Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Lady Under the Tree

One of Israel's great heroes from the time of the judges is Deborah.  She's a prophetess, and she dwells under a tree.  The KJV also says she's the "wife of Lapidoth," but that may be a mistranslation.  As Methodist scholar Margaret Barker has pointed out (Margaret will merit her own bookshelf entries at some point, for sure), "Lapidoth" nowhere else appears as a man's name, and it doesn't look like a man's name -- it looks like a feminine plural, meaning "torches" or "flashing lights.  This makes Deborah the prophetess, the "woman of flashing lights," who dwells under a tree.  All of this is really, really interesting.

It turns out there's another Deborah, and I, at least, had totally forgotten her.  She only appears in one verse in the Bible, when she dies.  We're told three things about her:

  1. She is Rachel's wetnurse (and since Benjamin isn't born yet, this can only mean that she nursed Joseph, which ties her to the royal lineage of the northern kingdom and also to the ancestry of the Book of Mormon prophets).
  2. She is buried under a tree (in the LXX, she dies under the tree -- very slight difference), in an event so important the tree merits a name... it's a special tree.  
  3. Her name is Deborah.  This name is interesting, because it's the Hebrew word for "honey-bee."  Here we get into a whole bunch of old and interesting associations, including the titles of Pharaoh (one of which, nswt-bjtj, means "he of the sedge and the bee"), the story of Joseph and Asenath (Joseph's bride is covered with honey bees... scroll down to chapter 16) and the packing priorities of the Jaredites.
All this looks to me like one of the ancient symbols of Israel's divine woman (along with the sacred tree, the tree of life) was the honey bee.

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