A Metaphorical Etiology in Judges 18:12

Uwe F. W. Bauer


At first glance, the names of the localities in Judg 18:12
do not seem to fit the framework of chapter 18. Traditionally, v.12 (in
particular 12ba) is therefore labelled as an etiological note which was added
later. P. J. van Dijk has made it clear, however, that texts viewed as
etiological often do not explain or legitimize any phenomena, but -as rhetorical
devices -lend credibility to stories. However, the fact that a place named
Mahaneh-dan is unknown to us argues against both the classical-etiological
understanding of v.12 and that of van Dijk. A solution to the problem begins
with the geographical location and the theological meaning of the city of
Kiriath-jearim. Geographically, Kiriath-jearim is in Judah, on the boundary of
the Northern Kingdom; theologically the city may be associated with the ark of
the covenant, and thereby with the Torah of YHWH. That the Danites are encamped
at or beyond of Kiriath-jearim, shows from a Judean perspective that they
distance themselves from Judah and the Torah of YHWH. Their way -leading
diagonally from the Southwest to the Northeast through the Northern Kingdom, and
therefore representing pars pro toto the conduct of life for all of the Northern
tribes -is a way of brutal force and uninhibited serving of idols. Because the
location of the encampment of the Danites is called Mahaneh-dan, "Dan's Camp",
the Danites are characterized as anti-Yahwist desperados. Judg 18:12 is neither
a classical etiology nor a rhetorical device, but a metaphorical etiology, i.e.
a verse governed by its context in such a way, that it signifies something other
than what it appears to signify.

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