The Song of Deborah is almost universally considered the oldest part of the Bible, though scholars disagree on just how old. It makes sense; verse and poetry are easier to memorize and transmit and last longer. It’s why the Rig Vedas managed to last as long they did. It’s also considered an independent tradition from chapter 4, since it differs on the number of tribes involved, mentions an otherwise unnamed city of Meroz that didn’t help Barak, and has a slightly different story version of Jael killing Sisera.

My NOAB notes that the NRSV’s translation of “fell at her feet” in verse 27 overlooks how euphemistic “feet” are in Hebrew. This version of the story, in other words, is a little more explicit in the sexual aspect of Jael managing to kill Sisera.

Another translation note is the NCT again follows the Hebrew more closely than the NRSV. In verses 13-14a, the NRSV has:

“Then down marched the remnant of the noble;
the people of the Lord marched down for him against the mighty.
 From Ephraim they set out into the valley,”

with footnotes that these are based on other translations, because the Hebrew here, being very old, is difficult to decipher. The NCT tries another route, deciphering the Hebrew like this:

“Then the remnant went down magnificently;
the people of the Lord bravely went down with me.
 From Ephraim, the people at the root of Amalek went down.”

What’s interesting is that in the NRSV translation, they march down “for him,” i.e. God, while in the Hebrew and the NCT they march “with me,” i.e. Deborah or Barak. I’m not sure why the NRSV goes with the Greek here, since both versions work. Or were the translators uncomfortable implying that Deborah herself may have gone into battle?

The song concludes on a sad note, imagining Sisera’s mother waiting for his return, trying to convince herself that he’s delayed because he’s gathering plunder. There’s a sort of smugness here, that the former plunderers are now dead. The text doesn’t seem that sympathetic, what with how it makes sure to note she has a lattice, and serving ladies. But I feel a bit of compassion for her. Even bad men love their mothers.

The Japanese: kami wo nobasu “to wear your hair long,” susunde “willingly, readily (v 2), idetatsu “to leave, to set out,” shitataru “to drop” (v 4), tokesaru “to melt away” (v 5), taishou “caravan,” wakimichi “side road, byway” (v 6), semaru “to threaten” (v 8), shiki suru “to lead” (v 9), kurige “chestnut (color),” shikimono “rug, carpet” (v 10), noseru “to send out” (v 11), furuu “to screw up one’s courage” (v 12), doudou to “magnificently” (v 13), sashizu “direction, order” (v 14), hohei “infantryman, foot solider,” shizoku “family branch,” ki suru “to expect, to anticipate” (v 15), kurabukuro “saddlebag,” kiwameru “to go to extremes, to thoroughly master” (v 16), yadoru “to inhabit” (v 17), itowanu “willing,” jindoru “to take up one’s position” (v 18), kuwawaru “to join, to participate,” kidou “orbit, path” (v 20), taiko “ancient” (v 21), hidzume “hoof,” shunme “swift horse” (v 22), kijin “nobleman,” fusawashii “suitable, appropriate,” gyounyuu “curds, curdled milk” (v 25), nigiru “to grip” (v 26), kagamikomu “to lean over” (v 27), koushi “lattice” (v 28), jokan “court lady” (v 29), senrihin “booty, pillage” (v 30), ikioi “momentum, force” (v 31).

It never fails that when the Bible gets poetic, I start having to look up a lot of words and phrases. The Psalms, whenever I get to them, are going to be a pain and a half to read through.

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