The Triumph of Deborah
by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
The Triumph of Deborah is a tale of a love-triangle, embroidered around the story of the Israelite judge whose decision to make war is recounted in chapters four and five of the biblical Book of Judges. Deborah chooses Barak, son of Abinoam, as her military commander and urges him to attack the troublesome Canaanites, despite their strength under the war captain Sisera. Barak refuses to go unless Deborah accompanies him. "And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." (Judges 4:8-9)
The main characters are really the fictional Nogah, daughter of an Israelite slave and the Canaanite king, and Barak. Deborah is not immune to Barak's appeal: "His profuse, curly dark hair was unruly and uncombed . . . . There was an air of wild power about him, which, she thought, was enhanced by his untidy appearance." But in his victory, Barak encounters both the Canaanite king's divinely beautiful legitimate daughter Asherah and the slave Nogah, whose beauty is earthier, easier to overlook. He takes both under his protection, vowing to wed Asherah when her Torah-prescribed period of mourning is over. But it is Nogah, not the defiant Asherah, who falls in love with him. Meanwhile, Barak's victory over the Canaanites could prove ephemeral.
The stately prose in The Triumph of Deborah tends to put some emotional distance between reader and characters, but the intelligent, warm-hearted Nogah is easy to like. Nogah's mother and friends warn her against Barak, less because lying with him would be a sin than because they fear she will be hurt. Inevitably, she listens to her heart over her head – although she has a sound head on her shoulders and uses it before the story comes to its triumphant end. (2008, 358 pages including a Historical Note)
More about The Triumph of Deborah at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Interview with author Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Other novels about Old Testament women:
The Song of Hannah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy (2005), about two childhood friends who become wives of the same man. More info
Sarah by Marek Halter (2004), about the woman who becomes the wife of the prophet Abraham. Review or More info at Powell's Books
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (1997), about a daughter of the patriarch Jacob and her life with his many wives. Review or More info at Powell's Books
Nonfiction about ancient Israelite women:
Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel by William G. Dever (2005). More info
Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories by Tikva Frymer-Kensky (2002). More info
Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context by Carol Meyers (1988). More info
"Weapons and Warfare" among the ancient Israelites, by James Moyer, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Religious Studies, Southwest Missouri State University
Archaeology of the Bible: War - scroll down to "Battles" for a picture of Mount Tabor, where Deborah and Barak defeated the Canaanites under Sisera, and a diagram of the battle
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