“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” – Richard Mourdock, the GOP candidate for Senate (Indiana)
As deplorable as the statements by Mourdock are, it is not completely unbiblical. As a matter of fact, kidnapping and rape are in fact a biblical value used to create life from death. For a brutal example of this, we must turn to Judges 21. This chapter details the rescue from oblivion of the Tribe of Benjamin. In gruesome, misogynistic fashion, the Tribes of Israel discovered that by their oath of never allowing their daughters to marry the sons of Benjamin, they had killed the tribe. So, the next best thing was to discover who did not take the same oath. They discovered that no one from Jabesh Gilead, a town from the half-tribe of Manasseh, had not taken the same oath.
The assembled leaders decided that the next best thing to do was to slaughter the men along with all women who had previously engaged in sexual congress. Of the town, only four hundred women were found to be pure (virgins). They were given to the remnant of Benjamin, but two hundred Benjaminites remained without a woman. I like what the NET says here. “But there were not enough to go around (Judges 21.14).” So, the people decided to kidnap women who were going to worship the LORD at Shiloh. Granted, these were Jewish women so they should have fallen under the same oath. However, the excuse was made that the oath is not valid because these women were not voluntarily given. In other words, because the women were kidnapped and forced into marriage and sex, everyone was okay. No oaths were broken.
Let us examine, for a moment, the theological perimeters behind this. The Israelites realized that the oath taken to not allow the Benjaminites to intermarry would have eventually wiped them out of existence. They were a dead tribe of six hundred men. The only reasonable solution was to kill hundreds or thousands of innocents, taking the remaining virgins as booty (pardon the pun, please). This was not enough, so stil refusing to break the oath, the leaders of Israel allowed the remaining wifeless men to kidnap for marriage women from the other tribes who were going to celebrate the LORD. Theologically, Benjamin, once dead, was made alive again through sacrifice. Oaths were kept. Justice was done (to Benjamin, who got their cake and found time to eat it as well). This wasn’t just marriage. Marriage does not equal the ability to force your spouse into sexual congress at your whim. This was rape. The women of Shiloh were kidnaped and raped, under the guide of marriage.
A few things, now. First, “biblical values” are in fact nothing more than a misnomer. “Biblical values” are those values we choose to use against others in favor of ourselves. Second, if we are to take seriously the fundamentalist view of Scripture, then we must understand that the single man who has no prospects for a relationship is allowed to kidnap and rape a woman, as long as he marries her (Deuteronomy 22.28). Third, at no point in Judges 21 does God give permission to do such things. If you read Judges from start to finish, the mistreatment of women, the devaluation of women, the break down in society (tribal kinship, etc…) grows until murder, kidnapping, and rape are deemed more justifiable than breaking an oath. But, again, no where in chapter 21 is God found except in the distance, and only as an object to which vows were taken — God is increasingly distant from the Israelites the more holy they become. That sounds like the Religious Right today, doesn’t it?
English: Illustration to The Holy Bile, Judges, chapter 3. Eglon assassinated by Ehud. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So, Joseph was a “stud,” as Peter Enns describes him, but he wasn’t the only sex fiend in Scripture. The Bible is actually a very human book, in that it deals with the full range of human passion, including, well, sex.
For example, did you know that God freed Israel by a homosexual rape? He presented the tribute to Eglon, king of Moab, who was very fat, and after the presentation went off with the tribute bearers. He returned, however, from where the idols are, near Gilgal, and said, “I have a private message for you, O king.” And the king said, “Silence!” Then when all his attendants had left his presence, and Ehud went in to him where he sat alone in his cool upper room, Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” So the king rose from his chair, and then Ehud with his left hand drew the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s belly. The hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade because he did not withdraw the dagger from his body. (Jdg 3:17-22 NAB)
A couple of things here. First, there is a similar story in the Avesta. Second, the fatted king is made a sacrifice. Third, there are two men alone here. Ehud sticks in his blade into the “stomach” of the king and kills him. Rape was a way to rid a king of his authority and manhood. Ehud did just that. If you don’t read it as the authors (re)wrote it, you miss a lot.
Why are we concerned when we speak vulgar (I mean that in both ways) about Scripture when there are so many vulgar (again) things in Scripture? Indeed, if you haven’t read the Song of Solomon in the original erotica, you haven’t read the Song of Solomon. Granted, they have better, more concealed words for body parts than we do, but…there are there. A lot.
