Landlessness and Parasocial Leadership in Judges

The latest issue of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, Volume 11: Article 2 (2011) is available online. This issue contains an article by Brian R. Doak, “‘Some Worthless and Reckless Fellows’: Landlessness and Parasocial Leadership in Judges.”

Below is an excerpt from the Introduction:



This essay is an attempt to explore certain aspects of three provocative tales in the book of Judges—the rise to power of Abimelek in ch. 9 and Jephthah in ch. 11, and the actions of the landless Danites in ch. 18—and to interpret these stories in light of what evidence we possess regarding the existence of so-called habiru groups in the 2nd millennium BCE and in light of some anthropological theory regarding the behavior of “parasocial” bands in the formation of (at least) short-term political and military structures in the Near East.

The preponderance of ideological readings of Judges in the last 20 years may leave one with the mistaken impression that the book has value only as a kind of cultural or theological foil, meant to demonstrate the disastrous results of violence and power in a “backwards” ancient context. As stimulating as these studies are, commentators have sometimes ignored important historical and anthropological data embedded within the book of Judges’ depiction of certain figures and institutions, which, despite their overtly theological and legendary coloring in the present form of the book, provide a glimpse into the chaotic world of a nation in the process of political and social stabilization.

In this study, therefore, I argue that the presentation of bands of mercenaries, brigands, landless groups, and the careers of some pre-monarchic leaders have instructive parallels with what we know (or may surmise) regarding the activities of habiru-like bands in the Amarna letters, the Idrimi inscription, and other texts, and that the activities of such groups in Syria-Palestine at the close of the 2nd millennium are reflected in the narrative of the book of Judges.

You can read the article or download it in a PDF format by visiting the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures online (here).

Win a Free Copy of my Book Divine Violence and the Character of God.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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