SEDER OLAM - Revisited

סדר עולם - חדש



What is new

Index of names


Generations  1-14
(3760 - 2080 BCE)

Generations 15-21
(2080 - 1240 BCE)

Generations 22-28
(1240 - 400 BCE)

Generations 29-35
(400 BCE - 440 CE)

Generations 36-42
(440 - 1280 CE)

Generations 43-49
(1280 - 2120 CE)

Generation 50

If you would like to support this web site and the amount of research it involves, I will be grateful and will give you access to a library of resources


Death of Joshua
(2536 AM - 1224 BCE)

The Tribe of Dan
(2540 AM - 1220 BCE)

The Merneptah Stele
(2552 AM - 1208 BCE)

Death of Eleazar the High Priest
(2558 AM - 1202 BCE)

The Period of the Judges
(2558 AM - 1202 BCE)

The Arameans
(2558 AM - 1202 BCE)

Judge Othniel
(2576 AM - 1184 BCE)

Civil war against Benjamin
(2576 AM - 1184 BCE)

The origin of Rome

The Moabites
Ruth and Boaz
(2577 AM - 1183 BCE)

Judge Ehud
Judge Shamgar
(2595 AM - 1165 BCE)

The Hazorites
The Midianites
(2595 AM - 1165 BCE)

Gideon the Prophet
(2602 AM - 1158 BCE)

Deborah the Prophetess
(2615 AM - 1145 BCE)

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Hebrew years 2520 to 2640 (1240-1120 BCE)

Year 2536 – 1224 BCE – Death of Joshua

At the end of his life, Joshua addressed the tribes of Israel in Sichem (which is today the city of Nablus) saying:

"Take good heed therefore unto yourselves, that you love the Lord your God. Otherwise if you do in any wise go back, and cleave unto the remnant of these [pagan] nations, even these that remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in unto them, and they to you; know for a certainty that the Lord your God will no more drive these nations from out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap unto you, and a scourge in your sides, and pricks in your eyes, until you will perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you.
--- Joshua 23:11-13

Before he died, Joshua wrote the Book of Joshua, named after him, which follows the Torah, the book of the law of God as mentioned in the following text:

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Sichem.  And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said unto all the people: "Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke unto us; it shall be therefore a witness against you, lest you deny your God."
--- Joshua 24:25-27

Joshua died at the age of 110 years old (Joshua 24:29, Judges 2:8). As he was 30 years old at the time of the explorers, in year Hebrew 2456,[1a] he thus died at 110 years old in Hebrew year 2536, which was 82 years from the Exodus, and 41 years from when he started the conquest of Canaan.

It is in Sichem that the Israelites also transported and buried the remains of Joseph that they had brought back from Egypt at the time of the Exodus.[1b] Strangely the New Testament wrongly states that the Cave of the Patriarchs was in Sichem,[1c] instead of Hebron. But the tomb in Sichem is the one of Joseph.

Tomb of Joseph - Roberts 1839
Tomb of Joseph (David Roberts 1839)

Tomb of Joseph
Tomb of Joseph in Nablus (photograph 1868, after restoration of the site)

About Moses' taking the coffin of Joseph from Egypt, there is the following tradition about how he found where the coffin was:

R. Nathan says: He [Joseph] was buried in the sepulchre of the kings [the Valley of the Kings, where tombs were hidden from human eyes with their access covered with sand]; and Moses went and stood by the sepulchre of the kings and exclaimed. ‘Joseph! the time has arrived which the Holy One, blessed be He, swore "I will deliver you", and the oath which you did impose upon the Israelites has reached [the time of fulfilment]; if you will show yourself, well and good; otherwise, behold, we are free of your oath’. At that moment, Joseph's coffin shook, and Moses took it and carried it with him.
--- Talmud, Sotah 13a

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About Year 2540 – 1220 BCE – The Tribe of Dan

The Tribe of Dan was last to receive its allotment which streched from the Eastern edge of Judean Lowlands until the coastline. This was the smallest and most problematic one to control because it had barely any hill (or "Tell") where to defend oneself and was a "international" passage between Egypt and the Northern Aram and Mesopotamia. Besides, the powerful Philistines (who had chariots) already controlled the coastal area.

So, as soon as Joshua died, a part of the Danites decided to look for a territory elsewhere, and obviously outside the boundaries of their Israelite brethren. The Bible tells us that the Danites sent 5 spies to find a place to settle in the North and they came back to report what they found:

Then the five men [of Dan] departed and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and secure; for there was none in the land, possessing authority, that might put them to shame in any thing, and they were far from the Sidonians, and had no dealings with any man. And they came unto their brethren to Zorah and Eshtaol; and their brethren said unto them: 'What say ye?' And they said: 'Arise, and let us go up against them; for we have seen the land, and, behold, it is very good; and are ye still? be not slothful to go and to enter in to possess the land. When ye go, ye shall come unto a people secure, and the land is large; for God hath given it into your hand; a place where there is no want; it hath every thing that is in the earth.' And there set forth from thence of the family of the Danites, out of Zorah and out of Eshtaol, six hundred men girt with weapons of war.  
--- Judges 18:7-11

The city of Laish seemed the perfect target. It was set near the sources of a powerful river (later named the Dan) and more importantly was inhabited by foreign people, remotely located from their core base (the kingdom of Sidon, Phoenicia), and who would thus not expect any military support from the Canaanite neighbours if attacked.

