The Story Deconstucted

CONTEXT: Fighting action and clever tactics, carnage, treachery, miracles, religious imagery, character development, and political theory: what a story! Read, however, as an integral narrative, it is disjointed and hard to follow. Like the Genesis Flood Story the difficulty disappears when we deconstruct the presented form, probably the work of a late–5th century, post exilic, editor of earlier writings, more concerned with completeness than coherence.
What we find are two coherent documents, versions of the story. For the basic divisions I am indebted to the classic International Critical Commentary, Judges volume, by George Foote Moore, 1895. The early critical scholars considered Judges the conclusion of the Hexateuch, and saw, accordingly, continuations of the Jahwistic (J) and Elohistic (E) documents. The literary differentiation is clear but I see little reason to associate the strands with J or E and therefore present the former as A and the latter as B. My distributions also differ somewhat from his.
Verses in neither column: 6:1, 8:30-35, 9:56-57, are editor’s remarks, framing the story, in the pattern common to Book of Judges. Introducing a prophet, 6:7-10, would fit either version, but sounds like a late editorial comment, a redundancy, given the usual framing remarks. More specific editorial additions–glosses–are in parentheses, as is the practice in this translation. Generally these are elements of one telling inserted into the other, an editorial effort at harmonizing the two. The tale of the inglorious end of Avimelech, 9:50-55, could have been told by either A or B. Perhaps there was a variant tale that got dropped because this one is so good.
Both A and B include a miraculous call to action for Gid’on. There are parallel accounts of tactical surprise: one with shofar blowing, the other, jug breaking and torch waving.  In the A story, the troops are Gid’on’s clan and tribe. The B story suggests participants from more, northern, tribes, famously refined down to 300, with the grudging cooperation of Ephraim as an outside force. “Anyone trembling with fear, let him return,” remarkably resembles rules for warfare in Deuteronmy 20:8, where paring down troops purports to strengthen the army.
The oppressors are wandering bands of marauders, nomadic rather than settled nations as in other stories in Judges. Midyan and Amalek refer to groups found from the Sinai to Arabia. B’neyKedem, “sons of east/antiquity,” seems to be a general, inclusive term for alien tribes, or it could refer to the Syrian Desert, north of Arabia, as in Gen 29:1.
The settings are the area of Sh’chem (Nablus), Emek Yizrael (Valley of Jezriel), the Yarden (Jordan), and the ascent to the mountains beyond the Yarden. Most of the place names have not been positively located, including Ofrah, the home of the AviEzer clan of the tribe of M’nasheh. That tribe is said to have occupied the mountains north of Sh’chem (and Efrayim) and also Gil’ad, east of the Yarden. The tribes Asher, Z’vulun, and Naftali dwelled in the Galil mountains, north of Yizrael Valley. (Judges 1:30-33) A recent and helpful map: William Schlegel, Satelite Bible Atlas,
            Gid’on is also called Y’ruba’al, throughout the stories. A gloss in the B narrative explains the latter as a
word play on riv (ריב), “strive, contend, contest,” signifying that the deity Ba’al hero strives against the one who smashed his sanctuary. But it is likely that the name is similar to other Hebrew names that include a divine element (e.g. N’tanEl, “given by El,” Yirm’Yahu/Jeremiah, “Yahh exalts”) where the divinity acts on behalf of the named. The gloss may be mistaken here, influenced by the events in the story. Ba’al means “lord, master, god,” and need not in every instance be a proper noun. Y’ruba’al would not be an unusual given name (“god strives for him”), with Gid’on (from גדע, “chop down”) being the nomme de guerre.
Asherah (v¨r¥J£t) here is a sacred tree or wooden post next to which an altar stands, common practice in the ancient Middle East and proscribed for Israel (Deut 16:21, Ex 34:13). (The same word, in different context, refers to the leading female deity of the K’na’anim (Canaanitres), consort of El.)
Shofar is the rams horn sounded in synagogues on Rosh Hashanah. In antiquity horn blasts signaled alarm/action or importance.
“The evil” refers to idolatry in the context of the quasi historical writings in Tanach. Deuteronomy emphatically and repeatedly declares idolatry the serious sin. (e.g. 4:25, 7:4)
I prefer “Mitsrayim” to the usual rendering “Egypt.” It is the Tanach name, cognate with the contemporary country name “Matsr.” “Egypt” derives from an early Greek name for the country and is used in the Septuagint, followed by the Vulgate, thereby influencing the English translators.
“Gid’on refined them” in 7:3 is based on emendation. The received text includes an otherwise unknown verb and a reference to Mt Gil’ad, the name for territory east of the Yarden. The usual translation, “return from Mt Gil’ad,” does not fit the story that takes place west of the Yarden.
See glossary for: batallion, matsot.


