The ideal of the traditional hero evokes the strong warrior at the height of his physical prowess. His masculine beauty also reflects his intellectual and moral strength as well. We see this in the three human heroes: Gilgamesh, Sinuhe, and Achilles. The three deities, Marduk, Ninurta, and Baal, conform to this ideal in their anthropomorphic presentation. In the Bible, David represents this physical ideal in his victories from 1 Samuel 18 through his final triumph over the Philistines in 2 Sam 8. This story of the heroic David runs counterpoint to the tragedy of Saul, which we shall consider in Chapter 8. Some biblical scholars have read David’s story as a thinly veiled account of a usurper or worse. However, this is not the plain meaning of the text, as J. Randall Short has persuasively argued. He compares the David story with the “Apology of Ḫattušili,” which tells the story of a king who “forcefully seized his predecessor’s throne and, therefore, published the text as his personal exoneration.” While the Hittite narrative “makes sense only in light of the historical Ḫattušili’s individual predicament, the biblical account…can be read in light of multiple predicaments of multiple individuals and/or communities of people whom they might be understood as representing.” The “faithful readers,” to use Short’s term, find that the plain meaning of the narrative celebrates David as a traditional hero and king carrying out the will of his Lord.
Jonathan likewise represents this ideal in 1 Samuel 14. There the prince proposes to his armor-bearer that they attack the garrison, for, as he says, “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Sam 14:6). With the Lord’s power dutifully acknowledged, Jonathan and his armor-bearer proceed to slay twenty Philistines and throw the enemy camp into a panic.
In general, however, the heroes of the biblical battle narrative are unlikely candidates who are weak or unexpected in various ways. The boy David against Goliath captures this biblical motif, and Judith, in her way, also reflects this ideal.
The Book of Judith unfolds according to heroic pattern with the scene of single-combat and other motifs transformed to accommodate its heroine, and it may be summarized as follows:
The book opens with the ever-increasing threat of the enemy army under Holofernes, culminating in a siege (1:1-7:18). It includes a traditional episode of counsel. According to the tradition, bad counselors offer bad counsel, and good counselors offer good counsel; a bad leader then chooses the bad counsel while a good leader chooses the good. Here Achior, the leader of the Ammonites, offers Holofernes good counsel telling him to delay until the Israelites have sinned. All the others around Holofernes, in typical fashion, reject the good counsel and argue that Israel cannot withstand them. Holofernes, following the tradition, accepts the bad counsel (Jdt 5:1 –7:16). The Israelites react with helplessness and wish to surrender, and their leaders agree if no help comes within seven days (7:19‑32; cf. 1 Sam 11:1‑3).
After a description of the heroine in 8:1‑8, Judith meets with the elders and delivers a long didactic speech that the elders misunderstand. Judith then offers to go herself, and the elders commission and bless her (8:9‑36). Judith also calls for a divine commission through prayer (9:1‑14). She then prepares for battle, but instead of girding on sword and armor, she puts off her widow’s dress, makes herself beautiful, and prepares provisions taking with her a trusted maidservant as her heroic friend (10:1‑5).
Judith makes the traditional journey to the enemy camp (10:6-10), where she is captured and brought to Holofernes, who ironically promises her protection. (10:6–11:4). Judith then offers him bad counsel saying that he should wait until the inhabitants sin by eating the first fruits. The enemy leader again follows the tradition and accepts her bad counsel. Judith then becomes a guest of Holofernes, and though invited to his banquet, she explains that she cannot eat any but her own food; moreover, she gets his permission to go out of the camp toward morning to purify herself and pray.
Deception serves as an important weapon for these unlikely heroes of the Bible. Physically they cannot meet the enemy and win, and so they must resort to their shrewdness. Susan Niditch has related this motif to the trickster of folklore, but those characters are typically rule-breakers who break expectations to create new possibilities. However, these unlikely heroes use deception to achieve victory for the Lord. They stand against human trust in physical might as they act for the Lord, who is the true hero of these stories. Within the biblical world, deception becomes another pointer to the unseen causality at work in these battle narratives.
