Gibeah Genocide

The last 3 chapters in the Book of Judges tell the story of the genocide of the Benjamin. Those chapters explain a unique tribal injury that marks the tribe, both across the rest of the Bible and eventually into modern Israel.

Formation Of Israel

As I previously explained in the Seal Date article, the lost tribe of Benjamin became the modern nation of Israel.

Perhaps the most defining feature of Israel, and thus the Lost Tribe of Benjamin, is that it was populated with refugees from Europe soon after World War II. The defining feature of at war, which formed their own national founding narrative, is the story of the Holocaust.

This modern story has an ancient version that also deals with the tribe of Benjamin. Modern history was essentially a repeat of the ancient story. That story was also a Holocaust, and it reduced the tribe of Benjamin to only 600 fighting men, with no remaining women nor children.

The Lost Tribe of Benjamin is thus the tribal identity of the people known today as Jews. Understanding their distinctive features requires that the ancient Holocaust be well understood.

This is essentially a sign that follows Benjamin throughout history. To understand this story better, we must begin with this serious historical account.

That ancient story is told in the last 3 chapters of the Book of Judges.

Story Opens

The story begins at the top of Judges 19. Here is the account.

1In those days Israel had no king. Now a Levite who lived in a remote area in the hill country of Ephraim took a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. 2But she was unfaithful to him. She left him and went back to her father's house in Bethlehem, Judah. After she had been there four months, 3her husband went to her to persuade her to return. He had with him his servant and two donkeys. She took him into her father's house, and when her father saw him, he gladly welcomed him. 4His father-in-law, the girl's father, prevailed upon him to stay; so he remained with him three days, eating and drinking, and sleeping there. (Judges 19:1-4 NIV)

Ephraim is in the northern part of the country. Bethlehem is in the tribe of Judah, just south of modern day Jerusalem. For reference it helps to remember that residents of Bethlehem still walk to Temple Mount in Jerusalem for weekly worship. They are not very far apart.

Departing Bethlehem

There are several days of delay as the woman's father delays their departure north back to Ephraim. Eventually the 3 of them do leave. They head north past Jebus, the original name for Jerusalem. That city was not part of Israel at this time. It had not been since the days of Joshua son of Nun. We pick up the story at verse 9.

9Then when the man, with his concubine and his servant, got up to leave, his father-in-law, the girl's father, said, "Now look, it's almost evening. Spend the night here; the day is nearly over. Stay and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow morning you can get up and be on your way home." 10But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. 11When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, "Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night." (Judges 19:9-11 NIV)

It is late, of course, but the Levite does not want to spend the night in what is essentially a foreign city. Importantly, the Jebusites were never dislodged when the land was originally conquered. See (Judg 15:63) That Judges reference puts this city in Judah, but it likely sits near the border with Benjamin.

As the quote above suggests, Jebus was later renamed Jerusalem. It was the capital of the unified kingdom and later of the southern kingdom. That city probably never lost its Jebusite residents nor heritage, but that is a story for another time.

Staying At Gibeah

So this group of travelers instead decide to go to Gibeah, which was nearby. This was within the tribal lands of Benjamin.

12His master replied, "No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah." 13He added, "Come, let's try to reach Gibeah or Ramah and spend the night in one of those places." 14So they went on, and the sun set as they neared Gibeah in Benjamin. 15There they stopped to spend the night. They went and sat in the city square, but no one took them into his home for the night. (Judges 19:12-15 NIV)

Since the days when Abraham sent a servant to fetch a wife for his son Isaac, the text has used hosting visitors as the setup for various important stories.

In this case, this story is hinting at the story of Lot in Sodom.

Ephraimite Invite

Apparently after an uncomfortable amount of time, they were invited to stay at someone's house. This was an old man. An Ephraimite himself. He had been working the fields. He had a stern warning about staying in the square. It would be asking for trouble, another hint of Sodom.

20"You are welcome at my house," the old man said. "Let me supply whatever you need. Only don't spend the night in the square." 21So he took him into his house and fed his donkeys. After they had washed their feet, they had something to eat and drink. (Judges 19:20-21 NIV)

At this point all seems well. They have had some food, a place to sleep and are inside the house walls in relative safety.

A Crowd Comes

Then the story goes bad.

22While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, "Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him." (Judges 19:22 NIV)

Now the story is essentially quoting the story of Lot in Sodom. The patterns of predatory behavior are the same. A crowd is banging on the door and wants sex with the man who is an out of town visitor. Anyone reading the story to this point should recognize the setup for the story of Lot is the same as here. Readers should expect a similar outcome, which is soon to happen.

Concubine Instead

The man hosting the guests offers his own daughter. They refuse. So the man sends his concubine instead.

25But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. (Judges 19:25-26 NIV)

Though it does not say so, the implication here is that she is found dead at the door.

Justice

The man wants justice for her death, but cannot do anything about it alone in a town like this. He takes the woman's body back with him back to Ephraim and then sets about calling up an army to return later and eliminate the entirety of Gibeah.

They will gather, along with a standing army of 400,000. Here is the account.

1Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the LORD in Mizpah. 2The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand soldiers armed with swords. 3(The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, "Tell us how this awful thing happened." (Judges 20:1-3 NIV)

At this point the entire army is assembled and angry over what has happened.

Request of Benjamin

That larger army wants justice, and asks Benjamin to deliver the people involved. This is very similar to modern justice systems.

12The tribes of Israel sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, "What about this awful crime that was committed among you? 13Now surrender those wicked men of Gibeah so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel." But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. 14From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. (Judges 20:12-14 NIV)

By refusing, the stage is set for civil war. There are many verses of the details of that war. It does not go quickly, and there is major loss of life on both sides. But eventually, Benjamin looses, and in a very big way.

Loss Of Benjamin

The bottom of the chapter describes the final stage of Benjamin.

47But six hundred men turned and fled into the desert to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed four months. (Judges 20:47 NIV)

600 fighting men are left hiding in the desert at the rock of Rimmon. The Israelite army has destroyed everything else, including wives and children.

Need To Recover

It dawned on Israelites who had survived the war that they had a problem. One of their own tribes was now mostly gone. Here is how the text describes the problem.

2The people went to Bethel, where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. 3"O LORD, the God of Israel," they cried, "why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?" (Judges 21:2-3 NIV)

I should note that after the end of Solomon's reign the kingdom would split into 2 halves. The northern half appears to have dropped 2 months from their calendar year to reflect the loss of 2 tribes. This is evidenced by the calendar their refugees were using upon arrival in Rome.

So the loss of a tribe was woven into their identity. It was woven into their history of coming out of Egypt.

Rebuilding Benjamin

The chapter continues and explains how they went about finding 600 women to become wives for those 600 fighters who remained. This is done in 2 waves.

10So the assembly sent twelve thousand fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. 11"This is what you are to do," they said. "Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin." 12They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan. (Judges 21:10-12 NIV)

200 more would come when the Benjamin fighters were told to steal wives for themselves.

20So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, "Go and hide in the vineyards 21and watch. When the girls of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, then rush from the vineyards and each of you seize a wife from the girls of Shiloh and go to the land of Benjamin. (Judges 21:20-21 NIV)

With this, the remaining men of Benjamin now had wives and they could have families and regrow their numbers.

But, this reconstituted tribe of Benjamin would leave behind personal scars in the lives of all involved. Those scars would become the tell-tale markers of Benjamin going forward across history.

Benjamin Patterns

Let me suggest how the Gibeah genocide permanently changed the nature of the tribe of Benjamin. These become patterns of behavior even to our day.

The tribe was protecting a town within their territory that had patterns we first know from Lot's day at Sodom and Gomorrah. The predatory nature of the men of Gibeah is still allowed in many places where Benjamin still rules. Tel Aviv, New York City, and Washington DC are but 3 modern examples.

Revenge

Both the men and the women who were part of this Benjamin reboot were survivors of violence committed against them all. The man had lost everything in the war. The 400 women were also sole survivors of their town. The other 200 women where similar.

This sets in place a persistent pattern of killing and revenge that follows this tribe into the future, even to our modern day. Think King Saul, from Benjamin, chasing David. Think young Apostle Paul killing the early converts. Think Gaza in October 2023.

Jebusite

This story takes place near the Jebusite city of Jebus. That town was to become known later as Jerusalem. Other stories across the Book of Judges seem to suggest foreign influence pulled the people away from Moses and the systems set up at the Exodus. Jebus appears to be the source of trouble for Gibeah and thus Benjamin.

Benjamin patterns in this Judges story should be considered a merger with the Jebusites of Jerusalem. This idea is reflected later, consider the following quote:

34"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Luke 13:34 NIV)

The nature of the city of Jerusalem seems to be the same in NT times as was seeded in the last 3 chapters of Judges.

Mothers

Members of the Jewish community trace membership in that community through their mothers. This modern pattern is unusual, and likely springs from the 600 wives of these 600 fighters. They became the starting gene pool for Benjamin. Someone born to that pool was part of the tribe going forward. Proper genealogical records would thus also mark this tribe.

Coping With Benjamin

This story also shows the problem of the other tribes. How else should they have coped with this problem?

The Jebusite city named in this story was not expelled at the original conquest. This is a lesson in how not to cope. Lot was expelled in his day, because he was outnumbered.

Once the entire army was assembled at Gibeah, expulsion may have been a better answer. By some estimates Jews have been expelled from their host nations over 1000 times across history. The text hints that this is a better strategy than genocide.

Substitution

The seal date for Benjamin is unusual in that it was matched to a document signed between modern Israel and Egypt. The other tribes are more commonly within themselves.

This document suggests the tribe of Benjamin is eventually populated by some process that includes all or parts of the Arab world. The story of Benjamin taking wives as per Judges provides a base pattern which suggests the same in future history.

Final Thoughts

This story in the last 3 chapters of Judges provides a succinct set of stories that inform the Lost Tribe of Benjamin. Each of the points above can been seen in Benjamin even to this day.