DEBORAH (Heb. דְבוֹרָה; "bee"), wife of Lappidoth; judge and prophet during the period of the *Judges. Deborah promoted the war of liberation from the oppression of *Jabin king of Canaan (Judg. ch. 4). She is cited as the primary author of the Song of Deborah (ch. 5). Unsuccessful efforts have been made to determine the exact time and place of Deborah's war within the general framework of the conquest of Canaan and the period of the Judges or to date the song by means of geography or the political situation reflected in it. Many scholars, however, place this period at about 1200–1125 b.c.e.
Deborah is unique among the Judges because she was a woman (cf. 5:7) and a prophet (4:4); according to the text, she is also the only one of the judges who actually judged (4:5). Although tribal affiliation is uncertain, her place of residence leads to the supposition that she was an Ephraimite (4:5) or that she may have come from Issachar (cf. 5:15). Both in the narration of the events and in the Song of Deborah, she appears as a national leader, as "judging Israel" (4:4), and as a "mother in Israel" (5:7). Her home and seat of justice was at the southern extremity of the hill-country of Ephraim, between *Beth-El and *Ramah under the "palm-tree of Deborah" (4:5), an unidentified site sacred to the people and possibly identified by popular tradition with Allon-Bacuth, the burial site of Deborah, Rebekah's nurse (Gen. 35:8). Some see in the image of Deborah the kahin (or kahina), known from the nomadic Arab tribes as a judge in a sanctified place, a magician and fortune-teller who aroused the warriors to battle with a song. The Bible tells nothing about Deborah's husband Lappidoth (Judg. 4:4).
The War of Deborah
This is the only war against the Canaanite oppression of the tribes of Israel described in the Book of Judges, and it may have been Israel's last campaign against the Canaanites. The relationship between this war against "Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor" (Judg. 4:2) and the one against "Jabin king of Hazor" (Josh. 11:1ff.) has not yet been clarified. The sources imply a gap of several generations between the battle described in Joshua, which led to the conquest of Galilee, and the war of Deborah (cf. Judg. 2:10; 3:30; 4:3; 5:6). The narrative gives the distinct impression that the latter took place after the destruction of *Hazor itself, a problem already seen by the Radak (David *Kimḥi). Joshua's conquests had left many Canaanite enclaves in the interior of the country, especially in the northern plains (Judg. 1–3). The Canaanites' equipment included iron chariots, which the Israelites did not yet possess (1:19; 4:3), and this advantage enabled the enemy to control passage through the valleys (cf. 1:34). These Canaanite settlements in the valleys of Jezreel and Beth-Shean formed a barrier between the mountain tribes in the center of the land and those in the Galilee. In the days of Deborah, Jabin's military headquarters was located at *Harosheth-Goiim (4:2). With a force of "nine hundred chariots of iron" headed by *Sisera, Jabin "sorely oppressed the Israelites for twenty years" (4:3).
It is surprising that the initiative to engage in a war of liberation should have come from Deborah, who lived at a distance, at the southern extremity of the Canaanite kingdom, and that she should have summoned *Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh-Naphtali in the northern extremity, also a considerable distance from the Canaanite kingdom. Deborah appointed Barak military commander and accompanied him to Kedesh-Naphtali, where he enlisted "ten thousand men from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun" (4:6). Barak climbed Mount Tabor with his army while Sisera's camp moved from Harosheth-Goiim to the Kishon valley. Despite the considerable distance between the camps, Deborah ordered Barak to exploit the flooding of the Wadi Kishon as quickly as possible (5:21) and to move down from Mount Tabor and storm Sisera's camps. The battle was joined in "Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo" (5:19), a Canaanite town located near one of the tributaries of the Kishon, some 15 mi. (25 km.) southwest of Mount Tabor. Sisera's chariots sank deep into the mire and were totally disabled, and the Israelite army put "Sisera's entire camp to the sword until not one of them remained" (4:16). Sisera himself fled to the tent of *Jael, wife of *Heber the Kenite, who lived in friendship with Jabin (4:17), and was treacherously killed by Jael (4:17–22; 5:24–27). The victory marked the permanent decline of the Canaanite kingdom and ushered in a period of 40 years of tranquillity for Israel (4:23–24; 5:31).
Both accounts of the war of Deborah – the narrative and the poetic – concur in the main, giving a fairly complete picture of events, despite some discrepancies in details. In both accounts it is clearly a war of national liberation, not of isolated tribes. Nevertheless, the narrative indicates that only the two northern tribes – Zebulun and Naphtali – participated, whereas the song cites the names of many tribes (and clans), some praised for their participation, others condemned for their abstention (5:14–18), with Zebulun and Naphtali being generously acclaimed (5:18). It is difficult to ascertain whether these discrepancies constitute contradictory accounts or differing points of view of the same event. According to the song, the war of Deborah was a war of volunteers (5:2, 9), and the victory was a woman's victory, whether attributed to Deborah, the initiator, or to Jael, the slayer of the Canaanite commander.
