Judges 6:27-29, Gideon Destroys the Altar of Baal
Here is Recension A of Judges 6:27:
καὶ ἔλαβεν Γεδεων τρεῗς καὶ δέκα ἄνδρας ἀπὸ τῶν δούλων αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐποίησεν καθὰ ἐλάλησεν πρὸς αὐτὸν κύριος καὶ ἐγένετο ὡς ἐφοβήθη τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ καὶ τοὺς ἄνδρας τῆς πόλεως μὴ ποιῆσαι ἡμέρας καὶ ἐποίησεν νυκτός.
“And Gideon took thirteen men from among his servants and did exactly what the Lord had told him. It happened that since he was afraid of the house of his father and the men of the city, he didn’t do this by day, but did it by night.”
Recall, Gideon has been told to tear down his father’s altar to Baal and the nearby grove, and to burn the altar with wood taken from the grove. This verse tells how Gideon rounded up his trusty servants and did what the Lord had told him to do. He takes thirteen men. Noteworthy is the sense of fear that Gideon has regarding his father’s possible reaction to the destruction; after all, from one perspective it is a pretty brazen act for a son to destroy something important to his father. So, he did it by night, when they would be least likely to be observed.
Recension B is almost identical, but significantly notes that Gideon only took ten servants with him. Has a τρεις fallen out of the text or tradition somewhere along the line? The only other small verbal divergence is when B has Gideon doing things ον τρόπον, or “in the manner”, rather than καθα, or “as per” what he was told. So, he’s off on his evening errand with either 10 or 13 men.
Judges 6:28 in A reads:
καὶ ὤρθρισαν οἱ ἄνδρες τῆς πόλεως τὸ πρωί καὶ ἰδοὺ κατεσκαμμένον τὸ θυσιαστήριον τοῦ Βααλ καὶ τὸ ἄλσος τὸ ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ ἐκκεκομμένον καὶ ὁ μόσχος ὁ σιτευτὸς
ἀνηνεγμένος εἰς ὁλοκαύτωμα ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον τὸ ᾠκοδομημένον,
“And the men of the city rose early in the morning and, lo, the altar of Baal had been destroyed, and the adjoining grove cut down/demolished, and the fatted calf had been offered as a whole burnt offering on the altar which had been built. . .”
We get yet another word for the destruction of Baal’s altar. In 6:25 A it is καθαιρέω but here it is derived from κατασκάπτω, or to “dig up/demolish.” The cutting down of the grove continues to be described using εκκόπτω, and the fatted calf is mentioned as the animal that is “brought up” for sacrifice as a while burnt offering.” We don’t know where this newly-constructed altar (θυσιαστήριον) is.
Recension B for 6:28 had the identical description for the men rising early in the morning, but then it continues its language of destruction using the verbs from 6:25-26, connecting καθαιρέω with the altar and ολεθρεύω with the grove. But then, it explicitly mentions which of the two animals was sacrificed. We recall that the “fatted calf” from A is absent from B, which has a “bull calf” and a “second calf, seven years old.” It is this second calf that will be sacrificed by Gideon in Recension B in 6:28. Only Recension B mentions that “they saw” (that is, the early-rising townspeople) the second calf on the altar. We can tell that all hell is about to break loose.
Judges 6:29 in Recension A reads:
καὶ εἶπεν ἀνὴρ πρὸς τὸν πλησίον αὐτοῦ τίς ἐποίησεν τὸ πρᾶγμα τοῦτο καὶ ἀνήταζον
καὶ ἐξεζήτουν καὶ εἶπαν Γεδεων ὁ υἱὸς Ιωας ἐποίησεν τὸ πρᾶγμα τοῦτο.
“And a man said to his neighbor, ‘Who did this? And they inquired further and sought an answer and said, ‘Gideon, the son of Ioas has done this.”
The two verbs, ἀνετάζω and ἐκζητέω, are a powerful duo and most often appear in judicial contexts. The former is rare, and usually means to examine documents or examine a person by torture. Only in this instance does it have a “gentler” meaning of inquire diligently or seek an answer. ἀνετάζω appears just twice in the New Testament, also in a judicial context (Acts 22:24, 29), where the minor Roman official first decides to examine Paul by scourging (22:24) and then calls off the examination (22:29) after Paul volunteered that he was a Roman citizen. Perhaps the best way to take it in Judges 6 is “examine/inquire thoroughly.” The men of the area have to get to the bottom of this serious breach of religion and law.
ἐκζητέω appears much more frequently (7x in the NT) and not only has a “diligent search for evidence” meaning but also is used by religious devotees to describe their quest for God. They “seek” (ἐκζητέω) the Lord (Acts 15:17; Romans 3:11). It also is common in the LXX, with the ἐκ prefix emphasizing the earnest and devoted search by the subject. So, after this kind of search they reach their stark conclusion—Gideon son of Ioas has done it. Did they get one of the 10 or 13 servants to confess? Doesn’t say.
It’s interesting that Recension B uses two different verbs to capture the search process: επιζητέω and εραυνάω. While both words or roots, ζητέω and εραυνάω are common in Greek, the presence of the επι in front of ζητέω gives the impression also of diligent search. It is a synonym of ἐκζητέω. The vocabulary of search is much less sophisticated in Recension B, but the result is the same. Rather than just “saying” (Recension A) that Gideon had done it, Recension B has, “they knew” (from γινώσκω) that Gideon had done this.
So, the accounts of both neatly complement each other. The only real discrepancy is in the number of servants that help Gideon pull off this destructive deed. Now things will really heat up.