Shamgar Son of Anat and Israel’s Age of Heroes

Few biblical characters are as obscure as Shamgar ben Anat. To be sure, there are many names that appear just once or twice in the genealogies, but Shamgar is a character whose actions distinguish him within the biblical narrative, and not just a forgotten name on a list. Although he is mentioned in only two verses, he is supposedly one of the judges of Israel who was remembered for a mighty feat in battle. However, I knew practically nothing about him beside the name before I set about writing this article, and I chose him as an experiment to find out how much biblical studies could tell me about such a marginal character. 

If you don’t remember exactly who Shamgar is, the primary mention of him is found in Judges 3. After telling the stories of Othniel and Ehud, two judges who delivered Israel from oppression under the kings of Mesopotamia and Moab, respectively, the chapter’s final verse (v. 31) reads:

After him [Ehud] came Shamgar son of Anat, who killed six hundred of the Philistines with an ox-goad. He too delivered Israel.

The verse feels out of place, for the next chapter uses Ehud’s death again as the segue to the story of Deborah and Barak. However, in chapter five, Shamgar pops up again — this time, as a chronological marker in the Song of Deborah:

In the days of Shamgar son of Anat,
in the days of Jael, caravans ceased
and travelers kept to the byways. (v. 6)

And that’s it. Figuring out how exactly Shamgar is supposed to fit into the biblical narrative of Israel’s past — whether historical or not — has been a challenge for scholars.

Shamgar, Speculum Darmstadt 2505 31r, c. 1360

Some Background on the So-called Judges

Although the text does not explicitly say that Shamgar judged Israel, it is generally assumed that he was inserted into the narrative here — whether by the original author or by a redactor — in order to be counted among the judges of Israel, alongside Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, and so on. In order to understand what that means, exactly, we need to take a closer look at these characters known as “judges” and the book that takes its name from them.

The book of Judges is a collection of stories about Israel following its entrance into the Promised Land under Joshua, filling in the chronological gap between the exodus and the monarchy. In terms of format, the book contains an “artificially structured…series of episodes that follow a common pattern: Israel sins, is punished by being made a subject of a foreign people, cries to Yhwh, has a deliverer sent who leads them in throwing off the foreign yoke – following a 40/80-year cycle.” (Grabbe 43) These deliverers are said, in most cases, to have “judged” Israel. Typically, one is taught in Sunday school that these judges were a series of men who ruled or administered all of Israel before Saul was anointed as the country’s first king, but that’s not exactly true.

The Hebrew word shofet, translated as “judge” in English Bibles, means what it sounds like: someone who is a judge in the judicial, legal sense (Grabbe 23), who upholds law and order in the community (Baker, p. 43). The problem is that the title doesn’t fit: unlike the judges appointed by Moses in Exodus, and Samuel as depicted in 1 Samuel, none of the characters in Judges actually performs the duties of a judge! As Robin Baker observes, “…None of the major or minor ‘judges’ delivers a recorded judgment, nor, with the arguable exception of Deborah, is presented in the process of judging.” (Op. Cit.) Martin Noth also wrote: “there is no demonstrable or even plausible meaning for the word ‘judge’ which could apply to these heroes as we know them.” (Noth, Deuteronomistic History, p. 43, quoted in Baker 45) Instead, these characters seem to be legendary war heroes whose exploits often come at the opportune time to deliver Israel from its enemies. Some of them are presented as political leaders as well (such as Gideon and Abimelech), while others are nothing of the kind (e.g. Samson).

So by identifying Shamgar as one of the so-called judges, we recognize that he is not an actual judge or a leader of Israel, but a legendary hero of battle. That’s not a lot, but it’s a start.

The Illusory Period of the Judges

We also run into problems when trying to situate Shamgar and the other judges chronologically. When, exactly, was the “period of the judges”? Traditionally, the narrative was taken more-or-less at face value, with the events of Judges placed in the Bronze Age following the exodus from Egypt. That framework is no longer tenable, as mainstream historians and archaeologists no longer think the Israelites were ever enslaved in Egypt or migrated en masse to Palestine and conquered the Canaanites. The Israelites simply were Canaanites.

Historians also know quite a bit about conditions in Bronze Age Palestine thanks to the Amarna Letters, a fourteenth-century Egyptian archive that includes numerous letters from various local rulers in Palestine, among them ‘Abdi-Heba, king of Jerusalem. The situation these letters describe does not resemble anything we find in Joshua or Judges (Grabbe 38), and Canaan was under Egyptian governance during that period.

