Cover image for Warrior, dancer, seductress, queen : women in Judges and biblical Israel
Warrior, dancer, seductress, queen : women in Judges and biblical Israel
Ackerman, Susan.
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First edition.
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New York : Doubleday, 1998.
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xiii, 352 pages ; 25 cm.
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Central Library BS1305.6.W7 A29 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Some of the Bible's most memorable characters are the women in the book of Judges. From Deborah and Jael to Delilah and Samson's mother, these women led the Israelites in battle, used their wits to defeat the enemy, their wiles to seduce mighty men, and their wisdom to prevail on God. InWarrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queenauthor Susan Ackerman offers a keen analysis of the main types of women found in Judges and examines other biblical books and ancient Near Eastern literature to demonstrate how these types recur elsewhere. Thorough yet entertaining, her study leaves readers with an understanding of what roles these women played in Israelite society and religion. The first female author to be published in the Anchor Bible Reference Library, Ackerman and her cutting-edge biblical scholarship will be a valuable addition to this venerable series.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ackerman (a professor of religion at Dartmouth) explores the "remarkable assembly of women... and the multitude of roles they play" in the book of Judges. She identifies in Judges six "types" of women's roles that, she asserts, illuminate not only Hebrew Scripture but a breathtaking range of ancient Near Eastern literature that includes Homer and Christian scripture. Each chapter considers one "type," identified with one or more characters who play an identifiable role in Judges. Deborah and Jael, Israel's two great women warriors, play the role of the "military hero" as well as the priestly role of "cult specialist." The role of the queen mother is represented by the mother of Sisera, the commander defeated by Deborah and Jael. Manoh's wife (Samson's mother) fills the more "powerless" role of mothers, wives and daughters in waiting. The largely autonomous role of the prostitute is represented by Delilah, and the daughters of Shiloh represent the role of the "maidens abducted while dancing." Ackerman deftly weaves together literary criticism and historical analysis, and her discussion of one role illuminates the discussion of another. Particularly enlightening is Ackerman's application of literary forms associated with the Canaanite goddesses Anat and Asherah to stories of biblical women warriors and queen mothers ranging from Judith and Jezebel to Mary. This accessible work could reach a broad audience interested in becoming acquainted with the richly textured character of biblical literature. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One " Awake! Awake! Utter a Song! " DEBORAH, WOMEN, AND WAR Wondering how a good woman can murder I enter the tent of Holofernes holding in one hand his long oiled hair and in the other, raised above his sleeping, wine flushed face his falchion with its unsheathed curved blade. . . . FROM THE POEM "JUDITH," BY VICKI FEAVER The apocryphal book of Judith presents its protagonist as everything a paragon of Israelite womanhood should be: beautiful, pious, unassuming, and wise. But the book also depicts Judith as someone who defies Israel's ideals of femininity as she goes forth from her village of Bethulia to assassinate Holofernes, the Assyrian general who is oppressing the town. In her 1994 poem "Judith," Vicki Feaver addresses this unexpected dissonance, asking already in the poem's first line "how a good woman can murder." As the verse unfolds, Feaver answers through a psychological meditation on Judith's past, imagining how Judith remembers the greatest wrongs that fate has dealt her, the untimely death of her husband from heatstroke and the utter emptiness, "like the emptiness of a temple with the doors kicked in," that consumed her in the years that followed. Judith's murder of Holofernes becomes her revenge for these and others of life's arbitrary acts, so that by the poem's last lines, Judith finds her supposed dilemma is really no quandary at all. Beheading Holofernes is "easy," Feaver writes, "like slicing through fish."     In this chapter, the question that guides me is much the same as the one that opens Feaver's poem, the question of how a good woman like Judith--or Deborah, the Judges woman who is my focus in this essay--can so defy Israelite paradigms of gender-appropriate behavior that she can be presented as assuming a leadership role in Israel's military affairs. Yet though I, like Feaver, sense that there is a dissonance between the decorum Israelite society normally expected of its women and the Bible's portrayals of Judith, of Deborah, and of other Israelite women who triumph in battlefield endeavors, I do not feel that I, as a biblical scholar, can claim the same luxury allowed the poet and explain these warring women's behavioral discord by conjuring up details from their psychological pasts. The biblical scholar, I maintain, is instead compelled to consider only the "hows" and "whys" actually presented in the Bible's text, and, as I have already indicated in the Introduction, I believe that because the Bible is primarily a religious document, the essential "hows" and "whys" that must be considered are those that stem from ancient Israel's religious practices and beliefs. What I seek through my analysis of the biblical materials, therefore, is a description of those aspects of ancient Israelite religion that allowed the Bible's authors to overturn their culture's stereotypes concerning appropriate gender activities in order to present militaristic portraits of Judith, of Deborah, and of the tradition's kindred women.     