New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > J > Judges


Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more — all for only $19.99...

The seventh book of the Old Testament, second of the Early Prophets of the Hebrew canon.


The Hebrew name of the book was transliterated by Origen Safateím, and by St. Jerome Sophtim; it was translated by Melito and Origen Kritaí, by the Septuagint ì tôn kritôn bíblos or tôn kritôn, so, too, by the Greek Fathers; the Latins translated liber Judicum or Judicum.

The Hebrew verb meant originally "to act as a Divine judge", and was applied to God (Genesis 18:25), and to Moses acting as the specially inspired lawgiver and judge of Israel (Exodus 18:13, 16). In time the elders of the people became the "judges" (vv. 25, 26). In this book the term judges (shôphatîm) is applied to the leaders of Israel, and would seem to indicate that their right was Divine (Judges 10:2, 3). The office of judge differed from that of king only in the absence of hereditary succession (xii, 7-15). It is worth noting that the Phoenicians, according to Livy, called their chief magistrate suffetes (XXVIII, xxxvii), and gave to the suffetes of Carthage a power analogous to that of the Roman consul (XXX, vii; XXXIV, lxi).


(1) Introduction (i-xx, 5). A summary of the conquest of Chanaan (i, 1-36). The angel of Jahweh reproves the tribes that made league with the stranger (ii, 1-5). (2) The history of Israel under the judges (ii, 6-xvi), introduced by a summary of its contents — Israel's forsaking of Jahweh, turning to Baal and Astaroth, defeat by her enemies, and deliverance by Jahweh (ii, 6-iii, 6). Then follow the wonderful deeds of the judges, of whom Gedeon and Samson are the chief heroes; to them are devoted seven chapters. (3) Two more stories of the times of the judges — the migration of Dan and their idolatrous worship of the idol of Michas (xvii-xviii), the crime of the Benjamites and their punishment by Israel (xix-xxi). For fuller analysis see Cornely, "Introd. Spec. in Hist. V. T. Lib.", I, Paris, 1887, 109-14.


The Book of Judges is admitted by all to belong to the canons of the Jews of Palestine, the Jews of the Dispersion (the Alexandrian canon), and the Christians. Only the authority of the infallible Church can determine the canon of Sacred Scripture, and define the inspired meaning of the Books. Hence Catholics may not go the way of Rationalists and of Protestants in the matter of the so-called late and manifold redaction of Judges.


The chief arguments for the authenticity of Judges are given below under Historicity and Sources. We now appeal to:


Although the purpose of the narrator is evidently to give a history of the events that took place in Israel between the days of Josue and of Samuel, yet that purpose is rather epic and didactic than historical in the modern sense of the word.

(1) The narrator does not purpose history in the modern sense; he does not narrate in historical order all the important events of the period. This fact is clear from the appendixes (xvii-xxi), which give very important events outside their proper historical order.

(2) The historian of Judges has an epic purpose, as early historians (e.g. Herodotus) often had. The epos, or theme, of the historian of Judges is evolved in the summary (ii, 6-iii, 6), wherewith he introduces the history proper; he has it ever in mind to unfold why Jahweh allowed the foe to abide so long in the promised land, and even to defeat the chosen people, and why He raised up the judges. The idolatry of Israel is the reason.

(3) The didactic purpose of the book is to teach Israel that the commandments of Jahweh should be obeyed (iii, 4). When Israel leaves Jahweh, Jahweh leaves Israel, at least for the while; the foes of Israel triumph (cf. Augustine, City of God XVI.43).


