Lesson 3 of 5
In Progress

Background of Judges

The period of the judges, from the settlement/conquest of the land of Canaan up to the time of the monarchy, roughly 1200-1020 B.C.E., was a decisive time in the history of Israel. During this time wandering nomads settled the land, grew into an established society, developed a sense of national identity with a cultural-religious heritage, and came to form the people of Israel.

The cultural and religious character of this period in Israel’s history is not entirely clear. Some of the newly arrived seminomads continued with their flocks and herds; others chose to live in the cities or take up agrarian pursuits. The political situation is better understood. In the absence of a unified political state the tribes that would later become Israel enjoyed considerable independence. While each tribe was assigned a designated portion of the promised land, they were individually responsible for the settlement and retention of their tribal territory. The traditions hint at some kind of tribal structure before the rise of the monarchy, but the older idea of a loose confederation of tribes modeled on the Greek idea of an amphictyony gathered around a central shrine is generally dismissed these days for lack of evidence in the text.

Rather, the folktales of various tribal heroes from this early period have been gathered by the editors of the Deuteronomistic History and structured to critique the political structure and the tribal way of life and to drive home the message of Joshua’s closing exhortation to the people as summarized in its final verse: “If you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he enjoined on you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land that he has given to you” (Joshua 23:16).