This list, moreover--of Judith, Deborah, and the tradition's kindred women--is important, for as I have also described in the Introduction, it is my belief that, unlike Feaver, who can consider the story of Judith in isolation, I have an obligation to examine the stories of Judith, Deborah, and these stories' related narratives in conjunction with one another; this because of my assumption that the narrative traditions that show women acting as military heroes during times of war exist within the context of an ideological continuum. I have further intimated in the Introduction, and will argue at greater length below, my contention that the motif of warring women found in the literature of Israel's ancient Near Eastern and eastern Mediterranean neighbors should be examined alongside the biblical texts. Indeed, I will suggest in the fourth and last section of this chapter that it is the influence of Canaanite myths concerning the warrior goddess Anat that has led Israelite tradition to pro mulgate and sustain a corpus of narratives in which women are portrayed as heroes in battlefield affairs.     The Introduction has finally summarized my conviction that this inquiry should proceed in the order I have just indicated, meaning that even though I will eventually argue for the interrelatedness of the Canaanite and several Israelite stories, I consider it essential that I first analyze each tale individually. I will begin in Section I by discussing the story of Deborah, the most prominent of the female military heroes depicted in the book of Judges. Next, I will turn to consider her two Judges compatriots, Jael and, in Section II, the woman of Thebez. Also in Section II, I will describe the Apocrypha's story of the wartime acts of Judith. Then, after examining Canaan's woman warrior mythology in Section III, I will put forward in Section IV an explanation that accounts for the commonalities I find in all these stories yet also elucidates factors I believe are distinctive to each. By the end of this chapter, this explanation will allow me to suggest that the biblical traditions associating women with war are so pervasive and, simultaneously, so multivalent that militaristic female imagery can appear even in texts that seemingly have nothing to do with women's heroics in times of battle. I will discuss in particular passages found in the love poetry of the Song of Songs and prophecies from the second half of the book of Isaiah. I. WOMEN AND WAR IN JUDGES 5 The story of Deborah is found in Judges 4 and 5. She is first introduced in Judg 4:4 as a prophet and a judge. Both titles indicate her role as someone who serves as an intermediary between the human world and the divine, bringing the word of God to the people of Israel. This task is certainly an important one within Israelite society, indeed, envisioned by the passage's authors as being so important that Deborah is even assigned a special location from which to carry out her work, a tree known as the palm of Deborah, located in the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel. As Judg 4:5 tells us, Deborah used to sit under this tree while the Israelites came to her to seek her judgment and advice.     Judges 4 next turns to consider one particular piece of advice Deborah delivers, the instructions she gives to a man named Barak. It is God's mandate, Deborah declares in verses 6-7, that Barak assemble Israel's militia and go forth to wage war against the forces of the Canaanites. They are under the command of Sisera, the leader of the army of King Jabin, who reigns in the city of Hazor (v 2). According to verse 8, Barak expresses reluctance about answering this call to arms without Deborah's help. He insists that, as the representative of the divine, she accompany him to the site of the battle. Deborah agrees (v 9), although the only role Judg 4:14a ascribes to her at the time of the war is that she provides Barak with a final exhortation to go forth and fight. In 4:14b-16, the actual description of the battle, only Barak and his victory over Sisera are mentioned.     In fact, although the narrative continues for another eight verses (through v 24), Deborah never again appears in the Judges 4 text. Even more striking is Deborah's absence from two other biblical texts in which Barak is lauded. In 1 Sam 12:11, Barak's name, but not Deborah's, is found along with the names of Jerubbaal, Jephthah, and Samson-- her fellow judges--in a list of Israel's premonarchical deliverers. The author of Heb 11:32 lists the same premonarchical deliverers found in the Samuel text--Gideon (another name for Jerubbaal), Barak, Samson, and Jephthah--and then adds, from the period of the monarchy, David, Samuel, and the prophets. The judge and prophet Deborah, though, is still missing.     