The Song of Deborah
The song (Judg. ch. 5) is a paean of victory attributed to both Deborah and Barak. Among the most difficult, and, according to Bible scholars, among the earliest of Hebrew heroic poems, it was apparently sung antiphonally (cf. 5:12). The presence of many feminine images supports the view that the author was a woman. It opens with an invitation to kings and princes to listen (5:3) and a prologue (5:4–5) describing the trembling of the mountains in the face of Yahweh's triumphant march out of Seir. Section two (5:6–8) describes the wretched state of the people prior to the war. The period preceding the victory is called "the days of Shamgar son of Anath" and "the days of Jael" (5:6). The judge *Shamgar is known from another source (3:31), but a woman judge named Jael is mentioned nowhere else. It is hardly likely that the name Jael, the murderer of Sisera, is intended. The postwar change becomes evident in verses 9–11, which praise the "chieftains of Israel," i.e., the national leaders whose patriotism had achieved the victory. Section four (5:12–18) applauds the leading warriors and the tribes and clans that took part in the hostilities and, conversely, mocks those who remained apathetic. Praiseworthy are Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir (Manasseh?), Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali; discredited (apparently) are Reuben, Gilead (Gad?), Dan, and Asher; Judah and Simeon are not mentioned. Section five (5:19–22) recounts in highly figurative language the battle at Taanach against the "kings of Canaan" and Sisera and the role of nature therein.
Joyous clamor is interrupted between sections five and six (5:23) by a curse upon the settlement of Meroz for its failure to take part in the war. This serves as a dramatic antithesis to the blessings for Jael, which opens the next section. Section six (5:24–30) combines two scenes: the first describes the death of Sisera at the hand of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; the second portrays the mother of Sisera in the company of "her ladies," who try to calm her as she waits in anxiety for her son to return from the battle. The song ends (5:31) with an exultant cry for the destruction of God's enemies and the supremacy of those who love Him.
The poetic form of the Song of Deborah is characterized by parallelism and the repetition of a word, or a combination of words, in various lines of most of the verses. Also characteristic is the frequency of the tricolon, that is, the three line verse (e.g., 5:2, 3b). According to tradition, the Song of Deborah is written in a form called "blank over script and script over blank," that is, a line of three hemistiches followed by a line of two longer hemistiches, and so on (similar to the form of the Song of Moses, Ex. 15). There is, however, no established tradition on the division of the words into hemistiches in the Song of Deborah. There is great similarity between this song and Psalm 68, which appears to have been composed under the former's influence. Tradition has assigned the Song of Deborah to the haftarah of the weekly portion of Be-Shallaḥ, whose central section is Moses' Song by the Sea (Ex. 15), which, in turn, bears a direct relationship in spirit, style, and content to the Song of Deborah.
In the Aggadah
Deborah was one of the seven prophetesses of the Bible. She dispensed justice in the open air under a palm tree to avoid being alone with a man in her house (Meg. 14a). Her husband Lappidoth is identified with Barak (ser 10), his name deriving from the fact that he made candles for the sanctuary (lappid = "torch"). According to one view this was his only merit because he was an ignorant man (ibid.). The rabbis criticize Deborah for her unbecoming arrogance in sending for Barak rather than going to him (Meg. 14b). Because of this and because of her conceit in boasting, "I arose, a mother in Israel" (cf. Judg. 5:7), she was given the unflattering name of Deborah ("bee"). The prophetic spirit departed from her for a time while she was composing her song (Pes. 66b); nevertheless she and Hannah were the two women in the world who composed praises to God unequaled by those written by men (Zohar, Lev. 19b). Deborah's great wealth enabled her to dispense justice without remuneration (Targ., Judg. 4:5).
