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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Judges - Introduction

Within the Bible's chronology, that is within the pan-Israelite portrayal of the history of the people, Judges is set in a time before kings ruled in Israel and before ritual actions and spaces were regularized and centralized. Leaders are swashbuckling bandits whose influence lasts only during their lifetimes, and Israelite groups unite to fight enemies as members of a loosely organized confederation. Two important heroes are women, an unusual gender for such roles in the androcentric Israelite tradition preserved in the HB.

Judges presents the period of the ‘conquest’ when Israelites wrest control of portions of the land from various non-Israelite overlords, defeating and dispossessing rival inhabitants. In contrast, however, to portions of the book of Joshua which portray the conquest as linear, unstoppable, and totalistic, Judges presents the events of a take-over much more haltingly as Israel, a poorly armed resistance force, wins some battles and loses others, has periods of relative success and some significant setbacks, never completely gaining control of the promised land. Indeed Israelite encounters with the enemy seem less like the warfare of conquest than the activities of subversive insurgents, guerrillas. Leaders are often at odds with the people while Israel itself is presented as composed of rather fragmentary groups and individuals that are sometimes at war with one another.

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