Book of Judges
- LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2022
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0115
- LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2022
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0115
This frontier epic located among the former prophets in the Jewish Bible and the historical books in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible narrates the adventures and misadventures of the Israelites between their entrance into Canaan (narrated in the preceding book of Joshua) and the emergence of kingship and a political state under David (narrated in the subsequent books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel). The subjects of its title, the “judges,” are the tribal leaders and protagonists of the stories in the book, who lead Israel in this transitional period between the era of the covenant-making heroes Moses and Joshua in the books of Moses (that is, the Pentateuch) and Joshua and the nation-making (and -breaking) heroes Samuel, Saul, David, and various monarchs in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Since the 19th century, biblical studies have been dominated by attempts to isolate literary documents that were composed prior to the existing books and then braided together to form the extant biblical literature. This inspired a century of research into the literary prehistory of Judges and scores of competing analyses that offered schemes isolating stages in the development of Judges and assigning dates and likely authors to these hypothetical documents. The results of this literary detective work were ingenious, inventive, and inconsistent. Since the second half of the 20th century, the focus in research has shifted away from both literary reconstruction and attempts to coordinate the sources of Judges with those of the Pentateuch and the former prophets. A number of studies focus on the organization and themes of Judges itself as an integrated literary whole. Another set of studies has utilized Judges as a window into the history of early Israel, arguing for the accuracy or inaccuracy of the Israelite “conquest” of Canaan near the end of the second millennium BCE. Virtually every narrative in Judges includes vivid female characters, and there are many studies of Judges from the perspectives of feminism and gender studies. The advent of folklore studies and the array of reading strategies that are grouped under the rubric of “deconstruction” have changed the terrain by posing new questions and eroding the foundation of historical and literary schemes that attempt to impose single or grand maps on the entire landscape of the book. Accordingly, scholarship has recently come full circle, modestly focusing on the individual narratives themselves with their memorable characters and engaging plots, rediscovering why Gideon’s trumpet and Samson’s long hair have become enduring cultural motifs, why the wise among us still avoid shibboleths, and why so many girls continue to be named “Deborah” but not “Delilah.”
In a pioneering historical-critical commentary on Judges, Moore 1895 observes the archaic nature of the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), isolates the heroic anthology that forms the book’s core (Judges 2–16), exhaustively catalogues details of history and philology, and exercises great literary sensitivity in the analysis of each respective narrative unit. Boling 1975 pursues the quest of the mid-20th-century biblical archaeology movement: the reconstruction of the early Iron Age chapter of ancient Israelite history and culture. A number of new approaches to the art of commentary focus on specific areas: Olson 1998 on theological and moral issues, Fewell 1998 on the portrayals of female characters, Gunn 2005 on reception history, and Niditch 2008 on the oral-traditional quality of the material. Several recent commentaries can be characterized by their interpretive methods: Frolov 2013 uses a form-critical approach, Alter 2014 has a literary perspective, and Nelson 2017 employs rhetorical criticism. Butler 2009, Gross 2009, Biddle 2012, Webb 2012, Sasson 2014, and Knauf 2016 offer critical commentaries in the comprehensive style.
Alter, Robert. Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets; Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings; A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014.
Alter employs a literary approach in his commentary on Judges, which also includes his own translation and a brief introduction to the book.
Biddle, Mark E. Reading Judges: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012.
This commentary discusses historical-critical and text-critical issues in an accessible way, without losing focus on the literary artistry and theological messages of the final form of the book.
Boling, Robert G. Judges. Anchor Bible 6A. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.
The emphasis here is on reconstruction of history more than analysis of narrative. Useful text-critical and philological notes.
Butler, Trent. Judges. Word Biblical Commentary 8. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
A critical and theologically conservative reading of Judges with text-critical notes and a full bibliography.
Fewell, Danna Nolan. “Judges.” In Women’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, 73–83. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998.
Focuses on how the deteriorating portrayal of the female characters parallels the narrative trajectory of the book as a whole.
Frolov, Serge. Judges. Forms of the Old Testament Literature 6B. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2013.
