Vetus Testamentum

Vetus Testamentum 61 (2011) 505-521

War Commemoration and the Interpretation of Judges 5:15b-17*
Jacob L. Wright
Emory University

Abstract As a prelude to a forthcoming article (“Deborah’s War Memorial”, ZAW 123), this study examines the influential interpretation of F. M. Cross and B. Halpern, according to which Jdg 5:15b-17 describes participation in battle. In identifying problems with this interpretation, the author points to suggestive comparative evidence for war commemoration in the Bible and the Aegean world. Keywords Song of Deborah, war commemoration, Transjordan, Saul, Gideon, Numbers 32, Aegean, Homer, Thucydides, Simonides

The purpose of the song is to reunite the tribes in order to celebrate the event together. . . . Commemorated and commemorating event coincide. . . . —Mieke Bal1

Introduction In 1866 Jewish women in the American South created the Hebrew Ladies’ Memorial Association, an organization devoted to caring for the graves of Confederate Jewish Soldiers. Their circular to the “Israelites of the South” solicited funds not only to tend to the graves of their men but also to erect a large monument. Prompting the latter, more costly project was a pressing political concern: the fear of potential accusations that Jews, many of whom
*) For Jack Sasson, in anticipation of his Judges. 1) Murder and Difference: Gender, Genre, and Scholarship on Sisera’s Death (orig. ed. 1988; Bloomington, 1992), p. 114.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156853311X585586


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had recently migrated from the North, were not loyal to the Southern cause. As they wrote in their petition, “In time to come, when the malicious tongue of slander [. . .] shall be raised against us, then with feeling of mournful pride will we point to this monument and say: ‘There is our reply’ ”.2 Such war commemoration is not unique to American-Jewish history; indeed, it can be documented in a wide range of times and places and is increasingly recognized as one of the most promising candidates for interdisciplinary research in the humanities.3 The many examples attested in modern history reflect in various ways the principle of appealing to a history of wartime sacrifice and contributions in order to affirm membership in a political collectivity. Various social and political actors—women, ethnicities, gays and lesbians, etc.—seek rights and advancement in society by pointing to a history of risking their lives in defense of the nation. The manner in which one commemorates this military service involves a wide array of media, ranging from spatial monuments to ballads and poems.4 While the phenomenon has often been studied in connection with the rise of modern nation-states, it has yet to receive adequate attention in the study of pre-modern societies, especially those from ancient Western Asia.5 In this
Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates (Columbia, 2000), p. 338. See the landmark volume T. G. Ashplant et al. (eds.), The Politics of War Memory and Commemoration (London, 2000) and wide range of journals that were established a decade ago, from History and Memory to the Journal of Australian War Memorial and most recently, the Journal of War and Culture Studies. 4) An example of the former are the memorials erected since the 1960s to commemorate a long history of African Americans fighting in the ranks of US armies. A poetic memorial is Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead”, which in turn refers the Boston Common monument honoring Robert Gould Shaw and the Afro-American 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. One could point to countless other examples of lyrical war commemoration, from “The Battle of Maldon” (991) to Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”. The latter, which has been effectively expropriated by US July 4th celebrations, narrates the battle musically in a similar way to the Song of Deborah, from the opening prayer for divine intervention and the impassioned call-toarms of the Russian people in their villages, to the final victory over the French professional armies, whose 1200 state-of the-art cannons are stuck in the freezing mud (compare Exod 14:25 and Judg 5:20-22). 5) Sources reflecting the politics of war commemoration are especially plentiful for ancient Greece, especially in relation to the Persian War; see e.g. the epigrams discussed by Katharine Derderian, Leaving Words to Remember: Greek Mourning and the Advent of Literacy (Mnemosyne; Leiden, 2001), pp. 102-112. Pre-modern Jewish examples of this phenomenon range from Medieval Spain to Greco-Roman Egypt, where Jews sought protection and privilege by pointing to—and constructing—a long history of military service. See Jacob L. Wright, “Surviving under Imperial Rule: Foreign Military Service and Judean Identity”, in Oded Lipschits, Gary Knoppers
3) 2)