So some of the Danites took over Laish: the Bible mentioned it was 600 men of war. The rest of them remained in their ancestral allotment as given by Joshua. The conquerors renamed the city "Dan". Did they "completely" destroy Laish and its people? The Bible does suggest it, as they burnt Laish and rebuilt a new city next to it (this can be seen today at the archaeological site of Tel Dan). They surely killed the men in arms who defenced Laish but probably kept the ordinary people to maintain a trade with the Phoenician and Aegean worlds. Why would the Danites destroy this trade instead of continuing to entertain and benefit from it? As they needed acceptance as new ruler over the conquered Laish people, they also ultimately established a pagan cult in Dan. They employed a Levite to establish this local cult from a grave image he had made:

And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel; howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first. And the children of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set them up Micah's graven image which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh.
--- Judges 18:29-31

Excavations at Tel Dan, in the past and more recently [10], have unearthed many items with Phoenician and Aegean influences and some researchers were a bit too  fast to conclude that the Tribe of Dan were actually foreigners who settled in the North, similarly to the Philistines so-called "Sea Poeple" who settled along the coastline. But such conclusion is wrong. The reason for this foreign influence is already given to us in the Bible as abovementioned. The Danites didn't break the lucrative trade with the seas, and rather assimilated the pagan culture into their custom in order to facilitate the acceptation as new rulers. The Philistines had not done differently: they came from the seas (Sea People) and took over coastal settlements of existing Canaanite people. To avoid confrontation with the rest of Canaan, they assimilated the local culture and gods, and brought their own into it to result into a synchretism of both.

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Year 2552 – 1208 BCE – The Merneptah Stele

The Israelites generally respected the promise to keep in God’s path as long as Joshua and all the elders of the generation of the desert, who had witnessed these events since God spoke to the Israelites, were still alive. But deviations started to happen among the tribes of Israel, and God sent them some warning of what would occur in this case. The first of these threats came from Egypt itself, the nation their ancestors had been freed from. Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramses II, mostly led military campaigns in Lybia but also in Canaan between 1208 and 1203 BCE, although he was already an old Pharaoh, 60 or 70 years of age. At his death in 1203 BCE, a stele of victory had been created to relate his military achievements, and it was discovered in 1896 in Thebes. The stele is acknowledged to bear the first archaelogical proof of the name "Israel". Indeed one of the last lines of the stele (line 27) mention:
  1. The princes are prostrate, saying, "Peace!"
  2. Not one is raising his head among the Nine Bows.
  3. Now that Tehenu (Libya) has come to ruin,
  4. Hatti is pacified;
    The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe:
    Ashkelon has been overcome;
    Gezer has been captured;
    Yano'am is made non-existent.
  5. Israel is laid waste and his seed is not;
  6. Hurru is become a widow because of Egypt.
--- Merneptah Stele, transcription in Wikipedia

This campaign was made along the coastal plain of Canaan, attacking the Philistine country and probably one of the Israelite tribes who lived in the area, such as Dan for example.

The Merneptah Stele
The Merneptah Stele
(Cairo Museum; photo credit: blog Bible & Archaeology)
The reference to Israel is highlighted in dark at the bottom of the stele

This campaign in Canaan is factual, and there is no doubt that some Israelites lived in the coastal plain thus would have been afflicted by such military expedition. Yet, some argue that the text doesn't refer to 'Israel' because of one letter seeming to be wrong: the hieroglyphs (see below), to be read from right to left, and up to down, show the letters i-s-r-a-a-r, which has been transcribed as Israel assuming the last 'r' should have been an 'l'. But this small mismatch is truly little as no foreign name is perfectlty transcribed from one language to another. Also the rest of the passage mentions this Israar being foreign people, not in an established city, which definition was indeed applicable to the Israelites who, at this time, didn't constitute an established nation but only tribes settled here and there across the land.

Merneptah Stele - Israel
Merneptah Stele - close-up on 'Israel' with the first four letters explained

As of the name Canaan, it was depicted as follows, as 'Kanana, an enemy of foreign land'', in the stele:

To say the least, we can see the proof from this stele that Canaan and Israel were considered two different people in these ancient times. This contredicts some theories that Israelites were Canaanites, or even Egyptians ! The other point of importance in this stele is that Israel is mentioned as a people rather than a city-state (such as Ashkelon and Gezer): this shows that there was no central city in these times for "Israel" (Jerusalem was not conquered yet) and that the only reference is made to the people, or part of (since Merneptah may not have been aware of all the tribes that formed the entire Israelite people)..

