Deb'orah (Heb. רּבוֹרָה [or "defectively" רּבֹרָה, Ge 35:8; Jug. 4:14; v 15], a bee, as often [comp. the names Μέλισσα and Melitilla]; Sept. Δέβοῤῥα v. r. [in Judg.] Δεββῶρα; Josephus Δεβώρα, Ant. v. 5, 2]), the name of two women. SEE DEBORA.
1. The nurse of Rebekah (Ge 35:8). Nurses held a high and honorable place in ancient times, and especially in the East (2Ki 11:2; Homer, Od. 1:429; Virgil, AEn. 7:2; "AEneia nutrix;" Ovid, Met. 14:441), where they were often the principal members of the family (2Ch 22:11; Jahn, Bibl. Arch. § 166). Deborah accompanied Rebekah from the house of Bethuel (Ge 24:59), B.C. 2023; but she is only mentioned by name on the occasion of her burial, under the oak-tree of Bethel, which was called in her honor Allon-Bachuth (Ge 35:8). B.C. 1906. Such spots were usually chosen for the purpose (Ge 23:17-18; 1Sa 31:13; 2Ki 21:18, etc.). Many have been puzzled at finding her in Jacob's family; it is unlikely that she was sent to summon Jacob from Haran (as Jarchi suggests), or that she had returned during the lifetime of Rebekah, and was now coming to visit her (as Abarbanel and others say); but she may very well have returned at Rebekah's death, and that she was dead is probable from the omission of her name in Ge 35:27; and if, according to the Jewish legend, Jacob first heard of his mother's death at this spot, it will be an additional reason for the name of the tree, and may possibly be implied in the expression וִיבָרֶך, comforted, A. V. "blessed" (Ge 35:9; see, too, Ewald, Gesch. 1:390).
2. A prophetess, "wife of Lapidoth," who judged Israel (Judges iv, v) in connection with Barak (q.v.). B.C. 1409-1369. Her name may implying whatever, being a mere appellative, derived like Rachel (a lamb), Tamar (a palm), etc., from natural objects; although she was (as Corn. a Lapide quaintly puts it) suis mellea, hostibus aculeata. Some, however, see in the name an official title, implying her prophetic authority. A bee was an Egyptian symbol of regal power (comp. Callim. Jov. 66, and Et. Mag. s.v. ἐσσήν); and among the Greeks the term was applied not only to poets (more apis matinae, Horace), and to those peculiarly chaste (as by the Neoplatonists), but especially to the priestesses of Delphi (χρησμὸς ιν ελίσ α ς Δελφίδος, Pind. P. 4:106), Cybele, and Artemis (Creuzer, Symbolik, 3, 354, etc.), just as ἐσσήν was to the priests (Liddell and Scott, s.v.). In both these senses the name suits her, since she was essentially a vates or seer, combining the functions of poetry and prophecy (see Stanley, Jewish Church, 1:348 sq.).
She lived, probably in a tent, under the palm-tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in Mount Ephraim (Jg 4:5), which, as palm-trees were rare in Palestine, is mentioned as a well-known and solitary landmark, and was probably the same spot as that called (Jg 20:33) Baal-Tamar, or the sanctuary of the palm (Stanley, Palest. p. 145). Von Bohlen (p. 334) thinks that this tree is identical with Allon-Bachuth (Ge 35:8), the name and locality being nearly the same (Ewald, Gesch. 1:391, 405), although it is unhistorical to say that this "may have suggested a name for the nurse" (Haivernick's Introd. to Pent. p. 201; Kalisch, Gen. ad loc.).
Possibly it is again mentioned as "the oak of Tabor" in 1Sa 10:3 (where Thenius would read רּבֹרָה for תָּבוֹר). At any rate, it was a well- known tree, and she may have chosen it from its previous associations. SEE OAK.
She was probably a woman of Ephraim, although, from the expression in Jg 5:15, some suppose her to have belonged to Issachar (Ewald, Gesch. 2:489). The expression אֵשֶׁת לִפַּידוֹת is much disputed; it is generally thought to mean "wife of Lapidoth," as in A. V.; but other versions render it "uxor principis," or "Foemina Lapidothana" ("that great dame of Lapidoth," Tennyson), or mulier splendorum, i.e. one divinely illuminated, since לִפַּידוֹת = lightnings. But the most prosaic notion is that of the Rabbis, who take it to mean that she attended to the tabernacle lamps, from לִפַּיד, lappid, a lamp! The fem. termination is often found in men's names, as in Shelomith (1Ch 23:9), Koheleth, etc. Lapidoth, then, was probably her husband, and not Barak, as some say. SEE LAPIDOTH.
She was not so much a judge (a title which belongs rather to Barak, Heb 11:32) as one gifted with prophetic command (Jg 4:6,14; Jg 5:7), and by virtue of her inspiration "a mother in Israel." Her sex would give her additional weight from the peculiarity of the circumstance, as in the instances of Miriam, Huldah, Anna, Noadiah (2Ki 22:14; - Ne 6:14). Her official designation probably means that she was the organ of communication between God and his people, and probably, on account of the influence and authority of her character, was accounted in some sort as the head of the nation, to whom questions of doubt and difficulty were referred for decision. SEE JUDGE.
