Friday, July 01, 2016

while some complementarians debate the Trinity, let's not forget that if we actually read the Bible some women in Iron Age patriarchal monarchies were trusted to address military, judicial and religious policy with generals and kings in a way that CBMW seems to have never picked up on

Being sorta Reformed (Presbyterian, Calvinist, even a supralapsarian sort) I've tried to keep some track of what's gone on in the last month on complementarian debate about the nature of the Trinity.

This, then, is the tragedy of the moment in the reformed evangelical world—and I don’t think that’s too strong a word for it. We are master Bulverists. In one sense, this makes Trueman and Goligher’s initial posts even more inexcusable, of course: If they are right about Big Eva, then all the more reason to be careful in how they structure their criticism. Even so, there is absolutely no reason for us to still be talking about that after the more even-handed critiques raised by other scholars. (Dr. Trueman’s response to Dr. Mohler was also quite restrained, it should be noted.)

One of the troubles with formulating the debate between different modes of complementarian thought is that by sticking with a debate at the level of the Trinity complementarians seem determined to not pay any attention to the narrative literature of the Bible to see what that might tell us about what options were considered possible/acceptable to women in the pages of the biblical narratives.

The reason CBMW and Team Piper can seem so remarkably stupid when holding forth on the topic of what women should or should not, or can or cannot be able to consider with respect to respecting male authoritah is that it seems as though these are guys who have immersed themselves in dogmatics that have willfully steered clear of the biblical narrative literature.  As in just about any of it.  I remember slogging through that foreward to that book about biblical manhood and womanhood and other than reading an incoherent tautological swirl I can't remember either of the two concepts being defined except in some nebulously dynamic relationship to the other. 

But somewhere along the line that Sarah Palin running mate thing inspired some guys to say that women having those kinds of roles was a sign of a failure of some kind in society.

As Barry Webb put it in his NICOT commentary on the book of Judges, the book of Judges never actually TELLS US that ANYONE thought Deborah was not supposed to be judge over Israel or a prophetess. 

There's another observation Webb made about how prophets didn't really predict anything in the book of Judges but rebuked Israel for disobedience but that might be for some other time; the observation that there was no remotely eschatological component to prophecy in the book of Judges and that it was generally tied to judicial activity is something we can get to later.  For now, let's repeat again that Deborah was not described as judging Israel or being a prophet counter to some otherwise disclosed divine plan for a patriarchal alternative.  Didn't the Lord say back in Deuteronomy that the Lord would raise up a prophet?  Who's going to tell God it shouldn't have been that woman Deborah?  Apparently today's super-Calvinists who have a thing for complementarianism of a stripe.

That debates about the Trinity are so prevalent in the Reformed blogosphere seems completely embarrassing.  I've found it sad that the Trinity is being invoked because it's not like we "have" to go to that level of Christian doctrine. 

Complementarians who are concerned about enforcing womanly docility ... you know, it's like for them Numbers 27 just isn't in the Bible.  Does that story not instantly spring to mind the second I mentioned it?  Let's revisit how the daughters of Zelophehad went to Moses and Aaron and Eleazar and the elders of the congregation and made a case to make an exception to land inheritance laws.  And the Lord said what the daughters had said was right.  So ... change the inheritance laws.  Should a man die without sons, daughters get the inheritance. God introduced an exception to the existing laws after women petitioned for a change in the precedents because of a unique case.   Where John Piper's posse had that thing about whether or not a woman should be a police officer because that might involve saying stuff of some kind, the daughters of Zelophedad petitioned for (and got) a change in the Mosaic laws regarding inheritance and daughters from Moses who, in turn, got the changes ratified from God according to Numbers 27.

There are other narratives in the Bible where women are shown as not settling for mediation and enquiring of the Lord themselves.  But we'll just allude to those cases.  Ideally you should already know about those.

