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Judges: Exploring A "Dark Age" in Jewish History
Video 3 of 6
It’s just a horrible nauseating story in every way and you got the impression this is something that only happened after Joshua’s lifetime. But then when you go back to Joshua, Chapter 22, when the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh after the conquest, went back to their tribal inheritance on the east bank of the Jordan and built this giant alter as a monument to show the unity of the people of Israel. Long behold what do we find immediately and this is in the book of Joshua, the other 9 and a half tribes gather with Phinehas as their leader and they come to wage civil war against the east bank tribe. There the good negotiation of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh saved the day. They said that they have no intentions of rebellion rather they wanted to show unity.
But look how quickly and in Joshua’s lifetime that 9 and a half tribes are ready to bear arms against the smaller tribes of Israel and are ready to start off a civil war. From this point of view, once you read the book of Shoftim and you see the same thing happened in Pilegesh B’Gibeah again under Phinehas’ leadership, the difference being that in Sefer Shoftim, the war occurred in the tribe of Benjamin was nearly annihilated. We see that the roots of civil war are already there in the book of Joshua.
If we just stop after the book of Joshua, despite these problems bubbling just beneath the surface, we might say, look there were problems but everybody was righteous and Joshua’s leadership was fantastic. Once you read the book of Judges though and you see what the problems were and then you read the book of Joshua again, we realize that once Joshua dies, the flood just broke lose. All of a sudden, all the problems that were latent and the people of Israel came exploding forward and predictably, laxity in conquest, idolatry and civil war. No longer can we look at the book of Joshua just as a golden age, we could as long as there was no book of Judges. But once you have the book of Judges, you realize that the book of Joshua also contains the seed for all of the problems that were going to occur in the period of Judges, once Joshua and his generations died out. And this brings us to the fact that the very last verses of the book of Joshua. Joshua, chapter 24, verses 28 through 31 were repeated almost verbatim in Judges Chapter 2. Why there is this repetition? Rashi, Radak, Ralbag and Abarbanel say that Joshua’s death had to be mentioned again to protect the reputation of Joshua. Just to remind everybody these problems that you are going to read about throughout the book of Judges, they occurred only after Joshua’s death. Don’t worry, nothing happened during Joshua’s lifetime and they are clearing Joshua’s name by doing that and that’s certainly part of the story as we have seen that Joshua’s strong leadership and religious guidance kept the nation in a very righteous place.
But Ramban at the beginning of Shemot adds another dimension which is absolutely fascinating and profound. He is not talking about our books, he is talking about the books of Bereshit and Shemot together. He notices that in Genesis, chapter 46, there is a list of Jacob and all of his children and grandchildren who came down to Egypt. And those verses are repeated almost verbatim at the very beginning of Sefer Shemot, v’eleh shemot benei-Yisrael. So Ramban wants to know why the redundancy between these two verses and he says something fascinating in his introduction to the book of Shemot. It is for this reason that God returns to the beginning of the subjects, stated in the book of Genesis. Even though there are two separate books the narrative is connected with subjects which follow one another successively. Similar case is found in the book of Chronicles and the book of Ezra. The author repeated vary languages that these two verses at the beginning of the book of Ezra in order to connect the narrative. This is absolutely incredible folks. Ramban is saying is that the repetition of the verses between Bereshit and Shemot, and then subsequently in Divrei HaYamim and Ezra, is the authors’ way of saying, that you should read them as one united book. In other words Genesis and Exodus, or Bereshit and Shemot, of course they are two different books of the Torah and that’s how they are considered but literarily we can view them as one super unit and these repeated verses help create that bridge. Similarly the last two verses of chronicles are repeated the first two verses of Ezra is to teach us exactly this point that in fact we should read them as one super book even though we also treat them as two literary units. I want to propose in light of our analysis that we have a third example that Ramban could use, namely these repeated verses between the end of the book of Joshua and in the beginning of the book of Judges, does the same thing. When we read the two books together, we see right away that the negligence in conquest, the idolatry and the civil war which are so characteristic of the book of Shoftim, in fact all were developing in the book of Joshua. Therefore we should view them as one continuum. Simultaneously however they are after all two books but the wedge in between them specifically the mention of Joshua’s death and this helps us keep the image of Joshua’s period being a golden age and Judges being a dark age. So the narrator has achieved a dual purpose, on the one hand they are black and white where Joshua good, judges bad and simultaneously there is the broader literary unit when we look at them as one super book where we can see them as gray. Everything that occurred negative in the book of Judges, all of its roots are found already in the book of Joshua and the point of this shiur, beside just important analysis of the two books, Joshua and Judges, is to teach us how very often things appear initially black and white for period of Joshua is good and the period of Judges is bad but then when we look at things little more carefully and thoughtfully, we begin to realize there’s a lot of grey in this world. Sometimes things that look perfectly good have a little bit of negative and sometimes things that look so bad have their elements of positive as well.
We hope that when you go back through these two books in depth using this shiur as a springboard, you will see more and more how the new ones in depth of prophecy comes through in every verse, in every chapter and ultimately in these two great books of Joshua and Judges.
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