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

Ethics and the Book of Judges.

As with virtually every biblical book, Judges confronts the modern reader with much that seems offensive or repugnant: the bloodthirsty violence of heroes such as Ehud; the sacrifice of a daughter to God by Jepththah; the rape, condoned by her husband, of the woman in Judg 19 , her murder, and subsequent dismemberment. How does one engage such texts? One might disassociate oneself from Scripture and conclude that ancient Israelite culture is not our culture, their world-view not ours. A person who does consider himself within a more continuous line of biblical tradition for cultural or religious reasons might attempt to appropriate selectively, appreciating Jephthah's appeal to criteria of just war ( 11:12–27 ), the Israelites' condemnation of the evildoing at Gibeah, their heroism in confronting better-armed enemies. In this commentary we attempt to stand at some critical distance from the ancient representations in Judges, nevertheless empathizing with their authors and audiences. We have to imagine a world in which human sacrifice is not unthinkable even while we, like the voices of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, condemn it. We must also consider the possibility that the ancient Israelites were self-critical and unsure: their frequent enquiries of God portrayed in Judges, and their need for, but distrust of, leadership being evidence of inner tensions and self-doubt concerning the nature of human action and the moral underpinnings of received literary traditions.

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