SEX AND VIOLENCE IN THE DAYS OF JAEL (PART 3)~ By Marg Mowczko

Jael and Deborah in Judges

“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. Her offspring will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
~ God speaking to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 (italics added).

“Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; she is most blessed among tent-dwelling women” … “She reached for a tent peg, her right hand, for a workman’s hammer. Then she hammered Sisera—she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple.”
~ Deborah and Barak singing about Jael in Judges 5:24 & 26 CSB (italics added).

“O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies.”
~ Uzziah (leader of Bethuliah) praising Judith in Judith 13:18 NRSV (italics added).

Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed!”
~ Elizabeth praising Mary in Luke 1:42 CSB (italics added).

JAEL AS A TYPE OF MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS

« Part 1: “The Lord will hand over Sisera to a woman”
« Part 2: Sexual and Maternal Imagery in Jael’s Story

After Judges 4 and 5, Jael is not mentioned again in the Hebrew Bible, and she is not mentioned at all in the New Testament. She is mentioned in early Jewish[1] and early Christian writings,[2] but her popularity picks up in the Middle Ages where she is the subject of art and is used as a type of Mary defeating the devil.

In Speculum humanae salvationis (“Mirror of Human Salvation”), Jael and two other women are presented as types of Mary. “Mirror” was a much-copied, illustrated book, originally produced in the 1300s, that focussed on biblical typology. It aimed to show that certain events in the New Testament were prefigured by three Old Testament or historic events.

Judith, who beheaded the Assyrian general Holofernes, and Queen Tomyris of the Massagetai, who placed the severed head of Cyrus in a vessel filled with blood, are presented along with Jael who hammered Sisera’s skull. The three women are connected by their gory acts of violence on the heads of three powerful enemies. According to “Mirror,” these women prefigured Mary who is portrayed as the person who, as foretold in Genesis 3:15, crushes the serpent’s head, the serpent being the devil.

Illustrations of Mary, Judith, Jael, and Tomyris.
From Speculum Humanae Salvationis, circa 1450. (The Warburg Institute)

AN INTERTEXTUAL CONNECTION BETWEEN JUDGES 5:24 AND LUKE 1:42

There is also an intertextual connection[3] between Jael and Mary; both are called “blessed of women” in the Bible. Lawson Younger is one of numerous scholars who sees a connection between the words in Judges 5:24 and Luke 1:42, and he comments, “The unrestrained praise of Jael is analogous to that given to Mary in Luke 1:42.”[4]

Brittany Wilson notes that the texts in Judges and Luke, as well as in Judith 13:18, each “have the passive form of εὐλογέω [‘blessed’] and place the term at the beginning of the sentence. Mary, Jael, and Judith are all initially named ‘blessed’ at the outset of their descriptions.”[5]

But there are more echoes of Jael’s story in Luke 1. In both Judges 4-5 and Luke 1, there are prophecies from women: Deborah prophesied about Jael’s victory, Elizabeth prophesied about Mary as the “mother of my Lord.” And there is singing: Deborah and Barak sing a victory song and Mary sings the Magnificat.

Clinton McCann observes that both Jael and Mary were chosen by God to defeat God’s Enemy and to establish justice and righteousness. [6] However, McCann and others believe the allusion in Luke 1:42 to Jael in Judges 5:24 and also to the Woman in Genesis 3:15 point to Mary’s offspringGenesis 3:15 says that the Woman’s offspring will crush the serpent’s head. According to this understanding, Mary defeated God’s Enemy by being willing to give birth to the Saviour.

Jael type of Mary

Illustration of Jael and Sisera.
From Speculum Humanae Salvationis, circa 1360.
More images of Jael as a type of Mary here.

JESUS ON THE CROSS IS THE HEAD-CRUSHER

PhD student Julie Walsh has observed that there are close to 2000 quotes, allusions, and echoes from the Old Testament in the New Testament. In her ThM thesis—which she turned into the book, The Cross and the Tent Peg—Julie argues that the events that happened with the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus closely and intentionally follow the sequence of events from Jael’s story which prefigures them. This is because Jael initially fulfilled God’s words in Genesis 3:15 when she crushed Sisera’s head.

