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KEDESH-NAPHTALI AND TA'ANACH 
By Julian Morgenstern, Hebrew Union College. 

Practically all Biblical scholars are agreed that 
Judges 4 is merely a prose account of the victory of the 
tribes of Israel over the Canaanites, which is described 
in older, poetic form in Judges 5. They base their con- 
clusion upon the fact that Deborah and Barak, Jael and 
Sisera play practically the same r61es in Judges 4 as in 
Judges 5, and that in both chapters the battle results in 
an overwhelming victory for Israel. They argue that, 
since prose generally, if not invariably, represents a later 
stage of literary evolution than poetry, and since, moreover, 
ch. 4 describes the battle as taking place on the banks of the 
Kishon, near the foot of Mount Tabor, it furnishes merely 
a later, rationalized version of the great Battle of Ta'anach, 
in that it ascribes the victory in the main to the prowess of 
Barak and his men, and speaks of divine intervention only 
in the most general and non-committal manner. Of a 
similar rationalistic nature is the version of ch. 4, that Jael 
killed Sisera while he slept rather than, as in ch. 5, while 
he bent his head, unsuspectingly, to drink the milk she had 
brought. 

Furthermore, these scholars maintain the altogether 
passive and insignificant figure of Jabin, King of Hasor, 
whose general Sisera was, according to the version of 
ch. 4, was borrowed from Joshua 11, where he is repre- 

359 



360 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

sented as the leader of a federation of northern Canaanite 
city-states conquered by Joshua. With this, almost without 
exception, they let the matter rest. 

Yet there are differences between the two versions, 
quite as significant as the points of resemblance. In 
Judges .5 Sisera is king of a powerful Canaanite city-state 
in the Kishon Valley, presumably, since these are the 
only cities mentioned by name in the entire poem, either 
Ta'anach or Megiddo. He is also the leader of a powerful 
coalition of Canaanite city-states, apparently all situated 
in this same valley, against an equally powerful league of 
neighbouring Israelite tribes. In Judges 4, however, he 
is merely the general-in-chief of Jabin, King of Hasor, an 
important Canaanite city-state, located probably a little 
south-west of the Waters of Merom, some forty miles or 
more from the Kishon Valley, and separated from there 
by a southern spur of the Lebanon Mountains. Sisera's 
camp 1 is located at Harosheth-Haggoiim, an unidentified 
place, presumably situated in the mountains about midway 
between Hasor and Mount Tabor, on the northern edge 
of the Kishon Valley. 2 This is an unfavourable and rather 
improbable site for such a camp. Why the version of 
ch. 4 located it there will become clear shortly. 

According to 4. 4-6, Barak hails from Kedesh-Naphtali 
and Deborah from the country of Ephraim. She is asso- 
ciated with the well-known ' palm of Deborah ', situated 
between Ramah and Bethel, apparently the same tree 

1 It is nowhere implied in ch. 4 that Harosheth-Haggoiim was the 
capital of Sisera, as Moore states {Judges, no), or anything but his camp. 

2 Moore {op. cit., 119) hesitatingly accepts the identification of Harosheth- 
Haggoiim with Tell Harothieh, at the western end of the Kishon Valley, and 
suggests that in ch. 5 Sisera may have been king of this Canaanite city-state, 
even though it is not mentioned there. 



KEDESH-NAPHTALI AND TA'ANACH — MORGENSTERN 361 

which was called 'allon-bachutk because another Deborah, 
the nurse of Rachel, was, according to tradition, buried 
beneath it. 3 According to Judges 5. 15, Deborah seems 
to have been of the tribe of Issachar, while Barak was 
either of Issachar, or, as it should most probably be 
emended, of Naphthali. 4 

Moreover, in ch. 4 Deborah is a prophetess and a 
judge, and to her the tribes resort to receive justice, or, 
as is more likely implied in the words D2EW 17JW, to 
consult the oracle and receive oracular decisions and laws. 
But in ch. 5 she is none of these. At the most she is only 
an ?SW3 DN (ver. 7), if that term had, perhaps, some 
specific designation. Actually she plays not at all the rdle 
of a prophetess, but only the simpler and far more primitive 
r61e of the battle-maiden, somewhat similar to that of 
Ayesha at the Battle of the Camel, 6 who accompanied the 
tribes into battle, chanting a song of warfare and triumph 
to spur the warriors on to victory. Apparently, as the 
tribes of Israel advanced in culture and civilization, the 
old tribal nomad methods of warfare were outgrown and 
forgotten, and the rdle of Deborah, no longer understood, 
was changed to that of a prophetess and co-leader of the 
tribes with Barak. 