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Year 2558 – 1202 BCE – Death of Eleazar the Priest

Joshua was the first one mentioned to die, and Eleazar was the last one (Joshua 24:33). There is a parallel with the sons of Jacob when they died in Egypt: the first to die was Joseph in Hebrew year 2309 and the last was Levi in Hebrew year 2331: there is a difference of 21 years or up to 23 years, based on the assumption about the birth year of Levi. So we can assume a difference of 22 years,[2] although this does not affect the main details of the chronology. As Joshua had Joseph as ancestor and as Eleazar had Levi, the same difference of years between their deaths applies for Joshua and Eleazar, meaning 22 years of difference. We can conclude that Eleazar died 22 years after Joshua, in Hebrew year 2558.

How old was Ealeazar when he died? Although the text does not mention it, we can make some assumption. In the desert, at the time of the explorers, Eleazar was younger than 30 years old otherwise he would have been part of the divine service like his two older brothers, Nadab and Abihu, because the minimum age of priesthood was 30 years:

And unto Moses He said: "Come up unto the Lord, you, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship you afar off; and Moses alone shall come near unto the Lord; but they shall not come near; neither shall the people go up with him."
--- Exodus 24:1-2

So, if we assume that Eleazar was a bit below 30 years old in Hebrew year 2456, he would have been born a bit earlier than year 2425, making him a man of a bit more than 133 years of age when he died in year 2558. This was longer life than most of the rest of the people because God decreed than human life was not to exceed 120 years. However, at that time, God blessed the priests, the Levites, by granting them longer human life. This will however be nullified, and even reversed, later after the death of Eli the Priest as we shall see here.

But, personally, I assume that Eleazar actually died at the age of 137, which is compatible with the above calculation ("a bit more than 133"), because this was the age when his ancestor Levi died (Exodus 6:16), and there is a clear parallel of age/years so far for Joseph/Joshua and for Levi/Eleazar.

After Eleazar, his son Phinehas became the High Priest. He moved the Ark of Covenant from Shiloh to Beth-El, a city where he had settled (Judges 20:26-28), which was at the border of the territories of Benjamin and Manasseh (Joshua 18:13), on Benjamin’s side (Joshua 18:22).

A total of 104 years had passed from the Exodus. The Israelites were at their third generation of family since this event: the first generation left Egypt and died in the desert, the second generation entered and conquered Canaan and died before Eleazer and the Elders, and the third generation is the one who commenced the period of the Judges. Meanwhile, during this time, Egypt went through a succession of troubles, either caused by foreign invaders or by internal conflicts for political power, and this ended up with divisions of their country. No Pharaoh stepped foot in the land of Canaan during these troubled times although many of the territories conquered by the Israelites had been vassals to Egypt since the time of the military campaign of Ramses II in the region. Probably the souvenir of the Hebrews leaving Egypt was still too painful on the Egyptians to venture in a war against them ever again.

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Year 2558 – 1202 BCE – The Period of the Judges

The generation that followed Joshua and Eleazar's deaths started to sin immediately:

And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers; and there arose another generation after them, that knew not the Lord, nor yet the work which He had wrought for Israel.
--- Judges 2:10

The above text is stricking of similarity with what was said of Egypt at the time after the sons of Jacob died, Joseph first and Levi last. It was then said that a new king rose to power who had not known Joseph. This sentence is a clear introduction to the punishments that will fall upon the Israelites in these days.

As a first sin, this generation took spouses among the Canaanites women and Israelite women married Canaanite men. This was caused by the fact that the Israelites did not finish the conquest and left many Canaanite peoples to dwell in their territories, sometimes in exchange of a levy. These intermarriages caused the Israelites to adopt the rites of their neighbours’ pagan gods. This infuriated God and He decided to punish His people by causing disruptions to the peace that otherwise was prevailing in these times. First the punishment would come from foreign people who came to spoil the Israelites, and then the oppression would come from the Israelites’ neighbours themselves, as it is explicitely said:

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He gave them over into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.
--- Judges 2:14

But, at the same time, God had offered them the choice for potential repentance by raising Judges (or Shoftim in Hebrew) among them. And thus started the period of Judges: 12 of them will preside over the destiny of the Bene-Israel, until the time of their Kingdom. The number of 12 judges is indicative that each tribe would give rise to judges, several judges in fact, but only 12 of them would be guided by the spirit of God to act upon the enemies of the Israelites and free them from their oppression.