Given the description of Deborah's prophetic and judicial functions in Judg 4:4-7 and her role as Barak's main source of spiritual support in 4:8-14a, this tendency in 4:14b-24; 1 Sam 12:11; and Heb 11:32 to ignore her contribution to the war effort is surprising. It is even more surprising if we compare the depiction of Deborah found in Judges 5. Judges 5 is another version of the Judges 4 story and thus recounts once again the tale of the battle that took place between the Israelite militia and Sisera's Canaanite army. But, despite the fact that these texts share a common subject, the two renditions of this war story are ultimately very different.     Sometimes, the differences are perfunctory. For example, while Judges 4 tells the story of the battle in prose, the Judges 5 version is in verse. Commentators also agree that, although Judges 4 appears first in the biblical text as we have it today, the poetic traditions of Judges 5 predate the Judges 4 prose by several centuries. In fact, most scholars believe that Judges 5 is among the oldest of all texts found in the Hebrew Bible, and a date in the late twelfth or eleventh century B.C.E. is frequently advanced. Judges 4 stems from the Deuteronomistic period of composition in the seventh century B.C.E.     More significant, however, are the different understandings found in Judges 4 and 5 regarding the roles played by the story's major characters. In particular, while Judges 4, as described above, relegates Deborah to an advisory role in the war against Sisera, Judges 5 is unambiguous and emphatic in its depiction of Deborah as Israel's chief military commander. Conversely, Barak, lauded in Judges 4; 1 Sam 12:11; and Heb 11:32 as the military hero of the Israelite-Canaanite battle, appears in Judges 5 only as Deborah's second-in-command.     Judges 5 signals Deborah's primacy over Barak in several ways. First, she is mentioned in the poem four times to Barak's three. More important, in the three times that Barak is mentioned, he never appears independent of Deborah but is always cited in association with her; on each of these three occasions, moreover, he somehow appears as secondary. For example, in 5:1, although both Deborah and Barak are described as singing the Israelites' postwar victory song, she seems to have been the major performer, as her name comes first in the verse and the verb swr, "to sing," is rendered in the third-person feminine singular ( wattasar ). Also in 5:12 and 5:15, Deborah's name occurs first and Barak's name is found only in the second lines of the couplets that make up these verses. Furthermore in 5:12, it is only Deborah who receives the command to sing out, which is the command to stand forth and sound the cry of reveille that will summon the Israelite troops into battle. Barak, I will argue below, is merely a recipient of this call. Even more telling is 5:7. Although, like much of Judges 5, this text is difficult to understand, what seems to be indicated is that the Canaanite oppression of the Israelites ceased when Deborah arose to lead the people. Barak is not even mentioned.     It is, moreover, at least possible that the reference in Judg 5:7 to Deborah's "arising" to lead her people means to describe Deborah as actually rising up to lead Israel's troops into military combat. To be sure, the poem makes no explicit mention of Deborah carrying weapons of war or fighting. But the poem also makes no explicit mention of Barak doing these things, although both ancient Israelite tradition (Judges 4) and modern commentators assume that he did. Could not this same assumption hold for Deborah? Note that the sole piece of Judges 5 evidence suggesting Barak's involvement in the battle--the notice in verse 15 that the tribe of Issachar rushed forth at his heels--is immediately preceded by a description of how the chiefs of Issachar were "with" Deborah. Should we not envision Issachar's leaders as being "with" Deborah on the battlefield in the same way that we see the tribe as a whole rushing to fight behind Barak? The paired lines in the poem could indicate as much. In fact, they might even be said to insist on this point since, according to the norms of biblical poetry, paralleled lines should have paralleled meanings.     Nevertheless, whatever the role Judg 5:7 and 15 mean to assign Deborah in the actual combat against the Canaanites, and whatever the claims of Judges 4, 1 Samuel 12, and Hebrews 11 concerning Barak's status as the battle's real military hero, the overall conclusion regarding Judges 5 is clear: in the poetic version of Israel's fight against the Canaanites, it is Deborah's contribution to the war effort that is primary. She musters the troops and sends them forth into battle (v 12), earns the poem's acclaim as the people's deliverer (v 7), and leads in the performance of the postwar victory song (v 1). Titles such as general, commander, war leader, and even warrior come readily to mind. After introducing Deborah as its hero in verse 1, verse 2 of Judges 5 begins by describing the preparations of the Israelite army as it readies itself for battle against its Canaanite foes. Unfortunately, however, the obscure language that can characterize all poetry is particularly oblique in this verse. While hardly explicit, the second line is the most direct: it speaks of how the people "offered themselves willingly" (NRSV translation) or "volunteered" ( hitnaddeb ). Although the activity for which these Israelites volunteered is not specified, the implication is that it was for military service since the voluntary nature of Israel's tribal army and its basic character as a call-up militia are well attested in biblical literature. This interpretation is strengthened by comparing verse 9 of the poem, where a description of those who volunteered ( hitnaddeb ) appears again, this time referring to Israel's military commanders.     