In the course of blogging and interacting with some bloggers, I've commented a little bit over at Wendy's blog this year.  One of the questions that came up was whether there was anywhere in the NT where women are described as teaching in authority over men.  I proposed over there what I'll briefly repeat here, the conflation of "prophecy" with pastoral activity such as preaching and teaching is a basic category mistake.  In the Old Testament the responsibility for educating the people at large is designated to the priests.  Prophets play and advisory, ad hoc judicial role.  Someone proposed along the discussion at Wendy's blog that Moses was a prophet who publicly instructed.  Well, yes but no.  Moses was a prophet but for everyone who doesn't remember Numbers 11-12 off the top of their heads, God said that prophet was at one level and Moses was at a higher level.  MIRIAM was a prophet, MOSES was the lawgiver. 

Whatever prophecy was it apparently wasn't exactly public teaching.  Let's not ignore the seventy elders from Numbers 11 who were appointed to do what?  Help Moses adjudicate the case law and handle legal issues.  They prophesied, but for a little while.  Moses wished that all Israel might prophecy.  Why?  Well, here's a suggestion, if they could also prophecy to the point of knowing the will of the Lord in a particular context then Moses would certainly not have to keep adjudicating every single case they'd previously been bringing before him. 

As I pointed out in conversation at Wendy's blog (and will have to repost here some time) the prohibitions in the New Testament epistles make it impossible to suppose prophecy would really mean preaching.  Why?  Because if women were barred from speaking at all in the churches yet could prophesy with a head-covering AND the daughters of Philip the evangelist became famous for being gifted in prophecy then prophecy had to be something besides public/group instruction. The prohibitions regarding women (setting aside the debates about the possibilities of interpolation/redaction for the moment) clarify what prophecy could NOT be based on the claims that women could not do X in groups.  For instance, if you read through this ...

I would say that a fifth (kind of) view alternative to the four presented at CBMW is not hard to come up with.  The daughters of Philip the evangelist were regarded as having recognized prophetic ability and taken seriously enough to merit mention by Luke but that since prophetic gifting did not necessarily entail either an apostolic level of authority (Paul basically ignores Agabus' warning, for instance) or the requirement of public instruction that the complementarian, the daughters of Philip could have an advisory role not just for the disciples but for others.  Since prophetic activity in general (as distinct from explicitly canonized prophecy) was pretty easily observed to be advisory there's room to modify the "complementarian" view presented by CBMW to cast off any potential conflation of prophetic activity with what Mark Driscoll so lazily called "writing books of the Bible". 

Going back to the Old Testament to survey the sweep of prophetic activity (and by this I mean narratives about prophets, not just the prophetic books, which need to be regarded as distinct by virtue of canonicity within the larger range of descriptions of prophecy), we see that nobody seemed to have any intrinsic problem with women being prophets.  If Josiah's court consulted Huldah for the reliability of the book of the Law it's because they trusted her judgment.  2 Kings 22 shows Josiah rending his clothes and asking the priest to enquire of the Lord.  What does the priest do?  He and others go to Huldah.  Huldah tells the group that to the man who sent them, wrath was coming but to the king, things would go better. 

One of the things here that seems puzzling is why Huldah would address "the man who sent you" (the group) in a dramatically different way than she addressed the king.  My only guess here, not being a textual scholar, is that the narrative seems vague as to what the priest may have said.  Josiah sends the priest and the PRIEST chooses to go see Huldah.   If the priest himself doesn't recognize the book of the Law for what it is, would he want to admit in front of a known prophetess he doesn't even know the book is what it is? Perhaps Huldah, getting the sense that the priest wouldn't come by to verify the credibility of a possibly canonical law book unless he himself didn't know, makes a sideways rebuke to him before addressing the king.  That's just my best guess. 

Let's not undersell the point here, when Josiah rends his clothes and tells the priest to go enquire of the Lord about that book of the law that the priest himself doesn't recognize to be a legitimate book of the law, the priest goes to the woman who is known to be a prophet.  The Josiah-era reforms happened because of a prophetess. 

