Form Criticism at Work:
Genres and Texts
The Old Testament contains a rich collection of literary and oral genres of all kinds. Several factors account for the richness and diversity of this collection. First, because the development of the Old Testament spanned several centuries it preserves genres which arose from different social and political structures. Some stories and songs arose from the life of the seminomadic tribes, others from the early Israelite tribal league, others from the institutions of the monarchy, others from the postexilic religious community. This long history also helps to explain the influence upon Israelite literature from Canaanite, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian sources. (But in view of Israel’s location near the crossroads of the civilizations of the ancient world and her relatively weak political and cultural position, it is surprising that the influence was not even more significant!)
Second, the Old Testament preserves the traditions of the people of Israel as a whole, and not just the works of a few creative individual writers. While it does contain literary inventions in the proper sense of the term, it also transmits to us the folk “literature”—stories, songs, sayings, records, etc.— of a people. No comparable collection of literature and lore exists from any Western people.
Third, one must not ignore the influence of the particular religious beliefs and practices of ancient Israel upon the nature of this collection of literature. This is to say more than to point out the obvious fact that the Old Testament is, for the most part, religious literature. Ancient Israel apparently did