6:1            B’neyYisrael did the evil, in Yahh’s eyes, and he gave them into the hand of Midyan for seven years.
6:2b-4   Because of Midyan the B’neyYisrael made the tunnels in the mountains, caves and fortifications. Whenever Yisrael would seed, Midyan, Amalek, and B’neyKedem would come up.  They would camp against them and destroy the land’s produce all the way to Aza (Gaza), leaving no sustenance within Yisrael, even for sheep, ox, or ass.
6:2a,5-6 Midyan overwhelmed Yisrael. They and their livestock came up, their tents approaching locusts in number–they and their camels beyond counting. They arrived in the land to destroy it. Yisrael was terribly impoverished on account of Midyan so they cried out to Yahh.

6:7-10            It happened, when B’neyYisrael called out to Yahh about Midyan that Yahh sent a prophet to B’neyYisrael. He said to them: “Thus said Yahh, god of Yisrael. ‘I brought you up from Mitsrayim, I brought you out of a house of slaves. I saved you from the hand of Mitsrayim and the hand of all your oppressors. I drove them out from before you and I gave you their land. I said to you, “I am Yahh, your god. You shall not fear the gods of the Emori in whose land you dwell.” But you did not listen to My voice.’”

6:11-24  An angel of Yahh arrived and sat under the elah tree in Ofrah belonging to Yoash the AviEezri.  His son, Gid’on, was beating out wheat in the wine press to avoid Midyan. The angel appeared to him and said, “Yahh is with you, mighty warrior.”
            Gid’on replied, “Oh please, my lord: if Yahh is with us how come all this has found us? Where are all his miracles our fathers told us of? So Yahh brought us up out of Mitsrayim? Well now Yahh has abandoned us and given us into the palm of Midyan!”
            Yahh addressed him, “Go! With your present strength and save Yisrael from the palm of Midyan. I have hereby sent you.”
            Said he, “O please my Lord. With what should I save Yisrael? My battalion has got to be the poorest in M’nasheh and I am the youngest in my father’s house.”
            “But I’ll be with you,” said Yahh, “and you shall strike Midyan as if it were one man.”
            “If I have found favor in your eyes, would you do me a sign that it is you speaking with me? Please don’t budge from here till I reach you so as to bring out my tribute and set it before You.”
            “I’ll sit till your return.”
            Gid’on arrived, having made a goat kid and matsot from an efah of flour. He put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot and brought it out to Him under the elah tree, and served it. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the matsot and set them on this rock.  Pour on the broth.” He did so. The angel of Yahh then reached with the end of his walking stick and touched the meat and matsot. Fire rose from the boulder and consumed the meat and matsot, and the angel disappeared. Gid’on realized he was an angel.
            Then Gid’on said: “Ahahh, Lord Yahh! I have seen an angel of Yahh face to face.”
            Shalom to you,” said Yahh. Fear not, you won’t die.”
            Then and there Gid’on built an altar to Yahh and called it Yahh Shalom. To this day it is still in Ofrah of the AviEzri.