The battle between Judith and Holofernes becomes a battle of wits complicated by his lust. Thinking on the fourth day that he would seduce her, Holofernes invites only Judith to his banquet. “Waiting for an opportunity to seduce her,” he becomes drunker and drunker—an image of his lust—and therefore of his undoing. When the other servants withdraw, Judith prays and then cuts off his head. To disguise the deed, she puts the head in her food basket; then she and her maid go “out together, as they were accustomed to go for prayer” (13:10). The irony is palpable.
After the return journey (13:10b-11), she announces the victory to the town and produces the head of Holofernes, much as David did (13:15). The people, recognizing the victory, take up arms and go out to fight. The enemy army, realizing what has happened to their leader, is overcome with fear (14:11-15:3a). The traditional pursuit and destruction of the enemy follow (15:3b-6). “Our” side takes its plunder while recognizing and rewarding the hero. Here Judith receives as her share: the vessels and canopy of Holofernes’ bed chamber (15:7-13). “Then all the women of Israel gathered to see her, and blessed her, and some of them performed a dance in her honor…” (15:12). Judith sings a victory hymn (16:1-17) and recognizes the Lord as the divine hero (16:18-20). The story ends with an account of her old age and of no one spreading terror “for a long time after her death” (16:21-25).
While the story has a strong didactic character, it nonetheless follows and adapts the heroic pattern to tell the heroic story of Judith. By recognizing the tradition, we can follow the unfolding of an ancient story made new and unforgettable with this woman as the unlikely hero. Its cultural and psychological dimensions have been explored recently by Margarita Stocker in Judith Sexual Warrior and Helen Efthiniadis-Keith’s Jungian analysis. During the Baroque period, Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi most powerfully, and others celebrated Judith’s triumph through their art.
Though the traditional hero represents a human ideal, his impediment is also a traditional feature. Marduk is the youngest deity. Achilles is angry—a moral impediment. Gilgamesh enters the story as an abusive and juvenile king though perfect in strength and form; his friendship with Enkidu curbs the moral defect of the hero’s personality, and the heroic friend’s death poignantly shows that the hero has yet to confront the reality of death. In both the Iliad and the Gilgamesh Epic, the climax of the whole perfects the hero’s character. In these two pieces of sophisticated literature, the battle within the hero becomes more important than the battle without.
The battle narratives in the Book of Judges also reflect the heroic pattern, but like 1 Sam 17, they give us an unlikely hero with his or her impediment serving as a recurring motif that points to the Lord as the true hero of the battle. Though none match Gilgamesh or Achilles, Some struggle with their impediment, and they all challenge us to reconsider our understanding of a hero.
Samson is certainly the Bible’s most famous strong man and, in the best of the heroic tradition, defeats the Philistines single-handedly. In his definitive study, Gregory Mobley explores Samson as a traditional hero in relation to Heracles, Enkidu and Gilgamesh, and David and Saul.  Mobley focuses on Samson as a liminal figure “stuck betwixt and between,” those who like James Bond “never ‘get the girl, or finish their adventure with marriage.” I would add that Samson fits into the biblical tradition of the unlikely, weak hero. Samson’s moral and intellectual defects of character, particularly his desire for Philistine women, muddle whatever better judgment he may have, and not once but twice (Judg 14:10‑20; 16:4-22). In the first instance, this does not diminish his physical powers, but his betrothed is given to someone. In his anger, he burns the enemy’s fields, and they come and demand his own people hand him over. Rather than commissioning him to fight the enemy, they give him up to save themselves, but Samson slays a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass as the victory hymn recounts. In the second, Delilah’s wiles leave the hero blind and captive.
Niditch has pointed out how the story becomes a web of deception by both Samson and the Philistines, and “only when he abandons deception and reveals the truth about his strength is he overpowered.” However, in this state of weakness, the blind Samson calls on the Lord and then outwits his captors by pulling down the pillars of the roof. “So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life” (Judg 16:30). Though this story celebrates Samson’s physical strength, it ultimately celebrates the blind hero and his deception, the weapon of weakness. Biblical battle narratives continually subordinate the hero’s strength to the power of God.
