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DEBORAHS SONG By Nicholas Birns

With Deborah, we have the first full-fledged female hero of the Bible. In the past, we have seen women who are assertive and resourceful, who have their moments-Rachel, Tamar, Miriam--but these are always short-lived and all attain glory in relation to the men in their lives--husband, brother, father-in-law...Deborah does it all on her own, in fact, she outdoes many elected women leaders of our own era who are wives, daughters, etc. of former male leaders..Deborah's husband, Lappidoth, is in fact a complete cipher, and novelizations (such as the kids' version by I. I. Taslitt I have on my desk now) tend to have him be long dead....Deborah also outshines her male collaborator, Barak, in the battle, he kind of takes care of the tactics but she provides the leadership... Note that Deborah is called a prophetess, even though we see her lead, not prophesy in the literal sense, although her military strategy does seem to be the result of some foreknowledge from God ...also, when she is described as officiating near the palm tree of Deborah, the reference is not to her, but to the previous Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, in Genesis 35..perhaps we see the reference to the previous Deborah explained now in the light of the later one... Something that is true of both this and the Gideon story is that there are two enemy leaders, the king (Jabin) and the general (Sisera)..for obvious reasons, this seems more historical than merely one leader called by the generic tern "Pharaoh' in Egypt... The 'killer' scene, in more ways than one, in the Deborah story does not involve Deborah at all--the death of Sisera. Sisera has already been defeated, he is seeking sanctuary from his enemies. He finds it, so he thinks, in the tent of Heber the Kenite who (again, like Deborah's husband) is absent, the tent being managed by Heber's wife, Jael. Now, the Kenites are the tribe of Moses's father-in-law, and, as we discussed

earlier, have an in-and-out quality--linked to Israel, but not quite Israelite. In any event, Sisera, who must be said to know the local political score, sees Heber as enough of a potential sympathizer to seek sanctuary in his tent. Jael lulls him by not giving him water but milk (presumably for a narcotic effect, or maybe she mixed a sedative into the milk). Sisera pretty much tells Jael, "No phonecalls, tell them I am out of the office." Jael then takes a tent peg and hammers it through his head. A woman, an outsider, not someone even of Israel, finishes off Israel's most hated enemy! But has Jael violated the laws of hospitality, is crucial to this culture? If so, yet another underhanded hero, like Jacob and Ehud... People often discount the Song of Deborah in courses like this, since it just reiterates the basic information contained on Judges 4..but the Song is very important. First of all, it is quite possibly the oldest portion we have of the Bible, it seems to be a contemporary with the event and is in very archaic language..this and the Song of Miriam after the Red Sea victory are the two oldest portions, and it is interesting they are both associated with women...in general, the genre of victory song was associated with women, and we will see an inversion of that in the story of Jephthah's daughter..Also notable about the song is a) The nature imagery..nature is a weapon in God's army, God commands nature, the very songs in their courses are fighting against Sisera. the Bible is not always pro-nature, but here nature is endorsed as a vehicle for God's mighty actions. 2) Deborah's chastisement of the tribes that did not fight...as we said before, Israel at this time was more a confederacy than a unified state, the tribes were united in theory, but if certain tribes did not feel like fighting, they didn't..so Dan and Asher, on the seacoast and plying prosperous trade, could not be bothered to help their inland brethren, and never-reliable Reuben, who his own father called 'unstable as water', is tarrying among the sheepfolds, too busy with farming to help out...so they do not get the fruits of the victory, they are scolded for being negligent and, in a way, unpatriotic 3) The point in the song where the emphasis shifts to

Sisera's mother. This is interesting as Sisera's mother is a character left out of the later narrative in Judges 4, but the poem pictures her and even empathizes with her point of view,putting us in her shoes. So many times she has seen her son come back with the spoils of war, jewelry and concubines, and she expects a routine victory, much like the mother of a pro athlete might expect another championship, as so often before..but this time he will not come back. the song is taunting Sisera with his defeat and obliteration, but also picturing his mother as a human being, as someone who has lost her son--we picture an old lady for whom living vicariously through hers son is her only joy in life, and she is pictured as a human being as well. Is is interesting that the actors in this song--Deborah, Jael, Sisera's mother--are all women. 4) God is described as coming out of Seir (Edom) and Sinai...God comes from the southeast, and Egypt is not mentioned..some people have taken the absence. Deborah means 'bee' in Hebrew..so, given the matriarchal organization of bees, metaphorically she could be the 'Queen Bee," a matriarchal image..and she is called other mother of Israel.