Sisera (Hebrew: סִיסְרָא Sîsərā) 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 biblical book of 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. 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's military base.
Sisera in later Jewish tradition
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, Jael engaged in sexual intercourse with Sisera 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.
Sisera in artistic works
Sisera's murder by Jael was frequently depicted in historical European art. Lucas van Leyden, a Dutch engraver and painter during the Renaissance period, created a woodcut of the scene.
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.
"The Stars in Their Courses" is the title of a chapter about the Battle of Gettysburg in the novel Lone Star Preacher (1941) by John Thomason. The quotation from Judges 5:20 appears at the end of the chapter.
In the Law & Order episode "Pro Se", the schizophrenic James Smith suffers from the delusion that (among other things) he is General Sisera and various women are trying to poison him.
- Judges 4:2
- Judges 4:10-13
- Judges 5:31
- Judges 4:18-21 and Judges 5:25-27.
- 1 Samuel 11:9
- Easton's Bible Dictionary: Sisera
- Judy Siegel-Itzkovich,Long time archaeological riddle solved, Canaanite general was based in Wadi Ara, Jerusalem Post, 07/02/2010
- "Archaeological mystery solved", University of Haifa press release, July 1, 2010.
- The Complete Artscroll Machzor for Rosh Hashanah, page 584.
- Sanhedrin 96b, Gittin 57b.
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Tamar Kadari, "Jael Wife of Heber The Kenite: Midrash and Aggadah," Jewish Women
- Yalḳuṭ Shim'oni on Judges 4:3
- 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.