Our List of 300 Religious Subjects

Book of Judges

General Information

Judges, the seventh book of the Old Testament of the Bible, traces Israel's history from the death of Joshua, the lieutenant and successor of Moses, to the beginning of the monarchy under Saul. Its title is derived from the figures who serve as the protagonists in most of the book. Their Hebrew designation is normally translated "judge," but the word has a broader meaning and should perhaps be translated "ruler." Where sufficient information is related about individual "judges," they consistently appear in the role of war leader or ruler, not judge. Deborah, the prophetess, however, may be an exception, and some scholars hold that the minor judges, mentioned only in lists, were officials of the tribal league with judicial functions quite distinct from the role of the major figures like Gideon and Samson.

These major figures appear to have been of only regional importance and may have overlapped chronologically; the neat chronological structure of the book based on their succession is certainly late and artificial. Judges is part of the Deuteronomistic History, the name given by scholars to the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, all of which appear to share the same complex history of composition. Many early oral and written sources, including the premonarchical song of Deborah, were incorporated into the general editorial framework provided by the final editor of the history in the time of Josiah (c. 640 - 609 BC).

J J M Roberts

M Bal, Death and Dissymetry (1988); J Gray, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth (1967).

Book of Judges

Brief Outline

  1. Introduction (1:1-2:10)
  2. Main body of book, describing cycles of failure, oppression and relief by judges. Activities of 13 judges are described (2:11-16:31)
  3. Appendix (17-21)


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