Despite the methodological usefulness of some recent scholarship, Max Weber’s sociology of authority may still prove fruitful for biblical and leadership studies. This paper explores Gideon’s judgeship from such a perspective in order to broaden our understanding of the Gideon narrative as depicted in Judges 6-8 and reclaim Gideon’s portrayal as a competent and strong leader in spite of his initial state of hesitation and faith struggle.
Even though there have been studies that have analyzed the charismatic leadership in the Old Testament specifically during the 50’s and 60’s of the twentieth century, except for biblical surveys and recent scholarly publications, the topic has not received much further study and reflection. This is reflected, for example, in leadership studies focusing on the Book of Judges, both in a particular sense — analyzing the leadership development of a major or minor judge — or in a general sense — studying the era of pre-monarchy era in Israel from a leadership perspective.The rise of new methodologies in biblical studies, the challenges to Max Weber’s sociology of religion, and the focus on kingship in Ancient Israel seem to have contributed to this situation. Zeev Weisman, for instance, analyzed Weber’s contributions of charismatic authority in biblical studies and challenged some of the misunderstandings around the type of leadership during the era of the judges. Between 1932 and 1966 there were biblical scholars who, after studying the Weberian notion of charisma, supported the hypothesis that “the judges in Israel’s pre-monarchy era represented this kind of leadership.” The problem arose, among other aspects, regarding “a tendency … developed among some scholars to identify the charismatic leaders with the political system of the era [of the judges].” Weisman disagreed with that tendency and correctly asserted that “there is no real justification for the application of this term [charismatic leadership] to a political regime or to any consecutive historical system of leadership; it may properly be applied only to individual leaders as such.”
More recently there have been scholars, including Daniel I. Block and Susan E. Haddox, who despite not focusing on charismatic authority have indeed contributed to the leadership discussion in biblical studies. Both Block and Haddox have studied the figure of Gideon and his judgeship from different perspectives. Block studies the narrative of Judges 6-9 and offers a brief discussion on how the classical-critical, the contemporary-critical, the traditional pious, and the holistic literary approach have interpreted Gideon’s narrative in light of their own methodology. While the first three theories portray Gideon relatively in positive way, the holistic literary approach, however, has been more suspicious of such portrayal. “[I]t is difficult to accept the popular view of Gideon as a man of strong and pious devotion,” Block states. The importance of this essay is that it provides us different frameworks in which the Gideon narrative may be viewed and interpreted. Haddox instead analyzes Gideon’s character development through the lens of modern masculinity studies. According to her view, “Even after military success, the epithet ‘mighty warrior’ never rests comfortably with the reader’s experience of Gideon. Gideon frankly comes across as a wimp.” While this is a problematic conclusion, Maddox’s analysis, nonetheless, adds significant insight to the leadership discussion of the era of the judges.
Taking into account that far from being homogenous the judgeship of Gideon was under continuous development and social-cultural validation, and that the portrayal of Gideon as a heroic figure is disputed among modern scholars, the present paper argues Gideons leadership development inasmuch as he is a complex and “round character” in the biblical narrative. By using German sociologist Max Weber’s theory of charismatic authority, this article aims to explore the leadership of Gideon as depicted in Judges 6-8 in order to reclaim Gideon’s portrayal as a competent and strong leader in spite of his initial state of hesitation and faith struggle.
*This is a summary of the paper published in Stromata: The Graduate Journal of Calvin Theological Seminary 58, no.2 (2017): 83-101. If you’d like to read this paper in full, please click here. All rights reserved by the publisher. Used by permission.