And the Lord rose up judges who saved them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. And yet they hearkened not unto their judges, for they went astray after other gods, and worshipped them; they turned aside quickly out of the way wherein their fathers walked, obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not so. And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and saved them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for it repented the Lord because of their groaning by reason of them that oppressed them and crushed them. But it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they turned back, and dealt more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to worship them; they left nothing undone of their practices, nor of their stubborn way.
--- Judges 2:16-19
Beside the spoilers who were the abovementioned enemies? Because of the behaviour of the Israelites, God did not allow them to completely drive out some of the Canaanite people following the conquest of Joshua. Rather He allowed them to remain where Joshua had left them, so that they could oppress the Israelites at times:

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel; and He said: "Because this nation have transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers and have not hearkened unto My voice, I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations that Joshua left when he died; that by them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not."
So the Lord left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered He them into the hand of Joshua.
--- Judges 2:20-23
These peoples were essentially the Philistines and other Canaanites, who were left by Joshua for each Israelite tribe to complete the conquest. Because, instead of driving out these pagan people, the Israelites were too complacent, allowing them to dwell in their cities, and finally tookspouses from them and adopted their foreign cults.

Concerning the Philistines, they would have several years of conflicts against the Israelites, principally towards the end of the Judges period and these conflicts extended into the period of the Kingdom.

In general, the Israelites would have difficulties to win against enemies in the valleys, because these city states were very well defended, with impressive fortified walls, and they had chariots of iron. The Israelites would rather find shelter in the hill countries where the chariots of the enemies could not easily venture (Judges 1:19). The Israelites succeeded to take over all the cities in the hills except for the one of the Jebusites, on a hill of Jerusalem, which had been under the responsibility of the Tribe of Benjamin to take (Judges 1:20). This place was destined to host the house of God, and the Tribe of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites. For this reason, maybe, the Tribe of Benjam was almost entirely exterminated, as we shall see here, at the beginning of this dark period of the Judges.

The period of the Judges can roughly be divided in three periods, each one starting with the text saying that the children of Israel […] served the Baalim [the idols].

In the first occurrence (Judges 3:7), God sent the spoilers against Israel, which were the Arameans and then the enemies around them [the Israelites] because Israel continued to do evil in the eyes of God. Five judges were raised to redress Israel in the good path: Othniel of Judah, Ehud of Benjamin, Shamgar of Naphtali, Deborah of Ephraim and Gideon of Manasseh. This first period lasted 84 years, from the death of Eleazar until the death of Gideon.

In the second occurrence (Judges 8:33), God put Israel in the hand of their direct neighbours but to a degree lesser than before, because this time the text says that Israel went astray after the Baalim rather than they served the Baalim. The Israelites did not sin as badly so their punishment was not as harsh. God raised two judges to redress Israel: Tola of Issachar and Jair of Manasseh. This next period only lasted 26 years.

Then came the third occurrence (Judges 10:6) when the Israelites from nearly all the tribes served all the Baalim from all their neighbours, as if the contact with them during the previous period, even if it occurred in the context of war, ultimately resulted into a bad influence over the Israelites. This time God put most of tribes of Israel into trouble, but raised five Judges to contain the yoke of their enemies: Yiftah of Gilead, Ibzan of Judah, Elon of Zebulun, Avdon of Ephraim, Samson of Dan. And this period lasted 31 years until the first king of Israel was annointed.

After three attempts of redress of the Israelites, it became clear that the practice of Judges would not suffice. The lack of central command and policy caused the various tribes of Israelites to go astray in turn, and one judge from one tribe or another was never enough to have an impact over the entire nation of 12 tribes. A new model was needed, and this gave rise to the era of kingdom for Israel. In total the period of the Judges has lasted about 141 years.

The first book Seder Olam considered that the period of the Judges lasted about 352 years, because it added the period of each judge in a continuous manner, without taking into account the years of oppression when no judge was saving the Israelites. This approach is debatable, even among religious scholars, because it is clear that the judges judged in different part of the land of for different tribes, and in parallel at times. The Biblical text warns that each tribe was doing their own way because there was no unity between the tribes until the period of the kingdom. In addition, if the period of judges had extended for such a long period of 350 years, it would conflict with the period of the kings, and the result is that the end of the kingdoms of Israel and of Judah would not match the definite years that are confirmed by archaelogical and other historical sources. A last consideration about this issue is the generations that are described in the Book of Chronicles. If we look at the genealogy of the future King David, starting from his ancestor Nahshon, the head of the tribe of Judah who left Egypt at the Exodus. The succession was as follows: Nahshon (generation 3) => Salma (who participated to the conquest of Canaan, generation 4) => Boaz (who married Ruth the Moabite) => Obed => Jesse => David (generation 8) as his 8th son. And the period of the Judges ended with the rule of Prophet Samuel and King Saul. In other words, David was of the 5th generation over this period of Judges. Assuming an average of 25-30 years per genealogy generation, this would add up to 125-150 years for this period, which falls into the window of 141 years assumed here but which is no match with the 352 years assumed by the original Seder Olam.