In the Arts
The story of Deborah and the associated episode of Jael and Sisera have given rise to very few literary works. The French poet and Bible scholar Guy *Le Fèvre de la Boderie played on the Hebrew meaning of the name of the prophetess both in his epic La Galliade (1578) and in his poetic paraphrase of the Song of Deborah: "Debora gente Abeille / Reveille et leve toy, / Reveille toy reveille / Chante un Hymne au grand Roy…" (Hymnes Ecclésiastiques, 1578). From the 18th century onward, most works on these themes were texts designed for oratorios such as the Deborah of Handel. More attention has been paid to the motifs in the visual arts and in music. There are illustrations in 13th- and 14th-century manuscripts; the Psalter of St. Louis (French, 13th century) contains an illumination which shows the prophetess going forth with Barak and his men to make war on Sisera. In Ulm cathedral, Germany, Deborah, sword in hand, figures in the row of prophetesses on the choir stall (15th century). She also appears occasionally in baroque paintings, such as the work by Herrera Barnuevo (1619–1671) in the San Andrès church, Madrid. Jael has lent herself to even more plastic treatment, because of the dramatic qualities of her character. Usually artists have dealt with the slaying of Sisera, in which Jael, resembling Judith in appearance, wields a hammer in place of a sword. In Christian iconography she represents the Virgin's triumph over the devil or the Church triumphant, but in the misogynist art of the Middle Ages, Jael, like Delilah, exemplifies feminine duplicity. She appears in carvings and in manuscripts, including the Psalter of St. Louis (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) and the 14th-century Queen Mary Psalter (British Museum). There is also a fine drawing (c. 1430) after the Master of Flémalle (Brunswick Museum, Germany). During the Renaissance, Jael began to represent force and became a popular subject in Northern Europe. Some artistic treatments of this figure are a painting by the German artist Lucas Cranach, a wood-engraving by Albrecht Altdorfer, and an engraving by the Dutch artist Lucas van Leyden (all of the 16th century). Rembrandt made a pen drawing of Jael (1659), and there is a Gobelin tapestry illustrating the subject (Vienna Museum).
Deborah and Jael were popular with composers. About a dozen 17th- and early 18th-century oratorios on these themes are known, including some of historical interest, such as G. Fr. Rubini's dialogo, Debora (1656), which was the first demonstration of the reform of oratorio texts and structure proposed by its librettist, Spagna; and Porsile's Sisara (1719), Apostolo Zeno's first libretto. Handel's oratorio Deborah, with text by Samuel Humphreys (1739), is among the earliest works of his "oratorio period." Baldassare Galuppi's oratorio Jahel (Venice, 1747) featured an unusual item – an aria accompanied by two mandolins. Eighteenth-century compositions, mainly oratorios, were often performed in honor of politically active woman rulers, such as the empress Maria Theresa. Two successful later works were Josef Foerster's opera Deborah (1893; text after S. *Mosenthal) and Ildebrando Pizzetti's opera Debora e Jaele (composed 1915–21), first performed in Milan in 1922. Two settings of the verse "Thus may Thine Enemies Perish" from the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5:31) have been absorbed into the "corpus" of Israeli folksong: one by Uri Givon (with the textual variant "Thine Enemies, O Israel" instead of "O God") and another by Sara Levi-Tannai; both have also been made into folk dances. One of the Aramaic epic chants of the Jews of Kurdistan describes the story of Jael and Sisera (J.J. Rivlin, Shirat Yehudei ha-Targum (1959), 203–9).
character of deborah: J. Pedersen, Studies in the Old Testament Prophecy (1950), 127–42; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 1 (1937), 700, 718; Brawer, in: bjpes, 8 (1941), 67–72. war of deborah: Albright, in: basor, 62 (1936), 26–31; Engberg and Albright, ibid., 78 (1940), 4–9; Rabin, in: jjs, 6 (1955), 125–34; Alt, Kl Schr, 1 (1953), 256–73; Aharoni, in: J. Liver (ed.), Historyah Ẓeva'it shel Ereẓ Yisrael… (1964), 91–109; idem, Hitnaḥalut Shivtei Yisrael ba-Gallil ha-Elyon (1957), 98–106; Malamat, in: B. Mazar (ed.), Ha-Historyah shel Am Yisrael: Ha-Avot ve-ha-Shofetim (1967), 221–3; Y. Kaufmann, Sefer Shofetim (1962), 113ff.; W. Richter, Traditiongeschichtliche Untersuchungen zum Richterbuch (1963), 29ff. the song of deborah: S. Daiches, The Song of Deborah (1926); O. Grether, Das Deboralied (1941); W.F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (1968), 1–25; Ackroyd, in: vt, 2 (1952), 160–2 (Eng.); Gerleman, ibid., 1 (1951), 168–80 (Eng.); Goddard, in: Westminster Theological Journal, 3 (1941), 93–112; Sellin, in: Procksch-Festschrift (1934), 149–66; Slotki, in: jts, 33 (1932), 341–54; Weiser, in: zaw, 71 (1959), 67–97; Blenkinsopp, in: Biblica, 42 (1961), 61–71 (Eng.); Seale, in: jbl, 81 (1962), 343–7. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. in the arts: E. Kirschbaum (ed.), Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, 1 (1968), 490–1 (includes bibliography); T. Ehrenstein, Das Alte Testament im Bilde (1923), 469–72; L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 2 (1956), 327–8. add. bibliography: Y. Amit, Judges (1999), 82–91.