I’ve noted in the past how the NCT tends to follow the Hebrew more closely than the NRSV, and there are two instances of that in this chapter.

The first is in verse 4, when the NRSV reads “Gideon came to the Jordan and crossed over, he and the three hundred who were with him, exhausted and famished,” which follows the Septuagint. The Japanese reads (translated) “Gideon came to the Jordan river, and together with the three hundred under him he crossed the river. They were exhausted, but they still pursued them.” This is an attempt to account for the fact that, in Hebrew, rather than “famished” the word is “pursuing.” Those two phrases don’t make much sense when united by an “and,” so the Japanese substitutes a “but.” I don’t know if this is a greater liberty than opting for an alternatively preserved version of the ancient text, but it reflects the NCT’s philosophy of trying to always go with the Masoretic text.

The second is in verse 16, as Gideon is getting revenge on two cities who didn’t send him support. The NRSV has “with the he trampled the people of Succoth,” with a note that this matched the earlier verse 7 and the Greek. The NCT, meanwhile, follows the Hebrew and uses “taught” instead of “trampled,” only they cheat slightly. They use the Japanese phrase omoishiraseru, which literally means “to make (someone) know one’s thoughts or feelings,” but has the same implication as the English phrase “to teach someone a lesson.” It means to get back at someone, to get revenge, make them feel what you felt. I don’t know if Hebrew has a similar idiom to its use of the word “teach” here, however, so again, the NCT may be taking some liberties to make the (possibly corrupted) text make sense.

Speaking of Gideon going around getting revenge on people, God doesn’t actually command him to do any of this. God is barely mentioned in this chapter. Their capture of Zebah and Zalmunna (pejorative names) is attributed to the Midianite army being off their guard, and the capture of the kings sends the army into panic. God certainly didn’t tell him to destroy Succoth and Penuel. When Gideon executes the kings, he doesn’t cite passages about God commanding them to wipe out other tribes or to even free them from the Israelites; he attributes his action to vengeance against the deaths of his (heretofore unmentioned) brothers.

I add this because, as with Moses, I like to see when characters go beyond what God commanded them. And my point is that, for all that Gideons International selected him as their mascot, he’s a deeply flawed “hero.” Yes, he turns down the offer of kingship (something his son has no problem with in the next chapter), but he also sets up an “ephod” in Ophrah to which the Israelites “prostitute themselves” (v 27). What the ephod was exactly isn’t clear. Elsewhere it’s the breastplate of the high priest, so maybe in the original version this wasn’t a big deal, this was just him setting up a new shrine to YHWH, and the later editors, who believed the only legitimate shrine was the Temple in Jerusalem, inserted a commentary to make it negative. But there’s also a possibility that, like Aaron before him, Gideon made an ephod as an object for them to worship as a representative of God rather than God himself.

Hmm, actually, that might make Gideon not a bad mascot at all for an organization that equates God with the Bible…

There’s also the issue of how inconsistently Gideon is referred to in the text. Is he Gideon or is Jerubbaal? Chapter 6 contained the account of how Jerubbaal is a nickname, but the way the rest of the text alternates back and forth between using either name sort of screams “we were merging two different versions of the same story here.” That might also account for why his brothers go unmentioned until this chapter.

Whatever his historical origins, Gideon is an interesting character, one with enough information and also enough gaps that I’m not sure why he hasn’t been adapted into a big blockbuster movie yet.

The Japanese: semeru “to criticize, to reproach, to accuse” (v 1), yawaragu “to calm down, to be mitigated” (v 3), uchinomesu “to know down, to beat so badly they cannot recover” (v 7), youkyuu suru “to demand” (v 8), haizanhei “remnants of a defeated army” (v 10), otoshiierru “to drop someone/something into” (v 12), jinmon suru “to interrogate” (v 14), azawarau “to sneer at, to ridicule” (v 15), omoishiraseru “to get even with, to get revenge on, to teach someone a lesson” (v 16), fuubou “looks, appearance” (v 18), mikadzukigata “crescent-shaped” (v 21), kakuji senrihin “each spoil of war” (v 24), tarekazari “pendant,” matou “to be clad in” (v 26), fukeru “to be absorbed in, to be lost in” (v 27), atama wo motageru “to raise one’s head, to rise in importance” (v 28), sobame “concubine” (v 31), mattou suru “to accomplish, to fulfill” (v 32), kouseki “achievements, meritorious deeds,” fusawashii “appropriate, suitable,” seii “sincerity, good faith” (v 35).