The book of Judges describes the period when the Israelites were settling into the Promised Land following the Exodus from Egypt. Because the conquest was not complete, warfare was frequent, and resulted in the hero stories preserved in Judges. These heroes were known as "judges", meaning, not people who decided court cases, but military leaders who delivered Israel from her enemies. What weapons did these heroes use, and what was their strategy in defeating their enemies? The Bible does not usually give a detailed description of weapons or of military strategy. Yet we have a good knowledge of weapons from archaeological discoveries and drawings, paintings and reliefs. Offensive weapons
Offensive weapons in use at this time can be divided into three categories according to their range. Short-range weapons were used in hand-to-hand combat and included the sword or dagger and the spear. Medium-range weapons were designed to be thrown at enemies a short distance away. Occasionally spears were light enough to be thrown, but the shorter and lighter javelin was better suited for throwing. Long-range weapons could be thrown or fired at an enemy further away. Examples of long-range weapons include the sling, used to hurl stones, and the bow, for propelling arrows.
Armour was used to protect the foot soldier’s body as far as possible. Armour included the helmet for the head, scale armour, coats of mail, the breastplate for the body and greaves to cover the shins. The foot soldier also carried a shield to cover any unprotected parts of his body. An armour-bearer or shield-bearer could also be employed to carry the soldier’s weapons and his shield.
With this information, we can discuss the weapons and warfare described in the book of Judges, where we read "...not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel" (Judges 5:8). Clearly weapons were in short supply, at least for the Israelites, an interpretation which is supported by the [above] lists of weapons mentioned in Judges.
These two lists of weapons reveal a striking contrast between Israel and her enemies. The Israelites used mostly "primitive" weapons, such as farm implements and household articles, and had few metal weapons. By contrast, their enemies possessed metal weapons, particularly iron weapons. Iron was much harder and more durable than bronze or copper, and its manufacture took greater technological skill than the Israelites possessed. The Iron Age commenced in Israel during the days of the judges...the Philistines already had something of a monopoly of iron metallurgy.... As long as the Philistines maintained this monopoly, Israel could not hope to dislodge them from the plain (Judges 1:19). On those occasions when the Israelites did prevail against their enemies, it was credited to divine help; some of their success must also have been the result of better strategy or tactics.
Let us look first at the weapons of Israel’s enemies. We learn that the men of the tribe of Judah could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had iron chariots (Judges 1:19). Pulled by two horses, the chariot was in effect a moving platform for two or three soldiers. It was most valuable in making rapid flanking movements where the land was fairly flat and open. The coastal area of Palestine was relatively level, while the hill-country inland featured steep slopes and deep valleys. In ancient times the hills were heavily forested and Israelite guerilla tactics proved successful in this territory. However, in the coastal plain the Canaanite and Philistine iron chariots proved to be the tanks of their period, racing across the flat country. But chariots were ineffective on wooded hills.
Since the Iron Age had just begun in Canaan, iron chariots would have been the latest and best military weapon. Some scholars believe the iron would have been used to make part of the wheels and fittings of the...