Keep in mind, this is a rough draft of a first semester Seminary student.
Judges 4.17-22 is an extrapolation of a portion of Deborah’s Song, namely Judges 5.24-27, the oldest part of the Hebrew bible, and shows expansion rather than redaction as well as unfamiliarity with the cultural euphemisms of a previous generation’s language. At the center of the story is Jael, a woman of Hebrew decent, married to Heber the Kenite, a tribe who were allies with Jabin, Sisera’s king. It will be my contention that Jael’s murder of Sisera was out of line with oriental hospitality, would have betrayed her husband, and was thus unmerited as a course of action on its own; however it is equally my contention that Jael’s action was in response to her rape by Sisera and thus fully warranted. As my base text, I will use the New Revised Standard Version[i] and the New English Translation of the Septuagint[ii]. Further, I will attempt to provide several sources for my view, although they are limited as the space requires them to be.
According to John Koenig, ‘the Hebrew Scriptures contain no single word for hospitality, but the activity itself is prominent, especially in the patriarchal stories and accounts in the book of Judges[iii](emphasis mine). Koenig goes on to cite the Levite and his concubine as an example of the breaking of this code but he obviously misses the story of Jael. As the IVP Old Testament Background Commentary[iv] states at Judges 4.17-22, Jael reversed the oriental hospitality and may have actually used the code as a means of deception, as some speculate, to kill Sisera. We see the dangers in being inhospitable in that those who abuse the system of hospitality (cf Genesis 19, Sodom and Gomorrah; Judges 19-20, the Levite and his concubine) generally meet with a disastrous end. Yet, Jael was spared and for many generations was memorialized in song as an agent of YHWH. She, and not Barack (nor Deborah for that matter), was the one credited with the victory over Jabin’s alliance. Not only did she use hospitality to lure Sisera in, but purposely gave him a sleeping aid (Josephus calls it yogurt, Ant 5.5.4). Then, while he was sleeping, she took her working tools, the tent peg, and drove the peg mercilessly through his temple. While Judges is filled with many bloody scenes, this one stands out because it is seen as God’s agent using deception to murder. Lockyer[v], quoting Hallet, writes “Hospitality was one of the most strictly adhered to of all desert obligations, and was a matter of honor among the Hebrews”. Lockyer goes on to call Jael’s act a ‘revolting cruelty… method of murder!” I contend that it wasn’t Jael who breached the hospitality code, but Sisera.
Deborah’s Song, Judges 5.1-31, has long been recognized as among the oldest portions of the Hebrew bible. It is conceivable that it forms the nucleus of the Deuteronomist’s thought for the first portion of Judges with later redactors expanding the song, along with oral tradition, to fill out the gaps of Israel’s history. There are differences, notably that Sisera is leading the army in Deborah’s song while Jabin (4.2,23)[vi] leads the alliance in the expanded history. Further, Jael is now a contemporary with Shamgar (cf 3.31-4.1; 4.6), although this may be easily explained by not allowing for a linear method of storytelling. But, for our purposes, the main difference is the method in which Jael kills Sisera. Where as in Judges 4, we find a dramatized version with action, Deborah sings it as such,
“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. He asked water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. 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; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead. (Jdg 5:24-27)
In the expanded history of Judges 4.17-22, Jael meets the general on the run and invites him into her tent. Ellie Assis[vii] notes, rightly I believe, that Jael’s request in v18 is filled with sexual innuendo. She posits that ילא הרוס is the provocative suggestion that Sisera find feminine comfort in Jael’s tent. Further, Assis notes that the multiple references to Jael’s covering of Sisera is equally related to sexual euphemism. Interesting enough is the two reclensions of the Septuagint as represented in the NETS. Reclension A reads ἔκνευσον while B reads ἔκκλινον. It may be that the later editor of the Septuagint recognized the moral situation of the story and inserted a more euphemistic wording[viii]. In Deborah’s song, as opposed to the expanded history, there is no request to sleep and thus no assassination. Where as in Judges 4, Jael initiates the overture of hospitality and thus suffers the crime of being inhospitable, Sisera asks for the water and finds himself at odds with his hostess.