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Year 2558 – 1202 BCE – The Arameans

Soon after the death of Eleazar, the Israelite tribes of the valleys were subjugated during 8 years by the foreign king called Kushan-Rishatayim of Aram-Naharaim. Aram-Naharaim was already mentioned in Genesis 24:10 when Eliezer, Abraham's old servant, went up north near Charan 470 years earlier to find a wife for Isaac. This is the land of Aram, at the corner of the Northern Syria, Southern Turkey and Northern Mesopotamia.
At this time, the Arameans
formed themselves as a kingdom of which we do not know much about, because the kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians some time later.

Regional map with Aram
Regional map with Aram

The name of this king
Kushan-Rishatayim contains the work shatayim meaning two. This could refer to one of the kings with a name as "the Second", such as one called Pahir-Ishshan II, but History knowns little about the kings of Aram prior to later ages. Another possibility is that this king became the king of the alliance of two peoples, the Aramaeans and the "Ahlamû", the existence of the latter being testified in inscriptions dating from the reign the Tiglath-Pileser I of Assyria (around 1100 BCE), while the former would be the dominant people of the region in the centuries that followed. The name Ahlamû means wanderers, which assumes that they were a nomadic tribe that settled in Aram-Hanaraim. The name has possible Hebrew root to say Ahel-amû which means People of the tent, in other words the wanderers indeed. Whoever this king was, he came with a vast army and, with their many chariots, they could therefore conquer all flat lands during their campaign in Canaan. His invasion however must not have affected too much the tribes located in the hill countries, including the main part of Judah.

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Year 2576 – 1184 BCE – Judge Othniel, of Judah

After 8 years of foreign rule, the Israelites of the valleys were delivered by the judge Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, from the tribe of Judah, who had been Judge for his tribe from the death of Joshua. At the time, the Israelites asked God for a new leader and God designated the tribe of Judah for this role (Judges 1:1-2). Othniel was already the heir of Caleb in leading the war to conquer the Judean hills, and married Achsah, Caleb’s daughter (Judges 1:11-13). 

Othniel had been Judge for 40 years, from Joshua’s death in 2536, when he died in year 2576.

The fact that Othniel was the head of the tribe of Judah and not one of the sons of Nahshon, who was described as the Prince of Judah at the time of the Exodus and in the desert, may be an indication of the reason why one of Nahshon's son, Elimelech, left his Tribe, maybe out of bitterness, and settled in Moab with his wife Naomi and his two sons. Elimelech's brother, Salma or Salmon, however remained in the territory of Judah and had a son called Boaz.

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Year 2576 – 1184 BCE – Civil war against the Tribe of Benjamin

It is after the death of Othniel that one of the worst events in Jewish history took place. The story is told at the end of the book of Judges, but it happened at the beginning of that period, after the death of Judge Othniel, when no other judge from Judah would be judging over the tribes. The only person who could have had any influence over the events that would unfold was the High Priest Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron. But he was living in Beth-El, in Benjamin’s territory, so could probably not felt in a position to initially take side against his hosts. The Levites were living among the different tribes, in cities designated for them.

Some people of the tribe of Benjamin behaved in an abominable way towards a Levite who was on his way back from Beth-Lehem with his wife. She was from this town in the territory of Judah, and behaved like a harlot there, and they were on their way home to the territory of Ephraim. The Levite had to cross the territory of Benjamin on his way back, and found shelter over the night in the house of an old man in the Benjaminite town of Gibeah.
The behaviour of the people of this city was reminiscent to what Sodom did to Loth’s visitors in Abraham’s time:

"Bring forth the man that came into your house, that we may know him."
--- Judges 19:22 [3]

Their evil deeds ultimately led to the death of the wife of the Levite in a most atrocious manner, and this caused the revulsion of the other Israelite tribes against the city of Gibeah. A total of 400,000 men assembled to decide that the culprits of that city should be put to death, so that, as they stated, we put away evil from Israel (Judges 20:13). 

The Levite in Gibeah
The Levite removing the corpse of his wife from Gibeah (Gustave Doré, 1868)

But there was no Judge over Israel at the time, each tribe acted as they saw right. In this case, the tribe of Benjamin would not condemn their city and war started. Their forces totalled 26,000 men, in addition to the 700 men from Gibeah. Although out-numbered, the people of Benjamin were skilled in the use of slings, as they rarely missed, and they all were left-handed.[4]

In the first day, Benjamin killed 22,000 Israelites, and then 18,000 in the second day. Before the engagement of the third day, the High Priest passed the word that God will deliver the sons of Benjamin to the hand of Israel:

And the Lord smote Benjamin before Israel; and the children of Israel destroyed of Benjamin that day twenty and five thousand and a hundred men; all these drew the sword.
--- Judges 20:35

