Finding Deborah

Today’s Bible History Lesson: The story of Deborah, Judge and leader of Israel. You can read her story here. Read it and come back, so I don’t have to summarize.

A couple of years ago, my kids saw a video dramatization of this story. It was done like an ancient Israel press conference, with Deborah and Barak answering questions from the “reporters.” It was a bit dopey, but still a cute way to introduce the kids to the story. (Otherwise, the tale is a bit more graphic than I want my young children to see. Hello, tent peg to the head?) I was pleased that my kids were learning the story of a couple of strong, brave, intelligent women.

Until the punch line.

If you read the story, you will recall the part where Deborah tells Barak that she will go with him, but he won’t receive the glory. Instead, God will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman. (And . . . cue the tent peg.) Unfortunately, whoever made the video seems to have been unfamiliar with the actual Bible text. Brace yourselves, here comes the disturbing part.

In the video, Deborah tells Barak that he won’t get credit for the win if she goes along, so . . . she lets him go ahead without her. And he gets the military victory, of course. Forget Jael and her tent peg.

Yeah.

For the life of me, I cannot fathom why the people who made that video changed the story. I suppose I can understand if they didn’t want to rehash the whole head-stabbing thing, but to change the tone of the story so that the man gets the glory after all? Why?

I can practically hear some of you rolling your eyes, believing I’m looking for misogyny everywhere. But this isn’t just about misogyny. It’s about changing the text of the Bible to suit what we believe it says. This is not merely an interpretation, it’s a deliberate alteration used to support a conclusion.

That tends to be the problem with fundamentalist thinking. It backs you into a corner, and you have to find a way out. The belief that women are not, or cannot be, strong leaders who succeed in battle isn’t found in the story of Deborah. Her story, and that of Jael, are not compatible with the fundamentalist reading of the New Testament. When the producers made the video, they couldn’t reconcile their reading of the New Testament with the text of the Old Testament. So they changed the text, rather than changing their understanding.

As for me, I want my daughter to know that these brave women have gone before her—the real story, not the watered-down version she saw in the video. I want my son to know that there is no shame in submitting to the authority of a woman. (Barak didn’t seem to feel any, judging by the song he sang with Deborah.) Go, bless your daughters and raise them to be women of courage and conviction. And remind them not to forget their tent pegs.

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