Reading Judges 19: A Study of Narrated Apostasy and Literary Representations of Violence

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This project utilizes tools from narrative criticism and intertextual analysis in its verse by verse study of Judges 19. Attention is focused on issues of literary composition, including literary gaps, lexical multivalence, and narrative incoherence, as well as on narrative meaning derived from intertextual echoes in an effort to ascertain the manner in which literary representations of violence function to enhance the overall importance of the story.

The results of this study witness to Judges 19 as a text of compositional genius. Literary gaps, lexical multivalence and narrative inconsistencies subvert meaning in all but five verses of the overall chapter. Intertextual echoes tend to distort or invert the themes, tropes and events of the texts they echo, thereby representing in its literary construction the narrated themes of a world in which things are distorted. A significant number of lexically multivalent words contain a secondary signification implying themes of “illicit worship,” thereby subverting literary content by means of multivalence while simultaneously introducing an undercurrent of a systematic theme. Literary representations of violence function in a manner that portrays human mutuality as utterly shattered. The literary representation of sexual violence functions to portray the destruction of human mutuality as contained in the duality of male and female, a destruction which consequently impacts humanity’s ability to image God, thereby distorting the very image. Judges 19 presents a literary portrayal of a nation deeply involved in religious and nomistic abuses. The rule of Yhwh has been usurped by worship of foreign gods. This is a time without Yhwh’s rule, because the entire nation has succumbed to foreign practices. In the absence of religious faithfulness, the nation is destroying the very humanity which images God.

In verse 30 the text breaks the fourth wall and confronts the audience with an appeal to consider the events and “to speak up.” Within the context of the primary themes of Judges 19, this appeal functions as a call to the audience to consider the consequences of apostasy. The literary portrait confronted the reader with images of progressive social deterioration resultant from illicit worship practices and culminating in spectacular narrated violence portraying the self-destruction of humanity. Against this literary backdrop, the appeal to the audience functions not unlike the call of the prophets who sought Israel’s return to Yhwh. While part of Israel’s state formation narrative, the thematic and lexical characteristics of this text suggest a kinship to prophetic literature.

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PHD in Theology

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Goldingay, John

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Judges, Criticism, interpretation, Apostasy, Violence


Missions and World Christianity


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