Cheryl Exum has asked whether Samson should be considered a tragic hero and concludes that he does not fit there but belongs rather to the classic vision found in comedy which affirms life. The problem is, of course, Samson’s death which typically belongs to tragedy. However, death is a part of war. Achilles knows that he will die young but will win enduring fame if he stays to fight. As the Iliad opens, he has nothing worth the fight. Samson does not have Achilles’ grandeur, and his early exploits belong to comedy, but the last scene with him pulling the house down on himself and the Philistines becomes an act of self-sacrifice that redeems the rogue. His death makes him a hero worth remembering. As a result, this story has received much attention throughout the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation, which David M. Gunn has surveyed in his literate commentary on Judges.
As is typical for all the heroic narratives in Judges, the Deuteronomistic editor provides the threat and reaction of helplessness, as in Judg 3:12-14: King Eglon of Moab has not only threatened but has conquered and oppressed the Israelites for eighteen years. Here there is no traditional commission of the hero—a sign of the hero’s initiative and courage. The left-handed Ehud, going with a delegation to present tribute, takes the heroic role for himself. He pretends to bring a secret message and presents instead a sword hidden on his right thigh (Judg 3:15‑30). With the enemy leader dead, the hero escapes, and the narrative unfolds with the muster of troops and the slaughter of the enemy: “no one escaped” (3:29).
Ehud’s left-handedness alerts us to his difference. Susan Niditch points out that, while left-handedness is a potential stratagem against a right-handed society, it “is the symbolic dark side, the marginal, underhanded side of the body as indicated by ritual preferences.” Therefore, it “is symbolically appropriate for judges who are often liminal or marginal.” To his difference, the story adds deception, which becomes all the more daring because it is carried out alone in the enemy’s royal city. Here the hero’s weakness, signaled by his left-handedness, stems from inequality of numbers rather than a lack of physical strength. This type of inequality is not unique to the Bible, for traditionally, the enemy appears with seemingly invincible power to heighten the tension. Thus the hero’s triumph continually illustrates the power of good over evil.
Judges 4‑5 builds the biblical tradition by dividing the hero’s roles between a strong warrior hero and an unlikely hero. The whole story relies on traditional motifs with typical biblical adjustments. Deborah, a fearless leader‑prophet, calls and commissions the strong warrior Barak to undertake a war of redress against the oppression of Hazor. The warrior hero does not object, but he makes his acceptance conditional on Deborah’s accompanying him because she represents the real hero: the Lord. Already the strong hero’s condition begins the subordination of apparent strength to apparent weakness, and Deborah makes this emphatic by prophesying that “the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” During the battle, the storyteller subordinates Barak’s human strength to the divine by reporting that “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak at the edge of the sword” (Judg 4:15 RSV). According to the traditional motif, “all the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left” (4:16).
Even so, Sisera, the enemy general, escapes and finds his way to the tent of Jael, a Kenite. Unlike other biblical women who hide people to protect them, Jael deceives Sisera. When he asks her for water, she, like a mother, offers him milk, but the motif of deception will bring about his death. As with David and Samson, the victory is entirely realistic, for it is quite reasonable that a woman who must set up her own tents could drive a tent peg through the head of a sleeping warrior. Still, the motifs of deception and the unlikely hero point to a hidden causality. Judges 5 celebrates the triumph in the justly famous victory hymn. As Niditch says: “The Israelite writer identifies with the power of the feminine. She who is expected to be weak turns the male warrior into the woman raped, a theme drawn much more overtly in the version in 5:27.”
Gideon’s story begins with his call and commission by “the angel of the Lord” as he beats out the wheat in the winepress lest the enemy notice—the first sign of the hero’s fear. Gideon objects to the call and commission with fear and cynicism. However, the angel’s dramatic acceptance of an offering leads the hero, though “afraid of his family and the townspeople,” to destroy the altar of Baal “by night.” Gideon then calls “Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali” to fight against the Midianites, but before he goes further, he asks for a sign: dew on the fleece but the ground dry. Just to be sure, he asks for the sign’s reverse. Ready to move, the Lord surprises him: “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’” (7:2). This statement sums up the battle narrative’s basic theme: The Lord is the hero.