This was a great slaughter for the tribe of Benjamin which counted 26,700 men in total, because 25,600 of them had died on that day. The tribe was nearly entirely wiped out except for 1100 men remaining who were doing a last stand at the Rock of Rimmon. [5] But, in the evening, the tribes of Israel felt sorrow for having nearly exterminated one of their brethren and could not accept that one of the 12 Tribes of Israel would be wiped out. They spared the life of the last men of Benjamin. But, as they had sworn not to ever give their daughters as wives to Benjamin, they went into an expedition to an Israelite city called Jabesh-Gilead (at the east from the Jordan River) who didn’t respond to the call to arms against Benjamin and didn’t suffer the casualties of war. As a punishment, they killed everyone in that city except for the young virgin women: they found 400 of them and brought them to Shiloh for the sons of Benjamin to repopulate their tribe. The number of wives needed was however not sufficient, so another manner was sought:

And they said: “Behold, there is the feast of the Lord from year to year in Shiloh, which is on the north of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goes up from Beth-el to Sichem, and on the south of Lebonah.” And 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 the dances, then come you out of the vineyard ,and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come to strive with us that we will say unto them: Grant them graciously unto us; because we took not for each man of them his wife in battle; neither did you give them unto them, that you should now be guilty.” And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they carried off; and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and built the cities, and dwelt in them.”
--- Judges 21:19:23

The reason for choosing the city of Shiloh was because it used to be a city of priests, before the Ark was moved by Phinehas to Beth-El. Due to their function, these priests could not participate in any war and, as a result, they did not endure the losses of war against Benjamin. After this event though, the Ark of Covenant was moved back from Beth-El to Shiloh, maybe as a way of compensating the city against the ordeal on its daughters.

According to Tradition,[6] some of the Benjamin people decided to leave the land of Canaan after this war (or this emigration may have happened at the time of the destruction of the kingdom of Israel). They would have found sea passage with the early Phoenicians and moved to a place where they founded a city, which will become a military power some centuries later: Rome. There are some details of Ancient Rome that fit into the theory of an origin from Benjamin and that may be considered as a body of evidence if not a proof:

- The brothers Romulus and Remus were abandoned, as new born children, on a river before being saved by a she-wolf; this is reminiscent of the birth of Moses
- The symbol of the foundation of Rome is the she-wolf: the wolf was also the symbol for Benjamin who had been described by his father Jacob as a predatory wolf (Genesis 49:27; this is the only place where a wolf is mentioned in the entire Torah)
- The founding of Rome by Romulus occurred after he had killed his brother Remus in a family feud; this is reminiscent of the tribes of Israel fighting their own brethren, the Benjamin tribe, or a reminder of the feud between the two brotherhood tribes of Judah and Benjamin that triggered the civil war (the wife of the Levite was from Judah and was abused and left dead by the Benjamite men of Gibeah)
- The city was located in a hilly region of Italy, like Benjamin’s territory in Canaan, which may explain why Benjamin men selected that location to setlle down
- The city was named Roma, which is similar to Ramah, which means height in Hebrew, identical to names or prefixes of cities in the hilly territory of Benjamin
- The "rape" (or rather abduction) of the Sabines during a festival, in order to populate Rome, is reminiscent to the episode of the girls of Shiloh, taken during a festival too
- Last, Paul the Apostle, who was a Jewish scholar (even a Pharisee) before embracing the faith of Jesus, declared himself to be also an Israelite, out of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1; also in Philippians 3:5); in his time, nobody knew for certain from which tribe they actually came from, so this mention of Paul may refer to the fact that he was a citizen of Rome and knew that Rome was founded by people from Benjamin
She-wolf of Rome
The she-wolf sucking Romulus and Remus

The Book of Judges ends with the following statement that explains the dark period that it covers:

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
--- Judges 21:25

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Year 2577 – 1183 BCE – The Moabites - Boaz and Ruth

The expedition of the Israelites into the other side of the Jordan River, in Gilead, gave a pretext for Eglon king of Moab to act against them after they had just ended their civil war and nearly exterminated the Tribe of Benjamin. Without the skillful men of this tribe, the hill countries on the west side of the Jordan River became less defended. It was a good opportunity for the Canaanites to seek revenge against the tribes of Israel. Eglon the king of the Moabites formed a coalition with the Ammonites in the north and the Amalekites in the south, and submitted to their rule the land of Canaan during 18 years (Judges 3:14).

The reason for the divine punishment in the arm of the Moabites was not this time caused by any wrongdoing in term of faith, or adoption of pagan rites as before. This time, the divine punishment was because the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord (Judges 3:7). Surely what took place after the war against Benjamin, such as the slaughter of the city of Jabesh-Gilead and the abduction of the virgin girls of Shiloh. All this evil was caused because of the oath that the Israelites took in front of the Ark in Beth-El not to give any of their daughters as wives to the men of Benjamin. As of the civil war itself, it was caused by the evil of the people of Gibeah, which was no better than what Sodom had been punished for.

The Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son born from the incestuous intercourse that one of Lot's daughters caused with her father. King David will be a descendant of Ruth the Moabite, who married Boaz from Judah. How did this occur? A man called Elimelech from Beth-Lehem, in the territory of Judah, left his Tribe on the pretext of a famine and settled down in the land of Moab. He had his wife Naomi and his two sons. They stayed about 10 years there during which the two sons were married to two Moabite women, one of which being called Ruth. But all three men died, the father and his two sons, probably out of divine punishment to have abandoned their land and married out to foreign women. Yet, when Naomi decided to return to Beth-Lehem, Ruth her daughter-in-law decided not to abandon her. Ruth ultimately met and married Boaz, who was the nephew of Elimelech. Boaz and Ruth would become the grand-parents of Jesse, the father of future Kind David:

Now these are the generations of Perez [son of Judah and Tamar]: Perez begot Hezron; and Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; and Amminadab begot Nahshon [generation of the Exodus], and Nahshon begot Salmon [generation who was born in the desert and who entered Canaan]; and Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David [his 7th son].
--- Ruth 4:18-22

This genealogy shows that there only were 5 human generations from the conquest of Canaan until the start of the Kingdom period. Therefore the Judges period spun over a smaller number of years as generally assumed by historians and by Jewish tradition.

Ruth and Jesse are both buried in the same location, in Hebron.

Tomb of Jesse and Ruth
Tomb of Jesse and Ruth (photo: Flickr)

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Year 2595 – 1165 BCE – Judges Ehud of Benjamin and Shamgar of Naphtali

The salvation against the yoke of the Moabites came from the Benjamin tribe itself, with their judge Ehud son of Gera. He killed Eglon in Jericho and this triggered the general revolt of the Israelites living in the hill countries against the oppressor.

Ehud kills Eglon king of the Moabites
Ehud kills Eglon king of the Moabites

When Ehud started to wage the liberation war against the Moabites in the hill counties, another judge followed his path to liberate the Israelites from the yoke of the Philistines in the low counties. It was Shamgar, son of Anath (Judges 3:31). Who was Anath? The name is mentioned in the Bible as being Beth-Anath (Joshua 19:38) meaning the House of Anath, a city of the Tribe of Naphtali, whose territory was located in Lower Galilee. This is how we can learn that Shamgar was a man from Naphtali. 

Both Ehud and Shamgar died after their exploits. The hill countries remained at peace for the next 80 years, until year 2675 (Judges 3:30), but the low countries started to sin again (Judges 4:1), so the next calamities fell on them from both the north and the south of the land.

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Year 2595 – 1165 BCE – The Hazorites and the Midianites

Against the Israelites of the low countries, God raised Jabin, king of Hazor, a Canaanite city-state of northern Israel. He was a powerful leader who had  nine hundred chariots of iron. His charioted army could be effective in the low countries, but not in the hill countries. The tribes of the hills were then walking in the path of God since Judge Ehud. The Hazorites oppressed the Israelites of the low countries for the next 20 years (Judges 4:3). Excavations in Tel Hazor have found cuneiform tablets mentioning a monarch called Ibni Addi, where Ibni can be the Biblical name Jabin/Yabin.

Stele from Hazor
Tablet found in Hazor (source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

And from the south came the Midianites, a nomadic people settled in the southern part of the land and in the Sinai Peninsula who moved north in a multitude, like the locusts, to encamp themselves in the land of Canaan. Their yoke lasted 7 years (Judges 6:1-5). This drove many Israelites to the hill countries and hide in caves of the mountains.

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Year 2602 – 1158 BCE – Gideon the Prophet, of Manasseh

God inspired Gideon to raise an army against the Midianites who had allied their forces with the Amalekites in the valley of Jezreel, in Northern Israel. But God was not happy with Gideon’s army as it was too numerous. Instead He wanted to smite the pagans with a clear sign of His power. So God asked Gideon to reduce his army and it came down to a mere 300 men (Judges 7:7). Then God put a dream in the mind of one of the Midianites, a dream which, when told and echoed in their camp, grew fear before the forthcoming battle:

Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like locusts for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand which is upon the sea-shore for multitude. And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man telling a dream unto his follow, and saying: 'Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came unto the tent, and smote it that it fell, and turned it upside down, that the tent lay flat.'
And his fellow answered and said: 'this is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: into his hand God has delivered Midian, and the entire army.'
--- Judges 7:12-14

At once, Gideon assembled and divided his 300 men into small groups to form an attack from multiple directions, with each of his men carrying a horn to blow into and a torch to light a fire. This surprise attack at night spread fear and panic among the enemy, causing them to run away from their camp.

Gideon and his 300 men
Gideon and the 300 Israelites defeat the Midianites (Gilliam van der Gouwen, about 1720)

Maybe the legend of Leonidas of his 300 Spartans fighting a much greater numbered enemy at the battle of the Thermopylae was borrowed from the tale of Gideon and his 300 men. This exploit must have reverberated in the ancient world, especially because the story tellers were nomadic. In any case, never again would Midian raise against Israel (Judges 8:28). But more future trouble was on its way because of Gideon’s final act:

And Gideon said unto them: 'I would make a request of you, that you would give me every man the ear-rings of his spoil.'--For they had golden ear-rings because they were Ishmaelites-- And they answered: 'We will willingly give them.' And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the ear-rings of his spoil. And the weight of the golden ear-rings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside the crescents, and the pendants, and the purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels' necks. And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah; and all Israel went astray after it there; and it became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.
--- Judges 8:24-27

Nonetheless Israel was at peace for the next 40 years, during the lifetime of Gideon.