If there are complementarians who would insist that Deborah was not "supposed" to have been judge over Israel or a prophetess because in the time of the Judges Israel was far from God, should Josiah have not heeded the words of Huldah the prophetess?  Should Josiah have just held out for some dudely bro prophet to confirm that this was, in fact, the book of the law?  The absurdity of the alternative seems obvious to me but it probably won't be to the types of complementarians who are already committed to the idea that Deborah was in some sense a providential back-up.  The kinds of young restless Reformed dudes who would endorse meticulous sovereignty in defending John Piper talking about a collapsing bridge think that God somehow didn't exactly want Deborah to a be prophet and judge, or Huldah to verify the book of the law?  I'm not that kind of complementarian (I'm not particularly keen on complementarianism or egalitarianism as I believe they're both just pissing contest teams about how can grant or gain access to institutional power within 501(c)3s in the United States at the moment). 

Believe it or not, we haven't even remotely exhausted case studies from the narrative literature in which women said things authoritatively to kings and were taken seriously as having a prophetic and judicial prerogative.  How about the woman from Tekoa who rebuked David? 

How about the woman of Abel Beth maacah?  Don't remember her?  2 Samuel 20 ... When Joab besieged that town a wise woman bargained with him to end the siege in exchange for the head of one usurper.  Joab was willing to suspend the siege to talk with her because, as she pointed out in her case for clemency on the city, her hometown was known as a place of wisdom.  Joab's reply was that he wasn't there to destroy the town but to seek one man.  So Sheba lost his head. 

One of the reasons I can't take complementarians from the CBMW/John Piper side seriously when they talk about the Trinity is because if they were going to make a case for their side, invoking the Trinity is an idiotic way to do that.  Carl Trueman and others have been making that point in a variety of ways.  Aimee Byrd and Wendy Alsup have been addressing other elements.  Wendy and I are in agreement that while the NT does not show women operating in priestly roles there's no indication they weren't taken seriously as able to work in prophetic roles--we've got some consensus about the basic idea that prophetic activity was not necessarily priestly instruction.  As I hope has been cleared up here with reference to Numbers 11-12 prophetic activity can be pretty broadly connected to judicial/policy matters and establishing veracity of religious polity in consultation with nobility and the priestly class.  This isn't just observably the case in Judaism ... by the way.

Divination, Politics and Ancient Near Eastern Empires

The seventy elders were described as prophesying in Numbers 11, If complementarians took seriously the ad hoc judicial aspect of prophecy throughout the OT and took more seriously that prophetic activity was generally advisory and that this is strongly implicit in the arc of Deuteronomy 16-18 then it might be easier to make some kind of consistent case for why women can prophecy but not necessarily take on the priestly role of instruction.

Trouble is, a lot of Protestants have insisted that prophecy is preaching and preaching is what pastors do and after a few centuries of that, well, you might as well concede the whole argument to egalitarians if that's what you honestly think the Bible says about prophecy.  Or it also might mean you don't actually know what the Bible says at all regarding prophetic activity ...

This admittedly rambling blog post has touched on just a few cases from Old Testament literature discussed in this book by Esther J. Hamori that was published last year.

Women's Divination in Biblical Literature: Prophecy, Necromancy, and Other Arts of Knowledge
Esther J. Hamori
Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library
(c) copyright 2015 by Yale University
ISBN 978-0-300-17891-3

It's not a difficult read and while I didn't quite agree with Hamori on a few points (I don't take it as given that Huldah's initial rebuke was to Josiah as she seems to, for instance), her book is a useful overview in case anyone wasn't familiar enough with the Old Testament to know of the stories she discusses from the narrative literature.  I haven't seen any indication that either the Gospel Coalition or the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has reviewed Hamori's book.  They will probably not care for her take on the necromancer of Endor.  I found it improbable that she proposed the necromancer isn't in any way condemned in contrast to Saul.  Condemnations of necromancy are abundant enough in Jewish literature that some things didn't have to be explicitly condemned to carry an implicit rebuke.  When Saul was warned that rebellion was as the sin of witchcraft the author of Samuel seems to tip us off to an irresistible irony--having stubbornly declined to carry out instructions from Yahweh when given them in more direct and unsolicited ways, at the end of his life Saul seeks a word from the Lord but only finds one after he has embraced the use of necromancy and this gets him yet another rebuke and a confirmation of his rejection.  It's one of the thematic ironies of Israel seeking a king in Samuel, they sought a king like other kings and God warned them that their punishment would be that they would actually get what they wanted. 