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respect, the Hebrew Bible represents a particularly rich source for study. Of its many texts that witness to the politics of war commemoration, perhaps the most prominent exemplar is the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), often considered to be “das früheste Denkmal der hebräischen Literatur”.6 By constructing a memory of a great battle (“the Battle of Kishon”) and compiling a roster of its participants, this monumental war poem praises several Israelite tribes or territorial regions for their contributions, while censuring others for “not coming to the help of Yhwh” (v. 23). In this way, the authors negotiate belonging among the people of Israel. By reproaching a territory, tribe or community for failing to contribute to the war effort, the Song raises questions regarding the group’s membership or status in the body politic. The Song is especially intriguing because of the conspicuous absence of the important tribe/region of Judah, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the strange reference to Meroz, a territory/tribe/city not mentioned elsewhere in biblical literature. In their insightful studies of the Song, Frank Moore Cross and Baruch Halpern take issue with the traditional interpretation according to which the Song contains an implicit opprobrium for the failure of several tribes to contribute to the war effort. According to the influential opinion of these two scholars, Judg 5:15b-17 does not contain obloquies of tribes who eschewed military service, but rather the exact opposite: These lines should be understood as acclamations and tributes comparable to the tribal blessings in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33. In the words of Halpern: “They are lyric characterizations, implying participation at war, not narrative assertions of cowardice”.7 When the Song, at a later point, censures a tribe for failing to appear, it does so quite
and Manfred Oeming (eds.), Judah and the Judeans in the Achaemenid Period: Negotiating Identity in an International Context (Winona Lake, Id., 2011), and literature cited there. 6) Julius Wellhausen, Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte (6th ed.; Berlin, 1907), p. 39. The assumption that poetic exemplars like the Song of Deborah predate the rest of biblical literature by many centuries has a long history, going back to perhaps the Bible itself. But in modern scholarship, the assumption has been fed directly by Romanticism, with its nostalgia for a primordial-poetic age: “Da all wilde Nationen bei ihren Siegsfesten die vornehmsten Begebenheiten in nachahmendem Gesange feiern: so ist das Aehnliche bei diesem Gesange [Judges 5] unverkennbar,” J. G. Herder, Vom Geist der ebräischen Poesie (3rd ed.; Leipzig, 1825), p. 248. 7) Baruch Halpern, “The Resourceful Israelite Historian: The Song of Deborah and Israelite Historiography”, HTR 76 (1983), pp. 379-401, here p. 383. Reprinted with an introduction that contextualizes the study in the history of Halpern’s research, in From gods to God: The Dynamic of Iron Age Cosmologies (ed. Matthew J. Adams; FAT 63; Tübingen, 2009), pp. 145-166. The findings of this study serve as the basis for Halpern’s more comprehensive studies of Israel’s early history: The Emergence of Israel in Canaan (SBLMS 29; Chico, Calif., 1983) and The First Historians: The Hebrew Bible and History (San Francisco, 1988).


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explicitly: “Curse Meroz, says the angel of Yhwh, curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they did not come to the help of Yhwh, to the help of Yhwh with mighty warriors” (v. 23). Such a straightforward curse is not to be found in vv. 15b-17, and therefore these lines would be expected to express the same approbation that is found in vv. 13-15a. As Cross argues, “any tribe or clan not answering the summons to holy war, the ‘call up’ of the tribal militia, properly should fall under the curse of the league covenant”, such as in the case of Meroz.8 Hence, the section vv. 14-18 is said to constitute a catalogue of all those who actually participated, similar to the description of the warriors in Iliad 3.160-244, as Susan Niditch suggests in her palmary new commentary on Judges.9 This incisive interpretation has not surprisingly gained wide acceptance.10 Not only does it seek to come to terms with the often disregarded yet nevertheless deep disparity between the curse of Meroz’s non-participation in v. 23 and the much more mildly formulated statements in vv. 15b-17; it also provokes one to think in new ways about the Song and its relationship to the preceding prose version. Despite these merits, the thesis encounters several substantial problems, which I identify in what follows. The findings of the present study have significant consequences for the interpretation of the Song and its relationship to the prose version in chap. 4. If one cannot assume with Cross and Halpern that only Meroz in v. 23 is censured and if vv. 15b-17 must be read as statements of non-participation, then one must provide an alternative explanation for the disparity between v. 23 and vv. 15b-17 (with respect to both placement and formulation). One could attribute the disparity to historical factors (see the discussion in the conclusion to this paper). Or one could follow a number of scholars in considering the possibility that more than one hand contributed to the composition of the Song. In a forthcoming article, I take this second route. In
8) “Reuben: First Born of Jacob”, ZAW 100 (1988), pp. 46-65, here p. 48; see idem, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge, 1973), p. 235 n. 74. See also Patrick Miller, The Divine Warrior in Early Israel (HSM 1; Cambridge, 1973), p. 96. One may cite here the example of Thebes, who was reluctant to join the Hellenic alliance and later fought on the Persian side (even though 400 Theban hoplites seem to have fought bravely against the Persians at Thermopylae). For their failure to contribute to the Hellenic war cause and later open aggression, they were severely penalized and almost eliminated from the Delphic Amphictyony. 9) Judges: A Commentary (OTL; Louisville, 2008), p. 79. 10) For example, in addition to Niditch’s commentary, it is adopted and defended at length in the Jewish Study Bible for the book of Judges, edited by Yairah Amit. See also idem., Judges: Introduction and Commentary (Mikra Leyisra’el; Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 103-104, [Hebrew].