Furthermore, ch. 4 is quite confused in its account of 
the actual site of the battle. In fact it contains two distinct 
and contradictory accounts of the battle-field. According 
to vers. 6 and 12, Barak mustered his army at Mount Tabor, 
while Sisera drew up his army along the Kishon (vers. 7 
and 13). After his defeat Sisera fled north-eastward through 

3 Gen. 35. 8 ; cf. Moore, op. at., 113. 

4 See Moore, op. at., 151. 

5 Cf. Damirl, Hayat al-Hayawan, trans. Jayakar, 434 ff. 



362 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

the mountains, hotly pursued by Barak. He passed by 
his permanent camp site at Harosheth-Haggoiim, and 
even past Hasor, the capital of Jabin, and finally lost his 
life in the tent of Jael at Sa'annaim near Kedesh. On the 
other hand, vers. 9 and 10 state explicitly that Barak 
mustered his men at Kedesh-Naphtali. The two sites 
cannot possibly be identified. Between them there cannot 
be the least doubt which was the correct historical battle 
site. Joshua 11 tells of the defeat of Jabin of Hasor at the 
Waters of Merom, just as Judges 4 tells of the defeat of 
the army of this same Jabin of Hasor under Sisera at 
Kedesh-Naphtali, just west, or a little north-west of the 
Waters of Merom. Unquestionably Kedesh-Naphtali is 
a more exact determination of the actual site of this 
battle, and the event is the same as that referred to in 
Joshua 11. 

The version which locates the battle on the banks of 
the Kishon, just below Mount Tabor, is manifestly the result 
of an attempt to harmonize the account of the Battle of 
Ta'anach of Judges 5 with the Battle of Kedesh-Naphtali of 
Judges 4 and Joshua 11, and to make them seem one battle. 
Apparently the authors of this version were none too well 
acquainted with the topography of the Kishon Valley. For 
Mount Tabor is fully eight miles from the Kishon at its 
nearest point, and is separated from the stream by Jebel 
ed-Duhy or Little Hermon. Furthermore, to have fled 
northward from the banks of the Kishon below Mount 
Tabor, Sisera would have had to cut his way through 
the entire army of Israel coming down from the north, and 
to pass by the camp of Israel on Tabor. These facts 
suffice to prove the harmonistic character of the version 
of ch. 4. Moreover, 5. 19 seems to indicate that the victory 



KEDESH-NAPHTALI AND TA'ANACH — MORGENSTERN 363 

over Sisera's army was gained on the banks of the Kishon 
in the vicinity of Ta'anach and Megiddo, rather than near 
Mount Tabor. 

In the harmonized account of the two battles in Judges 4, 
the battle had to be fought on the banks of the Kishon. 
For the r61e played by this^stream in the Battle of Ta'anach 
was so essential that, while the authors of Judges 4 might 
not be specific about it, they could not entirely ignore it. 
On the other hand, the site of the battle could not be too 
far removed from Kedesh-Naphtali to lose the connexion 
with that city and territory, and make it impossible for 
Sisera to flee thither from the battle-field. Therefore this 
single composite battle was located at the seemingly 
favourable site of Mount Tabor, in the author's mind not 
far removed from the Kishon, and also accessible to 
Kedesh-Naphtali by a fairly easy road over the mountains. 
And to further this process of harmonization and identi- 
fication, the camp of Sisera was located at Harosheth- 
Haggoiim, between Tabor and Kedesh-Naphtali. 

These considerations make it probable that Judges 4 
is not merely a prose account of the same great battle 
and victory of the tribes of Israel over the Canaanites, 
that is described in the older poetic version of Judges 5, 
but is rather a composite, harmonistic narrative of two 
distinct battles — that of Kedesh-Naphtali and that of 
Ta'anach. This is confirmed by one further and most 
significant consideration. Judges 5 tells that a call was 
sent to all the then related tribes of Israel. 7 Of these, 
Ephraim, Machir, Benjamin, Issachar, Zebulun, and 

6 This conclusion had been previously reached by Budde (33), Moore 
(109), and Nowack (31). 

7 Judah, Levi, Simon, Caleb, and other southern tribes are not mentioned. 



364 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Naphtali 8 answered the call and participated in the battle, 
while Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher refused to obey the 
summons. On the other hand, Judges 4, 6, and 10 state 
expressly that only Zebulun and Naphtali participated in 
the Battle of Kedesh-Naphtali. 

The natural tendency of Israelitish historiography was 
toward nationalization of ancient tribal traditions, 9 towards 
representing an ever larger group of tribes as acting in 
concert for a common end. Finally, at some time after 1 
the evolution of the nation under David, all early pre- 
Davidic tribal traditions were completely nationalized. 
They now came to tell that from the very beginning Israel 
had consisted of only twelve tribes, always constituting one 
nation, acting in concert under one leader, and conquering 
the whole land of Canaan together and at one time. 
Manifestly the account in Joshua 11 of the victory of all 
Israel under Joshua over Jabin of Hasor and his allies at 
the Waters of Merom, is only a nationalized version of the 
ancient tribal battle of Kedesh-Naphtali against this same 
Canaanite enemy. 