Kaiser[ix] et al, calls attention to the possibility in Judges 5.27, that ‘‘feet’ serves the usual euphemism of genitals. ‘Not only may the word “feet” be a euphemism for one’s sexual parts, as it is in other parts of Scripture at times, but especially significant are the verbs “lay”, meaning “to sleep” or “to have sexual intercourse” (for example, Gen 19:32; Deut 22:23, 25,28; 2 Sam 13:14), and “to bow”, meaning “to bend the knee,” “kneel,” or in Job 31:10 to “crouch” over a woman.[x]’’ The fact that Deborah’s song records the struggle, most likely a rape, removes the guilt that many assume Jael to have. It wasn’t Jael which violated oriental hospitality or the peace treaty between Jabin and the Kenites, but Sisera who attempted to violate Jael and thus deserved his punishment.
The picture, if the passages are taken together, presents a reversal[xi] of circumstances which produces justice. Whereas in Judges 5, Jael is raped, in Judges 4, we might understand Sisera to be punished, metaphorically, in the same manner. First, he must surrender to a woman and relying on her deceiving the Israelites if they were to approach the tent. Yee uses Meike Bal as a backdrop, which I believe is an accurate picture of what is happening in Judges 4. Essentially, in verse 20 Sisera requires, presumably after the rape, that he be counted as a woman in Jael’s tent.
The Hebrew doesn’t lend itself to the notion of just ‘anyone’ but requires (according to Bal) that Jael say that no ‘man’ was there. Further, as Yee recounts, Sisera is plunged through with a tent peg, symbolizing the previous rape of Jael. There is no doubt that there is a turnabout on the notion that the rape of women were a part of the spoils of war[xii]. Whereas Jael would have been part of Sisera’s spoils of war, he was quite clearly now part of Jael’s. While there is much here, I believe, I think that it assumes that the passages were developed together, but it would seem that Judges 4.17-22 was actually developed after the Song of Deborah, but without cultural insights of the story of Jael[xiii]. It would be interesting however, if it could be proved without a doubt that Judges 4.17-22 was about the rape of Sisera as it might show either a concerned hand of a male writer or a feminine writer.
While many interpreters seek to question the moral validity of Jael’s actions, we find by reading just a little bit further in Judges that Jael was more than justified in her actions towards Sisera. As many note, she broke the alliance between her husband and King Jabin as well as the code of hospitality so favored among the tribal peoples, or so we are led to believe. Further, in Judges 4.17-22, she is shown only to deceive almost from the very start, and yet is given credit for being God’s heroine. She alone is victor of the battle between Israel and Sisera, the one prophesied about by Deborah, which makes it much more difficult to digest because the cruelty of her actions. Yet, if the rape had occurred, as I believe it did, then she is absolved of her actions and indeed, is a symbol of the strength of a woman who is seeking immediate justice. Of course, the need for the rape which brought about God’s ultimate victory raises other questions concerning God’s motives and actions, but in the end, Jael and Israel received justice and rid the land of the violence of a man, preserving God’s bride Israel.
[xi] I find yee’s work better suited to explaining the situation as I see it, although I might not be as forceful in my language as the scholar. See Yee, G. A. (1993). By the Hand of a Woman : The Metaphor of the Woman Warrior in Judges 4. Semeia, (61), 99-132. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
[xii] Cf Deuteronomy 21.10-14 and Judges 5.30; 21.
[xiii] For a later expansion of the story as well as a reapplication, see the Book of Judith which expands Jael’s victory greatly.
This is a rough draft of a response paper required in OT class. It deals with how the women of Judges are portrayed. Feel free to leave me your thoughts.
We are met in Judges first by a woman, Acsah, the daughter of Caleb who would be given as a war-prize, but this war-prize is demanding a dowry from her father, and in doing so assures her husband of his place in history. She would become the wife of the first of Israel’s Judges. At the end of the book, women again are given as a prize, but this time, they are to be captured and to serve as a way to replenish the tribe of Benjamin, but throughout all of Judges, women are seen as an active and vital part of the life of Israel. There is Deborah who is the prophet of the time as well as the Judge of Israel who counsels Barak concerning war. This war is won only when Jael uses herself as a lure for the enemy general, eventually killing him and giving the victory’s credit not to Barak, but to YHWH. Further, there is Delilah who uses her ‘feminine wiles’ to master Samson’s strength and render to the Philistines ultimate victory over Israel, at least for a time. The unnamed women also play a role. Unlike Acsah, Jephthah’s vow doesn’t bode well for his unnamed and once celebrated daughter (11.40). The unnamed Levite’s unnamed concubine didn’t fare well either with her being a forced sacrifice with no angelic guard or great uncle praying for her. She was shoved out the door to protect the Levite, where she was raped until death. Her body was then split into twelve pieces to call Israel to war against a kinsman tribe. So her death, as disgraceful as it was, brought more death and more oppression to women (chapter 21).
