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

Judges as Part of a Larger Whole.

1.

If these traditional narratives do reflect the social world of Israel's pre-state origins as a people, in its current form the book also serves as an important segment of essential pan-Israelite myth. The process by which a host of traditions about the judges came together as a distinct corpus is difficult to reconstruct, involving a complex interplay between the oral and the written, individuals and the group, the ancient and the more recent. Along the way, what were once disparate traditions came to be an expression of the larger group's sense of history and identity. This is not to suggest that the process was superorganic without reference to specific composers set in time and place, but to admit uncertainty about the whos and wherefores. Scholars generally consider the book of Judges in its current form to be a part of the Deuteronomistic History, a corpus spanning Deuteronomy–2 Kings, whose collection and setting down is attributed to nationalistic and devotedly Yahwistic writers during the time of the reforming seventh century BCE Judean king Josiah (see INTROD.OT).

2.

Such writers combine the radical monotheism, aniconism, and condemnation of fertility rituals, divination, and child sacrifice found in Deuteronomy with a strongly pro-Davidic, pro-southern emphasis on centralization of worship in the temple in Jerusalem. The Deuteronomistic History is considered to have undergone revision by ideological offspring of these seventh century reformers, exilic writers responding to the crisis of Babylonian conquest. The theme of YHWH's control of history and the book's strongly nationalistic pride in Israel's military successes appear to suit well the interests of such writers, monarchic and exilic. The varieties of religious expression revealed in the tales and their implicit distrust of kings and political authority, however, seem to point in other directions. Either Judges is not appropriately Deuteronomistic, or one must adjust suggestions about the Deuteronomistic corpus as pro-Josianic propaganda and come to appreciate the various threads in world-view preserved in this book as indeed in other material from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. It has been suggested that the refrain, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes’ (Judg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25 ), allows pro-monarchic, southern writers to present received traditions as a reflection of olden times, romantic and appealing in some senses, but chaotic and better left in the past. Nevertheless, the subversive and anti-establishment qualities of Judges shine through and together with the lively traditional style of the narratives help to explain the continuing appeal of tales of the judges.

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