Conclusion of Song and Story

I’m at the library right now, and I’m writing my post here because I just finished Steven Weitzman’s Song and Story in Biblical Narrative, and I want to return it right after I finish this post.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d read Weitzman’s conclusion before going through the body of his book. I found myself wondering what his point was. Now that I finished the book and read his conclusion, I’m able to piece parts of his book under his main points, except for one.

The “one” is this: Weitzman said that modern scholars often approach biblical poetry with their own thoughts about what poetry is and should be. He states on page 126: “We thus found that biblical scholars are in fact imposing their own literary culture onto the Bible when they interpret its mixing of story and song as a mixing of reason and emotion, of objectivity and subjectivity, or of the sublime and the mundane.” I don’t remember much of this discussion.

But his point that Deuteronomy 31 is like the seventh century B.C.E. Words of Ahiqar, in that both present a teacher instructing and chastising his pupils? Yes, I remember that from the body. And Weitzman also argued that, as the Pentateuch became revered, there emerged a felt need to insert songs into the biblical narrative, or to connect Psalms with a biblical story. Why? Because Exodus 15 was a song that commented on Exodus 14: the Israelites sang after the crossing of the Red Sea. So why not imitate the Pentateuch by inserting songs into a story?

Pieces of Weitzman’s book make sense to me now that I know he was making that argument. His discussion of the prayer of Hanna being in different locations in various manuscripts may indicate that it was inserted into the story (perhaps in the first century C.E., the approximate date of Qumran manuscripts), as opposed to being part of it at the outset. Weitzman refers to the rabbinic statement that Hezekiah didn’t become the ultimate Messiah for the reason that he did not thank God after God had delivered Jerusalem from Assyria: there’s a sense among those ancient reverers of the text that a song should have followed the story. And we see that songs were inserted into the story when the Greek-speaking Jews applied their hands to the Bible. In the Greek version of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego sing a long Psalm while they’re in the furnace, but this song is absent from the Masoretic Text.

In the end-notes, Weitzman offers evidence for his argument that the emphasis on incorporating song into narrative occurred in imitation of Exodus 15. Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:9 and Revelation 15:3 both highlight the importance of the Song of Moses. As I look at the body of the text, Weitzman also refers to Philo (first century C.E.), who urged singing in imitation of the Israelites at the Exodus. Weitzman states, “All this indicates that songs such as Exodus 15 were perceived by early canon-conscious readers not only as events in Israel’s past but as behavioral models for the present and future as well” (171).

This may be why Weitzman dicusses deutero-canonical books such as Tobit and Judith: they reflect an attempt in the Second Temple Period to incorporate song into story, in tales that imitate those of the Bible. So the Second Temple Period was a time in which incorporating song into story was a focus. But does Weitzman believe that songs were put into the biblical narrative in the Second Temple Period? He may have addressed this question, but I don’t remember his answer.

I said in a previous post that Weitzman usually approaches the songs and the stories synchronically, as if they’re interdependent. This differs from what many scholars do: they view the poems as earlier than the prose. Actually, what I said is only partially true. There are times when Weitzman takes this approach. With the Book of Jonah, for example, he views Jonah’s prayer in Jonah 2 as integrated with the larger plot. It’s giving us irony, he maintains, for Jonah asks to be delivered and thanks God for his mercy, even though we’ll read later in the story that he doesn’t want God to show the same sort of mercy to the Ninevites.

But there are times when Weitzman acknowledges contradictions between the prose and the poetry, or when he believes that the poem was inserted into the story. I was especially intrigued by his discussion of Pseudo-Philo (first century C.E.), which actually tries to harmonize the prose and the poetry in certain biblical stories. For example, the Song of Deborah refers to stars fighting against Sisera (Judges 5:20), but that’s not in the narrative. Bib. Ant. 31:1 of Pseudo-Philo, therefore, presents Deborah saying in the heat of battle, “I see the stars…prepared to fight along with you.”

This was a good book, now that I understand it. But I must move on to the next book!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.