The Merenptah Stela provides the earliest known historical reference to Israel near the end of the Bronze Age (c. 1207). The inscription lists Israel (indicated by the hieroglyphs as a tribe rather than a nation) among the peoples defeated by the pharaoh Merenptah. This too challenges traditional biblical interpretation. Old Testament scholar Lester Grabbe observes that the inscription “provides no evidence for any sojourn in Egypt for those identified in the text as Israel. The ‘Israel’ mentioned there seems to be a people not yet settled, while the country is firmly under Egyptian control. The inscription does not presuppose an Israel anything like that depicted in Joshua or Judges.” (Ibid. 36) And even just sticking with the biblical narrative, the period described in Judges covers far too long a time to fit between the exodus and the events of Samuel-Kings if you add up the reigns of the judges and the periods of oppression in between them. Simply put, there is no period of actual history that correlates to the period of the judges.¹ 

OT scholar Philippe Guillaume has recently proposed that the book of Judges and the period it depicts was a Hellenistic invention, written in Alexandria and post-dating most of the Old Testament. Among the evidence he marshals is the fact that only late extra-biblical texts (e.g. Ben Sira) and Ruth, one of the last OT books to be written, show clear knowledge of a pre-monarchic period of the Judges. The other books of the OT, including the various historical Psalms, are not aware of this era in Israel’s history, nor of most of the heroes mentioned in Judges (Gideon, Samson, etc.). There are references to judges in Samuel and Kings, but these seem to refer to the time of Eli, Samuel, and his sons whom he appointed as judges (1 Samuel 8:1). (Guillaume 146ff) Samaritan traditions, such as those in the Samaritan book of Joshua, also include no period of judges. (Hjelm 194)

Another recent proponent of late authorship is Sergei Frolov, who, in an article at, provides linguistic and historical evidence for the Song of Deborah in Judges 5 — often considered the oldest passage in the Bible — actually being a late, even Hellenistic, composition.

According to Guillaume, the period of the judges should be understood as a Jewish analogue to the Age of Heroes popularized by the Greek writer Hesiod (c. 700 BCE), who wrote of an age of great heroes and demigods sandwiched between the remote past and recent human history. Several stories in Judges seem to echo Greek tales from that mythical period², and the slaughter of Benjamin in Judges 20 marks the end of that age just as Troy did for the Greeks (Guillaume 163). The idea of authorship in the Hellenistic period will surprise some, but regular readers may recall the clear Greek influence that may be found in other OT passages, including the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and David and Goliath.

Approaching the Bible in light of Greek historiography also gives the stories of Shamgar and the other judges a new perspective to consider.

Othniel by James Tissot, 19th century
Jewish Museum, New York City

Heroes and Demigods

Let’s take another look at Judges 3:31. From it we learn the following: (1) Shamgar is called the son of Anat. (2) Shamgar’s enemy was the Philistines. (3) Shamgar single-handedly killed an extraordinary number of combatants in a great feat of combat. (4) Shamgar used an unorthodox weapon — an ox-goad.

The first item is significant. Although attempts to tie Shamgar to place names containing “Anat” have been made, most scholars agree that the goddess Anat herself is intended here. References to her are rare in the Bible, but as we now know from Egyptian papyri, Anat (the Queen of Heaven) was one of the main deities venerated by the ancient Israelites and Judahites before orthodox monotheism was imposed. Some propose that because Anat was a warrior goddess, “son of Anat” could be a military or mercenary title. The discovery of several early Iron Age arrowheads with “son of Anat” inscribed on them might support this view (Shupak 518; Day 133ff). However, the use of a farming implement in battle suggests something other than a professional soldier (Snyman 127). Others suggest that he is called “son of Anat” precisely because he was originally considered to be a demigod, the offspring or descendant of the goddess herself — even if the biblical author did not have this intention and simply used the name known to him. Van Selms wrote, in an oft-cited paper on Shamgar:

In all texts where the name ‘Anat occurs, Egyptian, Ugaritic or Aramaic, it refers to the great goddess. Even the place-names in the Old Testament are to be explained as originally denoting sanctuaries of this deity. …Let us assume that the general rule also applies in this case, and therefore that Shamgar is indeed the son of the goddess ‘Anat. (p. 302)

 (For more discussion, see Van Selms 302 and Lemardelé [2005] 274). Classicist Bruce Louden argues that this is exactly what is meant, noting that some of the heroes who fought at Troy were also the sons of gods (Louden 168). Memnon, the son of the goddess Eos and human prince Tithonus of Troy, is perhaps a relevant example. And Anat, being a war goddess to the Egyptians, is a suitable deity to be associated with a war hero. Furthermore, we know from papyrological finds that the Israelites were among the nations who venerated Anat (see my previous article on this topic).