To bring back an reference to Barry Webb's commentary on Judges, it was interesting Webb proposed that when we see how the later judges appointed their sons to rule after them or with them, and when we consider how bad the judges themselves became, it's possible to have some sympathy for Israelites wanting to make things official.

So far it can seem as if CBMW is more dedicated to explaining away cases like Deborah or Huldah in light of Baptist complementarian commitments in 21st century America rather than dealing with the narratives on other terms.  It could seem at first blush that women in Iron Age patriarchal monarchies had more freedom to question generals and kings and priests as to their knowledge of the scriptures and the ethics of their decisions and commitments than CBMW seem to want from women at blogs.  Hamori's book might be a useful contribution to evangelical discussion ... if any evangelicals would bother to read it. Well, okay, one has, and is currently recommending it be read.


Cal P said...

I wonder if part of the problem is the inability to discuss "priestly" authority and figuring out the parameters of what that means. I've found Leithart very helpful in unwinding what the priestly figure is/does, in the Old Testament, from the myth and distortions that emerged during the Enlightenment discourse. And, as per an Augustinian maxim, the signs of the OT weren't erased, they were conjugated, the shadow for the mystery as it were. This includes the priesthood.

Thus, the question of authority in the Church, and the meaning of the offices, is side-stepped rather than confronted. Alistair Roberts has done a good job in trying to reframe the questions. Everyone is asking about women in the pastorate or not, and then authority more generally, without defining any of what that means. Hence why both sides endlessly appeal to Paul, who seems to say things on both sides.

I'm with you, I find both sides of the debate very unhelpful. And invoking the Trinity is a really bad idea. It's only an invitation to atheism, proving Feurbach's maxim that god is only what we want our ultimate reality to be. It's sad, as households will raise kids, trained for culture war, and not for chasing after He who transcends all things and yet is closer than I am to myself.

2 cents,

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I've thought about writing about this topic more but have been leaving it to others. Roberts has had some interesting things to say so far. The side-stepping of questions about authority seems to happen not just on the egal/comp debate but is in some sense an issue in the cessationist/continuationist fracture. I've seen cessationists claim that continuationists, particularly Pentecostals, don't affirm the inerrancy/infallibility of scripture, which in itself indicates a willingness to argue in bad faith.

I'm a former Assemblies of God type myself and while I became ex-Pentecostal for a variety of reasons (not least Latter Rain resurgences where I was living), I don't think a Pentecostal claims to have access to revelations above/beyond scripture, but then one of the problems has been that cessationists have a history of defining their position in advance as being about the Bible rather than about asking any questions on whether or not prophecy as a whole was more ad hoc and occasional within the OT itself--the precedent of Moses as lawgiver who is above even a prophet like Miriam helps to provide a path to looking into these issues that can at least possibly avoid falling into the cess/cont ditch.

Alistair said...

I think the prophet/priest distinction has a lot going for it, but I do wonder whether you are mixing reaction in with reasoning in your thoughts here.

For example, while you dislike the idea that John Piper advised women not to be police officers, he has invited women to speak to men at conferences, etc. He is very open to women's input, though women bloggers may not agree.

I also think the rejection of Trinitarian analogy is overkill. You may not agree with the particular take some people have given, but there are still lots of analogical avenues that in fact balance out the authority/submission paradigm in ways that condemn authoritarianism and abusive applications.

