The Judges

Posted by on May 29, 2016

We came to year 2507 when the land was inherited and year 2514 when the first Sabbatical year was celebrated in the land. Seven years later, in year 2521, Yehoshua son of Nun died at the age of 110 (Jdg_2:8, Jos_24:29) when the second Sabbatical year was observed (Seder ‘Olam R., ed. Ratner, xi. 24b-25b, xxx. 69b, Wilna, 1895).

Little is known about the period of the Judges as far as the chronology is concerned with the exception of the first judge Othni’el and the last Shmuel. Most likely, there were judges of Israel who ruled simultaneously in different regions in the land. In order to understand this obscured period of Israel, we need to go the Acts of the Apostles (Act_13:18-21) and consider the words of Shaul.

Now for a time of about forty years He sustained them in the wilderness. And having destroyed seven nations in the land of Kena‘an, He gave their land to them as an inheritance. And after that He gave judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Shmuel the prophet. But then they asked for a sovereign, and Elohim gave them Sha’ul the son of Qish, a man of the tribe of Binyamin, for forty years.

Here are our comments on Acts 13:18:21: The first thing one will notice is that Apostle Shaul gives the years for King Shaul’s reign and the reasonable question that comes to mind is this: How could Apostle Shaul have known that King Shaul reigned forty years, since 1&2 Samuel say nothing about the length of the king’s reign? The second thing is that this statement of the apostle is the only chronological evidence in the entire Scripture that gives an account of the total period the judges ruled over Israel, but other than this the text does not say anything about the chronology of judgeship, etc. It is reasonable to assume that Apostle Shaul had used sources outside of the Scripture, such as the tradition of the elders. Shmuel was born and lived in this period of history when the transition from judgeship and kingship took place.

Shmuel was the last judge of Israel and became the first prophet in his early age (1Sa_3:18-20). Per the account of Jdg_11:25-27, the time when Israel took Heshbon until Iphtach the Judge was 300 years; hence, the period of the Judges lasted at least 300 years. Rashi has this to say about the 300 years in Jdg 11:26,

Since the land was conquered in the days of Joshua until Jephthah. From here we can derive if the periods of the judges that were mentioned up to this point include the years of oppression by the heathens or not. We have learned in Seder Olam (Ch. 12): Joshua led Israel twenty eight years, but I have no Scripture whence to derive it. Othniel led them forty years including the years of oppression by Cushan- rishathaim (above 3:11); after him was Ehud for eighty years (above 3:30) including the eighteen years of oppression by Eglon. This totals one hundred forty eight years. Deborah led them forty years (above 5:31) including the years of oppression by Jabin. This totals one hundred eighty eight years; afterwards were the seven years of oppression by Midian (above 6:1) and the forty years of Gideon (above 8: 28), then the three of Abimelech (above 9:22), thus totaling two hundred thirty eight years. Afterwards were the twenty three of Tola, and the twenty two of Jair (above 10:2,3), however one same year coincides for both of them; finally, adding the eighteen of Ammon prior to Jephthah’s introduction (above 10:8), this amounts to the three hundred years.

Also, from 1Sa_7:15 we learn that Shmuel judged Israel all the days of his life until the period of judges ended. There is no record anywhere in the Scripture to say how many years Shmuel lived and ministered and how many years were between the conquest of the land and Shmuel’s anointing as a prophet. We have only the Jewish tradition that says that Shmuel was only fifty-two at the time of his death. So, everything we can say about restoring the chronology of the judges of Israel will based on the Book of Judges and Acts 13:18-21.

From the Greek text of Act_13:18-20, it looks like Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years, entered the Land, the seven nations were destroyed, the land was divided, and then the 450 years span from the death of Yehoshua to the anointing of Shmuel as a judge of Israel. The reason for this perception is in the use of the phrase And after that implying that the period of 450 years follows the division of the land. However, the Aramaic text (LBP Aramaic of The Peshitta) of the same verses gives a slightly different perspective,

And he fed them in the wilderness for forty years. And he destroyed seven nations in the land of CaÆnaan, and he gave them their land for an inheritance. And for a period of four hundred and fifty years he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for a period of forty years. (Act 13:18-21 LBP)

The Greek word “hos” translated “about” in the KJV of Acts 13:20, should rather have been translated “during” and not “about” as seen in the context of the events (Israel was in the wilderness for forty years) and also in the Aramaic translation (LBP).

Per LBP, it seems that the period of 450 years does not necessarily follow the settlement in the land. By accepting the LBP text, it will seem that the 450 years are inclusive and counted from the Exodus until the reign of King Shaul. This can mean only one thing that Mosheh and Yehoshua were considered judges by Apostle Shaul when he made this statement (as a Judge Shmuel did exactly what Mosheh did). And indeed, Mosheh and Yehoshua were judges: Mosheh judged his people in the wilderness and Yehoshua for fulfilling the word became a judge in Israel (Exo_18:13-16, 1Ma_2:55). And if we count 450 years from the year when the Israelites left Egypt in year 2454, we will come to year 2903, the thirteenth year of King Shaul.

