SUBSTANCE AND SPIRIT (continued)
IN this lecture I have to show how far the early poetry of Israel reflects the circumstance, movements, and tempers of the life described in last lecture; and how it does so with many resemblances to Arabic poetry, but with these two differences: a sense of Israel's distinction from the other Semitic peoples of the period, and, what is obviously the cause of this, a growing confidence in God and in His guidance of the nation, to which there is no analogy in Arabic poetry before Mohammed.
I shall best accomplish my task by a translation of the poems as full, and as little interrupted by comment, as possible.
For preface I recall what was said about the dates of the poems.1 A chronological arrangement of them is beyond our knowledge, and therefore I shall take them for the most part in the order in which they lie in the Old Testament. Till we get well down the series all dates are impossible. With the exception of the 'Blessing of Jacob',2 parts at least of which reflect the conditions of the tribes of Israel after their settlement in Palestine, none of the poems quoted in the Book of Genesis afford any clear evidence of whether they were composed before that settlement or are later reflections upon traditions from the time to which they are assigned. All we can be sure of is that the verses are earlier than the prose documents which contain them -- earlier, that is, than the ninth or eighth century. Their character is primitive, and except perhaps for the contrast between Israel's and Esau's lands, in Isaac's blessing of his sons, they contain nothing incompatible with a date before the settlement. Significant also is the character of the prose narrative, Genesis iv-xi, in which the first pieces are embedded. The religious spirit of this narrative is an ethical, and, except that it imputes to the Deity a jealousy of human powers and achievements, a lofty one. But this does not hide the original tempers of the traditions which are employed to point the morals. Cultivation is a punishment, and the fertile soil is under a curse; the discovery of wine is hailed as a relief. The progress of civilisation breeds arrogance, ending in disaster. The offering of____________________
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Publication information: Book title: The Early Poetry of Israel in Its Physical and Social Origins. Contributors: George Adam Smith - Author. Publisher: H. Frowd. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1912. Page number: 43.
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