The problem is complicated. Most contradictory theories have been proposed. According to Moore (see "Internat. Crit. Comm." on "Judges", also art. in "Encycl. Bibl."), the body of the book (ii, 6-xvi, 33) is Deuteronomistic; the general setting of the stories and the purpose of that setting show characteristics of the seventh and sixth centuries, the influence of Deuteronomy and of the great Prophets Jeremias and Ezechiel. The stories of the book, out of their setting and apart from their set purpose in the Book of Judges/a, are pre-Deuteronomic; they show no Deuteronomic traces except in the introductions and the links that chain the various stories together. Indeed, Moore would have it that this redaction and unification of the sources was the work of a pre-Deuteronomic editor; this editor is not admitted by Kittel. To sum up, then, the opinion of Moore, one of the most eminent Protestant students of Judges, the book itself (i.e. ii, 6-xvi, 31) is made up of two strands (J and E), united not later than 621 B.C. by a pre-Deuteronomic redactor (RJE), and re-edited shortly thereafter, during the Deuteronomic reform of Josias and the influence of Jeremias, by the Deuteronomic editor of the Hexateuch (D). Many critics refuse to assign any strata of Judges to the Hexateuchal fictions — J, E, JH, P or R, and D, even though they postulate many and late sources for the book in its present state. Among Catholic scholars a few, who wrote before the Biblical Commission issued its decrees about the Pentateuch, have accepted the late redaction. Most Catholic scholars, however, are unanimous against these few who have left the traditional positions of Catholic Bible-study. In the matter of historical criticism of Judges, as of the Pentateuch, Catholic scholars do not deny the use of various sources by the inspired writer, but postulate that these documents shall have been written and put together very much earlier than the Rationalists wish. There is no proof whatsoever of the late and manifold redactions of these documents in our present book. Cornely (loc. cit., 214-22) and Hummelauer (In Lib. Jud. et Ruth, 27) both consider that the writer of Judges was probably Samuel; and both admit that the work shows signs of the use of pre-existing documents. Such is the opinion also of Kaulen ("Einleitung in die heilige Schrift", 3rd ed., Freiburg, 1890, 181).

(1) Judges, in its present state, cannot have been written before Israel had a king. Only in the time of a king could the writer have said: "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every one did that which seemed right to himself" (xvii, 6; cf. xviii, 1; xxi, 24). These words appear only in the appendix (xvii-xxi), which we admit to be later than some of the sources used by the sacred writer; this appendix is generally admitted to be part of the work done by the last editor of Judges. This editor, then, wrote while Israel had a king.

(2) The book was not written after Solomon had done evil. The writer deems the lack of a king to be the explanation of the idolatry of the Danites and the misdeeds of the tribe of Benjamin. Such an explanation would have been out of the question had the writer known either of the idolatry brought in by Jeroboam and encouraged by Solomon or of the separation of Juda from Israel.

(3) This last editor must have written before David had reigned seven years. For Jerusalem was still called Jebus and was occupied by the Jebusites (xix, 11); whereas, in the seventh year of his reign, David took the citadel of Sion, called it the city of David, and destroyed the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5).

(4) Finally, it is likely that Judges antedates even the first seven years of David's reign and the last years of Saul's. The book purposes to keep the children of Israel from idolatry and from the Divine punishments thereof. In the beginning of David's and the end of Saul's reign there was no need of such purpose: Saul had "rooted out the magicians and soothsayers from the land" (1 Samuel 28:9). Moreover, in that period the writer would have seen that even a "king in Israel" did not prevent the tribal and internal dissensions of the days of the judges.

(5) Since, then, Judges was most likely written in the first years of Saul's reign, there is no more probable writer thereof than Samuel. He had yielded to Israel's clamours, and set up Saul as king. A new war was impending. There was none in Israel more likely to make the people ready for that war by driving home to them the thesis of Judges — that fidelity to Jahweh meant success against the foe of Israel.

(6) The use of previous documents by Samuel sufficiently explains the varied literary style on account of which the Rationalists frame their various hypotheses. The song of Debbora (v) is archaic by contrast with the language of its setting. The story of Gedeon is originally from a different hand than that of the first writer of Samson's history.

Catholic commentators of old assigned the Book of Judges to many hands. So Maldonatus (Comm. in Matt., ii, 23), Pineda (In Job, præf., iii), Clair (p. 10), and many others. Hummebauer (In Jud., 27) argues that the longer narratives — those of Aod (iii, 15-30), Barac (iv and v), Gedeon (avi-viii), Abimelech (ix), Jephte (xi, 1-xii, 7), and Samson (xiii-xvi) — are distinct accounts, written by separate authors, who were contemporary or almost contemporary with the events they narrated. These varied narratives Samuel incorporated much as he found them; he drew from tradition for the minor details which he gives about the lesser judges. While setting these stories together, Samuel was inspired in regard to the complete thoughts he culled from others, as well as the introductions, links, and remarks he superadded.


