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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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(Heb. for "bee"), the Israelite heroine in the Bible through whose encouragement the Hebrews defeated the Canaanites under Sisera. The account is preserved in Judges iv. - v., and the ode of victory (chap. v.), known as the "Song of Deborah," is held to be one of the oldest surviving specimens of Hebrew literature. Although the text of this Te Deum has suffered (especially in vv. 8-15) its value is without an equal for its historical contents. It is not certain that the poem was actually composed by Deborah (v. 1); ver. 7,which can be rendered "until thou didst arise, 0 Deborah," is indecisive. The poem consists of a series of rapidly shifting scenes; the words are often obscure, but the general drift of the whole can be easily followed. After the exordium, the writer describes the approach of Yahweh from his seats in Seir and Edom in the south to the help of his people - the language is reminiscent of Ps. lxviii. 7 sqq., Hab. iii. 3 seq. 12 seq. In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath the land had been insecure, the people were disarmed, and neither shield nor spear was to be seen among their forty thousand (cf. i Sam. xiii. 19-22, and for the number Josh. iv. 13). Then follows, apparently, a summons to magnify Yahweh. After an apostrophe to Deborah and Barak, the son of Abinoam, the meeting of the clans is vividly portrayed. Ephraim, with Benjamin behind him (for the wording, cf. Hos. v. 8), Machir (here the tribe of Manasseh) and Zebulun, Issachar and Naphtali, pour down into the valley of the Kishon. Not all the tribes were represented. Reuben was wavering, Gilead (i.e. Gad) remained beyond the Jordan, and Dan's interests were apparently with the sea-going Phoenicians (see DAN); their conduct is contrasted with the reckless bravery of Zebulun and Naphtali. Judah is nowhere mentioned; it lay outside the confederation. The Canaanite kings unite at Taanach by Megiddo, an ancient battlefield probably to be identified with Lejjun. The heavens joined the fight against Sisera (cf. the appeal in Josh. X. 12 seq.), a storm rages, and the enemy are swept away in the flood. Meroz, presumably on the line of flight, is bitterly cursed for its inaction: "they came not to the help of Yahweh." In vivid contrast to this is the conduct of one of the Kenites: "blessed of all women is Jael, of all the nomad women is she blessed." The poem recounts how the fleeing king craves water, she gives him milk, and (as he drinks) she fells him (perhaps with a tent-peg); "at her feet he sank down, he fell, he lay, where he sank he lay overcome." The last scene paints the mother of Sisera impatiently awaiting the king. Her attendants confidently picture him dividing the booty - a maiden or two for each man, and richly embroidered cloth for himself. With inimitable strength the poet suddenly drops the curtain - "so perish thine enemies, all of them, Yahweh! But let them that love him be as the sun when it rises in its might." The historical background of this great event is unknown. The Israelite confederation consists of central Palestine with the (east-Jordanic) Machir, and the northern tribes with the exception of Dan and Asher. This has suggested to some an invasion from the coast, or from the north by way of the coast, since had Dan and Asher fallen into the hands of the enemy, this would probably have been referred to in some way. Sisera is scarcely a Semitic name; a "Hittite" origin has been suggested.' Shamgar son of Anath seems equally foreign; the latter is the name of a Syrian goddess and the former recalls Sangara, a Hittite chief of Carchemish in the 9th century. The context suggests that 1 The term "Hittite" is here used as a loose but convenient designation for closely related groups of N. Syria; see Hittites.

Shamgar is a foreign oppressor (ver. 6), but he appears to have been converted subsequently into one of the "judges" of Israel (iii. 31), perhaps with the idea of bringing their total up to twelve.

The prose version (iv.) contains new and conflicting details. Deborah, whose home is placed under "Deborah's palm" between Ramah and Bethel, summons Barak from KadeshNaphtali to collect Naphtali and Zebulun, 10,000 strong, and to meet Sisera (who is here the general of a certain Jabin, king of Hazor) at Mt. Tabor. But Sisera marches south to Kishon, and of ter his defeat flees north through Israelite territory, past Hazor to the neighbourhood of Kadesh. His death, moreover, is differently described (iv. 21, v. 25-27), and Jael "who with inhospitable guile smote Sisera sleeping" (Milton) is guilty of an act which has possibly originated from a misunderstanding of the poem. In the prose narrative Jabin has nothing to do with the fight, whereas in Josh. xi. he is at the head of an alliance of north Canaanite kings who were defeated by Joshua at the waters of Merom. It would seem that certain elements which are inconsistent with the representation in Judg. v. belonged originally to the other battle. Kadesh, for example, might be a natural meeting-place for an attack upon Hazor, and the designation "Jabin's general," applied to Sisera, is probably due to the attempt to harmonize the two distinct stories. Moreover, Deborah, who is associated with the tribe of Issachar (v. 15), appears to have been confused with Rebekah's nurse, whose tomb lay near Bethel (Gen. xxxv. 5). Some more northerly place seems to be required, and it has been pointed out that the name corresponds with Daberath (modern Daburiyeh) at the foot of Tabor, on the border of Zebulun and Issachar. At all events, to represent her as a prophetess, judging the people of Israel (iv. 4 seq.), ill accords with both the older account (v.) and the general situation reflected in the earlier narratives in the book of Judges.

For fuller details see G. A. Cooke, History and Song of Deborah (1892), the commentaries on Judges and the histories of Israel. Cheyne, Critica Biblica, pp. 446-464, offers many new textual emendations. Paton (Syria and Palestine, p.158 sqq.). suggests that the battle was against the Hittites (Sisera, a successor of Shamgar). See also J L. W. Batten, Journ. Bibl. Lit. (1905) pp. 31-40 (who regards udg. v. and Josh. xi. as duplicates); Winckler, Gesch. Israels, ii. 125-135; Keilinschr. u. d. Alte Test. (3 ) p. 218; and Ed. Meyer, Israeliten, pp. 272 sqq., 487 sqq. (S. A. C.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Deborah'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​d/deborah.html. 1910.
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