Pyrrhus the king, whose death in 272 B.C. was almost an exact match to the death of Abimelech in the Book of Judges, 1,000 years earlier.
You’ve heard of a “Pyrrhic victory,” a victory that costs so much, it might as well be a loss. It was named for a real person, a king, Pyrrhus of Epirus, who invaded Italy and everywhere else he could get to, in a bid to conquer the world. There’s always some fool who wants to conquer the world.
Pyrrhus died in 272 B.C. Writing about him in the 1st century A.D., the historian and philosopher Plutarch told how Pyrrhus came to a bad end. Attacking the city of Argos, Pyrrhus got caught up in the street-fighting. Watching from a rooftop, an old woman picked up a heavy tile and threw it down at Pyrrhus. It knocked him from his horse and, although it didn’t kill him outright, rendered him defenseless. A soldier on the scene then finished him off.
This is history. No one takes the trouble to dispute it. But let us turn to the Book of Judges, Chapter 9, in which Abimelech, illegitimate son of Gideon, tries to make himself the ruler of all Israel. He starts out by murdering his brothers, and all goes well for him until he gets involved in heavy fighting in the streets of a town called Thebez. And then:
“And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech’s head, and all to brake his skull. Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men say not of me, A woman slew him.” (verses 53-54) And that was the end of Abimelech.
We don’t have exact chronology for the Book of Judges, but certainly Abimelech lived and died about 1,000 years before the death of Pyrrhus.
How could these two deaths be so much alike? Could Plutarch have read Judges? Even if he had, it’s highly unlikely that he would’ve just lifted information from the Jewish scriptures and plugged it into his secular history.
Are we dealing here with repeated patterns in history? Or with traditions that slowly work their way into the collective memories of widely separated nations? Or events that so strongly impressed people, that reports of them worked themselves all over the world, being slightly changed and distorted with every repetition?
All we can say for sure is that this story, this report, was in the Bible first, centuries before the birth of Pyrrhus or Plutarch.
It’s something to think about.
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