Greek myths of semi-divine heroes bring to mind the gibborim — the Hebrew Bible’s term for “warriors of old, men of renown”, who in at least one instance (Genesis 6), were also the offspring of divine beings and human women. This ties into the Age of Heroes myth, because the story in Genesis 6:1-4 is remarkably similar to the story told by Hesiod in his Catalogue of Women, which explains how the mating of gods and human woman prompted Zeus to instigate the Trojan War, ending of the Heroic Age and destroying the demigods (see Hendel 19-20 for discussion and references).

 In the Bible, the gibborim are also associated with Nephilim and other races who are mighty in warfare and in stature — that is to say, “giants”. We’ll come back to this idea.

Aeneas fleeing from Troy by Pompeo Batoni, 1753

Shamgar, Samson, and the Sun God

It is generally recognized that “Shamgar” is not a Hebrew name. Most commentators believe it is a theophoric Hurrian name, meaning “Shimige has given”. Shimige was the Hurrian sun-god whose veneration extended beyond Anatolia to the Phoenician coast and Western Syria, and the Hurrian name Shimigar is well-attested (DDD, “Shimige”). The possibility then arises that Shamgar was a semi-divine hero of Hurrian legend who was borrowed into Israelite folklore (Lemardelé [2016] 65).

Furthermore, there is another, more well-known hero in Judges associated with the sun: Samson (Hebrew: Shimshon), whose name is a reference to Shemesh, the Canaanite sun god, and whose activities take place in the vicinity of Beit Shemesh, “House of the Sun”.

Solar symbolism is not all Shamgar has in common with Samson. Consider the following passage:

When [Samson] came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of Yahweh rushed on him…. Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men. (Judges 15:14-15)

The obvious parallels between this passage and the Shamgar passage include the names of their respective heroes, the Philistines as a common enemy, the extraordinary number of men killed, and the use of a makeshift weapon — a farmer’s ox-goad for Shamgar, a donkey jawbone for Samson. It’s beginning to look like Shamgar and Samson are two versions of the same legendary hero. The only significant aspect of Shamgar’s identity missing from Samson is the divine parentage. Or is it?

Samson’s Parentage

Since our investigation of Shamgar has led us to Samson, we need to examine his origin story in more detail. In Judges 13, the barren wife of Manoah the Danite has two encounters alone with the angel of Yahweh, whom she thinks is simply a man at first.

The woman came and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name…” (Judges 13:6)

And the angel of God came to the woman again. She was sitting in the field and her husband Manoah was not with her. (Judges 13:9)

The angel tells her she is pregnant and will have a son, and gives special instructions regarding the boy’s upbringing. Sure enough, all happens as the angel predicted.

Many scholars believe there is a subtext of divine involvement in the birth: namely that the child is the offspring of the angel, or even of Yahweh himself. Zakovitch and Shinan, in their well-known book on the suppression of mythological themes in the Bible, write (with text in brackets being my own clarification): 

Both the use of the root b-w-’ [meaning come, which can refer to sex in Hebrew] and the simultaneous insistence that nothing sexual occurred between the angel and the woman appear to be directed at combating the view—or, really, the mythical tradition—according to which a creature not of this world, a divine being, had sexual relations with Manoah’s wife: he “came” to her, and from this union was Samson born. (p. 190)

It becomes clear that the story of Samson’s birth, as formulated in the book of Judges, was aimed at uprooting an ancient tradition that told how Samson was the son of a divine being and human woman, a tradition like that of the sons of god and daughters of men [in Genesis]…. (p. 194)

The venerable scholar Thomas L. Thompson notes in his famous book The Mythic Past:

The implications of the woman’s ambiguous ‘a man of God’ are exposed through her contrasting doubts about a ‘divine messenger’. What did the husband hear? A man who his wife thought ‘was like a messenger of God’ visited her, and from this meeting she is expecting a child. Only the fact that the narrator’s audience was also at the scene protects Manoah from a cuckold’s horns. (p. 342)

Adele Reinhartz observes: “There is no positive indication in Judges 13 that Samson is the natural son of Manoah. He is never referred to as such, nor is there any indication that the birth of Samson was preceded by sexual intercourse between Manoah and his wife.” (Reinhartz 166; quoted in Kozlovic 4)

Thus, if we entertain the thesis of Zakovitch and Shinan, the biblical author may be adapting a legend in which Samson is indeed the offspring of a god. He does what he can to hide this fact without completely altering the story, but various clues remain behind.