Internal evidence

The writer of Judges was contemporary with some of the events which he narrated; used documents written by those who were contemporary, or all but contemporary, with the deeds they told; and shows every sign of sincerity, care, and truth. The very concern of the writer to give the truth explains the manifold literary style of the book. He has preserved to us unchanged the style of the song of Debbora and that of the fable of Joatham. He has transmitted sayings peculiar to place and to person (ii, 5; iv, 5; vi, 24, 32; xv, 19; xviii, 12, 29). The nationalistic objections to the miraculous in the stories of Gedeon and Samson are generally accepted by Protestant writers, who look upon these portions of Judges as legendary; to Catholics these are as historical as any other portion of the work. The enemies to the historicity of the book in vain insist that these stories are set down as legends to please the Israelites. The writer of Judges so berates the Israelites for idolatry and inter-tribal dissension that it is unscientific to accuse him of truckling to their pride in their heroes.

External evidence

(a) Catholic tradition is clear. The Fathers look upon the narrative of Judges as fact-narrative; their unanimity is admitted by all who deem that unanimity worth consideration.

(b) O.-T. testimony is manifold. The opening summary (i, 1-ii, 5) gives details the historical value of which is attested by Josue: Juda's siege of Dabir (1:10-15; Joshua 15:14-19), the Jebusites in Jerusalem (1:21; Joshua 15:63), the Chanaanite in Gazer along with Ephraim (1:29; Joshua 16:10), the Chanaanite dwelling with Manasses (1:27; Joshua 17:11). Like details are the death of Josue (2:6-9; Joshua 24:28-31), the capture of Lesem by Dan (17:18; Joshua 19:47). The Books of Kings tell us as facts much that we read in Judges. Israel's forgetfulness of Jahweh, her defeat by the foe and salvation by the judges (1 Samuel 12:9-11); the death of Abimelech, son of Gedeon (9:53; 2 Samuel 11:21). The Psalms dwell proudly on the deeds of the judges: the fate of Sisara, Jabin, Oreb, Zeb, Zebee, and Salmana (vii, 22, 25; iv, 15; viii, 21; Psalm 82:10-12); the entire history of Judges in outline (Ps. cv, 34-46). The Prophets refer to real facts given in Judges: the defeat of Madian by Gedeon (Isaiah 9:4; 10:26); the crime at Gabaa (Hosea 9:9; 10:9).

(c) In the New Testament, St. Paul mentions the judges in their proper place between Josue and Samuel (Acts 13:20); praises some of the judges along with certain kings (Hebrews 11:32).


(1) Hebrew. Kittel's edition shows that the Masoretic text is in very good condition. "It is better preserved than any other of the historical books" (Moore, "Judges", 43). The only serious difficulties are in the song of Debbora.

(2) Greek. We have two distinct Septuagint forms (cf. Lagarde, "Septuaginta-Studien", 1892, 1-72): one is seen in the Alexandrinus (A), Coislinianus (P), Basiliano-Vaticanus (V), and many cursives; the other version is represented by the Vatican (B), and a considerable number of cursives.

(3) Latin. St. Jerome's version is one of his most careful efforts at translation of the Masorah, and is of the greatest exegetical importance.


Fathers: THEODORET, Quæstiones in Librum Judicorum in P.G., LXXX, 485; PROCOPIUS OF GAZA, Comm. in Judices in P.G., LXXXVII, 1041; ST. AUGUSTINE, Quæstiones in Heptateuchium in P.L., XXXIV, ;701. Modern commentators mentioned in the body of the article. See also BONFRÈRE, Comm. in Jos., Jud., et Ruth (Paris, 1631); SERARIUS, Jud. et Ruth explanati (Mainz, 1609); CLAIR, Les Juges et Ruth (Paris, 1878). Protestant commentators of worth are MOORE, KEIL, BUDDE, BERTHEAU.

About this page

APA citation. Drum, W. (1910). Judges. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Drum, Walter. "Judges." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2017 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.