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Judges in the Bible
In the Book of Judges
Deborah (and Barak)*
In the First Book of Samuel
* Not explicitly described as a judge

Grave near Tel Kadesh attributed to Barak or Deborah

Levon Shant.jpg

Deborah or (Hebrew: דְּבוֹרָה, Modern  Tiberian Dəḇôrāh ; "Bee") was a prophetess and the fourth, and the only female, Judge of pre-monarchic Israel in the Old Testament (Tanakh). Her story is told twice, in chapters 4 and 5 of Judges.

Judges 5 gives this same story in poetic form. This passage, often called The Song of Deborah, may date to as early as the 8th century BCE and is perhaps the earliest sample of Hebrew poetry.

It is also significant because it is one of the oldest passages that portrays fighting women, the account being that of Jael, the wife of Heber, a Kenite tent maker. Jael killed Sisera by driving a tent peg through his temple as he slept. The account is interesting in that both Deborah and Jael are portrayed as strong independent women. The poem may have been included in the Book of the Wars of the Lord mentioned in Numbers 21:14.

The Deborah number, a dimensionless number used in rheology, is named after her.[1]

Deborah's personal life

Little is known about Deborah's personal life. In the Book of Judges, it is stated that she was the wife of Lappidoth (meaning "torches"). But since this name is not found outside of the Book of Judges, it might simply mean that Deborah herself was a "fiery" spirit.

She was a poet and she rendered her judgments beneath a palm tree between Ramah in Benjamin and Bethel in the land of Ephraim. (Judges 4:5) Some people today refer to Deborah as the mother of Israel because of the "Song of Deborah and Barak" found in Judges 5.

After being oppressed by Jabin, the king of Canaan, in Hazor, for twenty years, (Judges 4:9) Deborah prevailed upon Barak to face Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, in battle. The victory to which the Bible refers is the victory of an Israelite force of ten thousand over Sisera's force of nine hundred iron chariots. (Judges 4:10)

Barak agreed to the battle only after Deborah agreed to accompany him into battle. Judges 4:9 recounts Deborah's assent to Barak's request:

"And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kadesh."

According to the Biblical account, the Israelites went out to meet the army of Sisera in battle. When Deborah saw the army, she said, according to Judges 4:14:

"Up; for this [is] the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from Mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him."

As Deborah prophesied, the Lord gave the victory to the Israelites. The Egyptian leader, Sisera, fled the battle site seeking refuge in the tent of the woman Jael. In the Biblical account, Jael killed the enemy leader, Sisera. The Biblical account of Deborah ends in Judges 5.

After the battle, there was peace in the land for forty years. (Judges 5:31)

Historical and biblical context

Gustave Dore's interpretation of the prophetess Deborah

The accounts of Judges 4 and 5 tell the story of a battle at Kishon and Taanach whose waters lap the walls of ancient Megiddo. In alliance with Barak the king of Kadesh and some of Israel's northern tribes after the death of Joshua in the time of Shamgar the son of Anath which is located on the north slope of Mount Tabor. Jabin the king of Canaan reigned at Hazor and the commander of his army was Sisera who lived in Haroseth-ha-goiim.

In context Joshua has just finished attacking the Perizzites of Adonai-zedek at Bezek, Kirith -arba, Kirathsepher, Sheshi, Ahiman and Talmai. The sons of Hobab the Kenite, father-in-law of Moses, went up with the sons of Judah into the wilderness of Negeb at the ascent of Arab and lived with the Amalakites. Judah did not take Ashkelon, Ekron or Bethel of the Hittites. Manassah did not subdue Beth Shean, Tanaach, Dor, Ibleam, or Meggido. Ephron did not drive out the Canaanites in Gezer, Zebulon did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron or Nahalol. Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, Sidon, Ahlab, Achzib, Aphik or Rehob. Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath. The Amorites drove back the Danites into the highlands. Meanwhile, in the south, battles continued with the Edomites, the Moabites and the Philistines.

Most of the then Egyptian territory shown in the adjoining map was up in arms and there were few allies among the southern tribes who were free to come to the assistance of Deborah and Barak. Israel, which the song of Deborah and Barak numbers at 40,000 spears, was unavailable except for forces from the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir, Zebulon, Issachar, and Naphtali. The references to Kishons waters and Tanaach waters which lap at Meggido indicate that as Deborah's forces moved down from Kadesh in the mountains, the enemy moved north, taking the southern route up to Megiddo where the battle was fought. With 900 iron-bound chariots involved on either side, it was clearly a sizable battle, likely to be historically recorded by both sides. It can't be the account of the historical battle of Megiddo given by Thutmoses III, c 1470 BCE. It does agree with the taking of the narrow mountain road that was more susceptible to ambush and thus arriving with the advantage of surprise; and in the fact that the king of Kadesh was involved in the battle. That conflict is also a bit early for the Iron Age. Egypt is at peace with its neighbors until the death of Amenophis III c 1353. After that, the Egyptian garrison at Beth Shean and the king of Kadesh continue to be at war throughout the rest of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt and the Nineteenth dynasty of Egypt up through Ramesses II and the battle of Kadesh c 1285 BCE. Going by the textual artifacts in this account, the battle took place sometime in the reign of Seti I, and may have resulted in the capture.


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This page uses content from the English Wikisource. The original article was at Deborah. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the Religion wiki, the text of Wikisource is available under the CC-BY-SA.
Preceded by
Judge of Israel Succeeded by

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