A Literary Appreciation Of The Book Of Judges -- By: J. P. U. Lilley

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 18:1 (NA 1967)
Article: A Literary Appreciation Of The Book Of Judges
Author: J. P. U. Lilley


A Literary Appreciation Of The Book Of Judges

J. P. U. Lilley

The Book of Judges represents a critical phase of Israelite history. It appears critical in the prophetic view of decline and fall from a Mosaic ideal, and equally so in the thesis of Martin Noth that the nation as such was created in this period.1 It was no less evidently formative for the traditions of Israel, and hence for the material on which the prophetic writings were based. The interest of the period is thus matched by the variety and interest of our sources of information, and their importance for the general history of Israelite literature.

In Judges, the old-fashioned documentary analysis meets its Waterloo; following the fundamental disagreement of the chief English commentators, Moore and Burney, it has reached the sterile controversy between Simpson and Eissfeldt,2 which seems to have lost all touch with reality. Such a methodology has been completely abandoned by the Uppsala school, concentrating on the form and meaning of the traditions,3 and to lesser extent by Noth, who is also interested in the growth of tradition rather than the dissection of supposedly composite documents.4 To the old dichotomy of J and E, originally related to the Divided Monarchy and supposed to run right through the Law and the earlier part of the Former Prophets, Noth opposes the concept of a ‘deuteronomic history’ (using older source- material) which would pass through stages of enlargement and later addition of detail. Whatever sources may have been used, documentary or other, the composition is no longer seen as a scrap-book of excerpts.

The thesis of our present study is that a fresh appraisal of Judges as a literary work, starting from the assumptions of authorship rather than of redaction, could lead to a more satisfying interpretation of the book than is to be found in the standard commentaries, and could help to resolve some of the major problems which have been raised. Our first hypothesis is that a person, properly called the ‘author’, cast the book in its present mould, having conceived in his own mind the general idea and plan. This is the essence of literary talent. If we found Judges an annalistic composition devoid of the marks of great literature, we might consider the postulate of an author debatable; but if we find (as from casual acquaintance we might expect to find) evidence of literary initiative and ability, then such a postulate becomes necessary, and may be proved in so far as further investig...

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