The Northern Book of Judges:

The Northern book of Judges has long been a hypothetical base text in scholarly attempts to reconstruct the literary history of the canonical book of Judges. The reason for its supposed existence is that most of the characters in the book hail from northern tribes but the redaction of the book is clearly Judean. The first chapter of Judges emphasizes the ascendance of Judah, and the third chapter reinvents the Judean hero Othniel as the first exemplar of the new type of hero. The closing chapters then proceed to vilify the Benjaminites, the tribe from which Saul the first king of Israel arose, and his city of origin Gibeah. The obvious catalyst for this smear campaign is that the Saul and his heirs were the competitors of the first Judean king David.

The contours and nature of this hypothetical Northern Book of Judges are much debated, and I hope that in my subsequent work (and in the isolation you'll find on this site) it becomes a lot clearer. Here, I shall offer but a sketch of how I think the book looked like and how it was sculpted by a series of supplementary redactions until it reached its final canonized form. It is probably better actually to start from the tail end, pealing off some of the redactional layers so to speak so we can arrive at the meat of the book. First of all is it accurate to call the protagonists of the book of Judges, “Judges”? The only “Judge” among them is Deborah, and her judicial role is very minor in contrast to her military roles. Naming them Judges is a Deuteronomistic innovation of Judges chapter 2, and an attempt to reinvent the protagonists of this book as moral heroes who brought Israel back from their worship of idols to the worship of the one God. This attempt at reinvention is unsuccessful since the heroes of this book never actually bring the people they save closer to God, nor are they especially moral, and there is no invasive redaction to convince the readers otherwise. A more successful attempt to reinvent the heroes of the book is the gradual moral degradation of the judges and the anarchy of the period in general as found in the J redaction - which would necessitate the centralization of power with one leader: A king, and not any king will do, what J wished to prove is that only a Judean king i.e. David could do the job. This attempt is part of J’s historical project charting the cause and effect that led from Adam to David. In J’s version of events, after the death of Moses who led them out of Egypt and Joshua who led them into Canaan and began the conquest, Israel settled the land and each tribe fought its local wars, led by tribal heroes. J does not add a lot to the first part of the book since he is content that the first Judges remain untarnished. As the book progresses, however, he begins to add more and more material. His first target is Gideon which he portrays as a hesitant and fearful “hero” in his initial meeting with the angel in chapter 6. Jephtah whose bravery is perhaps more difficult to obfuscate is saddled by the Yahwist with the crime of sacrificing his own daughter after a rash promise to the Lord. There is no need to add sins or morally objectionable acts to the colorful tale of Samson, though the Yahwist does suggest that all that Samson does is guided by the Lord which would indicate that the very choice of Samson as a Judge is a sign of the moral degradation of the times.

The moral degradation reaches new heights of course with J's addition of Micah and his idols, and the anarchists from Dan who kidnap his priest. The addition of the Micah account supplies the reader with a sense of narritival continuity lacking in the disjointed accounts of heroes throughout the book. The protagonists are the Dannites who have yet to settle permanently in any place, just like their heroic man of mayhem Samson from the previous chapters. In the final chapters of the book the anarchy and immorality reach a climax with a whole town perpetrating a gang-rape against a defenseless guest (note the Levite protagonist in both accounts) and the refusal on the part of their tribe (the Benjaminites) to hand over the guilty parties.

The anti Centralization source embellishes this motif and as the mid "judge" adds the villain Abimelech, who murders his brothers, perpetrates civil war, and causes the dispersal of Israel. This addition in the middle of the cycle sets the tone (as centers of symmetries often do), passing negative literary "judgment" so to speak on the entire period.

The final stage of supplementation we shall allude to is the Deuteronomistic addition of the so called "minor judges". Their addition serves a twofold function. The first is to add tribal variation to the book, thus we have judges from the tribes of Zebulon Issachar, and from Bethlehem and Piraton. The second is to bring the number of Judges to an even twelve (to this end they are even willing to include Abimelech): Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Abimelech, Tola, Yair, Yiftah, Ibtzan, Aylon, Abdon, Samson.

Now that we have peeled away the various layers of supplementation we are left with the bare bones, the original book of Judges, who then were these Judges? Prima Facie they were Ehud, Deborah Gideon, Yiftah, and Samson. All hail from the north, and no attempt is made to connect between them except thematically and some similar phraseology. The five are Israelite saviors who rescue or ridicule various oppressors on the local level. Except once we've stripped away chapter 17-21 which are additions to the book, there is no real ending to this "book". Samson, the final of the five judges, dies after killing 3000 philistines but does not offer any lasting solution to the oppression of the tribes. Even if the separate accounts were preserved completely, the absence of a proper beginning or ending would indicate that it wasn't complete.

The Northern book of Judges is, however, complete. The final section of this work is found not in Judges but in the subsequent book of Samuel. There are three candidates for Israelite "judges" in this book: Eli, Samuel, and Saul. We can eliminate Eli pretty much immediately, for although he is eulogized with the statement: "He judged Israel for forty years" his "judgment" did not involve successful military operations (the only war he was involved in ended in disaster). Samuel and Saul however are another story. Samuel is involved in a fair number of Israelite wars (although much of his involvement is attributed to later layers of the book), and so is Saul. Specifically Samuel participates in the  subjugation of the Philistines in I Samuel 7. Saul marks the conclusion of an era, he is no longer a judge. He resides uncomfortably in the in between place between Judge and king. Even after Saul is anointed by Samuel he returns to his city to lead a pastoral life -  when he is called upon to save Israel from the Ammonites he dons the garb of the charismatic savior, and not that of the king although he is popularly proclaimed as such. The final lines of the Northern Book of Judges detail all the nations from which Saul saves the Israelite among them we find the three nations which originally attacked them in Judges chapter 3: The Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Amalekites - a literary inclusio which is part of the overall symmetry of this work (delineated in later chapters).

One final note I wish to add to this sketch is Saul's character reversal initiated by J and elaborated upon by later authors. In the Northern book of Judges, Saul is described as a charismatic Judge / King who leads the Israelites to victory against overwhelming odds. He is a wholly positive character, as the final lines of the Northern book of Judges indicate. If, however, he were the perfect king, then there would have been no reason for the emergence of the Davidic dynasty and the ascendance of Judah. Thus J must present him as a sinner, as a king who will not follow the word of God, as a king prone to jealous rages, as a king who pursues his most loyal servant all over Israel, as a king not fit to rule.