• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    Hostages; Jaël et Sisera (2013)

    Whilst we await the results of the Israeli election I've been enjoying a TV series about the potential demise of another Israeli Prime Minister in Bnei Aruba (Hostages, 2013).

    I mention it here because the lead character is Dr. Yael Danon, a surgeon who is held hostage the night before she is due to operate on the Israeli premier. The terrorists in question want her to see that he dies and whilst written like that it seems a little far-fetched it's actually pretty well done.

    The reason it up here is the biblical overtones of the heroine's name, Yael, a variation on Jael, the woman in Judges who is reputed to have killed the Hebrews' enemy Sisera by luring him into her tent and then driving a tent peg through his head. It's the kind of powerful imagery that makes the story hard to forget, even though it's rarely discussed, and even more rarely portrayed on film. For those unfamiliar with Jael's appearance in Judges 4 here it is:
    Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.’ So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. Then he said to her, ‘Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.’ So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her, ‘Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, “Is anyone here?” say, “No.”’ But Jael wife of Heber took a tent-peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died. Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, ‘Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.’ So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent-peg in his temple.
    Hostages isn't any kind of attempt to modernise the biblical narrative, but needless to say when the series' lead character is called Jael and starts waving sharp objects in the direction of the men who are "guests" in her home, it doesn't seem coincidental. Interestingly it's the kind of link that seemed a little too obvious to the show's original intended audience, but flies over the heads of the wider audience that the programme has found due to it's success.

    The only film about Jael I'm aware of is Henri Andréani's 1911 Jaël et Sisera (Pathé). I've not had the pleasure but it's one of the film's discussed by David Shepherd in "The Bible on Silent Film", from where I've taken the image below.

    According to Shepherd the film plays a little fast and loose with the biblical account. Jael is married to Sisera's friend Heber the Kenite who not only slays the Canaanite general, but also releases a group of Israelites from their imprisonment in the enemy camp. Shepherd concludes:
    "While Israelite femme fatales such as Judith and Jael had already enjoyed a long history of glorification and vilification prior to their emergence on the silent screen, Andréani's choice of Jael and treatment of her can hardly be a coincidence given the prominence enjoyed by feminine heroines, often armed and dangerous, within early sensational melodrama."
    Shepherd also notes that the film omits Deborah who is the character that the Bible chooses to focus on.

    The film is still in existence; there's a copy in the BFI archive for starters, although sadly they appear to have inexplicably ditched their excellent Film and TV database and replaced it with a rather dumbed down their archive website. Sadly the new version no longer offer plot summaries for the film but you can read a little more on their Collections Search page. Sadly, it's also not covered by Campbell and Pitts. Thankfully there is a little summary (and the original poster) courtesy of the Foundation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé:
    The early scenes, tumultuous, violent and colourful in a wild and grandiose setting, depict the bloody struggle that divided the barbarian camp of Sisera from Barak, leader of the Israelites. In the first tableaux, we are at Sisera's camp where Jael, wife of Heber, delivers her fellow Jewish prisoners. They flee, revealing the location of Sisera's camp and Barak decides to march against his enemy. After a fight, Sisera's army is thrown into the Kishon water torrent. Only Sisera, escapes the massacre, fleeing his conqueror/enemy. Cornered, exhausted, he begs for asylum under the tent of Jael, who gives him hospitality. But while the fugitive, overcome by fatigue, falls asleep deeply, Jael, takes advantage of his sleep and kills him, thus delivering the Israelites from their persecutor. God is acclaimed by his people as a liberator.



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