As a result, the Lord has Gideon send away all who wish, but still too many remain. The Lord imposes another test that leaves only three hundred of the original twenty-two thousand. There follow another call and commission with the hand-formula: “I have given it into your hand.” (7:9). Even so, the Lord gives Gideon one more sign. Our hero and his heroic friend Purah sneak down to the camp and hear a soldier’s dream, which becomes the final confirmation for this most ambivalent hero. He calls his army, adding the hand-formula, and they attack with their trumpets, lamps, and a shout: “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon” (7:20)! These are surely preposterous weapons, but they make the central theme clear. The enemy panics; Israel captures and kills the enemy kings. Interestingly, the story ends with the hero making an ephod, and it “became a snare to Gideon and his family” (8:27). Paddy Chayefsky turned this story into the play Gideon (1961) to explore the question of faith within our modern context, but the basic questions are present within the Hebrew text, and the central question is a traditional one: Is God the hero, or am I?
The story of Jephthah begins with the typical Deuteronomistic description of the enemy’s threat (10:6-16), followed by an announcement that the Ammonites had come up and encamped in Gilead with Israel encamped at Mizpah. The description of the hero follows and identifies Jephthah as both the “son of a prostitute” and “a mighty warrior” who becomes an outcast and outlaw with his own band of outlaws (11:1-3). Though a man of physical prowess, Jephthah is an unlikely hero because he was born outside the law and lives outside the law. Still, after the threat is repeated (11:4a), the elders issue the traditional call. Jephthah objects that they had previously rejected and driven him away. The elders counter that they have “turned back” and again offer the commission. Like Marduk in the Enūma eliš, Jephthah demands that they make him their head before the battle. The elders swear and make him “head and commander over them” (11:4b-11).
Jephthah carries on a dialogue with the enemy king, much as we find in the royal battle narrative. There follows Jephthah’s vow to sacrifice the first person who comes from his house after his victory. The vow is a typical feature of the royal narratives, and, as Alice Logan has pointed out in biblical stories, “a ‘war vow,’ especially one that offered ‘devoted’ human life, is a trump card, so to speak, to be played when victory really mattered. Under such circumstances, vow making, especially by the king, was extremely serious, and if the deity fulfilled his end of the bargain, no king would have wanted to incur God’s wrath by not living up to his.
The battle is reduced to two verses, an indication of its relative unimportance. After Jephthah crosses over to meet the enemy, the narrator tells us first that “the Lord gave them into his hand” and then that the hero “inflicted a massive defeat on them” (11:32-33).
Typically these stories should end with the death of the enemy hero, but here the virgin daughter of Jephthah dies according to the vow he has made. As Alice Logan argues:
The author told the ancient audience that Jephthah was trapped—by Western Semitic custom, by Israelite war vow tradition, by Priestly votive law, and by the strict law of ḥērem. Jephthah and his daughter should be remembered, he contends, because they performed as custom demanded of its royals despite the enormous personal cost.
Still, the traditional battle motif is displaced. The hero’s daughter dies instead of the enemy hero. She weeps for her virginity, and the audience cannot help but weep for her. Because the death does not fit the generic pattern, the story must mean something different. The question is enlarged by Jephthah himself. Though a strong warrior like Samson, Gilgamesh, and Achilles, he is an outsider and so an unlikely hero. Is he more unlikely than the boy or the woman or the coward? Still, the storyteller is pushing away from the traditional expectation toward, if not history, then mimesis and tragedy.
