Fortress Press

Power and Politics in the Book of Judges: Men and Women of Valor

Power and Politics in the Book of Judges

Men and Women of Valor

John C. Yoder (Author)

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Power and Politics in the Book of Judges studies political culture and behavior in premonarchic Israel, focusing on the protagonists in the book of Judges. Although the sixth-century BCE Deuteronomistic editor portrayed them as moral champions and called them “judges,” the original bardic storytellers and the men and women of valor themselves were preoccupied with the problem of gaining and maintaining political power. These “mighty ones” were ambitious, at times ruthless; they might be labeled chiefs, strongmen, or even warlords in today’s world.

John C. Yoder considers the variety of strategies the men and women of valor used to gain and consolidate their power, including the use of violence, the redistribution of patronage, and the control of the labor and reproductive capacity of subordinates. They relied heavily, however, on other strategies that did not deplete their wealth or require the constant exercise of force: mobilizing and dispensing indigenous knowledge, cultivating a reputation for reliability and honor, and positioning themselves as skillful mediators between the realms of earth and heaven, using their association with YHWH to advance their political, economic, or military agenda.
  • ISBN 9781451496420
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 288
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Publication Date May 1, 2015


“A unique and insightful blending of biblical exegesis and social science. Yoder uses a rich understanding of patron-client relationships gained from years of research and study of sub-Saharan Africa to illuminate the actions of biblical figures who are themselves enmeshed in traditional relationships of loyalty, honor, deference, and reward. The reader will come away with new understandings of authority and agency in the well-known stories of Judges.”
—Sandra F. Joireman
University of Richmond
Power and Politics in the Book of Judges represents an incisive exegetical breakthrough from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Deconstructing an over-reading of the Judges texts as theologized heroic legend, Yoder provides a keen social-political analysis of text that unearths the complex power dynamics in play among various judges and within the struggle between the adherents of Yahweh and Baal. It is a timely contribution to the study of the book of Judges and Israel’s premonarchic bardic tales.”
—Scott Starbuck
Gonzaga University
“John Yoder draws upon insights from his previous research on politics in preindustrial African societies to provide a fresh reading of the Hebrew Bible book of Judges. Focusing on the men and women of valor who competed for power in premonarchic Israel, he provides new perspectives on the functioning of patron-client politics in ancient patrimonial systems. He argues that wealth and military prowess alone were not sufficient to consolidate and maintain power, and so the early champions dispensed knowledge, trustworthiness, honor, and connections to the divine as political resources. This book will be of interest to biblical scholars and social scientists for the originality of its interpretations, and also to people of faith for the unblinking honesty of its exposition.”
—Robert Harms
Yale University  

"Yoder's analysis of the politics of power in the Judges narratives is a valuable, fresh perspective on this challenging text. His five decades of personal experience and informed reflection on traditional African political strategies and values enable him to provide an insightful new comparative lens through which to understand ancient Israelite culture."
—William Kynes
Whitworth University