Three types of material appear in Judges. Independent hero stories dating from near the events they narrate (1200-1040 b.c.) form the core of the book. In heroic literature a people celebrates the exploits of its individual heroes. Such accounts served entertainment as well as historical needs. George Steiner, writing about Homer, aptly observes that heroic literature
revels in the gusto of physical action and in the stylish ferocity of personal combat. [It] sees life lit by the fires of some central, ineradicable energy. The air seems to vibrate around the heroic personages, and the force of their being electrifies nature. (p. 180)
This literature relishes physical prowess and bodily defects, craftiness and eccentricity, victories but also failures. It delights in striking details and savors the grotesque. These features make Judges rollicking reading but unsettling for pious meditation. Nevertheless, heroic literature serves biblical theology well. It inseparably fuses real history with the tastes, hopes, and faith of God's people. Vibrantly experiential, it provokes engagement. A preface (2:6-3:6) and standardized introductions and conclusions bind the stories into a series, conforming each to a common pattern linking each story's opening crisis to apostasy and characterizing the heroes as champions of God. Several sections, however, lack this framework and either ignore the judges or depict them negatively (1:1-2:5; 8:33-9:57; 16:1-31; 17:1-21:25). These passages brand the period anarchic, playing a minor-key counterpoint to the rest of the book. Ironically aloof from the heroic ideals, they offer “a critique of the archaic values of the [hero stories] in the light of new energies and perceptions” (Steiner, 184).
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