JOTHAM


JOTHAM (Heb. יוֹתָם; "YHWH is perfect"), the youngest son of *Gideon the judge. Jotham was the only one to survive the massacre conceived by his half brother *Abimelech, whose hired assassins slew 70 of the 71 sons of Gideon (Jerubbaal) "on one stone" (Judg. 9:1–6). Jotham alone survived. Perhaps the writer is punning on his name in that in Hebrew yatom means orphan. He escaped to Mt. Gerizim above the city of Shechem and, with sparkling irony, denounced the Shechemites for accepting Abimelech as king. Jotham relates the fable of the trees (Judg. 9:8–15) which tells how the trees once anointed one of their number king. The good trees – the olive, fig, and vine – to whom the crown was offered, refused to trade their unique capacities for honoring both God and man in return for mere power, but the fruitless bramble accepted the throne. From the subsequent verses (16–20) it is clear that the trees represent the rulers of Shechem, while Abimelech, whom they had crowned, is the bramble. The oration concludes with a curse upon both the Shechemites and Abimelech.

Jotham's fable has frequently been interpreted as a piece of anti-monarchical irony exposing the unproductive and ultimately disastrous nature of kingship. However, the fable does not denounce the institution as such nor are its details in consonance with the historical reality. Unlike the trees, the Shechemites had not taken the initiative, nor had they offered the crown to anyone; Gideon's sons had inherited their position of rulership, and no reference to the murder of the 70 brothers is to be found in the fable. Therefore Jotham's fable is probably an ancient etiology explaining how the lowly, useless thornbush became an incendiary danger to all trees, even to the mighty cedars. The trees, in their folly, gave the bramble power because the good trees had evaded their duty. But in the mouth of Jotham, the fable becomes a parable warning of the fatal danger of placing royal power in the wrong hands (Kaufmann, p. 202 in bibl.). After he delivered his oration, Jotham fled to Beer (Judg. 9:21) and is not heard of again. The subsequent downfall of Abimelech is seen as the fulfillment of the curse (9:57).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bright, Hist, 151–60; E.H. Maly, in: CBQ, 22 (1960), 299–305; Y. Kaufmann, Sefer Shofetim (1962), 199–206. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Amit, Judges (1999), 165–70.

[Nahum M. Sarna and

Robert G. Boling]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.