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Six Hundred Brides for Six Hundred Brothers

21 The Israelites had taken an oath in Mizpah, saying, “Not one of us will allow his daughter to marry a Benjaminite.” So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, weeping loudly and uncontrollably.[a] They said, “Why, O Lord God of Israel, has this happened in Israel? An entire[b] tribe has disappeared from Israel today!”

The next morning the people got up early and built an altar there. They offered up burnt sacrifices and tokens of peace.[c] The Israelites asked, “Who from all the Israelite tribes has not assembled before the Lord?”They had made a solemn oath that whoever did not assemble before the Lord at Mizpah must certainly be executed.[d] The Israelites regretted what had happened to[e] their brother Benjamin. They said, “Today we cut off an entire[f] tribe from Israel! How can we find wives for those who are left?[g] After all, we took an oath in the Lord’s name not to give them our daughters as wives.” So they asked, “Who from all the Israelite tribes did not assemble before the Lord at Mizpah?” Now it just so happened no one from Jabesh Gilead had come to the gathering.[h] When they took roll call,[i] they noticed[j] none of the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead were there. 10 So the assembly sent 12,000 capable warriors[k] against Jabesh Gilead.[l] They commanded them, “Go and kill with your swords[m] the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead, including the women and little children. 11 Do this:[n] Exterminate every male, as well as every woman who has experienced a man’s bed.[o] But spare the lives of any virgins.” So they did as instructed.[p] 12 They found among the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead 400 young girls who were virgins who had never been intimate with a man in bed.[q] They brought them back to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.

13 The entire assembly sent messengers to the Benjaminites at the cliff of Rimmon and assured them they would not be harmed.[r] 14 The Benjaminites returned at that time, and the Israelites[s] gave to them the women they had spared from Jabesh Gilead. But there were not enough to go around.[t]

15 The people regretted what had happened to[u] Benjamin because the Lord had weakened[v] the Israelite tribes. 16 The leaders[w] of the assembly said, “How can we find wives for those who are left?[x] After all, the Benjaminite women have been wiped out. 17 The[y] remnant of Benjamin must be preserved. An entire Israelite tribe should not be wiped out.[z] 18 But we can’t allow our daughters to marry them,[aa] for the Israelites took an oath, saying, ‘Whoever gives a woman to a Benjaminite will be destroyed.’[ab] 19 However, there is an annual festival to the Lord in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel (east of the main road that goes up from Bethel to Shechem) and south of Lebonah.” 20 So they commanded the Benjaminites, “Go hide in the vineyards, 21 and keep your eyes open.[ac] When you see[ad] the daughters of Shiloh coming out to dance in the celebration,[ae] jump out from the vineyards. Each one of you, catch yourself a wife from among the daughters of Shiloh and then go home to the land of Benjamin. 22 When their fathers or brothers come and protest to us,[af] we’ll say to them, ‘Do us a favor and let them be,[ag] for we could not get each one a wife through battle.[ah] Don’t worry about breaking your oath![ai] You would only be guilty if you had voluntarily given them wives.’”[aj]

23 The Benjaminites did as instructed.[ak] They abducted 200 of the dancing girls to be their wives.[al] They went home[am] to their own territory,[an] rebuilt their cities, and settled down.[ao] 24 Then the Israelites dispersed from there to their respective tribal and clan territories. Each went from there to his own property.[ap] 25 In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right.[aq]