In view of this evident tendency of Israelitish historio- 
graphy, it would be surprising indeed to find the older 
version in Judges 5 telling of the summons to battle being 
issued to ten tribes, and of six of these actually partici- 
pating in the battle, and the later version telling that the 
call came to only two tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali, and 
that only these two tribes were actually engaged in the 
contest. The difficulty is obviated when we realize that 

8 Substituting Naphtali for the second Issachar in ver. 15, and comparing 
ver. 18 ; cf. above, p. 361. 

9 See my ' Foundations of Israel's History ', in Central Conference of 
American Rabbis. Yearbook, XXV (1915), 256 ff. 



KEDESH-NAPHTALI AND TA'ANACH — MORGENSTERN 365 

we have to do, not with one, but with two distinct battles ; 
in the Battle of Ta'anach six tribes participated, while in 
that of Kedesh-Naphtali only Zebulun and Naphtali were 
engaged. And they were engaged for the obvious reason 
that their territory, or the territory which they sought to 
acquire, was contiguous to, and endangered by the powerful 
and hostile neighbouring Hasor, Kedesh, and other similar 
Canaanite city-states in the vicinity. These had to be con- 
quered before the two tribes could feel themselves safely 
established. Community of danger and interest tended to 
unite them into a fast and enduring coalition. The intimate 
association of Zebulun and Issachar in Gen. 49. 13-15 and 
Deut. 33. 18 f. may indicate that at some not much later 
date Issachar, too, came to be regarded as a member of 
this coalition. 

On the other hand, Judges 5 states that six tribes 
participated in the Battle of Ta'anach, while four refused 
to obey the summons. The reason is obvious. The terri- 
tories of Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher were farthest 
removed from the Kishon Valley, and were consequently 
not immediately threatened by the Canaanite coalition, 
while the territories of Zebulun, Issachar, Machir or 
Manasseh, and seemingly also Ephraim, touched upon the 
Valley, and so were immediately endangered. 

But, it may be asked, why, in such case, should 
Benjamin and Naphtali, whose territories were quite as 
far removed from the danger zone as those of Gilead, 
Dan, or Asher, have responded to the call ? The answer 
is simple, and indicative of ancient tribal conditions in 
Israel. Naphtali responded undoubtedly because its league 
with Zebulun, and possibly also with Issachar, must have 
been by that time firmly established. And similarly, 



366 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

Benjamin responded because, as is attested by abundant 
Biblical evidence, it felt itself closely related to, and was 
probably at that time united in a similar league with 
Ephraim and Manasseh. On the other hand, it would 
seem that in the early tribal history of Israel, Dan, Asher, 
Reuben, and Gilead constantly stood each by itself, alone 
and unsupported by other tribes. Manifestly none of these 
tribes had entered into coalition with other tribes, and 
their relations with the remaining tribes of Israel were 
only of the loosest. Certainly just this picture of tribal 
isolation is conveyed in regard to Gilead and Dan by 
the stories of Jephtha and of the overthrow and migration 
of Dan. 

This consideration would imply the existence in ancient 
Israel of two federations, each consisting of three con- 
tiguous tribes, one north of the Kishon Valley, and one 
in central Palestine. These two groups of tribes had 
been held apart for a time by the Kishon Valley, which 
remained for a long, uninterrupted period in the possession 
of the powerful Canaanite city-states situated in the Valley. 
A common danger from this common enemy, apparently 
too powerful for either group alone to resist successfully, 
impelled these two groups of tribes, six in all, to make 
common cause. Together they achieved a great victory, 
with momentous and far-reaching consequences. Had the 
Canaanites gained the victory instead of Israel, it is 
impossible to even imagine what the results might have 
been. Certainly Judaism would never have evolved ; and 
without Judaism and its daughter religions, Christianity 
and Islam, the history of mankind would have been vastly 
different. Truly civilization was hanging in the balance 
at this moment, and the Battle of Ta'anach may well 



KEDESH-NAPHTALI AND TA'ANACH — MORGENSTERN 367 

be regarded as one of the most decisive battles of 
history. 

