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By the same Author 





Litt.D. {Cantab.); D.D. (Land.); Hon. D.D. [Aberdeen); 

Hon. D.Th. [Halle); 

Emeritus Professor of Semitic Languages, University College, Cardiff 



First published in 1947 
Reprinted 195-, i960 






chapter page 

Preface ------- 7 

I. Prose and Poetry 11 

II. The Forms of Hebrew \^erse - - 20 

III. Isolated Poems ----- ^y 

IV. Job : I 67 

V. Job : II 86 

VI. The Psalms : I 107 

VII. The Psalms : II - - - - - - 123 

VIII. The Psalms : III ----- 1^6 

IX. Proverbs - - - -- - -163 

X. The Song of Songs 192 

XI. Lamentations ------ 205 

Bibliography - - - - - - 217 

Index -------- 228 


W. O. E. Oesterley 




The following pages contain the substance of a course of 
lectures delivered in alternate years at Cardiff over a 
quarter of a century. They are not a transcript of the 
lectures given in any one year. For one thing, no 
written copy exists. For another, a good deal had to be 
given to University students which is quite unnecessary 
for the general public, especially in tracing the scientific 
study of Hebrew poetic form. 

The book is, then, a summary of results reached in 
forty years' study of the poetry found in the Old Testa- 
ment. Yet it is very far from being what I would have 
wished it to be, and if I had any hope of improving it, I 
would have postponed publication still further. There 
is one section in particular where I feel the inadequacy 
of my work, and that, to many readers, the most im- 
portant of all. The truth is that the study of the Psalter 
had been thrown into the melting-pot by the researches 
and theories of Gunkel and others, and it may be many 
years before the adherents of the fresh view-point settle 
down to a consistent and agreed position. In the cir- 
cumstances I have felt that the best course was merely to 
summarize roughly GunkeFs classification, with some 
reference to the work done by a few others. Any reader 
who wishes to go further into the matter may consult the 
books recommended in the Bibliography at the end of this 

It remains to perform the very pleasant duty of thanking 



all on whose help I have been able to rely in the pro- 
duction of this little book. To mention all the countless 
numbers who have contributed in one way or another 
would be impossible, and my apologies are hereby offered 
to any reader who resents omission from the list. But 
there are one or two who stand out. 

First, George Buchanan Gray, that great scholar who 
passed from us nearly twenty-five years ago. Not only 
by his writings (and his Forms of Hebrew Poetry is still the 
great classic on the subject), but by direct discussion, he 
gave me such insight as I have into the basic principles 
which underlie what we call Hebrew Metrics. Next, 
two of my former colleagues in Cardiff. Chapter I of 
this book is based on notes of a lecture given by Ivlr. 
E. C. Llewellyn, Professor of English in University 
College, Cardiff, and he has been good enough to read 
the typescript and satisfy himself that his views have not 
been seriously misrepresented. To him also I owe a 
number of suggestions, and the section of the Bibliography 
which deals with Chapter I. My debt to Professor 
A. R. Johnson is even greater. Him I have to thank, 
not only for years of happy co-operation in the teaching 
of Hebrew, but for innumerable suggestions, both general 
and particular, for the book itself. I wish it had been 
possible to incorporate more fully the results of his own 
research, but all who know him look forward to the time 
when he will lay them before the wider public. With the 
exception just mentioned, the Bibliography is almost 
entirely his work, and from it readers may get a faint 
conception of all I owe him. Finally he has read the 
proofs with that meticulous care and passion for accuracy 
which characterises all his work. One other must be 
mentioned ; my wife has not only been beside me during 
the years when this book was actually being written, but 


has read with me the proofs, as slie has done in the case of 
nearly every work I have pubhshed. 

And so this work goes out, with the hope and the prayer 
that it may help some others to grasp a little from that 
marvellous treasury of divine revelation which is en- 
shrined for us in the poetic sections of the Word of God. 

Theodore H. Robinson. 
Ealing, October, ig46. 


Most of us know the difference between poetry and prose. 
When we hear or see a passage we have no difficulty in 
deciding to which class of literature or of speech it 
belongs. Conventionally and very conveniently, poetry 
is^ written in^definite lines, each of which is, as it were, a 
complete whole, and in one way or another stands apart 
from what precedes and from what follows. It Js not 
always the sense of the line which is thus isolated ; often 
it runs on continuously through a number of lines, and 
may not end at the conclusion of a line or even of a group 
of lines. So Milton began Paradise Lost : 

Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit 
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste 
Brought death into die world, and all our woe, 
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man 
Restore us and regain the blissful seat, 
Sing, Heavenly Muse, . . . 

We can read this in two quite different ways, either line 
by line or as a single sentence, but if we make our greater 
pauses at " fruit," " taste," or " man," we shall make 
nonsense of the sentence. Again, when Tennyson wrote : 

Let knowledge grow from more to more, 
But more of reverence in us dwell, 
That mind and soul according well. 

May make one music as before 

But vaster. We are fools and slight ... 


he certainly did not intend us to connect " But vaster " 
closely with the next words. 

Poetic form, however, is dependent on^somethingjnore 
than a line-by-line arrangement. If these two passages 
had been written continuously, without being divided 
into lines, we should still have realised that they were not 
ordinary prose, as soon as we read them aloud, or per- 
mitted ourselves to think of their sound. They make an 
impression on us which is entirely different from that 
which is produced by normal speech. As a rule we do not 
stop to analyse that impression ; we are content to accept 
it, but if we are to understand the real difference between 
prose and poetry, we must go further and see why we are 
affected differently by the two forms. 

We can see at once that no smaU jpart is played by the 
diction, the choice and arrangement of words. It is 
possible to present the outward form without giving the 
inner spirit which peivades all true poetry. Suppose, 
for example, some one were to say to us : 

" It's getting rather late, 
I hear them shouting for me, 
I'm going to start at half-past eight, 
I hope it won't be stormy." 

The doggerel verse would either annoy or amuse us 
according to our temperament or mood, but none of us 
would think of it as poetry. But put the same thought 
into other words, as the real poet docs, and we get : 

" Sunset and evening star, 

And one clear call for me. 
And may there be no moaning at the bar 
When I put out to sea." 

At once we are lifted out of the realm of common things, 
and are transported into something which is indescribable. 


The words are all familiar and natural, yet the genius of 
the writer has so handled them that they convey to us a 
meaning which transcends all power of verbal expression. 

At the same time we must realise that great prose may 
have much the same kind of effect, and that, too, without 
having recourse to obscure or " pretty " words. Few of 
us can ever forget, even if we cannot quote, Lincoln's 
Gettysburg speech or his second inaugural address. In 
the first chapter of Froude's History of England there is a 
passage — two paragraphs only — beginning " For, indeed, 
a change was coming upon the world, the meaning and 
direction of which is still hidden from us, a change from 
era to era ..." The dignity and beauty of this short 
section give us a background, partly emotional and 
partly intellectual, against which we see the whole of the 
story unfolding as we read tlie twelve volumes of the 
work. Again, on reading it, we pass through an exper- 
ience which we cannot even describe^ still less explain, in 
ordinary language. 

We come back, then, to the form as being that which is 
distinctive of poetry as contrasted with prose. And at 
once we are faced with a variety of forms in different 
languages. The earliest Greek poetry we know depended 
on the alternation of long and short syllables, and their 
various arrangements. We still have short pieces of 
Latin poetry surviving from an age earlier than that at 
which it was influenced by Greek, and the form appears 
to depend on the accent of the words. The well-known 
classical poets, of course, abandoned the native method 
and adopted that of Greece, a process possible in Latin 
though it has seldom been a success when attempted in 
the languages of modern Europe, where, indeed, it is 
hardly possible to make the distinction between long and 
short syllables a basis for poetic form at all. 


Another common feature in poetic form is the use of 
similar sounds, either at the beginning or at the end of the 
Hnes. Anglo-Saxon poetry, for example, depended for 
its form on " alliteration " ; a line was divided into two 
parts, and two words in the first part, together with one 
in the second, began with the same consonantal or any 
vowel sound. French poetry, and much in other 
languages, such as English, German, Italian and Spanish, 
is marked by similar sounds at the ends of successive or 
alternating lines. This is what we call " rhyme," and it 
may be employed in a variety of ways. Sometimes two 
consecutive lines will rhyme, sometimes alternate lines, 
and sometimes the arrangement is still more complicated. 
We may have a scheme which we can indicate as a. a., 
b.b., etc. Another may be a.b., a.b., or we may have 
such a scheme as that used by Dante in La Divina ComMia 
— a.b. a., b.c.b., c.d.c. . . ., which serves to link suc- 
cessive groups of three lines each. In many lyric poems 
we get still more complicated arrangements, too numerous 
to mention. 

In several modern languages, the poetic form takes no 
notice either of alliteration or of rhyme. Instead it con- 
centrates on the relation of accented to unaccented 
syllables. Naturally, the effectiveness of such an arrange- 
ment depends in large measure on the strength of the 
accent, and it is best suited to languages like English or 
German, where the stress placed on the dominant syllable 
is fairly strong. As a rule the particular metres which 
are formed on this basis resemble those of the ancient 
Greek and Latin prosodies, the stressed syllable taking 
the place of the " long," and the unstressed that of the 
" short." The names applied to the classical feet are 
used, and we can speak of the iambus or of the dactyl, 
though we should remember that it is really a very 


different thing in each case from that for which the term 
was originally invented. People who speak English 
may read 

" But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may." 
much as they would read an iambic line from a Greek 
dramatist, forgetting that the accents in the latter often 
fall on short syllables, and have no bearing on the actual 

Languages in which the accent is too weak to be im- 
pressive usually concentrate either on rhyme (as in 
French) or on the comparative length of the syllables 
(as in Arabic). But in all these cases the number of 
syllables is significant, and there are forms of poetry in 
which it is the counting of these syllables alone which is 
considered. Such a case is to be found in Syriac, where, 
however, rhyme often plays a part, or in some of the 
Sanskritic languages. 

What is there in common between all these different 
types of poetic scheme ? Surely it is the principle of 
regularity ? This need not be absolute, indeed it seldom 
is. Only an expert can really appreciate the metres of 
the choric odes used in Greek drama, and there the highly 
complicated scheme of the strophe is repeated only once, 
in the antistrophe. But it should not be forgotten that the 
singing of these lyrics was accompanied by a dance, and 
that the movement and the sound went closely together, 
thus strengthening the effect which either might produce 
alone. But for the most part, in any recognised poetic 
scheme there is sufficient and frequent repetition of the 
same or of similar soundsj^jind^it is, perhaps, here that we 
find our best clue to the underlying nature of poetic form. 

The human mind has certain machine-like character- 
istics. One of these is that any experience tends to make, 
as it were, a channel down which other experiences may 


flow. If they do not, but insist on creating new routes for 
themselves, we are conscious of a certain difficulty ; we 
feel that things go more easily, and with less effort, every 
time the original experience, or one closely similar, is 
repeated. That is true of practically every action. 
Every individual has grown accustomed to certain 
muscular movements in walking, and tends to go at the 
samx pace, taking always the same length of stride. If, 
for any reason, it becomes necessary to quicken the pace 
or shorten the stride, there is a conscious effort which 
soon produces weariness. So in reading or hearing 
speech, we grow accustomed to certain series of sounds, 
and we pass over them easily and without conscious effort. 
It is far less difficult to recall them when we wish to do so. 
In other words, everything we have heard has created a 
certain expectation in our minds, and our satisfaction is to 
a large extent dependent on the way in which that 
expectation is fulfilled or unfulfilled. 

It goes without saying that this is just as true of prose as 
it is of verse. Rhetorical writers like Cicero were careful 
to balance their clauses in sound as well as in sense, and 
it is this characteristic which, in no small measure, makes 
them acceptable authors. Whether we approve of the 
sentiments or not, most of us find an actual physical 
pleasure in listening to a passage of Macaulay, or of any 
other prose writer who has studied and cultivated the 
rhythm of his sentences, the aesthetic sequence of his 
vowels, and the harshness or smoothness of his con- 
sonantal sounds. But, in the nature of the case, the 
expectation created in a_ piece of prose is seldom com- 
pletely fulfilled, or even nearly fulfilled. If it were, we 
should probably regard the fact as a blemish on tlie 
author's style, and he would certainly not deliberately 
repeat a seiies of sounds so soon after its first occurrence 


as to make us instantly recognise it. In poetry, on the 
other hand, we find that the expectation is always ful- 
filled, completely or nearly so ; if it were not we should 
have to deny the title of verse to any piece of writing, 
however magnificent it might be in other ways. Vers 
libre, it is true, breaks away from the strict sequence of 
sounds, and gives us an unfulfilled expectation, but it 
oflTers satisfaction of some other kind, in the simple 
cadence or in the parallelism of thought, if it be good verse. 
And some students of literature would deny that vers 
libre has the right to be called poetry, at least as far as its 
form is concerned. 

On the other hand there must be some room for varia- 
tion. An invariable sequence of sounds would give more 
than satisfaction, it would give satiety. The most rigid 
metres are probably those found in the lyric stanzas of 
Greek and Latin literature, and here we have con- 
siderable alternation of different feet within the stanza 
itself. The Sapphic verse, for example, consists of a 
series of iambus, spondee and dactyl ; in each of the 
first three lines the first two are repeated, as if the poet 
were attempting to reproduce the whole series and not 
quite succeeding. The fourth line, however, does give 
that completion, with an additional foot, as if the writer 
were triumphing over the fact that, after two failures, he 
had, at the third attempt, achieved the goal towards 
which he aimed. Here we have quite sufficient variation 
to avoid monotony and give pleasure ; moreover poems 
written in this and other lyric metres are commonly 
quite short. 

In longer poems the relief from monotony may be 
obtained in two ways, often combined. One is the use of 
different feet (and a foot is only a definite series of sounds 
within a very limited space"! as alternatives. The 


classical hexameter, for example, admits of either a 
dactyl or a spondee in any of the first four of the six feet. 
The amount of variation allowed in the iambic trimeter, 
the normal metre of dramatic dialogue, is comparatively 
small in Greek tragedy, though it is enough to escape 
monotony, but in later forms, as in Latin comedy, it is 
so great that the novice has considerable difficulty in 
scanning it at all. In modern verse, especially in English 
lyrics, we often meet with what is called anacrusis, when 
one or more syllables are prefixed to the metrical scheme 
proper in any line. 

The other common method is that which is technically 
known as enjambement. This means that the sense unit 
and the verse unit do not coincide, but overlap, the 
grammatical sentence running on beyond the end of the 
poetic line into the next. The lines quoted earlier in this 
chapter from Paradise Lost and In Memoriam will serve as 
examples. Even if we were to insist on reading each 
poetic line or stanza for itself, our minds would in- 
evitably be conscious of a certain incompleteness of 
thought, and we should make a break in the flow of our 
ideas at the end of a sentence, whether we would or not. 
In dramatic poetry this principle is sometimes carried so 
far that a line may be divided between two speakers. 
Thus in The Tempest, Act I, scene 2 we have the following : 

Prospero : Awake, dear heart, awake, thou hast slept well ; 
Awake ! 

Miranda : The strangeness of your story put 

Heaviness in me. 

Prospero : Shake it off. Gome on. 

We'll visit Galiban, my slave, who never 
Yields us a kind answer. 

Miranda : 'Tis a villain, sir, 

I do not love to look on. 


Prospero : But as 'tis, 

We cannot miss him : he does make our fire. 
Fetch in our wood, and serves in offices 
That profit us. What ho ! slave : Caliban : 
Thou earth, thou : speak. 

Caliban ( Within) : There's wood enough within. 

Here we have several clear cases of enjambement as between 
the three speakers, and even where Prospero speaks more 
than one line his sentences end in the middle of a verse. 
We have other variations from the normal, also, which 
help to give variety within uniformity. " Heaviness " 
is difficult to accent on the second syllable, as the strict 
metre would require, and the Prospero-Miranda line : 

" Yields us a kind answer. 'Tis a villain, sir." 

has so to be read as to make two syllables take the place 
of one ; we are almost tempted to leave out the first " a." 
Here, then, we may find the characteristic feature of 
poetic form, as distinct from that of prose. It has several 
advantages. It arises in ages -before writing becomes a 
normal accomplishment, when few can even read what is 
written. Memory must play a large part in life, and the 
mind needs a form which is comparatively easy to 
memorize. The predisposition created by one short 
series of words, or even of sounds, demands that what 
follows shall more or less correspond to it. Most popular 
proverbs have an assonance somewhere which serves 
to protect them from being forgotten or badly mis- 
rendered. So arises the habit of putting memorable 
thoughts into this form which not only creates expectation 
but goes far towards satisfying it. From this starting- 
point we can proceed to glance at the characteristic type 
of expectation which is produced and satisfied in Hebrew 



As we have seen, the fomis of poetry depend on the ex- 
pectation aroused in the mind of a hearer or reader by a 
succession of units of speech. Poetry differs in form from 
prose in supplying a much more complete satisfaction to 
eye or ear ; in other words the succession tends to be 
regular, or at least symmetrical. This general principle 
may be applied to all forms of poetry, but there are wide 
differences in the means whereby the expectation is 
aroused and satisfied. In classical and in most modem 
poetry the units are sounds^ and the poet may consider 
the length of his syllables, the comparative stress laid on 
them in speech, or vowel and consonant combinations 
at the beginning or end of the lines. In still older forms 
of poetry (e.g. in Accadian or Chinese) the unit is not a 
sound but an idea. It is the speaker's thought which rouses 
an expectation, and this can be satisfied only by a 
repetition or by a balancing conception. A word, or 
even a combination of words, may call up a mental 
picture, and the answer to it will of necessity be another 
picture. Where more than one word is involved, they 
must be capable of being so closely combined as to form a 
single concept in the mind of the hearer. What the new 
grammarians call " cement " words, in contrast to the 
" brick " words of noun and verb — words hke prepo- 
sitions, negative adverbs, and sometimes pronouns — 
are comparatively seldom so weighted with meaning as to 
form independent thought-units, and so they become 
parts of a larger whole. 



It Is to this general type of thought-rhythm that the 
forms of classical Hebrew poetry belong. Medieval 
writers, did, it is true, develop a kind of sound rhythm, 
based on the alternation of long and short syllables, the 
long being those which have a full vowel and the short 
those composed of a consonant with vocal Shewa. Such 
an arrangement, however, is, as far as we can judge, still 
unknown at the end of the Biblical period, and all our 
classical Hebrew poetry must be " scanned " on the 
older basis. Hence there arises a phenomenon to which 
the name " parallelism " was first given by Lowth in the 
middle of the eighteenth century. 

The term is singularly apt. If we consider a piece of 
Hebrew narrative prose, we observe that it is normally a 
continuous stream of co-ordinate sentences linked together 
by conjunctions — in the Hebrew by " WawConsecutives." 
It allows the thought of the reader, then, to pursue a 
straight and unbroken course. Even when we get 
syntactical and stylistic variations from the norm, they 
add something fresh to our thought. But when a state- 
ment is made in poetry, the expectation that has been 
roused in our minds must be satisfied as soon as possible ; 
a series of ideas has been put before us, and we instinctively 
require that it shall be repeated. So the poet goes back 
to the beginning again, and says the same thing once more, 
though he may partly or completely change the actual 
words in order to avoid monotony. He is, then, follow- 
ing a line of thought parallel to that which has been 
already laid down. We thus discover a fundamental 
principle of Hebrew verse form : Every verse must consist of 
at least two " members^'' the second of which must, more or less 
completely, satisfy the expectation raised by the first. A third 
member may be added ; where there are more than three, 
it is usually possible to group the members into twos and 


threes. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of 
this principle in studying Hebrew verse forms. It means, 
for example, that there can be no such thing as a single 
verse-member ; the term " parallel " is as meaningless 
when applied to a single line of verse as it would be when 
similarly used in mathematics. A second corollary is 
that the terms of a verse-member stand in closer relation 
to one another than they do to any term in a preceding 
or in a following member. There can be no " syncopa- 
tion " or " enjambement " in Hebrew poetry. If and when 
such a phenomenon appears to be present, closer examina- 
tion will shew that the poet deliberately created a pause 
in the flow of his utterance, in order to keep the hearer for 
a moment in suspense, and so give added emphasis to 
what he was about to say. A recognition of this fact is of 
some importance in exegesis, as it often helps us to 
appreciate nuances in the writer's thought which would 
be missed by plain and straightforward translation. 

