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date: 29 July 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Judges 4–5 features the protagonist Deborah, a prophet, judge, war leader, singer, and “mother in Israel” (Judg. 5:7.) Interpreters treated Deborah in literary, musical, and artistic works found in a variety of genres and venues: rabbinic texts, letters, sermons, prayers, polemical treatises, church instructions, scholastic treatises, commentaries, novels, paintings, and oratorios. In Jewish and Christian reception of Deborah’s story, gender concerns are prominent. The same themes recur through the centuries: the meaning of Deborah’s name (“bee”) and designation (“wife of Lappidoth” or “woman of torches”); spiritual equality of male and female; the appropriateness of educating women; questions about women’s civil, religious, and military leadership; domesticity; maternity; and proper female deportment. Some interpreters presented Deborah as a model of a submissive wife and tender mother in order to reinforce gender norms; others criticized her for being outspoken. Women frequently used Deborah as biblical warrant for female education, preaching, rabbinic ministry, political leadership, and publishing activity. Those who sought biblical precedent for women’s expanded roles in society, politics, and religious communities found Deborah’s story to be a powerful source of personal inspiration and a compelling scriptural justification for institutional change.

Keywords: Deborah, Barak, Lappidoth, Jael, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Talmud, Judges, prophet

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