The war for which this volunteer army assembles is sacred or holy in nature, as is indicated by the first line of verse 2, Hebrew biproa pera ot beyisra el . Scholars have recently suggested several possible translations, including: "the leaders took the lead in Israel"; "when they cast off restraint in Israel"; "when men wholly dedicated themselves in Israel"; "in the very beginning in Israel." Yet the translation intimated in one ancient Greek version, adopted by many older English texts, and resurrected in 1991 in the NRSV still seems to me the best: "when locks were [or "are"] long in Israel." The general allusion here concerns--as did the description of "volunteering" in verse 2b--the Israelite army's preparations for battle. The specific reference is to certain ritual observances required of Israel's soldiers before they engage in holy war.     Traditions detailing these ritual observances come particularly to the fore in Deut 20:1-20 and 23:9-14. These texts describe the essence of Israel's holy war ideology: that God fights alongside the Israelite human army in battle and that Israelite soldiers must therefore avoid certain behaviors that might compromise a sanctified state. Deuteronomy 23:12-14 dictates, for example, that the Israelites must urinate and defecate outside their military encampments. While we might expect that this is for reasons of sanitation, the biblical text in fact does not raise this issue at all; it stresses instead the need to preserve the camp's holiness. Sexual activity is also considered religiously unclean. In 2 Sam 11:6-13, this is why Uriah the Hittite, summoned home by King David from the front, refuses to sleep with his wife Bathsheba even though David gets Uriah drunk in an effort to encourage him to do so. Deuteronomy 23:10-11 further describes how rules about sexual purity were so strict in times of holy war that a man who had an involuntary ejaculation in the night had to be exiled from a military encampment until he could be ritually cleansed.     Another behavior that could apparently compromise an Israelite's state of wartime sanctity was for him to cut his hair. Particularly illustrative here are traditions concerning the Nazirites. These Nazirites were individuals specially consecrated to the deity, and to mark themselves as such they had to fulfill three main conditions. They were forbidden to come into contact with a corpse, even one belonging to a close relative. They were prohibited from drinking wine and other intoxicating beverages. Finally, they were required to keep their hair uncut (Num 6:1-7). The story of the most famous of the biblical Nazirites, Samson, climaxes with Samson's unwitting failure to keep this vow concerning uncut hair (Judges 13-16). The result of his failure was catastrophic: it meant the loss of his special and sanctified relationship with God and his subsequent defeat at the hands of the Philistines. The army described in Judg 5:2 seeks to avoid a similar fate at the hands of the Canaanites. They therefore allow their hair to grow long in order to facilitate a state of special sanctity.     Only when Israel's soldiers have entered into this state of special sanctity required in times of holy war can the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel, be invoked. The invocation is found in the third and last line of verse 2. The verse reads in its entirety: When locks were long in Israel, When the people volunteered, Bless Yahweh! In verse 3, the invocation of Yahweh continues, as Deborah speaks in the first person: Hear, O kings! Give ear, O rulers! I to Yahweh, I will sing, I will sing out to Yahweh, the God of Israel. Commentators generally assume that the song Deborah proposes to sing here is some version of the poem as we have it in Judges 5, meaning that the reference is to the hymn that was sung "after the fact," so to speak, recounting the victory the Israelites had secured against the Canaanites and describing the means by which that battle had been won. Such an interpretation is certainly possible, especially since it is consistent with other Israelite traditions that describe women as the singers of Israel's victory songs. But it is not without its problems. In particular, one would not typically expect an announcement concerning the singing of a victory hymn to be found in verse 3, in what appears to be the midst of the Judges 5 narrative flow. Rather, the announcement should more properly come at the beginning of the poem's description of the battle, and as I have already noted, such an announcement is in fact found in the poem's first verse. To interpret verse 3 as referring also to a postwar victory song is thus to brand the text as redundant and impugn it as disruptive.     An alternative explanation of the "song" of verse 3 seems therefore to be required. One possibility is to build upon a discussion of Judg 5:12 put forward by Baruch Halpern, who has suggested that the command to Barak to "Arise" in 5:12b should be understood as the song Deborah is ordered to sing in 5:12a. Or, to put the matter another way: in verse 12a Deborah is told to sing a song of reveille that in verse 12b calls forth Barak and summons him to participate in the Israelite-Canaanite battle. I propose to understand the description of Deborah's song to Yahweh in verse 3 similarly, interpreting her words in that verse also as a reveille. This one summons Yahweh, the divine warrior, to go forth into battle against Sisera.     If this interpretation holds, then the second stanza of the poem, verses 4-5, represents Yahweh's response to this call to arms. The text, which depicts Yahweh as a mighty warrior roused for battle, reads: Yahweh, when you went forth from Seir, When you marched out from the steppe of Edom, The earth trembled, yea the heavens shook. The clouds shook water, The mountains quaked, Before Yahweh, the one of Sinai, Before Yahweh, the God of Israel. Regardless, though, of whether verses 4-5 describe Yahweh's response to reveille, it is beyond question that what is presented in this stanza is a vivid depiction of the way in which Israel's holy war ideology envisioned Yahweh as the divine warrior. Israel's warrior god comes from the southern desert, from the territory of Edom, also known as Seir. Edom/Seir is south and east of the Dead Sea and lies on the main highway leading from Israel to the Sinai Peninsula. According to biblical tradition, this is the very place of the mountain of God. Judges 5:4-5 thus describe the march of Yahweh as Yahweh leaves God's mountain abode to go north and enter into the Israelite battle against the Canaanites. This march to battle is truly a cosmic event: the ground trembles as Yahweh sets out; the clouds unleash a mighty storm; an earthquake shakes the mountains. Such is the might of Yahweh, the divine warrior, as this God prepares for battle.     In the face of such awe-inspiring imagery, the third stanza of the poem, verses 6-7, might seem incongruously mundane. There are several problems here concerning the specifics of translation, but commentators generally agree that what is described in these verses is the effect that the tumult associated with times of war can have on day-to-day activities like commerce and travel: In the days of Shamgar ben Anat, In the days of Jael, caravans ceased, Travelers took to the twisted by-ways. Settlements in unwalled hamlets ceased, In Israel they ceased, Until you arose, O Deborah, Till you arose, a mother in Israel. Yet, although these verses lack the grandeur of the preceding lines, I believe that they are anything but incongruous when compared to Stanza 2. I propose instead to read Stanza 2 and Stanza 3 as purposely paired, as two sides of what one might call a poetic diptych. These two parts of the poem, that is, while thematically distinct, are meant to be read as a single unit, with each piece of the diptych balancing and serving to complement the image suggested by the other. As Stanza 2 sets the scene for Israel's holy war as a cosmic activity, Stanza 3 is meant to show the counterpart of the cosmic, the earthly context of the battle.     Judges 5 masterfully uses syntax to convey this complementarity, juxtaposing in Stanzas 2 and 3 grammatically paired descriptions of the diptych's cosmic and earthly parts. Stanza 2, for example, begins its description of the cosmic aspect of the holy war with two temporal cola (v 4a): Yahweh, when you went forth (bese teka) from Seir, When you marched out(besa deka) from the steppe of Edom . Stanza 3 likewise begins its description of the more earthly aspects of the holy war with two temporal cola (v 6a): In the days (bime) of Shamgar ben Anat , In the days (bime) of Jael, caravans ceased . At first glance, this double construction might seem redundant: why should the poem need two separate verses to describe the setting of the holy war in time? And why does the poem use the same particle, be , "when, in" to introduce the temporal setting in both stanzas ( bese teka and besa deka in Stanza 2; bime [twice] in Stanza 3)? Such a pedestrian repetition could seem evidence of a stylistic gaffe. But if one appreciates the poetic strategy of diptych at work, then the purpose of the juxtaposed constructions and the duplicated be becomes obvious. The point is to communicate through paralleled temporal cola and through repetition the notion that there are two levels--the cosmic and the earthly--on which the war against Sisera is to be fought. As verse 4a establishes a setting for the war in cosmic time, verse 6a describes the earthly equivalent.     Interpreting Stanza 2 and Stanza 3 as a poetic diptych also explains why Stanza 2 uses much the same language to celebrate the march forth of the divine warrior Yahweh in verses 4b-5 that Stanza 3 uses to celebrate the emergence of Yahweh's human counterpart in the holy war, the earthly war leader Deborah, in verse 7. Indeed, the point of verses 4b-5 and 7 is to suggest that, in addition to there being two spatial spheres in which the war against Sisera is to be fought, there are also two kinds of actors who will be involved: the divine commander Yahweh and the human commander Deborah. The poem's structure again points to the intentionality of this parallelism. Stanza 2 concludes (vv 4b-5): The clouds shook water, The mountains quaked, Before Yahweh, the one of Sinai, Before Yahweh, the God of Israel. Compare the last lines of Stanza 3 (v 7): Settlements in unwalled hamlets ceased, In Israel they ceased, Until you arose, O Deborah, Till you arose, a mother in Israel, Several points of comparison suggest themselves here. The repetition of the phrase "(un)til you arose" ( saqqamti ) in lines 3 and 4 of verse 7 is reminiscent of the repetition of "before Yahweh" ( mippene yhwh ) in lines 3 and 4 of verses 4b-5. Both passages evoke a personal name in their third lines: Yahweh in verse 5; Deborah in verse 7. Both passages end with the same word, Israel, in line 4. And particularly significant is the way in which this word "Israel" is used in the paralleled titles of Yahweh and Deborah: Yahweh is "the God of Israel" in verse 5, and Deborah is "a mother in Israel" in verse 7. This phrasing, along with the entire poetic structure of verses 4b-5 and 7, is designed to make us read these two figures as paired. Yet the dichotomy of cosmos/earth is still maintained, for although Yahweh is the God of Israel and so transcends the earthly sphere, Deborah is a mother in Israel, someone firmly rooted within the human world. Yahweh is thus the divine warrior who will metaphorically lead the Israelite army into battle, while Deborah is God's human representative who will actually take the lead in conducting the war on earth.     