Parallelism may take many forms. Lowth himself 
broadly recognized three. To the first he gave the name 
" synonymous," occurring when the theme is stated in the 
first member, and then re-stated with variation in the 
second. Thus in Ps. i : 5 we have : 

Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgement, 
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 

where the second member is obviously only another way 
Df saying the same thing as the first. Lowth's second form 
is " antithetic " parallelism, in which the second member 
Jtates the truth of the first in a negative form or offers a 
contrast. Thus Ps. 1:6 runs : 

For Yahweh knoweth the way of die righteous, 
But the way of the wicked shall perish. 


In a large number of instances, however, neither of these 
forms appears, and the sense runs directly on. So we 
find in Ps. 27 : 6 (first line) : 

But now shall my head be lifted up 
Above my enemies round about me. 

For this sort of Hne Lowth used the term " synthetic " 
parallelism. It has, however, been generally recognized 
that, strictly speaking, it can hardly be called parallelism 
at all, and a much better name is that supplied by 
Buchanan Gray — " formal " parallelism. 

Following the lines laid down by Lowth, later scholars 
identified three other types of parallelism (they may be 
seen in the introduction to Briggs' Psalms), " emblematic," 
" stairlike," and " introverted." The first term is 
applied in cases where the second member reproduces 
the thought of the first by means of a metaphor or simile. 
An example may be seen in Ps. i : 4 : 

The wicked are not so, 

But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. 

Another type may be seen in Ps. 103 : 13, where the love 
of God is illustrated by that of a human father. " Stair- 
like " parallelism may involve more than one line, and is 
to be recognized where one member (or part of a member) 
in one line is repeated in the second, and made the start- 
ing-point for a fresh step. An illustration may be taken 
from Ps. 29 : 1-2 : 

Ascribe to Yahweh, 

Ye sons of God, 
Ascribe to Yahweh 

Glory and strength ; 
Ascribe to Yahweh 

The glory of his name. 
Bow before Yahweh 

In holy splendour. 


In the first three Hnes we are mounting, as it were, step 
by step to the cHmax in v. 2. Each Hne both carries us 
back to the starting-point and gives us a new item from 
which we may make further progress. The last type also 
involves at least two complete lines, and is applied in 
cases where the first member of one line corresponds to 
the second member of the first, and the second member of 
the first to the first member of the second, a chiastic 
arrangement which may be represented as a.b.b.a. 
Briggs quotes Ps. 30 : 8-10 as an example : 

Unto thee, O Yahweh, do I cry ; and unto the Lord do I make 
supplication : 

What profit is there in my blood when I go down to the pit ? 

Shall the dust praise thee ? Shall it declare thy truth ? 
Hear, O Yahweh, and be gracious to me ; be thou my helper. 

Lowth's position has never been seriously challenged, 
except in so far as his third type of parallelism has been 
recognized as not being true parallelism at all. All 
later students of Hebrew prosody have at least paid lip 
service to his principles, though during the last sixty or 
seventy years there has been a tendency to overlook their 
implications. It is, perhaps, natural that when dealing 
with a language hke Hebrew no clear distinction should be 
drawn between a " logical " and a " phonetic " arrange- 
ment. The accent in Hebrew is so strong that it largely 
controls the accidence of the language, and it seems as if 
the whole force and meaning of a word were summed up 
and concentrated in the stressed syllable, which may be 
the penult, though it is more commonly the last. Read- 
ing Hebrew poetry, with due attention to the accent and 
to parallelism, certainly gives the impression of an 
accentual rhythm, though there seems to be no rule as to 
the proportion or relation between the accented and the 
unaccented syllables. It is impossible to deny alto- 


gether the influence of the sound of words as distinct 
from their meaning, but the essential principle of parallel- 
ism requires that sound should be very much subordinate 
to sense. 

It is not, then, surprising that since the seventies of the 
last century, scholars should have concentrated on the 
" stresses " or " beats " in their efforts to analyse the 
verse-member into its component parts. Valuable con- 
tributions have been made to the study of Hebrew 
phonetics in general, but, as a rule, these apply as much 
to words used in prose as to poetry. One great scholar 
(Sievers), for example, believed that the normal Hebrew 
" foot " was an accentual anapaest. But his anapaest 
admitted more than two unaccented syllables preceding 
the accent, and even one such syllable after the main 
stress. This, of course, is simply a phonetic description 
of any normal Hebrew word. Scholars believed that 
Hebrew should be scanned by the enumeration of 
" stresses " in each verse-member. A difficulty was 
created by the fact that in a number of instances it seemed 
that a word must have two " stresses " in order to produce 
anything like metrical regularity, and a great deal of 
patient study and research has been devoted to solving 
the problem of the phonetic conditions in which a word 
could be doubly stressed. The value of these studies for 
the specific subject of Hebrew verse form lies in the 
analysis of the verse-member into its component units. 
This is equally valid, whether those units indicate sound 
or thought, and in the work of the late Buchanan Gray 
we had for the first time a return to, and a real develop- 
ment of, the principles laid down by Lowth. It is still 
usual to speak of " stresses " or " beats " in describing 
Hebrew verse forms, but since these terms may be mis- 
leading, the word " unit " will be employed to indicate 


the smallest recognizable element in a Hebrew poetic 

Parallelism in its simplest form requires that every unit 
in the first member of a verse should be exactly balanced 
by a unit in the second member. So Ps. 103 : 3 runs : 

Who-forgiveth all thine-iniquities ; 
Who-healeth all thy-diseases. 

(Hyphened words represent single words or single thought- 
units in Hebrew.) This may be represented by the 
formula : 

a. b. c. 

a', b'. c'. 

But it is comparatively seldom that we meet with so 
exact a correspondence between the members of a 
verse ; indeed if such a form were normal the monoton)" 
would become almost intolerable. It is to Buchanan 
Gray that we owe the soundest attempt to analyse and 
classify the various forms that parallelism may take. He 
distinguished between complete parallelism, of which the 
verse just cited forms an example, and incomplete parallel- 
ism, in which the units of the second member do not 
correspond exactly to those of the first. Here again 
there is an important division. In some lines we may 
have the same number of units in both parts, though 
one or more in the second may not balance units in the 
first. To this type Gray gave the name incomplete parallel- 
ism with compensation. In other cases there is one unit less 
in one member than in the other (usually the second is 
the shorter), and for these Gray used the phrase in- 
complete parallelism without compensation. Ps. 103 : 15 offers 
an example of the former type : 

As-for-man his-days are-as-grass ; 

as-a-flower-of the-field so-he-flourisheth. 


This may be represented : 

a. b. c. 
c'. d. e. 

though it is to be noted that in the second member two 
units (as-a-flower-of the-field) correspond to a single 
unit in the first member. This is a very common form oi 
compensation, e.g. in v. 7 of the same Psalm we have : 

He-made-known his-ways unto- Moses, 

To-the-children-of Israel his-acts. 

Here the first two units of the second member correspond 
in sense to the third unit of the first member ; we may 
represent the form as : 

a. b. c. 
c'. c'. b'. 

The possible variations of incomplete parallelism with 
compensation are almost unlimited, and an observation oi 
its forms will contribute in no small degree to an apprecia- 
tion of the beauty of Hebrew poetry. 

Incomplete parallelism without compensation produces 
lines which often give the impression of an echo. It was 
this type of line which attracted the attention of Budde 
to the possibility of " metre " in Hebrew poetry, and to it 
he gave the name Qinah, because he first identified it in 
Lamentations, and believed it to be characteristic of the 
dirge. Indeed, it was not until the last years of his life 
that he was prepared to recognize any other form in 
Hebrew prosody. A good example may be found in 
Lam. 3:4: 

He-hath-worn-out my-flesh and-my-skin, 
He-hath-broken my-bones. 

This may be represented by the formula : 

a. b. c. 
a', b'. 


A more obvious illustration of the same type is to be seen 
in Is. 40 : 4 (second line) : 

And-the-crooked shall-be-madc straight, 
And-thc-rough-placcs plain. 

(In the Hebrew the verb stands first in the sentence.) V. 2 
of the same chapter gives an example of a line in which 
the second unit in the first member has no parallel in 
the second : 

Speak-yc comfortably to-Jerusalem, 
And-cry . unto-her. 

This is of the form 

a. b. c. 
a'. c'. 

Cases in which the third unit is left without a parallel 
are much less frequent than the other t^vo. They do, 
however, occur, as in the second line of Lam. 2 : 10: 

They-have-cast-up dust upon-their-heads ; 
They-have-girded-themselves with-sackcloth. 

This may be represented as 

a. b. c. 
a', b'. 

It may be remarked that, perhaps not unnaturally, we 
shall find in lines of this type far more instances of " for- 
mal " parallelism than in those whose members are of 
equal length. 

The types of parallelism which we have noted so far are 
mainly examples of the balance of two members of the 
same line. Very often, however, we find two lines stand- 
ing closely together and shewing a balance between whole 
lines, and not merely between the parts of the same line. 
The former type we may call internal parallelism, the 
latter external parallelism. As might be expected, complete 


external parallelism is comparatively rare, but cases do 
occur, as in Is. I : 10 : 

Hear the-word-of the-Lord, ye-rulers-of Sodom ; 

Giver-ear-unto the-law-of our-God, ye-people-of Gomorrah. 

This is clearly 

a. b, c. d. e. 
a', b'. c'. d'. e'. 

Normally, however, external parallelism is incomplete 
with compensation. It may be very nearly complete, as 
in Ps. 27 : I : 

The-Lord is-my-light and-my-salvation ; 

whom shall-I-fear ? 
The-Lord is-the-strength-of my-life j 

of-whom shall-I-be-afraid ? 

Here the parallel between the two second members is 
complete, while as between the two first members it is 
incomplete with compensation, taking that common form 
in which two units in one member balance a single 
unit in the other. In other cases the order may, so to 
speak, be inverted (Briggs' " introverted " parallelism), 
as in the second and third lines of Lam. i : i : 

She-is-become as-a-widow, shc-that-was-great among- 

nations ; 
Princess among-provinces, she-is-becorac tributary. 

This is of tlie form : 

a. b. c. d. 

c'. d'. a', b'. 

To the same general class belong those cases in which 
part of a line is paralleled or even repeated, and the 
remainder carries the thought still further — " stairlike " 
parallelism. So Ps. 27 : 2 runs (A.V. has inverted two 
members) : 

When-the-wicked came upon-me, to-eat-up my-flesh. 

Mine-enemies and-my-foes, they stumbled and-fell. 


Here the first member of the second Hne takes up one unit 
from the first Hne, and then completes the sentence left 
imperfect in the first line. 

It is impossible to go further into detail in describing 
the forms which parallelism may take. It is enough 
to call attention to the facts, and the reader must be 
left to apply the principles suggested to each poem, in- 
deed to each line. Only so will the full beauty of Hebrew 
verse form be realized, with its general uniformity and its 
almost infinite variety within the limits necessarily im- 
posed on the poet by the conditions of his language and 
his thought. 

We must now turn to the various ways in which units 
may be combined to form verse-members and so fines. 
It is clear that two units is the minimum required for a 
verse-member. And the facts show that it is very rare, if, 
indeed, it ever happens, that a verse-member should con- 
tain more than three units. In all the examples hitherto 
quoted it will be observed that every member contains 
either two or three units, and it seems clear that all 
Hebrew " metres " are combinations of twos and threes. 
Where we have more than two units it is practically always 
possible still further to subdivide ; a " 4 " can normally 
be read as "2:2" and a " 5 " as "3:2" or (more 
rarely) "2:3." It is, then, a very simple matter to 
find names for the various metres ; they are always 
indicated merely by the number of units in each member. 

The shortest " metre," then, will be the 2:2. It is 
not uncommon in the Psalms, and its quick, staccato 
movement often indicates a high emotional tension, 
sometimes due to fear or awe, and sometimes to exuberant 
happiness. Ps. 29 is almost pure 2 : 2, and the reader 
can feel the nervous strain imposed by the successive 
crashes of violent thunder. The metrical structure is, 


unfortunately, often obscured in our familiar translations, 
but we can catch something of the emotional tone even 
through the English of v. 5 : 

The-voice-of the-Lord breaketh the-cedars ; 

Yea-the-Lord breaketh the-cedars-of Lebanon. 

(Note the external stairlike parallelism.) The opposite 
feeling-tone is expressed in Ps. 46, which, again, is almost 
pure 2:2. So V. 2 : 

Therefore will-not-we-fear, though-the-earth be-removed, 
And-though-the-mountains be-carried 

into-the-midst-of the-sea . 
Or V. 6 : 

The-heathen raged, the-kingdoms were-moved; 

He-uttered his-voice, the-earth melted. 

One of the commonest metres in the Bible is the 3:2. 
Its parallelism is often merely formal, though the regular 
forms are quite frequent. In Ps. 27 : 4, for example, we 
have : 

One-thing have-I-desired of-the-Lord, that will-I-seek-after; 
That-I-may-dwell in-the-house-of the-Lord all-the-days-of 

To-behold the-beauty-of the-Lord, and-to-enquire in-his- 


Here the parallelism is somewhat intricate. There is 
incomplete parallelism in the first line. In a sense the 
second line is parallel to the whole of the first, since it 
expands the " that " of the second member. In itself 
this second line offers only formal parallelism. The 
third line presents internal incomplete parallelism, and, 
even so, the last unit of the second member does not corres- 
pond exactly to any unit in the first. As a metre, the 
3 : 2 is slower and more dignified than the 2:2, and, as 
has been remarked, it is often used in dirges. 


There are instances where it seems as if a five-unit line 
should be divided as 2 : 3, and not as 3:2. Thus in 
Is. 40 : 4 we read : 

Every-valley shall-be-exalted, and-every-mountain and-hill 

Here the sense certainly seems to demand that the break 
(often called, in imitation of classical prosody, a 
" caesura ") shall come where the comma is placed. 
But sometimes there may be another explanation. So 
Ps. 28 : 6, normally read, would have to be arranged : 

Biessed-be thc-Lord, 

Because-he-hath-heard thc-voice-of my-supplication. 

But suppose we read it : 

Blessed-be thc-Lord, bccause-he-hath-heard 
The-voice-of my-supplication. 

The first member is obviously incomplete, and creates in 
us a strong expectation of an object to follow the verb. 
But there is a break in the flow of thought, and we are 
held, as it were, in suspense. The effect is to emphasize 
and drive home the force both of the verb and of its object, 
and it may quite well have be^n the intention of the poet 
thus to enhance our sense of the benefit he has received : 
" he has heard — yes, he has heard the voice of my 
supplication." A number of apparent cases of 2 : 3 can 
thus be reduced to 3 : 2 with advantage to the reader, 
but there still remain instances where this is hardly prob- 
able, and we are forced to admit the possibihty of a 2 13, 
though the general tendency in Hebrew verse is to place 
the longer member first. 

Another large group of poems has the metrical form 
3:3. This is, indeed, the most frequent metre in Biblical 
poetry. The whole of the poem of Job is written in it, 
and it is the commonest metre in the Psalter. Internal 


parallelism is normal, and it is often complete. An 
instance from Ps. 103 has already been quoted (p. 26), 
and there are many others. More often the parallelism 
is incomplete, naturally with compensation. So Ps. 
24 : I : 

The-Lord's is-the-carth and-thc-fulness-thereof, 
The-world and-thcy-that-dwell therein. 

For this the formula would be : 

a. b. c. 
b'. c'. d'. 

but it is to be noted that in sense the last two units of the 
second member balance the third unit of the first member. 
We may take a couple of lines from Job 4 : i yf. : 

Shall-mortal-man bc-more-just than-God, 
Shall-a-man be-niore-pure than-his-maker ? 

Behold, he-put-no-trust in-his-servants, 
And-his-angels he-cliarged with-folly. 

Here the parallelism in the first line is complete, though in 
the Hebrew text the order of the terms is not the same in 
the two members, while in the second it is incomplete 
with compensation, since there is nothing in the second 
member to correspond to " Behold," and the second and 
third units of the second member taken together corres- 
pond to the third (in the Hebrew order) unit of the first. 
We may note, too, that this is what Lowth would call 
" antithetic " parallelism, since the first member states 
the idea negatively, the second positively. 

We find from time to time that with the 3 : 3 we have a 
third member, giving 3:3:3. This sometimes occurs 
in poems which are normally 3 : 3, as in Ps. 103 : 20 : 

Bless the-Lord, ye-his-angels 

That-excel-in-strength, that-do his-commandments, 
Hearkening unto-the-voice-of his-word. 


In these cases many scholars are inclined to suspect that 
one of the three members is a later insertion, due to 
textual corruption, and it is a remarkable fact that in 
Job, where they are fairly frequent, there are often 
grounds for suspecting the originality of one of three 
members, entirely apart from metrical considerations ; 
one, for instance, is often not represented in the text of the 
LXX. But there remain enough to give ground for the 
behef that this form does occur in 3 : 3 poems. A few 
pieces are almost entirely composed of 3 : 3 : 3. So the 
last part of Ps. 24, beginning with v. 7, runs : 

Lift-up your-heads, O-ye-gates, 

And-be-ye-lift-up ye-everlasting doors, 
And-the-king-of glory shall-come-in. 

In cases of this kind, two of the three members are as a 
rule more closely parallel to one another than to the third, 
as here, but there are instances in which all three seem 
to be equally closely related. An example may be taken 
from Ps. 100 : if. : 

Make-a-joyful-noise unto-the-Lord all-the-earth, 
Serve the-Lord with-gladness, 

Come before-his-presence with-singing. 

Here the parallels are not exact — they may be generally 
described as being incomplete with compensation, but 
all are equally allied in sense. 

While dealing with this triplication of members, we 
may note the fact that a form 2 : 2 : 2 is sometimes found. 
It is quite characteristic of prophetic poetry, but is com- 
paratively rare elsewhere. A good instance occurs in 
Ps. 91 : 3 •• 

Surely-he shall-deliver-thee 
From-the-snare-of the-fowler, 

And from-the-noisome pestilence. 


Here the second and third members are closely parallel, 
while both complete the thought of the first. Another 
example, in which all three members are parallel, may 
be seen in Job 17:1: 

My-breatii is-corrupt, 
My-days are-extinct, 

The-graves are-ready-for-me. 

But this arrangement occurs so seldom in the strictly 
" poetical " books that we might hesitate to admit it 
were it not for its frequent appearance in the Prophets. 

A 4 : 3 undoubtedly exists, though it is far from common. 
It may be further subdivided, and described as a 2 : 2 : 3, 
though, as a rule, the second member is more closely 
linked with the first than with the third. Indeed, in its 
normal form, the third is parallel to the first two together. 
It is uncommon in the Psalms, though Ps. 141 may offer an 
example. The first part of v. 4 runs : 

Incline-not my-heart to-any-evil thing, 
To-practise wicked works. 

And the previous verse : 

Set, O-Lord, a-watch before-my-mouth, 
Keep the-door-of my-Iips. 

As an illustration from Proverbs we may take 20 : 2 : 

The-fear-of a-king is-as-the-roaring-of a-lion, 

Whoso-provoketh-him-to-anger sinneth-against his-own- 


This offers the characteristic parallehsm. But the finest 
example in the Bible is the great vision of " chaos come 
again " in Jer. 4 : 23-26. The first two verses run : 

I-beheld the-earth, and-lo, it-was-without-form-and-void ; 

And-the-heavens and-they-had-no light. 
I-beheld the-mountains, and-Io, they-trembled ; 

And-all the-hills moved-lightly. 


It is even possible that there are instances of 3 : 4, but they 
must be so rare as to be practically negligible. 

Before we pass on to consider the use made by poets 
of these various " metres " in constructing their pieces, 
mention should be made of one other phenomenon. 
That is " anacrusis," a name given to a unit standing at 
the beginning of a line, which is not counted in its 
enumeration. From time to time we meet with cases 
where the initial word clearly stands alone, and it is the 
second word in the verse with which the metre proper 
starts. Such words are usually comparatively small — 
interjections, conjunctions, or pronouns. They have a 
special function in the flow of the verse, for they produce a 
pause, and, by making the reader halt, call attention to 
and emphasize what follows. A good instance may be 
seen in the opening verses of chs. i, 2 and 4 in 
Lamentations. The word rendered " How " is not an 
interrogative ; it does not even ask a rhetorical question. 
It is an exclamation, almost a groan. This becomes 
clear when we look at such lines as the first two of Lam. 
I : I (some changes in the EVV. are inevitable) : 

Oh ! 

The-city doth-sit solitary that-was-fiill-of people ; 

Shc-has-become as-a-widow that-was-grcat among- 


Obviously the parallelism requires this arrangement of 
the second member of each line, and that would leave 
four units to the first half of the first line — an abnormal 
arrangement. And it will hardly be doubted that the 
verse gains in intensity as the note of utter woe is struck 
even before the poem proper begins. An example of a 
pronoun most effectively used in this way comes from 
Ps. 3 : 3. The Psalmist has just stated the substance of 
his complaint, and has called attention to the enemies 


who threaten and mock him. Then he turns to God, and 
marks the changed address thus : 

But thou — 

Thou-O-Lord art-a-shield for-mc 

my-glory and-tlie-lifter-up-of my-head. 

