The stabbing of Eglon and the fall of Jericho

I want to comment on the odd geography of the story of the assassination of Eglon and the revolt of the Benjaminites in Judges 3:12-30.

The obese Moabite sheikh, Eglon, has seized Jericho and made some Benjaminites his vassals. There follows a well-told, humorous story of how Ehud brought tribute to him and killed him leaving a locked room murder mystery for his lax secret service to figure out.

But the geography of the story is kind of confusing. Most assume that the hill country of Ephraim (v. 27) puts Benjamin in or near the Benjaminite territory north of Jerusalem. But Eglon supposedly is at Jericho (the city of palms), which is just west of the Jordan.  Ehud would have to cross from the east to come to him. Also, when Ehud flees back to the Benjaminites, he goes to Seirah, which means “toward Seir”.

So on the basis of the story itself, if we did not know that the Benjaminites of Saul’s time and later had a territory in the hills north of Jerusalem, we would assume the Benjaminites were in the Transjordan southeast of Jericho in the direction of Edom and Seir.

It seems to me that the oldest version of the story runs from verse 15 to verse 26. So the mention of the hill country of Ephraim in 27 is editorial.

Did the story originally tell of sons of the South (the meaning of Benjamin) seizing the fords, crossing the Jordan and attacking Jericho?

If so, could this be the kernel of the story behind Joshua 6. In Joshua the story has been subject to elaboration from a priestly point of view. In other words, the story in Joshua is now more the story of a religious ceremony with priests in procession and trumpeters accompanying an act of worship than it is the story of a battle.  Jericho, according to archeology, was not walled or much populated in the Late Bronze or Early Iron Age. But a nomadic chieftain could have operated from there for a while.

By the way, though Jericho was often an important military site controlling the fords over the Jordan and the route to Jerusalem and the coast, its actual location varied. New Testament Jericho, for instance, was not exactly in the same place as Bronze Age Jericho  So we only know approximately the place Eglon would have been.

People who want to make the authority of the Bible depend upon its exact historical accuracy have been at pains to find archeological evidence for the battle of Jericho. This usually takes the form of arguing that the Exodus and Conquest correspond to a Middle Bronze Age destruction. A walled city did exist at Jericho in the Middle Bronze Age. And it was destroyed. Historians usually attribute that destruction to either the Egyptian of the Mittani empire in connection with the wars against the Hyksos around -1550.

Bryant Wood is a solid evangelical scholar who has tried to make the case that this destruction actually took place around -1400 and fits with an Exodus and Conquest about that time. So the apiru allies of the Hittite and Amurru kingdoms that were harassing and fighting against Egypt according to the Amarna letters would have been Joshua’s Israelites. He has a long way to go to convince some of us.

So I go back to the funny geography of Judges 3. Could this have been based on the reality that the burst of villages and farmsteads in the 12th century in the hills west of the Jordan began with paleo Israelites from across the Jordan gaining control of the fords in the vicinity of Jericho?

As another aside, the “carved stones at Gilgal” (vs. 19 and 26) tell us something. Israel had several places with rock circles, all called Gilgal. The rock circles or ellipses are what give these places their name. The Israelite sites seem to have had unengraved stones. But the one in Judges 3 has carved or engraved stones, and so would have violated the (later?) restriction on graven images.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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One Response to The stabbing of Eglon and the fall of Jericho

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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