Mythology And History In The Song Of Deborah -- By: Stephen G. Dempster

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 41:1 (Fall 1978)
Article: Mythology And History In The Song Of Deborah
Author: Stephen G. Dempster


Mythology And History In The Song Of Deborah

Stephen G. Dempster

There are a number of ways to account for the presence of supposed mythical elements in the language of the Old Testament.1 Some have argued that the Israelites’ entrance into the land of Canaan made them heirs to the ancient literary heritage of the peoples whom they dispossessed. Consequently Israel’s literature was new in its content and spirit but continued the old tradition in its linguistic form.2 Others have accounted for the evidence as positive proof that, at least, Israel’s early history was dominated by a mythical world view—just like all the other surrounding nations.3 It was only later in her history, when exposed to tragedy upon tragedy that her mythic patterns were broken and a historical-eschatological outlook developed in her thought.4 Still others have maintained the position that myth was only injected during the period of the monarchy when the mythic ‘enthronement festival’ with all of its trappings was adopted by the cult. Earlier than the monarchy, however, Israel’s

thought was controlled by a radical historical outlook based the Exodus-Conquest traditions.5

Recently F. M. Cross, in a study entitled “The Divine Warrior in Israel’s Early Cult,”6 has synthesized the latter two views by showing the presence of myth and the historical emphasis in early Israel’s poetry. Both are to be accounted for on Cross’ view by the (assumed7 ) fact of Israel’s triythopoeic past8 an also the fact of the historical nature of the Exodus-Conquest traditions9 which were part of her experience. Both “stood in strong tension, myth serving primarily to give a cosmic dimension and transcendent meaning to the historical, rarely functioning to dissolve history.”10

The present study aims to contribute further to the above discussion by arguing that there is no presence of myth per se11 in early Israelite writings, only the presence of mythical element consciously borrowed and adopted into traditions which are radically historical in character. Consequently, the mythical ele-

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