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anticipation of my thesis defended there, I endeavor in the present piece to demonstrate that the only other explanation for the disparity—that of Cross and Halpern—is unsustainable. Beginning with the reinterpretation of the lexeme lāmmâh, I treat the arguments for the Cross-Halpern thesis point-bypoint before turning my attention to several comparative texts.11

1. The use of “why?” (lāmmâh) The Song asks why some tribes remained passive rather than joining the fight (vv. 16a and 17a). The indicting questions, beginning with lāmmâh, implicitly affirm that these tribes belonged to “the people/army of Yhwh” yet failed to contribute to the war effort. Israel’s borders are being defined here: Those who are either praised or asked why they did not show up are included among this “people”, while those who are explicitly cursed or not mentioned at all are excluded. The interrogatory, indicting character of the “why” naturally poses a problem for the reading proposed by Frank Cross and Baruch Halpern. To deal with it, Cross suggests to parse the lmh as an emphatic lamed extended by -ma. In support of the suggestion, he appeals to Ugaritic material.12 Halpern takes a slightly different route, arguing that lmh should be read as a negative + enclitic. He cites the evidence of an Amarna letter (EA 244), which is “chronologically and geographically more proximate to the birth of SongDeb than most of biblical literature”.13 On the basis of such evidence, Halpern suggests various translational possibilities: “you did not sit still”, “do not sit still”, or “do you not dwell. . .”. These alternative translations of lmh, which seek support in non-Hebrew evidence and assume that the Song should be dated to the Late Bronze Age, become difficult to maintain when one considers several other factors.

The Song (with the prose version in chap. 4) represents one of the most discussed texts in the Hebrew Bible, and the bibliography of secondary literature now exceeds more than 2,000 separate works. Out of considerations of space, I cite in what follows only what is absolutely necessary and refer the reader to the histories of research provided by Henrik Pfeiffer, Jahwes Kommen von Süden (FRLANT 211; Göttingen, 2005); Philippe Guillaume, Waiting for Josiah: The Judges (JSOTSS 385; London, 2004), pp. 30-41; Tyler Mayfield, “The Accounts of Deborah (Judges 4-5) in Recent Research”, CBR 7 (2009), pp. 306-335, and Charles L. Echols, “Tell Me, O Muse”: The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) in the Light of Heroic Poetry (LHBOTS 487; New York, 2008). 12) See Canaanite Myth, p. 235 n. 74 (CTA 4.7.38-29 and CTA 10 3.6). 13) “Resourceful Historian”, p. 384.



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2. The use of verbs of action versus verbs of inaction The tribes that are clearly included among the participating belligerents are described with verbs of action. Most often they are said to have “descended” (yrd): vv. 11b, 13 (twice), 14; see similar formulations in vv. 14-15a. In contrast, the tribes in question are never described with a verb of action. Instead, these tribes are portrayed in states of non-movement, inactivity, passivity and even tranquility. The specific verbs are “rest” ( yšb) in vv. 16 and 17, “dwell” (škn) twice in v. 17, and “rest/stay temporarily” ( gwr) in v. 17. The transition to these verbs of inaction, and their variety, is remarkable. It is as if the author of these verses searched his thesaurus for synonyms of yšb. In view of the considerations that 1) “went down” and similar verbs of action are used repeatedly in vv. 11b-15a, and then never again in the following lines, and that 2) this transition to verbs of inaction corresponds to the lines containing the question “why”, there is little room for doubt that the Song is distinguishing between two responses of the tribes: participation versus non-participation or passivity. The Song identifies those who fight on the side of “Israel” or “the people of Yhwh” as highland dwellers. All are said to have “descended” (apparently to the battlefield in the Jezreel valley). This descent is stated in general terms in three cola at the beginning (vv. 11b, 13) before specific tribes are ever named. Halpern perceptively recognizes the problem. In response, he argues that just as “went down” in v. 13b governs the action in v. 14, so do vv. 15b-17 “contain defining clauses implicitly subordinated to an overall affirmation of participation at war”.14 For Halpern “the largest difficulty confronting traditional readings” is the use of the verbs yšb, škn, and gwr. In order for the conventional interpretation to be maintained, these three verbs “must take on the meanings ‘remain, stay (away),’ ‘tarry’ ”. Halpern admits that “[t]his rendition is possible for yšb, though far less common than its core meaning, ‘dwell, sit’ ”. Similarly, he states that this meaning for škn is attested only once, namely in Prov 7:11: “She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home” (b ebêtāh lō’yišk enû raḡ leyhā). However, at least two texts employ yšb precisely to express non-participation in war (see §7 infra). One of these texts even relates to Transjordanian tribes, which represent the first two subjects of the statements in vv. 15b-17a. Together, these texts leave little doubt that the verbs in the Song represent attempts of the ancient poet to express inactivity, passivity and non-participation in the battle.15
Ibid., pp. 383-384. Yet how should one explain the presence of v. 18? In chap. 4, these two tribes are the only ones whom Barak mustered. Why are they so far removed from the other tribes in vv. 13-15a,
15) 14)

