when i was a girl, i remember reading this story in the old king james version of my mother's worn ivory bible. the pages were edged in faded 'gold' and the best stories had vivid color plates to accompany them. in the new testament, the pictures were mostly of jesus - surrounded by crowds, carrying little children on his lap, being crucified - but in the old you had the drowning of the egyptians, david killing goliath, the ark finding the olive branch and the tent-pegging of sisera. the color plate was vivid to me: there was a tall, attractive jael in her robes and there was the sleeping sisera at her feet. she held a big hammer in one hand and a big tent peg in the other and she looked down at sisera with the faintest smile. i was hooked.
there's a war going on and israel's enemy is routed; the enemy general, sisera, is on the run and flees to the camp of an ally. there, jael tells him he's safe and when sisera has fallen asleep (after some milk and a warm blanket) she takes a tent peg and totally nails his head to the ground and he dies.
i vividly remember reading this story during church one afternoon while old pastor jake was preaching. at the time, i was too young to pay attention to jake's sermons and spent my time writing little stories on the back of the program or reading bible stories from my mother's bible. what my sister did to occupy her time while jake preached is a mystery to me; like all good baptist jeremiads, jake's sermons ran at least 60 minutes. sitting out there while the hot sunday afternoon burned around me, i read this story in my mother's bible and i remember giggling so hard she had to pinch my arm. i don't know if it was the simple cadence of the king james version that struck me:
'Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand,
and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it
into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.'
or if it was just the absurd image of a man being unexpectedly pegged to the ground while he was asleep and tired and full of warm milk. whatever the reason, it made me giggle so hard my mom actually took the bible away for a few minutes until i calmed down.
(and it also explains why the judith and holofernes story resounded with me, too. a beheading, this time!)