In a groundbreaking work of literary archaeology, a bold young scholar adds a new page to the quintessential book of adventure stories, that of the heroic traditions of the Old Testament.
Gregory Mobley brings a highly original eye to the familiar stories found in Judges, which depict Israel's frontier era, and in First and Second Samuel, which portray the ragged and violent emergence of kingship in Judah and Israel. From Ehud's mission into an inaccessible Moabite palace to the triumph of Gideon and his elite squadron against a Midianite swarm, from the gangland epic of the warlord Abimelech's rise and fall to the narrative of Samson, Israel's great outlaw-hero, Mobley rescues these stories from their theologically minded biblical editors and traditional interpreters. Mobley draws upon Semitic and European heroic traditions about warriors and wild men, and upon Celtic, Anglo-American, and African-American balladry about borderers and outlaws, to dig out the heroic themes submerged in biblical adventure stories.
The Empty Men describes the process by which adventure stories, replete with foolish love, warfare, assassinations, ritual slaughter, and grim masculine codes, were transformed into sermons and history lessons. Mobley also offers reflections on the Iron Age theology of these narratives, with their emphasis on poetic justice, and on the mythic dimensions of landscape in these stories. Mobley is sure to attract much attention in the scholarly community for his raw portrayals of biblical heroes, for his unblinking attention to the martial codes and the warrior subculture of ancient Israel, and for his bittersweet reflections on the theological and ethical significance of this corpus of adventure stories that are under the surface, but close to the bedrock, of the many mansions that Judaism and Christianity have built in subsequent centuries on these foundational texts.
Gregory Mobley is professor of Christian Bible at Andover Newton Theological School and was a recipient of the Society of Biblical Literature's Regional Scholar award. An ordained American Baptist minister, he is active in promoting Jewish-Christian relations in the Boston area. His other books include The Empty Men: The Heroic Tradition of Ancient Israel.
Gregory Mobley has written a lively book full of adventure and challenge. It offers the skill and artistry of a seasoned storyteller, the tenacity and tentativeness of a mature scholar, and the honesty and play of an astute interpreter. My counsel to the reader is to enjoy the author's many gifts while pondering the violence of an ancient world that is eerily contemporary
- Phyllis Trible, Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature, Emerita, Union Theological Seminary
Biblical texts that go `down and dirty' in narrative imagination are often squeezed out among us between high theology and humorless historical criticism. Greg Mobley knows how to do theology and is erudite about critical matters. In this book, however, he stays focused on the odd social misfits featured in the Book of judges in its tales of daring and adventure. These narratives, as carriers of faith, offer a faith that is earthy, concrete, and, from some perspectives, scandalous. Mobley has done his homework well, to our great advantage.
- Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary
In The Empty Men, Greg Mobley offers us close and nuanced readings of some of the most neglected and sometimes some of the most maligned stories of the Hebrew Bible, the stories of the great heroes of the days of the judges, especially Ehud, Gideon, and Sanison. Through his careful attention to each story's use of language, wordplay, and syntax and through his acute sensitivity to each story's narrative structure, Mobley reveals not only important details about these tales' spatial, ritual, and mythic underpinnings but also an overwhelmingly compelling picture of their profound literary artistry. A must-read for both students of Judges and of the heroic traditions of the ancient world, as well as for those who just appreciate a good adventure story!
- Susan Ackerman, Professor of Religion and Women's and Gender Studies, Dartmouth College