10 December 2009

The End of Judges: Two genocides and 200 stolen virgins

My last post was about the God-inspired civil war between the tribe of Benjamin and the other Israelites, which was God's way of dealing with that messy affair involving the Levite and his concubine.
Now it's time for the rest of the story.

As you'll recall, God told the Israelites to fight the Benjamites three times. In the first two battles, the Israelites were defeated and 40,000 of their soldiers were killed. But the third time "God smote Benjamin," killing 25,100 of them. But 600 Benjamites survived.
But six hundred [Benjamite] men turned and fled to the wilderness unto the rock Rimmon, and abode in the rock Rimmon four months. Judges 20:48
After the battle, the Israelites killed everything (human and animal) in every Benjamite village, town, and city and then burned everything to the ground.
And the men of Israel turned again upon the children of Benjamin, and smote them with the edge of the sword, as well the men of every city, as the beast, and all that came to hand: also they set on fire all the cities that they came to. Judges 20:48
But then they remembered the 600 surviving Benjamite soldiers.

Where the heck were these guys going to find wives, since the Israelites had killed all the other Benjamites and they all swore to God at the Mizpeh concubine body part meeting that none of them would "give" their daughters to any Benjamite?
Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife. Judges 21:1
Then they thought of a great solution. They'd check the records of the Mizpeh meeting and see who didn't show up when they got a body part in the mail.
And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the LORD? And, behold, there came none to the camp from Jabeshgilead to the assembly. Judges 21:8
It turned out that Jabeshgilead was absent. So they sent 12,000 soldiers to Jabeshgilead to kill everyone in town except for the virgin women. That produced 400 virgins, which they delivered to the Benjamite survivors at the rock Rimmon.
And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the children. And they found among the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead four hundred young virgins, that had known no man by lying with any male ... and they gave them wives which they had saved alive of the women of Jabeshgilead: .Judges 21:10-14
But shit! There were 600 Benjamites, so they were still 200 virgins short. Where the fuck were they going to find 200 more virgins?

Well, someone heard about this dancing festival that they had at Shiloh. So they had the remaining 200 Benjamite men hide in the bushes and catch the Shiloh virgins when they came out to dance.
Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards ... And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh ... And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught. Judges 21:20-23
So each of the 600 surviving Benjamite soldiers got a virgin and everything worked out according to God's plan.

In the comments, busterggi asks, "So what was Yahweh's plan?"

It's a fair question. Let's see if we can figure it out from the text of Judges 19-21.

There are some things that are clear enough. God approved of the Israelite civil war between the Benjamite tribe and the rest of the Israelites. We know this since God was directly asked three times (Judges 20:18, 23, 28) by the non-Benjamites whether they should attack the Benjamites. In each case, God said yes.
Which side he was on is less clear, however. The first two times that he told the non-Benjamites to attack, they were routed by the Benjamites and lost a total of 40,000 men. But the third time, "the LORD smote Benjamin" and 25,100 Benjamites died (which was nearly all of them). What God had in mind in the first two battles is anyone's guess, but he seems to have favored the non-Benjamites in the overall war.

Which makes you wonder, why did God want the Israelites to fight against each other, and why did he want the non-Benjamites to win?

To answer that we have to go back to the Levite and his concubine. That was, after all, the only justification for the war. The men of Gibeah were Benjamites, the Benjamites refused to hand over the men of Gibeah (all of them, I guess) to the non-Benjamites to be killed, so the non-Benjamites had to go to war with the Benjamites. God must have accepted this justification for war, since no other is even hinted at in the story.
So God approved of the war, but did he approve of the way the Israelites were called to war? That is, did he approve of chopping up the concubine's body into 12 pieces and sending the pieces to the 12 tribes of Israel? (I guess even the Benjamites got a piece.) Well, he certainly never voiced any disapproval. And there is another similar message that he definitely approved. Shortly after Saul became king, "the spirit of God came upon Saul ... and he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coast of Israel." (1 Samuel 11:6-7). This was a call to war -- and Saul did it under the influence of God's spirit. So chopping up dead bodies and sending them as messages is something that God inspires people to do. So we can be pretty sure that God approved of the rotting concubine body part messages.

