The Bible Says What? ‘‘King Eglon was so fat his assassin’s sword disappeared in his body’’
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The Bible Says What? ‘‘King Eglon was so fat his assassin’s sword disappeared in his body’’

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and looks at a progressive response

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

The Book of Judges has some violent and gory stories, but possibly the strangest is the assassination of the Moabite King Eglon, who had oppressed the Israelites for 18 years.  

Repeatedly, Israel does wrong in the sight of God and, just before our story, we have the tale of their eight-year oppression by the King of Aram-Naharaim after they had practiced Baal worship and turned away from God. 

Otniel, younger brother of Caleb, was chosen by God to save them. Once free they had peaceful times for 40 years until Otniel died and again the people forgot their history and covenant with God. 

Now Israel was again subjugated by a foreign power and cried out to God, who God chose the left-handed Benjaminite Ehud, son of Gera. 

Ehud takes a present to Eglon, but hidden strapped to his right thigh was a double-edged sword measuring a cubit long. He offers the present and the verse ends with the words: “Eglon was very fat”. 

Then he sends away the other Israelites and says to Eglon: “I have a secret present too”. The king dismisses his entourage and when Ehud says: “It’s a message from God,” Eglon stands up.  

Instantly, Ehud draws the hidden sword and buries it deep in the fat of the king. The sword disappears into his body, severing the bowel, which empties. Then Ehud leaves, locking the doors behind him.  

A moment of ‘comedy’ comes now – the servants wait to the point of embarrassment to go into the king because they believe he is on the toilet, rather than enduring an agonising death. Finally, they go in and find him lying dead. After a battle with Moab, the Israelites are free, enjoying peace for 80 years. 

  •  Sylvia Rothschild has been a Reform Community Rabbi in south London for 30 years 

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