Chapter 10 

                                                                              “Minor” Judges


This chapter mentions two judges with two sentences about one and three the other, calls them both judges, but does not portray their exploits. 12:8-15 lists an additional three giving two sentences to the first two and three to the last, but, again, without information about their deeds. Scholars call these five “minor” judges, not to belittle what they did, but to indicate that the information about them is minor. They are similar in this respect to the minor prophets who because of the shortness of their material are collected in one biblical book Trei Asar, “The Twelve.”

            Chapter 10 ends with a description of the Israelites reverting to idol worship. God is angered and tells the people so.[1] God allows them to be persecuted by Philistines,[2] Ammonites, Zidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites[3] for eighteen years. The oppressed tribes cry to God admitting their misdeed, and God decides to save them.

            Then the Ammonites encamp in Gilead[4] preparing to attack, and the inhabitants of Gilead seek a man to lead their defense. Jephthah will appear in chapters 11 and 12.


Who were the judges?

Let’s recapitulate so that we can understand something about minor judges. Scholars differ regarding who was and who was not a judge. The largest number is seventeen. This number includes Shamgar, who the book[5] states “he also saved Israel,” although it does not give him the title “judge,” and some scholars are convinced he was a Canaanite; Yael, who is identified as a Kenite;[6] Barak, Deborah’s general, who only acted because of Deborah’s insistence and who is not called a judge in this book;[7] and two people who are not included in the book, Eli and Samuel. If these five people are removed, there were twelve judges; however, it seems reasonable to include Eli and Samuel since the book of Samuel calls them judges; thus the number is fourteen judges. Five of them have only a sentence or two about them with no details of their exploits, the “minor” judges.

There were apparently also judges who are not mentioned in this book. I Samuel 12:11 states God sent Badan, Jerubbaal, Jephthah, and Samuel to save the Israelites from their non-Israelite oppressors. Badan is not mentioned in Judges.[8] The Babylonian Talmud[9] states Boaz of the book of Ruth was a judge, but identifies him as the judge Ibzan who is mentioned in chapter 12.

The book of Judges does not identify Gideon and Abimelech as judges and does not say that Gideon and Abimelech “saved” Israelites. It also fails to say this about Jair, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson, and Eli, and the description of Samuel is unclear. We do not know if this was done purposely, to distinguish these people.[10]

I suggest that the name of the book does not mean that all the people in it judged the people, but the book’s name could mean “This is the period when judges judged the tribes.”[11] And the book includes events during this period with personalities and heroes who were not judges, such as Shamgar, and perhaps Gideon and Abimelech. I also understand that the author or editor of Judges did not have all the relevant material about the people who lived and acted during this period and this accounts for missing information. Understanding that the title means the book is about the period of the judges also answers why chapters 17 to the end of the book, five of the twenty-one chapters, describe lawless events during the period where judges are not involved.[12]



[1] Radak, Gersonides, and others say the revelation was made by the priest Pinchas, grandson of Moses’s brother Aaron. God’s speech here is similar to the speech by the prophet in 6:7-10 and the speech by the angel in 2:1-5. None of these reproofs criticize the people for failing to obey Torah commands or offer any religious teaching; they only critique the people for worshipping idols.

[2] Moore states that the reference to Philistines refers to a later period for “the period of Philistine supremacy began near the end of the time of the judges (Samson) and lasted until the days of David.”

[3] Two other nations are mentioned as previous oppressors Egyptians and Amorites, for a total of seven nations. Scholars such as Ehrlich see “Maonites” as an error since there is no history of such oppression. The Greek Septuagint substitutes Midian, the nation Gideon fought. This is not the only apparent error in this chapter. Olam Hatanach notes that the word for “cities” in Hebrew has a superfluous letter yud.

[4] It is unclear if Gilead refers to the territory in Trans-Jordan or to a city, and if so, which city (Kaufman).

[5] 3:31.

[6] 4:17.

[7] The Greek translation of I Samuel 12:11, the Septuagint, reads instead of the Hebrew “Badan,” “Barak,” who with Jerubbaal, Jephthah, and Samuel saved the Israelites from their non-Israelite oppressors. Also, the New Testament, Hebrew 11:32, lists Barak after Gideon, followed by Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel as those “who through faith conquered kingdoms.” Both sources do not mention Deborah.

[8] There is an opinion in the Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashana 25a that the book Samuel is referring to Samson who is called there Badan because he came (ba) from the tribe of Dan.

[9] Baba Batra 91a.

[10] J. A. Soggin and others say scholars do not know how to explain why there is no information of the work done by the minor judges.

[11] This is the language of Ruth 1:1.

[12] Kaufman states that it is possible that Abimelech saved Israelites during his three-year reign, but the description of these exploits were also lost. He supposes that the Samson narrative occurred before the time of Deborah. He reads 10:6-16 as telling the end of Israelite worship of idols. He sees no indication that during the time of Eli in the book Samuel that idols were worshipped, but idol worship resumed after his death. Some might argue that there is no indication in Judges that the Israelites ceased the worship, such a cessation would be contrary to human nature, the book ends telling about idol worship, and since a major theme of the book is idol worship one would expect the book to say that it stopped if this happened.