A Kamikaze Mission?
Shofetim 3 describes the Moabite domination of Israel and its occupation of Yericho. Ehud ben Gera embarks on a daring mission to assassinate the Moabite king, Eglon, and then rallies the nation to rebellion. The entire plan seems like a kamikaze mission, doomed to end in Ehud's death. How, then, did Ehud manage to kill the king and escape undetected? Why did the guards not perform a better check for weapons before he entered the palace? Moreover, how was he able to return from the Moabite palace and coordinate an entire rebellion without the Moabites' knowledge? Should not the discovery of the murder have put them on high alert and caused them to be better prepared for any attack?
A Plethora of Details
The assassination of Eglon is one of the more colorful episodes in Tanakh, replete with details of every aspect of the murder, including descriptions of the rotund Eglon, left-handed Ehud, his double-edged sword, and a graphic portrayal of the actual stabbing and Eglon's entrails. What is the need for all of these details?1 Though some facts might help explain Ehud's success,2 others seem totally superfluous.3 Why does Tanakh not simply suffice with mere mention of the successful killing?
Other aspects of the murder raise questions as well:
- Site of the murder – Where was Eglon's palace located – in conquered Yericho or in Moav proper? How long did it take Ehud to return from there to Mount Ephraim and gather his troops?
- "וְהוּא שָׁב מִן הַפְּסִילִים" – What are "הַפְּסִילִים"? Is this the name of a site or an object? Why was it specifically here that Ehud left the company of his men to return to Eglon?
- "וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב בַּעֲלִיַּת הַמְּקֵרָה" – What type of room is this? Does the location play any role in the success of Ehud's mission?
- "דְּבַר אֱ-לֹהִים לִי אֵלֶיךָ" – Why does Ehud tell this to the king? Did he intend for him to rise in a sign of respect? If so, for what purpose?
- "וַיֵּצֵא הַפַּרְשְׁדֹנָה" – What does the word "פַּרְשְׁדֹנָה" mean? Who (or what) is the subject of the verb "וַיֵּצֵא"; did someone leave to the "פרשדון" or did the "פַּרְשְׁדֹנָה" exit something else?
- Acting alone? Was Ehud acting alone, or was his plan part of a larger national rebellion? How much of it was planned in advance, and how much was improvised on the fly?