About a century and a half later history repeated itself, 
but upon a larger scale. A third federation of Israelite tribes, 
this time in the extreme south, had come into existence, 
chiefly through the organizing genius of one man — David. 
This southern federation was almost entirely cut off 
from free relations with the northern groups of tribes by 
Canaanite possession of a stretch of land extending from 
Jerusalem on the east to Gezer on the west. Through this 
territory all the high roads connecting J udah with the north 
country passed, and were completely controlled by the 
Canaanites. Common danger from the Philistines now 
compelled the northern group of tribes, though somewhat 
against their will, to make common cause with the new 
southern tribal federation. But before he could offer united, 
systematic resistance to Philistine aggression, David had 
to join the two parts of his kingdom in fact as well as in 
name. Accordingly, disregarding the Philistines for the 
moment, David attacked and conquered Jerusalem, and 
thus obtained control of the lines of communication between 
north and south. The conquest of the Philistines followed. 
A common interest and a common danger from a common 
enemy had once more united two federated groups of tribes. 
The nation of Israel was the result. The key to the apprecia- 
tion of these successive steps in the evolution of the nation 
of Israel out of originally separate, independent tribes or 
small tribal groups, is furnished by a correct differentiation 
between the battles of Kedesh-Naphtali and Ta'anach, and 
an understanding of their antecedent conditions and their 
consequences. 

Unquestionably the Battle of Kedesh-Naphtali preceded 



368 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW 

that of Ta'anach, though by how long a period it is im- 
possible to determine. For not only was the natural and 
logical trend of tribal federation from a small group of two 
tribes to a larger group of six, but also, had Ta'anach 
preceded Kedesh-Naphtali, we certainly would have reason 
to expect that not merely two, but at least six, tribes 
would have participated in the Battle of Kedesh-Naphtali 10 . 
Certainly Deborah, Barak, Jael, and Sisera are integral 
figures in the ancient poem in Judges 5, and consequently 
in the Battle of Ta'anach which it describes. Equally 
certainly, the leader of the Canaanite forces at the Battle 
of Kedesh-Naphtali was Jabin of Hasor. Who the Israelite 
leader in this battle was cannot be determined, other than 
that he must have been a member of one of the two par- 
ticipating tribes, Zebulun or Naphtali. Nor can anything 
be determined as to the details of the battle, other than 
that it resulted in a complete victory for the two Israelite 
tribes, broke the power of the Canaanite city-states in the 

10 That the Battle of Kedesh-Naphtali preceded the Battle of Ta'anach 
may perhaps be inferred also from the fact that Joshua 1 1 ascribes this victory 
to Joshua, implying thereby that it was won in the early period of the 
sojourn of the tribes in Canaan. That the Battle of Ta'anach, far more 
important, so far as the consequences were concerned, was not in similar 
manner also ascribed to Joshua, was probably because it happened too late, 
and was still too definitely remembered at the time when national traditions 
as to the early tribal period were shaping themselves. 

The strange and seemingly superfluous second reference to Zebulun and 
Naphtali in Judges 5. 18, after both tribes had apparently been sufficiently 
referred to in vers. 14 f., may possibly be due to an even earlier attempt to 
identify the two battles than that in Judges 4 (cf. Moore, op. at., 156 f.). 
The expression me> 10110, the heights of the field, of Judges 5. 18, would 
describe the topography of the site of the Battle of Kedesh-Naphtali at 
whatever spot in the tableland of Naphtali it may have been fought, much 
better than the site of the Battle of Ta'anach in the low-lying Kishon 
Valley. 



KEDESH-NAPHTALI AND TA'aNACH — MORGENSTERN 369 

Galilean highlands completely, and permanently established 
Zebulun and Naphtali in that district. 

Similarly, the great victory at Ta'anach broke the 
Canaanite power in the Kishon Valley. The capture of 
Jerusalem by David caused the greater part of the southern 
Canaanite strip to pass into Israelite hands, although Gezer, 
on the western edge, held out until the reign of Solomon. 11 
Shechem and Gibeon, other Canaanite strongholds, were 
apparently absorbed gradually in Israel. 12 In this way, 
it would seem, the greater part of Canaan passed finally 
into Israelite possession. 13 

11 1 Kings 9. 15. 

12 Joshua 9; Judges 9; 1 Sam. 21. 

13 In passing, I cannot refrain from referring to Professor Haupt's 
interesting and stimulating presidential address before the American 
Oriental Society, ' Armageddon ' {JAOS., 34, 412-27). While I find 
myself in agreement with a number of his conclusions, and particularly 
with that, that the several references to Jahwe in Judges 5 were not parts 
of the original poem, I cannot subscribe to al! his conclusions, and especially 
not to that, that XViQ of Judges 5. 23 and DT1D of Joshua n. 5, 7 are 
corruptions of 112D. Largely as a result of this identification, Haupt 
concludes that Joshua n and Judges 4 and 5 are merely three different 
versions of one single battle. That I cannot follow him in this, this paper 
of course shows.