The Moral Decline of Israel in Judges

Samson in Dagon Temple
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This is a rough draft of a response paper required in OT class. It deals with how the women of Judges are portrayed. Feel free to leave me your thoughts.

We are met in Judges first by a woman, Acsah, the daughter of Caleb who would be given as a war-prize, but this war-prize is demanding a dowry from her father, and in doing so assures her husband of his place in history. She would become the wife of the first of Israel’s Judges. At the end of the book, women again are given as a prize, but this time, they are to be captured and to serve as a way to replenish the tribe of Benjamin, but throughout all of Judges, women are seen as an active and vital part of the life of Israel. There is Deborah who is the prophet of the time as well as the Judge of Israel who counsels Barak concerning war. This war is won only when Jael uses herself as a lure for the enemy general, eventually killing him and giving the victory’s credit not to Barak, but to YHWH. Further, there is Delilah who uses her ‘feminine wiles’ to master Samson’s strength and render to the Philistines ultimate victory over Israel, at least for a time. The unnamed women also play a role. Unlike Acsah, Jephthah’s vow doesn’t bode well for his unnamed and once celebrated daughter (11.40). The unnamed Levite’s unnamed concubine didn’t fare well either with her being a forced sacrifice with no angelic guard or great uncle praying for her. She was shoved out the door to protect the Levite, where she was raped until death. Her body was then split into twelve pieces to call Israel to war against a kinsman tribe. So her death, as disgraceful as it was, brought more death and more oppression to women (chapter 21).

The moral decline of Israel is measured in the Book of Judges by their treatment of women. Beginning with Acsah who accepts the good vow of her father and then fights for her husband, we find then Deborah as a prophet and Judge herself. Further, it is attested that her song as recorded in the Book of Judges is among the oldest, if not the oldest, record of the Hebrew bible. Those who lived the history of  Israel so valued Deborah that her song was treasured and kept secure for generations. While we might focus on the story of Samson and Delilah, I believe that her story is rather one of Samson’s own immorality. By the end of the era, Israel’s society had so degraded itself that an entire town participated in the rape and murder of an innocent woman, with her husband willingly sacrificing her for himself. Then, that town was protected by an entire tribe with the other eleven tribes forming a confederation to wage war.  The author(s) of the book of Judges refuses, at this juncture, to label the tribe of Benjamin among the Israelites, reserving that name for those who defended justice. Leaving on a fragment of Benjamin, the Israelites recoiled in horror what they had done. In trying to rectify the situation, the Israelites committed more horror amongst themselves by slaughters all of the inhabitants of a town, except for the virgin daughters. They intended to use them for breed stocking for the tribe of Benjamin. When that wasn’t enough, they participated in a mystery religion’s rite and kidnapped more women. From the powerful women who led Israel to now women being used for nothing more than to serve their husbands as mothers, the moral decline of Israel was complete.

All of these intermarriages must have severely irked those in the Ezra Tradition.

I find it odd that the Levite, the tribe given the cities of refuge and charge over other social justice issues, easily tossed the woman out the door.

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