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Shamgar son of Anath by Daniel Block (3:31)

Categories Old Testament Guest Posts

Bible-Bacgrounds Who is this guy? This deliverer gets only one verse in the Bible—no wonder he is mysterious. Daniel Block sorts it out for us in his Judges contribution in ZIBBCOT.

The name of this deliverer is a riddle. Since the Hebrew vocabulary (like that of most Semitic languages) is based on triliteral roots, the presence of four strong consonants š-m-g-r suggests he was not an Israelite.[i] The presence of analogous forms of the name in Nuzi texts suggests he may have been a Hurrian mercenary.[ii] Equally puzzling is his characterization as ben Anat (“son of Anath”).[iii] In the past interpreters have assumed this meant Shamgar was a resident of Beth-Anath in Galilee.[iv] Now it seems more likely this is a dedicatory expression: Shamgar was devoted to the service of Anath.[v]


What this means can be learned from extrabiblical sources. In Canaanite mythology Anath was at the same time the consort of Baal and Canaanite goddess of war.[vi] But the fame of Anath extended far beyond Palestine. At the beginning of the nineteenth dynasty, she was accepted into the Egyptian pantheon, functioning particularly as the goddess of war and personal protectress of the pharaoh.[vii]


Of special interest is an inscription from the Wadi Hammâmaât dated in the third year of Ramesses IV (1166–60 b.c.), which reads, “prw of the troop of An[ath] eight hundred men.”[viii] On the assumption that the same Egyptian troop had fought against the Sea Peoples during the reign of Ramesses III (1198–1166 b.c.), Shupak suggests that Shamgar may have been one of these prw (habiru), among whom were found a variety of ethnic elements, including Hurrians. As a member of an Apiru troop of mercenaries in Pharaoh’s army named after the Canaanite goddess of war and as a man of valor, Shamgar bore the widely used military cognomen, Ben Anath.[ix] Since at first the Sea Peoples’ base of land operations in Palestine was located in northern Lebanon and the Song of Deborah associates Shamgar with problems in northern Israel, the latter’s confrontation with the Philistines probably occurred in the north at the beginning of the twelfth century b.c. As an officer under the command of the Egyptian Pharaoh, Shamgar ben Anath was not intentionally serving Israelite interests.[x]


This would not be the only occasion in the Bible when God used leaders who gave no allegiance to Yahweh to bring about deliverance of his people (see 2 Kings 13:4-5, where the "deliverer" was likely the Assyrians who for their own purposes harried the Arameans).

 ZIBBCOT Bible Backgrounds is a series of weekly blog posts leading up to the fall 2009 release of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Old Testament. Each post is written by John H. Walton, the general editor for the five volumes. ZIBBCOT is the product of thirty international specialists; their work and expertise will also be represented throughout this series.


[i]Though Soggin argues the name could be West Semitic, based on the shapel stem of the root mgr (“to submit”); see J. A. Soggin, Judges: A Commentary (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), 57.

[ii]See B. Maisler (Mazar), “Shamgar ben Anat,” PEQ 66 (1934): 192–94; W. Feiler, “Hurritische Namen im Alten Testament,” ZA 45 (1939): 219. This Hurrian solution is preferable to a proposed conflation of the transliterated and translated Hebrew forms of Egyptian s,m, meaning “wanderer, stranger,” viz., Sham-ger. Cf. N. Shupak, “New Light on Shamgar ben Anath,” Bib 70 (1980): 518; E. Danelius, “Judge Shamgar,” JNES 22 (1963): 191–93. P. C. Craigie adduces Ugaritic, Mari, and Egyptian evidence for foreign mercenaries in “A Reconsideration of Shamgar ben Anath (Exod. 3:31 and 5:6),” JBL 91 (1972): 239–80.

[iii]Compare the name of Jeremiah’s hometown, Anathoth, Jer. 1:1.

[iv]Cf. 1:33; Josh. 19:32–39. Thus Gray, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, 216.

[v]Compare Mal. 2:11, which refers to non-Israelite women as daughters “of a foreign God.” Note also names like Ben-Hadad, “Son of Hadad.”

[vi]On Anath, see Walter A. Meier III, “Anath (Deity),” ABD, 1:225–26; P. L. Day, “Anat,” DDD, 62–77.

[vii]For the evidence, see Shupak, “New Light,” 518–19.

[viii]As read by W. Helck, Die Beziehungen Aegyptens zu Vorderasien im 3. und 2. Jahr. V. Chr. (Wiessbaden: Harrassowitz, 1971), 487.

[ix]Further evidence of the use of bn nt as a military cognomen appears on an El-Khadr arrowhead dated ca. 1100 B.C, bearing the incised inscription, bdlb,t bn nt, on which see F. M. Cross, “Newly Found Inscriptions in Old Canaanite and Early Phoenician Scripts,” BASOR 238 (1980): 4, 6–7. Cf. also an eleventh- or tenth-century bronze arrowhead discussed by J. T. Milik and F. M. Cross, “Inscribed Javelin-Heads from the Period of the Judges: A Recent Discovery in


,” BASOR 134 (1954): 5–15.

[x]See Shupak, “New Light,” 524.

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