BAR 34:03, May/June 2008
Between the death of Joshua and the era of the prophet Samuel, the Bible tells us that Israel was “judged” by a series of charismatic leaders, each guided by the spirit of Yahweh. These individuals were not juridical officials, nor were they true kings, since their authority was only temporary and could not be passed to their descendants. Rather, judges were chosen by Yahweh to deliver the wayward Israelites from different episodes of Canaanite, Ammonite, Moabite, Midianite and Philistine oppression. For some of these heroes—Samson, Deborah, Gideon, Ehud, Othniel and Jephthah—the Book of Judges recounts remarkable tales of leadership and physical prowess. For others—Shamgar, Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon and Abdon—barely anything is noted at all.
Although there is no historical evidence for these figures outside of the Bible, their …