  1. Judges 21:2 tn Heb “and they lifted up their voice[s] and wept with great weeping.” Both the cognate accusative בְּכִי (bekhi, “weeping”) and the attributive adjective גָדוֹל (gadol, “great”) emphasize their degree of sorrow.
  2. Judges 21:3 tn Heb “one.”
  3. Judges 21:4 tn Or “peace offerings.”
  4. Judges 21:5 tn Heb “A great oath there was concerning the one who did not go up before the Lord at Mizpah, saying, ‘He must surely be put to death.’”
  5. Judges 21:6 tn Or “felt sorry for.”
  6. Judges 21:6 tn Heb “cut off one.”
  7. Judges 21:7 tn Heb “What should we do for them, for the remaining ones, concerning wives?”
  8. Judges 21:8 tn Heb “Look, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh Gilead to the assembly.”
  9. Judges 21:9 tn Or “when the people were mustered.”
  10. Judges 21:9 tn Heb “and look.”
  11. Judges 21:10 tn Heb “men, sons of strength.”
  12. Judges 21:10 tn Heb “there.”
  13. Judges 21:10 tn Heb “the edge of the sword.”
  14. Judges 21:11 tn Heb “And this is the thing that you will do.”
  15. Judges 21:11 tn Heb “a knower of the bed of a male.” The verb יָדָע (yadaʿ) “to know,” “be intimate with,” is used as a euphemism for sexual relations.
  16. Judges 21:11 tc Some Greek witnesses (notably Codex Vaticanus [B]) add the words, “‘But the virgins you should keep alive.’ And they did so.” These additional words, which probably represent the original Hebrew text, can be retroverted: וְאֶת־הַבְּתוּלוֹת תְּחַיּוּ וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כֵן (veʾet habbetulot tekhayyu vayyaʿasu khen). It is likely that a scribe’s eye jumped from the ו (vav) on וְאֶת (veʾet) to the initial vav of v. 11, accidentally leaving out the intervening letters. The present translation is based on this reconstruction.
  17. Judges 21:12 tn Heb “who were not knowers of a man by the bed of a male.” The verb יָדַע (yadaʿ) “to know,” or “to be intimate with,” acts as a euphemism for sexual relations, which is further clarified by reference to a man’s bed.
  18. Judges 21:13 tn Heb “And all the assembly sent and spoke to the sons of Benjamin who were at the cliff of Rimmon and they proclaimed to them peace.”
  19. Judges 21:14 tn Heb “they”; the referent (the Israelites) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  20. Judges 21:14 tn Heb “but they did not find for them enough.”
  21. Judges 21:15 tn Or “felt sorry for.”
  22. Judges 21:15 tn Heb “had made a gaping hole in.” The narrator uses imagery that compares Israel to a wall that has been breached.
  23. Judges 21:16 tn Or “elders.”
  24. Judges 21:16 tn Heb “What should we do for the remaining ones concerning wives?”
  25. Judges 21:17 tn The Hebrew text has “and they said” at the beginning of the verse. For stylistic reasons the translation treats v. 17 as a continuation of the remarks of the leaders in v. 16.
  26. Judges 21:17 tn Heb “An inheritance for the remnant belonging to Benjamin, and a tribe from Israel will not be wiped away.” The first statement lacks a verb. Some prefer to emend the text to read, “How can an inheritance remain for the remnant of Benjamin?”
  27. Judges 21:18 tn Heb “But we are not able to give to them wives from our daughters.”
  28. Judges 21:18 tn Heb “is cursed.”
  29. Judges 21:21 tn Heb “and look.”
  30. Judges 21:21 tn Heb “and look, when.”
  31. Judges 21:21 tn Heb “in the dances.”
  32. Judges 21:22 tc The (original) LXX and Vulgate read “to you.”
  33. Judges 21:22 tn The words “and let them be” are supplied in the translation for clarification.
  34. Judges 21:22 tn Heb “for we did not take each his wife in battle.”sn Through battle. This probably refers to the battle against Jabesh Gilead, which only produced 400 of the 600 wives needed.
  35. Judges 21:22 tn This sentence is not in the Hebrew text. It is supplied in the translation to clarify the logic of the statement.
  36. Judges 21:22 tc Heb “You did not give to them, now you are guilty.” The MT as it stands makes little sense. It is preferable to emend לֹא (loʾ, “not”) to לוּא (luʾ, “if”). This particle introduces a purely hypothetical condition, “If you had given to them [but you didn’t].” See G. F. Moore, Judges (ICC), 453-54.
  37. Judges 21:23 tn Heb “did so.”
  38. Judges 21:23 tn Heb “And they took wives according to their number from the dancing girls whom they abducted.”
  39. Judges 21:23 tn Heb “went and returned.”
  40. Judges 21:23 tn Heb “inheritance.”
  41. Judges 21:23 tn Heb “and lived in them.”
  42. Judges 21:24 tn Heb “his inheritance.”
  43. Judges 21:25 tn Heb “Each was doing what was right in his [own] eyes.”sn Each man did what he considered to be right. The Book of Judges closes with this note, which summarizes the situation of the Israelite tribes during this period.