Bible study 215 – Judges 5Posted: May 7, 2017
This chapter is a poetic retelling of the story about Deborah from the previous chapter. Or rather, the prose description in chapter 4 is probably a retelling of this poem; poems tend to survive oral transmission better than prose, so when a poetic and prose account are similar, the poem is usually assumed to be older.
With that in mind, it seems to me that we are getting closer to history around this part of the Bible. The conquest of Canaan by Joshua is incredibly unrealistic in many ways, and not at all supported by archeological evidence; sure, the Jews must have gotten there somehow at some point, but the oral memories about Joshua are probably false ones. But now that the Jews are settled in Canaan, I can see how the transmitted oral memories that have been edited and written down in the Bible, could be very approximate and decorated descriptions of things that actually happened. The Jews could very well have been spread out between twelve different groups, with borders more or less as those described in Joshua. And they certainly fought with their neighbours.
And since this poem is likely an old oral transmission, describing events not that much older than itself, I can see how there could have existed a female leader/advisor named Deborah, or a Canaanite war chief called Sisera, who had a role in a conflict between Israelite and Canaanite tribes. We’re still not reading the history of Israel, but we are now reading plausible historical memories.
The peasantry prospered in Israel,
They grew fat on plunder,
Because you arose, Deborah,
Arose as a mother in Israel.