Judges 20

26Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. 27And the Israelites inquired of the Lord. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, 28with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?”

Phinehas is still alive. Is there a chronology issue in the book of Judges?

  • 2
    It's a common interpretation that the final chapters of Judges happen right after the end of the initial conquest of the land. This isn't really an "issue" though.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 16, 2021 at 10:26
  • 1
    All this says is that some material in Judges is not in Chronological order. There is unremarkable.
    – Dottard
    Sep 16, 2021 at 11:04

3 Answers 3


No. In my opinion as a long-time Bible student, all Judges chronologies are highly debatable and only marginally useful. Efforts to construct a chronology involve suppositions and nonliteral interpretations of certain facts given in the text. Several plausible timelines have been suggested but none are entirely sound and none contribute significantly to Bible study or gospel scholarship. I believe such an approach mishandles the text and misses the main point.

The book was not composed to give the reader a linear history. Like other scrolls of Scripture, Judges is a scrapbook of sorts (Jeremiah and Luke are other obvious ones). It is a well-composed but nonlinear collection of historical vignettes pieced together to illustrate the social and spiritual character of God’s people during their first few hundred years as a nation. Its histories overlap, intersect with the book of Joshua, and appear out of chronological order. The accounts generally deal with local and regional problems rather than national ones and together, the whole thing is presented as testimony against Israel for their widespread covenant treachery. Every tribe appears somewhere in the book and it is clear that social decay infected every functioning aspect of Israel’s society (from the individual and family, to the cities and villages, the local governments and militias, and even the priests and Levites). They were emancipated children, covenant partners with YHWH, and stewards of the inheritance he bestowed upon them but without a strong central leader, Israel quickly degenerated into immorality and chaos—that is the message the writing prophet wants the reader to hear. One line in the introductory section of the book sums up the root cause of their unfaithfulness: “There arose a generation who did not know YHWH.” The conclusion to the book is a single sentence: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The writing prophet has made the case that Israel needed a king.

The deliberate arrangement of the book leaves the reader with repugnance for the tribe of Benjamin, and specifically for the men from the town of Gibeah (Judges 17–21), while the next book, Ruth (which was originally a part of the book of Judges), is a story of faithful righteousness. The effect is to draw a sharp contrast between Gibeah (the city of Saul) and Bethlehem (the city of David). Judges, therefore, ends with a preview of what the reader should expect from Israel’s first king, Saul, while Ruth is a preview of Israel’s glory days under King David. This is not accidental. It is the writing prophet’s definite purpose. The timeline of Israel’s history during this period is beside the point.


The issue may not be so much one of chronology, but of interpretation/understanding of the Hebrew mindset.

The word "son" (Hebrew: ben/בֶּן) in Hebrew can mean the same as "descendant" as well. It does not apply only to single-generation children. This cultural aspect continues throughout the Bible, and is seen in Jesus being called "the son of David" and David being "the son of Abraham."

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1, KJV)

Joseph, too, is a "son of David," according to the angel:

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (Matthew 1:20, KJV)

Obviously, then, we cannot tell how many generations had passed, but that more than one Phinehas must be represented appears clear, seeing as these two men are presumably several centuries apart in time.

More than One Phinehas

  1. The first mention of a Phinehas (son of Eleazar):

And Eleazar Aaron's son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families. (Exodus 6:25, KJV)

  1. Another mention of a Phinehas (son of Eli):

And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the LORD, were there. (1 Samuel 1:3, KJV)

  1. Yet another Phinehas (father of Eleazar):

Now on the fourth day was the silver and the gold and the vessels weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest; and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them was Jozabad the son of Jeshua, and Noadiah the son of Binnui, Levites; (Ezra 8:33, KJV)

It would be perfectly definitive, of course, if one were able to demonstrate that Phinehas was an adult at the time of the Exodus, for all adults (those aged 20 or above) died in the wilderness except for Caleb and Joshua. This is, however, uncertain; and Phinehas is mentioned as entering Canaan (see Joshua 22:31-32). Therefore, we have only the chronology to follow to understand that the Phinehas of the era of the Benjamite war cannot have been the same Phinehas who was the first-generation son of Eleazar. He would, however, have been of that lineage.

Assuming the most optimal of age ranges, that Eleazar's son Phinehas was barely born at the time of the Exodus, and therefore 40 upon entry to Canaan, he would have been at least 60 at the death of Joshua. Caleb also lived awhile in Canaan, but his younger brother Othniel lived at least half a century beyond the time of Joshua and Caleb there, according to Judges 3:8-11, so at least 70 years in Canaan. Putting just this 70 and the 40 at entry, and we have already 110 years. That was a good average lifetime in those days for one who was long-lived, like Joshua, who lived to be 110. But then we add 18 years for Eglon (vs. 18), and then 80 years following Ehud (vs. 30). All of this took place well before the war with the Benjamites. Anyone living in excess of two centuries would certainly have been notable in those days, yet not a mention of this is made.


The writer assumed readers would know from the time gap that the two individuals named "Phinehas" were not in fact the same person, the son of Eleazar, grandson of Aaron. But that they were both of that lineage is understood. As is often the case today, names, especially good ones (of honorable people) frequently got reused.


Not a chronology issue. For a Chronological breakdown of the book of Judges, see this Earlier post

Your specific issue here though is down to how the writer of the book is structuring his information. The whole book of Judges can be broken down as follows:

Section 1 (Prologue) Runs from Judges 1:1 until Judges 2:5 and covers events immediately following Joshua’s death.

