When interpreting the Hebrew Bible from a feminist perspective, many are quick to decry the subjugation of women at the hands of men and the lack of female representation in dominant roles in biblical literature. However, although some women are objectified or possibly marginalized, this claim of inequality does not always hold true. Especially in the book of Judges, women are not discarded as characters and are not wholly unappreciated. In fact, the book of Judges features many strong female characters who serve in significant roles, and who are effectively portrayed as leaders, heroes, and capable, resourceful individuals.
An excellent example of an influential woman in Judges is Deborah. From the beginning, Deborah is identified as being an integral part of daily Israelite life. She functions religiously as a prophetess and nationally as a judge and military leader over Israel (Judges 4:4). Judges in ancient Israel were raised up by the Lord to deliver the people from oppression. However, Deborah is not solely accepted due to a belief that she is appointed by God to save them from their enemies. The community actually seems to respect her as a leadership figure, and regularly “[comes] up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:5). Thus, they allow her to act as a national governing figure in times of both war and peace. Deborah “leads because the people being led see something persuasive and powerful in [her] self-presentation” (Hackett 356), which is certainly significant. Even though she exists in a patriarchal society, Deborah has attained a real position of power based upon communal respect for her wisdom.
Deborah demonstrates her power as a military leader when she successfully summons Barak son of Abinoam, and orders him to go to war against Sisera as an army commander. The fact that he follows her command gives credit to her level of importance and influence. It is even Deborah herself who gives the call to charge against Sisera’s army, while Barak and his soldiers comply. In Judges 5, commonly referred to as the “Song of Deborah”, praises are sung in honor of this female military leader, who acts as a “mother in Israel.” Some scholars have even noted parallels drawn between Deborah and the Canaanite war goddess, Anat (Ackerman 177).
Additionally, Deborah is respected as a religious figure. For example, Barak refuses to go to war without Deborah by his side. According to Jo Ann Hackett, Barak’s refusal to fight without the presence of Deborah is not indicative of his ineptitude or of her military prowess. Rather, Hackett proposes that Barak requests Deborah’s participation because, as a prophetess and as a leader chosen by the Lord, her presence indicates divine support (Hackett 357). If Deborah were visible to the Israelite soldiers, morale would be lifted with the thought that the Lord would deliver the enemy into their hands. This shows that Deborah is thought to represent the will of God.
Rabbi Steinsaltz notes that “the...