Original Research

Blood on their hands: How heroines in biblical and Apocryphal literature differ from those in ancient literature regarding violence

Robin Gallaher Branch
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 48, No 2 | a1771 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v48i2.1771 | © 2014 Robin Gallaher Branch | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 October 2013 | Published: 15 December 2014

About the author(s)

Robin Gallaher Branch, Department of Bible and Theology, Victory University, United States and Faculty of Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


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Abstract

Deborah and Jael, Esther, and Judith are four biblical and Apocryphal heroines with blood on their hands. Their stories figure in the following passages: Judges 4–5, when Jael killed the Canaanite commander Sisera; Esther 8, when Esther pleaded with Xerxes to allow her people to defend themselves; and Judith 8–16, when Judith devised and fulfilled a plan to assassinate the Assyrian general, Holofernes. These texts exonerate them. A study of selected heroines in mythology and in classical works by Herodotus, Homer and Tacitus reveals interesting comparisons. This article includes character studies of stories about the Amazons, women warriors who mutilated their bodies to better aim a bow; Tomyris, who won a battle against Cyrus and put his head in a sack of human blood; Anchita, a Spartan mother who sanctioned sealing her son alive in the temple of Minerva; and Boadicea, who led a rebellion against Romein which 80 000 Britons perished. The article finds that, in contrast to the women of other cultures, Deborah and Jael, Esther, and Judith responded with violence to crises only when their people were threatened. Their successful actions are limited to the aggressors, within atime limit, and, arguably, tempered with mercy.

Met bloed aan die hande: Hoe heldinne uit die bybelse en Apokriewe literatuur verskil van dié uit die klassieke literatuur ten opsigte van geweldpleging. Debora en Jael, Ester, en Judit verteenwoordig vier heldinne uit die Bybelse en Apokriewe literatuur met bloed aan die hande. Hulle verhale word in Rigters 4–5 weergegee, waar Jael vir Sisera, ’n Kanaänitiese kommandant, vermoor het; in Ester 8, waar Ester by Xerxes 1 gepleit het omhaar volk toe te laat om hulleself te verdedig; en in Judit 8–16, waar Judit ’n plan beraam én uitgevoer het om die Assiriese generaal, Holofernes te vermoor. Hulle word egter in hierdie teksgedeeltes onthef van skuld. ’n Studie van heldinne uit die mitologie en die klassieke werke van Herodotus, Homeros en Tacitus onthul interessante ooreenkomste. Hierdie artikel bespreek karakterstudies uit die verhaal van die Amasone – vrouekrygers wat nie geskroom het om hulle eie liggame te skend ter wille van die beter hantering van hulle wapens nie; die verhaal van Tomyris, wat ’n geveg teen Cyrus wen en sy kop in ’n sak, gevul met menslike bloed, geplaas het; Anchita, ’n Spartaanse moeder wat haar goedkeuring gee om haar seun lewend in tempel van Minerva af te seël; en Boadicea, wat ’n rebellie teen Rome aangevoer het waarin 80 000 Britte omgekom het. Die slotsom van hierdie artikelis dat Debora en Jael, Ester, en Judit, in teenstelling met vroue uit ander kulture, hulle inkrisistye tot geweldpleging gewend het slegs wanneer hulle volksgenote bedreig is. Hulle eenmalige dade is net tot die aggressors beperk en word waarskynlik deur ’n gevoel van erbarming getemper.


Keywords

Violence in the Old Testament; mythology; ancient history; women warriors

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