A form-critical commentary that combines diachronic and synchronic approaches.
Gross, Walter. Richter. Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: Herder, 2009.
Continues the approach of Gross’s professor Wolfgang Richter in its attention to compositional history. The most comprehensive commentary on Judges in German.
Gunn, David M. Judges through the Centuries. Blackwell Bible Commentaries. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
A promising new approach that focuses on the interpretation of Judges in Western culture over two millennia, richly illustrated, critical yet accessible to students in the humanities.
Knauf, Ernst Axel. Richter. Zürcher Bibelkommentare AT 7. Zurich: TVZ, 2016.
Knauf interprets the book of Judges within the context of the first two parts of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah and the Prophets. The commentary includes an original translation and notes on exegetical issues, historical and geographical information, and reception history.
Moore, George Foot. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Judges. International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures 7. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1895.
This commentary, which contains extensive philological and historical discussions, remains a valuable resource.
Nelson, Richard D. Judges: A Critical and Rhetorical Commentary. London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2017.
A commentary that focuses on the ways in which rhetorical features of the book of Judges are used to influence a competent reader, as well as on the formation and transmission of the text.
Niditch, Susan. Judges. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.
The only commentary to comprehensively analyze the poetry and prose of Judges from the perspective of traditional literature. Also offers a fresh translation sensitive to ancient poetics and incorporates the literary and feminist insights of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Contains a full bibliography.
Olson, Dennis T. “The Book of Judges.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 2. Edited by Leander E. Keck, 721–888. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998.
Analyzes a moral and theological “downward spiral” as part of the final editorial design of the book. Useful for interpreting Judges in the context of faith communities.
Sasson, Jack M. Judges 1–12: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 6D. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.
A detailed and wide-ranging commentary on the first twelve chapters of Judges with extensive discussions of text-critical issues, relevant ancient Near Eastern literature, and reception history.
Webb, Barry G. The Book of Judges. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2012.
Webb focuses on issues arising from the text itself and limits his discussion of background information. A lengthy introduction contains a review of the history of scholarship on the book of Judges.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Archaeology and Material Culture of Nabataea and the Nabat...
- Acts of Peter
- Acts of the Apostles
- Adam and Eve
- Aelia Capitolina
- Afterlife and Immortality
- Alexander the Great
- Altered States of Consciousness in the Bible
- Ancient Christianity, Churches in
- Ancient Israel, Schools in
- Ancient Medicine
- Ancient Mesopotamia, Schools in
- Ancient Near Eastern Law
- Anti-Semitism and the New Testament
- Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha
- Apocryphal Acts
- Apostolic Fathers
- Archaeology and Material Culture of Ammon and the Ammonite...
- Archaeology and Material Culture of Aram and the Arameans
- Archaeology and Material Culture of Judah and the Judeans ...
- Archaeology and Material Culture of Moab and the Moabites
- Archaeology and Material Culture of Phoenicia and the Phoe...
- Archaeology and Material Culture of the Kingdom of Israel ...