The use of biblical narrative is extremely useful and important. I personally have found that helpful. However, I do think you are in danger of over-reaching. The story of Deborah's judgeship, for example, stands out from the narratives of the other judges in a number of ways. First, there is no explicit mention of her being raised up by the Lord, as there is in other longer narratives. (This doesn't mean the Lord did not raise her up providentially, but it is a difference to note). The other judges were raised up to deliver Israel personally, but Deborah called Barak to go out and deliver Israel. When Barak refused to go with her, Deborah rebuked him and told him that Sisera would be defeated by a woman.

As you know, the Bible doesn't always speak explicitly, especially in narratives. It is completely in line with responsible interpretation to look at clues within a narrative to see what is being communicated. How, then, is the lack of an explicit evaluative statement on the Deborah narrative a persuasive argument? Certainly there is no condemnation of Deborah herself, but there is an underlying criticism on the lack of willingness of Barak and men in general (via the giving of Sisera to "a woman") to go and deliver Israel.

Without going through the other examples you mention, I'll note that they all happen within a patriarchal framework, giving, as you suggest, a better, more well-rounded understanding of a woman's involvement within biblical patriarchy. However, of note is that most women exercise their influence differently from men. The vast majority are approached (even Joab's doubtful subterfuge involved him approaching the wise woman), and operate outside of official positions such as that of police officer.

By the way, I can't agree with your conflation of Numbers 27 and a woman being a police officer. Appealing to a judge for a change of inheritance rights for the sake of your fathers' name is quite different from a police officer enforcing laws. (Having said that, I personally think there are aspects of a police officer's job that women are invaluable in, other aspects I have trouble with).

So all that to say, I agree with much of what you write about taking a wider look at the biblical record to understand the biblical approach to gender, but I fear that you are misrepresenting people and positions and are being somewhat careless in your interpretation of that biblical material.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

some helpful points and concerns.

The pattern laid out in Judges 2 could possibly be construed as paradigmatic even in the absence of a formal sending narrative. So while we're not told in narrative formulaic terms "God raised up Deborah" we don't get that for Shamgar, who was mentioned mere verses before her.

We're told Deborah summoned Barak, which suggests no men were volunteering to fight for Israel so she had to pick someone. But Barak is not shown as having any prior fighting experience and isn't even as timid as Gideon is shown to be. Barak doesn't put out a fleece, he just says that he won't go unless the prophet is with him and she grants this request with the caveat that he'll get no glory for the victory. Barak, for his part, didn't seem to care. The land had peace for 40 years and there's no indication Barak did anything other than show up for the battle Deborah summoned him to.

Between Judges 2 and Judges 10 the paradigm is the emergence of judges until we get to chp 10 where God says He will no longer deliver Israel. Between those two points the exception isn't Deborah but the self-nominating would-be king Abimelech. The others could be construed as raised up by God's providence or by sending. It's Jephthah whom Israel conscripts into fighting and from Jepthah to Samson the judges are either conscripted or seem to be self-selected. Where Barak refused to go to battle unless Deborah joined him Jepthah refused battle unless he was offered rulership of Israel. It wasn't worth it to him to risk his life in combat if he was going to be ostracized again. Jephthah's vow could be construed (a la Webb's exegesis) as a canny attempt to bribe God in advance with the promise of a sacrifice.

Webb's commentary raised an interesting long-form narrative observation about how the further along Israel goes and the further from Torah observance they get the more brutally they treat women. The climactic crisis is the Levite with his concubine, and the Levite essentially fabricates the pretext for a civil war.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Making a case that Deborah was exceptional for not having a more direct divine commission seems like an argument made from ignorance of the text overall. But the point that not all the judges were directly sent by the Lord is well worth making. The case of Samson shows us that even when such a divine commissioning occurs it's no assurance the man chosen for the job ever wants to do it or does it in a suitable way. Samson was the judge who spent his whole life trying to live like a Phillistine until the day he decided to avenge himself against them.

