Old Testament Poetry as a Vehicle for Historiography -- By: Michael A. Grisanti

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 161:642 (Apr 2004)
Article: Old Testament Poetry as a Vehicle for Historiography
Author: Michael A. Grisanti


Old Testament Poetry as
a Vehicle for Historiography

Michael A. Grisanti

Michael A. Grisanti is Associate Professor of Old Testament, The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, California.

In the past few decades the literary nature of the Bible has received significant attention.1 Bible students have gained an appreciation for the biblical writers as literary artisans or craftsmen. Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the biblical writers made use of literary features characteristic of given genres, rhetorical structures, stock expressions, word pairs, figurative language, and communicated God’s message with vividness, clarity, and impact. Scholars have proposed various literary approaches to aid in understanding the Scriptures,2 and this article addresses one area of this discussion, involving questions like the following. Can literary artifice or craft describe historical personages and events or must they be regarded as fictional? Is there any room for hyperbole in an Old Testament narrative that describes a historical event? How does one understand poetic passages that describe historical events? What evidence is there for the historicity of the prose and poetic accounts in Exodus 14–15? What principles should be kept in mind when dealing with historical and poetic material?

Narrative and Historicity

The growing recognition of the need to regard biblical narratives as literature has led to a greater emphasis on the creative art of the biblical authors. At the same time many scholars date these narratives fairly late, creating a significant chronological gap between the alleged events described in the narratives and the time of their composition. Although these narratives give the impression that they speak of the past, many scholars regard them as “historicized fiction,” viewing them as “stories” rather than historically reliable accounts.

According to Millard a “story” can signify “a narrative, true or presumed to be true,” or “history. .. as opposed to fiction,” or “a recital of events that have or are alleged to have happened,” or “a narrative of real or, more usually, fictitious events, designed for the entertainment of the hearer or reader.”3 Millard observes that this last definition is probably the most widely accepted meaning for the word among critical scholars today.4 Scholars have proposed various terms to describe Old Testam...

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