Form criticism is one of the methods by which the student of the Bible can shed light upon the Old Testament. Specifically, it offers ways of gaining insight into the oral tradition which lies behind most of the individual passages of the Old Testament. By examining each passage in terms of its structure and genre the student gains a fuller understanding of its meaning and intention, and of its setting in the life of ancient Israel. That is the purpose of form criticism: To relate the texts before us to the living people and institutions of ancient Israel.
One of my assumptions in writing this book is that form criticism is not an esoteric enterprise reserved for a few scholars in their studies, but, rather, that it has significant contributions to make to any serious reader of the Old Testament. I have also assumed that the reader will benefit more from learning how to ask the form critical questions than from simply reading the results or conclusions of form critical research, so I have attempted here to emphasize methodology itself.
It is not only of necessity but by intention that this work stands in a tradition and a community of scholarship. Consequently, the size of this little volume is no measure of the magnitude of my indebtedness and gratitude to other scholars and friends. I am deeply grateful to Brevard S. Childs, who first introduced me to form criticism and has continued to provide encouragement and guidance; to Bernhard W. Anderson, who made some very helpful suggestions at an early stage in the preparation of this book; to a former colleague, Harmon L. Smith, who read portions of the typescript from the perspective of the nonspecialist and offered incisive sug-