Deborah, Jael and Archaeology: banner

 Home                              The full story of Deborah                                The Bible text

 Find out more

Link to the story of Deborah and Jael, Bible women

Story of 
Deborah & Jael

Map of Bible lands in ancient times

Where it happened

Use of helmets, different types, archaeology: helmets in the Bible

Ancient helmets

Different types of armour in the ancient lands of the Bible: archaeology


Horses in warfare: chariot horse in the ancient world

Chariot horses

Different types of shields used in ancient warfare: Bible archaeology


Development of the bow and arrow are weapons of war in ancient Bible lands

Bow & arrow

Slings in ancient warfare: David and Goliath: what archaeology tells us about the Bible story

Slings in warfare

War chariots: different types in different countries of the ancient Bible lands

War Chariots





Bible Study Resource


The Song of Deborah

Judges 4 and 5 contain the epic story of Deborah. Though its date is uncertain, Judges 5, the ďSongĒ proper, is one of the earliest biblical epics and without equal in ancient writings for sheer drama. The Song of Victory, in verses 2-18, is a rallying call to the tribes, an exhortation to resistance and a call to battle. Verses 19-30 give a poetic version of the story, told in more sober detail in prose in Judges 4. 

Both accounts emphasize Israelís main weaknesses:

  • the disunity of the tribes and 

  • the lack of weapons. 

This second point is made more dramatically in a later story about Saul and Jonathan.

19 Now there was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, "Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears"; 20 but every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle; 21 and the charge was a pim for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads. 22 So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people...  I Samuel 13:19-22. 

Deborah was faced with a federation of city kings led by Jabin of Hazor. He ruled a fortified city of the Canaanite kingdom of Galilee, who had understandably objected to the intrusion and settlement of the Hebrew tribes in what had previously been Canaanite territory. 

Knife in fireThey did not sit on their hands when this intrusion happened, but took certain measures to make sure the intruders did not become too powerful. One of these measures was to forbid the newcomers the use of forges, so that the Hebrew tribes were unable to produce metal weapons, most notably swords, axes and metal shields. This meant that the tribes, when they fought, were most successful when they used guerilla tactics - ambush, night-fighting, etc. It also meant they had to use weapons the Canaanites considered primitive: the sling, bow and arrow, and clubs.

Deborah was responsible for the strategy and subsequent victory of the Hebrew tribesmen, and she had selected Barak ben Abinoam as her commander. But it is characteristic of the epic style, and of the Hebrew religious outlook, that credit for the victory is ascribed to Yahweh alone - the chariots of Canaan are defeated by a flood, i.e., an act of God - while the decisive blow, the ignominious death of the fearsome enemy leader Sisera, is dealt by a woman. 

View from the ancient city of Megiddo out over the fertile plains of Esdraelon

View from the ancient city of Megiddo out over the fertile plains of Jezreel Valley


Phase 1 of the battle between Deborah's forces and the Canaanites

Phase 1. The battle between Deborah's forces and the Canaanites: 1  Sisera's base camp at Haroshet Hagojim; 2  Deborah and Barak concentrate their forces on Mount Tabor; 3  Sisera moves towards Mount Tabor; 4  The second Israelite force concentrates near the northern slopes of Mount Ephraim.

Phase 2 of the battle between the Israelite forces and the Canaanites

Phase 2: 1  The second Israelite force moves to divert Sisera from Mount Tabor; 2 The diversionary force is unsuccessfully intercepted by local Canaanite villagers in the region of Taanach; 3 Sisera moves to assist the Canaanite force and to stem the Israelite advance; 4 Deborah and Barak follow Sisera; 5 Deborah and Barak overcome Sisera in the marshy lowlands by the Wadi Kishon; 6 Sisera's troops flee, pursued by the Israelites; 7 Sisera escapes on foot and is killed by Jael.

Source:  The maps and precis above have been taken from 'Battles of the Bible' by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon, Greenhill Books, 1997, p.66 and 71. Recommended.


The Battle God

Scholars disagree about whether the Song of Deborah was composed 

  • at the time of the events or close to them, 

  • oReproduction of an ancient plaque depicting the rain god Baalr later, in the troubled days of the wars with the Philistines. 

An early date is claimed because of the literary form and imagery of the epic, which has many characteristics of early story-telling. The Song of Deborah speaks of God coming out of his holy mountain with storms and earthquakes to lead his people to victory. This image was directly related to Canaanite mythology in which the storm god, BaĎal of the Lightning was represented as a warrior holding a club in his right hand and a lance - symbolizing lightning - in his left. This metaphor is repeated in Psalm 68:4, where God is described as 'riding on the clouds' - just as Baal is in the Canaanite poem of Ugarit. 

But the similarity ends where the concepts differ. As the poem makes clear, in spite of the courage of Deborah and the tribal soldiers, the victory was achieved solely and directly by Godís superior power over the forces of Nature - rain and storms which mired the heavy Canaanite chariots and rendered them useless. The message? The Israelite God controlled Nature here just as much as he did in the story of the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14:25-28. 

The type of heavy iron-wheeled chariots used by Deborah's enemy

The type of heavy iron-wheeled chariots used by Deborah's enemy

World War I tank made useless by mud - as were Sisera's chariots

Abandoned World War I tank made useless by mud - as were Sisera's chariots

Jaelís Triumph

The enemy armies were defeated by the Israelites, but, as Deborah had foretold, the glory of the victory went to a woman, Jael, a Kenite nomad, who killed the enemy general, Sisera, with a tent peg while he slept. It is presumed that she committed this grievous breach of oriental hospitality from hatred of the enemies of the Israelites, who were probably allied with her people.

Nomadic tents similar to the ones used by the people of the Bible

Nomadic tents similar to the ones used by the people of the Bible

Return to top

Custom Search

Bible Study Resource for Archaeology: Deborah and Jael, what archaeology adds to the Bible story

  Home                                     FAQs                                        About the Author
Copyright 2006 Elizabeth Fletcher