Study Guide

Deborah and the Dude-Manglers in Book of Judges

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Deborah and the Dude-Manglers

Judges is unique in that—with the possible (and debatable) exception of Delilah—the main female characters turn gender stereotypes on their heads and scream, "I am woman, hear me roar!" Deborah is perhaps the most understated of these, but also probably the most dramatic departure from the rest of the Bible.

Deborah The Prophetess

Throughout both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, God sends representatives—often prophets—to the earth to help his chosen people prosper and grow. 99.9% of these have one very important thing in common: They're all men. A few exceptions exist (see Exodus 15:20; 2 Kings 22:14; Nehemiah 6:14; Isaiah 8:3; Luke 2:36; and Acts 21:8-9), but none are as in-yo'-face as Deborah.

Deborah is called "a prophetess" (4:4) and although a few others share this moniker, she's the only one who really owns it. Her prophecies are so crucial to Israel's success that Barak refuses to even fight unless she comes with him (4:8). Unlike the vast majority of female Bible characters, Deborah is not defined by her relationship to a husband or father or brother. Rather, she's the boss (see 4:5-9), and when she says "Jump," Israel says, "How high, Deb?"

Deborah's assumption of the role as God's mouthpiece paves the way for a few other Judges heroines whose gender-defiance is manifest in much more violent ways.

The Amazons Of Canaan

The idea of physical male dominance over women is so ingrained in human history that it scarcely needs mentioning, but two very similar accounts in Judges turn that idea on its head, and then smash that head to a pulp. Jael invites the enemy general, Sisera, into her tent for some rest and relaxation, lulls him to sleep, and pounds a tent spike into his brain like a teen slasher villain (4:18-21). "She put her hand to the tent-peg and her right hand to the workmen's mallet; she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet" (5:26-27). An unnamed but no less dangerous woman a few chapters later scores a head-shot on Abimelech, one of the baddest baddies in the whole book, with a big rock dropped from a tower. Abimelech's reaction to this is evidence enough of how unusual and cool that is: "But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech's head, and crushed his skull. Immediately he called to the young man who carried his armour and said to him, 'Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, "A woman killed him."' So the young man thrust him through, and he died" (9:52-54). Think of it: she so totally hardcore p'wned Abimelech that he's worried about his reputation even as he lies dying. Eat your heart out, boyz.

Both of these women use brute violence, not seduction, to defeat supposedly stronger men. In a long parade of good-gals who often at best share the spotlight with men, and at worst are their victims, these two, along with Deborah, stand out as stand-alone heroines who don't bat their eyes, cry, or flee before their male opponents—they crush them.

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