We note the same phenomenon in Job 3 : 20 : 

Why, oh why 

Is-light given to-him-that-is-in-miscry, 

and-Ufe unto-the-bitter-in soul ? 

Here the first word (rendered " wherefore" in the EVV.) 
introduces a rhetorical question, but the parallelism and 
the number of units alike suggest that it should be treated 
apart from the line itself, and again the pause makes what 
follows extremely impressive. 

We now turn to a question on which there is still no 
general agreement. Is the same metre always used 
throughout a poem, or did the Hebrew poets vary their 
metres ? It may be admitted at once that it is impossible 
to obtain a regular metre in most of our Biblical pieces 
without resorting to emendation. Not infrequently, it 
is true, the required modification is indicated by the text 
of the LXX or on other grounds, but when allowance 
has been made for these, there still remain numbers of 
passages in which the metre varies. Indeed, there seems 
to be hardly a poem in the whole Bible in which the 
metre indicated by the Massoretic text is absolutely 
regular. At the same time, there is evidence to suggest 
that originally a certain measure of uniformity was 
maintained. In addition to the facts provided by the 
LXX and other ancient versions, we have in the Bible 
a few cases of passages which appear in several places. 
Thus Pss. 14 and 53 are nearly identical, and one of the 
best known of prophetic utterances occurs both in 
Isaiah 2 and in Micah 4. More than once in the passages 


a verse which is " irregular " in one form is " regular " 
in the other. We have good reason to believe that many 
of our Psalms had a long history, and may well have 
suffered modification which destroyed complete metrical 
regularity. But even when allowance is made for all 
these facts, we still have a very large number of " irregu- 
lar " lines in the Psalter and elsewhere. 

When we come, however, to consider these irregular- 
ities in detail, we find that the great majority fall into 
clearly marked classes. Thus in 3 : 3 poems (especially 
in the Prophets) we find at times lines which can be 
described only as 2 : 2 : 2. It is very rarely that we meet 
with an unmixed 3:2; nearly always there will be 
some lines which can be nothing but 2:2. It is interest- 
ing to observe that this sometimes occurs where the 
emotional tension is obviously rising. An excellent 
example is supplied by Ps. 23 : 

The-Lord-is my-shepherd, I-shaU-not-want ; 

he-maketh-me-to-lie-down in-green-pastures. 3 : 2 

He-leadeth-me beside-the-still waters, 

he-restoreth my-soul. , 3:2 

He-leadeth-me in-the-paths-of righteousness 

for-his-name's sake, 3 : 2 

Yes-though I-walk through-the-valley-of the-shado',.- 

of-death, 2 : 2 

I-will-fear-no evil for-thou-art with-rne. 2 : 2 

Thy-rod and-thy-stafF they comfort-me, 2 : 2 

Thou-preparest a-table before-me 

in-the-presence-of mine-enemies ; 3^2 

Thou-anointest my-head with-oil, 

my-cup runneth-over. 3 : 2 

Surely-gcodness and -mercy shall-follow-me 

all-the-days-of my-life. 3 : 2 

And-I-will-dwell in-the-house-of the-Lord for ever, 3 : 2 

Sometimes, though very rarely, it becomes necessary to 
divide a five-unit line into 2 : 3 rather than 3:2, 


This alternation of fours and fives is so common as to 
constitute a regular variation, and its presence is not to 
be held as an indication of a real change in the metre. 
On the other hand, the appearance of a four- or five- 
unit line in the middle of 3 : 3 is sufficiently uncommon to 
awaken our doubts as to the accuracy of the text as it has 
been transmitted to us. So also we may suspect the 
presence of a 3 : 3 line in a poem which is mainly 3 : 2 
and 2:2. 

There are thus two main metrical forms. In the one 
we have 3:3, sometimes varied with 2:2:2 and 3:3:3 
— the commoner of the two ; and in the other 3 : 2 
varied with 2 : 2 and occasionally with 2:3. The 4 : 3 
is so rare in continuous poems that it is impossible to note 
any " regular " variation. 

At this point it will be convenient to mention the use of 
an acrostic in a small number of Hebrew poems, though 
it is far from being a regular feature of Hebrew verse- 
form. This is an arrangement in which each verse or 
group of lines is characterized by having a particular 
letter at the beginning, the letters being arranged in 
alphabetical order. We may illustrate the principle by 
trying to render the opening verses of Ps. 34 (an acrostic 
poem in Hebrew) — with some periphrasis — : 

A At all times I will bless the Lord, 

His praise shall be continually in my mouth. 
B Boasteth my soul in the Lord, 

The humble shall hear thereof and be glad. 
G Gall the Lord great with me. 

And let us exalt his name together. 
D Did I seek the Lord ? then he heard me, 

And delivered me from all my fears. 
E Every man that looked to him was lightened, 

And their faces were not ashamed. 
F For this poor man cried and the Lord heard him, 

And saved him out of all his troubles. 


Such poems often have thus a single line to each letter, 
but this is far from being an invariable rule. Thus 
Pss, III, 112 have half a line only — something Hke : 

A All my heart shall praise the Lord, 
B Being in the assembly of the upright and the con- 

G Countless are the works of the Lord, 
D Desiring them, all men seek them. 

In other instances more than one line belongs to each 
letter. Pss. 9-10 (originally one) and Lam. 4 are arranged 
in pairs of lines, the first of which begins with the appro- 
priate letter. Lam. i and 2 have three lines to each 
group, and, again, the acrostic is marked only in the first 
of the three. In one or two cases the poet has gone 
further, and has given a group of lines each of which begins 
with the proper letter. Lam. 3 is arranged in sections of 
three lines each — 

A Affliction have I seen 

By the rod of his wrath. 
A As he led me, he brought me 

Into darkness and not into light. 
A Against me indeed is he turned, he turneth 

His hand against me all the day. 
B By age hath he worn my flesh and my skin, 

He hath broken my bones. 
B Barriers hath he built against me, and compassed me 

Witli gall and travail. 
B Between dark places hath he set me, 

As they that be dead of old. 
G Confining walls about me hath he made, tliat I can- 
not get out. 

He hath made heavy my chains. 
C Cry I also and shout ? 

He shutteth out my prayer. 
G Closely hath he shut in my ways with hewn stone, 

He hath made my paths crooked. 


The outstanding poem of this type is Ps. 119, which is 
arranged in groups of no less than eight hues, each of 
which begins with its appropriate letter. A poet writing 
in acrostic must sometimes have found his scheme diffi- 
cult, but this class includes some of the most moving 
pieces we have, e.g., Lam. 1-4. 

We have now to consider the combination of lines to 
form larger groups. It is, of course, possible to divide 
any but the shortest poems into verse paragraphs, and, 
indeed, this must be done if a piece is to be understood 
properly. But it does not follow that such an arrange- 
ment is strictly an element in the poetic form. Paradise 
Lost must be thus treated, but no one would maintain that 
these divisions form a part of the structure of English 
blank verse. We shall necessarily require a certain 
regularity, if not uniformity, in the number of lines in 
each group, and, in Hebrew poetry at any rate, the 
prosody-group must coincide with the sense-group, i.e., 
the divisions in the poem must be identical with the divi- 
sions in the thought. Yet for over a century it has been 
widely recognized that such larger groups are to be found 
in Hebrew poetry, and were an element in the technique 
of the poet. Since the earlier investigators were still 
largely dominated by the conceptions proper to classical 
poetry, the Greek name " strophe " (properly applying 
only to certain types of lyric verse) was used, and has 
never been wholly superseded, though we shall understand 
the character and function of these divisions better if wc 
use the term " stanza." 

As first propounded, the theory took into account the 
number of verses in the Massoretic text of each piece. 
Later it was realized that this arrangement did not always 
correspond to the original arrangement contemplated by 
the poet, and students counted the actual Unes in each 


Stanza. In both cases a fairly wide latitude was allowed. 
Generally speaking, four types of stanza arrangement 
were admitted. In the first all the stanzas in a poem 
had the same number of lines, and there are com- 
mentaries on the Psalter which assume that this is the 
only possible arrangement. Others, however, admitted 
that a series of stanzas, with different numbers of lines, 
might be repeated ; thus the first stanza might have 
three lines, the second four, the third five, the fourth three, 
the fifth four and the sixth five, the series 3, 4, 5 being 
continued throughout the piece. Or the series, instead of 
being exactly repeated, might be inverted — 3, 4, 5, 5, 4, 3. 
In such cases an odd stanza might be inserted to mark 
the middle, sometimes consisting of a single line — 
3> 4? 5j 1 5 5) 4j 3- There were even poems in which no 
regular arrangement could be detected, and, following the 
Greek terminology, such poems were called " dithyr- 
ambic." It is difficult to see how a stanza arrangement 
of the last type can really be regarded as an element in 
poetic form. 

While most modem scholars accept a stanza theory in 
Hebrew poetry, the attempt to reduce all Old Testament 
verse to such a form almost invariably leads to consider- 
able interference with the text. No doubt many addi- 
tions and corruptions have crept in during the long history 
of transmission. Especially in the Psalms, successive 
ages have modified the poet's language to suit their own 
needs and particular views, but, in the absence of direct 
textual evidence, either from ancient Hebrew copies or 
from still older versions, there must always remain a 
greater or lesser element of insecurity about alterations 
based on a metrical theory. We need stronger grounds 
than those frequently offered before we can be reasonably 
satisfied that a particular poem has been subjected to the 


very large amount of modification which a strict stanza 
theory often requires. Thus Ps. 23 contains, as it stands, 
ten Unes. The natural grouping is 2, 4, 4 — the shepherd, 
the guide and the host. Even if we take the second line 
of v. 3 with the preceding instead of the following words, 
we still have the irregularity 3, 3, 4. To meet this diffi- 
culty and to secure regularity, one modern commentator 
assumes that a whole line has dropped out in v. 4, while 
another regards the words " for thou art " as a later in- 
sertion in V. 4, at the same time adopting a very awkward 
metrical arrangement. Even a superficial study of 
recent scholarly works on the Psalms shews that we are 
often compelled either to abandon the theory'' of a uni- 
form stanza structure or to resort to drastic surgery of the 

At the same time, the stanza form is often unmistakable. 
It is obvious, for example, in Lam. i, 2 and 4, where it is 
attested by the acrostic form of the poems. The same 
remark may be made about Ps. 119, where the poet seems 
to have tried to introduce eight different terms for the 
Law into each of his eight-line stanzas. It does not, 
however, follow that this kind of acrostic necessarily 
involves stanza structure, for there are instances in Lam. 3 
where the sense seems to run on from one letter to the 
next without a serious break. Further, most of the 
acrostic poems in the Bible have only one line to each 

It may generally be assumed that a refrain indicates 
stanza form. Even here it may be necessary to suspect 
the accuracy of the text, since unequal groups of lines 
may appear. One of the best examples is to be seen in 
Pss. 42-43 (originally a single Psalm), where we have the 
same couplet in 42 : 5, 1 1 ; 43 : 5 (the apparent varia- 
^on in 42 ; 5 is certainly due to textual error). But the 


first " Stanza " contains nine lines, the second ten and the 
third eight. Is it too much to suspect that a hne has been 
accidentally transposed fi-om the third stanza to the 
second ? The second line of 42 : 10, for example, would 
not be seriously out of place between 43 : i and 2. 
Ps. 46 offers an interesting example of a refrain. The 
same words occur in w. 7 and 11, and this suggests that 
at one time they also found a place after v. 3. As our 
text now stands, v. 3 ends with the mysterious " Selah," 
which occurs also after the refrain in w. 7 and 11. It 
appears that the refrain was added at a comparatively 
late stage in the history of the poem, for it contains the 
divine name Yahweh, elsewhere avoided in this part of 
the Psalter (Its presence in the Massoretic text of v. 8 
is almost certainly due to textual corruption). But the 
general character of the piece leads us to believe that it 
did originally consist of three well-marked stanzas, each 
containing six 2 : 2 lines. It is true that the maintenance 
of this form requires several conjectural emendations, 
and, therefore, we may not dogmatize as to the primitive 
arrangement, but the necessary alterations commend 
themselves on other grounds than those of metre. 

The term " Selah," again, is often held to indicate a 
stanza structure. Unfortunately its meaning is quite 
obscure, and had evidently been forgotten even by the 
time that the Greek version was made. The consonants 
are usually referred to a root meaning " uplift," and this 
is explained either as a heightening of the accompaniment, 
or, on the other hand, the cessation of instrumental music. 
Other possibilities are that it indicates a louder tone or a 
pause, or the insertion of a doxology or other refrain. 
The whole question, however, is quite uncertain. The 
vowels, as they stand in the Hebrew text, are incompatible 
with the root cited, but may be explained as implying 


that another term was to be used. But the root itself 
appears elsewhere in words which do not simply mean 
*' uplift," but " pile up," and both the main verb and its 
derivatives are commonly used of erecting a mound of 
earth, either as a siege process or to form a causeway for a 
road. We can hardly regard this explanation of the term 
as satisfactory, but no other seems any better. 

Further difficulties in the way of seeing in this form a 
metrical indication are raised by the fact that it occurs 
in little more than a quarter of the Psalms, and else- 
where only in Hab. 3. Sometimes, as in Ps. 46, it does 
stand at the ends of fairly equal divisions of a poem, but 
in other cases it quite fails to suggest anything like an 
even grouping of the lines. Much of tliis, however, 
,may be due to textual corruption, since the evidence of 
the ancient versions does not always support the distribu- 
tion of the term in the Massoretic text, and we cannot 
exclude the possibility that it was intended originally to 
mark the close of a regular stanza. 

Finally we may observe that a stanza division may 
sometimes be indicated simply by natural sense-groups. 
iThis, indeed, is a sine qua non, whatever other criterion 
!may appear. Naturally different readers may feel that 
a poem should be differently divided ; it is often not 
clear whether a line goes closely with what precedes or 
with what follows. In such cases the stanza arrangement, 
if rendered probable by the rest of the poem, may serve 
as a useful guide, and be of real value in exegesis. Ps. 91, 
for example, clearly falls into eight two-line stanzas, 
each of which is compact in itself, and shews a certain 
independence of its neighbours. We cannot help seeing 
the intimate connexion between w. 3 and 4, 5 and 6, 
II and 12. Other pairs are quite natural, but the link 
between w. 13 and 14 might not have occurred to us 


unless we had other evidence as to the structure of the 
poem. In view of that structure, however, we may be 
certain that these two verses are to be taken closely 
together, and any sound exegesis of them will be based 
on that fact. After all, it is sound exegesis which should 
be the final aim of all other branches of Bibhcal study. 



In trying to classify the types of poem which have been 
preserved in the Old Testament, we are faced with much 
the same kind of difficulty as that which we had to meet 
in considering poetic form. We are accustomed to 
thinking in the categories of Greek and Latin poetry ; we 
may refer also to other literatures, e.g. to Sanskrit. We 
are tempted to look for dramatic, epic, and lyric verse, 
and to assume that each will have the general characteris- 
tics which appear in the Classics. But it is doubtful 
whether any dramatic poetry has survived, if it ever 
existed in Israel, and we certainly have no epic, if by that 
we understand a narrative poem of some length. Only 
one extensive poem has come down to us, that of the Book 
of Job. This describes spiritual progress and mental 
experience, with no incident till the end is reached, for 
the narratives at the beginning and end of the book are 
in prose, not in poetry. Judged by classical standards, 
the only type of poetry we can find with certainty is the 
lyric. Even the book of Job may be regarded as a series 
of lyrics, though these are so closely connected as to form 
a single consecutive whole. 

We may, nevertheless, distinguish several types of 
poetry in what has come down to us. There is some 
evidence to suggest that the ancient Hebrews themselves 
were conscious of these differences, and made collections 
of poems dealing with the same or parallel themes. In 
Num. 21 : 14, for example, mention is made of " The 



Book of the Wars of Yahweh," which was, presumably, 
a collection of victory odes. Then, again, Josh. 10 : 13 
and II Sam. i : 18 speak of a " Book of Yashar," a title 
which leaves room for discussion. The term literally 
means " upright," and it seems that the two poems re- 
ferred to it are that which commemorated Joshua's 
victory at Beth-horon and " The Song of the Bow," 
which may or may not have been David's dirge over Saul 
and Jonathan. There is little here to indicate the general 
character of this collection. " Yashar " may be a short- 
ened form — shortened by accident or design — of the 
name " Israel," which would leave room for a wide 
range of subjects. It may even be a corruption of the 
familiar word " shir " (the only change is the transposi- 
tion of the first two letters), which means simply " song." 
If this suggestion is correct, there is even less guidance as 
to the definite type to which the collected poems were 
assigned by the compilers. All we can say for certain is 
that at one period in Israel's literary history (and that 
probably pre-exilic), collections of poems were known 
and used. 

The existence of these collections is known to us from 
the fact that poems included in them are quoted in our 
Bibles. Apart from the prophetic books and the formal 
poetic collections, nearly fifty poems of various kinds have 
been embedded in the prose of the Pentateuch and the 
historical books. Some of these are very ancient, and may 
have been handed down from what we may call pre- 
Israelite times ; others are hymns and similar composi- 
tions which belong to a comparatively late period. Often 
we have reason to suspect that a piece had undergone 
more or less serious mutilation before it was placed in its 
present position, and in the case of the older poems we 
frequently have to allow for the possibility of some 


modification in the course of a long history. It may be 
remarked in passing that a few general poems have come 
down to us in the prophetic books as well as in the prose 
books proper, but these lie outside the range of our 
present studies. 

The poems thus preserved in the books Genesis to 
II Kings seem to fall into five groups. These are : 
I . Tribal and local songs. 

Spells (curses and blessings). 




The division is not exact, and some f)oems may well be 
assigned to more than one of these groups. The third, 
in particular, is very difficult to define, and many of the 
pieces included in it might well be classed otherwise if 
they were not expressly described as meshalim. But we 
may accept the arrangement as roughly serviceable, and 
consider very briefly the individual poems coming under 
each head. Fuller treatment will be found in the various 
commentaries on the books in which the poems appear. 

I. Tribal and local songs 

Some of these may well be classed as spells, while 
certain poems included under the latter head might be 
described as tribal. There are, however, four pieces in 
which the tribal or local element seems to predominate. 
They commemorate some event or characteristic in the 
history of a tribe or of a place. 

(i) Gen. 4 : 23f. The Song of Lamech. Metre, appar- 
ently, 3:2. The tribe of Lamech commemorates its 
extreme vindictiveness. The Cainites were famous for 
demanding seven lives for every one of their own ; 
Lamechites require seventy-seven. 


(ii) Num. 21 : i4f. A badly mutilated and probably 
corrupt fragment. It begins with the object of an absent 
verb, and beyond the fact that it seems to celebrate some 
event in the distant past which took place to the east of 
the Jordan, it is difficult to make any definite assertion 
about it. 

(iii) Num. 21 : lyf The Song of the Well. Metre 
3 : 2 (2 : 2). This might be regarded as a spell, but in its 
setting it has a special local reference. It was, very 
probably, a formula used by any well-diggers in ancient 
Israel, and, like the last, very likely goes back to the 
age preceding the Israelite conquest of Palestine. 

(iv) Num. 21 : 27-30. The Song of Heshbon and 
Moab. Metre uncertain though perhaps originally 
3:3. We have here apparently a record of the conquest 
by Sihon of the debatable territory lying between the 
Arnon and the Jabbok. In the monarchical period this 
was claimed by both Israel and Moab, and occupied by 
each in turn. The song here preserved seems to form a 
part of Israel's " title " ; the claim is that since Sihon 
annexed the land in question, destroying the power of 
Moab, Israel, by conquering Sihon, established a right 
to occupy all the country he had acquired. 

2. Spells 

There is a wide-spread belief in the practical efficiency 
of the spoken word. When a person, temporarily or 
permanently endowed with abnormal power, utters a 
word indicating prosperity or calamity, that word in 
itself brings about the result which it foretells. Its 
power lies partly in the authority of the person speaking 
and partly in the form which the utterance takes. People 
like prophets and wizards have this capacity for con- 
trolling the future at all times, if they choose to throw 


their language into the proper form ; even ordinary 
men may become " fey " in special circumstances. In 
particular the last utterances of a dying man may have 
peculiarly effective force ; hence the desire to procure 
a death-bed blessing which so often appears in the older 
literature of many peoples. Some seventeen poems in 
the prose books may be grouped under this head, though 
several of them might also be included in other classes. 