In addition to locating dichotomies of cosmic/earthly and divine/ human in Stanzas 2 and 3, I also posit there a dichotomy of male and female. The male member of the dichotomy is Yahweh; this despite the fact that many theologians today prefer to use nongendered language and nongendered imagery in referring to the Bible's deity. In ancient Israel, however, Yahweh was typically understood as male. This is certainly the case in Judges 5, where, for example, all the verb forms used in the divine warrior hymn of verses 4-5 are masculine. However, Yahweh's human counterpart in the war against Sisera is a woman, Deborah. Deborah is even lauded in verse 7 with a very female-specific epithet: she is called "a mother in Israel." At first glance, the phrase "a mother in Israel" is a curious title to apply to Deborah. There is no mention in Judges 5 of Deborah having any children, nor is she even described as being married (although some commentators have mistakenly paired her with Barak). Also in Judges 4, Deborah's marital status is ambiguous. She is described in 4:4 as eset lappidot , usually translated as "the wife of Lappidoth," but also plausibly rendered "a fiery woman." And even if "the wife of Lappidoth" is the correct translation, meaning that Judges 4 does understand Deborah as being married, it is striking that the Judges 4 text makes no mention of Deborah as having any children. This silence is telling, for as Halpern has conclusively shown, Judges 4, in addition to being written later than Judges 5, is literarily dependent on the poem. This means that the prose tradition must have been aware of the poem's "mother in Israel" epithet. Yet, despite this and despite the even more significant fact that everywhere else, the prose redactor requires an absolutely literal rendition of the poetry's metaphorical language. Judges 4 does not insist on interpreting "a mother in Israel" according to its "plain meaning" or its biological sense. Why here--and only here--does the prose suspend literalism's standards? The most plausible explanation is that the prose redactor knows of some other, less literalistic definition of "a mother in Israel" that it is his intention--and also, by implication, the intention of Judges 5--to evoke.     As to what this less literalistic meaning might be, evidence is scant, for the phrase "a mother in Israel" is used in only one other place in the Hebrew Bible, in 2 Sam 20:19. Like that of Judges 5, the context of this passage is military. Earlier in 2 Samuel 15-18, King David had faced an attempt by his son Absalom to usurp the throne. Now in 2 Samuel 20, David faces a second rebellion, this one led by Sheba, son of Bichri, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. In the case of Absalom's revolt, David had delayed in responding, but the king realizes in retrospect that this had been a mistake. He thus reacts to Sheba's treachery with alacrity, dispatching first the commander Amasa and then his chief general Joab to pursue Sheba. Sheba takes refuge in the city of Abel-Beth-Ma`acah in the far north of Israel. Joab's forces begin to besiege the city, but the siege is halted when a wise woman appears and challenges Joab's intentions. She asks how he can seek to destroy her city, which she describes as part of the heritage of Yahweh and as "a mother in Israel" (v 19). She arranges instead for Sheba to be executed and his head thrown out over the city wall to Joab. The destruction of Abel-Beth-Ma`acah is thus averted.     In discussing this incident, and especially the phrase "a city that is a mother in Israel," the standard commentaries tend to define the idiom only in terms of its geopolitical significance: " a city that is a mother in Israel means one that has dependent villages called `daughters' (compare villages , literally `daughters,' in Num 21.25, 32; Josh 15.45; Judg II.26)." But Claudia V. Camp, while not denying the validity of this traditional interpretation, has argued that a geopolitical meaning is not all that the phrase "a mother in Israel" implies. Rather, Camp urges that "a mother in Israel" in 2 Samuel 20 be examined within the context of the wise woman's entire speech. She suggests that once this is done, it becomes clear that "a mother in Israel" has important connotations that extend beyond a simple reference to a mother city and daughter towns.     