PRISCILLAPAPERS| Vol. 32, No. 2 | Spring 2018•3 cbeinternational.orgDeborah: Troublesome Woman or Woman of Valor?Ronald W. PierceUnwarranted criticisms by evangelical scholars of Deborah’s leadership in Judg 4–5 continue to devalue her work as “abnormal,” “wrong,”1 something done only in private2 or even in subservience to Barak.3 Some rabbinical scholars go so far as to brand her an arrogant woman who deserves God’s punishment.4 In contrast, this paper argues that a close reading of her story and song reveals an ’eshet hayil, a “woman of valor” (cf. Ruth 3:11, Prov 12:4, 31:10).5 This is evident not only in the direct references to her, but also in the narratives regarding her associates Barak and Jael.Deborah’s Story (Judges 4)The Story’s Setting (4:1–3)The repetitive pattern in Judges of spiritual corruption, foreign oppression, pleas for deliverance, and a judge who brings peace until the next cycle starts6 sets the distressing backdrop to Deborah’s story and song in chs. 4–5. This literary unit forms the first of the four longer accounts that include Gideon (chs. 6–8), Jephthah (chs. 10–12), and Samson (chs. 13–16).7 Deborah is the first judge in this book to be introduced at length and the only one to function as both judge and prophet—perhaps an intentional parallel to Israel’s last judge Samuel in the continuing narrative of 1 Sam 1–8.Deborah faces the imposing threat of Jabin’s army stretching from the strategic Jezreel Valley to Canaan’s northern gate at Hazor on the Via Maris, the international trade and military route connecting Africa, Europe, and Asia. In comparison, her judgeship is situated in Benjaminite territory in Israel’s central plateau, some seventy miles south of the conflict that Barak already faces in Kedesh of Naphtali.8 Her base of operation “between Ramah and Bethel” suggests she may have had a regional influence—again, like Samuel who later leads Israel from this same location (1 Sam 7:15–16, 8:4). When Deborah appears in the narrative, Israel’s oppression by Jabin has already dragged on for twenty years.Deborah’s Dramatic Introduction (4:4–5)Deborah is introduced dramatically as the story’s main character with a string of seven consecutive, grammatically feminine words: her proper name followed by three paired terms. She is “Deborah,” (1) “a woman, a prophet” (fem. nouns), (2) “a woman of light /fire” (fem. nouns), and (3) “she herself, she is judging” (fem. pronoun, fem. participle).The traditional etymology of Deborah’s name as “bee” or “wasp” is possible, though it may instead connote “leader” or “pursuer” (cf. debir, Josh 10:3).9 Comparatively, the imagery of “bees” (deborah) is used in Isa 7 to describe the Assyrian army’s “pursuit” of Israel (Isa 7:17–20, esp. 18). A similar wordplay would make sense in this text as well. Moreover, Deborah’s role as prophet and judge allows for a symbolic significance to her name in this story.