(i) Gen. 9 : 25, 26f. The blessing and curse of Noah. 
Metre 3:3 (2:2:2). Canaan is cursed while Japhet 
and Shem are blessed. The saying is probably very 
ancient, and explains certain ethnological and political 
relationships to which we have lost the clue. 

(ii) Gen. 14 : i9b-2oa. Melchizedek's blessing of 
Abraham. Metre 3:3. The date of the whole passage 
is much disputed, but it clearly goes back to a time when 
the " El Elyon " of Jerusalem was not fully identified 
with Yahweh. 

(iii) Gen. 24 : 60. The blessing of Rebecca. Metre 
3:2 (2:2). An utterance ensuring the prosperity 
both of Israel and of Edom. It must come from a time 
when tlie traditional hostility between these two peoples 
had not yet developed. 

(iv) Gen. 27 : 27-29. Isaac's blesing of Jacob. Metre 
uncertain. Jacob is promised pohtical supremacy and 
material prosperity. 

(v) Gen. 27 : 39f. Isaac's curse of Esau. We note 
the parallel with the preceding ; a play on a Hebrew 
preposition turns what is a promise of success in the one 
case into a prediction of adversity in the other. No 
doubt these two utterances express what every Israelite 
would have liked to believe as to the fortunes of the two 
aations concerned. 

(vi) Gen. 48 : i5f. Jacob's blessing of Joseph. Metre 


3 : 3 (2 : 2 : 2). The language does not suggest an early 

(vii) Gen. 49 : 2-27. The blessing of Jacob. In form 
this poem is a spell, that is to say, it purports to be an 
utterance by the patriarch on his death-bed, which de- 
termines the future of the individual tribes. It is, how- 
ever, much more likely that we have here a collection of 
little pieces, describing, not the future of each tribe, but 
its condition at the period of composition. While the 
passage in its present form appeals to us as a unity, 
there are not wanting signs to suggest that the individua 
sections were originally independent, the present arrange- 
ment being due to a compiler. Thus, while most of the 
pieces seem to belong to a comparatively early age — some 
of them, apparently, come from tlie age of the Judges — 
the description of Judah can hardly be placed before the 
time of David, when the great southern tribe first assumed 
a position of real leadership in Israel. Reuben still 
exi.'ts though decline has set in, and Reuben utterly dis- 
appeared during the first half of the monarchy. Its 
territory lay between Gad and Moab, but in the middle of 
the ninth century B.C. these two had a common frontier. 
Simeon and Levi (the latter not yet an ecclesiastical 
body) are, or have recently been, the objects of bitter 
hatred which may have led to their political over- 
throw, and we may find a clue in the gruesome 
story told in Gen. 34. The northern maritime tribes, 
Zebulun and Asher, still prosper ; the Phihstine migra- 
tion is yet in the future and the Phoenicians do not seem 
to exercise any authority over their neighbours. Issachar 
is, apparently, under a foreign yoke, and we remember 
that the fertile central plains became genuinely Israelite 
only under David ; they were never included in Saul's 
dominions, and actually formed the base from which the 


Philistines delivered their final attack on him. The 
description of Dan strongly suggests a location beside a 
trade route, from which passing caravans could be 
harassed. Such a situation must have preceded the 
Danite migration to the north, though the Samson stories 
may reflect similar conditions. Gad is exposed to 
razzias from the wilderness, a condition which must have 
been normal through history, and it is equally impossible 
to guess at a date for the Naphtali verse. Joseph — not 
yet divided into Ephraim and Manasseh — is at the height 
of its power and prosperity, and again we should naturally 
assign this magnificent eulogy to an age preceding that of 
Saul. Benjamin, too, is yet hardly a royal tribe, and bears 
the kind of character indicated in the appendix to the 
Book of Judges. It would be hopeless to look for any 
uniform metrical arrangement in such a composition, and 
the final compilation can have taken place only in the 
first part of the monarchy. 

(viii) Num. 6 : 24-26. The Priestly Blessing. Here 
we have a formula which may be very ancient, though the 
document in which it is embedded (P) did not reach its 
present form till after the Exile. But its worth has been 
recognized through the ages, and it is still used and 
valued both among Jews and Christians. 

(ix) Num. 10 : 35, 36. These verses give the form- 
ulae used when the Ark was taken out to battle and 
when it was restored to its sacred tent. We know that 
this was done in early days, as is shewn by the narrative 
in I Sam. 4, but there is no evidence to suggest that the 
practice was continued under the monarchy. The pre- 
sumption, therefore, is that these formulae go back to a 
very early period. 

(x)— (xiii). Num. 23:7-10, 18-34, 24:3-9, 15-19. 
The Oracles of Balaam. These clearly date from an age 


which is not later than the ninth century, for there is a 
strong and confident feeHng in them which would ha\'e 
been almost impossible after the appearance of Assyria. 
All seem to come from the same general source, and, 
while they may be older than the actual prose narrative 
in which they are now embedded, they certainly imply a 
story of Balaam which may have been very nearly 
identical with that now before us. All four are written 
in 3 : 3, with hardly any variation, even in our present 
text, and they attain a high poetic level. It will be noted 
that the third and fourth open with the same phrases, 
and this may connect them more closely with one another 
than with the other two. On the whole the text is better 
preserved than that of some other ancient poems. 

The subject of these utterances is the prosperity of 
Israel. At the same time the fourth poem contemplates 
the overthrow of Moab (24 : 17) and, if our text be right, 
of Edom (24 : 18). There is a distinctly Messianic 
flavour in the fourth poem, which has led readers to seek, 
and often to discover, similar doctrines in the other poems, 
where, however, they are less obvious. Taking the poems 
all together, the period whose conditions they most clearly 
suggest is the age of David. This is almost inevitable if 
we accept 24 : 18 in anything like its present form as an 
original part of the series, for David was, as far as we know, 
the first Israelite king to subdue both Moab and Edom, 
while the " star " and " sceptre " of 24 : 17 would well 
apply to him in the first instance. The omission or drastic 
modification of 24 : 18 might allow us to throw the poems 
as far back as the age of the Judges, for the reference to 
Moab might be satisfied by Ehud's exploit (Jud. 3), but, 
on the whole, a rather later date seems more suitable. 

(xiv) Num. 24 : 20. Blessing on Amalek. This may 
be only a fragment of a longer poem. It is ascribed to 


Balaam, but is probably a good deal older than the pre- 
ceding poems. There are two distinct traditions regard- 
ing the relations between Amalek and Israel. On the 
one hand the two are closely allied. Not only is the tribe 
regarded as an offshoot of Edom (Gen. 36 : 12), of all 
neighbouring peoples that most nearly related to Israel, 
but in Jud. 5:14 (if our text be right) the tribe of Ephraim 
is said to be of Amalekite stock. On the other hand 
there is a strong tradition of inveterate hostility (cf. 
Ex. 17 : 8-16, Jud. 6, I Sam. 15), traced back to the 
nomad period, and it was this which prevailed in later 
Israel. The presumption, then, is that this fragment 
comes from a comparatively early piece. 

(xv) Num. 24 : 2 if. Oracle on the Kenites. Here, 
again, we seem to have a relic of a longer ancient piece. 
The Kenites seem to have been a nomad tribe of smiths, 
who wandered from one group to another as their services 
were needed. We find them among Amalekites in I Sam. 
15:6, and in the Deborah story (Jud. 4, 5) one of them is 
as far north as Esdraelon. They were always more or 
less closely associated with Israel ; according to one 
form of the tradition it was a Kenite family into which 
Moses himself married (Jud. i : 16), and they united 
with Judah in their attack on Palestine. When David 
wished to convince Achish that he had attacked his 
own people, he described his raids as having been directed 
against the Negeb of Judah and the Negeb of the Jerach- 
meelites and the Negeb of the Kenites (I Sam. 27 : 10). 
Probably they were absorbed in Judah, and this piece 
can hardly be later than the time of David. 

(xvi) Num. 24 : 23f. Oracle on an unknown people. 
In the present text the Kittim (Cretans), Assyria and the 
Hebrews are mentioned. But the text is obscure and 
obviously corrupt ; reasonable sense can be made of this 


fragment only by conjectural emendation, and we have 
to admit that we have no longer the clue either to its date 
or to its original application. 

(xvii) Deut. 33. The blessing of Moses. In general 
form this chapter resembles the blessing of Jacob in Gen, 
49, since it contains a series of sections each dealing with a 
separate tribe. There are, however, certain striking 
differences between the two. Instead of being a com- 
pilation — perhaps even a collection — made of earlier 
pieces, the blessing of Moses has the appearance of being a 
single composition, produced by one author. It has an 
introduction and a conclusion which refer to Israel as a 
whole, and the metre is nearly consistent 3 : 3 (3:3:3). 
The tone of the whole is invariably favourable and sym- 
pathetic even where the tribe in question is in difficulties. 
The poet seems to be aware of some, at least, of the 
pieces preserved in Gen. 49 ; if the text be correct in 
both places. Gen. 49 : 26 is directly quoted in Deut. 
33 : 16. Each tribe has an introductory title, though the 
combination of Zebulun and Issachar in w. i8f suggests 
that this is a later insertion. 

There are also differences in detail. The most obvious 
is the omission of Simeon, which is to be explained only 
on the hypothesis that in the writer's time the tribe had 
already been absorbed in Judah. Reuben, it is true, still 
exists, but is in a parlous state, and a similar remark may 
be made of Judah. Levi is now the great ecclesiastical 
tribe. Benjamin is insignificant but prosperous, while 
Joseph has attained a unique political status, and is by 
far the most prominent group in Israel. The division 
into Ephraim and Manasseh, however, has not yet been 
recognized. Zebulun and Issachar are closely united, 
and there is no indication of the latter's subjection. 
Gad is flourishing ; Dan is already in its northern home. 


Naphtali and Asher both enjoy agricultural prosperity, 
though there is no longer any indication to suggest that 
the latter now holds the sea-coast. 

The poem is thus clearly later than much of the material 
found in Gen. 49. The most suitable date would be early 
in the divided monarchy, after the invasion of Sheshonk 
had spent itself, but before Judah had recovered from the 
disruption or Damascus had become so powerful as to be 
a serious menace to Israel. Generally speaking, a date 
somewhere about 900 B.C. is indicated. 

3. Meshalim 

The term mashal is very widely used, and is extremely 
difficult to define. Comparative philology suggests 
that the original sense was that of " comparison," and 
there certainly are meshalim which support this derivation. 
On the other hand the term is applied to a number of 
pieces which possibly may not be included under this 
head. The most familiar application is to a short and 
pithy saying which is intended to sum up human ex- 
perience in a particular sphere, in other words an epigram 
or " proverb." Indeed, the Hebrew title of the Book of 
Proverbs includes a form of the word meshalim. But the 
word is used of many other forms as well. The great 
taunt-song of Is, 14 14-21 is expressly called a mashal. 
So are the utterances of Balaam ; the word may once 
have been used to describe a spell. A mashal, especially 
in early times, was not necessarily poetical at all. The 
popular phrase — " Is Saul also among the prophets ? " 
is called a mashal in I Sam. 10 : 12, though not in I Sam. 
19 : 24. The group is very difficult to define, and 
possibly some of the pieces here included in it should be 
classed under other heads. 

(i) Gen. 25 : 23. The Oracle of Rebecca. Here the 


future relations of her twin sons are described ; if their 
names had been mentioned the verse would clearly have 
been a " spell." Probably, like most such sayings, it 
represents history (from the Israelite point of view) 
rather than prediction. 

(ii) Num. 12 : 6-8. Moses and the Prophets. Here 
we have a real comparison between two classes, the one 
consisting of Moses only, the other including all normal 

(iii) Josh. ID : 12. The Sun at Gibeon. The inter- 
pretation of Joshua's prayer has been widely discussed. 
The following verse, coming probably from a date later 
than Joshua, assumes that it was a request for the 
miraculous prolongation of the day, and so the ancient 
Book of Tashar understood it (v. 13). Other suggestions 
are that the daylight seemed to be lengthened as the 
pursuing Israelites crossed the last main ridge on their 
way down to the plain, and that the western light was 
still strong, or that the words imply the cessation of 
bright sunshine which was blinding the Israelites, through 
the coming up of a thunderstorm. It is clear that the 
saying is very ancient. 

(iv) Jud. 9 : 8-15. Jotham's Fable. It may be ques- 
tioned whether this should really be classed as poetry. 
In spite of the general similarity of the sentences, they 
vary a good deal in metrical form, and there is hardly a 
trace of genuine parallelism. It may, however, be 
claimed that the modelling of successive verses in the same 
way may be regarded as a kind of parallelism, and on 
this ground the passage might be included among the early 
poems of Israel. It is certainly a " parable," and on this 
ground may be described as a mashal, though the term is 
not applied to it. But whatever its form or class, it gives 
us a good example of imaginative and rhetorical speech. 


(v) Jud. 14 : 14, i8a. Samson's riddle and the 
answer. Both tliese short single-line sentences may be 
regarded as t)^ical meshalim. 

(vi) Jud. 14 : 1 8b. Samson's rejoinder. A saying 
of exactly the same type as the last. 

(vii) Jud. 15 : i6. Samson on one of his Victories. 
This is a typical 2 : 2 couplet. The phrase " heaps upon 
heaps " does not bring out the Hebrew paronomasia ; 
the words used closely resemble the original for " ass," 
and the second should probably be rendered as a verb, 

(viii) I Sam. 15 : 22f. Samuel's condemnation of 
Saul. V. 22 is a characteristic 4:3; v. 23 probably 
3 : 3, an arrangement which suggests that two utterances, 
originally distinct, have been combined. Certainly v. 22 
throws back into a comparatively early period a doctrine 
which is not prominent until the eighth century, and the 
incident recorded in I Sam. 13 : 8-14 hardly indicates 
that Samuel put a comparatively low value on sacrifice 
and its correct forms. 

(ix) I Sam. 15 : 33. The doom of Agag. Another 
typical mashal, in 2 : 2 rhythm. 
^ (x) I Sam. 18 : 7 (also 21 : 12 and 29 : 5). The 
Women's Song over David and Saul ; rhythm 3:2. 
This must have been a very familiar saying, and is just 
the sort of sentence which the dancing women would 
repeat over and over again. In the East the constant 
reiteration of a short phrase is a characteristic form of 
expression, either giving vent to emotion or exciting the 
singers and hearers to a high pitch. A good modern 
example is to be found in the Indian bhajan. 

(xi) I Sam. 24 : 13. David to Saul ; rhythm probably 
3:3. The term mashal is expressly used here, and the 
words may be a formula of exculpation. 
/' (xii) II Sam. 12 : 1-4. Nathan's Parable. As with 


Jotham's parable, we have here a piece which, in spite of 
its high value, we should probably not class as poetry 
at all. It is a straight-forward narrative, rendered 
extremely impressive, not only by the circumstances, but 
also by the form, in which the two men are so strongly 

(xiii) II Sam. 20 : i. A Slogan of Revolt. Placed in 
the mouth of one Sheba, this saying clearly represents a 
feeling current throughout northern Israel during the 
reigns of David and Solomon. 

(xiv) I Kgs. 12 : 16. Another, and slightly different 
form of the preceding. The variations rather tend to 
shew the popularity of the saying, and illustrate the fact 
that the union of north and south was always rather 
artificial. It was not, in fact, till after the fall of Samaria 
in 721 B.C. that the hopes of all Israel centred in the House 
of David. 

4. Paeans 

Poems of this type form a well-marked class, and are 
easy to identify. They are always introduced with 
reference to some historical event, though it is possible 
that sometimes the hymn of thanksgiving and triumph is 
a later composition, applied by a poet of another age to 
some glorious happening in the past. It is worth noting 
that in Israel these songs of victory were never merely an 
expression of the conqueror's pride or a vindictive 
gloating over a fallen enemy. With one consent tlie 
authors ascribe the success to Yahweh, and give to him 
their thanks and praise. 

(i) Ex. 15 : 1-18. The Song of Moses at the Red 
Sea. This is a magnificent hymn of triumph, celebrating 
the exploits of Yahweh in bringing his people across the 
Red Sea and planting them in Palestine. The pre- 


vailing metre is 2 : 2, with five 3 : 2 lines ; three " irregu- 
lar lines " may owe their present form to slight textual 
corruption. While the structure is not uniformly 
strophic, the poem is readily divisible into three well- 
marked sections. At the beginning of each the poet 
breaks into rapture of praise, and then describes the 
particular event which has called for his enthusiasm at the 
moment. Thus w. 1-2 introduce the first of Yahweh's 
mighty deeds, the destruction of Pharaoh's army in the 
Red Sea. In v. 6, again, the writer breaks out into 
praise, and then gives a second account of the crossing. 
A third burst of laudation in v. 11 leads up to the passage 
through Moab and Edom and the establishment of 
Israel with its sanctuary in Canaan, while the poem closes 
with the ascription of eternal sovereignty to Yahweh. 
Each of these three sections is in a sense self-contained, 
but that does not prevent the poem from giving the general 
appearance of being a unity. 

Clearly the hymn comes from a later time than that of 
Moses. The opening verse, it is true, is practically 
identical with the song of Miriam given in v. 21, and may 
have been used as a theme which this poet sought to 
expand. But, in addition to the historical references to 
the last stages of the wanderings (w. 14-16), the anachron- 
ism of introducing the Philistines before the Israelite 
conquest (v. 14), the settlement and the establishment 
of a sanctuary (v. 1 7) , there are other signs which make a 
very early date highly improbable. The description of 
the sea standing up like walls in v. 8 recalls the later of 
the two accounts of the crossing interwoven in Ex. 14. 
This does not, of course, necessarily mean that the poem 
is to be relegated to an age later than P, for that form of the 
tradition may be much older than its embodiment in the 
priestly record, but it does demand time for the growth 


of the highly miraculous element which is absent from the 
earlier strand in Ex. 14. Further, the language has 
certain characteristic marks of the later style, and, all 
things considered, it is difficult to assign this hymn to an 
age earlier than the middle period of the monarchy. 

(ii) Ex. 15 : 21. The Song of Miriam. This consists 
of a 2 : 2 couplet, which appears in a slightly modified 
form at the head of the last piece. As suggested above, 
it may well have been the ancient celebration of the event 
to which it is ascribed, and have served a later poet as a 
subject which he has expanded. 

(iii) Jud. 5. The Song of Deborah. Here we have 
one of the great triumphal odes of literature. By com- 
mon consent it goes back to the period of the events which 
it describes, and was almost certainly the work of an eye- 
witness. It is true that, in all probability, Deborah 
herself was not the author, for she is directly addressed 
in v. 12, and the latter part of v. 7 is most probably 
couched in the second person, not the first — " till thou, 
Deborah, didst arise, thou didst arise, a mother in 
Israel." But the exact authorship is of Httle moment 
in such a case as this, and it is generally admitted that 
we have here the most ancient poetic composition of any 
length which has come down to us from Israel. The 
metre is uncertain, perhaps owing to the rather extensive 
textual corruption to which the Song has been subject 
through the centuries, but the original basis seems to have 
been 2 : 2. 

As a work of art the Song of Deborah stands very high. 
Its vigour, freshness, wealth of imagination, and vivid- 
ness, make it a stirring and powerful poem. It gives us 
a unique picture of the conditions of life in Israel during 
the period between tlie conquest and the establishment 
of the monarchy. We see the new-comers divided among 


themselves and still clinging to their tribal organization. 
They have not yet advanced far in civilization, and their 
enemies are far better trained and armed. There is no 
central authority, except in so far as an individual may 
arise from time to time and bring the tribes together with 
an appeal issued in the name of Yahweh. It is notice- 
able that when any member of the whole fails to respond 
or to do its part, the offender is condemned for not 
coming to the help of Yahweh, not for faihng Israel. 
Further, we note that in certain circumstances the wild 
dash of the Israelite hordes more than compensates for 
their inferior equipment and discipline. We realize 
that it was these two features, the unifying power of 
their religion and their inspired battle-fury, which gave 
the Israelites their dominant position in Palestine. 

(iv) I Sam. 2 : i-io. The Song of Hannah. Here, 
again, we have a great ode of triumph. The metre is 
uniformly 3:3 (3-3:3). The piece can hardly have 
been composed for the circumstances to which it is 
applied, for, except for a single reference in v. 5, there 
is nothing peculiarly suitable to Hannah's position. 
Even in v. 5 the suggestion that the mother of many 
children languishes is hardly borne out by the narrative, 
and there can be little doubt that the hymn commemorates 
some military victory, and that the mention of the 
childless mother is simply figurative. The date is quite 
uncertain. As it stands, the hymn might come from the 
monarchy, but v. 6 is held by some to indicate a belief 
in the resurrection. If this interpretation is correct, then 
we must assume the piece to be post-exilic, and the 
reference to a king in v. 10 must be taken in a purely 
messianic sense. In any case it is generally agreed that 
the song was no part of the original book, and should be 
regarded as a later insertion. 


