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Genre of Judges


Over at Floppy Hat, there has been mentioned a few things concerning Genre and so I started to think about that concerning the Book of Judges.  To be honest I’m not sure how well I actually answer that.  Instead I’ve looked at a few things surrounding that.  I might possible turn my thoughts on this toward Tobit (or maybe even James) at a later date.

Concerning Writing on History

Firstly one should note that it is impossible to record everything that happened in a period of history.[1] Secondly some events have no purpose for the story or theme being presented, so they too are left out.[2] In essence, there is more to the writing down of historical facts then giving out “bare events,” instead the writer takes facts and pieces how these facts share something with one another toward the “cause and effect,” of the ultimate fact, or event being presented.[3] In the end as one book puts it, “the question of the writer’s purpose, on the basis of which he selects his data, becomes of paramount importance.”[4] Then later they continue, “all historical writing is selective, and all is written for some purpose.”[5]

Unity of Judges

Before I discuss the purpose of the writer of Judges there is something I wish to note.  It has seemingly become common practices among modern scholars to try and dissect the book of Judges and tear apart the Deuteronomistic writer from the original hero stories and to tear off the beginning and ending of Judges with the other stories.  The book of Judges for the most does seem to be tales set between an introduction and conclusion, many call the conclusions as “appendixes” or “additions,” but I think Exum is correct in calling these, “double conclusions.”[6] And I think Schneider has rightly observed that the book of Judges as we have it now is quite unified.[7] She remarks, “Despite what are considered to be later Deuteronomistic additions at the beginning and end of the book, Judges is a well-integrated theological narrative which builds its story and supports it thesis until its conclusion.”[8]

In fact, one of the more interesting things with the book of Judges seems to be the fact that stories that at first glance would seem to be separate tales have now been “complied and systematically arranged and edited into a coherent whole.”[9]

In discussing Judges, the whole book should be a part of the discussion, to fully grasp the purpose of the Historian.

What is the Deuteronomistic Writer’s Purpose?

Perhaps it should be noted that for some time, the book of Judges, along with Joshua, Samuel, and Kings have been considered part of a larger corpus called, the Former Prophets.   In many ways, modern scholarship too, has seen that these four books belong together.[10] It is seen that these books are heavily influence from a “theological perspective,” coming from Deuteronomy.[11] With that being said, so then, what was the Deuteronomistic Historians purpose in compiling Judges?

Both Joshua and Judges seem to want to explain for what reasons Yahweh would allow Israel to be exiled, and in many ways its editor(s) wanted to give a reason for obeying Yahweh.[12] This reason steams perhaps from Deuteronomy 30.15-18.  It would seem that Israel’s and Yahweh’s relationship is of the greatest importance in the book.  Still, other themes do appear, such as leadership, tribal relation, even how women are treated (and thus how badly Israel has sinned).[13] The Historian is even intent on bringing the Tribe of Judah’s importance up front, perhaps emphasizing why Judah (David) was a better choice for rulers than Benjamin (Saul).[14]

The Genre

Often Judges is classified as one of the Historical books of the Bible and thus its genre is that of History.  However, I feel that view is really too simplistic.  Although I truly think that Judges should looked at as a unified whole, the separating of it shows that in some way, the original book’s genre might reflect that of Hero Tales.[15] Perhaps indeed at one time some of the stories were part of some “book of Saviors.”[16] But the Deuteronomistic Historian (Editor) has changed that original corpus to the present book.  It is history, I cannot deny that, but what the Historian does makes its more than that.

In many ways a story is being told, a story concerning why obedience to Yahweh is a must, why Judah’s tribe was the best choice and so on.  It is in some ways perhaps more a commentary on history.  Or a Religious History as more than a few suggest.  In all honesty it has a purpose to show, as noted above.  To follow Yahweh, not other gods, and because of what God had done already.

So…, not quite satisfied with that, I decided to do a quick internet look up some of the proposed Biblical Genres.  (In what books/articles I could find at the moment, most did not look at the genre of Judges, just literary content).  In due course I found Narrative, Annals, Epic.  Annals, don’t work for me.  Historical narrative is what I think most people see it as.  Epic, works to an extent, since Judges does indeed include what may seem some pretty epic feats in the stories, but I am afraid that highlights the characters more than the Historians point.     To be honest I’m still thinking on the matter.

We set out to discuss the Genre of Judges and while I may not have answered that as well as I should.  Nevertheless I hope that some of the other information has been of help.

[1] William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 107.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.,191.

[6] Cheryl J. Exum, “The Centre Cannot Hold: Thematic and Textual Instabilities in Judges,” in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52, no. 2 (July 1990): 410-31.

[7] Tammi J. Schneider, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry: Judges, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000), xiii.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Victor H. Matthews, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary: Judges & Ruth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 6.

[10] Leslie Hoppe, Old Testament Message: Joshua, Judges, vol. 5, ed. Carroll Stuhlmueller and Martin McNamara (Wilmington: Michael Glaizer, 1982), 15.

[11] Ibid..

[12] Ibid., 21.

[13] Schneider, xiii.

[14] Matthews, 8.

[15] Ibid., 3.

[16] J. Alberto Soggin, The Old Testament Library: Judges, tr. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 8.


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