6:25-32  That night it happened: Yahh said to him, “Take your father’s ox, the seven-year-old ox.  Destroy your father’s altar to Ba’al and cut the asherah next to it. Build an altar to Yahh your god at the top of this stronghold, (at the battle line.) Take the bull and send up a burnt offering using the wood of the asherah you will cut.” So Gid’on took ten men of his servants and did as Yahh had spoken to him. Being that he feared his father’ s house and the city men, rather than do it in daytime, he did it at night. 
In the morning, when the city men woke, behold, the altar of Ba’al was torn down, the asherah next to it was cut, and the ox was burning on the freshly built altar. “Who did this thing?” they said to one another. They investigated and questioned and said: “Gid’on benYoash has done this thing.” To Yoash the city men said, “Bring out your son and he’ll die for he has torn down the altar of Ba’al and cut the asherah next to it.”
Said Yoash to all those who stood up against him, “Are you going to strive for Ba’al? Are you going to save him?  If he is a god he’ll strive for himself over his altar. Any one who strives for him dies before morning!”
(That day he called him “Y’ruba’al,” which is to say, “the ba’al will strive against him for tearing down his altar.”)

6:36-40  Gid’on said to the god, “If, as You have said, you wish to save Yisrael by my hand, I am setting up this wool fleece in the threshing area.  If there will be dew on the fleece alone, while the rest of the land is dry, I shall know that You will save Yisrael by my hand as You have said.” And so it was that he got up the next morning and pressed the fleece, squeezing out dew, a bowlful of water.
Gid’on said to the god, “Don’t be angry with me and I shall speak another time. Let me test one more time with the fleece: let the fleece alone be dry while there is dew on the rest of the land.”  That night God did so.  The fleece alone was dry while there was dew on the rest of the land.


6:34      A spirit of Yahh cloaked Gid’on.  He blew the shofar and called up AviEzer to follow him.
7:1        Y’ruba’al–Gid’on–rose in the morning and, along with the people who were with him, camped by EynCharod. The Midyan camp was north of him, towards Giv’atHamoreh in the valley.

7:9-11   It happened that night: Yahh said to him, “Up. Go down against the camp for I have given it into your hand. And if you fear going down, go down to the camp with Purah your lad. You will hear what they are saying and then your hand will be strong and you will go down against the camp.” So he and Purah his lad went down to the picket edge at the camp.
7:13-15  When Gid’on arrived one man was telling his partner a dream, “I dreamt and saw a round of barley bread flipping over in the Midyan camp. It reached the tent and struck it. It fell on it and flipped it upwards. The tent fell.”
His partner responded, “That is none other than the sword of Gid’on benYoash of Yisrael.  The god has given Midyan and the whole camp into his hand.”
And it happened that with Gid’on’s hearing the tale of the dream and its breakdown, he bowed low. Then he returned to the Yisrael camp. “Up! For Yahh has given into your hands the Midyan camp!”
6:33      All Midyan, Amalek, and B’neyKedem assembled, together crossed the Yarden, and camped in the Yizrael Valley.
6:35      And he sent messengers through all of M’nasheh, summoned to follow him. He sent messengers through Asher, Z’vulun, and Naftali and they came up to meet him.
7:2-8     Yahh said to Gid’on, “The people with you are too great for My giving Midyan into their hand, lest Yisrael glorify itself over Me saying, ‘My hand saved me.’ Call out in the people’s hearing, ‘Any afraid and trembling, let him return.’” Gid’on refined them and 22 battalions left the people. Ten battalions remained.
            Yahh said, “The people is still too great. Take them down to the water and I shall refine them for you there. It will be that any I say, ‘He goes,’ shall go with you and any I say ‘He doesn’t go,” shall not go with you.”
Gid’on took the people to the water and Yahh said, “Any who laps from the water with his tongue like a dog, set him apart from him who kneels to drink.” The number of those who were lapping with their hands to their mouths was three hundred men. All the rest of the people knelt on their knees to drink water.
Yahh said, “With the three hundred hand lapping men I will save you and give Midyan into your hand. All the rest can go, each to his place.”
They took the people’s provisions and shofars and sent all Yisrael each to his tent.  He held on to the three hundred men. The Midyan camp was below him, in the valley.
7:12       (Midyan, Amalek, and all the B’neyKedem were fallen into the valley massed like locusts, their camels were beyond number. Massed like sand on the seashore.)

7:16         He divided the three hundred men under three heads and gave out empty jugs with torches in them to all hands.
7:17a,c  He said to them, “Watch what I do and you do the same. And say, ‘For Yahh and for Gid’on!’”