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3. The lyric descriptions in vv. 14-18 According to the suggestion of Cross and Halpern, one should read vv. 15b-17 as poetic descriptions of the tribes’ locations whence they came down to join the fight. In keeping with a long tradition of research, Cross and Halpern compare the section in vv. 14-18 to the cycle of blessings in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 33. These lines are said to constitute typical blessings of the same type found in the blessings of Jacob and Moses. Halpern concludes: “In other texts, related expressions function as benedictions. In SongDeb the same phrases do not represent rebukes”.16 Yet in examining the evidence more closely, questions arise. First, one must explain why these poetic descriptions do not appear in connection with the tribes who clearly participate. The only possible exception is Ephraim in v. 14, whose “root is in Amalek” (see Judg 12:15). Yet this statement associates Ephraim with a militant people, who are known in other biblical texts for their (violent) activity. In contrast, Reuben is listening to the whistles of/to the herds (rather than the call to battle) in v. 16; Dan is resting in his ships (or “at ease”) in v. 17; etc. Second, one wonders whether the poet might actually be turning these blessings on their head. The descriptions of Asher and Dan in v. 17 are blessings for Zebulun in Gen 49:13. Similarly the very next verse in Genesis 49 presents Issachar lying “among the flocks/baggage” (bên hammišp etayim, v. 14). This rare expression is found only in Ps 68:14, which is closely related to the Song,17 and in the Song itself, where it is applied to Reuben (v. 16). Remarkably, the Song also presents Issachar and Zebulun in sequence (vv. 14b-15a and 18a).18 These close connections between the Song and Jacob’s Blessing cannot be mere coincidence.19 The evidence suggests that the author of the Song—or the author(s) of solely vv. 14-18—drew on several
which are clearly presented as participating? In examining v. 18 more closely, it is not so clear that Zebulun and Naphtali participated. The reader wonders: Is Zebulun a people that “scorned its soul to die” (i.e., did not want to place itself in “the line of fire”), or is it a people that scorned death and fought fearlessly? Similarly did Naphtali stay on the heights of the field, or is this a description of its prominent place on the battlefield? 16) Ibid., p. 383; see earlier Miller, Divine Warrior, p. 96 and Cross, Cannaanite Myth, p. 235 n. 7, who translate “Dan indeed dwells at ease”. 17) See the forthcoming sequel to this article. 18) That the Song does not contain any commonalities with the blessing for Naphtali in Gen 49:21 is likely due to the formulation of that blessing, which the poet could not adapt to the purposes of the Song. 19) Witness also the parallelism of “scepter” and “ruler” in 5:14 also 49:10. Halpern notes that this parallelism occurs only in these two texts, ibid., p. 383.


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lines from Genesis 49, which praise those tribes that are the key participants in the Song, and applied them to the non-participants with a new twist. In this new context of combat portrayed by the Song, the quietude and idyllic passivity, praised in Genesis 49, are now censured.20 The criticism of tribes in the Song is anticipated in Genesis 49, which reproaches the behavior of Simeon, Levi and Benjamin; the censured behavior there however is not passivity but rather unbridled violence and bellicosity.21 Noteworthy is also that the Reuben strophe prophesies the end of this tribe (49:4). Just as Reuben leads the list (as the eldest son) in Genesis 49, he leads the list of the reproached in the Song.22 Yet—in contrast to Genesis 49—the Song, and a series of other texts discussed below, treat the question of the Transjordanian communities’ membership and status in Israel in terms of their contribution to Cisjordanian war efforts.

4. The Ephraimites and military assistance in Judges The main subject of the book of Judges is the (dis)unity of the people of Israel. The book of Joshua depicts the zenith of Israelite history by portraying all Israel joining together to conquer Canaan.23 In contrast, the book of Judges tells how after the death of Joshua this unity dissolves and is never fully reestablished.24 Only one time does all Israel assemble and unite for action, namely when they are called to wage war against their own members (chap. 20). And even then, one group fails to appear (21:5-14, see below).25 Related to this central concern of the book are a number of texts that depict tribes providing, or failing to provide, or being jealous that they were not
In demonstrating how the principle of activity versus inactivity unifies the Song, a recent paper by Paul Allen, student at Yale Divinity School, substantiates the reading presented here. 21) See 49:5-7 and 27. The former apply to the assault on Shechem in Genesis 34, an exception to the overt emphasis in Genesis on de-escalation of potential military crises, alliances and the sharing land and water. 22) For a useful discussion of Genesis 49 in relation to the polemics against Reuben, see Ulrike Schorn, Ruben und das System der zwölf Stämme Israels (BZAW 248; Berlin, 1997), pp. 248-266. 23) Yet notice how the threat of corporal punishment functions as a threat to coerce full collective participation (Josh 1:10-11+16-18). 24) 2:6-10. Compare the transitional narrative device of death of a figure coupled with rise of new generation in Exodus 1. 25) For the expression “as one man”, see the Utu-ḫegal account (RIME [pp. 284-87]) in which the king of Uruk mobilizes the city “as if they were just one person” (lú-aš-gin7) as well as Rashi on Num 32:25.

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asked to provide, military assistance. Many of these texts relate to Ephraim and Benjamin: Ehud, a Benjaminite, petitions Ephraim to assist him against Moab (3:27a); Deborah is linked explicitly to Ephraim (4:5); and later Gideon calls on Ephraim for help (7:24-25). As the narrative progresses, the depiction of Ephraim becomes gradually less favorable, and it concludes with a completely negative portrayal. Thus, in 8:1-3 the Ephraimites are angered that Gideon did not “call” on them earlier. In 12:1-3 they mobilize for war against Jephthah because, once again, they were not “called” to help. In the final chapters of the book, the most heinous crimes are committed by Ephraimites in Benjamin, and war is declared on the latter.26 In the Song of Deborah, Ephraim and Benjamin are notably the first tribes to “come down” for battle (v. 14a).27 This is just what we would expect given the gradual transition of the book’s narrative from a positive to negative tenor in the depiction of Ephraim—right after Ehud in 3:27a and right before Gideon in 7:24-25; 8:1-3.

