Judges 19

I have a healthy interest in the Bible. Most of it I get. Some of it makes absolutely no sense. I just came across Judges 19, an excellent example. It makes slightly less sense than none.

So a guy is travelling with his servant, his concubine and two donkeys. An old man offers them lodgings. That night, a bunch of men show up and demand that the old man let them rape the guy. The old man offers his daughter and the traveller’s concubine instead (strangely the exact same thing happened in the last days of Sodom and Gomorra, but I digress). They decline, but he puts the concubine out there anyway. She is gang-raped all night. When they let her go, she collapses on the doorstep.

When the traveller wakes up, he tells her to get up, but she doesn’t reply, presumably due to her condition. He puts her on a donkey and heads for home. Once home, he cuts her into twelve pieces and sends one piece to each of Israel’s coasts. Now for the finishing line (translation from the King James Bible):

What is this all about? What are we supposed to consider? Are we supposed to discuss this? What’s to discuss? Why did the guy slice her up? What’s the moral of this story? Why did it make the Bible? What is it supposed to tell us? Is the traveller a good or bad man? What kind of social environment could possibly make this story make sense?

To state it clear: What the hell is going on?

This story is tacked on to the end of Judges along with the story of the idol of Micah in order to drive home the sense of lawlessness that prevailed during the period of the Judges, and the need for a more orderly form of government, leading to the Israelites’ demand for a King in Samuel, the following book of the Bible.

According to this site, which may or may not be reputable, the town was a settlement of Benjamites who should have behaved better than demanding to rape the visitor and then rape the concubine to death.

The 12 pieces were probably distributed one to each tribe as sort of a “look how perverse some of our people have become, we shouldn’t be like this” so people would tell each other how horrible it is that jews raped someone to death. Some websites indicate that there was a war incited by this act. I’m too lazy to actually read the rest of Judges for context, but passages preceeding these indicate that there was no ruler over Isreal at this time so there was a time of lawlessness.

Of course, maybe He meant that we should ponder the meaning of this story on a message board.

They’re saying, basically, “Oh my God, we’ve never seen anything so horrible.” You’ve only told the first half of the story, because what happens next is that the leaders of all the different tribes gather together and have the Levite tell his story. So he does, and then they say, “That story is so horrible we have to punish that town.” So they raise an army of all the different tribes and take it to the borders of the tribe of Benjamin (it’s a Benjamite town). They say to the leaders of the tribe of Benjamin, “Let us pass through, and surrender that town, because we’re kill the people in it who did that”.

The Bejaminites say no, and so now the rest of Israel goes to war against Benjamin. They all swear an oath that Benjamin is their enemy and that none of them will let their daughter marry a Benjaminite Their army ambushes and defeats the Benjaminite army (they fake a retreat and outflank the Benjamanites), destroy the offending town, and then go around looting and pillaging the territory of Benjamin for a few months, then they get tired and go home.

Then, in hindsight, they regret what they did, because they don’t want the tribe of Benjamin wiped out (because, after all, they are a tribe of Israel), but they don’t know what to do, because Benjamin needs women, but they all took an oath that they wouldn’t let their daughters marry Benjaminites. So they find a town that never showed up to the big meeting of the tribes, decide, “Well, they deserve to die for not showing up anyway”, attack the town, kill all the men and non-virgins, and capture the virgins and give them to the Benjaminites. Of course, there are still not enough women, so they say, “Hmm, maybe we need to find a loophole in our oath.” They say to the remaining Benjaminites, “Hey, pretty soon there’s going to be this festival, and the women in the town where the festival is held are all going to come out to dance. Hide near there, then when the women come out to dance, kidnap them and make them you’re wives. That way, you’ll get women, and we won’t be guilty of breaking our oaths, because how could we know you’d do something like that? <wink>”

So the Benjaminites do that, and now all the Benjaminites who survived the war have wives and can rebuilt.

The moral of the story is found in the end of the story, where the author reminds you, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

In other words, you had anarchy, with no central authority or law, and that led to stuff like that story happening.