The Biblical story of Deborah tells of a strong woman; a leader within her tribe. Found in the book of Prophets (Judges, chapters four and five), it is unique in several ways. Deborah was a rarity in the Bible (again, in several ways): she was one of only a very select few female prophets, and, unlike so many other women in the Bible, she had a name. But similar to her antecedents Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah and even Miriam, she was smart, strong and brave.
The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevi novelizes and speculates about the characters and situations in the already very dramatic story of Deborah, her general Barak, Yael and Sisra. She is part of a long tradition—an ancient tradition of mining Biblical texts to craft stories and present underlying meaning to the nearly-always sparely written ancient prose. It is an art called “Midrash” in Jewish tradition.
We don’t know how a woman got to be a “judge” (a tribal leader), and how she came to know and command Barak. We don’t know anything about Deborah’s husband except his name, Lapidot. We know only that Deborah sat beneath her tree and ruled. She went to war against a powerful enemy of ancient Israel and triumphed to become a legendary national hero. Likewise, we know little about Yael, the young woman who ended the life of the General Sisra, who led Jabin’s army against the Israelites. We know only that she lured the battle-fatigued Sisra into her tent with the promise of milk and food. And then she drove a tent peg into his head. (Dramatic stuff, even for the Bible.)
The Triumph of Deborah gives us much drama (and melodrama) upon which to chew. It’s a very nicely written novel, filled with rich detail and a sense of history, that has appeal for anyone who wants to read the story of a great (and very human) heroine. Although it is set in ancient Israel, Deborah’s story as told by Etzioni-Halevi is timeless and a good read. It’s an excellent addition to a growing genre.