Fall 2015

Religion and Spirituality

Dating the Book of Judges

David Hulme

Judges is based on historical records compiled at the end of a circa-350-year period. There are several internal clues to the book’s compilation date.

  1. Several references in the book address things that had been a certain way in times past, but no longer were at the time of writing (Judges 1:11, 23; 3:1–2; 19:10; 20:27–28). Six additional references to situations that were extant “to this day” likewise show that the compilation took place considerably later than the matters at hand.
  2. The last few chapters contain the phrase “In those days there was no king in Israel” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). This tells us that, by contrast, the book was compiled when Israel did have a king—thus sometime after the first king, Saul, took the throne (ca. 1050 BCE).
  3. Further establishing this as the earliest possible date of writing is the fact that Samson, the last judge named in the book, died ca. 1051 BCE.
  4. Gezer was still in Canaanite hands (Judges 1:29). Since Solomon was the Israelite who acquired Gezer (1 Kings 9:16), the book was written before ca. 970 BCE, when Solomon ascended the throne.
  5. Narrowing it down further, Jerusalem was in Jebusite hands at the time of writing (Judges 1:21). This was true until David conquered the city (2 Samuel 5:6–10; 1 Chronicles 11:4–9) ca. 1000 BCE.

With all of this in mind, the most logical date for the compilation of the book is shortly before 1000 BCE, in the early days of King David.