OK. So God approved of the war, was rooting for the non-Benjamites, and most likely approved of the call to war message. But how about the genocide after the war?

That is a harder question. But God had plenty of chances to object if he disapproved. And (as readers of this blog well know) he often performed genocide himself and commanded the Israelites to do likewise. So I think he was OK with the genocide of the Benjamites.

But what about after the genocide. Did he think the 600 surviving Benjamites needed wives? Did he approve of the vow (to him) that the non-Benjamites made to not "give" their daughters to Benjamites? Did he think it was OK to kill everyone in Jabeshgilead except the virgin women in order to get 400 wives for the Benjamites? And did he approve of the abduction of the Shiloh girls for the remaining 200 Benjamites?

I would say that the answer to each of these questions is yes. God approved of it all. It was all a part of his plan and everything worked out just the way he wanted it to.

What do you think?

God's next killing: Eli's sons and 34,000 soldiers


busterggi said...

So what was Yahweh's plan?
Because I can't the point in any of this.

Brucker said...

To show everyone how f****d up everything is when people don't have a basis for morality. (Whether you buy that or not.)

twillight said...

Well, in order:
- chopping up the body: It was made by Yahwe's holy man, and he is never blamed for it, so it was a holy thing, Yahwe's thing to do. That is clear.
- the genocide after the war: Well, they were in WAR with the pesky benjaminites, yes? So according to the rules of war by the Lord of Hosts that was the perfect way to fight a war.
- Elohim most certainly approved the "resurrection" of the 12th tribe of the 12 tribes (from the 13 tribes or something), as he promised for all the children of Israel the Land of Canaan. And he didn't prevented the vow that was made by the israelites, so he approved that vow, so his plan was to things go this way.

And yes, as far as I can tell, all the story is based upon the sentence in Judges 19.1: "And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel".
The lesson of it is: "If you aren't lead by a mad dictator, you shall perish."

busterggi said...

The ancient Hebrews had a basis for morality - the laws supposedly given to them by Yahweh.

Didn't help.

Matthew Blanchette said...

Yep; even when the damn laws were given, Moses goes apeshit with genocide after he comes down from the mountain.

Steve, thank you for the further clarification, but you've got a quick spelling error in your post (if the religious can't attack you over what you're right on, they'll nitpick your spelling errors as a way to discredit you):

In the sentence beginning with "After the battle...", you've accidentally doubled up on "and" (for instance, "in every Benjamite village, town, and city and and then burned everything to the ground."; I'd fix that.

By the way, nice dig at Paul Harvey in the opening line; now, we know... the rest of the story. ;-)

Steve Wells said...

Thanks matt311. The damned double and strikes again!

Kirk Yetton said...

Hmm, I have serious doubts over you'e interpretation here. You presume that God favours the Benjamites over the non-Benjamites because they are defeated, but despite this more Benjamites die than non-Benjamites. It seems pretty clear that God favours neither side, he's punishing both.

You've also followed the idea that just because disapproval is not expressed God must obviously approve. We've discussed this before, it doesn't follow. As anyone with an ounce of logic will point out, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The same goes for the suppositions you've made in your pre-penultimate paragraph. Likewise, the fact that God approves of Saul sending out pieces of oxen does not indicate that he approved of the concubine being chopped up and posted out. I like to think there's a difference between an oxen and a person. God certainly accepted animal sacrifices but he never accepted human sacrifices.

That much of what was going on did not have God's approval in the final verse (which is repeated from chapter 17 verse 6): "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." Or rather nobody really paid attention to what God may or may not have wanted. They went their own way.

Steve Wells said...


You presume that God favours the Benjamites over the non-Benjamites because they are defeated, but despite this more Benjamites die than non-Benjamites. It seems pretty clear that God favours neither side, he's punishing both.

No, it seems to me that God favored the non-Benjamites because he directly told them go to war with the Benjamites three times, and he did this because he was angry with the Benjamites since they belonged the same tribe as the gang from Gibeah.

