Debora (judge)

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The judges of Israel
Book of Judges

1. Book of Samuel

The judge Debora ( Hebrew דְּבוֹרָה, "Bee") is a person from the Tanakh . The Book of Judges ( Latin iudices ) tells of her in Chapters 4 and 5. In both chapters is about the battle of Deborah: RiEU also reported in narrative form, RiEU in poetic form in the so-called Song of Deborah , which the oldest texts of the Hebrew Bible is counted.

Biblical narration

According to the biblical record, Debora is married to Lappidot. In the entire book of judges, she is the only woman who holds the office of judge (Hebrew שׁפְטָה) and is actually a judge (in the legal sense). The Israelites come to their seat under the Debora palm between Rama in Benjamin and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim in order to have their rights spoken there. She rules the people during the hostile rule of King Jabin of Hazor , who is also known as the King of Canaan and who oppressed the people for twenty years. As a female figure, Debora fulfills an important political function that is unusual for Palestinian antiquity. The main focus of her work is the case law ( Ri 4,4  EU ), but she is also said to have had the gift of prophecy and is expressly referred to as a prophetess (Hebrew נְבִיאָה, Ri 4,4  EU ). So she gives Barak the order of God to go into battle with 10,000 men against Jabin and his general Sisera . At the border sanctuary, Mount Tabor, they are to be freed from the dictatorship of Jabin. Debora prophesies to Barak that God will give him Jabin and Sisera at the Kishon brook ( Judgment 4.6  EU ). With the help of the Jaël this finally succeeds ( Ri 4,22  EU ).

Historical background

The song of Debora by Gustave Doré

The Debora story , like the entire book of judges, takes place in the pre-state period of the people of Israel. It is the time between the conquest and the formation of a kingship under Saul . Israel still consisted of individual, loosely connected tribes and was repeatedly threatened by foreign peoples. In times of need, the people plead with their God in prayer and repeatedly call on him for help.

As a biblical person, Deborah is also significant in that she represents one of the most important women in the Old Testament . In the Late Bronze Age, patriarchy was predominant in the Syrian-Palestinian territory and the tradition of the so-called “property marriage”, according to which the man brings a woman into his house and this depending on and adapting to her husband, especially for duties in the house and was responsible for the children. The birth of a male descendant, through whom the family and inheritance alone were carried on, was of particular importance. But in the biblical reports there are always traces that indicate a matrilineal family structure, and there are reports of female figures who act courageously and proudly and thus exceed the framework of the role assigned to them.

Biblical context of the narrative

In the Pentateuch (5 Books of Moses) the story of the Fathers of Israel, the enslavement of the people in Egypt and finally the flight with the aim of returning to the promised land is described. The book of Joshua tells of the arrival and possession of this land by the twelve tribes of Israel . The beginning of the book of judges concludes this development and reports on life in the promised land. Since the people of Israel forgets their God and his commandments in the generations after their flight and the subsequent forty years of wandering in the desert, they are repeatedly harassed by the peoples living among them. They are freed from these by means of savior figures called by God, the judges.

Structure and content of Ri 4

After the death of the judge Ehud , the Israelites fell away from God again. The people of Israel will be so by Jabin , who as king of Canaan in Hazor prevails, suppressed.
  • Ri 4,4–9  EU : Debora's initiative
Debora has Barak called to tell him God's order to fight Jabin. He replies that he will only go into battle if Deborah goes with him.
  • Ri 4.10–16 EU :Description of the war
Barak summons the men of the loosely connected tribes of Naftali and Zebulon and, accompanied by Deborah, leads them into the fight against a Canaanite coalition army. The battle ends victorious.
  • Ri 4,17–22  EU : Jaëler narrative
Jabin's general Sisera flees into the tent of Jaël , the wife of the Kenite Heber. She kills him in his sleep with a tent peg that she rams through his temple.
  • Ri 4,23–24  EU : framework narrative (inclusio with Ri 4,1–3  EU )
The two verses summarize the serious defeat of Jabin and his later destruction by the Israelites.

Text observation and analysis

The Debora Barak story and the Jaëler story form the basis of RiEU , whereby the oldest part of the story is probably the murder of Sisera by Jaël ( Ri 4,17-22  EU ). Ri 4,1–3  EU and Ri 4,23–24  EU obviously represent an external framework that must be traced back to a later editor ( Deuteronomistic editor ). The introduction fits into the judging scheme (disobedience of the people towards God - oppression - conversion - liberation - rest - disobedience of the people towards God, etc.). The use of deuteronomistic formulas (sin formula, handover formula, inflection formula) also speaks in favor of an editorial revision. The original Hebrew text is sometimes difficult to understand because some passages have been badly damaged. The proposals developed in research as to when the individual text components could have originated range from 1250 BC. Until the 1st century AD

Commentary and Interpretation

The Debora Barak episode has aroused great interest in research to this day. It is one of the oldest parts of the OT. In her work as a judge, Debora is mentioned as a matter of course. It was later mentioned in the Nine Good Heroines of the Middle Ages as well as in modern times by feminist theologians and Bible interpreters. Their fate seems closely linked to the Baraks; Barak only wants to fulfill God's commission provided that Deborah accompanies him. Debora prophesies Barak ( Ri 4,9  EU ) that God will kill Sisera through a woman, which Jaël does.