These biblical battle narratives repeat time and again the central theme of Exodus 14-15: the Lord is the hero. This survey of battle narratives, including that of the boy David, reveals a series of unlikely heroes who break in important ways with the physically strong hero at the height of his manly prowess. Ehud, Jephthah, and Samson reflect the traditional motif, but each possesses some telling impediment. The left-handed Ehud is alone in the enemy capital; Jephthah is an outcast, and Samson is blind. Moreover, Ehud and Samson depend on the typical stratagem of the unlikely heroes: deception. Ehud invites Eglon to believe that he has a special message for him alone. The blind Samson has his unsuspecting handler position him for victory.
War belongs to the world of men, and so gender makes the women Jael and Judith unlikely heroes. They too depend upon deception, but they strike the fatal blow themselves. David’s youth makes him an unlikely hero against Goliath, and Gideon’s fear gives him a place among this illustrious group of biblical heroes. Each one has some impediment, some perceived weakness which makes them appear unsuited for the role of battle hero.
These heroes use physical force when possible and their wits, when necessary, to outwit their enemy. Deception serves as both a necessary and a worthy stratagem against an enemy that represents chaos and oppression. Significantly, none of these heroes triumph using a miracle. God saves Israel through these human instruments. At the same time, the various motifs of weakness point to an unseen causality which is often named by the characters themselves or by the narrators: The LORD is the hero.
 See the discussion of the hero’s beauty in §5.3.1. This motif is captured in the description of David found in 1 Sam 16:18 where “one of the young men answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the LORD is with him.”
 J. Randall Short, The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David, 97. Short surveys the modern scholarship on 1 Sam 16 to 2 Sam 5 (13-50) and then compares this text to the “Apology of Ḫattušili.”
 A.B. Lord has called “council … one of the most common and useful themes [i.e., patterns] of all epic poetry”; Singer of Tales, 68, 71. Lord outlines an elaborate scheme beginning with the arrival of a letter. The essential elements, however, are those of good and bad counsel, with the good leader accepting the good and the bad leader accepting the bad. Most of the examples in the Old Testament involve a bad leader/king choosing bad counsel over good: 2 Sam 16:15 –17:14; 1 Kgs 12:6‑20; Jdt 5:5 –7:16. Similarly, the rebellious people choose the report of the terrified spies over the counsel of Caleb and Joshua in Num 13‑14, and Ammon takes the bad advice of Jonadab in 2 Sam 13:1‑6. As for good leaders who choose good counsel, cf. 1 Kgs 20:7‑8 where only good counsel is presented, and Jdt 7:19–8:36 where Uzziah rejects the bad counsel of the frightened people (at least for the moment) and accepts the good counsel of Judith. In certain instances, counsel crosses the lines of war: Moses offers the pharaoh good counsel, which is rejected (Exod 7‑11). Rabshakeh advises Hezekiah to capitulate, but the good king rejects the bad counsel (2 Kgs 18:17–19:37). Also, King Rehoboam rejects the good counsel of the elders and takes the bad counsel of the young men and so shows himself to be a bad king who deserves to lose the kingdom to Jeroboam (1 Kgs 12:1-15).
 In this, Achior is like Ahitophel, who offers Absolom wise counsel while the good Hushai deceives the would-be king with bad counsel (2 Sam 16:15–17:14.)
 On the function of prayer in the story S. van den Eynde, “Crying to God Prayer and Plot in the Book of Judith,” Biblica 85 (2004) 217-231. As van den Eynde argues, prayer underlines the power of the Lord.
 Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible, 106-122.
 As Alonso Schökel pointed out in class, lists typically come in threes or sevens with the first or last being the most important, or they may come as three plus one or seven plus one with the addition indicating the beginning of a new sequence as here. The fourth day here represents three plus one.
 Jdt 12:16. The verb [ἀπατῆσαι has as its basic meaning “deceive” which ironically ties his motive into a larger biblical theme.
 Margarita Stocker, Judith Sexual Warrior: Women and Power in Western Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). She particularly notes the connection to Jael (13-15).
