Ehud: Assessing An Assassin -- By: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 168:671 (Jul 2011)
Article: Ehud: Assessing An Assassin
Author: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.


Ehud: Assessing An Assassin

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Robert B. Chisholm Jr. is Chair and Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Ehud’s Defenders And Critics

The assassin Ehud has generated extensive controversy among interpreters. While his use of deception and violence may be repugnant to modern sensibilities and ideas of propriety, some argue that this would not have been the case for an ancient Israelite audience.1 According to Webb the account is satiric, even comic. He observes, “The grotesquely comic character of the story makes moral judgments irrelevant. We are clearly meant to identify with the protagonist and to enjoy the sheer virtuosity of his performance.”2 The story is crafted to appeal to Israel’s disdain for the Moabites. Chalcraft contends that the details of the accounts in Judges 3-5 “do not cast any reflection on the characters of either Ehud or Jael.” Instead they depict the enemies as “sub-human.” This in turn gives the stories a “heroic dimension” and justifies the killers’ actions. Chalcraft also asserts that Ehud’s actions “serve to highlight the stupidity of the enemy.”3

However, as one might expect, Ehud has his detractors. It is undeniable that he rescued Israel from oppression, but some view him as a flawed deliverer. Klein calls him “less than honorable.” She emphasizes the relative lack of divine involvement in the story in contrast to the report of Othniel’s deeds.4 Block charges that Ehud’s “treachery and brutality” have a “Canaanite” quality.5 O’Connell makes a distinction between political and theological perspectives in evaluating ethical behavior. He argues that the satirical flavor of the text reflects the “tribal-political standpoint” of Judges, rather than the “deuteronomic evaluation that ‘everyone did what was right in one’s own eyes.’ ”6

Wong has made a strong case for viewing Ehud’s deceptive actions in a negative light. He asks if “the fundamental incongruity between Ehud’s restriction in the right hand and his core identity as a ‘son of the right-handers’ ” hints “at another set of incongruity equally significant with respect to the plot, namely, the incongruity between Ehud’s use of dece...

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