The threat to Israel in this judge's story comes from the north. Hazor lies north of the Sea of ​​Galilee and was the capital of a Canaanite kingdom. Jabin, who is referred to as the King of Canaan, only appears at the beginning of the story; then Sisera becomes the real protagonist. Sisera was probably a Canaanite city king himself, but is here demoted to Jabin's general. When comparing the text RiEU with the book of Joshua , it is noticeable that there is already talk of the destruction of Hazor under the city king Jabin (who was killed at that time) ( Jos 11: 10–15  EU ). This is probably a somewhat clumsy connection to the Book of Joshua and it can be assumed that Sisera is to be regarded as the real opponent of the Israelite tribes.
Ri 5.19–21  EU makes it clear that the battle took place on a battlefield of approx. 10–15 kilometers between Thaanach and Megiddo and probably in the winter
months , at the time of early or late rainfalls. The battle took place on the Kishon brook to the west . This stream is a wadi that otherwise has no water. It is believed that a storm turned it into a torrent, which contributed to its victory.
The battle described in the Megiddo plain was of importance for the sense of belonging among the Israelite tribes that should not be underestimated: it showed what a tribal community is militarily capable of. The common national religion made a fundamental contribution to the sense of community and superiority over the Canaanites. Since warfare was always a religious matter, about which not humans, but only God (as lord of life and death, which were at stake in the war) could decide, Debora performs a classic task for Yahweh prophets.

History of impact in theology, science and culture

The story of Debora has inspired and challenged theologians and artists for centuries. The Targum Jonathan also contains the Debora story. Here, however, the emphasis on the necessity of observance of the law, the strength of Yahweh, the prophetic speaking of Deborah and the character of address are stronger.
In the list of judges in the letter to the
Hebrews , Debora - unlike Barak - is not mentioned ( Heb. 11:33  EU ).

Because the name Debora translates as "bee", some interpreters in the story suspected a bee epic that compares Israel to a beehive of which Deborah is queen.

Renate Jost offers a feminist interpretation of the Jaële episode in her monograph Gender, Sexuality and Power in the Anthropology of the Book of Judges .

Georg Friedrich Handel's oratorio Deborah was first performed in London in 1733 .

Feast days: Catholic September 21st, Orthodox September 1st.

Deborah number in rheology

The Deborah number characterizes tough materials such as glasses , which appear solid when observed for a short time and as liquid when observed for longer periods. The inventor of the Deborah number, the Israeli rheologist Markus Reiner , referred to Ri 5,5  EU when naming it : The mountains poured down before the Lord, Sinai before the Lord, the God of Israel. from the Debor song. Accordingly, the mountains are in motion and fluid in the face of the Eye of God, while in human dimensions they mostly appear solid and solid.


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  • Sigrid Eder:  Debora / Debora song. In: Michaela Bauks, Klaus Koenen, Stefan Alkier (Eds.): The Scientific Biblical Lexicon on the Internet (WiBiLex), Stuttgart 2006 ff.
  • Volkmar Fritz : The emergence of Israel in the 12th and 11th centuries BC Chr. (= Biblical Encyclopedia. Vol. 2). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart et al. 1996, ISBN 3-17-012331-9 .
  • Erasmus Gaß : The place names in the book of judges from a historical and editorial perspective. (= Treatises of the German Palestine Association. Vol. 35). Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-447-05108-6 , p. 228, (263) -271.
  • Manfred Görg : Judge. (= The New Real Bible. Commentary on the Old Testament with the standard translation. Lfg. 31). Edited by Josef G. Plöger and Josef Schreiner . Echter, Würzburg 1993, ISBN 3-429-01549-9 .
  • Philippe Guillaume: Waiting for Josiah. The judges. T & T Clark International, London et al. 2004, ISBN 0-8264-6988-4 .
  • Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg : Debora and Deboralied. In: Kurt Galling (Hrsg.): The religion in past and present . Concise dictionary for theology and religious studies. Volume 2: D - G. 3rd, completely revised edition. Mohr, Tübingen 1958, Sp. 52-53.
  • Renate Jost : Gender, Sexuality and Power in the Anthropology of the Book of Judges (= contributions to the science of the Old and New Testament. H. 164 = Volume 9, H. 4). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-17-018556-X .
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  • Victor H. Matthews: Debora / Deboralied. In: Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski and Eberhard Jüngel (eds.): The religion in past and present. Concise dictionary for theology and religious studies. Volume 2: C - E. 4th, completely revised edition. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 1999, ISBN 3-16-146942-9 , Sp. 607-608.
  • Heinz-Dieter Neef : Debora narrative and Debora song. Studies on Jdc 4.1-5.31 (= Biblical-theological studies. Vol. 49). Neukirchener, Neukirchen-Vluyn 2002, ISBN 3-7887-1890-0 .
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  • Horst Seeger : Music Lexicon. Volume 1: A - K. Deutscher Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1966.
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Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Marcus Reiner: The Deborah Number. In: Physics Today . Vol. 17, No. 1, p. 62, online (PDF; 280.65 kB) .
predecessor Office successor
Shamgar Judge Gideon