Elie Assis, «The Choice to Serve God and Assist His People: Rahab and Yael», Vol. 85 (2004) 82-90
This paper presents a series of analogies between Rahab and Yael, both gentiles, who unexpectedly choose to assist Israel against the Canaanites. The analogies are designed to illustrate the surprising and unanticipated means through which divine providence operates. Noteworthy differences between the two heroines indicate the specific significance of each story. Rahab’s conduct is motivated by her recognition of God’s absolute power. Yael’s motives, however, are unclear. Their concealment is meant to detract attention from Yael’s appealing character and focus on the prophetic role played by Deborah who had predicted Yael’s behaviour.
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84 Elie Assis
19,2). While Lotâ€™s words are clear: â€œturnâ€¦intoâ€¦houseâ€ (Âµkdb[ tym la wrws)
Yael uses the same verb but applies it to herself: â€œturn into meâ€ (yla wrws).
This form resembles another sexual formula la abyw. Yaelâ€™s greeting and
invitation allude to the terminology and descriptions of a prostitute in the
Book of Proverbs (9,15-16) (7). The sibilance of the invitation in the original
Hebrew may be meant as well to underscore the sensuality contained in
Yaelâ€™s voice (8). The repetition of the fact that Yael covers Sisera is also part
of a sexual setting (vv. 18, 19). And certainly the fact that the whole scene
takes place in Yaelâ€™s bed creates a sexual atmosphere (9). It is reasonable to
assume that the attraction that Yael dissembles for Sisera is the cause for his
confidence in her; he even trusts her with his life. Sexuality is also prominent
in the encounter between Yael and Barak. First, she goes out to greet Barak
â€œYael came out to meet himâ€. Then she invites him into the tent to see
Siseraâ€™s condition, but when the narrator describes his entrance to the tent he
chooses the term â€œhe came into herâ€ (hyla awbyw) that may also indicate sexual
intercourse, midrashically expounded.
(7) In both stories the behaviours of the men is presented ironically
compared with that of the women. The king and his soldiers seem pathetic
when they immediately believe the harlot that her customers are not in the
house. The type of hospitality Yael offers Sisera reflects his childlike
helplessness: she gives him a drink and covers him with a blanket. It is ironic
that a woman kills an experienced warrior who has survived the battlefield(10).
The assistance that Rahab provides the spies also presents them in an ironic
light. The spies are passive in comparison with Rahab who actively hides
them, allowing them to escape from the city: â€œBut the woman took the two
men and hid themâ€ (Josh 2,4); â€œShe brought them up to the roof and hid themâ€
(Josh 2,6). â€œThen she let them down by a rope through the windowâ€ (Josh
2,15). She also gives them good advice about where to escape (Josh 2,16), and
she is the dominant party in the dialogue with the spies. Barak is presented in
an unflattering manner when she invites him into her tent to see that the man
that he has been pursuing has already been put to death (Judg 4,22). Both Yael
and Rahab are in control of the men they want to subdue and the men whom
they plan to help. It is in their power to decide who will triumph and who will
fail. The encounters of Yael and Rahab with men are presented in a similar
(7) An extensive description of a womanâ€™s seductions is found in Prov 7,5-23.
(8) About alliteration in biblical narrative see: L. ALONSO SCHÃ–KEL, A Manual of
Hebrew Poetics (Subsidia Biblica 11; Rome 1988) 20-29. The Babylonian Talmud Megilah
15a realizes the inviting tone of Yaelâ€™s words: â€œRahab inspired lust by her name; Yael by
her voice, Abigail by her memory; Michal daughter of Saul by her appearanceâ€.
(9) Reference to sexual intercourse is apparent in the poetic account in Judg 5, 27. This
remark was midrashically expounded by R. Johanan in the Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth
103a. On the sexual allusions see also: Y. ZAKOVITCH, â€œSisseras Todâ€, ZAW 93 (1981) 364-
374. S. NIDITCH, â€œEroticism and Death in the Tale of Jaelâ€, Gender and Difference in
Ancient Israel (ed. P.L. DAY) (Minneapolis 1989) 43-57. R. ALTER, The Art of Biblical
Poetry (New York 1985) 48-49. Sexual allusions are explicit in the pseudepigraphic book
Pseudo-Philo 31:3: â€œJael the wife of Heber the Kenite adorned herself and went out to meet
him; now the woman was very beautifulâ€¦ And Sisera went in, and when he saw roses
scattered on the bed, he said, â€˜if I am saved, I will go to my mother, and Yael will be my
(10) For the shame of a man killed by a woman see also Judg 9,53-54; 2 Sam 11,21.