Ehud - Northern Judges: A Mirror-Reading with the Mira Scriptura Methodology

image: Wikimedia commons (  link  ). 

image: Wikimedia commons (link). 

The Ehud Cycle is primarily concerned with forming a strong military force for a unified Israel under Jonathanian leadership by showing that Ehud was a Benjaminite hero.  If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on the Ehud Cycle.  If you’re not familiar with the Northern Book of Judges and it’s cycles, be sure to check out all of the podcast episodes in that series. I used Tzemah Yoreh's work as the basis for my Northern Book of Judges Source.


Please note that the argumentation below is that of the opposing narrative that the Northern Book of Judges author (N) was addressing and is opposed to the N narrative itself.

Color Code:
Black: These statements are mirrors or echoes
Blue: These statements are an inferred cause/effect of a mirror/echo or connects two mirrors/echoes
Green: These statement have no corresponding mirrors or echoes but have supporting (e.g. alternates, denials) statements that imply them.
Orange: Words within a statement that could be variations of the opposing narrative

Italics are causal connectors (e.g. “because”)
[Brackets] are replacements for pronouns or changing tense for better flow.

For more information about mirrors, echoes, supporting categories and my methodology, please visit this post.

Aspect #1 Opposing Narrative

1. A Benjaminite was not the deliverer
2. because because Ehud did not assassinate King Eglon
3. because there is no sword that killed King Eglon
4. because Ehud returned to the sculptured stones near Gilgal without assassinating King Eglon
5. because [Ehud was not a] Benjaminite
6. because [Ehud] sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim;
7. because the Israelites [did not have a Benjaminite] at their head.

Aspect #1 N Response With Commentary

1. The opposing narrative doesn’t seem to have an issue with the Israelites overcoming the Moabites.  The point of contention was who was the deliverer.  It seems that Ehud was already a known character, so most of the contention will happen around what tribe he was from. N will push hard to say that it was Ehud was a Benjaminite since the kingly line of Jonathan was from that tribe.

2. The opposing narrative agrees that Ehud paid tribute to King Eglon but argues that there is no evidence that Ehud assassinated the king.  N explains this by having Ehud commit the perfect assassination:  no murder weapon, no witnesses.  It’s not even clear that the Moabites knew that the king was assassinated, only that he died.

3. The special sword that Ehud fashioned is swallowed up in the king’s fat.

4. Those that went with Ehud to pay the tribute had no knowledge that Ehud assassinated the king.  They had returned with Ehud to the sculptured stones (possibly a rendezvous point before the journey) without any event.  N explains that Ehud went back to the king after he had returned to the sculptured stones.

5. N is obviously pro-Benjaminite throughout his narrative since the kingly line of Jonathan hailed from that tribe.  N shifts Ehud’s tribe of origin to make him a Benjaminite.  One of the ways that N supports that Ehud was a Benjaminite is by having him be left handed and making that a critical aspect of the assassination.  Benjaminites were known to be left-handed, although more in the sense that they were ambidextrous, giving them a distinct advantage in combat...and assassination attempts.

Scholars are not agreed on the meaning of ʾiṭṭēr yad-yĕmînô. The word ʾiṭṭēr occurs elsewhere only in Judg 20:16, where Ehud’s condition is generalized to an entire contingent of exceptionally skilled Benjamite warriors. The verb ʾātar is found only in Ps 69:15 [Hb. 16], where it means “to shut” [the mouth]. The root appears elsewhere only in the postexilic personal name Ater (ʾāṭēr). If the present ʾiṭṭēr is to be associated with Ps 69:15 [Hb. 16], ʾiṭṭēr yad-yĕmînî means something like “shut/ restricted with reference to the right hand,” which suggests some type of deformity or handicap, hence “left-handed.” However, this meaning is excluded in 20:16, which describes an entire contingent of Benjamite soldiers “who could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” Slings require great skill and the efficient use of two hands. Furthermore, 1 Chr 12:2 attests to a different normal expression for “left-handed,” maśmîl, “to use the left hand.” It seems best to follow the lead of the LXX’s amphoterodexios and interpret Ehud’s condition and that of the Benjamites in 20:16 as “ambidextrous,” that is, skilled in the use of both hands. The meaning is fleshed out in 1 Chr 12:2, which describes a group of Benjamites, relatives of Saul, who defected to David as “armed with bows” and “able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed.” But the adjective ʾiṭṭēr, “shut, restricted,” suggests Ehud and his fellow Benjamites in 20:16 were not naturally left-handed. On the contrary, they were a specially trained group for whom dexterity with the left hand was inculcated by binding up the right hand. In line combat, trained left-handers have a decided advantage over right-handers who are taught to fight sword against shield.58
Block, D. I. (1999). Judges, Ruth (Vol. 6, pp. 160–161). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

6. The trumpet sounding in Ephraim could infer that Israel’s deliverer was an Ephraimite.  This makes sense, in that the tribe of Ephraim was head over Israel before the tribe Benjamin (see The Elohist - Joseph Cycle). N solves this issue by having Ehud travel to the hill country of Ephraim.

7. The opposing narrative said that Ehud was an Ephraimite and would not have been at the head of the Israelites if he was a Benjaminite.  After spending much of the narrative showing how Ehud was a Benjaminite, N now describes him as head of the Israelites.

Aspect #2 Opposing Narrative

1. Yahweh is not the Elohim of Israel

Aspect #2 N Response With Commentary

1. N uses the term Elohim and Yahweh interchangeably, showing that Yahweh is the God (Elohim) of Israel.

Aspect #3 Opposing Narrative

1. [King Eglon of Moab] went and defeated Israel; and ... took possession of the city of palms.
2. because because the Israelites are not strong at war

Aspect #3 N Response With Commentary

1. Both N and the opposing narrative seem to agree that the Moabites defeated the Israelites and took the City of Palms (Jericho).

2. N is concerned with forming a strong military force for a unified Israel.  In order to get Israelites to want to join that military force, N shows that Israel can win battles, and that Yahweh is a strong war God.  N says that the only reason the Moabites defeated the Israelites was because Yahweh had strengthened the Moabites, but when the Israelites cried out to Yahweh, He provided military strength for Israel.

N also says that the Moabite were in alliance with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, thus making it harder to defeat the Moabites.  It’s N’s way of making excuses.

The Israelites kill about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped. N is clearly trying to signal that Israel can be a military power.

Biblical References

The spreadsheet embedded below is a list of verses used to compose the argumentation above.  For further information about how these statements were categorized, please visit this post.