Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World

Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World

Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World

Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World

Synopsis

Warfare exerts a magnetic power, even a terrible attraction, in its emphasis on glory, honor, and duty. In order to face the terror of war, it is necessary to face how our biblical traditions have made it attractive -- even alluring.

In this book Mark Smith undertakes an extensive exploration of "poetic heroes" across a number of ancient cultures in order to understand the attitudes of those cultures toward war and warriors. Smith examines the Iliad and the Gilgamesh; Ugaritic poems commemorating Baal, Aqhat, and the Rephaim; and early biblical poetry, including the battle hymn of Judges 5 and the lament of David over Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1. Smith's Poetic Heroes analyzes the importance of heroic poetry in early Israel and its disappearance after the time of David, building on several strands of scholarship in archaeological research, poetic analysis, and cultural reconstruction.

Excerpt

“The myth of war entices us with the allure of heroism.” With these words, the news correspondent Chris Hedges offers a distillation of his experience of war around the globe. Warfare and warriors hold a powerful grip on our imaginations. It is not only that we have witnessed wars on several continents, or that as Americans we have found our nation regularly engrossed in military conflicts abroad. There is something about the violence of war itself and about claims made about its necessity that make it feel all the more problematic — and palpable. We use the language of sacrifice for war, as if life lost in war is a sacred loss. Modern societies are hardly immune to claims of divine support for wars, and they may even accept claims of divine involvement. When warfare is given a divine casting, “the gods beautify death.”

The problem extends to our study of war in the past. Here Hedges observes: “The mythical heroes of the past loom over us.” There have been laudable efforts to counteract biblical images of violence (and here I have in mind especially a fine book by Susan Niditch). However, those images still surround us. in our culture, biblical images inform the idea of future apocalyptic battles that are supposed to decide the course of human matters once and for all. Biblical paradigms of violence are basic elements in many movies and novels. in the film Pulp Fiction, the character Jules recites Ezek 25:17 before executing his victims. Featuring a paradigmatically messianic main character, the Matrix movies draw on a number of biblical terms: Zion is the name of the underground refuge for humans; Trinity is the main female character; the Seraph character is an emissary of the Oracle, as well as her protector; and the Nebuchadnezzar is the name of the heroes’ ship. Appearing in both print and film, The Chronicles of Narnia are famous con-

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