7:19,20  Gid’on and the hundred men with him arrived at the edge of the camp at the head of the middle watch–they had just set the guards. They smashed the jugs in their hands.
all three heads broke the jugs and held the torches in their left hand. And they called out, “A sword for Yahh and for Gid’on!”
7:21      Every man stood in his place surrounding the camp. The whole camp ran, shouted, and fled as far as BetHashitah towards Ts’rerah and as far as the border of EvelM’chol near Tabat.
7:16      He divided the three hundred men into three heads and gave out shofars to all hands.

7:17b-18He said to them, “When I arrive at the edge of the camp, the way it works, whatever I do, you do the same. I shall blow the shofar, I and those with me. You too blow the shofars, surrounding the whole camp”
7:19      Gid’on and the hundred men with him arrived at the edge of the camp at the head of the middle watch–they had just set the guards. They blew the shofars, all three heads.

7:22      They blew the 300 shofars. Yahh set every man’s sword against his partner throughout the camp.

8:4-21   Gid’on arrived at the Yarden. He crossed, along with the three hundred men with him, exhausted but pursuing. He said to the men of Sukot, “Give bread loaves for the people at my feet, for they are exhausted. I am pursuing the Midyan kings Zevach and Tsalmuna.”
The Sukot chiefs said, “The palm of Zevach and of Tsalmuna is now in your hands that we should give bread for your army?”
“Then,” said Gid’on, “when Yahh gives Zevach and Tsalmuna into my hand, I shall thresh your flesh with desert thorns and cactus.” From there he ascended to P’nu’el and spoke to them the same and the men of P’nu’el responded as had the men of Sukot.  So Gid’on said to them, as well, “When I return in shalom I shall tear down this tower.”
Zevach and Tsalmuna were in Karkor. With them were their camps, about fifteen battalions, all that was left of the entire B’neyKedem camp. Fallen were a hundred twenty battalions of men who drew sword. Gid’on ascended the tent dwellers road, east of Novach and Yogvahah and struck the camp–the camp had been feeling safe. Zevach and Tsalmuna fled and he pursued them. He seized the two Midyan kings and made the whole camp tremble.
Gid’on benYoash returned from the war via the Cheres ascent. He seized a lad of the Sukot men and questioned him, writing from him the Sukot chiefs and elders–seventy- seven men. He came to the Sukot men and said, “Here are Zevach and Tsalmuna about whom you maligned me: ‘The palm of Zevach and of Tsalmuna is now in your hands that we should give bread for your exhausted men?’” He took the city elders. And the desert thorns and cactus with which he “let them know,” those Sukot men. He tore down the P’nuel tower and killed the men of the city.
To Zevach and Tsalmuna he said, “Whereof the men you killed at Tabor?”
“One and the same look,” they said, “like you–like them, the look of sons of the king.”
“They were my brothers, my mother’s sons. By the life of Yahh, had you kept them alive, I wouldn’t be killing you.” To Yeter, his first born son, he said, “Get up and kill them,” But the lad would not draw his sword.  He was afraid, for he was still a lad.
Zevach and Tsalmuna said, “You get up and assault us, for like the man is his might.” So Gid’on got up and killed Zevach and Tsalmuna and took the crescents from the necks of their camels.
7:23 Then were summoned men of Yisrael from Naftali, Asher, and all M’nasheh and they  pursued Midyan.

7:24a    (Gid’on send messengers throughout the Efrayim mountains: “Come down to meet Midyan. Seize them the water to BetBarah and the Yarden.”)
7:24b       Then were summoned every man of Ephrayim and they seized the water to BetBarah and the Yarden. They seized two Midyan chiefs: Orev and Z’ev. They killed Orev at TsurOrev, and Z’ev they killed at YekevZ’ev–as the sites came to be known, “Orev Rock” and “Z’ev’s Winepress.” The heads of Orev and Z’ev they brought to Gid’on beyond the Yarden.

8:1-3     The men of Ephrayim said to him, to Gid’on, “What is this thing you have done to us in not calling us when you went to war with Midyan?” They argued forcefully with him.
“What have I now done compared to you?” he said. “Aren’t Efrayim’s gleanings better than AviEzer’s grape harvest?  Into your hands God gave the Midyan chiefs, Orev and Z’ev.  What could I do like that?”
When he said this their spirit eased from him.

