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Barak devorah

Grave near Tel Kadesh attributed to Barak or Deborah


Deborah or D (דְּבוֹרָה Dvora Dəḇôrā "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 12th century BC 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.

In Hebrew, her name, דְּבוֹרָה , translates as bee.

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").

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 Assyrian General, 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)

The Song of Deborah[]

The Song of Deborah is found in Judges 5:2-31 and is a victory hymn, sung by Deborah and Barak, about the defeat of Canaanite adversaries by some of the tribes of Israel. It is recognized as one of the oldest parts of the Bible, dating somewhere in the 12th century BCE based on its grammar and context. The song itself contains a number of challenging differences from the events described in Judges 4. The song mentions six participating tribes (Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir, Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali) as opposed to the two tribes in Judges 4:6 (Naphtali and Zebulun) and does not mention the role of Jabin. It describes Sisera's death in a different manner. Judges 4:17-21 describes Jael killing Sisera by luring him into her tent, letting him lay down to rest, and then while he was asleep hammering a tent peg into his head killing him.

Though it is not uncommon to read a victory hymn in the Hebrew Bible, the Song of Deborah stands out as unique in that it is a hymn that celebrates a military victory help of two women: Deborah and Jael. Michael Coogan writes that Jael being a woman "is a further sign that Yahweh ultimately is responsible for the victory: The might Canaanite general Siera will be 'sold' by the Lord 'into the hand of a woman' (Judges 4:9) - the ultimate degradation."

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 Megiddo. 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; few allies among the southern tribes could 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 the waters of Kishon and Tanaach lapping at Meggido indicate that as Barak'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 also somewhat precedes 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 ca. 1285 BCE. Going by the textual artifacts in this account, the battle took place sometime in the reign of Seti I ca. 1294-1279 BC, and may have resulted in his capturing Kadesh.

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