Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Triumph of Deborah ~ by Eva Etzioni-Halevy, 2008

I have a purple tee-shirt with this slogan on it, "Well behaved women rarely make history," though mine shows a woman wearing a red hat.  Rather than dressy red and purple regalia, I would often wear this shirt with my jeans to my Red Hat meetings. That's more who I am. But today I want to talk about the words.

Deborah, a judge in the years before the Israelites had a king, ruled firmly and wisely.  Nobody would ever have called her Judge Debbie.  She wasn't that kind of woman.  Neither was she well-behaved, at least that's not the way Eva Etzioni-Halevy imagined Deborah in her 2008 novel, The Triumph of Deborah. In those days, a judge was a leader of the people, yet her husband said to her:
"Even an eminent woman must bend her will to her husband's" (p. 46).
Imagine where THAT leads this couple!  The back cover of the book says,
"In ancient Israel, war is looming. Deborah, a highly respected leader, has coerced the warrior Barak into launching a strike against the neighboring Canaanites. Against all odds, he succeeds ... Deborah, recently cast off by her husband, develops a surprising affinity for Barak."
Meanwhile, Barak was falling for someone else -- Asherah, daughter of the king he had defeated.  I really don't understand how men's minds work, but here's an example from the book.  Barak is with Asherah, after he burned down her town.
The beauty's voice was colorless.  But when Barak looked into her eyes, he saw a flash of dark hatred in them that strangely inflamed him.  At that moment, he decided to take this girl for his wife, as by Torah law he was entitled to do.

He promised himself that in time he would school her into submission and transform the glint of loathing in her eyes into the gleam of love.  He did not doubt his ability to achieve these goals, and he anticipated the prospect of taming her with relish.  Ignoring her last words, he said, "I will take you to my home, where you will live from now on" (p. 130).
Why do men want women who hate them?  He has decided that, because she's a beauty, he will tame her.  Eva Etzioni-Halevy is a fantastic writer.  I was THERE in the smoke and stench and chaos when the town was destroyed by Barak's army.  I felt the women's fear as they (including Asherah) huddled behind locked doors.  Their fright was palpable as they heard their guards being killed in the hallway before the door was thrown open.

The author did excellent research on the biblical Deborah and those ancient times before writing this book (unlike the story in The Red Tent, where Anita Diamant for some inexplicable reason -- totally unrelated to the story -- gave the son of one concubine of Jacob to another of his concubines).  In The Triumph of Deborah, we also see the story of one of the Bible's most interesting women, Jael, who fulfills a prophecy Deborah made when Barak agreed to lead the army as Deborah asked him to do, but with one stipulation:
Barak regarded her [Deborah] thoughtfully.  Finally, he surprised her by saying, "If you come with me I will go, but otherwise I will not go." ...

"If you insist, I will surely go with you.  Nevertheless, the path you are treading will not lead you to glory. ..."  Suddenly she felt a prophecy she did not know had been stored up inside her spewing out of her mouth, as if of its own volition.  "For the Lord will give Sisra into the hands of a woman.  She and not you will snuff out his life" (p. 31).
You may want to re-read the teaser I posted about this book, which is a perfect choice for the Women Unbound reading challenge. And in case you missed it, the author herself wrote a guest post for me, my first (and so far, only) guest post ever on this blog.  To read what little the Bible says about Deborah, take a look at Judges 4-5.  I rate this book 9 of 10 because it's an excellent story.

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