8:24-27  Gid’on said to the men of Yisrael, “I make this request of you, that each of you give me a ring from his booty.” They had gold rings, for they were Yishm’elim.
“We’ll give!” they said, and spread out the garment and each threw there a ring from his booty. The weight of the gold rings he had requested was 1700 sheqels (apart from the crescents and the dangles and the purple garments that had been on the Midyan kings, and apart from the necklaces on their camels’ necks.)
Gid’on made it into an ephod and set that up in his city, Ofrah. (All Yisrael whored after it there. It became a snare for Gid’on and his house.)
8:22f     The men of Yisrael said to Gid’on: “Rule over us, both you and your son and your son’s son, for you have saved us from the hand of Midyan.”
Gid’on said to them: “I shall not rule over you, neither I nor my son. Yahh will rule over you.

8:29      Y’ruba’al went and dwelled in his city

8:30-35            Gid’on had 70 sons who came from his loins for he had many women. His concubine in Sh’chem also bore him a son and he named him Avimelech. Gid’on died in good old age and was buried at Ofrah in the tomb of his father Yoash the AviEzri.
            When Gid’on died the B’naiYisrael returned to whoring after the ba’alim and they set for themselves Ba’alB’rit as god. They did not remember Yahh their god, He who had rescued them form the hand of all their enemies round about. And they did not deal favorably with the house of Y’ruba’al/Gid’on commensurate with all the good that he had done for Yisrael.

9:1-5     Avimelech benY’ruba’al went to Sh’chem, to his mother’s brothers. He addressed them and the whole family, his mother’s father-house, “Speak please in the ears of all the lords of Sh’chem: What would be the good for you in 70 men ruling over you–all the sons of Y’ruba’al–compared to one man ruling over you? And remember that I am your bone and flesh.”
            His mother’s brothers spoke all these things about him in the ears of all the lords of Sh’chem.  They turned their hearts towards Avmelech, for they said, “He is our brother.”  They gave him 70 pieces of silver from the house of Ba’alB’rit. With these, Avimelech hired reckless and unstable men and they followed him.  He arrived at his father’s house in Ofrah and he killed his brothers, sons of Y’ruba’al, 70 men, on a single stone. Only Yotam, the youngest son of Y’ruba’al, was left for he had hidden.

9:21      Yotam escaped and fled to B’er.  There he resided on account of his brother Avimelech.

9:6        The lords of Sh’chem and all of BetMilo gathered. They went to the monument tree in Sh’chem and there they made Avimelech king.
9:7-20   They told Yotam.  He went and stood at the top of Mt. G’rizim, lifted his voice and called out, “Hear me, lords of Sh’chem, and god will hear you:
The trees went, determined, to anoint a king over themselves.
They said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I neglect my fat oil that they use to honor god and men, and go hold sway over the trees?’
The trees said to the fig tree, ‘You go reign over us.’
The fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I neglect my sweetness and my good produce, and go hold sway over the trees?’
The trees said to the vine, ‘You go reign over us.’
The vine said to them, “Shall I neglect my young wine that makes god and men happy, and go hold sway over the trees?
All the trees said to the briar, ‘You go reign over us.’
The briar said to the trees, “If in truth you are anointing me king over you, come, shelter in my shade. And if not, fire come out of the briar and consume the cedars of L’vanon.
So if you have acted in truth and propriety in anointing Avimelech; and if you have done right by Y’ruba’al and his house; and if as his hands have acted you have done . . . For my father warred for you, casting aside his life to rescue you from the hand of Midyan.  While you have risen today against my father’s house.  (You have killed his sons–70 men on a single stone). And you have anointed Avimelech, son of his maid servant, over the lords of Sh’chem just because he is your brother. So, if today you have acted in truth and propriety towards Y’ruba’al and his house, be happy with Avimelech and may he be happy with you. And if not, fire come out of Avimelech to consume the lords of Sh’chem and BetMilo and fire come out of the lords of Sh’chem and BetMilo to consume Avimelech.”

9:22             Avimelech ruled over Yisrael for three years.