5. Transjordanian military assistance in Judges In the Song, the Transjordanian tribes of Reuben and Gilead (see explicitly b e‘ēber hayyardēn in v. 17a) lead the list of the tribes who are rebuked for their passivity and non-participation, according to the traditional interpretation of vv. 15b-17. Moreover, no fewer than six cola—with the indicting question surrounded by an inclusio—are devoted to Reuben (vv. 15b-16). The censure of these Transjordanian tribes in the list is once again consistent with the larger narrative of the book of Judges. The next block of material (chaps. 6-8) concludes with a tale of Gideon and his 300 famished men pursuing two Midianite kings. Immediately after crossing the Jordan, Gideon begs the inhabitants of Succoth for a few loaves of bread for his men. His request is sharply rejected, with a telling rhetorical question: “Are Zebah and Zalmunna already in your hands that we should give bread to your troops?” (v. 6). Gideon then asks the city of Penuel and receives the exact same response. Thus, these cities would be willing to supply victuals for Gideon and his men if they had already proved themselves to be the victors. But until then, these Transjordanian communities
26) On the existence of a pre-deuteronomistic, Ephraimite history in Joshua 24-1 Samuel 12, see A. Rofé, “Ephraimite versus Deuteronomistic History”, in D. Garrone and F. Israel (eds.), Storia e tradizioni di Israel: scritti in onore de J. Alberto Soggin [Brescia, 1991], pp. 221-235. 27) For aḥ ăreyk̠ā binəyāmîn, see Hos 4:8 and the history of research cited by Roman Vielhauer, Das Werden des Buches Hosea (BZAW 349; Berlin, 2007), pp. 56-57.


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were not willing to contribute to the Cisjordanian war effort.28 This refusal to support the troops is comparable to a failure to send one’s own troops as reinforcements, a major theme in the book of Judges.29 Such an attitude toward Succoth and Penuel is astonishing given that these two Tranjordanian cities figure so prominently in Israelite history (see Gen 32:17, 24-32; 33:17).30 Not only does the final form of the Jephthah account cast aspersions on Gilead (see esp. 11:30-31, 34-40; 12:6), but also the last chapter of the book presents the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead being wiped out because they did not take part in the campaign against Benjamin (21:5-14).31

6. Transjordanian military assistance elsewhere in biblical literature The subject of military assistance is of course not confined to the book of Judges. One of the oldest biblical texts relating to the Transjordan, 1 Samuel 11, presents Saul and his Cisjordanian army, whom he coercively musters, coming to the assistance of Jabesh-Gilead. When read independently from its larger narrative context, this text does not identify Jabesh-Gilead as an Israelite city. By rescuing it in a time of distress, Saul establishes his influence in the Transjordan, just as Zimri-Lim did by “saving” the city of Razama (ARM 26 319).32 A later reading of 1 Samuel 11, attested in both Qumran (4QSama) and Josephus (Ant. 6.5.1-2), harmonizes the account with the supplementary passage in Judg 21:5-14, according to which Jabesh-Gilead was already an Israelite city.33 In this version, the newly crowned king comes to save not solely
28) The narrative resumes in 8:13-17 with Gideon punishing Succoth and Penuel. The older narrative can be easily isolated in v. 4a, 10-12, 18-21. The addition is found in v. 4b-9 and 13-17.— See also the mention of Gilead in the description of fearful troops in 7:3. 29) Already John Milton saw the connection between Judges 8 and the others from Judges (see §4 above); he treated them in terms of ingratitude to a deliverer (see his Samson Agonistes, Part I ). 30) One may compare the succor (a long list of delicacies) that Transjordanians offer David and his famished people when they were fleeing from Absalom (2 Sam 17:27-29); see Abigail’s very similar actions for David and his troops in 1 Samuel 25. The provisioning of troops is a standard vassal obligation or, more generally, an opportunity for a community to demonstrate loyalty, as can be seen not least from Josephus’s Wars 1.5, 8.1, 9.4, 13.8, 20.3, et al. 31) Once again, this passage seems to represent an insertion. Not only does it contradict 20:1, but the narrative also is much smoother without 21:5-14, although vv. 13-14aα may belong to the older narrative. 32) In both texts, the kings are called “saviors” (mōšî‘a in Hebrew and šuzubtim in Akkadian). 33) See discussion in Frank M. Cross, “The Ammonites Oppression of the Tribes of Gad and Reuben”, in Hayim Tadmor and Moshe Weinfeld (eds.), History , Historiography and Interpretation (Jerusalem, 1983), pp. 148-158; Eugene Charles Ulrich, The Qumran Text of Samuel and

