The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament Part 5

The rulers ceased in Israel, they ceased, Until than didst arise, Deborah, Until thou didst arise a mother in Israel.

[Sidenote: _The rally about Deborah and Barak_]

Then the people of Jehovah went down to the gates, crying, "Arise, arise, Deborah, Arise, arise, strike up the song!

Arise Barak, and take thy captives, thou son of Abinoam!"

So a remnant went down against the powerful, The people of Jehovah went down against the mighty, From Ephraim they rushed forth into the valley, Thy brother Benjamin among thy peoples, From Machir went down, commanders, And from Zebulun those who carry the marshal's staff.

And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; And Napthali was even so with Barak, Into the valley they rushed forth at his back.

[Sidenote: _The cowards who remained at home_]

By the brooks of Reuben great were the resolves!

Why didst they sit among the sheepfolds, Listening to the pipings for the flocks?

By the brooks of Reuben there were great questionings!

Gilead remained beyond the Jordan; And Dan, why does he stay by the ships as an alien?

Asher sits still by the shore of the sea, And remains by its landings.

[Sidenote: _The battle and defeat of the Canaanites_]

Zebulun was a people who exposed their lives to deadly peril, And Napthali on the heights of the open field.

Bless Jehovah!

Kings came, they fought; Then fought the kings of Canaan, At Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; They took no booty of silver.

From heaven fought the stars, From their courses fought against Sisera.

The river Kishon swept them away, The ancient river, the river Kishon.

O my soul, march on with strength!

Then did the horse-hoofs resound With the galloping, galloping of the powerful steeds.

[Sidenote: _David's dirge over Saul and Jonathan_]

In the Book of the Upright is included that touching elegy which David sang after the death of Saul and Jonathan, and which stands next to the Song of Deborah as one of the earliest surviving examples of Old Testament literature.

[Footnote: "Student's Old Testament," Vol. II., pp. 113,114.]

[Sidenote: _The greatness of the calamity_]

Weep, O Judah!

Grieve, O Israel!

On thy heights are the slain!

How have the mighty fallen!

Tell it not in Gath, Declare it not in the streets of Askelon; Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.

Ye mountains of Gilboa, may no dew descend, Nor rain upon you, O ye fields of death!

For there was the shield of the mighty cast away, The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.

[Sidenote: _Bravery and attractiveness of the fallen_]

From the blood of the slain, From the fat of the mighty, The bow of Jonathan turned not back, The sword of Saul returned not empty.

Saul and Jonathan, the beloved and the lovely!

In life and in death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions.

[Sidenote: _Saul's services to Israel_]

Daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, Who clothed you daintily in fine linen, Who put golden ornaments on your garments, [and say:]

"How have the mighty fallen in the midst of battle!"

[Sidenote: _David's love for Jonathan_]

Jonathan, in thy death hast thou wounded me!

I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan!

Thou wert surpassingly dear to me, Thy love to me was far more than the love of woman!

How have the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!

[Sidenote: _The blessing of Jacob_]

The so-called _Blessing of Jacob_ (Gen. xlix, 2-27) is a poetical delineation of the strength and weakness of the different tribes of Israel with references to specific events in their history. These historical allusions suggest that it probably comes from the reigns of David and Solomon, when the tribes were for the first time all united under a common rule and had passed through certain of the experiences alluded to in the poem.

[Sidenote: _Israel's heritage of oral traditions_]

The Israelitish race was supremely rich in possessing not only many ancient songs, but also a large body of oral traditions which had long been handed down from father to son or else treasured by the story-tellers and by the priests of the ancient sanctuaries. Many of these traditions were inherited from their Semitic ancestors, and, in the light of recently discovered Babylonian literature, can be traced back far beyond the days of Abraham and Moses. Some were originally the possessions of certain nomadic tribes; others recorded the early experiences of their ancestors or told of the achievements of early heroes. In the process of continuous retelling, all unnecessary details had been eliminated and the really dramatic and essential elements emphasized, until they attained their present simple, graphic form, which fascinates young and old alike.

[Sidenote: _Value of these oral traditions_]

The superlative value of these varied traditions is apparent. They were the links which bound later generations to their prehistoric past.

Incidentally, in the characteristic language of Semitic tradition, they preserved the memory of many important events in their early tribal history. They are also the illuminating record of the primitive beliefs, customs, and aspirations of their Semitic ancestors. Subject as they inevitably were to the idealizing tendency, they became in time the concrete embodiment of the noblest ideals of later generations. Thus they presented before the kindled imagination of each succeeding age, in the character and achievements of their traditional ancestors, those ideals of courage, perseverance, and piety which contributed much toward making the Israelites the chosen people that they were.

