquer the land and stay in it.

Promised land was the Land of Canaan – Canaan means ‘merchant’ and refers to the region’s position along the trade routes between Egypt, Babylon and the north.  The people who were there were not a united people – the region was full of small city / states, each ruled by a ‘king’

Rabbinic tradition sees Joshua as the moon and Moses as the sun.

A central problem of the text is the violence within it – said to be done at the expressed command of God Himself.  Sacred violence, holy war – now seen, in recent modern times, as discredited.  However, we cannot simply ignore the book.  In Joshua the promises made to Abraham and Moses are fulfilled.  This is an important part of the overall story.

With regard to actual history of Israel coming into possession of the land, three theories:

  • conquest by a people fleeing Egypt
  • infiltration of uninhabited areas, gradual takeover
  • revolt of peasants already in the land against more distant ruling peoples, a revolt that ‘caught on’ as it was successful

Consensus evades modern scholarship.

Scholar and preacher Jerome Creach (Joshua  Interpretation commentary series)  says:

“In what sense is Joshua history? … History is never a simple recording of bare, un-interpreted ‘facts’ about the past.   A World War II historian may write about particular battles or fighting units in order to give a certain slant on the data, perhaps to inspire courage in the present generation.    Nevertheless, modern history writing has conventions of accuracy and documentation that were not practiced widely and consistently among the ancients.  …  On the contrary, Joshua must be classified as the kind of history that was written in the ancient world to trace national origins and to support nationalistic goals.  For Americans, the closes parallels to the kind of history we find in Joshua might be stories of Pilgrims celebrating the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth or George Washington chopping down the cherry tree.  Such accounts do not intend to deceive the audience into thinking that something happened that, in fact, did not.  And in some cases, they report real events.  But their concern is to create identity and teach values, not to report “what really happened.”  In the process of achieving those goals, stories that have a historical kernel may collapse a complex array of historical events into a simplified account (as with the American Thanksgiving story).  Others may be legendary portraits of heroic figures meant to inspire (the George Washington account). …  In other words, the history in Joshua is composed for theological purposes, not to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of modern readers.”  p. 5

Creach P. 6  “…the archeological data do not square with Joshua’s account of some cities conquered by the Israelites.  In fact, the evidence seems to indicate that many of the battle reports are legendary.”

three ancient tactics in confronting a walled city:

  • enter by ruse (Trojan horse)
  • assault weakest points to break through (risk of attack from within / above)
  • siege – wait them out – cut off water and food and commerce

Rabbinic tradition helps deal with the violence in this way:

Joshua sent out 3 proclamations (not in bible) to kings and people of Canaan before crossing the Jordan

  1. anyone who wants to leave can leave (explains why lists of kings etc. aren’t identical)
  2. anyone who wants to make peace, obey basic Noachic laws, can do so and stay.
  3. Joshua will make war on the remainder

Gibeonites had to be clever because they changed their minds AFTER Joshua conquered others.  In ancient times a covenant was taken with extreme seriousness.  To break one brought extreme punishment down on oneself – therefore the Gibeonites are seen as clever in that they achieved a covenant agreement that protected them – even if they had to lie to get there.

This story, along with Rahab and descendants, clarifies for the readers how God’s command to wipe out the Canaanites was followed but was not successful in the end.

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