The Book of Judges in Pseudo-Philo (LAB)

Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum is a Second Temple period collection of biblical expansions. These are not quite “alternate histories” but rather attempts to fill-in-the-gaps left by some of the stories in the Hebrew Bible. Joshua and Judges mention a few characters in passing, the author of LAB attempts to expand these tantalizingly brief biblical stories.

In LAB 25 Kenaz, from the tribe of Caleb, was elected as leader after the death of Joshua. This Kenaz is an obscure character in Judges, where he identified as the younger brother of Caleb and the father of Othniel.  He captured the city of Kiriath Sepher (Joshua 15:17, Judges 1:13, 1 Chron. 4:13). Like Joshua, he dedicates the people to the covenant as they are to continue the conquest. Kenaz discovers that some men from the tribe of Reuben have made a copy of the Golden Calf. In fact, men from many of the tribes are discovered to have made idols or committed idolatry. These sinners are punished with death (put to death in the river Fison). The precious stones from the idols are to be destroyed “under the ban.”

The Lord himself destroys them, but Kenaz is instructed to look for twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes and to make these into an ephod. Which stone was to represent which tribe is detailed in chapters 9-11 (cf. Ex. 28:17-20, which does not designate specific stones for tribes.) As Kenaz discovers stones not burned by fire and he finds they have names of the tribes inscribed on the back. It might be possible to use this passage as a guide for the various stones in the New Jerusalem, Rev. 21. It is possible there are several competing lists of stones for tribes since this list includes Joseph and Levi, but not Ephraim and Manasseh. The military victory of Kenaz are recorded in chapter 27. Like Moses and Joshua, his victories are based on prayer and relying on the Lord to fight the battles.

Chapter 28 is Kenaz’s last testament, although it differs a bit in form since he allows Phineas, the son of Eleazar the priest report a dream which he had three nights before in which the Lord threatens to destroy the nation if they do not follow the covenant. The holy spirit came upon Kenaz and he was “put into an ecstasy” and he began to prophesy about the creation of the world. Man has been given 7,000 years during which time they will dwell in this world. In chapter 29 Zebul is appointed to lead after Kenaz. Zebul is another obscure character from Judges 9:28-41 who liberates Shechem from Gaal, the son of Ebed. Perhaps this otherwise unknown person is Ehud (Judges 3:12-30, immediately after Othniel and before Deborah; see OTP 2:342 note o).

Chapter 38 expands on the career of Jair (Judges 10:36). In the biblical material there is little said about the man. Here he is a leader appointed by the Lord who does not lead the people to follow the Law, rather, he builds an altar to Baal. Both he and the worshipers at his sanctuary are burned with fire.

Chapter 40 offers some details on the well-known story of Jephthah’s rash vow appears here, with a great deal more detail (the daughter’s name is Seila, for example. “Seila is only one of more than forty names given by subsequent writers to this girl, who is unnamed in the biblical story” (Sol Liptzin, “Jephthah and His Daughter” in D. K. Jeffrey, editor, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature.) Her lament while on Mount Stelac makes it clear she expects to be sacrificed, which exactly what happens. Israel mourns for Seila for four days every year and they named her tomb after her.

In chapter 44 the writer develops the intriguing story of Micah’s sin and idolatry (Judges 17). The idols are described as in the shape of human boys, calves, a lion, and eagle, a dragon and a dove. Depending on what one was praying for, they would offer a sacrifice at one of the altars (at the altar of boys for children, and the dove for a wife, etc.) This complex idolatry begins a stinging rebuke from the Lord himself (no prophet is mentioned here.) The Lord will destroy the whole nation because they have chosen to worship idols despite the fact they agreed (in the covenant) not to do. The Lord will cut his root off of the earth and the dying will outnumber the ones being born. Micah and his mother are the first to be burned up because of their idolatry.

The writer develops the disturbing story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19). The story in Judges has an implied parallel to the story of Lot’s rescue from Sodom, our author makes this parallel explicit. The difference is the priest stopped in Gibeah and went on to Nob; in Judges the outrage occurs at Gibeah (The biblical story may be part of an anti-Saul polemic. King Saul was from Gibeah, therefore his own family may have been involved in the atrocity recorded here; at the very least his father or grandfather would have been among the men who stole brides in Judges 21). Perhaps the writer is shifting the location of the outrage in order to protect the reputation of King Saul.

3 thoughts on “The Book of Judges in Pseudo-Philo (LAB)

Leave a Reply