Literature: Book of Judges

The seventh book of The Bible.

The Jewish structure holds Judges to be the second book of the Nevi'im (Prophets), the second part of the Tanakh. With Joshua, Samuel and Kings, they form the Nevi'im Reshonim (First Prophets), in opposition to the Nevi'im Acharonim (Later Prophets, called the "Minor Prophets" in some circles because there are a lot of them, none really stands out, and it's easy to get confused).

Years after the Israelites settled into Canaan, they are still suffering from foreign attacks and inter-tribal conflicts. Whenever Israel is in trouble, God calls a "Judge" to save them. That judge defeats the invaders and then rules the land, establishing a time of peace. But soon they die, Israel turns wicked again, the invaders return...

Judges is followed by the Book of Ruth in the Christian Old Testament and by Books of Samuel in the Jewish Tanakh.

This book is also best known for the story of Samson and Delilah.

This book contains the following tropes:

  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Shown in the events of the book, as summed up by the Arc Words below. When "everyone did as he pleased," the result was rampant amoral behavior.
  • Anti-Hero: Most of the Judges have their flaws, in particular Ehud, Jepthah and Samson. They all are used by God deliver Israel, but their grasp on morality is rather tenuous.
  • Arc Words: "Israel had no king in those days. Everyone did as he pleased."
  • Badass: The position of "Judge" was not just a judicial title but also signified a badass military leader— think ancient versions of Judge Dredd.
  • Bond One-Liner: Samson: "With a donkey's jawbone, I have made donkeys of them."note 
  • The Berserker: When "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson", massive body counts ensued.
  • Chosen One: The Judges all receive the Call to Adventure directly from God Himself.
  • Chronic Villainy: The Israelites lapse in their faith every time after God has saved them. The phrase "The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD" occurs no less than seven times.
  • Cold Iron: 1:19 reads in its entirety "And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron." This is never elaborated upon or explained, and has become something of a Memetic Mutation / Running Gag in parts of the internet. It doesn't work for Sisera in chapter 4, though.
  • Cowardly Lion: Barak. When he insists on Deborah accompanying him to the battle even though he has already been promised a victory, Deborah tells him that she'll come, but for demanding this he won't be the one to kill Sisera; a civilian woman named Jael will be.
    • Gideon is introduced hiding from his enemies, and has to be reassured by no less than three miraculous signs before he's convinced that the Lord is actually choosing him.
  • Crapsack World: Turns out, when everyone follows the idea that Anarchy Is Chaos, they'll become completely immoral and be very vulnerable to oppression by their enemies.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Samson versus... well, anybody who was stupid enough to try fighting Samson.
  • Dumb Muscle: Gee, Samson, after the first few times Delilah springs the Philistines on you, maybe you'd figure out that she's setting you up and not tell her the actual secret of your strength?
  • The Empire: The Philistines make their first appearance here. They are known for their vast influence and mighty war machine.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Israel is in a period of moral decline, but the gang rape, murder, and dismemberment of a Levite woman outrages just about everyone.
  • Explaining Your Power to the Enemy: After lying to Delilah several times about the source of his power—and getting ambushed by Philistines each time while trussed up exactly as he had described—Samson finally reveals that his power really comes from his long hair. Sure enough, next morning he wakes up with a shaved head and is captured by the Philistines, officially qualifying him as Too Dumb to Live.
  • Fat Bastard: Eglon, a corrupt king, is described as so fat that when he is stabbed to death, the cubit-long sword gets swallowed up by all the blubber. For those keeping track at home, that would make him at least four feet wide.
  • Fatal Flaw:
    • Samson's drunkenness and tendency to fall for "bad" women.
    • Jephthah's rashness led to the death of his daughter and a breakout of civil war that had previously been defused by Gideon.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: If you only know the stories from Sunday School lessons, you might be in for some surprises. A faithful movie adaptation of the book would easily earn a hard R rating.
  • Here We Go Again: Israel falls into sin and worships false gods. Israel gets oppressed by their enemies. Israel repents and cries out to God for deliverance. God sends a Judge who mops up the enemies and establishes peace in the land. Eventually the Judge dies. Israel falls back into sin... and the cycle repeats no less than seven times throughout the book.
