Home » Ponderings of the Bible » The House of Joseph, Bethel, and New Luz

The House of Joseph, Bethel, and New Luz

It’s been a bit too long since I’ve posted anything on my blog.  It’s been even long since I’ve posted something that wasn’t a paper from school.  So, here’s a post to fix that oversight of mine.  As an aside, hopefully I can the urge to do some more.

“The house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.  And the house of Joseph scouted out Bethel. (Now the name of the city was formerly Luz.)  And the spies saw a man coming out of the city, and they said to him, “Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly with you.”  And he showed them the way into the city. And they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go.  And the man went to the land of the Hittites and built a city and called its name Luz. That is its name to this day.” Judges 1.22-26 ESV

The house of Joseph begins with a list of what the other tribes did (well most of them, strangely Reuben, Gad and Issachar are missing), only Joseph having any sort of victory. [1] All in all, the list shows, really, that the Israelites, without leader such as Moses, or even Joshua are unable to really continue their God given orders. [2] The historian looks at Israel’s failure in military words, instead of theological, “they struck the city,” (22) and latter “did not drive out the inhabitants.” [3] This failure is also seen with the repeating “lived among them.”[4] Hoppe sees this as the Deuteronomistic Historian’s foreshadowing of the event. [5]

This list, however, is not the subject we’re looking at.

1.22: What is the House of Joseph?  (Or as the LXX had translated, the “son of Joseph”)?[6]

This is the only place in Judges where, “The House of Joseph” mentioned, everywhere else where Josephites type tribes are mentioned they mentioned in their separate terms.[7] (That is Ephraim, Manasseh, and Machir?)  The House of Joseph probably includes Ephraim and Manasseh, though at times it appears to include also Benjamin as Shemei calls himself “first of all the house of Joseph” (2 Sam 19.20).[8] It may also refer to All the Northern tribes in a general sense.[9] One suggestion, is that the Historian uses the House of Joseph as a “substitute for Ephraim,” the Historian having a little good to say of the tribe, and wanting to avoid such niceness even early on. [10] Bethel would also have been more of concern for that tribe than the others.[11] Yet if this is Ephraim (and maybe even Manasseh) this is their “pivotal achievement” from here they only go downhill in the book. [12]

Yahweh is with the House of Joseph, and this really separates it from the rest of the tribes which are mentioned after it.  Boiling on the basis of the LXX and OL, suggests that the reading should be “Judah was with them,” not Yahweh.[13] This suggestion appears good, but it misses many of the other points which the Historian stresses, namely that when Yahweh is with his people, they succeed, when Yahweh is not, the people fail.

1.23: The book of Joshua does not mention Bethel’s capture, though it does allude to it in Joshua 16.1 and Luz in 18.13.[14]

They “scouted out,” or Soggin: “reconnaissance” the verb used here means “to explore,” or “spy out,” it the same term found in Number 13-14.[15] Boling would translate the town’s name, Luz, as “Deception,” writing, “lūz, which means, “to turn aside,” “to depart,” with devious or crafty connotations.”[16] Perhaps the author does have this mind, the deception being that the House of Israel thought they have done something good, i.e. conquering a city, but fail, because they let a new Luz appear.

Some scholars are puzzled over the length devoted to Bethel, a city that’s rather unimportant (until later) in Judges, and it’s suggested (based partly on the LXX), that Bochim in Judges 2.1 is really Bethel.[17] Another reason those is simply Bethel’s “special place in Israelite tradition and history.”[18] Bethel is a city which will appear later in the biblical account where Jeroboam sets up his idolatrous religion. [19]


The account similar to the account of Rahab since in both a non Israelite helps them to conquer a city, and in so doing the person and their family are spared.[20] O’Conner even mentions this man as a “counterpart to Rahab of Jericho.”[21] There are some “significant differences,” however, with the Rahab account and this particular account.[22] The House of Joseph does indeed seem to want to emulate what had happen in Jericho, but they do in a different and slightly skewed way.

Here, the House of Joseph promises first to deal kindly, earlier Rahab only received the promise, after, both helping the spies and admitting to a faith in Yahweh.[23] Also, Rahab becomes a part of Israel, whereas the man and his family leave and found a new Luz.[24]

Especially of note is that he Hebrew word, ḥesed, “deal kindly” is used, which is often used in covenantal language.  It is used in alliance settings, the stronger of the factions often being the user.[25] Firstly one should probably note Judges 2.2 where the people are commanded from making any covenants with the inhabitants.[26] Though, perhaps the Historian also has in mind, Deuteronomy’s prohibition (7.2), and the ill-fated treaty with the Gibeonites in Joshua (9).[27]

The House of Joseph asks the tribe how to get into the City, not how to get into the gate and this perhaps indicates they had a secret tunnel in Mind.[28] Perhaps something like “the underground postern gate of the citadel at” Jerusalem is in mind.[29]

1.25-6: As mentioned above, the man who helped does not become in anyway a part of the Covenantal people, instead, he and his family goes and creates a new city.

New Luz’s founding is also somewhat similar to the various cities which are founded in Genesis post flood.[30] The man goes to “the land of the Hittites,” perhaps it was his ancestral home.[31] The City is taken over by the House of Joseph, yet Luz remains, in the form of New Luz, perhaps as Block notes “as a sanctioned symbol, of ‘the Canaanites in their midst.’”[32]

We know nothing else of this New Luz.[33]

[1] Leslie Hoppe, Joshua, Judges: With an Excursus on Charismatic leadership In Israel, (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier Inc., 1982), 110.

[2] Ibid., 111.

[3] Ibid., 110.

[4] Victor H. Matthews, the New Cambridge Bible Commentary: Judges & Ruth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 46.

[5] Hoppe, 110.

[6] J. Alberto Soggin, Old Testament Library: Judges tr. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 24.

[7] M. O’Conner, “Judges,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1990), 136.

[8] Carl Edwin Armerding “Judges,” in New International Bible Commentary, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 314.

[9] Ibid.

[10]Daniel Isaac Block, vol. 6, Judges, Ruth; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 102.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Robert G. Boling, Judges: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 59.


[14] Matthews, 45.

[15] Soggin, 24.

[16] Boling, 59.

[17] Tammi J Schneider, Berit Olam: Judges (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2000), 21.

[18] Block, 102.

[19] Hoppe, 110.

[20] Matthews, 45.

[21] O’Conner, 136.

[22] Block, 103.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Soggin, 24

[26] Schneider, 21.

[27] Block, 103.

[28] Armerding, 315.

[29] Boling, 59.

[30] Matthews, 45

[31] Boling, 59.

[32] Block, 103.

[33] Armerding, 315.

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