The Sacrifice of Manoah by Eustache Le Sueur, 1640-1650

Shammah and the Plot of Lentils

There is yet another biblical character whose story closely resembles those of Shamgar and Samson: Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. He was one of David’s gibborim—his war champions—who single-handedly defeated the Philistines in strikingly similar fashion to that of Shamgar and Samson:

Next to him was Shammah son of Agee, the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils. Now the army had fled from the Philistines, but he took his stand in the middle of the plot, defended it, and killed the Philistines; and Yahweh brought about a great victory. (2 Samuel 23:11–12)

Note that this battle is especially similar to Samson’s feat, including the location at Lehi, an otherwise obscure place. Either Shammah and Samson (Shimshon) are based on the same legend, or details have been borrowed from one to the other.

The malleability of biblical legend is evident in the way the Chronicler reassigns Shammah’s feat to Eleazar and David, substituting Lehi with Pas-dammim and the plot of lentils with a plot of barley:

And next to him among the three warriors was Eleazar son of Dodo, the Ahohite. He was with David at Pas-dammim when the Philistines were gathered there for battle. There was a plot of ground full of barley. Now the people had fled from the Philistines, but he and David took their stand in the middle of the plot, defended it, and killed the Philistines; and Yahweh saved them by a great victory. (1 Chronicles 11:12-14)

Regular readers may also recall how the defeat of the giant Goliath by the champion Elhanan (2 Sam. 21:19) was reattributed to David by a later author. Similarly, Shammah is downgraded in the more familiar Goliath story to become one of David’s brothers (1 Sam. 16:9), a mere bystander in the battle against the Philistines and the giant Goliath. Biblical legends shift like quicksand.

Samson Slays 1,000 Philistines, from Die Bibel in Bildern, von Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1853

Giants in the Land

In Genesis 6, the gibborim (warriors of old) born from the mating of gods and women are also understood to be giants, the Nephilim.³ The Nephilim and other giant races (Anakim, Rephaim, Zamzummim, and Emim)⁴ occasionally appear elsewhere in the Deuteronomic History, with no regard for the flood that is supposed to have wiped them out. If the Genesis 6 story reflects general Hebrew ideas about the origins of ancient heroes with great strength and stature, then those ideas probably apply to giants where they appear elsewhere. The term “Rephaim” in particular is closely connected with divine beings, being used not only to describe the Philistine giants (“sons of Rapha”) and mythical king Og of Bashan, but also certain inhabitants of the underworld (Psalm 88:11) who, according to pre-biblical Ugaritic texts, were chthonic deities (see Wyatt 590). Incidentally, in the same Ugaritic texts, these Rephaim were ruled by none other than Shapash (Shemesh), the sun goddess.⁵ 

Shammah’s enemy, the Philistines, included giants according to Samuel and Chronicles, and David’s chief warriors, among whom Shammah was counted, are described as slaying several of these giants. Although it is an army of Philistines rather than a giant that Shammah defeats in 2 Sam 23, the son of David’s brother Shammah/Shimei slays one in 2 Sam 21:20, and it is possible that both individuals are variations of the same legendary hero, as I suggested above.

While giants are not specifically mentioned in Judges, it is widely recognized that Samson himself is portrayed as a giant. In a recent journal article, Christophe Lemardelé remarks (translation mine):

Now, that Samson was a giant in a tale older than its later form in Judges 13-16 is not in doubt. Indeed, all of his exploits and, most of all, the one in which he carried the gates of the city of Gaza to the mountain across from Hebron (16,3), reveal just such a figure. Even though the hero was updated to illustrate a ritual involving young men and was “shrunk” to make him a judge in one view of the historical reconstruction of “Israel” (14,20 and 16,31), the character retains the traits of a giant that inspire fear (14,11). (Lemardelé [2010] 171)

Thompson agrees, and links Samson’s superhuman stature and strength to his divine parentage:

Samson is a giant, like those born of the sons of God in Genesis 6, and Samson has divine strength. The story [of Samson’s birth] is a comic adventure of this figure of folklore, vigorously drawing on the amusement that the husband’s ignorance of divine intervention allows. (Op. cit. 342)

Is it possible Shamgar son of Anat was originally conceived of as a giant as well? Superhuman strength and size would go a long way in explaining how one could kill 600 men with a farming tool.