The understanding of this author is that in the year the period of Judges ended is somehow connected to Prophet Shmuel because Apostle Shaul says that YHVH gave judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Shmuel the prophet. From the text it seems that, the 450th year of the judgeship changed the status of Shmuel’s ministry. Let us consider: (1) since the Philistine servitude lasted forty years (Jdg_13:1) and (2) seems to have been terminated in the first days of Shmuel (1Sa_7:13-15) of his judgeship (1Sa_7:3-6) when the ark was returned by the Philistines for the fear of Elohim (1Sa_7:1-2), and (3) since it had already begun before the birth of Shimshon (Jdg_13:5), who judged Israel for twenty years (Jdg_15:19-20), it seems that (1) the 20-year judgeship of Shimshon was followed by (2) the 20-year judgeship of Shmuel, (3) which was also followed by his 20 years as a prophet over Israel (see Jubilees Table). But if these 450 years are counted from the death of Yehoshua, as commonly accepted, the period of Judges would have ended in the second year of King Shlomo when Shmuel would have been long dead.

On the other hand, Josephus in his Antiquities, 6:5:4, says that the period of the Judges began eighteen years after the death of Yehoshua during which years Israel was without any form of government, which he calls “anarchy.”

And when Samuel had told them that he ought to confirm the kingdom to Saul by a second ordination of him, they all came together to the city of Gilgal, for thither did he command them to come. So the prophet anointed Saul with the holy oil in the sight of the multitude, and declared him to be king the second time. And so the government of the Hebrews was changed into a regal government; for in the days of Moses, and his disciple Joshua, who was their general, they continued under an aristocracy; but after the death of Joshua, for eighteen years in all, the multitude had no settled form of government, but were in an anarchy; after which they returned to their former government, they then permitting themselves to be judged by him who appeared to be the best warrior and most courageous, whence it was that they called this interval of their government the Judges.

If the 450 years are counted eighteen years after the death of Yehoshua, the period of Judges would end in the twentieth year of King Shlomo which is impossible. Notice, that Josephus does not say that the period of Judges began eighteen years after the death of Yehoshua, but after the death of Joshua, for eighteen years … they called this interval of their government the Judges. Most likely, during these eighteen years of lawlessness from the death of Yehoshua, the civil war broke up between all tribes of Israel and the tribe of Binyamin (see Judges 20) in which twenty-five thousand men fell of Binyamin alone. This war would have almost cut off this tribe from Israel in one day. What evidence is there that this civil war took place in the beginning of the period of Judges? The strongest evidence we can find is in Jdg_20:28 where we see Pinehas son of El’azar, son of Aharon, had brought the ark of the Covenant in the battle field and inquired Elohim. This is the same Pinehas who was the High Priest in the times of Yehoshua (Jos_22:30-32, Jos_24:33). Another evidence is given in the beginning and in the end of the story that in those days there was no sovereign in Israel – everyone did what was right in his own eyes, meaning there was no ruler over Israel at that time: after the death of Yehoshua and before the appointment of the first judge, Othni’el.

Also, at first glance, it seems that Apostle Shaul and Josephus contradict each other, but this is what may look on the surface. The difference may be reconciled, if Shaul had considered Mosheh and Yehoshua to be judges, while Josephus might have not. So, what would have constituted a judge in the eyes of the Apostle Shaul? A Judge is a special leader of the people of Israel, (1) who appeared at a time of great national distress to convict the people of their sin, (2) deliver them from oppression or other external threat, and, (3) while he lived, administer justice according to Torah. And indeed, the line of the Judges begins with Mosheh, the first and true Judge of Israel, and his immediate successor Yehoshua, whom the people feared as they feared Mosheh, because both men performed all three functions of the Biblical Judges.

Having said all that, we may conclude that the period of the Judges began with the Exodus of Israel in year 2454 under the judgeship of Mosheh who in his uniqueness was both a prophet and a judge, and ended in the twentieth year of judgeship of prophet Shmuel and the thirteenth year of King Shaul in 2903. Shmuel was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets of the post-exodus period. He introduced the Kingdom of Israel and anointed its first two kings, Shaul and David. At any rate, we may well assume that Josephus had the same source of information as Shaul did, but had chosen to be more conservative in his account.

Also in support of this understanding comes the account in 2Ch_35:18 regarding the Passover King Yoshiyahu made: And such a Passover sacrifice had not been made in Israel since the days of Shmuel the prophet; and neither did any of the kings of Israel make such a Passover as Yoshiyahu did. But is it not written in 2Ki_23:22 that such a Passover sacrifice had not been performed since the time of the judges? Therefore, Shmuel is considered a judge of Israel and period of judges ended with him.