In this book, Philippe Guillaume proposes a hypothetical reconstruction of the compositional history of the book of Judges by reading it independently of the books commonly ascribed to Noth’s Deuteronomistic History. His analysis relies essentially on the data that archaeology has made available for the Assyrian period. He is attentive to the ideology and theological views within the biblical texts to set these in specific political contexts. His dating of the different editorial stages of the book of Judges is also supported by comparing the geographical data (e.g., territorial divisions) provided in the texts with information deriving from the Assyrian era.
After a brief review of the state of research on the book of Judges, the first chapter discusses and retains Richter’s Book of Saviors (BS) and Beyerlin’s conclusion that the introductions to the savior narratives contain two opposing theologies: one in the ‘frames’ and another in the ‘schema’. The frame belongs to the original BS composed in Bethel around 720 bce (Knauf). According to Guillaume, this BS is Assyrian-friendly and was intended to remind Israel that they remain the people of God despite their integration within the Assyrian provincial system. An analysis of the terminology, ideology and theological perspectives of the stories of Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah-Barak-Jael provides the criteria to analyze the compositional history of the remaining stories of the BS. A closer look at the Assyrian religious policies (Cogan) supports Guillaume’s dating of the original BS as well as its re-editions.
The parallels Guillaume draws between the Assyrian era and the biblical text are astute if somewhat complex. For instance, in chapter 2 Guillaume argues that the Assyrian-friendly BS was brought to Jerusalem from Bethel and re-edited to support Manasseh’s pro-Assyrian policy (700–642). To prove his point, he presents an extensive study of the names within the short story of Othniel (3: 7–11), which according to him initially contained no names. Cushan-rishathaim of the two rivers would be a fictitious figure and alludes to a time when the Kushite and Mesopotamian powers ruled over Syria and Mesopotamia (715–701 bce). The ‘king of Aram’ is Sargon (722–704) who integrated Aram and Israel into the Assyrian empire. Because Sargon, dying in battle far away from home, was deprived of a funeral, it was believed that the gods had rejected him, hence the epithet rishathaim (double evil). Othniel is a name symbolizing Manasseh’s pro-Assyrian policy. He (this policy) saved Israel from total destruction—although this ‘saving act’ was accomplished by becoming loyal subjects of the Assyrians. The dating of this editorial stage is corroborated by comparing the names of the areas mentioned in Judges 1:31 to Sennacherib’s list of Sidonian fortresses that had rebelled against Assyria.
Another interesting parallel is that of the theological development from the ‘frames’ to the ‘schema’ and Assyrian theology. In the original BS, the ‘evil in the eyes of the lord’ is left unspecified. It is only during the time of Josiah (640–609 bce), when the ‘schema’ was inserted into the introductions of the savior stories, that the evil committed is spelled out as being the pursuit of the baalim. This development corresponds to that of the Ancient Near Eastern texts. From the second millennium to the ninth century bce military defeats are regularly attributed to the wrath of a divinity as a consequence for the evil in the land. The nature of the evil is left unsaid. However, inquiry into the nature of the evil first appears in Assyrian texts. The Assyrian theology presented Sargon’s death and Sennacherib’s defeat by explaining that they had offended the gods of the lands, which they had conquered, by honoring their own God at the expense of these gods. The Josianic editors adapted this theology to serve their now anti-Assyrian policy, by indicating that the evil Israel committed was to honor other gods beside Yhwh—they pursued the baalim (an allusion to the Assyrian gods).
A significant contribution to research is Guillaume’s analysis of the different meanings the term ‘judges’ acquired over time. He argues that the locution was first used by the Josianic editors when inserting the schema into the introductions of the BS. Here the heroes are identified as judges, which in a Josianic context means that they are local substitutes ruling in the absence of the king (Tyrian conception of judges). The list of judges was also integrated at this time (10:1–5; 12:8–15). Guillaume observes that none of them come from Judah or Benjamin and care is taken to describe them as true Israelites (i.e., they are born, bred and died in Israel). These short notices portray a time of peace and prosperity and are intended to present the takeover of Israel by Judah as the restoration of the ancient tribal structure. However, these judges are answerable to the king (Josiah). Around 200 bce more additions were brought to the BS, by then the book of Judges. The purpose was to make this book fit between the books of Joshua and Samuel and integrate it within a historiography of Israel. The judges were then presented as living in a period prior to the monarchy. In short, the judge’s period is a literary construct and according to Guillaume should never be presented as a historical period.
My main difficulty with this study pertains to those texts that he sets in the Babylonian period, namely the Jephtah and Samson cycles. Although he states that the introduction to these stories indicates that they should be read together, he omits discussing the history of the growth of these texts prior to their insertion within the book of Judges. This, of course, may be justified, considering that he follows Noth and Richter in removing both Jephtah and Samson from the BS. However, the development history of the Jephtah story especially remains significant for studies pertaining to the growth of the book of Judges. For the most part scholars agree that the pericopes Guillaume uses to date the integration of the Jephtah narrative into the book of Judges are late (e.g., Jephtah’s vow). This is precisely the problem. What about the rest of the text and the triple(!) introduction to the story of Jephtah? Since he does discuss the growth of other stories within the book of Judges (e.g., Othniel, Deborah/Barak), it would seem appropriate that he also discuss the development history of this story. On the other hand, this may have required a detailed analysis of the text that Guillaume intentionally wanted to avoid. His primary concern was to set each literary stage of the book of Judges in a specific historical context and he has done this efficiently.