On the whole, since my days at Mars Hill, I've been mainly unimpressed with Piper. Transforming disasters into opportunities to discuss how we all deserve such but not saying the same in the wake of terrorist attacks seems too obviously selective, for instance. I can't take complementarianism or egalitarianism seriously in American contexts. I've seen non-Americans make some interesting cases but the Americans are too entrenched and focused on things that don't seem sufficiently relevant.

One of the things egalitarians tend to ignore, and it's a point you've just raised, is that in the cases where women exert substantial influence they do so in many settings that are behind the scenes. Even in the case of Deborah, she is described as a prophet and a judge and the most cursory consideration of Deuteronomy 16-18 will let us know what an ad hoc and occasional role that was--it was still the responsibility of the priests to instruct the people and the elders to adjudicate simpler cases within the parameters of Mosaic case law.

It's worth noting this because after the Absalom incident Joab could reasonably believe he couldn't afford to contest David's inaction without risking political upheaval and turned to the woman from Tekoa as a way to broach a problem in leadership in a way that was acceptable. Similarly, the woman of the town negotiated with Joab in a way that ensured that neither side lost any honor.

On the whole I find I can't take American egalitarians and complementarians seriously at all because without addressing the practical socio-economic shifts of the last century it's not that useful to raise stakes by invoking Trinitarian formulations. Those "could" be brought up but telling guys they need to be the leaders after we've exported so much of our unskilled labor base overseas and ramped up the price of higher education seems like laying a burden on people, male or female.

Rather than telling men and women what their roles in marriage should be it might make more sense to tell men and women they've got no business being married for financial reasons. Since the most likely predictor of domestic violence is status inequality, particularly in income and education, men with more traditionalist views should be advised (if they aren't already) to avoid "marrying up" and women should avoid "marrying down". It's not some law, but it might be prudent. Piper's never going to live down "for a season". Conversely, once the conflation of prophecy with pastoral activity gets winnowed out a lot of the egalitarian case seems shakier. Even within a nation of priests as Israel was described as being in the Torah, the specialized formal priesthood was still male. While I get why Zwingli and Bullinger would have wanted to read the role of the pastor in more prophetic than priestly terms in the context of anti-Catholic polemics I'm not sure the long-term application of that concept within the American Christian scene has been necessarily accurate or wise.

Alistair said...

No, I am aware of the paradigmatic structure in Judges 2, so the argument is not based on ignorance of the text. My comment was that the lack of an explicit call in Judges 4 was a difference among the longer narratives. Shagmar doesn't really qualify.

I would not consider the lack of an explicit "raising up" text enough if that were the only difference. However, as the only female in a line of male judges, Deborah most certainly is an exception and it would be ridiculous not to look further into the passage just because Abimelech, as an anti-judge, is an exception as well, even if the differences for Abimelech are more stark.

When we do look a little further into the narrative, Deborah's lack of explicit "raising up" becomes significant because we see there is a "raising up" narrative - but not of Deborah.

Recall that delivering Israel meant military deliverance. Initially, Deborah was not going to be involved in war. Deborah was to play an important part, but she was not the one who was to deliver Israel. Who was? Barak. Barak received a call through Deborah - and like other many others he resisted the call.

So, the question is, why does Deborah call Barak to be the deliverer? Judges 2 tells us that Judges were raised up to deliver Israel, and yet even in Hebrews 11:32 it seems that Barak is considered the deliverer. What is different in this situation? The most obvious difference is gender. There doesn't seem to be any sour grapes on Deborah's part. Instead she rebukes Barak when he refuses to go without her, and tells him that Sisera will be given into the hands of "a woman". This is another indication that gender is at play here.

So this narrative is indeed an exception within the book of Judges. The one judging (Deborah) was not the one called to deliver. The accumulated evidence seems to suggest that gender was the reason for it. From there it is not wrong, though certainly entering the speculative realm, to wonder why Deborah was judging Israel, the only woman recorded to do so. Taking Isaiah 3 into account (esp. v12), it is not unreasonable to suggest that Barak's unwillingness to go alone was indicative of a general lack of willingness among men to take up the job of judging. Again, speculative, but not unreasonable, and certainly not putting any blame onto the godly Deborah.

