Deborah: Prophetess or Virago?

After reading an article by Liel Liebowitz at the online journal Tablet written in January of this year, I decided to post my two cents this evening regarding his take on the biblical prophetess Deborah. Here is a link to the article with my response below it: the comment section of the article, I was unable to post an image, but have done so here. This unusual portrait of Deborah was rendered in sumi ink and acrylic in 1998. My interpretation follows.

‘When I decided to explore the idea of portraying Deborah, my curiosity arrived at an ideological cul de sac. Although her place as Judge and Prophetess in Israel somewhere during the 12th and 11th centuries B.C.E. is well assured in Biblical verse and history, I searched nearly in vain for clues to her physical appearance, age and personality.

Outside of her brilliant and successful battle strategy against the Canaanite general Sisera and his army of iron chariots, she was credited with composing the ‘Song of Deborah’, a Hebrew epic poem recounting the victory of her joint effort in that battle with Barak.

Deborah’s marriage to a man named Lappidoth is mentioned in the Aggadah (the non-legal portions of the Talmud and Midrash). In these texts, Lappidoth and Barak appear to be one and the same. Although he was honored with the job of making candles for the Tabernacle (lappid translates as ‘torch’) , Lappidoth doesn’t appear too bright or aggressive compared with his wife. Summoning Lappidoth to her ‘office’ under the date-palm in the hills of Ephraim, Deborah commanded his alliance in the famous battle, then surpassed him in arrogance and intelligence. In addition to her legendary prophetic abilities, she was said to be independently wealthy , giving free legal and ethical advice to all who asked. In this she consulted a Torah which she had written, for Deborah’s education included scribal training.

While musing on this information, the idea of a traditional tribal woman with extraordinary abilities who inspired phenomenal fear and respect suddenly merged with the image of a benevolent sphinx. For me, this ‘Lioness of Judah’, might have provided solutions to the riddles of life as the mysterious magical creature the Bible calls Deborah’.


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