Comparing the Three Heroes

The following chart shows the most obvious points of similar between Shamgar, Samson, and Shammah. (Click to download the full PDF version.)

Shamgar, Samson and Shammah

Shamgar and Shammah seem to have more in common in Samson than with each other, suggesting that Samson’s story is the common link. Still, that doesn’t tell us which character (if any) was original, or which direction the influence runs. It’s possible that all three characters are variants of the same legend or archetype.

Samson Killing the Lion by Peter Paul Rubens, 1628

Additional Greek Connections

I have already addressed the theory that the period of the Judges was introduced as a Jewish equivalent to Hesiod’s Age of Heroes and the common occurrence in Greek mythology of heroes with divine parentage. There are other Greek themes and connections we can explore in connection with Shamgar, Samson and Shammah.

The Aristeia: In Greek historiography and the Iliad in particular, the term aristeia is used to describe a hero’s single greatest accomplishment “during which he, inspired by [a] god, slays a great number of the enemy,” often in order to deliver the hero’s people from danger (Louden 171). Louden, whose specialty is the Homeric epics, believes that many of the stories in Joshua and Judges are deliberately organized around such aristeias. The most common form of aristeia in the Greek literature is the duel, whereas the Bible more commonly features an exploit of one hero against many (with David and Goliath the notable exception). For example, the spirit of Yahweh comes upon Othniel who then defeats king Cushan-rishathaim (Judg 3:10); and upon Jephthah, who defeats the Ammonites (Judg 11:29-31).  The spirit of Yahweh also “rushes upon” Samson when he kills the lion (Judg 14:6), and again when he kills one thousand Philistines (Judg 15:14–15). Yahweh is credited for Shammah’s slaying of the Philistine army, implying direct involvement in Shammah’s feat. Similar parallels may be found in Jashobeam’s slaying of 800 at one time (2 Sam 23:8 / 1 Chr 11:11) and Abishai’s slaying of 300 at once (2 Sam 23:18). Shamgar’s feat seems to fit the same mold. Often, in an aristeia, the hero’s weapon is unique in some way. In most biblical examples, the hero’s weapon is also given special mention: Shamgar’s ox-goad (a spear-like weapon), Samson’s donkey jaw, Jashobeam’s and Abishai’s spears, David’s sling, and so on.

The Philistines: Depictions of the Philistines as inhabitants of Palestine in Genesis and Judges, including the tales of Shamgar and Samson, are anachronistic.⁶ The Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples — probably Myceneans from Cyprus, according to their pottery (Finkelberg 153) — who settled in the Palestinian coastlands at the close of the Bronze Age. Biblical authors are aware of their Mediterranean origins (naming Caphtor [Crete] as their homeland), but not of their arrival in Canaan, nor of Egyptian rule during that time. The biblical Philistine stories date to a much later time, when these memories had been lost (Finkelstein 133). How much later? Many scholars have noticed the Hellenistic, and especially Homeric, influences on the David and Goliath story, including the depiction of Goliath as a warrior with Greek hoplite weapons and armour, and the contest of champions motif (see Finkelstein 146 for references). Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, noting that other Philistine stories in the Bible also feature Greek mythology, remarks:

The Deuteronomistic Historian seems to have borrowed … from Greek legends and tales which were perhaps popular in Philistia. This may have been done intentionally in order to give the tales related to the Philistines a Greek air and thus symbolizes their Aegean origin. (Op. cit. 147)

The Legend of Heracles: It is well known that the Samson stories often show striking parallels to the legends of Heracles (Hercules), a hero from Greek mythology who was the offspring of a god and a human woman (Zeus and Alcmene). His first feat, one of the famous Twelve Labours, was to slay a lion bare-handed using his great strength, just as Samson’s first feat of strength is to kill a lion with his bare hands in Judges 14:5-6. The odd appearance of a beehive in Samson’s lion (v. 8) also seems to come from a Heraclean story in which a lion gives birth to bees (Wajdenbaum 225). Like Heracles, Samson was a great lover, and also like Heracles, Samson was captured by foreigners and then slew his captors during their own religious celebrations.

When (Heracles) came to Egypt, the Egyptians put on him wreaths and led him forth in procession to sacrifice him to Zeus; and he for some time kept quiet, but when they were beginning the sacrifice of him at the altar, he betook himself to prowess and slew them all. (Herodotus II, 45; see Apollodorus, Library 2, 5, 11) 

The miraculous spring from which Samson drank (Judges 15:18-19) has a parallel in the Heracles legend. Heracles’ twelve labours — a likely allusion to the zodiac — is echoed in Samson’s association with the sun. Heracles’ descent from Danaea recalls Samson’s descent from Dan. (Ibid. p. 226–229) Even the early Christians equated Samson with Heracles in catacomb art (DDD, “Heracles”, p. 404). If Samson is not directly based on Heracles, the two characters at least come from a shared cultural sphere that was heavily Greek-influenced.

Heracles and the Nemean Lion by Peter Paul Rubens


Based on our findings, we can put forward the following conclusions regarding Shamgar son of Anat:

  1. Shamgar was a legendary war hero, possibly with Hurrian roots, who was borrowed into Israelite tradition.
  2. The biblical author assigns Shamgar to Israel’s mythical age of heroes, the “period of the Judges,” that is analogous to, and possibly inspired by, Hesiod’s Heroic Age of ancient Greece.
  3. Like many of the Greek heroes, Shamgar seems to have been a demigod in an earlier stage of the legend. His mother is Anat, a goddess who was widely venerated by pre-monotheistic Jews and Israelites.
  4. Shamgar shares many distinctive attributes with two other biblical heroes: Samson and Shammah. All three could even be considered variations of the same character, although Samson’s story is the most developed and shows more Hellenistic influence.
  5. Shamgar and Samson appear to be unknown to the other historical writers of the Old Testament, and their stories may have been introduced into the biblical literature at a relatively late date, regardless of the age of the underlying legend.


  1. Biblical literalists who attempt to create chronologies of the period of the Judges inevitably resort to significant overlap, with multiple judges ruling concurrently. One does not get this impression from actually reading Judges, however.
  2. One notable example is the similarities between the migration of the Greek Danaids and biblical Dan.
  3. The equivalence of gibborim with Nephilim is clearer in the Septuagint. Ezekiel 32:27 also appears to confirm the interpretation that the Nephilim were mighty warriors of old.
  4. All these groups are related to each other according to Deut. 2:11 and Num. 13:33.
  5. In Near Eastern mythology, the sun goddess traverses the netherworld at night in order to arrive at the eastern horizon by morning, and is thus a logical candidate for ruling that domain.
  6. The association between Shamgar and the Philistines is problematic for another reason. Deborah and Barak’s war against Sisera in northern Palestine is said to take place in the days of Shamgar, yet the Philistines are clearly not the enemy in this context.


Lester L. Grabbe, “Late Bronze Age Palestine: If we had only the Bible…”, The Land of Canaan in the Late Bronze Age, 2016.

Robin Baker,  Hollow Men, Strange Women: Riddles, Codes and Otherness in the Book of Judges, 2016.

Philippe Guillaume, “Hesiod’s Heroic Age and the biblical Period of the Judges”, The Bible and Hellenism: Greek Influence on Jewish and Early Christian Literature, 2014.

Ingrid Hjelm, Jerusalem’s Rise to Sovereignty: Zion and Gerizim in Competition, 2004.

Nili Shupak, New Light on Shamgar ben ‛Anath, Biblica 70/4 (1989).

John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan, 2000.

Snyman, “Shamgar ben Anath: A Farming Warrior or a Farmer at War?”, VT 55/1, 2005.

A. Van Selms, “Judge Shamgar”, VT, 13/3, 1964.

Christopher Lemardelé, ‘Samson le nazir: un mythe du jeune guerrier’, Revue de l’histoire de religions, 3 (2005).

Bruce Louden, The Illiad: Structure, Myth, and Meaning, 2006.

Ronald S. Hendel, “Of Demigods and the Deluge”, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 106, No. 1 (Mar., 1987).

Christopher Lemardelé, “Note Concerning the Problem of Samson the Nazirite in the Biblical Studies”, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2016).

Yair Zakovitch and Avigdor Shinan, From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths and Legends, 2012.

Thomas L. Thompson, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, 1999.

Adele Reinhartz, Samson’s mother: An unnamed protagonist. In A. Brenner (Ed.), A feminist companion to Judges, 1993.

Anton Karl Kozlovic, “Constructing the Motherliness of Manoah’s Wife in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949)”, Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal, Winter 2006, Volume 4 Number 1.

Nick Wyatt, “À la recherche des Rephaïm perdus”, in The Archaeology of Myth, ed. Nick Wyatt, 2010.

Christophe Lemardelé, Une gigantomachie dans la Genèse ? Géants et héros dans les textes bibliques compilés, Revue de l’histoire des religions 2, 2010.

Finkelberg, Greeks and Pre-Greeks: Aegean Prehistory and Greek Heroic Tradition, 2005.

Israel Finkelstein, “The Philistines in the Bible: A Late-Monarchic Perspective”,  JSOT 27, 2002.

Philippe Wajdenbaum, Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible, 2011.

24 thoughts on “Shamgar Son of Anat and Israel’s Age of Heroes

  1. Could you clarify something early in article for me? I’m not entirely sure how “Israel-as-already-present-Canaanites” in the judge era fits with “Israel-as-not-yet-settled(-Canaanites[?])”. Are these different accountings of the formation of Israel/Israelite identity?

    Grateful for your time,
    Felix Zamora


    • The Israelites were Canaanites, but not all Canaanites were Israelites, if you get my meaning. The Canaanites were not an ethnic designation so much as a geographical one used by the Egyptians and other foreign empires. So while Joshua and Judges present Israel as having settled towns and cities across Palestine under a shared Israelite identity, a kingdom without a king, the reality is that “Israel” was still a small tribe that had not settled and formed a polity yet.


  2. …David’s brother Shammah/Shimei slays [a giant] in 2 Sam 21:20, and it is possible that both individuals are variations of the same legendary hero…

    The Bible versions that I consulted say in 21:21 that Jonathan–son of David’s brother Shimei–killed the giant.

    As various scholarly sources state, there are some texts–“a number of Greek and other recensions,” according to volume two of The Interpreter’s Bible, which place Judges 3:31 after 16:31, the conclusion of the Samson story. One theory is that the Shamgar mentioned in the Song of Deborah is a different person from the Shamgar of 3:31 (the S of D’s Shamgar doesn’t battle the Philistines and is associated with Jael), but because the S of D mentions Shamgar, the Philistine-killing Shamgar was moved to 3:31, so that it would precede the Song. Thoughts?


    • I got my notes crossed on Jonathan/Shimei. Correction made.

      Regarding the placement of the Shamgar text, commentators seem to go two ways with it:

      1. 3:31 is its original location, and some editors moved it to 16:31, to a point in the narrative where the Philistines are active, so that its reference to Philistines would make more sense.

      2. 16:31 is its original location, and some editors moved it to 3:31 thinking that Shamgar’s feat and judgeship should occur before the mention of Shamgar in the Song of Deborah.

      I tend toward (1) but have no strong opinion. In either case, it doesn’t affect the analysis of Shamgar and his context given here.


  3. I don’t think the Nephilim were demigods, I think the ‘Sons of the gods’, their fathers were. They were Gilgamesh like rulers of the line of Cain who committed polygamy. There is a lot of overlap (in my opinion) with Genesis 6:1-4 and Genesis 4:19-24.


  4. One of the things I find frustrating about the field of Old Testament scholarship is it seems most texts can be dated to multiple time periods depending on which evidence you are looking at.

    The article at was way too technical for me to follow with no knowledge of Hebrew. But for the Song of Deborah to be written during Hellenistic times the writer would have had to think Manasseh was called Machir, and was either unaware of Judah or thought they weren’t important. Perhaps the writer was Samaritan, but then how did it get accepted by Judeans?

    As for Judges as a whole, the theme of the book seems to boil down to “this is what happens when you don’t have a king”, which suits the monarchial period and perhaps the Persian period when there was still hope of the Davidic monarchy being reestablished.

    It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma, etc.


    • What I always keep in mind is a late author can deliberately introduce archaic elements into a text (archaic language, legends, names, etc.) and incorporate older material, but a genuinely early author cannot do the opposite. So you have to start with the latest elements in the text and work from there. Even if the Song of Deborah is Hellenistic, I tend to think its traditions, like the archaic tribal names and the stars leaving the sky to fight Sisera, are still some of the oldest in the Bible.


