Judges 6:1-5 The Gideon Story: Before Gideon
As is clear to any who study the Greek text of Judges, the leading scholarly version suggests not one text but two Recensions of the text. This was suggested because there was sufficient difference between the two to justify the texts as distinct and not dependent on each other. As a result, my method in treating the Gideon story (Judges 6-9) will be to use Recension A of Rahlfs’s edition of the LXX as my basic text, examining the language and flow of the narrative, and then highlight the ways that the language differs from Recension B. While my main interest is in following the language used to tell the story, it may be that such a method might also help in clarifying the complicated history of the LXX text(s) of Judges.
The Story of Gideon Opens
It begins with the typical Judges-type statement about the Israelites’ doing of evil in the sight of the Lord (6:1):
καὶ ἐποίησαν οἱ υἱοὶ Ισραηλ τὸ πονηρὸν ἔναντι κυρίου καὶ παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς κύριος
ἐν χειρὶ Μαδιαμ ἔτη ἑπτά.
“And the sons of Israel did evil before the Lord, and the Lord handed them over in Midian’s hand/under Midian’s control for seven years”
They had already done evil things before the Lord in 2:11. One could understand how God could become quite peeved at the people of Israel by 4:1, for it says that they “again” did what was evil before the Lord. Apparently Israel didn’t learn much from their disobedience. But their disobedience is part of a cycle described in Judges. It consists of five stages or steps: a) the people of Israel do evil in the Lord’s sight; b) the Lord gives them over to enemies; c) after suffering for a while they cry to God for help; d) God sends a deliverer to save them for several years and then; e) finally, they revert to their earlier form of disobedience. A neat historiographic gauze has been gently laid over several hundred years of their history, and now in 6:1, as expected, the Israelites are repeating the pattern. . Recension B says the same thing as A, though B just uses δίδωμι, rather than παραδίδωμι to describe the Lord’s “handing them over” to Midian. That same verbal spareness is evident in verse 2, where A has Midian becoming strong over/prevailing over Israel (κατισχύω) while B just uses ισχύνω. We don’t know yet if that is significant either theologically or textually, but I note it.
Where to Hide—Judges 6:2
What becomes fascinating, however, about verse 2 are the places to which the Israelites retreat to hide from the Midianites. In A they build μάνδρα, which describes a pen for cows or other animals. But these structures are for themselves. in contrast B has them making/digging τρυμαλία, which are holes in the ground for their new residences. Are we to make anything of the difference? Probably not, but each is meant to show their desperation.
Recension A has them making these pens “in the mountains” (ὄρεσιν), “caves” (σπηλαίοις) and “fortresses” (ὀχυρώμασιν), though it is rather difficult to imagine what these various modes of protection looked like. B has them making/digging holes “in the mountains” (ὄρεσιν), and then, using the nominative case (rather than dative), B has them also using caves and “hanging structures” (κρεμαστά). Check out my New Testament essay on τρυμαλία, where I explore its use in the passage of camels and eyes/holes (τρυμαλία) of needles.
If we only had these two verses to consider, I would hazard the guess that B was dependent on A but wanted to “clean it up” in two ways: to simplify the verbs and to eliminate the seeming incongruity of a “fortress” for people who are utterly vulnerable. “Hanging structures,” instead of “fortresses” or “strongholds” (ὀχύρωμα) adds to the sense of Israelite vulnerability.
Verses 3-5 describe the Midianite tactics in reducing the Israelites to submission. Recension A has both Midian and Amalek and “the sons of the East” attacking Israel whenever they sowed their crops (the verb ἀναβαίνω is used twice in v 3 to describe their “going up” against Israel). They encamp against them (6:4):
καὶ διέφθειραν τὰ ἐκφόρια τῆς γῆς ἕως τοῦ ἐλθεῗν εἰς Γάζαν καὶ οὐχ ὑπελείποντο ὑπόστασιν ζωῆς ἐν Iσραηλ καὶ ποίμνιον καὶ μόσχον καὶ ὄνον,
“And they destroyed the fruit of the earth all the way to the borders of Gaza, and they didn’t leave even the substance of life in Israel, either flock or young of the flocks or donkeys.”
Recension B of course tells the same story, but has Midian and Amalek “going up” (ἀναβαίνω is verb) against them. Then, in a separate thought, the “sons of the East” also attack, but with its own separate verb (συναναβαίνω). When these enemies destroy the land they καταφθείρω is, using the κατα prefix rather than the δια prefix of Recension A. And, further, they destroy the καρπούς of the land in B, which is the simplest way to say “fruit.” τὰ ἐκφόρια in A is a more elegant, and rare, way of saying the same thing. The attackers didn’t leave behind the substance of life (same words), but the last phrase of v 4 differs in B. They didn’t leave “among the flocks either bull or donkey,” with “bull” (ταύρος) being new. Verse 5 has minor differences between the two Recensions; interesting for me is that the articular infinitive in A is τοῦ διαφθείρειν αὐτήν, “in order to destroy it” (the land), but this can cause problems even for moderately trained students of Greek who want to render the articular infinitive “her destroying,” which wouldn’t make much sense. Perhaps because of this issue, if indeed B is somewhat dependent on A, B has “cleaned things up,” by making διαφθείρειν a finite verb: “they went against Israel and destroyed her.”
So, even though I spent my time comparing the two Recensions, and we might even be tempted to advance theses about why the various texts are different, we have a straightforward story about Israel’s turning away from God and paying the consequences of it. Now, if the train is on time, we expect a cry to the Lord and then the sending of some kind of deliverer—pretty soon.
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