JAEL (Heb. יָעֵל), wife of Heber the Kenite. Jael slew *Sisera in the war of *Deborah and *Barak against the Canaanites (Judg. 4–5). His army routed by Israel, Sisera fled on foot to Jael's tent, where he was offered hospitality and security, only to be slain by her while he slept (4:17–22; the details of the deed differ somewhat in Judges 5: 24–27, and permit an interpretation first voiced in rabbinic literature (below) that Jael seduced Sisera). Deborah's prophecy to Barak that the Lord would "sell Sisera into the hand of a woman" (4:9) was thus fulfilled. Jael's deed received high praise from Deborah (5:24–27). The story has political significance as well as drama. Jael's husband, "Heber the Kenite" (4:11, 17), is described as a descendant of Jethro the father-in-law of Moses. His clan had apparently been allied to *Jabin, Israel's enemy (ibid.), and the slaying of Sisera indicated a switch of loyalties back to Israel. It should be noted that an earlier reference to Jael in the Song of Deborah (5:6) does not seem to be to the same person. The name Jael ("wild goat") appears in Ugaritic texts as that of a man.
EM, 3 (1958, includes bibliography), S.V.; Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 37–38, 6 (1928), 198; I. Ḥasida, Ishei ha-Tanakh (1964), 200–1. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Halpern, in: HTR, 76 (1983), 379–401: M. Brettler, Judges (2001), 61–79 (extensive history of research on Judges 4–5).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.