A Killer Goes to Jael

A Killer Goes to Jael October 8, 2016

Hemant Mehta posted an SMBC comic in which someone asks God about the story of Jael in the Book of Judges.

The story about Jael (and Deborah) is not at all hard to understand. It is about two women who rise to the challenge of defeating an enemy of their people, in a patriarchal context in which men were expected to play these roles. It even involves a striking inversion of the expected: in the climactic scene in which Sisera inappropriately enters Jael’s tent, instead of Sisera raping her, she pierces him with a tent peg in a scene laden with sexual innuendo in addition to the graphic violence.

The problem in the cartoon is not the story, but the confusion of Zach Weinersmith who created it. That confusion may be very widespread. But in an era when there are so many good scholarly resources online, that confusion is self-inflicted and thus inexcusable.

To begin with, the cartoon is called “Exegesis.” And yet there is no effort on the part of the interpreter to set the text in its historical context, to study it carefully, or do anything else that exegesis requires. Instead, the interpreter (who is understandably confused, not having done any exegesis) prays to an anthropomorphic God, who seems to be understood as the author and authoritative interpreter of the text’s meaning and significance.

If you approach the story as though it is written by God, not written by ancient humans, with an intended meaning and significance for people today, you are bound to be confused!

For more on the story of Jael, see for instance Bible Odyssey entries by Tamara Cohn Eskanazi and Hilary LipkaTikva Frymer-Kensky’s entry in the Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia, Colleen M. Conway’s book Sex and Slaughter in the Tent of JaelEric Christianson’s essay on the SBL website, and the blog posts by Shawna Atteberry and Claude Mariottini.

Here is the cartoon in question, for those who want to see it:


"I love this article. Social media has shown me some very disappointing sides of certain ..."

Christians and Internet Rumors
"I was taught that "Amen" means something different than 'you may be seated. There are ..."

The “Original Aramaic Lord’s Prayer” is ..."
"These are great points. What I appreciate about the article is that we tend to ..."

We All Believe
"Thank you. And thanks to the SBL for that statement."

Statement on Black Lives Matter, Right ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!