  5. It’s interesting that Codex Vaticanus LXX differs from Codex Alexandrinus at Judges 13:5,7; the latter says that the “angel of the Lord” told Mrs. Manoah “you shall become pregnant,” but the former says “you are pregnant,” after stating in v:3 that she was “barren” but would “conceive a son.”

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  6. And even just sticking with the biblical narrative, the period described in Judges covers far too long a time to fit between the exodus and the events of Samuel-Kings if you add up the reigns of the judges and the periods of oppression in between them.

    Did you happen to crunch the numbers when you researched for this article? I’m curious by how many years the period of the judges is off.

    1.Biblical literalists who attempt to create chronologies of the period of the Judges inevitably resort to significant overlap, with multiple judges ruling concurrently

    I’m interested in seeing someone try to resolve this issue. Can you point me to someone who tried?


    • If you add up all the time spans that are explicitly given, it comes to at least 410 years, and that’s not including Shamgar’s period of deliverance and other possible gaps in Judges. It also doesn’t include the time of Joshua prior to Othniel, nor the time of Eli and Samuel (the only period of judges known to the books of Samuel-Kings). I haven’t made a thorough examination for myself, but am going by lists published elsewhere.

      This is obviously difficult to reconcile with typical dates for the exodus and the reign of Saul, as well as the statement in 1 Kings 6:1 that Solomon’s fourth regnal year was 480 years after the exodus.

      You can see a literalist attempt at a chronology here. They have divided the chronology into several regional judgeships that all reign contemporary to each other (so the reigns of Abimelech/Tola/Jair, those of Jephthah and his successors, that of Samson, and those of Eli/Samuel all happen more or less concurrently).


  7. OT scholar Philippe Guillaume has recently proposed that the book of Judges and the period it depicts was a Hellenistic invention, written in Alexandria and post-dating most of the Old Testament.

    If you now think that Judges dates from the Hellenistic period, how does this impact your previous article about the tribes of Israel, In that article, you say, “The Song of Deborah in Judges 5, often considered the oldest text in the Old Testament, lists ten tribes: Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir, Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, Gilead, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali. Two of those — Machir and Gilead — are not among the usual twelve, though they do appear in other texts as clans, territories, or ancestors…It is remarkable that Mannaseh and Judah, which occupy the largest territories in other texts, are not even mentioned. It is likely that there was no Judah at this point.”

    Why would a Hellenistic writer omit Judah and Manasseh but include Machir and Gilead?


    • Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that. My tentative answer would be that despite the lateness of composition, Judges still contains some traditions that are very old or come from sources other than those responsible for the rest of the DH.


        • I don’t have a strong opinion until I do more research, but I think you can go a few ways:

          1. Genuinely old song used with minimal changes in a later composition.
          2. Genuinely old song rewritten for use in a later composition.
          3. New composition deliberately written to sound archaic and incorporating old traditions known to this author.


  8. I’ve been contemplating Judges 13:4 and its possible implications about when the Priestly author wrote. Mrs. Manoah is told to not “eat anything unclean,” as if it were an ad hoc command due to her bearing a special son, even though the laws regarding unclean meats were allegedly given for all Israelites at the time of Moses (Leviticus 11/Deuteronomy 14). The first occurrence of the word “unclean” is in Leviticus 5, also by P. (Genesis 7 doesn’t use the term “unclean”; rather, it refers to “animals that are not clean.”)


    • It seems to me there’s a lot of legerdemain going on there. I mean, he has Tola and Jair (to give one example of many) ruling simultaneously as judges in the West and East (1170-1150 using his dates), yet Judges 10:1-3 says:

      After Abimelech, Tola son of Puah son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, who lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim, rose to deliver Israel. He judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died, and was buried at Shamir. After him came Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years.

      I don’t know how you can read the biblical account to mean anything other than that Tola and Jair were sequential judges over the same Israel. Do such people actually take the Bible seriously or not? It’s hard to tell.

      For bonus points, note that Tola and Puah are both sons of Issachar in Genesis 46:13, and Jair is a son of Manasseh in Numbers 32, who founds the same city, Havvoth-jair, that the judge named Jair founds in Judges 10:4. Judges 10 is another example of the malleable way these folkloric characters can be transplanted into different stories and contexts.


  9. Genesis 46:13 is one to add to your NIV page, because the NIV deviates from the MT by changing Issachar’s third son from Iob/Job to Jashub, to harmonize this verse with Numbers 26:24 and 1 Chronicles 7:1.

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