Seduction before Murder
The Case of Jael
Folklore studies have often shown how sexual motifs disappear when stories are incorporated into socioliterary contexts in which such references have been deemed inappropriate. Early versions of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Cinderella were not so innocent as we have come to know them from fairy tale collections and Walt Disney movies, which are geared to family entertainment. We have already seen, in our discussions of Sarah in Pharaoh’s palace (chapter 25) and Rebekah and Abraham’s servant (chapter 26), how traditions became gradually refined in a process that included discarding erotic elements between men and women. With this in mind, we turn now to the Bible’s two versions — one in prose and one in poetry — of the encounter between Jael, the heroine whose cunning and courage save the Israelites, and Sisera, the army commander of King Jabin of Hazor.
The story, in Judges 4:17–22, reports how the enemy general Sisera had fled the battlefield after his army’s crushing defeat at the hands of Barak son of Abinoam and arrived to the tent of Jael, who coaxes him to enter. Jael coddles the enemy general. She covers the weary fighter with a blanket and brings him milk to drink instead of the water he requested, and when he finally falls asleep, she plunges a stake into his temple, killing him. Though Jael is alone with Sisera in her tent, nothing sexual occurs between the two.
However, when we compare this prose version with its poetic counterpart in the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, the victory poem that abuts