5. Dirges 

The dirge was a common form of poetry in ancient 
Israel. It seems to have been normally produced at 
funerals, and there was a special profession of trained 
wailing women (cf. Jer. 9 : 17-22). We gather that 
there was a magical element in their work, demanding 
an esoteric knowledge handed down from teacher to 
pupil, and occasionally receiving additions which were in 
accord with the general trend. It seems probable that 
the custom of pronouncing dirges over the dead was 
a relic of days when men believed that the spirit might 
return and injure or at least annoy the living. It W2is, 
therefore, imperative that measures should be taken which 
would keep the dead in their place, either by weaving 
about them an insurmountable spell or by making them 
so satisfied with their new lot that they would be unwilling 
to leave it. A further motive may well have been the desire 
to propitiate the dead and ensure their good will, so that 
even if they did reappear in spirit, they would do good 
and not harm to the survivors. A dirge, then, is often a 
panegyric, and necessarily took this form where the 
original aim was forgotten, and it became the outpouring 
of a loving and grief-stricken heart. The two dirges 
which have survived in the historical books of the Old 
Testament are of diis type. Both are ascribed to David, 
and his authorship has never seriously been doubted. 

(i) II Sam. I : 19-27. Saul and Jonathan. This is 
one of the loveliest poems of sorrow in literature. The 
metre is that most frequently used in dirges, 3 : 2, with 
a fairly large proportion in this case of 2:2. The 
text is, apparently, not well preserved, but in a number of 
places it can be corrected by the LXX. We know nothing 
of David which presents him in a better light. We can 
understand his references to Jonathan, who was always 


his friend, but the poet speaks with almost equal affection 
of Saul. All the mistrust, treachery and persecution are 
now forgotten, and death has allowed only the king's 
virtues and beneficent acts to survive. 

(ii) II Sam. 3 : 33f. Abner. As compared with the 
preceding this is very short and lacks intensity of feeling. 
We can hardly avoid the impression that we have here 
only a fragment, especially when we note that the second 
part of V. 34 is difficult to fit into any regular metrical 
scheme, while the remainder is in 3 : 2. 

6. Psalms 

In addition to the poems mentioned, we have from 
time to time Psalms preserved in books other than the 
Psalter. A number may be found in the prophetic books ; 
Jonah, Nahum and Habakkuk, for example, contain 
one each, and several appear in Isaiah and Jeremiah. 
In the prose books we have instances where pieces 
now included in the Psalter are quoted at length ; 
e.g., II Sam. 22 is identical with Ps. 18, and I Ghron. 
16 : 8-36 is composed of Ps. 105 : 1-15, Ps. 96 and Ps. 
106 : I, 47f. There are, however, two which do not 
appear elsewhere, and one which is also recorded in the 
Book of Isaiah. These are : 

(i) Deut. 32 : 1-43. The Song of Moses. In form 
this poem, like Pss. 78, 105, 106, is a historical record of 
the behaviour of Israel during the nomad period, con- 
trasting the two main motifs, the infidelity of Israel and the 
loving constancy of Yahweh. It has been described as a 
compendium of the prophetic teaching, and certainly 
sums up the story of Israel's relations with her God. It 
is rich in language and spiritual vigour ; some of its 
phrases have become classical sayings. It clearly comes 
from a much later age than that of Moses, for the events 


to which it alludes have taken place in the distant past 
(v. 7). It may be assigned with some confidence to the 
latter half of the Judahite monarchy, though opinions 
differ as to whether it came from the eighth or from the 
seventh century. 

(ii) II Sam. 23 : 1-7. The Last Words of David. As 
in Ps. I and elsewhere, a contrast is drawn between the 
fate of the righteous and that of the wicked. Though 
the piece is put into the mouth of David, there is a 
general feeling that it comes from a later time, and is out 
of place in its present context. The text is obscure, and 
may be corrupt in places. 

(iii) II Kgs. 19 : 21-28 (see also Is. 37 : 22-29). An 
oracle of Isaiah. Strictly speaking, this passage is a 
purely prophetic utterance, taken by the compiler of 
Kings from a collection of material relating to Isaiah. 
It is, indeed, probable that it was not originally included 
in the narratives which the compiler used, but was added 
at a later date by an editor who sought thus to complete 
the narrative of Isaiah. It forms a taunt-song, of less 
vigour and power than that preserved in Is. 14, but still 
of considerable literary and religious value. In the true 
spirit of Isaiah it predicts the coming overthrow of 
Assyria, who has defied, not Israel, but Yahweh himself. 
There are, however, phrases which suggest Deutero- 
Isaiah rather than the eighth century prophet. 



It will be almost universally agreed that in the Book of 
Job we have the supreme Uterary masterpiece of the 
Hebrew genius. Indeed, it is not impossible to claim 
that, taking into consideration all those factors which go 
to make up a great work of art, it will be found second to 
none in all the range of human writing. There can be 
no real greatness in literature apart from an intense 
passion for truth and that courage which such passion 
carries with it. A style which is at once lofty, dignified, 
and rich in word and thought is a sine qua non. We 
inevitably demand not only some appreciation of nature, 
but also deep insight into the character of personality, 
human and divine. There must, too, be humour, by 
which we mean no superficial attempt to be " funny," 
but a deep sense of incongruity between things as they 
ought to be, things as they are said to be, and things as 
they are. Such true humour may be grim indeed, but 
it is genuine. Finally, all these qualities will be wasted 
unless they are used to treat a theme of importance, 
weight, and even grandeur. 

There are certain productions of man's spirit which 
exhibit several or even all of these things in a superlative 
degree. In English we have Milton, the poet who, in 
some ways, approaches nearest to the author of Job — 
but who would charge Milton with humour ? The 
scene in Paradise Lost Bk. VI, where the Satanic host 
invents artillery (of the seventeenth century type !) 



would alone suffice to prove the poet's deficiency in this 
respect. Shakespeare, though at times reaching the 
confines of the sublime theme, was necessarily limited by 
the conventions of a secularized theatre. Lucretius, 
who in so many ways reminds us of Job, lacks the in- 
tensity of personal feeling which gives so much of his 
force to the Hebrew poet. The three who, perhaps, 
approach most nearly to the Biblical author are Aeschylus, 
Dante, and Goethe (in Faust), and none of them quite 
rises to the height of Job. 

The subject of this poem is the most serious problem 
that has ever troubled the human mind. How can the 
hypothesis of a perfectly good ruler of the Universe be 
reconciled with facts relating to pain ? It is not so much 
the existence of pain that raises the question ; that may 
find a comparatively simple answer. But how are we to 
defend its distribution ? There is so much which seems 
to be causeless and purposeless. This problem is faced 
with a stark passion for truth, which allows the poet to 
shrink from no conclusion which the facts may present 
to him, and to take refuge in no half-hearted, superficial, 
or conventional explanation. He has a profound sense 
of the gulf which separates accepted views and state- 
ments from the actual truth, and seldom, if ever, has a 
great poet ventured on so ruthless an exposure of the 
futility inherent in beliefs which rest on too shallow 
foundations. The author of Job, too, has a power of 
reading the depths of the human heart which has never 
been surpassed and seldom equalled. He sees below the 
surface of personality, and with surety identifies those 
hidden motives of which men are themselves so often 
unconscious. Finally all this is expressed in language 
which deserves to stand in the very front rank. Here, 
no doubt, the author has the advantage of writing in 

Jofi t 69 

Hebrew, one of the most musical and stately of all the 
varied tongues spoken by man. The immense strength 
of its accent gives it a rhythmic movement which we miss 
in languages which have a slighter stress. The paucity 
of adjectives adds to the dignity and impressiveness of the 
style, and the absence of a large stock of abstract terms 
leads the poet to use imagery and metaphor in its place. 
Not a few of these are drawn from the world of nature, 
where the writer was a keen observer, though, not un- 
naturally, he sometimes fell into the errors common to 
his age. 

What has just been said, however, refers only to the 
main poem included in the Book of Job, and this leads us 
to a consideration of its actual form. As it stands, it 
falls obviously into three sections. The first, occupying 
chs. 1-2, is a prose narrative describing the state and 
misfortunes of the hero. Then follows a large section in 
verse, ending with 42 : 6, containing for the most part a 
dialogue between Job and his friends. Finally there is a 
short section in prose, 42 : 7-17, which gives some account 
of Job's restoration to health and of his later period of 

The question naturally arises : Are we to regard the 
whole as the work of a single author ? Did he write the 
narrative of events and then throw his meditations on 
them into poetic form ? Such a method would have been 
unusual, but we do not know enough of ancient literature, 
and, in particular, of Hebrew literature, to say that this 
view is impossible. It is, nevertheless, open to us to 
beHeve that the poet found an older narrative and that 
he used it as a framework into which he fitted his own 
poem. It is, of course, clear that the various parts are 
not independent of one another. The poetic section 
assumes throughout the story told in the first two chapters, 


though occasionally the poet appears to overlook details, 
e.g., in 14 : 21 and 19 : 17, Job speaks as if his children 
were still living. And the last section is obviously in- 
tended to give a happy ending to the story, though not 
necessarily to the poem. 

Now there is no doubt that Job was a familiar figure 
in Hebrew literary tradition. There is a reference to 
him in Ez. 14 : 14, 20, where he is mentioned along with 
Noah and Daniel in terms which suggest that he was a 
man so conspicuous for his righteousness that his very 
presence in a sinful community might be expected to 
ward off its punishment — a hope which was not to be 
fulfilled. The character thus ascribed to him is quite in 
harmony with the picture presented by both prose 
sections in the Book of Job, though it does not necessarily 
follow that these, in their present form, were known to 
Ezekiel, still less that the prophet was acquainted with the 
whole book. There was a well-known story current in 
ancient Mesopotamia, telling of a righteous king who was 
subjected to great misfortune, and some students have 
connected this with the narratives of Job. The differences, 
however, are so great as to preclude any theory of a 
common literary origin, though the type of story may well 
have been handed down with numerous local modifica- 
tions from very ancient times. At the same time, there 
is nothing in the first two chapters of the book which 
deters us from believing that this tale, at any rate, was in 
existence before the time of Ezekiel. The conclusion, too, 
may be taken as having formed a part of the same 
original narrative as the introduction. Stress has some- 
times been laid on minor discrepancies (e.g., in the epi- 
logue there is no mention of the Satan, who is the cause of 
all the trouble in the prologue), but there is no serious 
divergence between the two prose sections, either in style 

JOB I 71 

or in subject matter. The love of a happy ending was so 
strong in the ancient mind that it is difficult to imagine a 
story starting as ch. if, and not ending as the book 
actually does end. 

While, however, we may fairly regard the prose sections 
of the book as being parts of a single whole, dating back 
to the pre-exiHc period, it by no means follows that the 
book as it now stands is a unity. Between the prose and 
the poem there are variations and even discrepancies 
which have led many to believe that they are the work, 
not merely of different authors, but of different literary 
periods. It has often been observed that there is a 
marked difference in the use of the divine names. The 
prose narrative places Job in the land of Uz, i.e., it 
probably regards him as an Edomite. Yet the name of 
the special God of Israel, Yahweh, is frequently used, 
even by Job himself ; the more general term Elohim is 
also common. The former is found only six times in the 
whole length of the poetic section, and of those six 
occurrences only one is in the dialogue itself. Elohim, 
too, appears six times in the verse portions of the book, 
four of these being in the dialogue proper. Three divine 
names are characteristic of the poem. One is El, a term 
common elsewhere, which appears between fifty and sixty 
times and is even more general than Elohim. Shaddai 
is used some thirty times in this book and about twenty in 
various other parts of the Hebrew Bible. Most striking 
is the term Eloah, apparently a singular formed 
artificially from the common plural Elohim. Out of 
about fifty-five occurrences of this form, no less than 
forty are in the Book of Job. None of these three is used 
in our present text of the prose sections. 

It is difficult to find a valid reason why an author 
should thus vary the use of the divine names. We can 


understand that he might wish to place his discussion on a 
wider base than that offered by Israel alone, and there- 
fore chose an Edomite and put general language into his 
mouth. But would not these considerations equally 
operate in the prose portions ? In particular, why 
should the narrator have put the name Yahweh into 
Job's mouth in one of the very few places where the hero's 
words are actually quoted (i : 21) ? Here we certainly 
have a discrepancy, though it does not amount to a con- 
tradiction, and may be due to some cause which we are 
unable to conjecture. 

There appears to be some slight difference in the treat- 
ment of the disease from which Job suffers. In 2 : 7 it is 
described as a " boil," a general term which is used in 
Lev. 13 in connection with the symptoms of leprosy, 
though it is not strictly apphed to the disease itself Such 
references as we have in the poem make it clear that the 
author regarded Job as a leper, suffering from an advanced 
form of the complaint. It is something incurable, but 
comparatively slow, though it will certainly grant the 
sufferer only a few more years of life (16 : 22). His 
body is covered with horrible sores, forming crusts which 
break and run, serving as a home for loathsome parasites 
(7 • 5)> while the patient is afflicted with terrifying night- 
mares, from which he awakes to find himself choking — 
due to similar sores in the throat (7 : I4f). It is difficult 
to see why the prose narrator should not have used one of 
the terms for leprosy if he had identified the disease as 
certainly as the poet has done. 

Differences in the point of view are even more striking. 
We cannot lay any stress on the fact that the Satan is not 
mentioned in the poem, though it is on his initiative that 
Job's sorrows have befallen him. The scene in heaven is 
naturally unknown to the earthly characters, and even in 

JOB I 73 

other parts of tlie prose narrative neither Job lior any one 
else is aware of the real cause of his troubles. But it is 
worthy of note that the whole conception of piety seems 
to be fundamentally different. The prose narrative 
makes Job meek and submissive to the divine will, 
accepting with resignation and patience whatever lot it 
may please the supreme Wisdom to assign him. In the 
poem, this is very much the view taken by the friends ; 
it is emphatically not the attitude of Job himself, and no 
small part of the dialogue (on Job's side) is an energetic 
refusal to accept the position which the others try to force 
on him. Here we have something which is not merely a 
discrepancy ; it is a real contradiction, and many 
students find it impossible to resolve it on the hypothesis 
of unity in authorship. 

Doubtless other points may be urged, but to a sympa- 
thetic reader there is one which probably outweighs all 
the rest. This is the totally different tone of the two 
sections. The introduction and conclusion, though not 
without feeling for the sufferer, are yet written from the 
outside. The narrator is describing what he (or some 
other) has seen but not felt in his own case. The poet, 
on the other hand, writes with his own heart's blood. He 
is himself the hero, he has suffered, perhaps not as Job 
suffered in every detail, but he is certainly a leper. The 
spiritual history, too, is that of the author himself. No 
mere outsider could have given us the intensity and 
passion with which the great battle of the soul is depicted, 
the gloom and despair, the alternations between the faint 
gleams of hope and the black reality which extinguishes 
them, the spirit of courageous revolt which does not 
shrink from the apparent blasphemy of Job's appeal from 
the God of popular theology to God as He really must be, 
the supreme leap of faith by which the sufferer does at 


last plant his foot upon solid ground, and, finally, the 
contented submission in which he reposes when he has 
seen God face to face. These things have come from the 
poet's own soul ; they are not the experiences of another 
in which he has had no direct share. 

We may, then, attempt to reconstruct the general 
history of the book in its simplest form. There existed a 
popular story which told of a righteous man who, never- 
theless, suffered unparalleled disasters. These were due, 
not to any sin which he had committed, but to the 
demands made by an official of the divine court. This 
person's title was " the Satan," a word which originally 
meant simply " adversary." His function was to test men, 
and to see whether their outward appearance of goodness 
was an index of their true character. Challenged by 
Yahweh in the heavenly council, the Satan expressed his 
doubts as to the depth and genuineness of Job's religion, 
and was allowed to put the man to the severest test. 
First Job lost his property and his children ; he still re- 
mained firm, and at a second council the Satan was given 
permission to attack him personally. He struck Job with 
terrible boils and reduced him to the lowest condition. 
Even so, he continued steadfast in his patient submission 
to the will of God, and not even the despairing advice of 
his wife could shake him. Three friends came to comfort 
him. Their conversation is lost, but it seems that the 
friends blamed Yahweh for Job's calamities. It must be 
remembered that all the earthly characters are ignorant 
of the heavenly councils and of the real cause of Job's 
troubles. Job, on the other hand, maintained his correct 
attitude, and at length Yahweh himself appeared, con- 
demned the friends, justified Job, and, ultimately, re- 
stored to him greater prosperity than he had previously 

JOB I 75 

This story took written form at some time during the 
second half of the monarchy. A later poet, who had 
himself suffered much as Job had done, if not more 
terribly, took the story as a basis for his own meditations, 
cut out the existing dialogue between Job and the friends, 
and inserted an account of his own spiritual struggles, 
retaining only the beginning and the end of the story. 

We now turn to the poetical centre of the book. It 
falls into three distinct parts, the first, containing chs. 
3—3 1 is a dialogue between Job and the three friends who 
were mentioned in the popular story. Then follows, in 
chs. 32—37, a speech, or rather a series of speeches, from a 
new character named Elihu. In 38 : i Yahweh appears 
in a storm-cloud (probably a detail derived from the 
popular tale) and speaks in such fashion that Job falls 
prostrate in utter submission (38 : 1-42 : 6). The first 
section is much the longest, and is symmetrically arranged. 
Job speaks first, and answers each of his friends, who speak 
in turn, so that the order is Job, Eliphaz, Job, Bildad, 
Job, Zophar, Job, Eliphaz, etc. There are three 
" rounds " to the debate, but in the third round, accord- 
ing to our present text Bildad has only a few verses, while 
Zophar does not speak at all. Elihu has four speeches 
with no intervention by Job ; the second and third are 
introduced with the words, " And Elihu answered and 
said," which do not, however, necessarily imply that 
another person has just spoken. In the third poetic 
section, chs. 38-39 are occupied by a speech of Yahweh. 
There is, apparently, no answer from Job, and in 40 : if, 
Yahweh challenges him. To this Job replies briefly in 
40 : 3-5, and Yahweh delivers another speech, which 
continues to the end of ch. 41. In 42 : 1-6 Job makes his 
final submission. 

