Saturday, April 27, 2013

Deborah outside Scripture

There are a few references to Deborah outside the Hebrew Bible.

Josephus has her in Jewish Antiquities book 5 chapter 5. He begins with explaining the background to Sisera, the general of the Canaanite army. Josephus alludes to this being so because of the Israelites' "taking not warning by their former misfortunes" (1). He then goes onto explain the Israelites begging of Deborah to pray to God for them, and God grants them Barak. Deborah then sends for Barak (2) and then leads them to a great victory. Interestingly, Barak wouldn't go unless Deborah was a general with him (3).

The book of Tobit is named after a generous and God-fearing Jew whose blindness and poverty in Nineveh are the direct result of his performing one of his most characteristic good deeds, namely, burying an executed fellow-Jew (4).

What follows is a series of pious affirmations from the first person perspective of Tobit as he walks us through his own piety and relationship to the surrounding culture. His desire is to keep the "everlasting decree" in v6. He then goes on to Jerusalem to offer the first fruits of his crops and herds.

He further goes on to explain the continual rituals, and this deserves to be quoted in full. I give the verse before to offer context.

V7. I [Tobit] would give these to the priests, the sons of Aaron, at the altar; likewise the tenth of the grain, wine, olive oil, pomegranates, figs, and the rest of the fruits to the sons of Levi who ministered at Jerusalem. Also for six years I would save up a second tenth in money and go and distribute it in Jerusalem.
V8. A third tenth[A third tenth added from other ancient authorities] I would give to the orphans and widows and to the converts who had attached themselves to Israel. I would bring it and give it to them in the third year, and we would eat it according to the ordinance decreed concerning it in the law of Moses and according to the instructions of Deborah, the mother of my father Tobiel,[Lat: Gk Hananiel] for my father had died and left me an orphan.
I checked the LXX and it is the same exact spelling in the Greek, though the English is a tad obscure, often using two 'b's instead of one.

The same spelling and the position Deborah played in post-Mosaic law doesn't strike me as impossible that this is the same Deborah spoken of in Judges 4-5. In fact, I think this is very likely the same leader.

If this is the same Deborah, then she is held in high reverence as being influential on Tobit via the law of Moses and her instructions to Tobit's father. Some have suggested that she was as influential as Moses, given that she delivered Israel from bondage.

Just thought it was interesting.



1. Antiq.

2. Antiq

3. Antiq.

4. New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV commentary, AP1.


  1. That is utterly fascinating, definitely going to do some digging into the text of Tobit now!

  2. "Deborah, the mother of my father Tobiel"
    If the words translated "mother" and "father" mean what they do in English, then this would imply that the Deborah mentioned is Tobit's grandmother, hence presumably not the biblical Deborah. Thoughts?