Jephthah and His Daughter, a Study in Comparative Literature

Jephthah and His Daughter, a Study in Comparative Literature

Jephthah and His Daughter, a Study in Comparative Literature

Jephthah and His Daughter, a Study in Comparative Literature

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to tell the story of the literary treatments of the Bible narrative of Jephthah and his Daughter (Judges, Chapter XI). Of the many Old Testament narratives which through the ages have appealed to the imaginations of readers and of creative artists, this story holds a unique position. It comprises within its two or three pages of what seems at first glance to be only a significant part of the history of the Judges of Israel motives of human experience which, incorporated in this story of the hero Jephthah and the heroine, his daughter, have made of a local tribal history a document of universal interest. Little wonder then that apart from its appeal to the dialectical interest of theologians, it has struck the imaginations of creative artists from generation to generation. Many other Bible stories, as we know, have furnished to creative artists material for compositions in poetry, drama, music, and the fine arts. We think at once of Abraham and Isaac, Joseph of Egypt, Moses, Samson, Saul, David and Bathsheba, Esther, Job, Ruth, Judith, Susanna and the Elders, and the Prodigal Son. But none of these themes has had, I venture to say, so wide and so varied an appeal. It thus seemed worth while to regard this one story as representative, and to make an exhaustive study of imaginative treatments in the literatures of Western Europe and America.

The difficulty of the task impressed itself on me almost at the very inception of the work, and became increasingly obvious and disturbing as the work progressed. To attempt anything like an exhaustive study necessitated a search in the literatures of the countries of continental Europe from the Baltic to the Mediterranean as well as of the British Isles and America. The language problem itself could not have been solved without the assistance of fellow workers who were sufficiently familiar with the various languages represented to read easily, to translate, and, in some cases, to interpret treatments which otherwise would have been for me sealed books. An expansion of the original plan for the study also soon forced itself upon me. As the investigation proceeded, there turned up a surprisingly large number of texts for musical treatments of the story. What I thought at the outset would be a listing, possibly in an appendix, of a few musical settings developed into a major list of texts for musical treatments, and the importance of these compositions in the history of the subject demanded a separate section for its discussion in the essay which precedes the formal enumeration of authors and titles. As to the completeness of the lists which present in a chronological order the literary and musical treatments of the theme, I may say only that I have made a painstaking search for material in the libraries of Europe and America and have also tried to . . .

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