Szepmuveszeti Museum, Budapest, Hungary

As Sisera sleeps, Yael calmly and quietly hammers a tent peg into his temple, in this 1620 painting by Italian Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi.

Yael’s story is recounted in one of the earliest biblical texts: the Song of Deborah in Judges 5 (as well as in the prose account of the same event in Judges 4), in which the Israelites are under the domination of the Canaanite king Jabin of Hazor and his general, Sisera. Deborah and the Israelite general Barak lead the fight against the Canaanites, but it is Yael, a member of the tent-dwelling Kenite people, who has the ultimate triumph. When Sisera flees to her tent for safety, she lulls him to sleep with warm milk and then kills him with a tent peg.

Why does the biblical author have a nomadic, foreign woman save Israel? Because the unexpected success of the marginal outsider, who one might think was among the weakest of society, best represents the emergence of Israel in Canaan.