History, Narrative, and the Book of Judges

(Guest Post by Ben T.)

Like many, I grew up with a steady diet of Old Testament Bible stories. David, Noah, Adam and Eve, Abraham, and even Samson were all quasi-familiar characters in what appeared at the time as a disorganized conglomeration of ancient events. How these individual stories related to one another, and what held them together appeared unimportant to my understanding of what it meant to “be like David.” It wasn’t until my undergraduate studies that I began to realize the serious deficiencies in my piecemeal understanding of the Old Testament. The realization that (a) Genesis-2 Chronicles tells essentially one story and (b) Jesus doesn’t come to us in a historical vacuum spurred me on to further study of this strange and wonderful collection of Old Testament books.

Recently, I have become deeply interested in the function and purpose of biblical narratives. In my current studies I have focused primarily on the Book of Judges and its role within the sweeping story of the Hebrew Bible. More broadly I have taken a keen interest in the writing of history (historiography) and the ways in which the Israelite storytellers shaped and crafted their narratives in order to communicate and impart to future generations their grand successes, epic failures, and unique identity as a people in covenant with YHWH.

I must admit that many of my conclusions remain provisional, as my thinking in this area continues to mature. Over the next several weeks and months I will post a variety of materials (bibliographies, summaries, quotes, etc.) related to the issues mentioned above. I would gladly welcome any and all feedback or thoughts!

By way of introduction I’ve provided three brief bibliographies. The first relates generally to the study of historiography and biblical narratives. I have been heavily influenced in this area by the work of Robert Alter and Adele Berlin. The second list is like the first, but aimed specifically at the study of Judges. I am persuaded that Judges is a late(ish) book, perhaps taking its final form in the exilic period. I have also included a selection of commentaries that I have found to be exceptionally useful. Most of these commentaries helpfully–and in my opinion rightly–treat the book of Judges as a literary whole.


Historiography and Narrative
:: General Introduction ::

Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1983.

Amit, Yairah. “Narrative Art of Israel’s Historians.” Pages 708-15 in Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books. Edited by B. T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Berlin, Adele. Poetics and the Interpretation of Biblical Narrative. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994.

Kofoed, Jens Bruun. Text & History: Historiography and the Study of the Biblical Text. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005.

Long, V. Philips. “The Art of Biblical History.” Pages 281-429 in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation. Edited by M Silva. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

McConville, J. Gordon. “Faces of  Exile in Old Testament Historiography.” Pages 519-34 in Israel’s Past in Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography. Edited by V. P. Long. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999.

Merrill, Eugene H. “Old Testament History: A Theological Perspective.” Pages 65-82 in A Guide to Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. Edited by W. A. VanGemeren. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.

Provan, Iaian, “Ideologies, Literary and Critical: Reflections on Recent Writing on the History of Israel.” Journal of Biblical Literature 114 (1995): 585-606.

Historiography and Narrative
:: Book of Judges ::

Brettler, Marc. “The Book of Judges: Literature as Politics.” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 (1989): 395-418.

Dumbrell, William. “‘In Those Days There Was No King in Israel; Every Man Did That Which Was Right in His Own Eyes’: The Purpose of the Book of Judges Reconsidered.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 25 (1983): 23-33.

Spronk, Klaas. “The Book of Judges as a Late Construct.” Pages 15-28 in Historiography and Identity (Re)Formulation in Second Temple Historiographical Literature. Edited by L. Jonker. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 534. London: T & T Clark International, 2010.

Tollington, Janet. “The Book of Judges: The Result of Post-Exilic Exegesis?” Pages 186-96 in Intertextuality in Ugarit and Israel. Edited by J. C. De Moor. Leiden: Brill, 1998.

Wenham, Gordon J. “The Rhetorical Function of Judges.” Pages 45-71 in Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.

Select Commentaries
:: Book of Judges ::

Block, Daniel. Judges. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999.

Butler, Trent. Judges. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.

Niditch, Susan. Judges:  A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Louisville: WJK Press, 2008.

Ryan, Roger. Judges. Readings. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007.

Schneider, Tammi. Judges. Berit Olam. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.

Webb, Barry. The Book of Judges: An Integrated Reading. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2008.


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