The Eclipse of God in The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) The Role of Yhwh in the Light of Heroic Poetry -- By: Charles L. Echols

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 56:2 (NA 2005)
Article: The Eclipse of God in The Song of Deborah (Judges 5) The Role of Yhwh in the Light of Heroic Poetry
Author: Charles L. Echols


The Eclipse of God in The Song of Deborah (Judges 5)
The Role of Yhwh in the Light of Heroic Poetry1

Charles L. Echols

The so-called Song of Deborah (Judges 5; hereafter, ‘the Song’) celebrates a decisive victory during the era of the Judges, and praises Jael and the Israelites for their defeat of a Canaanite coalition led by Sisera. The richness of the Song is apparent from the wide variety of research which it has prompted (e.g. poetics, settlement-era history, feminist criticism). However, despite generations of scholarship, critical aspects such as date, authorship and unity remain disputed. Concentrating on the poem’s genre, this thesis elucidates the role of Yhwh in the poem in the light of a comparative study of heroic poetry.

Part One addresses preliminary critical issues, the most important being the unity of the poem (ch. 2). The argument for a unified composition has merit, and draws upon stylistic, structural, thematic and form-critical considerations for support as well as upon comparative ancient Near Eastern texts. However, other thematic and form-critical factors, together with late vocabulary and glosses, as well as tensions in syntax and speech, are more persuasive and lead to the conclusion that the poem has been reworked from a religious perspective. Without the secondary material, references to Yhwh remain, that is the occurrences of his name in verses 11, 13 and 23, and the likely allusion to his role in the battle in the enigmatic verses 20–21. Despite these references, the original poem is essentially profane, and the predominant focus of the poet on the human characters enables one to speak metaphorically of an eclipse of Yhwh.

Because an eclipse presupposes that Yhwh features prominently in texts which are comparable in date, genre and occasion, chapter 3 compares the portrayal of Yhwh in Judges 5 with that in Judges 4,

Exodus 15, 2 Samuel 22 (= Ps. 18) and Habakkuk 3.2 Each of these texts has material which is of disputed provenance, but even if one assumes that the material in question is secondary the result is striking: each text unamb...

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