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the city but rather all the “Israelites beyond the Jordan”, who still had a right eye and who had fled to this city for refuge. We are told that this group numbered 7,000 and that they belonged to the tribes of Gad and Reuben.34 Hence, while 1 Samuel 11 witnesses to the origins of Israel’s military-political claim in the Transjordan, the later readings from Qumran and Josephus stand at the end of, and presuppose, this long history. Yet, another group of texts reflect an intermediate stage in which the status of the Transjordanian communities was still in question. Their authors not only identify large territories in the Transjordan as belonging to Israel before the conquest of the Cisjordan; they also allow the inhabitants of these territories to affirm and demonstrate on the battlefield their allegiance to the Cisjordanians. These inhabitants, identified as Reuben and Gad, first promise to fight as a vanguard for their “kin” (Numbers 32), are later reminded by Moses of their promises (Deut 3:13-20), then prepare themselves for battle at Joshua’s command (Josh 1:12-15), cross over the Jordan (Josh 4:12), and finally are relieved from duty and sent back to their homes in the Transjordan with the highest accolades for their service as well as plenty of booty (Joshua 22).35

Josephus (HSM 19; Missoula, Mont.; 1978); Alexander Rofé, “The Acts of Nahash According to 4QSam a”, IEJ 32 (1982), pp. 129-133; Nadav Na’aman, “The Pre-Deuteronomistic Story of King Saul and Its Historical Significance”, CBQ 54 (1992), pp. 638-658; Frank Moore Cross et al., 1-2 Samuel (DJD 17; Oxford, 2005). 34) The Mesha Inscription (l. 10-11) speaks of the king of Israel building the city Ataroth (probably modern Khirbat ʾAt ̣ārûs) for the Gadites. (For the Ataroth in the Transjordan as a Gadite city, see Num 32:3, 34.) In this inscription and 1 Samuel 11, we can also observe how Gad becomes Israelite through political-strategic acts of benefaction. While Saul’s benefaction for Jabesh-Gilead consisted of wartime assistance, the Omride king conquers a Transjordanian territory and, perhaps more importantly, builds a city for them. The authors of other biblical texts (and the redactors of 1 Samuel 11) take the military-political project a step forward by rewriting history and identifying Gad as the name one of the twelve Israelite tribes. For recent discussions of Israel’s presence in Transjordan during the Iron Age, see Erasmus Gass, Die Moabiter: Geschichte und Kultur eines ostjordanischen Volkes im 1. Jahrtausend v. Chr. (ADPV 38; Wiesbaden, 2009); Jeremy Hutton, The Transjordanian Palimpsest (BZAW 396; Berlin, 2009), and Bruce Routledge, Moab in the Iron Age (Philadelphia, 2004). 35) The first text in the series, Numbers 32, engages the problem most explicitly and at greatest length: Reuben and Gad ask for permission to take up residence in the Transjordan rather than crossing over with the other Israelites. Moses is infuriated. In his tirade, he compares Reuben and Gad to the previous generation who discouraged Israel from conquering the land (vv. 6-15). Here one can hear the voice of a faction that opposes and polemicizes against the Transjordan, similar to the texts in Judges discussed above. The text however allows the Transjordanian Israelite communities to invalidate this denunciation.


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Hence a wide range of biblical texts treat the status of the Transjordan in relation to their wartime contributions. 1 Samuel 11 presents Saul establishing Israel’s political-military influence through the very act of answering the call of an important beleaguered city, mustering all Israel, and coming to assist. The texts in Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua permit the Transjordanians to demonstrate that they belong to Israel by spearheading the offensive during the Cisjordanian wars of conquest. Finally, in polemical texts from Judges, the Transjordanians refuse to contribute to Cisjordanian war efforts by providing alimentary succor (chap. 8) or soldiers (chap. 21).36 Exactly this failure to support a pan-Israelite war effort is likewise the grievance brought against the Transjordanian communities in the Song of Deborah.37

7. The use of yšb The most compelling argument for the traditional reading of the Song is also the shortest. According to the Cross-Halpern reading, the verb yšb, which is used twice in the Song, should not be translated as “stay put”, or “remain”. Rather than being chided for his inactivity, Reuben, Gilead, et al. are being commended for taking up arms, leaving their lyrically described abodes, and joining the fight as did Ephraim, Benjamin and the groups listed in vv. 14-15.
36) For other texts that polemicize against the Transjordan, see Jo Ann Hackett, “Religious Traditions in Israelite Transjordan”, in Patrick D. Miller Jr. et al. (eds.), Ancient Israelite Religion: Essays in Honor of Frank Moore Cross (Philadelphia, 1987), pp. 125-136. 37) The polemics against communities for not contributing to a war effort often have little to do with the war effort itself. Such polemics must instead be appreciated in the political context in which the war memorials (monuments, poems, historiography, etc.) are constructed (see introduction to this article and discussion below). Hence, one must view critically the recent conclusion of Gregory T. K. Wong, which in pleading for a “pre-monarchic” date, fails to consider how contemporary political issues related to belonging and status are often negotiated in the commemoration of wars long past. Thus, Wong writes: “[E]vidence from the book of Samuel seems to suggest that [. . .] Israelites and their tribes were generally united behind their kings and were willing and frequent participants in military campaigns against foreign enemies. While to be sure, isolated exceptions must have existed, these do not seem to have been sufficiently widespread both to warrant the composition of such a polemical piece and to account for its ready acceptance by that generation so that it would gain sufficient popularity to be preserved as one of the nation’s enduring traditions. This is especially so since by the time of the early monarchy, the events narrated in the song would have been in the distant past already, and the stances taken by the various tribes towards military campaigns against foreign enemies may have substantially changed from the time of Deborah” (“Song of Deborah as Polemic”, Biblica 88 [2007], pp. 1-22, here pp. 21-22).

