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Notes On Shamgar



Shamgar Ben ‘Anath is one of the more mysterious persons within the book of Judges.  With only two simple verses there is much that seems to be hidden about the character.  From his name alone questions arise from if he were really an Israelite or some other person in the land, if he hailed from within or without the territories.  Or, even where his exploits should be place chronologically within the period of the Judges.  Proposed answers of his origin range from his being a part of the nomadic people, a Canaanite or even to being a half Israelite.  His name Shamgar Ben ‘Anath itself doesn’t present itself as Israelite name, but foreigner’s name of some sort.

In the following post, I will briefly look at five different articles (doing so by publication date) concerning this character of Judges.  Summarizing them as well as making very brief notes.  This will be followed by a concluding thought of my own on Shamgar.

F.C. Fensham’s Article:

One suggestion for Shamgar comes from Fensham’s article, who contends that as Shamgar seems to be honored very early in Israelite history, as seen in his name being within Deborah’s song. [1] However he wonders how Shamgar could have been a Canaanite, since at that time, there was indeed some strong animosity between the two peoples.  That he is connected with Jael, and is never mention from whose tribe or place he hails from, perhaps suggesting Shamgar like Jael was from a nomadic people.

To Fensham his names alone denote that he could not have come from the Israelites.  He notes that Shamgar is suggested to be of Hurrian where a similar name is seen within Nuzi material that a Hurrian name could appear with a Hanaean due to close ties between the two peoples.  When looking at “ben ‘Anath,” it is suggested that it refers to a nomadic group known as the Hanaeans, with the suggested translation being Shamgar “the son of a Hanaean.”  He also suggests that “the fact the Hanaeans were nomads or semi-nomads, made a member of this group acceptable as a hero of Israelite history.”

Eva Danelius’ Article:

Eva Danelius counters Fensham’s view in seeing that it is quite difficult to equate ‘Anath with Hanaean.[2] For example, ‘Anath was goddess with local ties, but the Hanaens were honestly a tribe from quite some distance.  Moreover, the Hanaen tribe is only known for its existences about in documents that predate Shamgar’s existence by at least 500 years.  Danelius does see that acknowledging Shamgar as a non-Israelite is quite legitimate.  Instead it suggested that perhaps Shamgar was (as based on Egyptian records) of Syrian ancestry, based on the same phrased used of Shamgar appearing with a Syrian Sea-Captain, and in connection to a daughter of Pharaoh’s whose mother seems to have been from Syria.

It is even suggested that perhaps he was part of the Canaanite people who were not completely wiped out, but allowed to live in the land.  Danelius even suggest that perhaps Shamgar even being descended from an Israelite and Canaanite marriage. To Danelius, Shamgar must have been merely a local hero, barely remembered, and who since he was known by Deborah had to have been near the Philistine territory.  It is suggested that his birthplace would have been within the territory occupied by Ephraim and Manasseh, perhaps “Mikhmethah.”

Shamgar names is suggested as being made up of two parts, an Egyptian and Israelite part, the first part שַׁמְ being a transliteration of a Egyptian name, meaning the same thing as גֵר.  It is suggested that though גֵר would meaning a convert later in Judaism, perhaps it was used so during the period of Judges, but admitting it cannot be proved.

A. Van Selms’ Article:

Van Selms article notes rather quickly, the Shamgar’s verse is different from all the other stories within the book of Judges, he does not fit in with the minor Judges and certainly not the major ones[3].  The various things which the other judges fulfill, Shamgar does not, and Van Selm does wonder if you cut out Shamgar from the book completely if indeed he’d really be missed.  (For example his story, which Van Selms assumes is secondary is shifted to a different spot in the LXX).  However, Shamgar is like other persons in the book, said to have “delivered,” which appears to be quite significant, and perhaps something which the author purposely stressed.

Naturally it is acknowledge that placing Shamgar upon a chronological grid is difficult, however it is strongly argued that it he had to of lived before Deborah’s exploit, as there is no real evidence as Van Selms sees it to remove Shamgar from Deborah’s song.  Still, his enemy, the Philistines makes things difficult, as Shamgar seems to be in northern part of the country.  It is proposed that perhaps the 600 whom he slew were in actually a separate unit, perhaps a raiding party.  Due to their defeat, the Philistine decided that the area was not worth the effort and moved others.  The forces were defeated with an Ox Goad, as that would naturally make the defeat more memorable.  (Also of note, the weapon would show Shamgar not as a nomad, as Fensham notes, but instead a farmer).

