Deborah and Melisandre: Pyromancers in the Bible and Game of Thrones
Biblical Studies | Comparative Methodologies and Theories | Religion | Television
Judges 4 and 5 provides Deborah with a number of titles; this named woman is a prophetess who serves an adjudicating role in Israel, and she is the ’ēšet lappîdôt, or the “woman of flames.” The HBO series Game of Thrones contains a pivotal character who mirrors Deborah in striking ways. Melisandre, “the Red Woman,” is a Red Priestess who uses fire magic in the religion of R’hllor, the Lord of Light. Similarities abound in the comparison of these two characters. For example, both Deborah and Melisandre utilize their unorthodox divination and prophetic abilities as pyromancers to advise powerful men, but JZ Smith emphasizes difference over similarity, and he reminds us, “The end of comparison cannot be the act of comparison itself.”
A comparative focus on each character's relationship to the dominant powers in the respective myths can show us how marginal female characters become acceptable to the powers that be, but by exploring this question we can also begin to understand how myths avoid or embrace incongruity, and how we do the same. In answering the first question, we will see that marginalized and unorthodox people are made more acceptable when they become useful to the dominant powers. They serve the goals of the established powers by using their heterodox practices. The second question highlights differences between the two myths and points to our own potential discomfort with incongruity. When comparing religious myths, we tend to explore similarities and explain away difference, both between and within myths. Similarly, regarding biblical myths in particular, lay readers and even biblical scholars fail to acknowledge how biblical myths contain “dimensions of incongruity.” Such myths do not wrap up neatly and force us to dwell in ambiguity. Deborah and Melisandre, two unorthodox marginalized characters, ultimately serve the interests of the dominant powers by working to set the world right, but contrary to Melisandre’s myth, Deborah’s incongruous story in Judges eludes rectification.
Williams, Jennifer J., "Deborah and Melisandre: Pyromancers in the Bible and Game of Thrones" (2020). Post-Grant Reports. Report. Submission 195.