Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry

By Frank Moore Cross Jr.; David Noel Freedman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDIES

Ancient Yahwistic poetry is a peculiarly tempting field of study. In this small body of literature are preserved the oldest expressions of Israel's faith. It reveals a conception of God at once intuitive and concrete, born of vividly direct experience and participation in his mighty acts, a conception devoid of the sophistication and formalism which result from centuries of theological speculation. The language of the poems is rich and exuberant, the imagery is picturesque, the figures of speech extravagant. The compositions are marked by a strong rhythm, with a regular musical beat, frequently organized into strophes of considerable complexity. Altogether, they are the product of the most dynamic and creative era of Israel's literary enterprise.

Scholarly interest and research in this poetry have always been extensive, owing to the antiquity and significance of the material. Besides, the serious textual difficulties (the by-product of centuries of oral and written transmission) and linguistic obscurities have been a challenge to students for many generations.

Aside from the perennial attraction of this corpus of ancient poetry for the scholar, there are compelling reasons for fresh investigation at the present time. Archaeological research has supplied, in recent years, a large collection of literary materials bearing upon old Israelite poetry. The intensive study of this material, its content, form and style, its paleography and orthography, has resulted in the development of radically new and scientifically tested procedures, directly applicable to the biblical corpus.

The older scholarship was limited by the paucity of extra-biblical materials. It was concentrated largely upon the Hebrew text and versions, with occasional reference to surviving monuments of antiquity, and information preserved in classical sources. The results too frequently were without solid foundation, though many brilliant conjectures have since been confirmed by newer evidence. Investigation was circumscribed further by

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