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Deborah, from a painting by Charles Landelle, 1901

Deborah (c. 1157 - c. 1067 BCE) was a celebrated Jewish judge, entrepreneur, warrior, prophetess, and poet of the Biblical era who predicted and led a famous Jewish victory against the Canaanites. Her name means "bee" or "honeybee" and in Judges 4:4 she was identified as "eshet lappidot," a textually ambiguous phrase that has been variously interpreted as "woman of the town of Lappidoth," "wife of the man named Lappidoth," or "woman of torches" — perhaps meaning a "fiery woman," or even a "pyromancer." She was a mother who became an industrious and wealthy business woman by operating four different agricultural orchards and a mining enterprise. Her apple orchards produced fruit, her palm groves were a source of date honey, her olive orchards produced oil, and her white clay mine was a source for the manufacturers of pottery. She lived at a time when the twelve tribes of Israel were relatively independent from one another and had not yet been united under a single king. She is one of seven female Jewish prophets, the other six being Sarah, Miriam, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther.

According to Judges 4:4-5, Deborah was a judge and "decider of questions of law for the Hebrew tribes." Not only did she settle cases of conflict and business contracts, but she sentenced people for their crimes as well. "She sat under a palm tree, which was called by her name, between Rama and Bethel, in Mount Ephraim, and the children of Israel came up to her for all judgments." Deborah presided as a judge for 20 years until the oppressive cruelty of the Canaanite King Jabin of Hazor became too much for the Jewish people to bear. The Canaanite army possessed nine hundred iron chariots under the command of general Sisera, whose headquarters were at Haroseth, between Haifa and Nazareth, on the plain of Esdraelon. From this central position the Canaanites harried the Jewish tribes to the north and south, to prevent their uniting. This situation had continued for all the 20 years that Deborah had been a judge, at which point she answered the people's cries for help and deliverance by prophesying that it was God's will that His people should be freed and that the honour and glory of throwing off the military oppression of Sisera would belong to a woman. The prophecy did not refer to Deborah herself, but when she sent for Barak, the son of Abinoam, who dwelt in Northern Galilee, and asked him to assemble an army, Barak, believing that Deborah might be the woman in the prophecy, said he would lead the army only on the condition that Deborah herself would accompany him into battle. On Mount Tabor, Deborah chose the time to attack, and urged Barak to descend from the heights to fight Sisera's chariots on level ground. This seeming folly demonstrated her prophetic gifts, for God sent a violent rain storm which flooded the plain and mired the Canaanite chariots. Sisera's army fled, and as it turned out, the defeated general sought safety in nearby settlement, where a Kenite woman named Jael welcomed him, waited until he slept, and drove a tent stake through his temple, killing him instantly and ending his reign of terror. Thus Jael proved to be the heroic woman of Deborah's prophesy. On Mount Tabor, Deborah and her victorious army rejoiced. In commemoration of the event, she composed a beautiful triumphal hymn, the "Song of Deborah," which is thought to be the earliest known example of Hebrew poetry. "The Song of Deborah" is also historically unique because it celebrates a military victory achieved by the two women, Deborah and Jael. After the defeat of King Jabin there was peace for 40 years among the twelve tribes of Israel until Deborah’s death, circa 1067 BCE.

Deborah served as a judge for 60 years. She is referred to as "a mother in Israel" and she is typically depicted as a mature woman, either in her role as a judge seated beneath a palm tree or as a warrior standing beside a palm tree on Mount Tabor, exhorting Barak's troops and leading them to victory. The palm tree being an essential part of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a harvest festival, Deborah's role as an agricultural entrepreneur may be noted at that time. In magical and mystical workings, she is associated with the zodiac sign Leo, its planetary ruler the Sun, and, on the kabbalistic Tree of Life, with the central sephirot Tiferet, which stands for beauty and truth and symbolizes the battle that she led and won in the center of Israel. As a warrior, she is associated with the military Archangel Michael and her day of the week is Tuesday, which is under the aegis of the warrior-planet Mars. Her name-number in kabbalistic gematria is 217, her gemstones are the fiery Tiger's Eye and Tiger Iron.


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