Julie notes that the events portrayed in the Gospels roughly follow Jael’s story in several ways. (The similarities are more pronounced in the Greek versions of the New Testament and Judges.)

  1. skull imagery (Matthew 27:33Mark 15:22Luke 23:33John 19:17; cf. Judges 4:215:26)
  2. drink (Matthew 27:34Mark 15:2336John 19:2830; cf. Judges 4:195:25)
  3. act of stake going into the skull/ground (Matthew 27:35Mark 15:24Luke 23:33John 19:18; cf. Judges 4:215:26)
  4. dividing of clothes among soldiers (Matthew 27:35Mark 15:24Luke 23:34John 19:2324; cf. Judges 5:30)
  5. darkness coming over (Matthew 27:45Mark 15:33Luke 23:44; cf. Judges 4:21b)
  6. earthquakes/quaking (Matthew 27:515428:24; cf. Judges 5:45)
  7. request to stand guard at entrance of the tomb/tent (Matthew 27:646566; cf. Judges 4:20)
  8. dawning sun, people going (Matthew 28:1Mark 16:2Luke 24:1; cf. Judges 5:31)
  9. “He is not here” (Matthew 28:6aMark 16:6Luke 24:5; cf. Judges 4:20. See also Matthew 28:12-13.)
  10.  seeking/request to come in/entering a tomb/beholding (Matthew 28:6bMark 16:56Luke 24:35John 20:561115; cf. Judges 4:22)
  11. forty years of calm (there is about 40 years between Jesus’ resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70; cf. Judges 5:31)

Julie states that Jesus on the Cross fulfilled God’s promise that the offspring of the Woman would crush the Serpent’s head, even as Jael’s tent peg did by analogy. This is especially seen in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (See also Zech. 10:4.)

CONCLUSION

Mary defeated the enemy indirectly through her son Jesus. She did this, not through violence, but through peaceful, though risky, obedience. The scriptures do not tell us what Jael’s motivation was, but perhaps she was also obedient to the promptings of God when she defeated Israel’s enemy. Jael is a controversial figure with blood on her hands, nevertheless, both she and Mary are praised in the Bible as “blessed among women.”

I’ve enjoyed looking more closely at Jael for this series, and I have an increased admiration for her and for how her story has been told in Judges 4 and 5. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series too.

Jael type of Mary

Mary punching the devil in the face.
From “The Book of Hours,” circa 1240 (British Library)


FOOTNOTES

[1] For example, Jael is mentioned in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews 5.5.4 and in Pseudo-Philo’s Biblical Antiquities 31:3-9 and 32:12.
Pseudo-Philo states, “Jael has elevated herself among women, because she alone has brought this good way to success, in that with her own hands she killed Sisera” (Biblical Antiquities 32:12).

[2] For example, Jael is mentioned in book 3 of Reply to Marcion (“Of the Harmony of the Fathers of the Old and New Testaments”), in Ambrose’s treatise Concerning Widows 8.47-48, and in comments on Judges 4-5 by Origen, Jerome, Augustine,  and Isidore of Seville.
Reply to Marcion, an anonymous work, includes this line: “Suddenly renegade, a woman’s hand—Jael’s—with wooden weapon vanquished quite, for token of Christ’s victory” (Book 3.138-142 [1495])
See David M. Gunn, Judges (Blackwell Bible Commentary; Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 57-58, who writes that in early Christian interpretation “Jael is valued as a type and as a forerunner of Christ or the Church.”

[3] Serge Frolov explains that intertextuality is a concept developed by literary critics in the late-twentieth century that explores relationships between two or more texts with similar words or ideas. It creates opportunities to see texts in a new light. He explains more in his article on Zipporah here: TheTorah.com

[4] K. Lawson Younger Jr., Judges, Ruth (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, 2020) (Google Books)

[5] Brittany E. Wilson, “Pugnacious Precursors and the Bearer of Peace: Jael, Judith, and Mary in Luke 1:42,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68.3 (July 2006): 436-456, 439.
In fact, the word “blessed” occurs twice in Judges 5:24Judith 13:18, and Luke 1:42. In each of these verses parallelism, a feature of Hebrew poetry, is used.

[6] J. Clinton McCann, Judges (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 58. (Google Books)

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