Camp's argument begins by noting what she sees as a distinctive structure in verse 19, where the woman says to Joab, "You are seeking to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel ( em beyisra el )," and then asks, "Why would you swallow up the heritage of Yahweh ( nahalat yhwh )?" Camp interprets these two statements almost as if they were a poetic couplet, arguing that em beyisra el , "a mother in Israel" and nahalat yhwh , "the heritage of Yahweh," are parallel terms. For support, she compares 2 Samuel 14, the story of the wise woman of Tekoa. In verse 16 of that text, the woman, a mother ( em ) pleading with King David for the life of her son, also evokes the image of God's "heritage" ( nahalat elohim ). Camp comments, "Both of the women are particularly concerned with the possible destruction of the `heritage of Yahweh (or God)' ... an entity somewhat differently conceived in each case but, in both cases, associated by a parable or metaphor (i.e., symbolically) with a `mother.'" Hence this conclusion: When the "heritage of Yahweh" is placed in parallelism with "a mother in Israel," we might expect the latter term to carry a metaphorical surplus of meaning beyond the obvious "biological" association of city and surrounding towns. Next, to determine what is comprised by this metaphorical surplus of meaning, Camp looks to the opening lines of the wise woman's speech (20:18). There, the woman tells us the one other thing we know about Abel-Beth-Ma`acah: that, according to proverbial wisdom, the city had a reputation of being skilled in the mediation of disputes. "They used to say of old," according to the woman, "`let them inquire in Abel,' and thus they would bring about resolution." To label Abel as "a mother in Israel," Camp infers, is to claim it as a city that protects "the heritage of Yahweh" through what Camp describes as "good and effective counsel."     Camp concludes her discussion of "a mother in Israel" at this point, but it seems to me that implicit in her analysis is one further step. If the city Abel-Beth-Ma`acah embodies what it means to be "a mother in Israel" by using skills in persuasive counseling to protect "the heritage of Yahweh," then could one not argue--as was in fact assumed by the ancient midrashic tradition--that the wise woman who speaks for the city also deserves the "mother in Israel" designation? Does not she, too, use effective counsel to protect her city, which she describes as part of "the heritage of Yahweh," from destruction?     Certainly there can be no doubt about the wise woman's counseling skills, as 2 Samuel 20 emphatically portrays her as being as gifted a counselor as the city for which she speaks. Twice in the text the woman is called wise: first, when she appears to speak to Joab ( issa hakama; v 16); second, when she approaches the people "in her wisdom" ( behokmatah ) to inform them of her plan to decapitate Sheba and throw his head over the city's walls (v 22). Presumably, she has to persuade the people of Abel to agree with this proposed course of action, but a description of this is lacking in the text, which jumps quickly from the woman's presentation of her plan to the execution of it. The narrative thereby suggests that the woman's counsel was so convincing that the people of Abel voiced no dissent. Her counsel was also effective enough earlier in the story immediately to deter potential opposition, as her short (two-verse) speech to Joab about Abel-Beth-Ma`acah's heritage and its mother role (vv 18-19) caused him to reconsider his siege of the city and require only that Sheba be given to him as captive (vv 20-21). The conclusion that follows is clear: if Camp is right in arguing that what makes the city Abel-Beth-Ma`acah "a mother in Israel" is its ability to use "good and effective counsel" to protect "the heritage of Yahweh," then the wise woman of Abel should likewise be "a mother in Israel," one who uses her skills in persuasive counseling to protect her city from destruction at the hands of Joab.     This understanding in turn suggests a further step of analysis, namely, that we look at additional aspects of the wise woman's character to see if she embodies other attributes integral to her "mother in Israel" role. Here, another part of Camp's work is crucial, for by comparing Abel's wise woman to others in the Bible who speak with their attackers during a military engagement, Camp has shown that the woman of 2 Samuel 20 is not only depicted as a skilled counselor but also as a military commander. To demonstrate, Camp notes three texts: first, 2 Sam 2:18-23, in which Saul's general Abner speaks to Asahel, Joab's brother, as Asahel pursues him; second, 2 Sam 2:24-28, where Abner speaks again to an opponent, this time to Joab after Asahel has been killed; and, finally, 2 Kgs 18:17-36, in which the Rabshakeh, head of Sennacherib's Assyrian army, speaks to King Hezekiah's representatives in Jerusalem. As Camp points out, the speech-maker in each of these episodes is the head of his military faction. Thus, too, should the wise woman of Abel who speaks to Abel's attackers be considered the head of her military faction, the people of Abel-Beth-Ma`acah. The woman's status as military leader is, in addition, indicated by the fact that her counterpart in the conversation at Abel is Joab. One might indeed ask why David's chief general agrees to speak with an otherwise unknown woman. The answer is that the two are equals: they speak as one military commander to another.     