Sunday, October 23, 2016

Know Your Bible: Biblical Femmes Fatales - Episode Two: Jael


In this series of posts I will outline examples in biblical literature of the femme fatale, defined as a woman whose mysterious and seductive qualities ensnare males into dangerous and deadly lapses of judgement. But I will expand it to include, as well, biblical stories in which women directly kill for various motives.

We continue with a woman who once tricked a Canaanite general into thinking she would save him, only to be, well, pegged otherwise.

2. Jael

In the book of Judges (ca. 1100 BCE), we read that the Israelites were being oppressed by a Canaanite king, Jabin, who reigned in Hazor (Judges 4:2). 

The Judge Deborah
Interestingly, a prophetess named Deborah is described as a "judge" of Israel at this time. The judges of this book are a series of men (and a woman here) who lead Israel as needed to face various challenges. 

She enlists one Barak, son of Abinoam, to lead the forces of the Israelites to oppose Jabin. The army of Jabin was led by a general named Sisera (Judges 4:2).

With the help of the LORD, Sisera and his army were routed and destroyed (Judges 4:15-16).

Sisera fled the defeat. Jael, the wife of Heber, who was descended from the family of Moses' wife, came out and met Sisera, telling him to enter her tent to hide. She covered him with a rug and told him that if anyone asked if someone were there, she would lie and say otherwise.

Jael and Sisera, by Jacopo Amigoni
But when Sisera fell asleep, she got a tent peg and a mallet and:

"...stealthily approached him and drove the peg through his temple down into the ground, so that he perished in death." (Judges 4:21)

Deborah, in the next chapter, sings a song of celebration for all that had happened, and calls Jael "Blessed among women" ( תברך מנשים  ) (Judges 5:24), prefiguring what Elizabeth will say about the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:42).

This act of Jael on behalf of Israel becomes a popular artistic motif. As if to highlight the seeming disparity between the murderous act and femininity, one notices a tendency in these depictions to draw attention to the bosom, framed between the hands holding hammer and tent stake. 

Here are some more notable examples.

Jael and Sisera, by Artemisia Gentileschi

Jael and Sisera, Roman School

Jael and Sisera, by Alessandro Turchi

Jael and Sisera, by Gregorio Lazzarini

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