Grave doubts have arisen as to whether the whole of 


this poetic section is original. In particular, the speeches of 
Elihu have roused suspicion. It is clear that there was 
no such person in the old popular story, or we should 
have heard his name at the end of ch. 2. He is intro- 
duced abruptly, after every other character has spoken, 
and though this is explained by the statement that he is 
younger than any of the rest, we can hardly avoid the 
feeling that his presence may be due to a later poet than 
the author of the preceding dialogue. It is strange, 
again, to find that, whereas Job has had something to say 
in reply to every utterance of the other three, he is com- 
pletely silent in the presence of Elihu. It is true that 
Elihu rebukes him, and this might have led Job to be still 
from a sense of shame, but the sufferer has received yet 
harsher treatment from the others, and has certainly not 
refrained from reply. This absence of remark from Job 
is the more striking when we observe that the Elihu 
section is broken up into several speeches, and Job might 
with propriety have intervened at the end of each. 
Further, Job's last utterances in chs. 29-31 have involved 
a passionate appeal to Yahweh to appear and meet his 
challenge. The response comes in 38 : i, and Elihu 
certainly interrupts the natural course of events. Nor 
do the Elihu speeches themselves seem to justify the delay. 
Their style is lofty and sustained, having many of the 
qualities of the best Hebrew poetry, but an acute critic 
may well find that they do not reach quite the same level 
as the earlier parts of the book. They add little to the 
actual debate ; Elihu follows the other friends in believ- 
ing that Job's sufferings are punitive, and in suggesting 
complete submission as the only course for Job to pursue. 
He does, it is true, state explicitly that Job's real sin is 
self-righteousness, which would not have been discovered 
but for his sufferings, but this is implied in a great deal of 

JOB I 77 

what the friends have already said. Finally we note the 
strongly contrasted attitude of the writer here and in the 
earlier section. As we have already noted, in the main 
dialogue it is Job who is the hero ; we may go even further 
and say that Job is the author himself, at least in feeling 
and in thought. The composer of the Elihu speeches, 
on the other hand, is certainly looking at Job from an 
external standpoint, and fails to enter into his experiences 
even so far as Eliphaz does in his opening words. 
We cannot avoid the conviction that, to put the case 
in its simplest form, the author of chs. 3—31 is sym- 
pathetic to Job ; the author of 32-37 is critical or even 

The Elihu speeches, then, do not fit easily into the 
general scheme of the book, they add little of value to its 
subject, and they present us with a general point of view 
quite different from that of the main dialogue. It is, 
then, natural to suppose that they are a later insertion. 
This will be widely acknowledged, and the only way in 
which the unity of authorship can be plausibly maintained 
is to suggest that the original author, in his later years, 
realized the imperfections of his attitude, and tried to 
remedy his mistake by stating the truth as he now saw it. 
This is the view actually held by more than one prominent 
scholar, though it involves certain difficulties. If, as 
seems almost certain, the poet were a leper, and his 
disease were far advanced at the time when the poem was 
written, it is hardly likely that he would have lived so 
long as the theory requires. Even if he had felt that his 
earlier position was wrong, his simplest method of correc- 
tion would have been to destroy his original production. 
These difficulties, however, are not final, and the hypo- 
thesis of a revision by the same author cannot be excluded, 
even though we may feel that it is less probable than the 


view that the two sections come from quite different 

There are shorter sections which have roused the sus- 
picion of many readers. Most conspicuous among these 
is the poem on Wisdom in ch. 28. It is a very fine piece 
of writing, and holds an important place in the develop- 
ment of Hebrew religious and philosophical thinking. 
But it interrupts the dialogue at a point where the tension 
is very high, and not merely has no bearing on its im- 
mediate context, but deals with a theme and reflects an 
attitude quite alien to those of the book as a whole. We 
can hardly doubt that here, too, we have a passage which 
has been inserted at a comparatively late period into the 

There are two passages in the divine speeches towards 
the end of the book which are also regarded as being 
possible interpolations. These are the descriptions of the 
hippopotamus and of the crocodile in 40 : 15-41 : 34. 
Others of God's creatures are mentioned in these chap- 
ters, it is true, but these two passages are much longer and 
more artificial than the rest. They contain an unusual 
number of rare words, or even of words not found else- 
where in thi' or in any other book of the Bible. And to 
some readers they interrupt the progress of the poem, 
which has begun an actual conversation between Yahweh 
and Job in 40 : 1-14, continued in 42 : i. But here the 
question of originality cannot be finally settled, since the 
answer must depend to a large extent on the literary 
taste and feeling of the individual reader. 

Before leaving the external study of the book, there is 
one other point which demands attention. It has already 
been remarked that in the third round of the debate 
Bildad speaks very briefly and Zophar is silent altogether. 
This might be explained as indicating that the friends 

JOB I 79 

were conscious of having been worsted in the discussion, 
to such an extent that one of them had Httle to say, and 
another could find no answer at all to Job. But the 
character of the friends (and particularly of these two) 
as depicted in their earlier speeches does not harmonize 
with this view. Bildad has always had a good deal to 
say, especially since he has given up direct argument and 
fallen back on sheer abuse of Job. Zophar is even less 
likely to have been silenced by lack of grounds on which 
Job's position can be logically disputed, for he is uniformly 
pictured as dogmatic, aggressive, and somewhat con- 
ceited. It seems hardly likely that a poet with the power 
of such delicate character-drawing as is shewn in this 
book would have allowed his characters so complete a 
change in disposition. But when we come to look closely 
into chs. 25-27, several surprising facts emerge. Two 
passages are assigned to Job which are utterly unlike his 
usual utterances. These are chs. 26, and 27 : 7-23. 
Both are in the style and adopt the point of view character- 
istic of the friends, and if our present text is right in 
assigning them to Job, we have to assume sarcasm of a 
type which he does not exhibit elsewhere. If, on the 
other hand, we may assume that at this point the text has 
got into some disorder, and that a section has been alto- 
gether lost, the position becomes natural. It is generally 
held that the introductory verse in 26 : i, which ascribes 
the following passage to Job, is an error, and that 26 : 2-4 
originally formed the opening of Bildad's third speech, 
while the remainder of ch. 26 also belongs to it. Now 
27 : 2-6, II, 12, are quite suitable to Job, and fall in with 
the rest of what he has consistently said throughout the 
poem, but the remainder of ch. 27, again, is exactly in 
line with the attitude of the friends. It is, then, widely 
held that a section has been lost, including the end of 


Job's reply to Bildad and the opening of Zophar's third 
speech. The original order, then, may well have been 
as follows : — 

25 •• I 1 

2^ '■ ^'i i^Bildad's third speech. 

25 : 2-6 ,' ^ 

26 : 5-14 J 

2^ • ^ „ I Part of Job's reply to Bildad. 

27 : 2-6, II, 12 J -^ ^ ' 

27 : 7, 10, 13-23 Part of Zophar's third speecb. 

The natural continuation with Job's speech in chs. 
29—31 then follows. 

Like many other ancient Hebrew books, then, the 
Book of Job seems to have had a history, in the course 
of which it underwent modifications and additions. 
Besides the sections already discussed, v/e have reason to 
suspect a number of other insertions. The great majority 
of the latter are very short, and most of them consist only 
of a few words each. The original text of the LXX, 
which was a good deal shorter than our present Hebrew 
text, enables us to detect a large number of these. There 
may be instances in which the Egyptian tradition 
shortened an existing sentence, but as a rule the internal 
evidence justifies the Greek of this book as against 
the Massoretic text, at least so far as the length of verses is 
concerned. But we cannot regret these additions and 
alterations, for, even if they do not help us to the message 
of the actual author, they testify to the fact that the book 
was known and used, and they give us much light on the 
way in which men's thought about God moved during the 

It remains to consider the date of the main poem. 
Here we have one interesting piece of direct evidence. 
In Job 7 : I7f we have a bitter parody of phrases found in 

J o B I 8r 

Ps. 8 : 4. The book is, therefore, later than Ps. 8. 
But when was Ps, 8 written ? All we know is that it 
may not be put late in the post-exilic period. For other 
evidence as to the date of Job we have to rely on what we 
find in the text itself. This certainly points to a post- 
exilic age. There are, from time to time, Aramaic forms 
and constructions which we do not find in pre-exilic 
Hebrew. The main theme of the poem implies an 
advanced form of prophetic teaching, involving not 
merely the intensely ethical character of Yahweh as 
stated by the pre-exilic prophets, but also a pure mono- 
theism of a kind which first developed during the exile. 
This has now become so well established that there is no 
longer any need to emphasize it ; the writer assumes a 
monotheistic order in the universe, and it never occurs 
to him to insist on it. There may be references to astral 
cults in 31 : 26-28 and elsewhere, but they obviously 
play only a small part in the life of the writer and his 
contemporaries. There is no established doctrine of a 
life after death ; indeed the book contains one of the 
earliest efforts to reach this truth. We may, then, be 
sure that it is to be placed in the post-exilic age, well 
after the restoration of the Jewish community to its own 
land, but at the same time, it must not be too late. A 
date at the end of the fifth century or the beginning of the 
fourth would satisfy all the conditions indicated in the 
book itself. Nearer it is impossible to go. But the exact 
date is a matter of very sHght importance. Beyond what 
his poem tells us, we know nothing of the author — not 
even his name. But he has given us a work which is 
timeless, handling a question to which man may never find 
a complete answer ; the value and direct application of 
the book will endure as long as man seeks to understand 
the mysteries of God. 


The question with which the book deals is the age-long 
problem of suffering. We should look with some care at 
the terms we are using. To the adherents of most 
religions suffering is a fact, and a terrible fact, but it is 
not a problem. We can use that word only when we are 
confronted with a fact which appears to contradict our 
faith. Faith, in one important aspect of that com- 
plex idea, is the adoption of a hypothesis as a working basis 
for life, and it is inevitable, in view of our human limita- 
tions, that from time to time we should realize that 
there may be, indeed there are, points at which our hypo- 
thesis is either inaccurate or incomplete. Rightly 
treated, a discordant fact should enable us to amend our 
hypothesis — possibly even to discard it altogether. But 
neither the man of science nor the man of rehgion will 
lightly throw over what he and his predecessors have won 
with long research and thought. Adams did not reject 
the theory of gravitation because the movements of the 
planet Uranus did not correspond exactly to the course 
which that doctrine prescribed ; he used the new and 
discordant facts as a basis for further calculation, and, in 
the discovery of Neptune triumphantly vindicated the 
original theory, and added to man's knowledge of the 
solar system. So in progressive religion, men will not 
readily abandon a well-grounded hypothesis ; they will 
rather meditate and seek until the obtrusive fact is fitted 
into the scheme and leads to fuller knowledge. 

Now suffering is a problem only when it confronts the 
hypothesis that the whole universe of nature and of man is 
governed and controlled by a perfectly good, omnipotent 
Person. Otherwise it is easy to explain either on the basis 
of mere chance or on that of conflicting superior \vills, 
some of which are not good. It is even possible to assume 
that the governing power is evil, but that at once raises 

JOB 1 83 

the problem of the large amount of good which exists in 
the world. For the thorough-going pessimist the problem 
of good is even more serious than the problem of evil is 
for the optimist. 

Much of the suffering in human life is easily understood 
on an optimistic basis. It is a necessary corollary of 
free will, and may be directive, punitive, purifying, or 
educational. But there remain cases in which none of 
these explanations will apply, and there are countless 
others in which the degree of suffering seems out of all 
proportion to the cause or the effect. The great question 
is raised more by the distribution of suffering than by its 

There are two points which stand out as we enter the 
discussion of the matter. One is that the problem of 
suffering could have arisen in the ancient world only on 
the basis of such teaching as that which the great prophets 
of Israel gave. To them Yahweh was supreme over men 
and over all other gods. He was also perfectly righteous 
and loving. Each sin must be punished ; every good 
deed rewarded. Yet this poetic distribution of justice is 
very far from being the experience of the world. How can 
the facts be reconciled with the theory ? In the second 
place, given the work of men like Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, 
the problem was bound to arise. Men are slow to realize 
the implications and bearing of their own beliefs, but, 
sooner or later, the human mind will awake to the in- 
congruity between theory and fact, and will try to resolve 
it. It is to Habakkuk, as far as we know, that we owe 
the first statement of the problem of suffering — " Too 
pure of eyes art thou, to look upon evil, and to gaze on 
iniquity thou art not able. Why then dost thou gaze 
on the treacherous, art silent when the wicked swalloweth 
up the man that is more righteous than he " (Hab. 1:13). 

^4 poetrV op the old testament 

Jeremiah, too, was faced with the same difficulty through 
his own experience (Jer. 12 : 1-3). He found no answer 
at all, but was compelled to turn to his own practical 
difficulties. Habakkuk won the conviction that " the 
righteous shall live by his fidelity " (2 : 4) — a phrase 
whose meaning is still a matter of dispute, but which 
seems to teach that patient endurance will win its reward 
in the end. Other solutions were offered by later thinkers 
in Israel. Men like the author of Ps. 37 roundly asserted 
— in defiance of fact — that the wicked were sure to meet 
with disaster in the long run, and the righteous would 
certainly be suitably rewarded — the successful swindler 
will ultimately perish in destitution while the honest 
pauper will die a millionaire. A real contribution was 
made by the writer of Isaiah 53, who came to the con- 
clusion that suffering had a vicarious efficiency, and that 
the happiness of some might be won by the misery of 
others. The perfectly surrendered servant of God would 
gladly accept all the pain if he but knew that others would 
profit by it. To the author of Ps. 49 both the adversity 
of the good and the prosperity of the bad were illusory, 
since both terminated with death. The mystic to whom 
we owe Ps. 73 found peace in the knowledge of God's 
eternal friendship, and in fellowship with Him experienced 
a joy which death itself could neither interrupt nor destroy. 
Christian doctrine goes further still, and in the Cross of 
Christ offers a profound alleviation, if not a solution. 
Suffering is not merely a human experience, it is also 
divine, and therefore there must be a solution, even 
though it be beyond the grasp of the finite intellect. 

It is in the Book of Job that we meet with the most 
thorough and complete attempt to answer the great 
question. We have to remember that, at the outset, 
the discussion is based on the belief that death was the 

JOB I 85 

end of all relations between man and God. True, some 
kind of personal identity was retained in Sheol, but God 
was not there ; the whole drama of the religious life, the 
relations between man and God, must be played out on 
the stage of this life. With this background we can pro- 
ceed to a more detailed study of the book itself. 



It is useless to argue as to the type of poem to which the 
Book of Job belongs. It is neither drama nor epic, in 
the generally accepted meanings of these terms, for there 
is little or no action. The nearest approach we have in 
the realm of dramatic literature is the Prometheus of 
Aeschylus — which, indeed, the poem resembles in several 
ways. But we have no real evidence of the existence of 
any drama in ancient Israel apart from the ceremonial 
which may have been observed at certain religious 
festivals in pre-exilic days. If an epic existed at all, it 
will have been connected with the same occasions, as it 
was in Accadian ritual. We must simply take the book 
as a dialogue in poetic form, and be content to accept it 
as being (if we must insist on classification) practically 
sui generis. 

The dialogue is, as has been indicated, properly con- 
fined to chs. 3-27, 29-31, 38 : 1-42 : 6. The stage is 
already set by the prose narrative. Job has suffered and 
is visited by his three friends. Their origins have been 
much discussed, even the old story seems to have regarded 
them as foreigners, probably Edomites, since Edom was 
often held to be a home of wisdom (cf, e.g. Obad. 8). 
For seven days and seven nights they sat in wordless 
sympathy for the victim of so many disasters, and at 
this point the poet intervenes. 

Throughout the whole dialogue, the friends adhere to 
the position they take up from the first. Their attitude 


J O B II 87 

changes, and the emotional tension grows, it is true, but 
there is not the sHghtest sign of alteration in their views 
or opinions. Job, on the other hand, moves forward, not 
in a straight Une — that would be too much to expect — 
but by a series of approaches, each getting nearer to a 
fixed point, until he reaches a certain stability. This, 
however, does not end the debate. For Job is faced widi 
two problems, not one. The first is wholly personal, and 
is^ concerned with his own relation to God. The second 
is general, and deals with the universal question of divine 
justice in the ordering of human affairs. The answer to 
the first will be a faith, the answer to the second will be a 
theodicy. Psychologically, it is essential that the pressure 
of the first should be relaxed before the poet can reach that 
calm of spirit which will enable him seriously to embark 
on the second. Halfway through the debate, at the end 
of ch. 19, Job attains to a position whence he can proceed 
to the second problem. It is impossible that his own 
sufferings should slip out of his sight, but they are no 
longer a merely personal matter ; they become an 
illustration of the more general question, and when he 
summons God to appear, it is that his difficulties may be 
solved in both spheres. It is the development of this 
line of thought that we follow in reading the book. 

Job's first utterance, in ch. 3, is simply a cry of pain. 
He asks questions, it is true, but they are simply rhetorical 
— why had he to be born at all ? Why, if he must be 
born, could he not have perished at once, as an uncon- 
scious infant or even as a still-born child ? Why, if he 
had to live and suffer, can he not die at once, and be rid 
of his misery in the drab equality of Sheol ? Xt-is_interest- 
ing to note, in passing, that the idea of suicide never 
occurs to Job. Indeed, it seems from the poem in general 
that he does not really wish to die ; rather he complains 


that an early deatli is inevitable. It is clear that the 
problem, as a problem, has not yet arisen. 

The.^reatqpiestion is actually raised by the speech of 
Eliphaz (chs. 4—5). It is one indication of the poet's 
high artistic level that every step Job takes has as its 
starting-point a remark of one of the friends. Though 
they never move from the position they take up at the 
start, they have their place in the development of Job's 
thought, and it is in this way that each makes his own 
contribution to the subject. Eliphaz appears in many 
ways as a really lovable character. He is an old man — 
older than Job's father (15 : 10), and is full of tender 
sympathy for his suffering friend. He has seen much of 
life, and yet he has a higher source of knowledge than 
experience. He is a mystic, one of those favoured spirits 
for whom the veil between the seen and the unseen is at 
times drawn aside. What he has to say is based on such 
a moment of vision, awe-inspiring yet reUable. He 
begins with the utmost tact, and lays his hand on the 
wound with great tenderness. Yet already there is a 
hint of irony which runs through the book. Job has 
often given comfort to the distressed ; can he not apply 
to his own case what he has administered to others ? 
It really is true, for Eliphaz has learnt the facts by direct 
revelation. And what are the facts ? Simply that 
every incident of suffering has its cause in human sin. 
It is the penalty imposed by a perfectly righteous God on 
all who stray, even in the least degree, from the right 
path. So high are the divine standards, and so perfect 
is the demand of God, that the very angels cannot escape 
criticism and condemnation. But there is no wrong with- 
out a remedy. Job must have done something, of which 
he himself may be unconscious, but which, nevertheless, 
has roused divine justice to punishment. It may be only 

JOB II 89 

a little matter ; let Job humble himself before God, 
confess that he is in fault, and throw himself on the mercy 
of the Omnipotent. Then all will be well. Prosperity 
will once more be his, he will have descendants innumer- 
able (for we must not forget that an abundant posterity 
was the supreme blessing for the ancient east) , and many 
years of peaceful happiness await him before he sinks 
gently into his grave at an extreme age. 

Seldom has the utter futility of conventional language 
been more ruthlessly exposed than in this speech of 
EHphaz. Job may well have spoken thus in days gone 
by, but now he knows that comfort of this kind is abso- 
lutely worthless. What is the use of promising a happy 
end to a man who knows that it is impossible ? Job is 
suffering from an incurable disease ; he may linger for a 
few years, but every moment will bring its special pain. 
Not only is there no hope whatever of a cure ; there is 
not even the slightest prospect of any alleviation. Job's 
children are dead, and a hundred others will not com- 
pensate for the loved ones who have been taken from him. 
We cannot help feeling that the poet has here the con- 
clusion of the old story in mind. It is nonsense to suppose 
that the seven sons and three daughters mentioned in 
42 : 13 will really make up for those who have gone, and 
it is this speech of Eliphaz which brings out the absurdity. 

Nevertheless, Eliphaz has said something of profound 
importance, jje Juas^made Job jealize that the author of 
his sufferings is none other than God Himself, and that 
hejias somehow incurred the divine anger. At once the 
problem is raised in an acute form. Is God really the 
friend of the good ? Are his judgments fair ? Job may 
have done wrong, though he has taken every precaution 
to avoid even unconscious sins and to atone for any that 
may have been committed inadvertently. This he 


never denies. But he knows that he has never been guilty 
of an offence which is in the smallest degree commensurate 
with the penalty imposed by God. So his reply to 
Eliphaz (chs. 6—7) begins with the complaint that the 
friends have no real understanding of the position. If 
they will only tell him where his sin is, he will repent and 
confess, but he will not tell a lie to save himself. For a 
time details of his sufferings break in on his thought. 
This is a characteristic touch, and is liable to reappear 
from time to time. Racked with pain, beset by horrors, 
night and day. Job finds it almost impossible to think 
continuously along any one line, though when the spasm 
is over he can return to the main thread of his reasoning. 
At the moment, the outbreak has its place, for it leads Job 
to challenge God directly. Why should he, an insignifi- 
cant and harmless mortal, become the special object of 
divine wrath ? If, like the primeval chaos-monster, he 
had sought to wreck the universe, God's action would be 
intelligible and justifiable. But there can be no reason 
why God should fix His attention on so small a creature 
as Job ; we note, incidentally, the bitter parody of Ps. 
8 : 4. God must be making a mistake, which He will 
discover some day, and then it will be too late, for 
Job will be in Sheol beyond His reach. 

Even if we were not conscious of the appalling 
blasphemy involved in Job's last words, the speech of 
Bildad (ch. 8) would have brought it home to us. He 
makes a less favourable impression than Eliphaz, but this 
is certainly due in part to the fact that Eliphaz had not 
been irritated by Job's attitude. He must be a good man, 
kindly by nature and well-meaning ; otherwise he would 
not have been there at all. But while Eliphaz is the 
mystic, Bildad is the scholar. He is learned in the wisdom 
of the past, and can quote generations of old as his 

JOB II 91 

authority. Bildad shares with all his contemporaries 
the illogical belief that men of days gone by necessarily 
knew more than their descendants. But he has nothing 
to add to what Eliphaz has said ; his principles are the 
same as those already propounded. There are, of 
course, personal differences in the presentation. We have 
already noted the greater irritation, due in large measure 
to Job's heterodox language. But we must not overlook 
another source of annoyance which was doubtless present 
to the writer's mind. These three men, like Job himself, 
are experts in consolation. Hitherto the doctrine which 
they have propounded has been accepted and acknow- 
ledged ; the sufferers have allowed themselves to be 
comforted. What right has Job to reject the familiar 
ministrations of rehgion ? Only consummate arrogance 
could refuse what has always been found good enough for 
other people. Rarely suggested and never explicitly 
stated, this feeling runs as an undercurrent through all 
that the friends have to say after Job has replied to 
Eliphaz for the first time. So Bildad, while admitting 
the reward of submissive penitence which may yet be 
Job's lot, dwells much more on the doom that awaits 
the obdurate sinner — such as Job shews signs of being. 