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Year 2615– 1145 BCE – Deborah the Prophetess, of Ephraim

On the other side of the land, Deborah, a prophetess, of Ephraim, started the revolt against Hazor. She raised a coalition of Israelites from the northern tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh,[7] Issachar, Naphtali and Zebulun, and gathered them near Mount Tabor under the military command of Barak son of Abinoam, of Naphtali. They vanquished the Hazorites, and their regions of Israel then had peace for the next 40 years (Judges 5:31).

The Talmud told a tradition that this war was won by God. The commander of the enemy army, Sisera, had gathered 900 chariots against the Israelites.[8] But God intervened:

When Sisera came [to fight Israel] he advanced against them with iron staves. Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, brought forth the stars out of their orbits against them, as it is written, The stars in their courses fought against Sisera [Judges 5:20].  As soon as the stars of heaven descended upon them they heated those iron staves. So they [the soldiers] went down to cool them and to refresh themselves in the brook of Kishon. Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to the brook of Kishon, 'Go and deliver your pledge.' Straightway the brook of Kishon swept them out and cast them into the sea, as it is said, The brook Kishon swept them away, that ancient brook [Judges 5:21].  What does ‘that ancient brook’ mean? The brook that became a surety in ancient times. In that hour the fish in the sea opened [their mouths] and exclaimed, ‘and the truth of the Lord endures for ever.’
--- Talmud, Pesachim 118b
Deborah the Prophetess
Deborah the Prophetess (Gustave Doré, 1866)

In 2010, Israeli archaeologist Adam Zertal found the location of the military base of Canaanite general Sisera (the location is called Harosheth-goiim in Judges chapters 4 and 5) near Wadi Ara (Nahal Iron). It has been claimed that Sisera was not a Canaanite name so his family was originally foreign, from Sardinia (because of a town called Sassari there). His ancestors must have come to Canaan from one of the waves of Sea Peoples in the region.[9]

The camp of the Hazorites in Wadi Ara means that they rule the passages to Megiddo and Taanach, as these cities must have been abandoned or vanquished before these times which concurs with the Biblical text which does not cite these locations as cities by the time of Deborah:

The [invading] kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.
--- Judges 5:19

There is archaeological evidence found in these cities:

Substantial houses with numerous installations on both of the south... and west edges date to the 12th century and were completely destroyed in about 1125 BCE.
--- Encyclopedia of archaeological excavations in the Holy Land, entry for "Taanach", Jerusalem, 1978

As the Biblical text mentions, these cities were not conquered by the time of Joshua, but were later abandoned by the time of the Judges. They will be revived as Judan cities or stronghold (at least Megiddo) by the time of the Israelite Kingdom.

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[1a] For the calculation of the age of Joshua at the time of the explorers, see section "Caleb and Joshua" in the page of the Exodus

[1b] For the history of the tomb and narratives from eye-witnesses, see article in Wikipedia ; the tomb was destroyed by a Palestinian mob during the Second Intifada in 2000 despite agreements to respect the sanctity of the holy sites from all faiths

[1c] Acts 7:16: And were carried over into Sichem, and laid in the sepulchre that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Emmor the father of Sichem.

Tomb of Joseph during the Intifada of 2000
Tomb of Joseph after its destruction during the Intifada of 2000

[2] The number 22 has a relation with the slavery in Egypt and the Exodus; the Hebrew word for Pesach is פסח which, when we add up the value of each letter, gives 8+60+80; the small count of the word only takes the numbers from 0 to 9, so it is 8+6+8= 22; 22 also represents the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and the Hebrews were given this alphabet when they received the Torah at Mount Sinai, which was the purpose of the Exodus 
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet and its numerical values

[3] The similarity of the two behaviours is confirmed by the fact that both texts are in the same chapter number: Genesis 22 for Sodom and Judges 22 for Gibeah

[4] Their ancestor, Benjamin son of Jacob, was left-handed; according to a scientific research from Oxford University's Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, being left-handed is an advantage in physical combat; to reab about it, click here

[5] This rocky formation in the hills of Samaria still exists today, although certainly very eroded, at the location 31o56'43N 35o17'12E

[6] Source to be indicated later

[7] We know that the tribe of Manasseh was involved because Machir the son of Manasseh (Numbers 27:1) is mentioned in Judges 5:14

[8] In comparison, Pharaoh pursued the Hebrews at the sea with his 600 chariots

[9] For more information about this archaeological evidence, click here

[10] For more information about such recent archaeological findings, click here

Copyright © Albert Benhamou 2013 - All rights reserved.