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This approach is, however, rendered problematic by the fact that in Numbers 32 the verb yšb is used to introduce Moses’s censure of Reuben and Gad for not contributing to the Cisjordanian war effort: “Shall your brothers go to war while you reside here (w e’attem tēš ebû pōh)?” (v. 6). That this use of yšb is formal or technical is suggested by the strange “law and ordinance” instituted by David: “For the share (of booty) of the one who goes down to war (hayyōrēd bammilḥ āmâh) shall be the same as the one who resides/stays with the baggage (hayyōšēb̠ ‘al-hakkēlîm); they shall share (the spoils) together” (1 Sam 30:24). Here yšb is employed in the sense of Num 32:6 and the Song; moreover, it is used in contradistinction to yrd (“go down”), the verb that appears repeatedly in the Song to describe the actions of participating contingents.38 Finally, in Numbers 32, the reason that Reuben and Gad petition to “stay” in the Transjordan, rather than crossing over and fighting in the Cisjordan, is the rich pasturelands of the Gilead, which were well suited to the large herds of these tribes (32:1-5). Turning back to the Song, we observe that it indicts Reuben (in interrogatory form, like Num 32:6) for residing among the flocks and listening to the herds, rather than heeding the call to arms.39

Aegean War Commemoration Finally, the interpretation of vv. 15b-17 as censure for non-participation is supported by the parallels to war commemoration in the Aegean world. For the wars with Persia, various monuments name the participants (either a particular city or community or an alliance) in pivotal battles. An example of the former are the epigrams composed by Simonides. For example, the Corinthians commissioned one to commemorate their young men who died at Salamis and to recall thereby their contributions to the war: “Here we took Phoenician ships and Persians / And Medes and saved holy Greece”.40 An example of a monument commemorating multiple allied communities is the famous
As a testimony to his honesty and commitment to the evidence, Baruch Halpern readily acknowledged (in a personal communication, Feb 1, 2010) that this text complicates his thesis. For yrd as an expression to describe participation in battle, see also 1 Sam 14:36-37 and esp. 26:10 29:4. 39) This established sense of yšb would explain why the author, who seems to draw directly from Genesis 49, changes the verb rbṣ to yšb in the phrase bên hammišəpətayim; compare Gen 49:14 with Judg 5:16. 40) See John H. Molyneux, Simonides: A Historical Study (Wauconda, Il., 1992) and Deborah Boedeker and David Sider (eds.), The New Simonides: Contexts of Praise and Desire (New York, 2001).


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Serpent Column, originally erected in Delphi and currently in Constantinople.41 It lists the names of 31 states that contributed to the Persian War. The Tenians were inscribed later, while five communities are conspicuously absent. In addition to numerous such monuments, one could cite many passages from both works of drama and history that commemorate the failures or exceptional contributions of a particular community. For example, in Thucydides’ History 1.73-78, an Athenian embassy addresses the Spartans on the eve of the Peloponnesian War, justifying Athens’ hegemonial privileges with a detailed—and tendentious—account of its critical strategic role and its incomparable sacrifice for the good of all Hellas during the Persian Wars. Athens contributed three chief elements of success: the greatest number of ships, the ablest general (Themistocles), and the most extraordinary courage and devotion. They also remind the allies of their failure to come to their help:
Receiving no reinforcements from behind, seeing everything in front of us already subjugated, we had the spirit, after abandoning our city, after sacrificing our property (instead of deserting the remainder of the league or depriving them of our services by dispersing), to throw ourselves into our ships and meet the danger, without a thought of resenting your neglect to assist us. We assert, therefore, that we conferred on you quite as much as we received. For you had a stake to fight for; the cities which you had left were still filled with your homes, and you had the prospect of enjoying them again; and your coming was prompted quite as much by fear for yourselves as for us; at all events, you never appeared till we had nothing left to lose (1.74).42

Perhaps the most important witness to (literary) war commemoration is the “Catalogue of Ships” transmitted in the Iliad (2.494-759; see also the Trojan “Battle Order” in 2.816-877).43 The lengthy register negotiates political “belonging” by naming the contingents and their leaders who contributed to the historic war effort. It also includes descriptive epithets of the territories, like the blessings in Genesis 49 and Deuteronomy 32, as well as in our Song.
See R. Meiggs and D. Lewis, A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions to the End of the Fifth Century BC (rev. ed.; London, 1989), pp. 59-60. 42) Translation by Richard Crawley (New York, 2004; orig. London, 1910), p. 33. The argument of the Athenians is strikingly similar to the speech of the 2.5 tribes in Numbers 32 and the depiction of them fighting as a vanguard of Israel even when they had nothing directly to gain from the Cisjordanian conquest. 43) See most recently Edzard Visser’s massive Homers Katalog der Schiffe (Stuttgart/Leipzig, 1997).