Yet Bildad, too, makes his positive contribution to the 
course of the discussion, though he is hardly conscious of 
the fact. At the outset he appeals to the divine righteous- 
ness, and thereby opens a fresh avenue for Job's thought. 
We must be careful to understand the full connotation of 
the term. Originally it belonged to the technical 
vocabulary of the law-court. The word " righteous " 
was employed to designate the successful litigant, the 
man who won his case. So, too, the common Hebrew 
word for " wicked " indicated the party which failed. 
Hence to "justify" is in the first place to give a legal 


decision in favour of a person. By a not unnatural 
transition the word came to imply also one who ought to 
win his suit, and we not infrequently have phrases like 
"justify the righteous " (e.g., Deut. 25 : i), "justify the 
wicked for reward" (Is. 5:23). As the ethical sense 
developed, the term became even wider, and indicated 
moral and religious excellence, without respect to any 
legal procedure. It still, however, retained in addition 
its old forensic meaning, and might be used in either sense 
— or in both together. Now, by introducing this 
thought, Bildad puts a new idea into the mind of Job, 
and from this point onwards he is dominated by the 
thought of a trial at law, in which he himself is one party 
and God is the other. It is not always clear who is the 
complainant and who the defendant, and, indeed, it 
seems that Job himself is indifferent as to whether he 
brings or answers a charge. But he now gets the feeling 
that if he could only lay his case before God, or lay his 
case against God before an independent tribunal, he 
would be shewn to be in the right. 

The thought of a law-suit, however, is not fully 
developed at once, as Job's first reply to Bildad (chs. 
9-10) shews. One obstacle is instantly apparent ; no 
one else has a chance of pleading against God. Bildad 
has said that God is righteous, not clearly distinguishing 
between the legal and the ethical senses of the term. 
Job has to accept this view, at least in the legal sense. 
God is bound to win His case ; He is " righteous " 
in that way, for He could overwhelm His opponent 
utterly by His superior knowledge and power. How- 
ever pure the adversary might be, God would still dis- 
cover and prove evil in him. And yet Job plays with the 
thought ; he cannot get it out of his mind. In spite of 
his sufferings he begins to envisage a contest at law, till 

JOB 11 93 

at last he realizes that the thing is hopeless, if only be- 
cause his time is too short, and before the case can be 
decided or even heard, he himself will be beyond the 
reach of justice. 

At this point Zophar makes his first appearance (ch. 1 1) . 
He is even less attractive than either Eliphaz or Bildad. 
If the former is a mystic and the latter a scholar, Zophar 
has no resources outside himself on which to rely. Though 
the youngest of the three, he is the most dogmatic, and 
speaks entirely on his own authority. He knows what 
God would say, and undertakes to say it for Him. But, 
after all, it is only a repetition of the revelation made to 
Eliphaz and the lessons learned by Bildad, with rather 
more stress on Job's audacity in even entertaining the 
idea of a possible meeting with God. Zophar is harsher 
and more brusque than either of the others, and comes 
nearer than they to charging Job with direct sin. But he, 
too, admits — even insists — that if Job will repent and 
reform, all will yet be well with him. 

Job's reply to Zophar (chs. 12-14), winding up, as it 
were, the first round of the debate, is the longest speech 
he has yet made. It brings out clearly the emotional 
tension under which the sufferer is labouring. At the 
moment it is the friends who are his main worry ; as 
comforters they are useless, and are talking down to him. 
Against this attitude of superiority his whole being 
revolts. He knows as much as they do, and is as fully 
aware as they of the majesty and omnipotence of God — 
a point which Zophar has stressed. Further, he under- 
stands the divine nature better than they do. They 
insist on being bUnd to one of the facts which Job knows 
best : he is innocent of any wrong great enough to 
explain his troubles. Job knows, too, that if he could 
only reach God, he could prove his case, and goes so far 


as to hint at a challenge to God, ?aid to picture to himself 
some details of the trial scene. It does not matter who 
speaks first, he or God ; he is content to accept either role 
in the proceedings. Indeed, God has already, as it were, 
brought charges against him through the pain He has 
inflicted, though the accusations are still vague and 
formless. But once more he is overcome by the thought 
that his time is short. Sorrow is the common lot of man, 
and it ends only in death, that death which must soon be 
his own portion, cutting off for ever the hope of a recon- 
ciliation or of a recovery. New ideas rise in his mind. If 
a tree is cut down, fresh verdure may break from the 
stump, but for man death is the end. Is this really so ? 
Is there no possibility that even in Sheol God will find 
some means of communicating with man ? An entranc- 
ing thought, but Job will not shirk reality or take refuge 
in mere " wishful thinking." His doom is as certain as 
the enduring hills, and he will not for an instant allow 
himself to be beguiled by false hopes or theories. 

We may pause for a moment to see where we stand at 
the end of this first series of speeches. On the one hand 
we have the friends, sure of their doctrine, and deducing 
from it Job's sinfulness. But they still have a certain 
sympathy with him, and are not prepared to proceed to 
open accusation. At the same time, his attitude, both 
to their views and to them personally, is producing an 
irritation which can but grow more violent as Job proceeds 
on his course. More and more he tends to disregard 
them, and he is so sunk in misery that he has no fear of 
worse consequences whatever he may say or do. His 
own position is becoming steadily more desperate. He 
has moved forward, it is true, but up to the present his 
divergences from the normal doctrine have led him only 
deeper into despair. He is beginning to believe that God 

JOB II 95 

does not really hate him, or seek to punish him excessively 
for some slight misdeed. This he could prove, if only he 
could meet God face to face on equal terms. But, 
wherever he looks, the way is barred. He is overwhelmed 
by divine omnipotence, and, even if he were not, still the 
day of his death is so near that hope dies. Nevertheless 
the thought of a reconciliation after death has entered his 
mind, if only to be rejected at once, and now that it has 
forced an entry, it will be difficult to keep it permanently 
from him. 

When Eliphaz speaks for the second time (ch. 15), it is 
clear that his mood has changed. He has nothing new to 
offer, and confines himself to something very like abuse. 
Job is arrogant and in other ways sinful, shewing respect 
neither for man nor for God. Such a character will 
necessarily meet with condign punishment, and it is 
worth noting that Eliphaz no longer holds out hope of 
restoration. That stage is past, and we feel that the 
friends no longer have any thought of Job's repentance. 

Job begins his reply (chs. 16—17) ^^ niuch the same 
strain as Eliphaz. As far as the friends are concerned, 
the discussion has sunk to mutual recrimination. But 
Job does not dwell long on the shortcomings of the friends ; 
he seems to brush them aside as a minor nuisance. He 
turns quickly to God, and pours out his complaint. As 
he reviews his sufferings the heat of his spirit rises, and he 
grows desperate. He cannot believe that God is what the 
friends depict — what he himself has hitherto supposed. 
He is the victim of a horrible crime, and he cries out to 
the earth not to let his blood go unavenged. But who is 
to see that justice is done ? It is God who is the criminal, 
if current theology be correct. But this cannot be the 
real truth, and Job makes a vast leap of faith and appeals 
— to God ; to God as he knows He must be, not to God as 


man fancies Him to be. There is One in the heavens who 
will see that the right is done, and to Him Job turns his 
eyes and makes his plea. But, almost with the appeal, 
he falls back into a still deeper abyss of doubt than he has 
yet fathomed, for he is doomed, and there is no time for 
his justification before he descends into the pit of Sheol. 

Bildad's second speech (ch. 18) is simply a statement of 
the dangers which beset the wicked, with the obvious 
implication that Job comes under that heading. Indeed 
there are hints which suggest the actual experiences 
through which he has passed, as, for instance, the refer- 
ence to the childlessness of the sinner in v. 19. Like 
Eliphaz, Bildad seems no longer to contemplate the 
possibility of Job's repentance and restoration, and his 
speech is almost an imprecation, for it is couched in 
language even stronger than any that has been previously 
used by the friends. 

The sting and the bitterness of Bildad's attack rouse 
Job to the extreme limit of desperation, and in ch. 19 he 
reaches the point at which something final must happen. 
Either he will go under altogether, or he will take some 
step which, however improbable it seems, will yet give 
him at least a measure of permanent rehef. He has 
several times approached this point, but the nearer he 
has been to it, the more sudden and complete has been his 
relapse into hopeless misery. Now he has reached the 
climax. First he complains, as usual, of the treatment of 
the friends. Then his mind turns to God and the tortures, 
physical, social and spiritual, which are being inflicted on 
him. The thought drives him almost to madness ; he 
cries out to the friends for pity. They are useless, and he 
comes back to the idea of a written document on which his 
words might be inscribed for future justification. Now 
he has reached the lowest point, and suddenly with a 

JOB II 97 

series of swift leaps he rises higher than he has ever done 
before, and finds at last a rock on which his feet may be 

In parts the crucial verses, 19 : 25-27, are obscure, and 
have given rise to much discussion. The text, too, is 
uncertain in the first half of v. 26. Nevertheless there 
are certain features of this great utterance which we may 
recognize with some confidence. The first is the con- 
ception of the " Goel." Much misunderstanding has 
been caused in English-speaking circles by the rendering 
of this word as " redeemer." That translation may be 
possible in some contexts, but even then only with a 
limited application. A " Goel " is the legal repre- 
sentative of a person who, for some reason or other, is 
unable to exercise the ordinary rights of citizenship. A 
woman often needed a " Goel," since her standing in the 
community was not on the same level as that of the other 
sex. The whole story of the Book of Ruth turns on the 
functions of the " Goel " in such a case. Naomi and 
Ruth cannot act for themselves ; Boaz (" Near kins- 
man " is another rendering of " Goel ") is induced to act 
for them. A slave, or a person dispossessed of his ances- 
tral property, might need the services of a " Goel " to 
buy his freedom or to " redeem " his land. A man's 
highest interest normally centred in what happened to 
his descendants after his death, and a dead man is 
certainly incapable of exercising his rights ; he must 
have a " Goel " if there is any matter in dispute. In 
particular, if he has died a violent death, he himself is 
obviously unable to exact the penalty, and the duty 
devolves on the " Goel of blood " (E VV. " Avenger of 
blood " or " Revenger of blood "). 

That is much the situation in which Job finds himself. 
He is as good as dead, and he is to die with his case still 


unproved. His right to justification remains unfulfilled 
during his lifetime. Some one, then, must take up the 
matter after he has gone, and make full use of the state- 
ment which has flitted before his eyes in v. 23. But who 
will do the work ? His children are all dead. He has 
no other relatives. The friends are hostile, and, indeed, 
are ranged among the accusers. In this blank impasse 
his mind flies back to his audacious venture, indicated in 
16 : 19, " Behold my witness is in the heavens, and he 
that shall testify for me is on high." It is none other than 
God Himself who will see justice done, and ensure that 
Job's essential innocence shall be proclaimed. He will 
stand upon the earth in time to come and will prove 
Himself to be Job's " Goel " — He, the eternally Uving 

So far, so good. But that is not enough. Job will be 
satisfied by nothing less than the absolute certainty that 
he himself will see the consummation of his wishes and 
hopes. He now knows that God, in spite of any appear- 
ance to the contrary, is really on his side. As already re- 
marked, the first part of v. 26 is obscure and probably 
corrupt — certainly there is no mention of worms, as in 
A.V., but the latter part of this verse and the whole of 
that which follows are perfectly clear "... and apart 
from my flesh I shall see God, whom I, yes, I shall behold, 
and my eyes see, and not another's, when my reins fail 
within me." We are inevitably reminded of Ps. 73 : 26, 
and there may be a connexion between the two passages, 
though it is impossible to say on which side the debt lies. 
But it is hardly possible to doubt that Job has at last 
envisaged a life after death in which he will still remain in 
touch with God. This is no statement of a general doc- 
trine either of immortality or of resurrection, but it is the 
expression of Job's conviction that after his death God will 

JOB II 99 

have justice done to him, and that somehow, apart from 
his physical frame, Job will see it for himself. 

All things considered, this is a very extraordinary con- , 
elusion for Job to reach. When Pharisaic Judaism 
developed a belief in life after death, the doctrine normally 
took the form of resurrection, i.e., the reconstruction and \ 
re-animation of the physical body. The conception of an i 
immortal spirit, liberated for ever from the bonds of > 
matter, is Greek rather than Jewish. But here and in one 
or two other places, notably in Ps. 73, we seem to have 
a tentative movement towards the other view. The 
characteristic Jewish psychology, which, as has been well 
said, regarded man as an animated body rather than as 
an imprisoned soul, carried the normal stream of belief 
in life after death along other lines. But this poet was a 
pioneer, and had broken loose from all established 
tradition. It is the less surprising, then, that he should 
have conceived of the future life in a form in which it 
could hardly find general acceptance among his direct 
successors. But he did reach this point, and out of the 
bitterness of his soul and the horror of his experience, 
he formed a belief which has changed the whole outlook 
of the human spirit. 

True, a doctrine of immortality was found in Greece 
at the end of the fifth century e.g. It was, too, genuine 
immortaHty, involving not merely the survival of per- 
sonality after death, but an experience of all those 
spiritual values which stand highest to man. We cannot 
read the Phaedo without feeling that in some ways the 
Greek has outstripped the Hebrew in the search for divine 
truth. Yet there is one fundamental difference in the 
approach by which these truths were reached. The 
Greek attained his belief in immortality through logic 
and psychology, the Hebrew through his theology and 


his ethic. In the one case the doctrine was based on the 
study of man, in the other on knowledge of God. 

Job has thus reached a solution of the first of his 
problems. The pain is still with him, and he cannot for- 
get his sufferings, but the stress is relieved, and the in- 
tensity of feeling is to some extent lessened. It is now 
possible to turn to the larger question and handle it with 
some degree of calmness. Needless to say, the friends 
entirely fail to appreciate the situation. To them Job is 
still merely blasphemous and arrogant, and the relief 
which he has experienced in unorthodox ways is but an 
added offence. We get a hint of this in Zophar's second 
speech (ch. 20). It is as violent and abusive as ever, but 
it lays stress on the evanescence of any pleasure or happi- 
ness which the wicked may enjoy. Here, surely, we have 
a reflection of what is to be seen on Job's face, the com- 
parative calm, with a possible glint of real happiness, 
which comes over his expression as he attains the great 
height of ch. 19. 

Ch. 2 1 begins, as usual, with an appeal to the friends. 
But here there is a difference. Job is clearly making a 
fresh start, and demands a hearing, not for a recital of his 
own sorrows, but for a statement of fact which will con- 
tradict the whole position taken up by the friends. It is 
not true that disaster always befalls the wicked. He is 
successful, not only in matters where his own efforts 
alone are required, but also in spheres which are supposed 
to be under the direct control of God. That means that 
his prosperity is a part of the divine purpose, and he may 
live to an advanced old age and come to the grave in 
peace. All this in spite of the fact that he is wicked, and 
that he deliberately throws God on one side, refusing to 
admit His rights or claims. Job is well aware of the 
opposition which his words will rouse in his friends, but 


nevertheless he must state the facts. So the stage is set for 
a discussion on the general problem of divine providence. 

Eliphaz (ch. 22), however, is in no mood to discuss 
general theological or philosophical questions. He is 
concerned primarily to abuse Job. The first point that 
strikes him is the arrogance of a man who thinks that 
God has anything to gain by human goodness. Then, 
faihng to note the logical corollary of his remarks, which 
should imply that God is also indifferent to human sin, 
he launches into a catalogue of the sins which (presum- 
ably) Job has committed. They are those of the rich, 
economic oppression, selfish neglect of suffering, repudia- 
tion of God, and the Hke. Needless to say, there is no 
ground, either in the old story or in the debate, for sup- 
posing that Job really has been guilty of these things. 
But his disasters make it clear to Eliphaz that Job is a 
sinner ; his attitude under affliction has strengthened this 
belief, and this is the kind of iniquity which a man in 
Job's former position would be most likely to commit. 

To this attack Job (chs. 23-24) makes no direct 
reply, though it would seem that the charges are kept in 
mind and recalled later. But Eliphaz has brought him 
back to one important point. He has suggested that Job 
should seek God (22 : 23ff.), and Job desires nothing 
better. He knows now that God is on his side, and the 
only problem remaining is how to find Him. For a time 
the difficulty appears insuperable, and Job turns from it 
to formulate a statement of the case he would present if 
he were able to stand in the divine presence. The text 
of ch. 24 is obscure and probably corrupt in parts, but it 
seems clear that it involved a description of the oppres- 
sion inflicted by the wicked on the poor, and the miserable 
condition of the lower classes. It is, in fact, an elabora- 
tion of the position which has already been indicated 


in ch, 21, and wc see how readily now the personal 
problem is merged in the general. 

We now come to a section of the book in which, as we 
have seen, there appears to be a certain amount of con- 
fusion in the text. Assuming the general correctness of 
the reconstruction attempted in the last chapter, we 
observe that Bildad renews and reiterates the charges 
which the friends have already brought against Job, 
especially the accusation of impiety. It must be remem- 
bered that to the ancient Hebrew the most important 
element in a right attitude to God lay in complete and 
humble submission to His will, together with a recognition 
of the gulf which separates the infinite from the infinitesi- 
mal. So, if 26 : 2 be really the opening of Bildad's third 
speech, he starts with a sarcastic question — Did Job 
find God weak and foolish, and aid Him with the re- 
sources of his human strength and wisdom ? Bildad 
answers his own question by the might of God as shown in 
creation, and refers to the doctrine stated at the first by 
Eliphaz, that no person or thing can be perfect in the 
sight of the Almighty. The old creation myth rises to 
his mind ; did not God destroy the great Chaos monster 
(here called Rahab), and establish the Cosmos by His 
own soHtary power ? 

Job is thus brought back to his own position. We have 
reason to believe that a large portion of this speech is 
lost. Job does not for a moment deny the power of God, 
but he does insist on his own essential innocence. No 
argumentum ad verecundiam can shake his conviction on that 
head ; facts are facts, and a theology which fails to include 
them in its scheme of things stands self-condemned. 
From the fragments which survive we may guess that 
Job went on to insist on the conflict between theory and 
realitv which is manifest in the beliefs of the friends. 

J O B I I 103 

When Zophar speaks for the last time, it is clear that 
he has abandoned any attempt at argument, and has 
to take refuge in abuse. He sketches, apparently with 
vindictive glee, the misfortunes of the wicked, which so 
closely resemble those of Job himself, and the closing 
sentences form a terrible imprecation. 

This is all that the friends can say or do. They have 
started with the intention of doing their best for the 
sufferer, and of giving him comfort and hope. They have 
felt a deep affection and even admiration for him in the 
past, and they are genuinely grieved by his calamities. 
But the only aid they can offer is that suggested by their 
conventional theology, and their presentation of their case 
has not only failed to bring reUef to the sufferer, but has 
complicated and aggravated the agony of his soul. 
With his inability to accept their doctrine, and his 
rejection of its basic principle that all suffering is due to, 
and is proportionate to, human sin, their irritation at 
his wilfiilness, arrogance and self-righteousness has 
steadily grown, till it has totally ecUpsed their affection 
and sympathy, and their last word is a curse. 

But now Job has done with them. Gh. 28, as we have 
seen, formed no part of the original poem, and it is in 
chs. 29-31 that Job turns to God to make his final appeal. 
It is inevitable that his own case, as an example of the 
general situation, should once more take the leading 
position in his thought. Gh. 29 is devoted to a summary 
of his former prosperity, and it is interesting to observe 
that what Job has valued most is not his wealth but the 
respect in which he was held by all about him. The 
contrast afforded by his present position is drawn in 
ch. 30, and once again there rises the old feeling that it is 
God who is responsible for the change. Yet the sufferer 
has already won the conviction that somehow God must 


be on his side, and that the trial will certainly take 
place. He therefore prepares for it with a great oath of 
purgation, which occupies ch. 31. In some ways it 
offers us the highest moral standard which the Old 
Testament presents, going far beyond the elementary 
provisions of the Decalogue and other pronouncements 
of the Law. In sexual morality it almost anticipates the 
position taken by Jesus Himself ; Job has never looked 
upon a woman to lust after her. He has never assumed 
the full authority of the master over his slaves, for to him 
they have always been personaUties with rights of their 
own — would that God might treat him in like fashion ! 
The appeal of distress and poverty has never failed to 
win response from him. He has been wealthy, it is true, 
but has never trusted in riches. His fidelity to God has 
been unswerving, and no enticement has induced him to 
share in the heathen cults of those about him. Strict 
honesty has marked all his dealings with his neighbours 
— in short there is no one of the sins so familiar to the 
world to which he has surrendered himself. That is 
his case, and, bearing it proudly with him, he would enter 
the presence of his righteous Accuser and Judge. 