Section 2 (Introduction) Runs from Judges 2:6 until Judges 3:6 and serves as a sort of blurb to the book, setting up the context for what is to follow and the cycle that Israel found itself stuck in.

Section 3 (Main Body) Is the main bulk of the book, running from Judges 3:7-16:31 and is broken down into Seven Narratives as follows

  1. Judges 3:7-3:11a- The History of The Mesopotamian Oppression and Deliverance Under Judge Othniel
  2. Judges 3:11b-3:31- The History of The Moabite Oppression and Deliverance Under Ehud
  3. Judges 4:1-5:31- The History of The Canaanite Oppression and Deliverance Under Judge Barak and Deborah
  4. Judges 6:1–8:28- The History of The Midianite Oppression and Deliverance Under Judge Gideon
  5. Judges 8:29-10:5- The History of Abimelech The Son of Gideon and The Men of Shechem
  6. Judges 10:6-12:14- The History of The (Philistine &) Ammonite Oppression and Deliverance Under Jephthah
  7. Judges 13:1-16:31- The History of The Philistine Oppression and the Exploits of Judge Samson

Section 4 (Appendix) This section runs from Chapters 17-21.

  • Chapters 17,18 Firstly fills in further details surrounding Joshua 19:47/ Judges 1:34. The Origins of the term "From Dan To Beersheba".
  • Chapters 19-21 serve to give historical background to Saul in much the same way that the four chapters of Ruth give historical background to David (1 Samuel 9:21 in Particular).

Food for Thought As an overall reason, I believe the information of the appendix to be placed where it is by the writer due to the timing of when important information pertaining to these two accounts came into the realm of public knowledge. We have to remember that the two versions of Dan's capture of Laish/ Leshem (In Joshua 19:47+ Judges 17/18) are separated from each other by about 300 years. If you compare how Dan is portrayed in the earlier Joshua account alongside the other tribes who were wrongly making covenants with people of the land (Compare Joshua 13:13, 15:14-19, 63, 16:10, 17:11-13 with Judges chapter 1), Dan comes off in a good light looking very zealous, going as far as to conquer land the others weren't even attempting. But when we look at the other version of the account, we must ask "Did Israel Know About The Carved Image The Danites Installed?"

Judges 18:30+31 says:

  • 30 After that the sons of Dan stood up the carved image for themselves; and Jonʹa·than the son of Gerʹshom, Moses’ son, he and his sons became priests to the tribe of the Danʹites until the day of the land’s being taken into exile. 31 And they kept the carved image of Miʹcah, which he had made, set up for themselves all the days that the house of the [true] God continued in Shiʹloh."

When the account says "Until the day of the lands being taken into exile", is this a reference to the Babylonian exile? Unlikely if the writer was Samuel, since the Babylonian exile occurred long after his death. Some contend that the word rendered "lands"(ארץ, ʼaʹrets) should read “ark’s” (ארון, ʼarohnʹ) instead, referring to the exile of 1 Samuel 4:3–7:2, which verse 31 (above) supports, as it makes sense that the rival "Jonʹa·thanic" priesthood in service of the carved image would last as long as the carved image lasted aka the two periods described are one in the same. 1 Samuel 4:21,22 says:

  • But she called the boy Ichʹa·bod, saying: “Glory has gone away from Israel into exile,” with reference to the ark of the true God’s being captured and with reference to her father-in-law and her husband. 22 So she said: “Glory has gone away from Israel into exile, because the ark of the [true] God has been captured.”

If this carved Image the Danite's set up lasted only until this event, this leaves us with two possibilities as to Israel's knowledge of it. Option 1 is that everyone knew about it, which would then mean that 10 of Israel's Judges in about 300 years all failed to remove it. Are we to believe that they were all negligent at their jobs? Option 2, which I find more probable, is that the people didn't know about it, and that when the Danites or Jonʹa·thanite priests heard about the Arks capture, they reasoned, similar to Judges 18:19- "Which is better, to continue as priests to a tribe and family in Israel or to become a priests to all tribes and families in Israel", which would bring the information about the carved image into the public realm. Seeing then, how these newly uncovered events fed into the events/ Israelite deaths at Gibeah, the writer pairs these two accounts together and places the information nearer to when it came to light (closer to the 40 year oppression of the Philistines), as opposed to when it all chronologically happened (After Judges 2:5, but before Judges 3:7).

Direct Answer

With regards to Phinehas then, this is indeed the same Phineas who was the Son of Eleazar acting as High Priest during the time of Judges 19-21, however, the events described are taking place chronologically before Israel's first oppression (since the events described would most definitely constitute a disturbance and so could not be taking place during a "rest" period, and Israel is permitted to assemble freely in large number for war, so it could not be during an "oppression", the only time for these events then is before the first oppression). These final two accounts in Judges are supplementary information to the main body of works in the book of Judges. It also provides an interesting insight into the leadership competence of Israel's older men who extended their days after Joshua and who had NOT seen all of Jehovah’s great work that he did for Israel , who were taking the places of the older men who HAD seen all of God's deeds during this period. God's act of transitioning from using the 12 older men to 1 chosen Judge (Othniel) highlights how much the leadership was failing the people at this time, and the accounts in the appendix document this spectacularly.

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