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One can easily see how some of the strophes have been expanded with historical-anecdotal material. Most scholars agree that the Catalogue has been supplemented variously with the names of new contributors and that the names of some participants may have been deleted as a way of criticizing these communities. By stating exactly how many ships each land sent, the Catalogue ranks the level of contribution for each participant. For example:
Men from Tricca, rocky Ithome, Oechalia, city of Eurytus, the Oechalian, were commanded by two sons of Asclepius, skilled healers, Machaon and Podaleirus. They brought thirty hollow ships with them (2.729-809).

Other strophes name the land that sent the best horses (2.761-65) or who represented the best warrior (2.767-68). The Catalogue also notes nonparticipation: “But their minds weren’t set / on the grim clash of war. They had no one to lead them” (2.761-62). Later we read that these same troops “stayed behind by their ships” and “amused themselves” in various ways (2.771-79). Taken together, this evidence supports the traditional reading of Judg 5:15b-17.

Conclusion The cumulative force of the observations presented here draws into question the reading of Judg 5:15-17b proposed by Frank Cross and Baruch Halpern. These statements are not “lyric characterizations, implying participation at war”. Rather, they should be understood in keeping with the traditional interpretation: as expressions of disapprobation for the failure of Reuben, Gilead, Dan and Asher to participate in the battle. These statements must be appreciated against the backdrop of many other texts in which the issues of membership and status of the Transjordanian communities is treated—many times also in connection to a history of military service. Yet the probative value of the Cross-Halpern reading is not exhausted. One needs to probe the material further in light of the problem posed by v. 23. As Cross and Halpern point out, we would expect, on the basis of this verse (see also Judg 21:5-14), all non-participation to be recompensed with a curse. How, then, should one account for the fact that Reuben, Gad, Dan and Asher, in contrast to Meroz, are not anathematized?


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Now no one would deny that the curse of Meroz is meant to serve as a foil to the blessing of Jael in the immediately following strophe (v. 24). But the tight literary connection between these lines fails to account for the discrepancy with vv. 15b-17.44 For one would have to explain why vv. 15b-17 are not closer to v. 23 and formulated in closer analogy to it. Often historical explanations are offered as a solution for the literary problem posed by Meroz. For example, the literary position of Meroz in the Song is said to reflect its geographical position. Israel expected Meroz to cut off the enemy when the latter retreated, but Meroz did not do so and was therefore harshly cursed.45 Others maintain that Meroz was in alliance with Israel but joined “the Canaanites” during this battle, or vice versa.46 According to yet another suggestion, economic reasons militated against the participation of the tribes in vv. 15b-17, whereas Meroz lacked a legitimate excuse.47 These historical solutions fail to account for the literary problem. According to the conventional interpretation, whose validity the present article has corroborated, the Song inculpates two groups for failing to participate in the battle (vv. 15b-17 and v. 23), but only with respect to the second group does it explicitly say that it “did not come to help of Yhwh” and pronounce a curse on it. Any attempt to escape the literary problem by recourse to an extraliterary historical explanation, even if it were less speculative than the ones already offered, is methodologically problematic. The failure of all these solutions requires that we consider another option: that the Song has been reworked in the course of its transmission history. Indeed, if the Song stems entirely from the same hand, one would have to find a way of salvaging the Cross-Halpern interpretation of vv. 15b-17. Yet in a forthcoming article, I summon various lines of evidence indicating that the Song has undergone amplification in its early transmission history. I attempt

Pace J. P. Fokkelman, “The Song of Deborah and Barak: Its Prosodic Levels and Structure”, in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of J. Milgrom (ed. David P. Wright et al.; Winona Lake 1995), pp. 595-628, here p. 619. 45) See Barnabas Lindars, Judges 1-5: A New Translation and Commentary (London, 1995), p. 272. 46) See discussion in Erasmus Gaß, Die Ortsnamen des Richterbuches in historischer und redaktioneller Perspektive (Wiesbaden, 2005). 47) Lawrence E. Stager, “Archeology, Ecology, and Social History: Background Themes to the Song of Deborah”, in Congress Volume: Jerusalem 1986 (ed. J. A. Emerton; VTSup 40; Leiden, 1988); 221-234.


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to show that it and the preceding prose version in chap. 4 originally had nothing to do with each other.48 In weaving these texts together, the authors of Judges fashioned an impressive war monument that not only depicts a diversity of actors but also articulates a national identity that these actors— and the readers—can collectively embrace as their own.

48) Their sole commonality is that they both refer to a battle in the Jezreel valley, yet this carries little weight since the Jezreel valley has been a popular battleground in the Southern Levant for over four millennia.

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