9:26-29  Ga’al benEved and his brothers arrived, passing through Sh’chem and the lords of Sh’chem contracted security with him. They went out to their field and harvested their vines, treaded the grapes, and sang praises. They arrived at the house of their gods, ate and drank, and cursed Avimelech.
            Said Ga’al, “Who is Avimelech? And who is Sh’chem, that we should serve him? Isn’t he the son of Y’ruba’al, with Z’vul as his deputy? Serve him men of Chamor aviSh’chem? Why should we? We serve him? If only this people were in my hand I’d turn Avimelech out.” To Avimelech he said, “Build up your army and come out!”
9:30-33  Z’vul, ruler of the city, heard Ga’al’s words and burned in anger. He sent messengers  in Tormah, “Here, Ga’al benEved and his brothers have come to Sh’chem and are turning the city into your enemy. At once, rise at night, you and the people with you, and set an ambush in the field. Tomorrow morning, when the sun shines, rise early and spread out over the city. Then he and the people with him will be going out against you. Do to him whatever your hand finds.”
9:34f     Avimelech and all the people with him rose by night and with four heads ambushed Sh’chem. Ga’al benEved went out and stood at the city gate opening. Avimelech and the people with him rose from the ambush.
9:36-38  Ga’al saw the people and said to Z’vul, “There is a people descending from the hilltops.”
Z’vul said to him, “It’s the shadow of the hills that you see as persons.”
Ga’al spoke again, “There is a people coming down from the very navel of the land.  One head comes from the Elon M’on’nim road.”
Z’vul said to him, “So where is your mouth now that said, ‘Who is Avimelech that we should serve him? Isn’t this the people that you despised? Go out and war with them.”
9:39f     So Ga’al went out before the lords of Sh’chem and warred with Avimelech. Avimelech pursued, he fled. Many corpses fell, up to the gate opening.
9:41      Avimelech dwelt in Arumah. Z’vul expelled Ga’al and his brothers from dwelling in Sh’chem.
9:23-25  God sent an evil spirit between Avimelech and the lords of Sh’chem and they were disloyal to him. (God did it as comeuppance for the violence done to the 70 sons of Y’ruba’al, and to place their blood on Avimelech, their brother who had killed them, and on the lords of Sh’chem who had strengthened his hands to kill his brothers.) The lords of Sh’chem set ambushes for him on the hilltops. They robbed any who passed by on the road. It was reported to Avimelech.
9:42-45   It happened on the next day when the people went out to the field, they told Avimelech. He took the people and divided them into three heads and set an ambush in the field. As he watched, there were the people going out from the city. He rose and struck them. Avimelech and the head that was with him raided and stood at the city gate opening. The two other heads raided all in the field and struck them.
            Avimelech and the head that was with him raided and stood in the opened gate. The two other heads raided all in the field and struck them. Avimelech warred with the city all that day. He captured the city and killed the people in it. He demolished the city and seeded it with salt.

9:46-49  When all the lords of MigdalSh’chem heard, they came to the basement of the house of ElBrit. Avimelech was informed that they had gathered, so he went up with all the people with him to Mt Tsalmon. He took an axe, cut off a tree branch, hefted it, and put it on his shoulder. To the people with him he said, “Quick! What you have seen me do, you do the same. Everyone of the people cut a branch and followed Avimelech.  They placed the branches on the basement and kindled a fire.  All the men of MigdalSh’chem died, about a thousand men and women.

9:50-55            Avimelech went to Tevets, camped against it and conquered it. There was a tower of strength in the city and all the men and women fled there, and all the lords of the city. They shut themselves in and went to the roof of the tower. Avimelech arrived at the tower and warred against it. He approached the opening of the tower to burn it with fire, when a certain woman threw a riding millstone onto Avimelech’s head and smashed his skull. He called quickly to the lad, his weapons bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, lest they say about me that a woman killed him.” His lad stabbed him and he died.
            The men of Yisrael saw that Avimelech was dead and each went to his place.

9:56-57            God returned Avimelech’s evil that he had done to his father in killing his 70 brothers. All the evil of the men of Sh’chem God had returned on their head. Thus came upon them the curse of Yotam benY’ruba’al.

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