The moral decline of Israel is measured in the Book of Judges by their treatment of women. Beginning with Acsah who accepts the good vow of her father and then fights for her husband, we find then Deborah as a prophet and Judge herself. Further, it is attested that her song as recorded in the Book of Judges is among the oldest, if not the oldest, record of the Hebrew bible. Those who lived the history of Israel so valued Deborah that her song was treasured and kept secure for generations. While we might focus on the story of Samson and Delilah, I believe that her story is rather one of Samson’s own immorality. By the end of the era, Israel’s society had so degraded itself that an entire town participated in the rape and murder of an innocent woman, with her husband willingly sacrificing her for himself. Then, that town was protected by an entire tribe with the other eleven tribes forming a confederation to wage war. The author(s) of the book of Judges refuses, at this juncture, to label the tribe of Benjamin among the Israelites, reserving that name for those who defended justice. Leaving on a fragment of Benjamin, the Israelites recoiled in horror what they had done. In trying to rectify the situation, the Israelites committed more horror amongst themselves by slaughters all of the inhabitants of a town, except for the virgin daughters. They intended to use them for breed stocking for the tribe of Benjamin. When that wasn’t enough, they participated in a mystery religion’s rite and kidnapped more women. From the powerful women who led Israel to now women being used for nothing more than to serve their husbands as mothers, the moral decline of Israel was complete.
 All of these intermarriages must have severely irked those in the Ezra Tradition.
 I find it odd that the Levite, the tribe given the cities of refuge and charge over other social justice issues, easily tossed the woman out the door.
Our end of the semester project in Old Testament 1, we are doing some exegetical work on Judges 4.17-22. Instead of starting and ending with the English translation of the Hebrew, I am also adding into the mix the two Septuagint recensions as found in the New English Translation of the Septuagint. (Again, if God had wanted us to really know Hebrew, He would have given us those 72 inspired and inerrant Translators)
Greek A (NETS)
Greek B (NETS)
17Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
18Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.
19He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him.
20He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’”
21But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died.
22And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple. (Jdg 4:17-22 NAU)
17And Sisara had retreated on his feet to the tent of Iael, wife of Chaber the Kinite, for there was peace between King labin of Hasor and between the clan of Chaber the Kinite. 18And lael came out to meet Sisara and said to him, “Come aside, my lord, come aside to me; have no fear.” And he came aside to her, into the tent, and she covered him with her skin curtain. 19And Sisara said to her, “Do but give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty? And she opened the skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered up his face. 20And he said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and it shall be, if anybody comes to you and asks you and says to you, ‘Is a man within?’ that you will say, There is not! ” And she covered him up with her skin curtain. 21 And Iael, wife of Chaber, took the tent peg and placed the hammer in her hand and quietly went in towards him and hammered the peg into his jaw and drove it through in the ground. And as for him, he writhed between her knees, and he breathed his last and died. 22And see, Barak was pursuing Sisara, and Iael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come here, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he went in to her, and see, Sisara, a fallen corpse, and the tent peg in his jaw.
17And Sisara had fled on his feet to the tent of lael, wife of Chaber, comrade of the Kinite, for there was peace between King labin of Hasor and between the clan of Chaber the Kinite. 18And Iael came out to meet Sisara and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” And he turned aside to her, into the tent, and she covered him with a garment. 19And Sisara said to her, “Do but give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” And she opened the skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20And Sisara said to her, “Do stand at the entrance of the tent, and it shall be, if a man comes to you and asks you and says, ‘Is there a man here?’ that you will say, There is not: “ 21 And Iael, wife of Chaber, took the tent peg and placed the hammer in her hand and secretly went in towards him and drove the peg in his temple, and it went through in the ground. And as for him, he was terrified and stupified and he died. 22And see, Barak was pursuing Sisara, and Iael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come here, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he went in to her, and see, Sisara sprawled, a corpse, and the tent peg in his temple.
In my opinion, there are several differences, more notably between Greek A and Greek B in the story. I’ll most likely post a rough draft of the whole thing later.