We indicated at the beginning of chapter II that it was impossible to examine here all the genres of the Old Testament. We have considered only two general categories, narratives and prophetic literature, and examined only a few of the main genres of each. At this point our range of vision may be broadened somewhat by noting briefly some of the other genres widely used in the Old Testament and some of the important form critical studies of those genres. These comments should serve only to emphasize the depth and the breadth of the literature and traditions of ancient Israel. We shall limit ourselves to a few observations about the legal material, the religious poetry, and wisdom literature.
Laws and legal procedures are necessary parts of any society. Certainly those who have learned to identify the Old Testament—or part of it—as “the Law” will know that ancient Israel was no exception to this rule. While one finds references to laws from one end of the Old Testament to the other, most of the formal legal regulations are concentrated in a few codes in the Pentateuch: the decalogue (Exod. 20; cf. also Deut. 5:6–21), the ritual decalogue (Exod. 34:14–26), the book of the covenant (Exod. 21–23), the holiness code (Lev. 17–26), and the laws in the Book of Deuteronomy.
It was Albrecht Alt who laid the foundation for understanding the relationship of the Old Testament laws to the life and institutions of ancient Israel.1 According to Old Testament tradition, he observed, all the laws and ordinances originated in the period immediately before Israel entered the land of Canaan, and were handed down by God to Moses. But the laws themselves are far from consistent, as they would
1. Albrecht Alt, “The Origins of Israelite Law,” in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion, pp. 101–71.