Van Selms sees the names of both Shamgar and Anath as giving “an un-Israelite impression,” and “strangeness,” to his tale.  Again the author doesn’t agree with Fensham’s hypothesis concerning Shamgar’s name, preferring to look closer to Israel for answers, looking at Ugaritic he purposes that name may indeed come from a Canaanite background. He also gives the suggestion that perhaps Shamgar means “(the god) has thrown over (the enemies),” but admits other suggestions could be valid.  In looking at Shamgar other name, “Son of Anath,” Van Selms notes that wherever ‘Anat appears, it always refers to the goddess and therefore it shouldn’t be any different for Shamgar.  Seeing it as a title being given to the hero, who due to his deeds was naturally seen by the people as the son of a goddess.  Thus Shamgar and his title are both of Canaanite origins.

In looking then how a Canaanite war hero became a part of the book of Judges.  Van Selms suggest that as his enemy would become one of Israel’s main enemies he was naturally incorporated into the Oral history and from there inserted into the book of Judges.

P.C. Craigie’s Article

Against Danelius and Van Selms, Cragie sees the name as of Hurrian origin (agreeing with  Fensham), but does see as the Ben ‘Anath, as of a Semitic origin.[4] He argues as others have, that it is cannot refer to the Shamgar’s place of birth, but that this may indeed refer to a sort of military title.  In looking at the Ugaritic myths referring to Anath (and the confirmation via Egyptian texts) it seems to indicate her role as a war goddess and thus her name would naturally fit as the name for military family or war title.  It is suggested that perhaps there is a connection of some sort between Haneans as a center of Anat, their having a military role in Mari, and there perhaps being an Hurrian influence upon the Haneans.

Though Craigie suggests that perhaps Shamgar was a mercenary hero, of perhaps Hurrian/Hanean origins, it’s difficult to say so for certain and suggests instead suggest not attaching his origins with his being a mercenary.

S. D. Snyman’s Article

As Snyman opens his article he discusses Van Selms article on Shamgar and agrees, that Shamgar Ben ‘Anath is not a typical Israelite name, and likely not an Israelite.[5] Questions arise on whether Shamgar was a historical person or not, with scholars split on the issue.  Shamgar due to Deborah’s song is as noted before place within Northern territory.  Though the information is spars, Snyman as Van Selms notes, the author seems to stress that despite lack of information Shamgar should be seen as legitimate a judge as any of the others.  Also, Shamgar’s weapon, an ox goad, fits the unconventional weapons which the other Judges use.

However, when Snyman looks at the various conjectures of many scholars in seeing Shamgar as a warrior of some sort he questions why it is that Shamgar doesn’t use a more warrior-like weapon.  Instead he proposes that Shamgar’s weapon, the ox goad (as well as his fool hardly battle of 600 hundred verses one) shows if anything a farmer using a weapon on hand to fight a foolhardy battle.  It also highlights this feat of Shamgar’s as being much more miraculous.  And perhaps it was because of the event which is mention in Judges that it gains him the title of Ben ‘Anath.


It would seem rather likely that Shamgar was not an Israelite.  His being a non-Israelite is based both on his name and his title of Shamgar Ben ‘Anath.  Going along with Van Selms it seems a likely that his name and title stem from his Canaanite heritage.  (Although personally, I find Danelius’s hypothesis that Shamgar is a half Israelite and/or convert to be of interest).  Though many would classify Shamgar as a mercenary soldier of some sort, but based on Synman’s suggestion, it would seem better to see Shamgar as nothing more than a farmer.  Seeing it as likely since he uses a farmer’s weapon, and that he fights a battle that any trained soldier would have thought foolish.  Moreover this helps to connect him with the other deliverers of the book.  Meaning, that Shamgar becomes as unlikely a deliverer for Israelites as the others persons of the book.

[1] Fensham, F.C., “Shamgar ben ‘Anath’,” JNES 20 (1961), 197-98.

[2] Danelius, E., “Shamgar ben ‘Anath,'” JNES 22 (1963), 191-93.

[3] Van Selms, A., “Judge Shamgar,” VT 14 (1964), 294-309.

[4] Craigie, P.C., “A Reconsideration of Shamgar ben Anath (Judge 3:3l and 5:6),” JBL 91 (1972a), 239-40.

[5] Snyman, S.D., “Shamgar Ben Anath: A Farming Warrior or a Farmer of War,” VT 55 (2005), 125-29.


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