Sealed with a virgin : reconciliation through the exchange of women in Judges 21

Case, Megan Lindsey
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A common analysis of the Book of Judges argues that the progressive disintegration of moral values in the latter half of the book mirrors the societal breakdown of kinship ties. In the appendices (Judg 17-21) this disintegration of tribal society apparently reaches its apex, thus anticipating the formation of the monarchy in First Samuel. I argue, however, that the traffic of women in Judg 21 mediates the conflict between Benjamin and the rest of the tribes to create a peaceful resolution through the reestablishment of kinship loyalties. Rather than a chaotic ending which illustrates the need for a king, the tribes are reconciled through this exchange of women. In making this argument, I use Marcel Mauss's concept of gift exchange, its development in the anthropological kinship theories of Claude Lévi-Strauss, later critiques of Lévi-Strauss by other anthropologists and feminist scholars, such as Gayle Rubin, as well as anthropological theories concerned with the kidnapping of wives. I apply these theories to the final story of Judges (chs. 19-21), especially to the resolution of that story in ch. 21. I also consider the developmental stages of the appendices to Judges. Specifically, I suggest that the monarchic refrain (Judg 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25) was added during the latest stages of development to frame the final two stories and to emphasize the need for a strong central government -- the monarchy. Only with this added refrain does the reconciliation of the warring tribes through the traffic of women appear insufficient.