  • Honor Before Reason: Jephthah makes a vow to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his door upon his victorious return from battle— and feels obligated to keep the vow when unfortunately that thing is his only daughter.
  • Hope Spot: The battle of Gibeah showed the Israelite tribes can still band together to oppose evil.
  • Improbable Weapon User:
    • Shamgar used an ox goad and Samson had his... donkey's jaw bone.
    • Also, Yael, who killed the enemy king using a tent peg.
  • Loophole Abuse: The other tribes had vowed not to give their daughters to the Benjaminates as wives, then regretted that decision because it would have led to the extinction of the tribe. Fortunately (?), they realized the vow didn't say anything about not letting the Benjaminites abduct their daughters for marriage....
  • Made a Slave: The Israelites enslaved the remainder of the Canaanites who had not been destroyed. They became "thorns in Israel's side".
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Gideon had seventy sons, thanks to polyamory.
  • Million-to-One Chance: Invoked in the story of Gideon. God instructs him to reduce his army to only 300 men and arm them only with torches and pitchers, just so it would be even more obvious that the battle was won thanks to divine intervention.
  • No Ending: The book's last lines are the yet another case of "Israel had no king in those days. Everyone did as he pleased."
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted when King Eglon is stabbed in the gut by the left-handed Ehud, causing "the dirt" to come out. The fact that "dirt" is excrement is made even clearer when Eglon's personal guard delay going in to check on him because they believe him to be relieving himself—they can smell it.
  • One-Man Army: Samson kills one thousand Philistines with a donkey's jawbone. Give a medal to those 400 soldiers that thought they'd succeed where 600 of them had failed.
  • Punished for Sympathy: In Judges 2:1-4, an angel of the LORD scolds the Israelites for incomplete genocide of the inhabitants of Canaan as well as being friendly with them. To punish them, God allows the Canaanites to be the Israelites' oppressors.
  • Rape and Revenge: A Levite man gives his concubine to a bunch of horny townsmen to protect his own ass. They rape her to death, and he hacks up her body and distributes the pieces to his buddies to call them to war with the town of Gibeah.
  • Riddle Me This: Samson challenges his wedding guests with a bet on the riddle, "Out of the eater came something to eat / Out of the strong came something sweet." The guests aren't able to guess it, so they resort to cheating by pressuring his wife to extract the answer from him. Samson doesn't take this well at all. (The answer is that Samson killed a lion and discovered that bees had made honey in its carcass.)
  • Sequel Hook: "Israel had no king in those days." Guess what the next book is about.
  • Shaming the Mob: When Gideon pulls down the altar of Baal, an angry mob of Baal-worshipers shows up to execute him. Gideon's father defuses the situation by pointing out that, if Baal is really a god, he would be quite capable of dealing with Gideon on his own.
  • Shibboleth: The Trope Namer, from a password that gave away whether the speaker had an Ephriamite regional accent. The Ephriamites would pronounce it "Sibboleth," revealing that they were enemy agents, and get killed for their troubles.
  • Summon Everyman Hero: Several of the judges (most notably Gideon) are just ordinary guys who happen to be The Chosen One. Gideon is incredulous and takes a good deal of convincing that the angel is delivering the message to the right person. It turns out that that's exactly the point: God is setting up a Batman Gambit to prove that the victory came from divine intervention rather than superior fighting ability.
  • Taking You with Me: How Samson decides to go out, pulling down an entire temple on top of several thousand Philistines and himself.
  • The Theocracy: Israel is ostensibly governed as one of these, with the Judges and prophets ruling as God's representatives. Practically, this has rather mixed results.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Samson tells Delilah his weakness, after she has already tried to betray him multiple times.
  • Undignified Death:
    • When King Eglon is stabbed by Ehud through his bowels, fecal matter spills out from the wound.
    • King Sisera is lured to sleep by the wife of one of his allies then stabbed in the head with a tent peg.
    • Abimelech was mortally wounded when a woman dropped a millstone on his head. He immediately told his armor bearer to finish the job, so that no one would know he had been killed by a woman. It didn't work.
  • Unfortunate Names:
    • In Judges 9:21, there's a mention of a city called Beer. Of course, it didn't mean that in Hebrew, but still...
    • Puah, son of Dodo.

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