© 1997 Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris

The only judge who judges, Deborah “used to sit under the palm tree…and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:5). She is shown here in a stained glass window by the Russian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall. The 11 other so-called “judges”—among them Samson, Gideon and Ehud—led Israel in times of military crisis against such enemies as the Philistines, Midianites and Moabites in the period following Joshua’s death. Though a better translation of the Hebrew word shophet for these Israelite leaders would be “warrior-ruler,” the tradition of referring to them as “judges” probably dates back as far as the second century B.C. At that time the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, translated shophet as krites, which more narrowly means “judge,” “arbiter” or “discerner.” In the fifth century A.D. the first Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate, followed suit, designating these leaders as judices. Almost every English translation of the Bible, from John Wycliffe’s in the 14th century on, has continued this tradition of mistranslation, obscuring the true nature of these early saviors of Israel.