For other uses, see Deborah (disambiguation).

Born c. 1107 BC
Died c. 1067 BC
Residence Shelter in Mount Ephraim, which is between Ramah in Benjamin and Bethel
Other names Debora, Débora, Dvora
Occupation Prophet of God, Fourth Judge of Israel
Predecessor Shamgar
Successor Gideon
Spouse(s) Lapidoth

Deborah (Hebrew: דְּבוֹרָה, Modern Dvora, Tiberian Dəḇôrā; "Bee") was a prophet of the God of the Israelites, the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel, counselor, warrior, and the wife of Lapidoth according to the Book of Judges chapters 4 and 5. The only female judge mentioned in the Bible, Deborah (being a prophetess) told Barak that the Lord God of Israel commanded him to lead an attack against the forces of Jabin king of Canaan and his military commander Sisera (Judges 4:6-7); the entire narrative is recounted in chapter 4.

Judges chapter 5 gives the same story in poetic form. This passage, often called The Song of Deborah, may date to as early as the 12th century BC [1] and is perhaps the earliest sample of Hebrew poetry.

In Hebrew, her name, דְּבוֹרָה, translates as bee. She is considered a saint in the Catholic Church.[2] The Deborah number, a dimensionless number used in rheology, is named after her.[3]

In the Bible

Grave near Kedesh attributed to Barak or Deborah

In the Book of Judges, it is stated that Deborah was a prophet, a judge of Israel and the wife of Lapidoth[4] (Hebrew: לפידות; the name means "torches"). (Judges 4:4) She rendered her judgments beneath a date 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, as she is titled in the Biblical "Song of Deborah and Barak" (Judges 5:7).

The people of Israel had been oppressed by Jabin, the king of Canaan, whose capital was Hazor, for twenty years. Stirred by the wretched condition of Israel she sends to Barak, the son of Abinoam, at Kedesh of Naphtali, and tells him that Lord God had commanded him to muster ten thousand troops of Naphtali and Zebulun and concentrate them upon Mount Tabor, the mountain at the northern angle of the great plain of Esdraelon. At the same time she states that the Lord God of Israel will draw Sisera to the River Kishon. Barak declines to go without the prophet. Deborah consents, but declares that the glory of the victory will therefore belong to a woman. As soon as the news of the rebellion reaches Sisera he collects nine hundred chariots of iron and a host of people.[4]

Then Deborah said, according to Judges 4:14:

“Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him.

As Deborah prophesied, a battle is fought (led by Barak), and Sisera is completely defeated. He himself escapes on foot, while his army is pursued as far as Harosheth of the Gentiles and destroyed. Sisera comes to the tent of Jael; and he lies down to rest. He asks for a drink; she gives him milk; and while he is asleep she hammers a tent-pin through his temple.[4]

The Biblical account of Deborah ends with the statement that after the battle, there was peace in the land for 40 years. (Judges 5:31)

Traditional Jewish chronology places Deborah's 40 years of judging Israel (Judges 5:31) from 1107 BC until her death in 1067 BC.[5] The Dictionary of World Biography: The Ancient World claims that she might have lived in the period between 1200 BC to 1124 BC.[6] Based on archaeological findings, different biblical scholars have argued that Deborah's war with Sisera best fits the context of either the second half of the 12th century BC[7] or the second half of the 11th century BC.[8]

The Song of Deborah

A statue of Deborah in Aix-en-Provence.

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. Biblical scholars have generally identified the Song as one of the oldest parts of the Bible, dating somewhere in the 12th century BC, based on its grammar and context.[9] However, some scholars have recently argued that the song's language and content indicate that it was written no earlier than the 7th century BC.[10] The song itself differs slightly 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.[11]

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 helped by 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 mighty Canaanite general Sisera will be 'sold' by the Lord 'into the hand of a woman' (Judges 4:9)."[9]

Biblical context

After the death of Joshua, the tribe of Judah led the tribe of Simeon in a campaign against the Canaanites and Perizzites, defeating Adoni-Bezek at Bezek. Then they marched against Kiriath-Arba (Hebron) and defeated three more kings. The descendants of Hobab the Kenite, father-in-law of Moses, accompanied Judah into the wilderness of Negeb but later left to live with the Amalakites. Judah did not take Ashkelon, or Ekron. The Canaanites continued to hold Beth Shean, Dor, and Ibleam. Zebulun was unable to drive them out of Kitron or Nahalol; nor could Asher drive out the inhabitants of Akko, Sidon, Achzib, or Rehob. The Amorites drove back the Danites into the highlands.[12]

Jabin a king of Canaan reigned at Hazor and the commander of his army was Sisera who lived in Haroseth-ha-goiim. The accounts of Judges 4 and 5 tell the story of a battle at Taanach near the River Kishon. 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, Machir, Zebulon, Issachar, and Naphtali. While Sisera is said to have had 900 iron chariots, "the Song of Deborah" implies that heavy rain rendered them ineffectual.[13]

See also


  1. Coogan, Michael D. (2011), The Old Testament, A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, Oxford University Press, pp. 214, 219
  3. "Dairy Processing Handbook. Chapter 3, "Rheology"" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-11-02.
  4. 1 2 3 "Deborah", Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. - Jewish History: Deborah the Prophetess
  6. Northen Magill, Frank and Christina J. Moose (2003-01-23). Dictionary of World Biography: The Ancient World - Deborah. ISBN 9781579580407. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  7. Albright, W. F. (1937). "Further Light on the History of Israel from Lachish and Megiddo". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (68): 22. doi:10.2307/3218855. JSTOR 3218855.
  8. Mayes, A. D. H. (1969). "The Historical Context of the Battle against Sisera". Vetus Testamentum. 19 (3): 353. doi:10.2307/1516506. JSTOR 1516506.
  9. 1 2 Coogan, Michael D. (2009), A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in its Context, Oxford University Press, p. 180.
  10. Frolov, S. (2011). "How Old is the Song of Deborah?". Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 36 (2): 163–184. doi:10.1177/0309089211423720.:'To be sure, the consensus outlined here is by no means perfect; several publications that appeared in the 1980s and 1990s diverge from it, sometimes in a major way. In particular, Alberto Soggin, Ulrike Schorn, and Barnabas Lindars see the Song, or at least the bulk thereof, as a product of the early monarchy; Ulrike Bechmann and Manfred Görg place it in the late pre-exilic period; Michael Waltisberg advocates early post-exilic provenance (fifth to third centuries BCE); and B.-J. Diebner shifts the composition’s date all the way to the turn of the eras.' (p.165); 'With the text’s internal parameters and the external conditions of its existence considered in a systematic fashion, what we know as Judg. 5.2–31a presents itself as an integral part of the Deuteronomistic oeuvre and should be dated, accordingly, between c. 700 and c. 450 BCE.' (p.183)
  11. Nelson, Richard (2006). "Judges." The Harper Collins Study Bible, Revised Edition. Eds. Attridge, Harold and Wayne Meeks. New York: HarperCollins, p. 353.
  12. NAB, Judges,1
  13. NAB, Judges 5, n.4

Further reading

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Preceded by
Judge of Israel Succeeded by
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