[Sidenote: _Influences that led to the writing of history_]

In time this growing heritage of traditions became too great for even the remarkable Oriental memory to retain. Meantime the Hebrews had also acquired that system of writing which they learned from their more civilized neighbors the Canaanites and Phoenicians. From, the days of Solomon, scribes were to be found in court and temple, and probably among the prophetic guilds; although the common people, as in the same land to-day, doubtless had little knowledge of the literary art. While the nation was struggling for the soil of Canaan, or enjoying the full tide of victory and achievement that came under the leadership of David, there was no time or incentive to write history. But with the quieter days of Solomon's reign, and the contrasting period of national decline that followed his death, the incentive to take up the pen and record the departed glories became strong. With a large body of definite oral traditions dealing with all the important men and events of the earlier periods, the task of the historian was chiefly that of writing down and coordinating what was already at hand.

[Sidenote: _The early Judean prophetic history_]

The oldest Hebrew history that has been preserved in the Old Testament was the work of an unknown Judean prophet or group of prophets who lived and labored probably during the latter part of the ninth century before Christ. This history corresponds closely in relative age and aim to Mark's graphic narrative of the chief facts in the life of Jesus. The motive which influenced the earliest historians both of the Old and New Testaments to write was primarily the religious significance of the events which they thus recorded. This early Judean prophetic history (technically known as J) begins with the account of the creation of man from the dust by the hand of Jehovah, and tells of the first sin and its dire consequences (Gen. ii. 4 to iii. 24); then it gives an ancient list of those who stood as the fathers of nomads, of musicians and workers in metal (Gen. iv. 1, l6b-26). This is followed by the primitive stories of the sons of God and the daughters of men (Gen. vi. 1-4), of Noah the first vineyard-keeper (ix. 20-27), and of the tower of Babel and the origin of different languages (xi. 1-9). In a series of more or less closely connected narratives the character and experiences of the patriarchs, the life of the Hebrews in Egypt and the wilderness, and the settlement in Canaan are presented. Its basis for the history of the united kingdom was for the most part the wonderfully graphic group of Saul and David stories which occupy the bulk of the books of Samuel.

Thus this remarkable early Judean prophetic history begins with the creation of the universe and man and concludes with the creation of the Hebrew empire.

[Sidenote: _Its unity and characteristics_]

In its present Old Testament form it has been closely combined with other histories, just as Mark's narrative is largely reproduced in Matthew and Luke; but when, it is separated from the later narratives its unity and completeness are astounding. Almost without a break it presents the chief characters and events of Israel's history in their relations to each other. The same peculiar vocabulary, the use of Jehovah as the designation of the Deity, the same vivid, flowing narrative style, the same simple, nave, primitive conception of Jehovah, the same patriotic interest in the history of the race, and the same emphasis upon the vital religious significance of men and facts, characterize every section of this narrative and make comparatively easy the task of separating it from the other histories with which it has been joined.

[Sidenote: _The early Ephraimite prophetic history_]

A little later, sometime about the middle of the eighth century before Christ, a prophet or group of prophets in Northern Israel devoted themselves to the similar task of writing the history of Israel from the point of view of the northern kingdom. Since this state is called _Ephraim_ by Hosea and other writers of the North, its history may be designated as _the early Ephraimite prophetic_ (technically known as E).

Naturally its author or authors utilized as the basis of their work the oral traditions current in the North. Sometimes these are closely parallel, and sometimes they vary widely in order and representation from the Judean versions. In general the variations are similar, although somewhat greater than those between the parallel narratives of Matthew and Luke.

[Sidenote: _Its characteristics_]

Marked peculiarities in vocabulary and literary style distinguish this northern history from the Judean. Since _Elohim_ or _God_ is consistently used to describe the Deity, it has sometimes been called the _Elohistic_ history. Interest inclines to the sanctuaries and heroes and events prominent in the life of the North. In that land which produced a Samuel, an Elijah, an Elisha, and an Hosea, it was natural that especial emphasis should be placed on the role of the prophet.

Throughout these narratives he is portrayed as the dominant figure, moulding the history as God's representative. Abraham and Moses are here conceived of as prophets, and the Ephraimite history of their age is largely devoted to a portrayal of their prophetic activity.

Chapter end

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