Yet, in addition to emerging in 2 Samuel 20 as a military leader, the woman of Abel-Beth-Ma`acah simultaneously characterizes herself as "one of those who are peaceable and faithful ( selume emune ) in Israel" (v 19). While these two portraits--military commander and paragon of peaceableness--initially may appear contradictory, an examination of the Hebrew terms used in 20:19, passive participles derived from the roots slm and mn , suggests that they are not. Particularly significant is slm , for although the noun salom (English shalom) and its related verbal forms are commonly translated as "peace" and "to be at peace," respectively, the Hebrew in fact conveys a far richer meaning. The word salom describes a state of cosmic harmony, reflecting the wholeness and complete unity that exists when all of Israel lives in a perfect covenant relationship with its God. While the connotations conveyed by the English word "peace" can certainly correspond to this Israelite vision of harmony, perfect salom may also require that Yahweh's people fight against the kinds of disorder and chaos that threaten cosmic concord. Similarly, what the Bible means by emuna , "faithfulness," and its related verbal forms is perfect dedication to the Israelite covenant ideal. In Israelite thinking, such dedication again can require that the covenant community fight to uphold what the tradition regards as Israel's covenantal standards. To the modern sensibility, the decisions of the wise woman of Abel--to stand forth in a military confrontation with Joab and to execute Sheba in order to protect her city--may seem antithetical to the concepts of peaceableness and faithfulness. Her actions, however, are in perfect keeping with the Bible's understanding of slim and mn .     In the end, then, 2 Samuel 20 reveals three basic characteristics embodied by the wise woman of Abel-Beth-Ma`acah and, by implication, by anyone who is "a mother in Israel." First, as argued by Camp, "a mother in Israel" must be a good and effective counselor and must use her skills in counseling to protect the heritage of Yahweh. Extending such protection on occasion can involve the use of military force, and hence "a mother in Israel" must be willing to step forth as a commander who leads those under her protection in military encounters. Such military endeavors, however, must always be informed by a commitment to Israel's covenantal unity and wholeness (what 2 Samuel 20 describes as peaceableness and faithfulness).     This richness of meaning seems to me precisely what Judges 5 has in mind when it describes Deborah as "a mother in Israel." Certainly the poem's depiction of Deborah's mustering of an Israelite tribal army to fight the Canaanite forces of Sisera indicates both a passionate commitment to the heritage of Yahweh and a willingness to use military leadership to protect that inheritance. Deborah's attributes of "good and effective counsel" are less obviously indicated in the text, but verses 14-18, which detail the musings of each tribe about whether to respond to the call to battle, suggest the need for a leader like Deborah to possess skills in persuasive counseling that can be brought to bear when influencing recalcitrant tribes. Even more significant in this regard is the fact that later Israelite tradition remembers Deborah foremost as having gifts in counseling and mediation, as her prosaic biographer in Judges 4 describes her primarily as the one who rendered judgments for the Israelites who sought her under her palm in Ephraim (4:4-5); this observation attains even greater importance if we recall Halpern's thesis that the prose redaction in Judges 4 was literarily dependent on Judges 5 and thus should have derived its sense of Deborah's counseling role from the poem. As for Deborah's traits of peaceableness and faithfulness, or as I have preferred to interpret, her commitment to a covenantal unity and wholeness in Israel, I can do no better than Camp, who writes: Abel is characterized ... as a city with a long reputation for wisdom and faithfulness to the tradition of Israel. It is, therefore, a mother in the same way Deborah was ... a symbol of the unity that bound Israel together under one God Yahweh.     This enhanced appreciation of what it means to call Deborah "a mother in Israel" also agrees well with the overall interpretation of diptych that I have posited in verses 4-5 and 6-7 of Judges 5. Recall there that paired with the epithet lauding Deborah as "a mother in Israel" was the phrase describing Yahweh as "the God of Israel." My discussion of the term "mother in Israel" shows how appropriate this pairing is. Deborah as "a mother in Israel" stands forth as a woman passionately committed to Israel's well-being. As such, she is the perfect human counterpart of Yahweh, who as "the God of Israel" likewise displays a passionate commitment to the Israelite community. Moreover, Yahweh was primarily worshiped in Israel--especially during the premonarchical period from which Judges 5 dates--as the God who delivered the Israelites from the oppressions of Egypt and redeemed the people from the experience of slavery. Deborah's intent in Judges 5 is much the same: she endeavors to liberate her people from Canaanite domination. She and Yahweh are thus the worthiest of partners. In fact, the poem's descriptions of Yahweh as "the God of Israel" and of Deborah as "a mother in Israel," although brief, are so evocative that they reveal in shorthand all the dichotomies I have located in Stanzas 2 and 3. Yahweh represents the cosmic, the divine, and the male in the role of war leader who extends protection to the community of Israel; Deborah represents the earthly, the human, and the female as she steps forth as military commander to ensure the security of Yahweh's people. Continues... Copyright © 1998 Susan Ackerman. All rights reserved.

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