The Battle of Gibeah
Another war described in the Book of Judges was a war between the Tribe of Benjamin and the other Israelite tribes, united against them because the Benjamites were sheltering a murderer and rapist. In the recounting of the tale in Judges, a gang of Benjamites wanted to rape a member of the tribe of Levi, who was staying the night with his concubine in the town of Gibeah, hosted by an Ephraimite. The Levite somewhat ungallantly offered his concubine instead, and in the morning found her dead on the doorstep, where she had collapsed after being raped all night by the Benjamites. The Levite carried his dead concubine to his home, cut her body into twelve pieces, and sent them to the other tribes with a demand for revenge.
The united tribes, according to Judges 400,000 men, gathered at the town of Mizpah and sent emissaries to the Benjamites, demanding that the criminals be handed over for punishment. The Benjamites refused, and a Benjamite army of 26,000 prepared to defend their territory against the united tribes. The united tribes and the Benjamites fought for three days at Gibeah, with the Benjamites inflicting heavy losses on their fellow Israelites throughout the first two. On the third, directed by God, they set a trap for the Benjamite forces, an ambush which drove the Benjamites from the field, and the town of Gibeah was burned.
The surviving Benjamites withdrew to Rimmon, a rocky outcrop on which the 600 surviving Benjamites held out for four months. The united Israelites roamed throughout the territory, destroying any Benjamite town they found and killing the occupants, including the women and children. When it became apparent that the tribe of Benjamin was in danger of being completely exterminated, the triumphant Israelites decided to allow the survivors at Rimmon live. The Israelite village of Jabesh Gilead had not joined the confederation and the remaining tribes decided that they should be punished for the transgression.
The tribes sent a force to destroy Jabesh Gilead, striking down all males, and “â¦every woman who has known a man intimately”. This left a group of 400 virgins, who were taken to Shiloh. They then contacted the Benjamites at Rimmon, telling them of the camp of virgins at Shiloh, and instructing them to visit Shiloh during the “yearly feast of the Lord” and select a virgin which they were then free to return to Benjamin with in peace. In this way, the tribe of Benjamin survived but became the smallest of the Tribes of Israel. “Then they went and returned to their inheritance, and they rebuilt the cities, and dwelt in them”.
If the Battle of Gibeah and the civil war among the tribes is historically valid, the account clearly contains exaggerations in the numbers of troops involved, and the manner of fighting at the time. The account of the concubine triggering the war was likely added much later as a means of justifying the monarchy. King Saul I was descended from the Benjamite survivors of the war. As with the other accounts in Judges, the war was caused by behaviors abhorrent to their god, the depravity was punished with God himself taking a hand in the fighting, and the war was followed by a period of peace throughout the land, as the Israelites returned to their covenant.