From the intimations which the narrative (especially her song) contains, and from other circumstances, the people would appear to have sunk into a state of total discouragement under the oppression of the Canaanites, so that it was difficult to rouse them from their despondency, and to induce them to make any exertion to burst the fetters of their bondage. From the gratitude which Deborah expresses towards the people for the effort which they finally made, we are warranted in drawing the conclusion that she had long endeavored to instigate them to this step in vain. At length she summoned Barak, the son of Abinoam, from Kedesh, a city of Naphtali, on a mountain not far from Hazor, and made known to him the will of God that he should undertake an enterprise for the deliverance of his country.
But such was his disheartened state of feeling, and, at the same time, such his confidence in the superior character and authority of Deborah, that he assented to go only on the condition that she would accompany him. Jabin's tyranny was peculiarly felt in the northern tribes, who were near his capital and under her jurisdiction, viz. Zebulon, Naphtali, and Issachar; hence, when she summoned Barak to the deliverance, it was on them that the brunt of the battle fell; but they were joined by the adjacent central tribes, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, though not by those of the extreme west, south, and east. Under her direction Barak encamped on "the broad summit of Tabor" (Josephus, War, 2:20, 6). When asked to accompany him, she answered indignantly, "Thou, O Barak, deliverest up meanly the authority which God hath given thee into the hands of a woman; neither do I reject it" (Joseph. Ant. v. 5, 2). The Sept. interpolates the words "because I know not the day when the Lord will escort me by his angel" as a sort of excuse for Barak's request (iv. 8; comp. 14; v. 23). When the small band of ill-armed (Jg 5:8) Israelites saw the dense iron chariots of the enemy, "they were so frightened that they wished to march off at once, had not Deborah detained them, and commanded them to fight the enemy that very day" (Joseph. 1. c.). They did so, but Deborah's prophecy was fulfilled (Jg 4:9), and the enemy's general perished among the "oaks of the wanderers (Zaanaim)," in the tent of the Bedouin Kenite's wife (Jg 4:21) in the northern mountains. For the natural phenomena which aided (Jg 5:20-21) the victory, and the other details (for which we have ample authority in the twofold narration in prose and poetry), SEE BARAK, where we have also entered on the question of the chronology (Ewald, Gesch. 2:489-494). B.C. 1409. This great victory, which seems to have been followed up, broke the power of the native princes, and secured to the Israelites a repose of forty years' duration (Jg 5:31). During part of this time Deborah probably continued to exercise her former authority; but nothing more of her history is known. See Thomson, Land and Book, 2:150; Hunter, Sacred Biog. 4:98; Hughes, Female Char. 1:296.
Deborah's title of "prophetess" (נבַיאָה) includes the notion of inspired poetry, as in Ex 15:20; and in this sense the glorious triumphal ode (Judges 5) well vindicates her claim to the office. This song, which was composed in consequence of the great victory over Sisera, is said to have been "sung by Deborah and Barak." SEE JAEL. It is usually regarded as the composition of Deborah (see Zeltner, Deboroe inter prophetissas
eruditio, Alt. 1708), and was probably indited by her to be sung on the return of Barak and his warriors from the pursuit. It belongs indisputably to the first rank of Hebrew poetry, and is one of its most splendid and difficult specimens. "In the ecstasy and energy of inspiration," says Prof. Robinson (Bib. Repos. 1831, p. 569), "the prophetess pours out her whole soul in thanksgiving to God for his divine aid, and in gratitude to the people of Israel for their patriotism in rising spontaneously to throw off the yoke of oppression. Her strains are bold, varied, and sublime; she is everywhere full of abrupt and impassioned appeals and personifications; she bursts away from earth to heaven, and again returns to human things; she touches now upon the present, now dwells upon the past, and closes at length with the grand promise and result of all prophecy, and of all the dealings of God's providence, that the wicked shall be overthrown, while the righteous shall ever triumph in Jehovah's name." This ode has often been explained at length, especially by Hollman, In carmen Deborae (Lips. 1818); Kron, Sur le chant de Debora (Strasb. 1833); Kalkar, De cantico Deb. (Copenh. 1833); Kemink, De carm. Deb. (Utr. 1840); Meier, Uebers. u. Erkldr. des Deborah Liedes (Tubingen, 1859); Herder, Heb. Poesie, 2:235; Ewald, Poet. Biucher, 1:125 sq.; Gumpach, Alttest. Stud. 1-140; Bottger, in Kauffer's Bibl. Studien, pt. 1-3; Robinson, Bibl. Repos. 1:568 sq. Other treatises are, in Latin, by Schultens (L. B. 1745; also in his Syll. Dissertt. No. 12), Lette (L. B. 1759), Luiderwald (Helmst. 1772), Schnurrer (Tub. 1775; also in his Dissertt. p. 36 sq.); comp. Origen (Opp. 2:470), Jerome (Opp. Spur. 3, 745), Muis (Sel. Cent. i), Cocceius (Opp. 1:311); in German, by Teller (Halle, 1766), Wenck (Darmst. 1773), Kohler (in Eichhorn's Repertor. 6:163 sq.), — Mendelssohn (in Sammler, 1778), Bielcke (Starg. 1750); in English, by Weston (London. 1788), Horsley (Bib. Crit. 2:424, 477); in Italian, by Hintz (ed. Brini, Rom. 1792). SEE JUDGES (BOOK OF).