Heads up on scheduling: In February we will start to study the rest of the judges, chapters 1-3 and chapters 6-12. We will study chapters 17-21 in the Spring. My plan is to start I Samuel in the Fall, so that we can read the Hannah Narrative (I Sam 1-2) for Rosh Hashanah. Between the end of Judges and the beginning of I Samuel, we’ll do some special topics. If the timing is right, we may study Ruth right before Shavuot. In the Christian Bible, Ruth is placed between Judges and I Samuel which is a good location in terms of time.
On January 3rd, we discussed the prose version of the story of Deborah, Barak, Sisera and Jael. On January 17 we will discuss Chapter 5, the song version, which also includes Sisera’s mother. We will be looking for ways in which the story is told differently in prose and poetry.
We noted that women in Judges 4 (Deborah and Jael) have considerable agency. Perhaps this is true in times of war generally. Specifically, a society without structure, as shown in Judges, is known to provide opportunities for women and men of low standing. Carol Myers, an archeologist who makes use of ethnographic studies, discusses this in her writings about Israelite women in Iron Age Palestine (Discovering Eve, Ancient Israelite Women in Context). It is succinctly put by Leila Leah Bronner : “The lack of a hierarchical structure allowed men like Gideon and Jephthah, who were of low social standing, to achieve considerable political stature. In the same way, it appears some women were also able to rise to positions of authority.” (A Feminist Companion to the Bible: Judges, pg 73).
Names are meaningful. V 4.4 is most often translated Deborah, wife of Lappidot. However, the Hebrew is “woman of lappidot” or “lappidot woman”. The same word is used in Hebrew for both wife and women, ish, and the meaning needs to be derived from context. I quote Bronner again, regarding “woman of lappidot.” “The phrase should be understood literally as ‘woman of flames.’ This is a very apposite epithet, for Deborah was an ‘inflamed and inflaming’ woman in her own right, as a fervent and charismatic personality, and the term fits her without any need to connect her to a husband.” (ibid, pg 78). We had a lively discussion about whether it made a difference if Deborah did or did not have a husband.
Thanks to Sam, we have found out the meaning of Jael. Jael is what the Bible calls the wild goats of Ein Gedi (I Sam 24.3). Perhaps the name refers to Jael’s daring, perhaps to her providing Sisera with milk which may have well been goat’s milk?
We looked as Sisera’s death.
Q: Did Sisera have to die, and if so, why?
Q: Why did Jael kill Sisera?
I proposed that the prose version foregrounds God as a warrior and shows little of God as a miracle worker. It was pointed out that the killing of the Canaanites did depend upon a miracle. This is a rich discussion which will gain clarity when we look at how God is portrayed in the Song of Deborah, Ch 5.
I proposed that much of Chapter 4 pivots around the shaming of two men: Barak and Sisera. Barak is directed to conquer King Jabin, but will not do so without bringing Deborah with him. In the end Sisera is killed by the hand of a woman: Jael.
Q: Is this smart planning, or does this shame Barak because a woman does his work for him?
Q: Is it shameful for Sisera to be killed by a woman?
Q: Is it shameful for Barak that Jael has to kill Sisera for him?
It was noted that our concept of shame might not be appropriate for interpreting this story. The word boshet, Hebrew for shame, appears in many places in the Bible, but does not appear next to either Barak’s name or Sisera’s. Deborah says that if Barak insists upon Deborah accompanying him, the trip will not be for his honor (4.9). The word used is tifereth, which means glory or beauty, also honor and greatness (referring to a monarch). BdB says that in Ju 4.9 tifereth means “”glorifying, boasting.” So perhaps it is accurate to say that by being helped by a woman, Barak will have no honor or glory, no right to boast about his deed.
Chapter 4 closes with lauding the destruction of Jabin, king of Canaan (vv 23-4). It opened (v2) with God giving the Israelites over to (selling them to) this same Jabin. The opening and closing of a chapter are significant. Note that additionally Ch 4 opens with Deborah (v 4), but closes with Jael (v 22).
Q: Ponder the messages being given by each of the opening/closing pairs.