Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lament of the Lost Judges

This week in Seminary I am teaching the Book of Judges. As is customary in our OT year, the students are asked to read selected chapters from the books we are studying. The chapters they read in Judges are: 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 16. Does anyone see a problem with this selection? Out of 13 judges in Israel there are 6 of whom we have a substantial(?) account. Our Seminary chapters cover Othniel, Ehud, Gideon, and Samson, but leave out Deborah and Jephthah.

I was annoyed, but somehow not surprised to see that Deborah was basically ignored in the lesson materials. After many hours of studying the account of Jephthah, I must also include this story in my "Lament of the Lost Judges."

The stories of Deborah and Jephthah are problematic for LDS teachers. The student manual skims over Deborah by noting:

Judges 4–5 tells about how Israel was delivered from the bondage of their enemies under the direction of a woman named Deborah, who was both a judge and a prophetess. She prophesied that a woman would destroy the enemy’s leaders. The prophecy was fulfilled when a non-Israelite woman named Jael killed the leader of the enemy army. The people learned that if they trusted the Lord, He could deliver them. Judges 5 contains the words of a song the Israelites sang about this important event. Music can be a powerful way of praising God (see also D&C 25:12).

A sidebar in the Student Manual also includes a list of judges in which Deborah and her military commander, Barak, are listed together, erroneously creating the impression that they were some sort of co-judges. The teachers manual merely suggests: "Assign students to report on the following leaders and describe how they were unlikely heroes: Ehud, Deborah, Jael, Gideon, Jephthah." Thus, the Seminary manual allows perhaps 2-5 minutes for a student presentation on Deborah and Jephthah and no commentary whatsoever for the teacher. Compare this with a section suggested to last 15-20 minutes on the fact that Samson's parents were childless. Here the manual departs radically from the Old Testament text and preaches that the plan of happiness would be affected if Satan could influence people to stop having children.

This dearth of information leaves the LDS teacher of youth with little instruction on how to present these fascinating Biblical judges, both of whom are of especial interest to women. Most will choose to simply pass over them. Considering the prominence of these stories in the scriptural record, it would be helpful if LDS lesson materials would deal with some of the following issues:


  • What is the Old Testament definition of a prophet and a prophetess? How does this differ and fit in with our understanding of modern prophets?

  • In what way did a woman judge add to our understanding of the period of Biblical judges?

  • What special abilities did Deborah bring to her ministry?

  • Why was Deborah's authority over a military commander and her authority to provide judgment in the people's affairs unusual for her day? How did she attain such prominence?

  • In what ways were Deborah and Jael (the other important woman in the story) called of God and in what ways did they simply step up to fulfill a need that they saw?

  • What importance does the Song of Deborah have in the scriptural record?

  • How is Deborah a role model for both men and women?

  • What types of Christ do we see in Deborah's story?

I would like to ask my readers if they have heard the story of Deborah taught in an LDS setting, and if so, what was taught and how was it done? I plan to cover the story of Jephthah in greater depth, so I am saving it for my next post.

'Deborah Under The Palm Tree', Adriene Cruz


Janell said...

Hear! Hear!

Zillah said...

i have never, ever heard deborah mentioned in church.

Deborah said...

I talk about her all the time! In church lessons, talks. I've even written the text of a children's book . . . . Is she really not mentioned much in other wards?

Bored in Vernal said...

Deborah, that is awesome. How do you deal with the prophetess thing? Do you get many questions on it? I taught it in Seminary yesterday and before I even ever mentioned the word, I got tons of questions on Deborah's role as a "prophetess."

Deborah said...

I use the word -- LOVE the word. It's right there in the scriptures. Also, I couple it with the scripture from Joel, ""I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." She had the spirit of prophesy -- which is not gender-limited -- and the authority, per her office as a judge in Israel -- to receive revelation for her people. That, it seems, satisfies the title of Prophetess.

marta said...

My mother taught about Deborah and Jael in Sharing Time in primary. She borrowed a long spike and a large rubber mallet from me for visual aids. She is my hero.