Home » Ponderings of the Bible » Earlier Literature Concerning Ehud and Eglon:

Earlier Literature Concerning Ehud and Eglon:

In my fascination with Ehud I’ve decided that I would take a look at two ancient works which have appeared featuring this lovable character.  I hope you enjoy what follows:

The Story as found in the Bible:

“And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord.  He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms.  And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.

Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, and the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab.  And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes.  And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man.  And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute.  But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence.  And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat.  And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.  And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out.  Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them.

When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.”  And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor.

Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond the idols and escaped to Seirah.  When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader.  And he said to them, “Follow after me, for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over.  And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped.  So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.” – Judges 3.12-30 ESV

Josephus’ Account of Ehud’s Exploits:

“When Othniel was dead, the affairs of the Israelites fell again into disorder: and while they neither paid to God the honor due to him, nor were obedient to the laws, their afflictions increased, till Eglon, king of the Moabites, did so greatly despise them on account of the disorders of their political government, that he made war upon them, and overcame them in several battles, and made the most courageous to submit, and entirely subdued their army, and ordered them to pay him tribute. And when he had built him a royal palace at Jericho, he omitted no method whereby he might distress them; and indeed he reduced them to poverty for eighteen years. But when God had once taken pity of the Israelites, on account of their afflictions, and was moved to compassion by their supplications put up to him, he freed them from the hard usage they had met with under the Moabites. This liberty he procured for them in the following manner; –

There was a young man of the tribe of Benjamin, whose name was Ehud, the son of Gera, a man of very great courage in bold undertakings, and of a very strong body, fit for hard labor, but best skilled in using his left hand, in which was his whole strength; and he also dwelt at Jericho. Now this man became familiar with Eglon, and that by means of presents, with which he obtained his favor, and insinuated himself into his good opinion; whereby he was also beloved of those that were about the king. Now, when on a time he was bringing presents to the king, and had two servants with him, he put a dagger on his right thigh secretly, and went in to him: it was then summer thee, and the middle of the day, when the guards were not strictly on their watch, both because of the heat, and because they were gone to dinner. So the young man, when he had offered his presents to the king, who then resided in a small parlor that stood conveniently to avoid the heat, fell into discourse with him, for they were now alone, the king having bid his servants that attended him to go their ways, because he had a mind to talk with Ehud. He was now sitting on his throne; and fear seized upon Ehud lest he should miss his stroke, and not give him a deadly wound; so he raised himself up, and said he had a dream to impart to him by the command of God; upon which the king leaped out of his throne for joy of the dream; so Ehud smote him to the heart, and leaving his dagger in his body, he went out and shut the door after him. Now the king’s servants were very still, as supposing that the king had composed himself to sleep.

Hereupon Ehud informed the people of Jericho privately of what he had done, and exhorted them to recover their liberty; who heard him gladly, and went to their arms, and sent messengers over the country, that should sound trumpets of rams’ horns; for it was our custom to call the people together by them. Now the attendants of Eglon were ignorant of what misfortune had befallen him for a great while; but, towards the evening, fearing some uncommon accident had happened, they entered into his parlor, and when they found him dead, they were in great disorder, and knew not what to do; and before the guards could be got together, the multitude of the Israelites came upon them, so that some of them were slain immediately, and some were put to flight, and ran away toward the country of Moab, in order to save themselves. Their number was above ten thousand. The Israelites seized upon the ford of Jordan, and pursued them, and slew them, and many of them they killed at the ford, nor did one of them escape out of their hands; and by this means it was that the Hebrews freed themselves from slavery under the Moabites. Ehud also was on this account dignified with the government over all the multitude, and died after he had held the government eighty years He was a man worthy of commendation, even besides what he deserved for the forementioned act of his. After him Shamgar, the son of Anath, was elected for their governor, but died in the first year of his government.” – Josephus, Antiqui V.4 (Translated by William Whiston)

Ps. Philo’s Strange Account of Zebul (Ehud?):

“And after these things the people appointed Zebul ruler over them, and at that time he gathered the people together and said unto them: Behold now, we know all the labour wherewith Cenez laboured with us in the days of his life. Now if he had had sons, they should have been princes over the people, but inasmuch as his daughters are yet alive, let them receive a greater inheritance among the people, because their father in his life refused to give it unto them, lest he should be called covetous and greedy of gain. And the people said: Do all that is right in thine eyes.

Now Cenez had three daughters whose names are these: Ethema the firstborn, the second Pheila, the third Zelpha. And Zebul gave to the firstborn all that was round about the land of the Phœnicians, and to the second he gave the olive yard of Accaron, and to the third all the tilled land that was about Azotus. And he gave them husbands, namely to the firstborn Elisephan, to the second Odiel, and to the third Doel.

Now in those days Zebul set up a treasury for the Lord and said unto the people: Behold, if any man will sanctify unto the Lord gold and silver, let him bring it to the Lord’s treasury in Sylo: only let not any that hath stuff belonging to idols think to sanctify it to the Lord’s treasures, for the Lord desireth not the abominations of the accursed things, lest ye disturb the synagogue of the Lord, for the wrath that is passed by sufficeth. And all the people brought that which their heart moved them to bring, both men and women, even gold and silver. And all that was brought was weighed, and it was 20 talents of gold, and 250 talents of silver.

And Zebul judged the people twenty and five years. And when he had accomplished his time, he sent and called all the people and said: Lo, now I depart to die. Look ye to the testimonies which they that went before us testified, and let not your heart be like unto the waves of the sea, but like as the wave of the sea under standeth not save only those things which are in the sea, so let your heart also think upon nothing save only those things which belong unto the law. And Zebul slept with his fathers, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father.” – ps.-Philo XXIX (Translated by M.R. James 168-169?)

On this note Louis Ginzberg’s Legends of the Jews footnote: “Zebul is a corruption of Iehud, i. e., Ehud, the second judge in Israel; see Jud. 3:15. On p. 33 (towards the end) this name is spelt Iebul. For the interchange of Z and I in ps.-Philo, see 47A, where Jambri stands for Zambri זמרי; on the confusion of d and l, see 44D, which has Dedila instead of Delila דלילה; in old Latin MSS. it is difficult to distinguish between b and h, and between d and l. Yerahmeel, following the masoretic text of the Bible, according to which Othniel was the first judge, makes him the successor of Kenaz, instead of Ehud; but there can be no doubt that ps.-Philo knows nothing of Othniel, and considers Kenaz as the first judge.”

Rabbinic Traditions:

I would also like note the ABD’s Article on Elgon, specifically because I can’t find the mention targums/midrash.  As an aside I would be interesting in knowing if there’s any interesting rabbinic traditions connected to Ehud specifically.  Or for that matter any early related Christian material relating to these fun characters.

“Rabbinic tradition identifies Eglon as both the grandson of Balak, the Moabite king who hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22–24), and the father or grandfather of Ruth (Ruth Targum 1:4; for further references see Levine 1973: 48). Aggadic commentary finds a redeeming virtue in Eglon’s effort to stand at the “word of God” (Judg 3:20). According to this tradition, the king’s pious action received its reward through the inclusion of Ruth in the genealogy of David (Ruth 4:18–22; see Ruth Rabbah 2.9; note 1 Sam 22:3–4). Furthermore, because of Ruth’s own piety, she would be the ancestor of “the six Righteous of the world,” namely, “David, Daniel, his three companions, and the Messiah king” (Ruth Targum 3:15). Perhaps the familiarity of the latter tradition also contributed to the inclusion of Ruth in the otherwise selective genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:5; cf. Luke 3:32).” – Elgon’s Article, David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

– Le Bel Inconnu


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