Sisera (Hebrew: סיסרא) was commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin of Hazor, who is mentioned in Judges 4-5 of the Hebrew Bible. After being defeated by the forces of the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali under the command of Barak and Deborah, Sisera was killed by Jael, who hammered a tent peg into his temple.
According to the Bible, during the period of the Judges, Sisera commanded nine hundred iron chariots and oppressed the Israelites for twenty years from Harosheth Haggoyim, a fortified cavalry base. After the prophetess Deborah persuaded Barak to face Sisera in battle, they, with an Israelite force of ten thousand, defeated him at the Battle of Mount Tabor on the plain of Esdraelon. Judges 5: 20 says that "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," and the following verse implies that the army was swept away by the river Kishon. Following the battle, there was peace for forty years.
After losing the battle, Sisera fled to the settlement of Heber the Kenite in the plain of Zaanaim, where he was received by Jael, Heber's wife. Jael brought him into her tent with apparent hospitality and "gave him milk...in a lordly dish." Jael promised to hide Sisera and covered him with a rug; but after he fell asleep, she drove a tent peg through his temple with a mallet, her blow being so forceful that the peg pinned his head to the ground.
Sisera's name has been variously identified as Philistine, Hittite, Hurrian, or Egyptian (Ses-Ra, "servant of Ra"). The Israeli scholar and archaeologist Adam Zertal identifies Sisera with the sea people called Shardana (or Sherden), arguing that Sisera came from the island of Sardinia. Zertal and Oren Cohen proposed that the excavation at El-ahwat between Katzir-Harish and Nahal Iron is the site of Harosheth Haggoyim.
Sisera in later legend
According to Jewish legend, because Sisera's mother cried a hundred cries when he did not return home, a hundred blasts are blown on the shofar on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The Talmud states that the descendants of Sisera studied Torah in Jerusalem and even taught children there.
According to the Midrash, Sisera engaged in sexual intercourse with Jael seven times, but because she was attempting to exhaust him in order to kill him, her sin was for Heaven's sake and therefore praiseworthy.
Also according to the Midrash, Sisera had previously conquered every country against which he had fought. His voice was so strong that, when he called loudly, the most solid wall would shake and the wildest animal would fall dead. Deborah was the only one who could withstand his voice and not be stirred from her place. Sisera caught fish enough in his beard when bathing in the Kishon to provision his whole army, and thirty-one kings followed Sisera merely for the opportunity of drinking, or otherwise using, the waters of Israel. According to B.Gittin, the descendants of Sisera were teachers of the young in Jerusalem.
Sisera in artistic works
Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi (1728-1804) wrote an oratorio, Debora e Sisera, for the Lenten season of 1788 at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, which was said to have been "almost universally regarded as one of the most sublime works of the late 18th century."
The central image of Aritha van Herk's novel 'The Tent Peg' refers to Sisera.
Author Shelby Foote compares General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg to Sisera when he quotes the lines that "the stars in their courses fought against him". Stars in Their Courses is Foote's book about Gettysburg excerpted from his "The Civil War - A Narrative".
- Judges 4:2
- Judges 4:10-13
- Judges 5:31
- Judges 4:18-21 and Judges 5:25-27
- " Long time archaeological riddle solved, Canaanite general was based in Wadi Ara, Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, 07/02/2010, Jerusalem Pot.
- "Archaeological mystery solved," University of Haifa press release, July 1, 2010.
- The Complete Artscroll Machzor for Rosh Hashanah, page 584.
- Sanhedrin 96b, Gittin 57b.
- Tamar Kadari, "Jael Wife of Heber The Kenite: Midrash and Aggadah," Jewish Women
- Yalḳuṭ Shim'oni on Judges 4:3
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Howard E. Smither, A History of the Oratorio: Volume 3: The Oratorio in the Classical Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1987), 181-195.
- Italian opera website.