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JUDGES (12th and 11th centuries B.C.E.).

The Book of Judges spans the period from the death of Joshua to the time when Saul was anointed king. The conquest of Canaan under Joshua had been incomplete. The tribes of Israel had not reached the coast which remained occupied by the Phoenicians and the Philistines. In the Great Plain the unconquered fortresses of Taanach, Megiddo, and Beth-Shean were arranged as a formidable barrier separating the tribes of Dan, Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar in the north, from the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah in the south. Aloof across the Jordan, Reuben tended its sheep, and Gad dallied in Gilead. The physical separation, as well as the nature of tribal society, prevented the Judges from effecting the unification of the people, even though they were popular heroes. During their era, Mesopotamian enemies from the north, the Moabites from across the Jordan in the south, and the nomad Midianites from Sinai subjugated the Israelites for varying periods of time. In such times of crisis, the Judges were called to leadership by the people and their battles eventually extended Israelite mastery of the Land. There were sixteen Judges. Two of them, Deborah and Samuel, were also prophets. One, Eli, was a priest, while Samson was a folk-hero rather than a military or religious leader. Another kind of battle characterized the period of the Judges: the battle of Israel’s religion of one God against the fertility and nature gods of Canaan. In both these struggles, the Judges were the leaders of the people.

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