Mark Leuchter, «'Why Tarry The Wheels of his Chariot?' (Judg 5,28): Canaanite Chariots and Echoes of Egypt in the Song of Deborah.», Vol. 91 (2010) 256-268
The closing verses of the Song of Deborah include a curious reference to chariotry (Judg 5,28) at a rhetorically potent moment in the poem. The present study examines the implications of the use of this image against the mythopoeic impulses in the poem, the larger historical background of early Israel's confrontations with Canaanite aggression in the 12th century BCE and the memory of Egyptian strategies of hegemony from the late Bronze Age. The effects of these memories and experiences leave profound impressions in the social and mythic matrices embedded in a broad spectrum of Biblical traditions.
See more by the same author
â€œ WHY TARRY THE WHEELS CHARIOT ? â€ (JUDG 5,28)
has been dealt a serious blow. Nascent Israel has repelled Sisera
and affirmed its right to dwell in the central highlands; in response
to this, Siseraâ€™s mother awaits his triumphant return, but no such
triumph is forthcoming. In characterizing this woman and her
dashed hopes, the poet emphasizes that it is not just Sisera who
has failed, but that his choice of battlefield vehicle â€” the chariot â€”
has failed as well. Yet nowhere in the preceding verses of the
poem is there any mention of this mechanism of warfare. Why is a
chariot highlighted at this moment, and in this manner?
To answer this question, we must consider the historical
context in which the events within the poem took place, if not the
composition of the poem itself 3. Most scholars agree that the
setting of the poem is the 12th century BCE, a time following the
waning of Egyptian power in the area 4. This was also a time when
lowland Canaanite culture, reeling in the wake of the Egyptian
c o l l a p s e , saw tremendous socio-economic instability. This
condition forged alliances between highland villagers of different
ethnic patrimonies that doubtlessly led to the emergence of early
Israel, in contradistinction to the remnants of lowland urban
Canaanite dwellers 5. The confrontation between Sisera and the
Queen. Women in Judges and Biblical Israel (New York 1998) 93-98;
S. NIDITCH, Judges. A Commentary (OTL; Louisville, KY 2008)76-82.
Though the tradition underlying the poem and its sociological details
dovetail with 12th century events, it is likely that the current form of the text
reflects redactional accretions and reworking. See K.L. SPARKS, Ethnicity and
Identity in Ancient Israel (Winona Lake, IN 1998) 112-114; DE HOOP â€œ Judges 5
On the collapse of Egyptian hegemony in the Levant at the end of the
Bronze Age, see the summary discussion by C. A. REDMOUNT, â€œBitter Lives:
Israel in and out of Egyptâ€, The Oxford History of the Biblical World (ed.
M.D. COOGAN) (New York â€“ Oxford 1998) 84-87. See also in the same volume
the essay by L.E. STAGER, â€œForging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient
Israel â€, 90-91, 97-102, for a discussion of the proliferation of settlements in
Canaan in the early Iron Age immediately following the decrease in Egyptian
hegemony in the area.
SCHLOEN, â€œCaravansâ€, 35-38. On the conditions leading to the formation
of communities in the highland frontier, see the recent overview of archaeology
and theories of early national formation by W.G. DEVER, Who Were The
Ancient Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids, MI 2003);
R . B . C O O T E â€“ K.W. W H I T E L A M , â€œ T h e Emergence of Israel : Social
Transformation and State Formation Following the Decline in late Bronze Age
Trade â€, Semeia 37 (1986) 118-125.