But you suggest that Gideon was worse than Barak? Ok. I'm not sure it matters.

You also say Webb suggests the further Israel gets from obeying the Torah, the worse they treat women. I have heard that before a number of times (from complementarian preachers! Not American, though). Would it not be possible to look at the narrative of Deborah and Barak as an early stage of gender problems? Again, not necessary, but possible.

What I'm saying to you is that I don't believe you can merely say, "Nowhere in Judges does it indicate there is a problem with Deborah being a judge", and ignore the textual clues within the narrative. The very fact that Deborah the Judge is not initially going out to war, contra Judges 2:16 which indicates that judges deliver militarily as well as judge, needs to be considered.

As for the rest, your comments about the context in the US suggest strongly to me that you are reacting against as well as reasoning through. I love your insights and thoughts, but I'm conscious, living in the Antipodes, that even some of your conclusions reflect American values that I don't share. One thing that stands out in many discussions is the (seemingly American) assumption that applications are rule-based rather than wisdom-based. Therefore, for many people, unbiblical application disproves biblical teaching. Hence, biblical teaching is reduced to the bare minimum (read - complementarianism in church and home alone) so that the application cannot be criticised.

Just an observation. Again, love reading your thoughts.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Even fairly conservative scholars at this point concede the probably composite nature of the book of Judges. The paradigm of chapter 2 talks about God raising up judges to deliver Israel from enemies is a rule of thumb, and if we apply it too strictly then a large number of those described in the book get ignored without warrant.

If Shagmar "doesn't qualify" I think that's a case that he's being ignored. I think that there's a pretty observable distinction between those judges who played a judicial role. Deuteronomy 17:8-13 spells out that the role of the judge would be judicial and that judges were to be appointed from among the existing elders. So an angle we could consider that hasn't come up is that Israel may not have raised up those judges as they should have, which might be why God had to raise them up. I've been saying this for a while here, that Deuteronomy 16-18 seems to be undersold as a relevant textual background, and it's almost as if even conservative Christians JEDP it as if it couldn't apply to other elements of biblical interpretation.

The judicial/military distinction in Judges is important. I've been trying to make a case that these two roles were not necessarily fixed. Those who were described as judges who were primarily known as military leaders. Deborah's case would confirm that while she was regarded as the one to whom judicial concerns could be made she appointed Barak because nobody expected a woman to lead in battle, not even the judge herself. While Samuel served as priest and judge and was also a prophet, when the time came for military deliverance that role ended up given to the king.

Actually I would say Gideon started off worse than Barak in terms of timidity and became worse than Barak in his later career as he began to use his role as divinely sent military leader to not just protect Israel but to settle old blood feuds. It was also in Gideon's time that idolatry was permitted and promoted by a judge so, yes, it actually matters a great deal (I think) to suggest that Gideon was worse than Barak in a few ways.

One of the challenges of interpreting Judges is that several of them are retroactively mentioned in the Hebrews 11 "hall of faith" when the text of Judges itself presents them in a predominantly damning light. Jepthah's most famous act was sacrificing his daughter (and, no, I don't think Roberts' suggestion that J. didn't really do it holds up from what I've seen of the Hebrew, and Steve Hays and I have traded emails discussing whether that interpretive avenue was ever possible to begin with).

It's a great observation about how Americans on the egal and comp side are fixated on rules rather than considering whether something is wise or not. :) That sums up my problem with the American approaches very well! I have been working my way toward a conclusion that when it came to the judges Israel was expected to know who was wise enough to adjudicate cases and appoint them and that if we ignore this we'll ignore the role that the people had. This circles back to what you were saying earlier about the failure of men in the book of Judges, and of the priesthood (which becomes more explicit later in the book).