Judges 1

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udges 1 is a conflated text that combines J Source documents with patriarchal documents. In The Hidden Book of the Bible Richard Elliott Friedman fails to attribute to the J Source any of Jgs 1, but we identify some of Jgs 1 as J documents. The first reason we attribute a portion of Jgs 1 to the J Source is that Judah, the eponymous name of tribe descending from the patriarch, is the tribe to which the J Source belongs, according to Friedman in Who Wrote the Bible?. After Jgs 1 begins by remembering the death of Joshua, which naturally follows Joshua’s death in the J documents (Jo 24.29), Judah becomes the leader of the tribes. Judah, however, is not the patriarch Judah, he having long ago died in Egypt in another J document (Ex 1.6); Judah is the tribe named after its patriarch. The second reason we attribute some of Jgs 1 is a portion of it is a feminist document.

Let us now work through Jgs 1. After the death of Joshua, the people ask God who will lead them. God said, “Judah will lead; I have delivered the land into his hand.”

For the J scribes’ hatred of Simeon’s savagery (Gn 34.30; 49.5-7), we can be certain Simeon is not in league with Judah in the J documents, therefore Jgs 1.3 should not be attributed to J. And for the J scribes abhorrence of war (see our blog essay “Joshua’s Wars and the J Source”), neither should we attribute Jgs 1.4-11 to the J Source.

But we can be certain that Jgs 1.12-15 belongs to the J Source, one, because Caleb is not referred to as the son of Jephunneh as he is identified in the documents that Friedman, in Who Wrote the Bible?, attributes to the Priestly Source (Nm 13.6; 14.4, 30, 38; 26.65; 32.12; 34.19). That he is just Caleb without the patrilineal provenance identifies the Caleb portion of Jgs 1 as a J document (Nm 13.30; 14.24). Two, Jgs 1.12-15 is obviously a feminist document.

So the J Document reads Joshua died; God said Judah would lead; and Caleb, of the tribe of Judah, takes command by offering his daughter Achsah to the warrior who slaughters Qiryath Cêpher. Clearly Achsah is a very desirable woman. Caleb, whose name means “dog,” is a low down dirty dog for offering his desirable daughter to the warrior who takes Qiryath Cêpher, a city of date palms, the date palm being an epiphany of Asherah, the J scribes’ goddess.

Friedman does not attribute the Achsah vignette to the J Source, yet in The Hidden Book of the Bible he attributes to J Saul’s offer to David of his daughter Michal in marriage in exchange for one hundred Philistine foreskins. Friedman fails to see the thematic continuity in daughters being given to the greater warrior as a prize, an offense with which, in a patriarchal culture, only feminists would take issue.

The dog’s daughter, even though she is traded to the bloodiest warrior, retains her feminine power, as much as she is allowed in a patriarchal culture, by seducing her husband into asking his dog father-in-law, who is also his dog uncle, for a field on her behalf. ‘Field,’ sâdeh, relates to the Ugartic sd, or “field” of Asherah Rahmay, or “womb,” in Ugaritic poem “The Goodly Gods.” Because there are numerous parallels between the Hebrew Bible and Ugaritic texts, it is safe to say that for the J authors the field represents Asherah’s vulva. Keel and Uelinger interpret an “iconographic relationship between the genitalia, the tree and the goddess, and also the metaphoric mention of the ‘field’” in the ancient Ugaritic myth “The Goodly Gods,” KTU 1.23 [Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger, Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), 74 Ftnt. 14.]

In asking for the field Achsah intends to preserve the worship of Asherah. Because Achsah’s name derives from “tinkling ornaments,” the ornaments Asherah’s worshipers wear (Is 3.18), there is further reason to associate Achsah with Asherah worship. This vignette tells us that in spite of Israel’s bloody wars against the people of Canaan, Israel’s daughters, of whom Achsah is representative, still worship Asherah.

Achsah lights off her camel when she sees her dog father, an expression in English that is the same as when Rebekah lighted off her camel to meet Isaac (Gn 24.64), except that in Hebrew the verbs are different. If the tale of Achsah is a J Source document, why do the J scribes use two different verbs for the same action? The reason is because Achsah, unlike the conniving Rebekah, feigns no inferiority. Achsah tsânach her ass; Rebekah nâphal `al her camel. Tsânach means “to cause to descend”; there is no nuance about it. But nâphal, which means “to be cast down; to be inferior; to be judged” is heavily nuanced. Rebekah in her veil, the same veil Tamar wore to deceive Judah, is a trickster who feigns an inferior position to her new husband. Juxtaposing the two women’s actions serves one purpose: to show that Achsah displays no deference to her father as Rebekah feignedly exhibits to Isaac.

Indeed Achsah is not deferential to her father. “Give me,” she said in response to his question, he having been primed by Othniel, her husband to whom she was given by her father. Through her feminine wiles she seduced Othniel into the subservient role; he was to show deference to her father, not she. A feminist document, indeed.

Achsah, however, placates her father’s pride in asking for his blessing. It is the one bone she throws to the dog. “Give me springs of water,” she said after asking for his blessing. We may read typical J subterfuge in Achsah’s request, for springs, gullâh, derive from the same word as gillûwl, or “idol.” ’Ûwl, is seen in such words as gᵉbûwl, “a cord, as twisted,” lûwl, “a spiral step” and gillûl, the word for the “idols” of Asherah’s worship (Ez 6.13). ’Ûwl is defined as “twisted; a body part rolled together,” which suggests the umbilical cord. As the umbilicus is of the womb, as the womb is associated with Asherah, and as Achsah desires the field, Asherah’s vulva, Achsah lays claim to the springs, the waters of Asherah’s womb, which wind along their path to resemble the twists and turns of the umbilicus. And the dog gave her the water at its highest point, and he gave her the water at its lowest point, ‘nether’ translating as “the depths of the womb.” Achsah has preserved Asherah’s worship in a city of palm trees! The J scribes are sly scribes, and for their shrewd dissimulation, the Achsah story was incorporated into Jo 15 (Jo 15.16-19).

We can say with confidence that Jgs 1.16 is not among the J documents because in another J document the Kenites refuse to accompany the Israelites into Canaan (Nm 10.29-30). As we said earlier, for the J scribes’ hatred of Simeon’s savagery, the J scribes would not put Simeon in league with Judah, thus we cannot assign Jgs 1.17-18 to J.

And so the J document reads thus far; Joshua died; God appoints the tribe of Judah to lead; Caleb, of the tribe of Judah, offers his daughter Achsah to the bloodiest warrior; Caleb gives Achsah to Othneil; Achsah seduces Othneil to deferentially prime Caleb with her request for a field and springs. We believe the next and final J entry in Jgs 1 may be the giving of Hebron to Caleb, which would naturally follow Caleb giving the field and springs to Achsah.

Giving Hebron to Caleb is, perhaps, of uncertain authorship because nowhere in J is there mention of Caleb being given Hebron; and nowhere is there in other source documents the mention of Moses giving Caleb Hebron. There is mention of Joshua giving Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, Hebron (Jo 14.13, 14), of which source we can attribute to the Priestly author. But since Caleb is just plain Caleb here, we allow that this verse may belong to the J Source because one, only in J is Caleb without patrilineal provenance, and two, Jgs 1.20 refers to the three sons of Anak, which refers to Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the sons of Anak in another J document (Nm 13.22).

And so we leave Jgs 1 with a pretty good idea of what it important to the J scribes: feminism and the preservation of Asherah’s worship.

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