- Archaeology, Greco-Roman
- Art, Early Christian
- Astrology and Astronomy
- Barnabas, Epistle of
- Bible and Visual Art
- Biblical Criticism
- Biblical Studies, Cognitive Science Approaches in
- Caesarea Maritima
- Canon, Biblical
- Child Metaphors in the New Testament
- Children in the Hebrew Bible
- Children in the New Testament World
- Christian Apocrypha
- Chronicles, First and Second
- Cities of Refuge
- Clement, First
- Clement of Alexandria
- Clement, Second
- Conversation Analysis
- Corinthians, Second
- Cosmology, Near East
- Covenant, Ark of the
- Daniel, Additions to
- Death and Burial
- Deuteronomistic History
- Diaspora in the New Testament
- Digital Humanities and the Bible
- Divination and Omens
- Domestic Architecture, Ancient Israel
- Early Christianity
- Economics and Biblical Studies
- Education, Greco-Roman
- Education in the Hebrew Bible
- Election in the Bible
- Epistles, Catholic
- Epistolography (Ancient Letters)
- Esther and Additions to Esther
- Evil Eye
- Exodus, Book of
- Faith in the New Testament
- Feminist Scholarship on the Old Testament
- Flora and Fauna of the Hebrew Bible
- Food and Food Production
- Friendship, Kinship and Enmity
- Funerary Rites and Practices, Greco-Roman
- Genesis, Book of
- God, Ancient Israel
- God, Greco-Roman
- God, Son of
- Gospels, Apocryphal
- Great, Herod the
- Greco-Roman World, Associations in the
- Greek Language
- Hebrew Bible, Biblical Law in the
- Hebrew Language
- Hellenistic and Roman Egypt
- Hermas, Shepherd of
- Historiography, Greco-Roman
- History of Ancient Israelite Religion
- Holy Spirit
- Honor and Shame
- Hosea, Book of
- Idol/Idolatry (HB/OT)
- Idol/Idolatry (New Testament)
- Imperial Cult and Early Christianity
- Infancy Gospel of Thomas
- Interpretation and Hermeneutics
- Israel, History of
- Jesus of Nazareth
- Jewish Christianity
- Jewish Festivals
- Joel, Book of
- John, Gospel of
- John the Baptist
- Jubilees, Book of
- Judaism, Hellenistic
- Judaism, Rabbinic
- Judaism, Second Temple
- Judas, Gospel of
- Jude, Epistle of
- Judges, Book of
- Judith, Book of
- Kings, First and Second
- Letters, Johannine
- Letters, Pauline
- Levirate Obligation in the Hebrew Bible
- Levitical Cities
- LGBTIQ Hermeneutics
- Literacy, New Testament
- Literature, Apocalyptic
- Lord’s Prayer
- Luke, Gospel of
- Maccabean Revolt
- Maccabees, First–Fourth
- Man, Son of
- Manasseh, King of Judah
- Manasseh, Tribe/Territory
- Mark, Gospel of
- Matthew, Gospel of
- Medieval Biblical Interpretation (Jewish)
- Midrash and Aggadah
- Minoritized Criticism of the New Testament
- Miracle Stories
- Modern Bible Translations
- Mysticism in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity
- Myth in the Hebrew Bible
- Nahum, Book of
- Names of God in the Hebrew Bible
- New Testament and Early Christianity, Women, Gender, and S...
- New Testament, Feminist Scholarship on the
- New Testament, Men and Masculinity in the
- New Testament, Rhetoric of the
- New Testament, Social Sciences and the
- New Testament Studies, Emerging Approaches in
- New Testament, Textual Criticism of the
- New Testament Views of Torah
- Numbers, Book of
- Nuzi (Nuzi Tablets)
- Old Testament, Biblical Theology in the
- Old Testament, Social Sciences and the
- Orality and Literacy
- Passion Narratives
- Pauline Chronology
- Paul's Opponents
- Performance Criticism
- Period, The "Persian"
- Philo of Alexandria
- Piety/Godliness in Early Christianity and the Roman World
- Poetry, Hebrew
- Pontius Pilate
- Priestly/Holiness Codes
- Pseudepigraphy, Early Christian
- Qumran/Dead Sea Scrolls
- Race, Ethnicity and the Gospels
- Revelation (Apocalypse)
- Samuel, First and Second
- Second Baruch
- Sects, Jewish
- Sermon on the Mount
- Sexual Violence and the Hebrew Bible
- Sin (Hebrew Bible/Old Testament)
- Solomon, Wisdom of
- Song of Songs
- Succession Narrative
- Synoptic Problem
- Tales, Court
- Temples and Sanctuaries
- Temples, Near Eastern
- Ten Commandments
- The Bible and the American Civil War
- The Bible in China
- the Dead, Egyptian Book of
- the Hebrew Bible, Ancient Egypt and
- The New Testament and Creation Care
- Thomas, Gospel of
- Trauma and the Bible, Hermeneutics of
- Twelve Prophets, Book of the
- Virtues and Vices: New Testament Ethical Exhortation in I...
- War, New Testament
- Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testa...
- Worship in the New Testament and Earliest Christianity
- Worship, Old Testament
- Zoology (Animals in the New Testament)