The Song of Deborah Is a Theological Text as Much as an Aesthetic One

Aug. 19 2020

In the book of Judges, the prophetess Deborah, after joining with Barak to lead the Israelites to victory over the army of the Canaanite general Sisera, utters a lengthy poem that recaps the events told in prose in the previous chapter. Michelle Knight uses this passage to illuminate the way the Hebrew Bible employs poetry. Contrary to the widespread and questionable 21st-century assumption that pairs verse with emotion and prose with reason, the Song of Deborah is, Knight argues, a work of theology as much as it is an aesthetic expression of the joy of salvation:

The rhetorical power of the Song of Deborah and Barak is undeniable. Its imagery is at times poignant, and at others uplifting. The poet celebrates, laments, and criticizes, using every tool at her disposal to draw the audience in to her appraisal of the battle, including, but not limited to, emotional appeals (e.g., 5:21: “March on, my soul, with might!”). However, the song is far from a simple emotive retelling of a stirring story. Instead, as a prophetic voice with the authority of a divine emissary, Deborah (with Barak) reinterprets the events that had just transpired to address a theological shortsightedness among the Hebrews.

Barak, like Gideon after him, was under the faulty impression that it would be under his leadership and on the field of battle, by means of the talents of his army and the weapons they wielded, that Israel would secure victory. Deborah corrected this perspective twice: prospectively, in her clarification that it would be in a completely different location and by a different hand that the Lord would bring victory (4:9), and then retrospectively, in the form of a song.

It is the unique quality of Hebrew poetry—its images, repetition, terseness, and lexical freedom—that best clarifies the state of affairs after the [battle against the Canaanites]. Simultaneously celebratory and convicting, this poem says explicitly what narrative can only intimate and argues forcefully what prose can only state. [The song] is evocative, certainly, but its aim is a shift in theological reasoning.

Read more at Center for Hebraic Thought

More about: Book of Judges, Deborah, Hebrew Bible, Hebrew poetry

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan