views updated


SISERA (Heb. סִיסְרָא), the leader of the coalition opposing Israel "by the waters of Megiddo" in the days of *Deborah (Judg. 4–5). Sisera is the object of extreme scorn in the poetic sequel, the archaic Song of *Deborah, which celebrates Israel's victory. No evidence exists concerning the involvement of the city of *Megiddo itself in this episode, and so the event is roughly dated at 1150–1125 b.c.e., before Megiddo's revival and following the destruction of the early 12th-century city. Sisera's name is entirely uncharacteristic of the Semitic context; the best linguistic affinities are found in Illyrian names with the element-ero. In the prose narrative, Sisera, "who dwelt in Harosheth-Goiim," is represented as field commander for "*Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned at *Hazor" (Judg. 4:2). The tradition is an old one and was long effective, as known from i Samuel 12:9 where the events surrounding Sisera stand as an example of God's judgment and deliverance. (It is believed that Bedan, in i Samuel 12:11, is miswritten for Barak.) On the other hand, in the bitterness which evoked Psalms 83:10, only the victory over Jabin and Sisera is important.

A location for Harosheth-Goiim has been suggested in the vicinity of Hazor. However, with the evidence for the historicity of Judges 4, the site of Tell-ʿAmr, at the southern edge of the Esdraelon plain near the mouth of the pass into the plain of Acre, remains the most probable location of Sisera's town. The tradition that calls it Harosheth "of the Gentiles," plus Sisera's non-Semitic name, combines with the fact that Tell-ʿAmr was founded in the early Iron Age to suggest that it belonged to one of the recently arrived Sea Peoples. (For another view see *Deborah.)

The implication of the narrator is that Sisera and his force fled the battlefield in opposite directions, the troops being overtaken and overwhelmed at Harosheth. Sisera escaped alone as far as Elon-Bezaanannim, whose location is uncertain, but is generally sought in Naphtali. It was a place to which certain *Kenites had migrated in an earlier period and where they had settled after contracting a treaty with Jabin, king of Hazor. The connection between the Kenites and Jabin is clear in the shift from standard narrative tenses to the use of a sentence having no verb at the point at which the Kenites and Jabin are mentioned together ("there (was) a peace treaty between Jabin… and the house of Heber the Kenite," Judg. 4:17). Thus, the final irony of both the prose and the poem is that Sisera, desperately seeking the relative safety of the borders in the far north, was killed by one whose clan had broken away from the Mosaic alliance, and by a woman at that. A glimpse of the later vicissitudes of Sisera's people is provided in the mention of "sons of Sisera" in the lists of Nethinim (Ezra 2:53; Neh. 7:55). Most of the Nethinim families were descended from prisoners of war (see Gibeonites and *Nethinim).


P. Haupt, in: bzaw, 27 (1914), 197; Kittel, Gesch, 2 (1917), 82ff.; Noth, Personennamen, 64; W.F. Albright, in: basor, 62 (1936), 26–31; J. Simons, Handbook for the Study of Egyptian Topographical Lists… (1937), 158–69; A. Alt, in: zaw, 60 (1944), 67ff; Noth, Hist Isr, 149–52, 162–3; Bright, Hist, 138; W.F. Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (1963), 39–40; A. Malamat, in: H.H. Ben-Sasson (ed.), Toledot Am Yisrael bi-Ymei Kedem (1969), 72.

[Robert G. Boling]