Warrior Women of the Bible: The Wrath of Deborah and Jael
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It seems to be love at first sight, thereby setting the tone for a happy ending.
This historic event took place during the exile of the Jews; the setting is Susa, the capital of Persia, and primarily in the palace of Xerxes. On a smaller scale, the text dwells on the individual heroism of this young Jewish woman, unexpectedly forced to save her people. Esther clearly ranks in the tradition of political saviors in the biblical text who happen to be women including Deborah and Jael, Judith, the Hebrew slave girl in Exodus —10, and the wise woman of Abel Beth Maacah 2 Sam 20; see Branch — Esther began her marriage by keeping her Jewish identity secret, thus obeying instructions from her older relative, Mordecai.
The secret adds literary suspense. Xerxes agreed to his counselor Haman's request: that all bow to him. He presented a decree outlining his plans to Xerxes, and Xerxes signed, apparently with no investigation as to its merits and no thought to economic or moral consequences.
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The two men celebrated with a drink Acting independently, Esther risked her life to come unbidden to the king. The men came and enjoyed themselves; the king knew she wanted something from him. Using wisdom, allure and charm, she invited them to a second banquet Again, hospitality seemingly prevailed. However, the peril continued for her and her people. Esther followed through and negotiated Branch Tension, a literary tool, mounted. Although re-using her successful tactics of coming before Xerxes as wife, and with confidence boldly risking her life for the pleasure of his company, Esther varied them a bit —6.
Risking her life yet again, Esther again approached the king unbidden, fell before him, and pleaded for the lives of her people and herself. The king ordered that decrees be written enabling the Jews to defend themselves Hamilton — The biblical text records the consequences of this action. Instead of defenselessly awaiting annihilation, the Jews make the necessary fortifications to protect themselves.
They meet the onslaught with such courage and recognised character throughout the kingdom that neighbours fear them —2. The Book of Judith tells the story of the ignominious defeat of the Assyrians, an army bent on world domination, by the hand of a Hebrew woman Jdt Indeed her beheading of Holofernes, the invading Assyrian general — in his own tent, with his own sword, and surrounded by his own, formerly victorious, army — marked her as a political redeemer in Israel — equivalent with David see Branch a ; b.
The book's plot is simple. Once again a localised despot became an international tormentor and sought world dominion.
This time the despot was Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of Assyria. Feigning shame, because other world leaders ignored him, Nebuchadnezzar ordered his general, Holofernes, to gather troops, engage in war and conquer the world. They encounter resistance from Bethulia, a backwater town located at the entrance of the narrow corridor leading to Jerusalem. The siege, which has lasted 34 days, has made the Bethulians fractious, thirsty and bitter , Upon hearing this, Judith summoned them to her home ; see Branch a ; b.
Her action sets the tone for the rest of the book, for it marks her as a self-confident leader — indeed a commanding presence. She said she had a secret plan to deliver the city. Believing her, the magistrates arranged for her and her maid to leave the city at night. Judith dressed carefully, knowing the success of her ruse and assassination plan depended upon her appeal as a seductress cf. Branch a ; b. She accessorised herself with rings, bracelets, anklets, earrings, other jewelry and attractive sandals Predictably stopped by an Assyrian border patrol and escorted by men directly to Holofernes , she readily spun a tall tale with just enough facts to be believed.
Throughout the book, it seems Judith merely smiles and men collapse , 14, 19, Wisely appealing to their senses of sight and smell, she captivates them. Her weapons of warfare are sensual and material.
Deborah and Jael – “Into the Hand of a Woman”
Welcomed to the camp, she and her maid established a routine of bathing nightly at a spring outside the camp. Holofernes allowed them safe passage through the Assyrian lines. Within a few days, Holofernes, intented on seduction, sent his aide, Bagoas, to invite Judith to dine alone with him Branch c She presented such a beguiling picture that the infatuated Holofernes, beset with lust, drank himself into senseless and fatal oblivion , 20; see Branch a ; b.
Alone and undisturbed by tactful Assyrian servants, Judith beheaded Holofernes with two strokes from his own famous sword — praying beforehand, of course —7; see Branch a ; b. She rolled his corpse to the floor an action that dishonoured the body , pulled down a jeweled canopy from above his bed, walked out of the tent, and handed his head to her waiting maid who put it in the food sack — Together the women walked through the Assyrian lines as they did on other nights, allegedly to pray and bathe.
This time skipping the prayer-and-bath routine, they headed straight up the mountain to Bethulia's gates. Displaying his head, she told her story whilst proclaiming her chastity. This verse, an echo of Deborah's vindication of the murder of Sisera that Jael committed Jdg , —26 , is pivotal in Roman Catholic theology, for it is also said of Mary Lk , 48; see Branch a ; b.
The stories of other women in ancient literature will now be discussed and compared with the above-mentioned stories. The stories, selected during my reading of classical literature, reflect the limitations of randomness and this article's space constraints. Furthermore, the Bible and ancient literature contain more stories of men than women, thereby limiting my selection.
In This Article
My research is not exhaustive, but instead raises the possibility of further study, comparison, and analysis. What follows are my preliminary findings. Edith Hamilton —54 tells the story of the grief of Demeter, goddess of harvest wealth, over the fate of her daughter Persephone, the maiden of spring.
