Judges 1, Calvin’s Hermeneutic

I finished Understanding Poets and Prophets: Essays in Honour of George Anderson.  In this post, I’ll talk about two essays.

1.  M. Weinfeld, in “Judges 1:1-2:5: The Conquest Under the Leadership of the House of Judah”, argues that Judges 1 glorifies Judah while denigrating Northern Israel, as well as the tribe of Benjamin.  According to Judges 1, the Northern tribes did not drive out the Canaanites from their cities, but rather subjected the Canaanites to forced labor, which created the troubles that existed in the period of the judges.  When the North did succeed, it was by means of deceit, not honest and direct warfare.  And the Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem.  But Judah did succeed in its conquest of the South, along with Jerusalem.  V 19 says that Judah could not expel the inhabitants of the plain, but, according to Weinfeld, the phrase for this is an infinitive that does not include a verbal agent (“but not to dispossess the inhabitants”), and this is because “it was impossible to relate failure or lack of success explicitly to Judah” (page 396).

Judges 1 attributes the conquest of Hebron to Judah, whereas Joshua 14:6-15 and 15:13-17 affirm that Caleb did this.  Elements of Judges 1 discuss Caleb’s conquests, but, for Weinfeld, this may be from a later hand.  Still, Weinfeld regards the tradition that Caleb possessed Hebron as earlier and more authentic than Judges 1.  The tradition that Hebron belonged to Caleb appears also in Numbers 13-14.  Moreover, Weinfeld contends that the author of Judges 1 changed the subject of the tradition that appeared in Joshua 15:13-17—making Judah rather than Caleb the one who went up.  The later “corrective footnote” in Judges 1:20—which connects Hebron with Caleb—was made because it “represents a well known fact that could not be contradicted” (page 396).  For Weinfeld, the inheritances of Caleb and the Kenizzites were later swallowed up into Judah when Judah became “established in the south” (page 393).  But the author of Judges 1 sought to exalt Judah, and, according to Weinfeld, this was because Judges 1 derived from the house of David. 

The final form of Judges 1 demonstrates diversity—as it says that Judah conquered Hebron, while also discussing Caleb’s role in the Conquest.  And there are other traditions about the Conquest in the Hebrew Bible, according to Weinfeld.  When was Jerusalem taken?  Judges 1 presents Judah defeating Adoni-bezek of Jerusalem, whereas Joshua 10 tells of the defeat of Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem in the time of Joshua (and then there’s the story that David himself took Jerusalem, in II Samuel 5).  According to Weinfeld, Joshua 10 “is anchored in the cycle of stories that were creations of the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe) and [its] scenes of battle are Gilgal, Jericho, Ai and Gibeon—all in the inheritance of Benjamin” (page 391).  Whereas Judges 1 glorifies Judah, Joshua 2-10 “is interested in crediting the house of Joseph with the conquest” (page 392), and that includes praise of the tribe of Benjamin.  (Regarding Benjamin, Weinfeld may believe that Judges 1 criticizes Benjamin because that was the tribe of Saul, the enemy to David.  Weinfeld does not seem to say this explicitly, but he does mention Saul in reference to Benjamin.)  Overall, Weinfeld argues that the North and the South used traditions to exalt themselves.

Then there’s the Deuteronomistic layer, which (according to Weinfeld) differs from parts of Joshua and also Judges 1: Joshua 24 says that Israel served foreign gods in Joshua’s time, whereas the Deuteronomist in Judges 2:7 affirms that Israel worshiped the LORD in those days; Judges 1 posits Canaanite enclaves in Israel, whereas the Deuteronomist in Joshua presents the Conquest as total.  Weinfeld states that the ancient traditions in Joshua 24:1-28 and Judges 1:1-2:5 were inserted into the Deuteronomistic History, which originally ended the Conquest with Joshua’s farewell speech in Joshua 23, and began the period of the judges with the “discourse in Judges 2.11-3.4” (page 388).

This is a good essay about the diversity of the Bible and agendas of historiography.

2.  D.F. Wright’s essay, “Accomodation and Barbarity in John Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries”, was my favorite essay in this book.  The essay is about Calvin’s great struggle with what he considered to be barbaric passages in the Old Testament—such as the Conquest, and the Covenant Code’s laws that one could beat his slave and sell his daughter into slavery.  Sometimes, Calvin used the typical Christian spiel that God is higher than we are and that we should trust him.  At other times, he seeks to resolve problems through interpretation—as when he says that the master in Exodus 21:21 was not to be punished for beating his slave because the slave emerged from the beating “sound and whole in every limb” (Wright’s words on page 421), and that Exodus 21:22-25 regards the life of the fetus, not just the mother.  (Calvin affirms that the fetus is a human being.)  Then there are times when Calvin asserts that barbaric laws were a matter of accommodation: God was taking into consideration the hardness of hearts of the Israelites, as Jesus says that God did when he allowed Israelite men to divorce their wives (Mark 10:5).  But, for Calvin, such laws do not reflect God’s perfect will.

Calvin appears to judge the Bible according to a standard of morality, a standard that he says appears (on some level) among the pagans.  A friend of mine recently said that Martin Luther and John Calvin had a “pick-and-choose” approach to the Bible.  I knew that Luther did, since he had problems with the Book of Esther and the Epistle of James.  But I did not think that Calvin had this sort of approach.  After reading Wright’s essay, however, I now have second thoughts about this, for Calvin did not believe that certain aspects of Scripture reflected the perfect will of God.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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