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Gideon's sons... and Abimelech

Gideon had many sons:

Now Gideon had seventy sons who were his direct descendants, for he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. -Judges 8:30-31, NASB

Abimelech wasn't included in the same group as Gideon's seventy sons because he was born to his father's concubine (NCV "slave"), who lived in Shechem.

Abimelech's appeal

After the death of Gideon (a.k.a. Jerubbaal), Abimelech conspires to seize the kingdom from his father's seventy sons. He goes to the people of Shechem and appeals to them to follow him:

And Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives, and spoke to them and to the whole clan of the household of his mother’s father, saying, “Speak, now, in the hearing of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that seventy men, all the sons of Jerubbaal, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ Also, remember that I am your bone and your flesh.” -Judges 9:1-2

Note that:

  • Abimelech went to his mother's relatives (the people of Shechem)...

  • ...to the whole clan of the household of his mother's father...

  • and urged them to follow him and not Gideon's seventy sons, because he was their bone and their flesh.

My question

By this time, Shechem had been completely conquered by Israel and the city was presumably inhabited entirely by Israelites. (cf. Josh. 24:25) Here's what I don't understand:

  • If Shechem was an Israelite town full of Israelites, and his mother was one of the people of that town, part of that clan, a relative to that people, why would she, an Israelite, be a slave / concubine who was unfit to be considered one of Gideon's wives, and whose son was unfit to be numbered among his direct descendants?

  • If Abimelech's mother was not actually an Israelite, but some foreign slave / concubine, why would Abimelech specifically appeal to the Shechemites to follow him and not Gideon's seventy sons on the basis that he was their relative?

  • If the Shechemites were not Israelites, how is it that Joshua, at the end of his portion of the conquest of the Promised Land, mediated a covenant between God and the Israelites in Shechem?!

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2 Answers

Debt slavery is allowed for in Tanakh. See Exodus 21:6, for example, for the ritual involving a slave who prefers to remain a slave.

A commenter asks: so what if Exodus allows for it, was it a functional practice in the time of the Judges? Well, one way to look at is is that this passage is evidence that it was, indeed. There may be other evidence on this subject, I'll further edit this answer when I have access to my bookshelf.

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Whether or not something is allowed by the Tanakh seems not to be critical to whether or not it was practiced in Israel during the time of the Judges. ;-) Could you expand on this answer, please? –  Jon Ericson Feb 26 '13 at 8:18
    
Youch, that's a question I can't attack from a conference in Portland. I'll try to dredge this off a shelf next week when I'm home. –  bimargulies Feb 26 '13 at 23:03
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Gaal the son of Ebal had compared Abimelech with feckless Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite (compare Judges 9:28 with Genesis 34:2). To offer a better alternative to the men of the town of Shechem, Gaal the son of Ebal compared himself with Hamor the Hivite, who of course was the father of feckless Shechem. (Feckless Shechem ended up destroying his family and dynasty through his plan of intermarriage with the Jews.) In other words, Abimelech was half-Jew/half-Hivite ("problems will loom with him"), but Gaal the son of Ebal was 100% Hivite ("no problems will loom with me").

It is no better from the Jewish perspective. Abimelech was not entitled to any inheritance from his father --Gideon-- since he (Abimelech) was the son of a Hivite concubine. (Ishmael is a good example, since Ishmael's mother --a maidservant-- was an Egyptian concubine to Abraham, and therefore was not an heir.) What did not help was that Gideon named this illegitimate son "Abimelech," which means in Hebrew: "The King is my father" (or something akin to that). The TITLE "Abimelech" in the ancient world also carried the meaning of what we would call "head leader" or "crown prince." (Please click here.)

So Gaal the son of Ebed convinced the Shechemites that Abimelech was a racially mixed trouble-maker, who entitled himself (a mongrel Jew no less) to be king both of the Jews and of the Hivites of Shechem.

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My question at that point would be: how are the people of Shechem still Hivites and not Israelites in light of passages like Joshua 24:25? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 4 '13 at 22:27
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