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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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JAEL . The wife of Heber, the Kenite ( Judges 4:11 ; Judges 4:17 ). The Kenites were on friendly terms both with the Israelites ( Judges 1:16 ) and with the Canaanites, to whom Jabin and his general, Sisera, belonged. On his defeat by the Israelites, Sisera fled to the tent of Jaei, a spot which was doubly secure to the fugitive, on account both of intertribal friendship and of the rules of Oriental hospitality. The act of treachery whereby Jael slew Sisera ( Judges 4:21 ) was therefore of the basest kind, according to the morals of her own time, and also to modern ideas. The praise, therefore, accorded to Jael and her deed in the Song of Deborah ( Judges 5:24-27 ) must be accounted for on the questionable moral principle that an evil deed, if productive of advantage, may be rejoiced over and commended by those who have not taken part in it. The writer of the Song of Deborah records an act which, though base, resulted in putting the seal to the Israelite victory, and thus contributed to the recovery of Israel from a ‘mighty oppression’ ( Judges 4:3 ); in the exultation over this result the woman who helped to bring it about by her act is extolled. Though the writer of the Song would probably have scorned to commit such a deed himself, he sees no incongruity in praising it for its beneficent consequences. This is one degree worse than ‘doing evil that good may come,’ for the evil itself is extolled; whereas, in the other case, it is deplored, and unwillingly acquiesced in because it is ‘necessary.’ The spirit which praises such an act as Jael’s is, in some sense, akin to that of a Jewish custom (Corban) which grew up in later days, and which received the condemnation of Christ, Mark 7:11 ; in each case a contemptible act is condoned, and even extolled, because of the advantage (of one kind or another) which it brings.

In Judges 5:6 the words ‘in the days of Jael’ create a difficulty, which can be accounted for only by regarding them, with most scholars, as a gloss. See also Barak, Deborah, Sisera.

W. O. E. Oesterley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Jael'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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