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Deborah's Song - Judges 5 - Notes on the translation

2) Leaders here is quite general in its applicability, not specific to a given level of leadership. Praise is due to Yahweh when society is rightly ordered - leaders leading and the people urging each other to volunteer. Literally the phrases say in the showing leadership of the leaders, in the volunteering of the people....

3) The combination Listen ... Give ear is a widespread way of introducing a song, and is also attested outside the Old Testament. The noun zimr‚th (music of praise) derived from zâmar is also used by Miriam in her song, Exodus 15.

4) Literally in your going out ... in your marching. Note here the use of the specific geographical terms Se'ir and Edom, and contrast with the very similar passage in Psalm 68 (see below).

5) Compare the passages here and in Psalm 68:8-9.

Judges 5Psalm 68
YHVH betsê’thekâ missê‘îyr
betsa‘dekâ missedêh ’edôm
’erets râ‘âshâh gam-shâmayim nâtâphû
gam-‘âbîym nâtephû mâyim
hârîym nâzelû mippenêy YHVH
zeh çîynay mippenêy YHVH ’elôhêy yisrâ’êl
elôhîym betsê’thekâ liphenêy ‘ammekhâ
betsa‘dekâ bîyshîymôwn çelâh
’erets râ‘âshâh ’aph-shâmayim nâtephû

mippenêy ’elôhîym
zeh çîynay mippenêy ’elôhîym ’elôhêy yisrâ’êl

Yahweh! At your setting out from Seir,
At your marching from the land of Edom,
the land quaked, yes, the skies dripped
and the clouds dropped water.
the mountains melted before the face of Yahweh -
He of Sinai - before the face of Yahweh, Elohim of Israel!

Elohim! At your setting out before your people,
At your marching in the wilderness - Çelah! -
the land quaked, yes, the skies dripped

before the face of Elohim -
He of Sinai - before the face of Elohim, Elohim of Israel!

The explicit country names of Judges 5 have been dropped to more neutral descriptions of land in Psalm 68, and the covenantal name Yahweh has been replaced with the more generic term Elohim. The divine name Yahweh does appear sparingly in other parts of this psalm. Two phrases have been omitted in the psalm, water dropped from the clouds, the mountains melted, leaving the succeeding phrase - even Sinai - somewhat isolated.

6) The phrasing here is very compact and not very transparent. The presumption here is that unsettled conditions forced travellers to abandon the main routes and go instead by other alternative tracks. The word deserted is repeated twice more in the next verse, once rendered desolate rather than solely suggest the idea abandoned.
The verse suggests that Shamgar was a near-contemporary of Ya'el and Deborah. Shamgar may be linked with Beth-Anoth in Judah, considerably to the south of Megiddo. This could furnish a reason for Judah's non-involvement in Deborah's conflict.

7) The development of idea here is that the desolation of the villages can be remedied by Deborah rising up specifically as a mother-figure in defence of her children.

8) lâchem she‘ârîym, here translated turmoil at the city gates, has been the subject of considerable debate. The fact that city gates are mentioned again in verse 11 as a gathering-place for the people may indicate rivalry between factions rather than the (idealised) unity of the people. However, some translators prefer s instead of sh and a different pointing to read then they used to eat barley bread, perhaps suggesting religious feasts. In either case the meaning is not fully clear.

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10) Nearly a recapitulation of verse 2, but here it is the lawgivers (those who establish or enact decrees) who are selected rather than the general term leaders, and for those among the people who have in fact volunteered. Hence Deborah's feeling is directed towards those actively pursuing the good of the whole.

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17) ’ânîyyôwth is here understood as the participle of ’ny, an early verb form proposed by Craigie by analogy with Ugaritic. The normal understanding of this word relates to ships: however, Danite territory did not extend to the coast, and there is no other suggestion that this tribe was ever associated with the sea. Several Ugaritic texts use ’an or ’any in contexts indicating that the basic meaning is relax / be at ease. In one, the use is in close proximity to the verb gr (remain), a good parallel to the Hebrew usage here.

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30) "every fighter's bed" - the word used here for girl is racham, derived from womb. Hence the implication that the anticipated capture of women was for sexual purposes.

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