Lust initially prevails. The kidnapping turned out to be the connivance of Hades and his brother, Zeus, the father of Persephone. Demeter retaliated with anger, ordaining that the earth, likewise, be wasted away as she wasted away with grief for Persephone. She decreed worldwide famine. Nothing grew It seemed the whole race of men would die. Comment: Yes, the famine lifted, and Persephone returned to earth's surface for eight months each year.
However, Demeter's action shows a goddess purposefully inflicting suffering on powerless mortals in what seems to be a choice to make others suffer whilst she suffers. In contrast, God promises to keep the covenant people alive during a time of famine Ps Furthermore, Deborah and Jael, Esther, and Judith work for the common good of the covenant people when they face oppression and attack. Medea, the Sun's granddaughter, likewise is a colorful, cruel and powerful semi-divine figure. Medea and Jason, the hero of many battles and adventures, married. Their story resonates with modern-day issues like commitment and revenge.
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They quickly had two children. Jason promised faithfulness, but his eyes wandered to Glauce, daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. Medea left Corinth but sent wedding gifts to Glauce: a dress and crown of pure gold, both smeared with magic ointment. Glauce should have suspected the gifts and motives of the sender, for Medea was known for her ability to mix potions and to plan revenge. Vanity and materialism prevailed, however, and when Glauce donned them, a flame wrapped around her like a sheet. She met a terrible death, for the robe stuck to her skin and when she tried to shake the crown off her head, the fire burnt twice as fiercely Torrance Her father, Creon, likewise died whilst trying to save her Stavropoulou — Continuing her rampage, Medea killed her children.
Comment: In a somewhat similar way, the biblical figure Athaliah also killed her family members. The slaughter secured her the throne 2 Ki —21; 2 Chr — Her story is beyond the scope of this article see Branch — for the detailed version. The biblical text forbids these actions: murder and adultery Ex — War's glorification presents a major theme in ancient literature in the Mediterranean world and elsewhere, including Norse culture.
In Norse mythology, Odin is a predominant god, characterised as the spirit of the universe and the wisdom that comes with age. These chosen fallen are carried to Valhalla, a magnificent palace where their new existence consists of rounds of hearty eating and drinking, fighting to the death, and miraculous healing. This routine continues daily, eternally, under Odin's watchful pleasure Roberts et al.
Comment: Greek, Roman and Norse mythologies glorify war. In contrast, the biblical text presents war as probable but infrequent and entered upon reluctantly.
Indeed, there is an absence in Scripture of glorying in military prowess McDonald — Deborah chastises the tribes of Reuben, Gilead, Dan and Asher for not joining the battle — a holy war Jdg — These cowards stayed at the campfires, whistled to their flocks, and remained safe. Wenham — rightly notes that the laws on war Dt —19 remarkably list caveats for exemption from being called up for war like being a new groom or being a new homeowner or even being scared.
Furthermore, David allowed for exhaustion as a reason not to go to battle. These same tired soldiers could guard the supplies and still received plunder from any battle 2 Sam — Hence, the covenant people enter war with their heels dug in. In the Iliad , Artemis is known as the queen of wild things and the hellcat sister of Apollo Homer , — During the Trojan War, the gods took sides. Hera, queen of the gods of Olympus, wife of Zeus, was pro-Greek. Artemis, daughter of Zeus and Leto, was defiantly pro-Trojan. Hera and Artemis fought in the heavens whilst the Trojan War played out on earth.
Hera confronted Artemis in bold language. You'd do better to hunt wild game, deer In the woods, than tangle with your betters. The Amazons were fierce women warriors known for their hatred of men Hamilton and skilled in using bows and arrows, spears, darts and double battle-axes Guliaev The Amazons ruled a number of cities and favoured only female babies. Their sons were sent away, killed or perhaps mutilated by their mothers see Bulfinch Comment: Biblical text speaks against self-mutilation and tattoos Lv It says children are a reward from the Lord Ps It traces genealogy through the male line 1 Chr —28; —17 , but gives a father and mother equal responsibility for raising their children Pr Although Deborah acted as a general, there is no indication she engaged in physical combat.
Herodotus tells a story of male boasting and voyeurism that ends fatally for the husband who arranged for his aide to view his wife naked. Candaules, son of Myrsus and king of Sardis, tells his aide, Gyges, son of Dascylus, about the beauty of his wife. He wanted Gyges to see her naked as she prepared to come to the bed. Candaules prevailed and Gyres hid in the chamber awaiting the nightly ritual. However, the unnamed wife saw him leaving the apartment. Gyges chose his own life and asked the woman how to proceed. Herodotus , 1 continues: Then Gyges, when the king had fallen asleep, entered privily into the chamber and struck him dead.
Thus did the wife and kingdom of Candaules pass into the possession of his follower Gyges. Herodotus tells the story of the death of Cyrus, one of the world's great conquerors, and the shame inflicted on his body. Arguably, his death could have been in a different way if he had followed the advice of Tomyris, a wise but vengeful queen. After the battle, Spargapises hosted a banquet in which he and his men got drunk and slept. His youth and inexperience prove no match for wily Cyrus. Amongst these last was Spargapises himself. Restore my son to me and leave the land unharmed, triumphant over a third part of the host of the Massagetae.
Deborah: The Woman God Uses
Refuse, and I swear by the sun, the sovereign lord of the Massagetae, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood. Darius married many Persians including a girl named Atossa. At the proper time, Atossa engaged in an intimate conversation with Darius.