Or do you think God wanted to kill 65,100 Israelites for no apparent reason at all? It was just another one of God's war games.

Kirk Yetton said...

Sorry, that was my mistake there. I meant to write that you presume God favours the non-Benjamites. I maintain that he was punishing both sides.

Autumn said...

Kirk writes, "God certainly accepted animal sacrifices but he never accepted human sacrifices."

Are you sure about that?

inka said...

this is a great blog. Thanks Steve.

This is one of the most shocking stories in the Bible because it goes against what is known (I am just learning about this stuff so forgive me if I get it wrong) as morality in its most primitive form. There is the belief that without religion or a belief in God people would do evil whenever they felt like it and then there is another camp that believes the sense of right and wrong comes from a deeper place in our pschology that can be related to when we hung out in small family groups and chose to be nice to our tribal buddies to ensure our group survives. Robert Hinde did surveys on moral precepts and found that tribes in South America with no formal religion and barely any contact with the Western world made the same moral judgements as those who were religious and as those who were athiets in his test studies. The common denomenator was that all groups were firmly opposed to making a choice to involve/use an 'innocent' bystander who is not in harms way to save other innocent people who are in harms way. (Eg: 5 people are about to be hit by a train, but if the fat man sitting on the bridge is pushed he may stop the train in time - of course he would die in the process) ... This Biblical story has a judge - No less than GOD - throwing the people of Jabesh Giliead in harms way as well as the extra 200 virgins of Shilo who have had nothing to do with any of the crimes committed. A third party (innocent by all standards) is chosen by a judge to carry the burden, the sentence, the punishment... This goes against a very ingrained human morality that spans the globe and for arguments sake every culture in it.....

and it is by far not the only story in the Bible that is horrific because its so offensively immoral and GOD !!!! is the judge !!

x x inka x x.

Unknown said...

Steve, I'm searching for a part of your blog that addressed the outlandish parts of the book of Judges, verse by verse. I was just on here several hours ago, and when I got on again, I couldn't find it! Could you please direct me to the correct place? Thank you.

Steve Wells said...

Julianne Bigler,

I'm not sure which post you're referring to. Judges is filled with crazy stuff and I've written quite a few posts about it. There's the story about the Levite's concubine, Gideon's story, the Samson chronicles, along with another 16 or so crazy killings in Drunk With Blood. But I don't know of a single post that mentions them all, except perhaps the intro to Judges at the SAB.

Earl Purple said...

This, for me, is the most horrific story in the entire Old Testament (and I only care about Old Testament as someone who is Jewish) because of the obvious mass slaughter of innocent civilians but also because it is a civil war, Jews against Jews.

Jews were meant to be the ones to set the moral standard of the world, but the people in Gibeah initially were rather like the inhabitants of Sodom in their behaviour.

The reaction of what follows ends up being chaotic, but the "after the war" genocide seems completely un-called for.

This story is "hidden away" near the end of the book of Judges and is almost a "reluctant" inclusion. I am not certain that it was G-d's will and particularly the after-math of the war.

I'm reading these blogs today by the way because this week's parsha is Matot-Masei and the Midianite slaughter happens in here. As usual, all the weekly sedra sheets discuss some other issue and not this.

Yesfan007 said...

Your interpretation of this is pretty sad.
THE big lesson is "everyone did what was right in their own eyes" and it led them to conflicting, dubious morality - inconsistent and catastrophic to the nation as a whole. God's Old Testament insistence on the law, and ruthless punishment for transgression of it is certainly confusing without a conviction that God is GOD.
He gives the Old Testament guys His law, and when they turn from it to terrible sin He punishes them.
Don't forget that God isn't just about punishment. He's showing us a better way than we would walk without Him. The Old Testament harsh justice should be understood as the necessary alternative to the self-sacrifice of Christ. Do we want our ways, or do we see our need for God;s ways.
The Old Testament rigorous justice now gives way to, "love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, which is exactly what Jesus did.