Power and Politics in the Book of Judges

Power and Politics in the Book of Judges: Men and Women of Valor

John C. Yoder
Copyright Date: 2015
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    Power and Politics in the Book of Judges
    Book Description:

    Power and Politics in the Book of Judges studies political culture and behavior in premonarchic Israel, focusing on the protagonists in the book of Judges. Although the sixth-century BCE Deuteronomistic editor portrayed them as moral champions and called them “judges,” the original bardic storytellers and the men and women of valor themselves were preoccupied with the problem of gaining and maintaining political power. These “mighty ones” were ambitious, at times ruthless; they might be labeled chiefs, strongmen, or even warlords in today’s world. John C. Yoder considers the variety of strategies the men and women of valor used to gain and consolidate their power, including the use of violence, the redistribution of patronage, and the control of the labor and reproductive capacity of subordinates. They relied heavily, however, on other strategies that did not deplete their wealth or require the constant exercise of force: mobilizing and dispensing indigenous knowledge, cultivating a reputation for reliability and honor, and positioning themselves as skillful mediators between the realms of earth and heaven, using their association with YHWH to advance their political, economic, or military agenda.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9662-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction and Overview
    (pp. 1-44)

    When a messenger of Yhwh first encountered Gideon, the messenger greeted him saying, “Yhwh is with you, valiant mighty man” (gibbôr heḥāyil– ננדד דדל) (Judg. 6:12).¹ With these words, the messenger identified Gideon as a member of an elite class wielding extensive military, political, and economic power. The messenger did not address Gideon as a religious leader or identify him as a magistrate. Had the messenger been a modern political scientist, not a peripatetic prophet, he might have called Gideon a patrimonial leader or patron. Other terms that come to mind for the contemporary reader are strongman, big man, boss,...

  6. 2 Power and Knowledge
    (pp. 45-78)

    As prominent warriors, community leaders, and heads of houses, the men of valor in Judges managed subordinates, manipulated superiors, and dealt with enemies. As was true in other patronage systems, success depended on their ability to exercise force and distribute wealth. However, they also relied on other political resources. Knowledge mongers as well as pursuers of military power and material riches, the heroes in Judges valued information as much as physical strength, adeptness with patronage, or the ability to administer a great house. In exploring the question of how the mighty men of valor gained and held power, this chapter...

  7. 3 Power and Trust
    (pp. 79-114)

    Politics is an always uncertain and often dangerous enterprise, but wielding power as a big person in a patron-client setting is especially precarious. Every step in the career of such an individual is marked with peril. Seeking, gaining, exercising, maintaining, and even relinquishing power are all fraught with risk. As noted in the previous two chapters, the use of force and the distribution of spoils are common strategies leaders turn to as they seek to enforce compliance or purchase loyalty. Not as well recognized are the less violent, less hazardous, and less costly approaches used by leaders. The present chapter...

  8. 4 Power and Honor
    (pp. 115-164)

    Anticipating a central theme in the book of Judges, the humanist editor explicitly references honor in the first chapter. Attributing the source of honor to the supernatural, the editor elevates the tribes of Judah and Simeon over all the others.

    And the sons of Israel asked Yhwh, “Who will be the first to go up for us against the Canaanites to wage war against them?” And Yhwh said, “Judah will go up. Behold I give the land into his hand.” Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Go up with me to my allotment and we will fight the Canaanites.”...

  9. 5 Power and Wealth
    (pp. 165-206)

    When the messenger of Yhwh first encountered Gideon, he addressed him saying, “Yhwh is with you, mighty and prosperous warrior” (Judg. 6:12).¹ Besides exercising great power, Gideon and the other central characters in the book of Judges accumulated and managed substantial wealth. As heads or members of prominent houses they owned fields and herds, administered revenue-generating shrines, were proprietors of thrashing floors, retained servants and slaves, possessed many wives, had numerous sons and daughters, engaged the services of professional diviners, hired mercenaries, gained access to town treasuries, redistributed the spoils of battle, rode on donkeys instead of walked, and were...

  10. 6 Conclusions and Reflections
    (pp. 207-226)

    Neglected by secular scholars because of its religious content, reshaped by people of faith because its protagonists are morally offensive, and avoided by individuals committed to nonviolence because of its brutality, the book of Judges deserves to be taken more seriously. No other book in the Hebrew Bible mirrors the entire span of Israel’s history as authentically as Judges. The main body of the book is a collection of premonarchic tales celebrating heroic champions, who competed for power in turbulent times. The book’s sixth-century version reflects the tension between the priestly Deuteronomic reformers and the Deuteronomistic defenders of royal power.¹...

  11. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 227-234)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-246)
  13. Index of Names and Subjects
    (pp. 247-268)
  14. Index of Scripture References
    (pp. 269-273)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)