 Helen Efthimiadis-Keith, The Enemy Is Within: A Jungian Psychoanalytic Approach to the Book of Judith (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
 Compare Gilg. Y 90-119 and II 216-240 where Gilgamesh disdains death until Tablet VII where Enkidu, his heroic friend, dies as punishment for their killing Ḫumbaba and the Bull of Heaven and Tablet VIII which tells of Enkidu’s funeral. Then Gilgamesh begins his journey in search of immortal life.
 Judg 13‑16; the Samson tradition forms a unified whole, beginning with a traditional birth episode and ending with the hero’s death. Judg 15, like KTU 1.2.I, tells of the leader’s capitulation to the enemy’s outrageous demand that the hero be handed over.
 Gregory Mobley, Samson and the Liminal Hero in the Ancient Near East (New York: T&T Clark, 2006), esp. 6-16, 109.
 Ibid. 110.
 Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible, 113.
 S. Thompson, Motif‑Index, L 300, “Triumph of Weak.”
 J. Cheryl Exum, Tragedy and Biblical Narrative: Arrows of the Almighty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 37.
 David M. Gunn, Judges. Blackwell Bible Commentaries (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005) 170-230.
 Lawson G. Stone argues that the story is less burlesque and more realistic than what recent scholars have proposed; “Eglon’s Belly and Ehud’s Blade: A Reconsideration,” Journal of Biblical Literature 128.4 (2009) 649-663.
 Susan Niditch, Judges: A Commentary. The Old Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008) 57. She also argues that imagery of sword and thigh can easily be interpreted as a metaphor for sexual power.
 The traditional motifs are as follows: Judg 4:1‑3. a Deuteronomistic description of the enemy’s past aggression and Israel’s helplessness; 4:4‑5. description of the prophetess‑leader, Deborah, instead of the hero; 4:6‑9. the divine call and commission of Barak, the warrior‑hero, by the prophetess‑leader; the hero does not reject the commission but sets a condition for his acceptance: the presence of Deborah at the battle; by setting this condition, Barak acknowledges the pre‑eminence of the Lord as the hero; Deborah agrees to the condition yet adds a prophecy of the outcome which foretells Jael’s triumph which undercuts still further Barak’s position as the hero.
4:10. preparation for battle: muster of the troops; 4:11. description of the weak heroine’s background; 4:12‑13. the enemy’s renewed threat and its great power; 4:14a. the prophetess‑leader gives the hero a second divine call and commission with the addition of the hand-formula, assurance of divine presence and aid.
4:14b. journey; 4:15a. fight in which Barak subordinated to the Lord as the hero; 4:15b. recognition of defeat by the enemy leader, Sisera, who flees; 4:16. pursuit and destruction of the enemy so that “not a man was left.”
4:17‑22. death episode in which Jael kills the enemy commander; 4:23. summary; 4:24. notice of the enemy king’s death; 5:1‑31a. victory hymn sung by Deborah.
 For a careful literary analysis of the story, see Yairah Amit, “Judges 4: Its Content and Form,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 39 (1987) 89-111. The war of redress is discussed above in §3.3.2. The four types of wars discussed there can be used to analyze the different ways in which the biblical narratives begin.
 Rahab hides the Israelite spies in Judges 2, and a woman hides Jonathan and Ahimaaz (2 Sam 17:17-20); Niditch, Judges, 66.
 Niditch, Judges, 67. Mark Smith also provides a careful analysis of this poem in Poetic Heroes, 234-266.
 Compare it with Jonathan’s statement in 1 Sam 14:6: “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” Cf. also Jdt 9:11 and 1 Macc 3:18‑19).
 Cf. §2.4 for the third pattern of the call narrative, which includes an objection by the hero.
 Cf. §2.5.1 for the verbal exchange between the king and the enemy leader.
 Cf. §3.4.3 and 3n37 for the vow.
 Alice Logan, “Rehabilitating Jephthah,” Journal of Biblical Literature 128.4 (2009) 665-685, esp. 683. Niditch too observes that “the deity receives the best spoil, and no spoil is more valuable than human spoil”; Judges, 133.
 Susan Niditch points out a parallel “used in some tellings of the folktale ‘Beauty and the Beast’; War in the Hebrew Bible, 33.