For the response to this appeal the reader of our present 
text has to wait till Elihu has said his say. But, as we 
have seen, in its original form the poem probably had no 
reference to the fourth friend, and we may pass on at 
once to ch. 38. It is introduced with a sentence which 
may well have been taken from the last scene of the 
popular tale. A storm-cloud has gathered on the 
horizon while Job and the friends have been talking, and 
now, from the black dome of whirling cloud, Yahweh 
Himself speaks. At last we are to have the answer to 
Job's questions and the justification of his position. 

But, strangely enough, there is no answer. God begins 

JOB II 105 

in language very like that which the friends have used. 
Job is not as wise as he had supposed. In swift succes- 
sion the marvels and mysteries of the physical universe 
are brought before him. His mind is turned to the 
structure of the world, with its Hmitless variety in earth, 
sea and sky. But this is not all, for the cosmos has not 
merely been created ; its endless movements have been 
maintained and controlled. Man may have tamed 
some of the beasts and brought them to do his will, but 
even these he does not fully understand, and there are 
countless others of whose life he knows and cares nothing. 
What is Job that he should argue with the Creator and 
Sustainer of all this, or pit his scanty knowledge against 
the Omniscient ? 

What strikes us most in the divine speeches is that they 
contain nothing that is fundamentally new. The position 
has been stated by the friends, though less forcibly, and 
has been admitted by Job. It did not solve the intel- 
lectual problem then, and at first sight it is not clear 
why it should do so now. Indeed, had the theophany been 
granted to Job at an early stage in the development of his 
thought, we may well suspect that it would merely have 
enhanced his sense of rebellious despair. But much has 
happened since the debate began. Above all Job has 
reached the conviction that God is essentially friendly. 
Though His words may be harsh and His rebuke severe, 
there is yet the certainty that He will grant fair treatment. 
Further, there is a vast difference between a picture of 
God presented by a weak and ignorant mortal and the 
same picture drawn by God himself. As Job says, he 
had heard of God with the hearing of the ear, but now his 
eye seeth Him. Hitherto, so to speak. He has been asked 
to accept knowledge of God at second hand ; now He 
knows what He is like from direct communication. 


What is the result of all this ? Only one issue is 
possible to the mind of the ancient east, and Job falls in 
utter self-abasement at the feet of God, overwhelmed by a 
sense of his own insignificance and of the majesty of the 
Omnipotent. And there the poet leaves him. 

It may well be said that the book offers no solution to 
the second of the two problems which are involved. 
This is true, but it does something even better than offer 
a solution ; it shews that a solution is not really necessary 
for the spiritual life of man. Job has forgotten all 
about his problems ; for him they have ceased to exist. 
All his sufferings have fallen into the background, and all 
his desperate struggles have ceased. He has seen God and 
heard His voice. Nothing else is now of the sHghtest 
importance, for in the vision of the Infinite the finite may 
rest with humility, submission, and confidence. Had 
music and not poetry been the author's art he would have 
endorsed the utterance of Browning's organist : 

" Sorrow is hard to bear, and doubt is slow to clear ; 
Each sufferer says his say, his scheme of the weal and woe ; 
But God has a few of us whom He whispers in the ear, 
The rest may reason and welcome, 'tis we musicians know." 



The Hebrew Psalter holds a unique position in the 
religious literature of mankind. It has been the hymn- 
book of two great religions, and has expressed their deeper 
spiritual life through the centuries. It has ministered to 
men and women of widely different races, languages and 
cultures. It has brought comfort and inspiration to the 
sorrowing and to the faint-hearted in all ages. Its words 
have shewn themselves to be adaptable to the needs of 
people who have no knowledge of its original form and 
httle understanding of the conditions under which it was 
produced. No other part of the Old Testament has 
exercised so wide, so deep, or so permanent an influence 
on the life of the human soul. Ancient Mesopotamia, 
Egypt and Greece had their hymns, often of great beauty 
and power, while Hinduism (or rather the Vedic ancestor 
of Hinduism) had an immense corpus of religious poetry. 
But the earlier faiths have passed away, leaving their 
literature for the investigation of the specialist ; Hinduism 
was never more than the religion of one race and country, 
and its noblest utterances often came in practice to be 
used as little more than magic formulae. Buddhism and 
Islam, the only two religions which have shared with 
Christianity a claim to universal adherence, are not 
distinguished for their religious poetry. The Book of 
Psalms stands alone in its permanence and in its uni- 

But while, through the ages, this little collection of a 



hundred and fifty poems has taken and held its place, and 
has ministered to countless human spirits, it is still worth 
while examining its structure and history, if only that we 
may catch something of the divine method of revelation. 
Naturally no formal record of the process whereby the 
Psalter reached its present form has come down to us, 
and we are compelled to rely on such evidence as the 
book itself affords. There is, however, a good deal that 
may be gathered from its pages as to its history. For it is 
clear that it had a history, and this is only what we should 
expect. It is included in the third section of the Hebrew 
Bible, and, though it stands at the head of that section, 
it is clear that its canonicity was recognized at a later 
period than that of the Law or the Prophets. Individual 
Psalms may well have undergone modification as suc- 
ceeding generations adapted their words to special needs 
and circumstances. This is a common experience ; some 
of our best-known English hymns are to-day never sung in 
exactly the form in which they came from the author's 
pen. There are, further, signs of deliberate compilation, 
which attest the existence of earlier collections, and we 
have other Jewish hymns which came into existence too 
late to be included in the Hebrew Canon — indeed it 
seems probable that some of them were never written in 
Hebrew at all. 

In the Hebrew Bible the Psalter is divided into five 
books : 

I. Pss. I — 41 
II. Pss. 42 — 72 

III. Pss. 73—89 

IV. Pss. 90 — 106 
V. Pss. 107 — 150. 

The five sections are obviously very unequal in length, 
and the figure five suggests an imitation of the five books 


of Moses. There is, further, no break of any kind between 
Pss. 106 and 107, such as we may see so clearly after 
Ps. 41, and there is further reason to suspect that the 
original division was into three, not five sections. This, 
of course, does not necessarily mean that a particular 
Psalm in the latter part of the book was necessarily 
composed later than one found in an earlier section ; 
indeed there are cases where a Psalm appears in more 
than one division. 

The suggestion of an original three-fold division is 
supported by one very striking fact. As all careful 
readers of the Bible will have noticed, there are several 
different names applied to God in the Old Testament. 
Two of these are much more frequent than others, the 
proper name of the God of Israel, Yahweh (normally 
replaced in the English versions by the word Lord in 
small capitals), and the more general term rendered 
simply God. Now it is a striking fact that in nearly all 
the Psalms in Books II and III (more exactly in Pss. 
42—83) the term Yahweh is comparatively rare, and in 
many does not occur at all in our present text. " God " 
is used alone, i.e., without a possessive pronoun or other 
genitive, about 200 times in the Psalter, and of these no 
less than about 180 instances occur in Bks. II and III. 
On the other hand the name Yahweh is found only 44 
times in these Psalms (42-83), though it is so frequent else- 
where in the book. 

It appears, too, that in many cases the poet himself 
used the name Yahweh, and that this has been deliber- 
ately altered to " God " by a later hand. Expressions 
like " Upon the harp will I praise thee, O God, my God " 
(Ps. 43 : 4), " God, thy God, hath anointed thee " (Ps. 
45 : 7) and " I am God, thy God " (Ps. 50 : 7), though not 
impossible, are unnatural as compared with " Yahweh, 

no poetrV of the old testament 

thy God." More convincing is evidence supplied by 
"doublets," i.e., Psalms, or portions of Psalms, which are 
found more than once in the Psalter. A good instance is 
offered by Pss. 14 and 53, which are nearly identical. 
The word Yahweh occurs four times in Ps. 14, and in 
every case it is represented by " God " in Ps. 53. This, 
it is true, is not the only difference between the two 
Psalms, but the resemblances are so close as to make it 
certain that both are editions of the same original. The 
variation in the divine name, then, must be deliberate. 
We are justified in believing that Pss. 42—83 once formed a 
separate collection, to which Pss. 84-89 were added before 
the whole was included in our present Psalter. 

Another case of " doublets " may give us some further 
light. Ps. 108 falls into two parts, w. 1-5 appearing also 
in Ps. 57 : 7-1 1, and w. 6-13 in Ps. 60 : 5-12. The term 
" God " occurs more than once in both parts, while 
Yahweh is found only in Ps. 108 : 3, where it replaces, 
not " God," but the Hebrew word for " Lord." This 
fact would seem to indicate that Ps. 108 was compiled 
from the other two in their present form, in other words 
the second big collection was already in existence when 
the third was put together. 

We do not know at what period or for what reasons the 
change of the divine name was made in Pss. 42—83. 
There was, from the third century B.C. onwards, a strong 
feeling in some Jewish quarters that the name Yahweh 
should never be pronounced, even in reading the Scrip- 
tures, lest it should be inadvertently " taken in vain." 
So the translators, who in the third century B.C. began the 
production of a Greek Bible for the use of Jews living in 
Egypt and elsewhere, always substituted the word 
" Lord," and their example has been followed by most 
other versions, ancient and modern. Even in the normal 


reading of the Law and other parts of the Bible among 
Jews the Hebrew word for " Lord " was used instead of 
the name Yahweh. We do not know when this practice 
began ; it seems to have been later than the Samaritan 
schism, but was earlier than the invention of vowel signs 
for Hebrew writing. (As long as Hebrew was spoken as 
the vernacular of Palestine no vowels were indicated, the 
consonants alone sufficing to give the meaning, as in 
modern reporters' shorthand). It may have been some 
such religious scruple as this which prompted the change 
in the central portion of the Psalter, but in that case it is 
not easy to see why the change was confined to this group. 
Another suggestion is that the collection was made, not in 
Palestine, but in some other country, where a copy might 
easily fall into heathen hands and be in some way mal- 
treated or defiled. The divine name must not be ex- 
posed to this risk. The evidence offered by the LXX may 
be held to suggest an Egyptian origin for the practice. 
Even in Judea there were times when dangers of this 
kind were to be feared, especially during the oppressive 
reign of Antiochus Epiphanes in the middle of the second 
century B.C. But this is rather a late age to which to 
attribute the collection, and we have to admit that we 
can no longer recover either the motives which led to the 
alteration or the period in which it originated. 

It seems, then, reasonable to suppose that Pss. 42-83 
once formed an independent collection of sacred poems, 
Pss. 84-89 being added at a later period to form our 
present second and third books. Can we go further, and 
find other, possibly earlier, collections ? We may note 
at once that there are several groups of Psalms which 
seem to have within themselves certain resemblances. 
Thus Pss. 120-134 are described in the Bible itself as 
" Songs of Ascents " (AV " Degrees "). This probably 


implies that these were especially used by pilgrims on 
their way up to Jerusalem, or to the Temple itself, and 
the fact that they all stand together suggests that they 
once formed an independent unity. Another group con- 
sists of Psalms to which the phrase " Hallelujah " (AV. 
" Praise ye the Lord ") is prefixed. These are Pss. 
111-114, 116-118, 135, 136, 146-150. In some the 
Hallelujah stands at the end of a Psalm, but the text of the 
LXX suggests that it really belongs to the head of the 
next Psalm. This is not so compact a group as the 
preceding, but it is noticeable that all appear in the last 
of the five books, and that they do tend to run together. 
Here, again, we may have an original collection which 
has been absorbed into the larger whole. 

It is also widely felt that the personal names which 
appear in the " titles " to the Psalms are significant in this 
respect. These " titles " are printed in small type in our 
English Bibles, and are not included in the verse enumera- 
tion, but in the Hebrew Bible they are regarded as integral 
parts of the Psalm, and are often counted as the first 
verse, though the shorter titles are sometimes merged in 
V. I. Thus, for example, in Ps. 42 the words "As the 
hart panteth after the waterbrooks " with which the 
Psalm proper opens, count as v. i in the English versions, but 
as V. 2 in the Hebrew text. The result is that we often 
have a double verse enumeration, and many modern 
books on the Psalms give both, the Hebrew verse-number 
being added to the English in brackets. Now the com- 
monest feature of these " titles " is the presence of a 
personal name, that of David being the most frequent. 
For many centuries the name was thought to indicate 
traditional authorship, but in view of the fact that Psalms 
bearing the same name appear to come from widely 
separated periods in the long history of the Old Testa- 


merit, it is now more generally held among Bible students 
that the names indicate collections from which the 
Psalms in question were taken — just as the term " Sankey's 
hymns " is often applied to a number of hymns which were 
not written by Ira D. Sankey, though they were included 
in the collections which bear his name. 

The following Psalms bear the name of David : 3—9, 
11-32, 34-41, 51-65, 68-70, 86, loi, 103, 108-110, 
122, 124, 131, 133, 138-145, making a total of 73 in all — 
practically half the Psalter. The solidarity of Bk. I 
is even more nearly complete than appears from this 
numeration, for Pss. i and 2 are clearly introductory, 
while there is little doubt that originally Pss. 9 and 10 
were one. They are treated as a single Psalm in the old 
versions, and there is an acrostic which runs right through 
both Psalms. As a matter of fact, Ps. 33 is the only 
obtrusive Psalm in the whole of Bk. I, and it is easy to 
understand why a piece of this quality should be in- 
serted with others bearing the name of Israel's most 
famous poet. It is not too much to conjecture that 
originally these thirty-seven Psalms once formed a single 

The remaining Davidic Psalms do not form so compact 
a group, though in Bk. II we have a series of twenty 
Psalms of which only two (and those consecutive) do not 
bear the name of David. There is an interesting note at 
the end of Ps. 72, which itself is ascribed to Solomon, 
saying " The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are 
ended." This looks very much like the conclusion of a 
book or collection, and we are tempted to seek a group 
of Psalms bearing this special title. As a matter of fact, 
there are only three : Pss. 1 7 and 86 have it in the form 
" A prayer of David," while Ps. 142 has the words in the 
other order, "... of David ; a prayer." It will be noted 


that one of the three is included in the first Davidic 
collection, but, like other Psalms, it may have been in 
more than one, and we are still left with the possibility 
that there was once a collection called " The Prayers of 
David." The presence of Ps. 142 among the number 
makes it possible that this collection has been used by the 
compilers of the last four books, who tended to scatter 
them, and did not think it necessary to record the fact 
that the word " prayer " was included in the title of most 
of them. 

Two other names may be considered. The first of 
these is " The Sons of Korah," found at the head of Pss. 
42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87, 88. It should be noted that Pss. 
42 and 43 are really a single poem, which has been divided 
into two. There are thus two groups, into the second of 
which a Davidic Psalm has been inserted. Again, the 
natural suggestion is that these eleven are taken from a 
single collection. In I Chron. 6 : 22 we have a certain 
Korah, son of Kohath, mentioned among the Levites 
who were responsible for the music of the tabernacle in 
David's time and of the Temple after it was built. There 
may have been a number of other collections bearing the 
names of distinguished musicians of the past. 

In I Chron. 6 : 39 we find a certain Asaph, who is 
given a special position according to I Chron. 15 : 17, 
19, 16:5, where he holds a place comparable to that of 
the leader of the orchestra. His name stands at the head 
of twelve Psalms, Pss. 73-83 and Ps. 50. It is worth 
noting that the three smaller collections, the second of David, 
the Sons of Korah, and Asaph, are mainly included in 
Bks. II and III, which, as we have seen, were probably at 
one time an independent unity. We observe, further, 
that the Davidic Psalms in this section tend to have 
much longer titles than those found elsewhere ; the 


anno ta tor often tries to identify the occasion for which 
these Psalms were composed, or for which they would 
have been especially suitable. 

There are several other personal names in these titles. 
Solomon is mentioned twice, in Pss. 72 and 127. Ps. 90 
is " A prayer of Moses, the man of God." A certain 
Heman the Ezrahite appears at the head of Ps. 88, 
though this Psalm also belongs to the Korahite group, 
and the following, Ps. 89, bears the name of Ethan the 
Ezrahite. These last two occur in I Ghron. 2 : 6, 
where they are included in the families of Judah. Two 
famous wise men are compared with Solomon (to their 
disadvantage) in I Ki. 4:31; their names are Ethan 
the Ezrahite and Heman. In I Chronicles a Heman and 
an Ethan are mentioned alongside of Asaph (e.g. I Ghron. 
15 : 19), but they are not called Ezrahites, and the 
additional word is probably due to confusion with the 
Ethan of I Ki. 4:31. In any case, it does not seem 
wholly probable that any one of these four gave his name 
to a collection of Psalms ; the apocryphal book known as 
the Psalms of Solomon is of much later date than any- 
thing in the Hebrew Psalter, and was almost certainly 
written originally in Greek. 

It is held in some quarters that other words in the titles 
were intended to indicate the collections from which the 
several pieces were taken. We find different words 
describing the poems ; the simplest of these is the word 
" Song," which we find at the head of a number of 
Psalms. Often it is qualified in one way or another. 
Thus in the " title " of Ps. 45 we have " a song of love(s)." 
The phrase " Song of Ascents," appearing in Pss. 120- 
134 has already been noted. In a few instances the 
occasion for which a Psalm was especially adapted is 
attached, e.g., Ps. 30 is described as " A song for the 


dedication of the house," and Pi. 92 as "A song for the 
Sabbath day." 

The most frequent term in this class is the word 
rendered " Psalm," which occurs no less than fifty-seven 
times. It is derived from a root which is used of instru- 
mental music, especially in reference to some stringed 
instrument, and the rendering " Psalm " (from a Greek 
word meaning " to play on a harp ") is nearly an exact 
representation of the original sense. The use of the word 
throws an interesting light on Hebrew musical practice, 
but it does not seem clear why it should have been 
appHed to a special group of Psalms. Probably most of 
them were sung in worship to an instrumental accompani- 
ment, and, though wind instruments were employed, the 
strings clearly held a more prominent place. 

Two other terms are generally interpreted as indicating 
some special character in the Psalms to which they are 
attached. Neither is very common. " Maschil " ap- 
pears only thirteen times, and is usually explained as 
implying " pious meditation." The root, however, 
occurs more often in the sense of "dealing wisely" or 
" prudently," as in Is. 52 : 13. Either meaning would 
suit the Psalms to which the word is prefixed, and here, as 
in so many instances, we have to confess that the real 
meaning is no longer exactly ascertainable. 

Six Psalms (16, 56-60) have the word " Michtam " in 
the " title." This is normally connected with a root 
meaning " gold," and these Psalms (which are all of 
unusual beauty, even for the Psalms), are regarded as, 
"jewel pieces." The same word is used in the heading 
to the hymn ascribed to Hezekiah in Is. 38 : 9-20, and 
said to have been composed by that king on his recovery 
from sickness. 

Next to the word " Psalm," the most frequent term em- 


ployed in these " titles " is that rendered in the English 
Bible as " To " (R.V. ' For ') " the Chief Musician " 
which occurs in fifty-five Psalms. It may be noted that 
the preposition used is the same as that translated "of" 
when prefixed to a personal name. The exact meaning 
has been disputed ; other suggestions are " in regard to 
the musical rendering," and " for propitiation." But the 
general tendency is to retain the older explanation, and to 
regard the word as implying some kind of relation to the 
Precentor or Choirmaster. 

The words just given have all been held to indicate that 
there were once separate collections or hymn books, 
bearing the titles, and that the compilers of our present 
Book of Psalms recorded the source or sources from which 
their pieces were taken. There is, however, no other 
evidence to support the suggestion in any one of these 
instances ; and in none of them is the case so strong as it 
is with the " Elohistic " Psalter and with those bearing 
personal names. We cannot deny the possibility that 
such collections once existed, but we can hardly speak 
even of probability. 

As far, then, as we can ascertain, the general history of 
the Psalter seems to be much as follows. At various 
times, in most cases if not in all after the Exile, collections 
of hymns were made, and were given special titles con- 
necting them with some of the best known of Israel's 
historical poets and musicians. Apparently these col- 
lections were four in number, two bearing the name of 
David, one that of Asaph and one that of the Sons of 
Korah. Other isolated names — Moses, Solomon, Heman 
and Ethan — are less likely to indicate separate collections, 
though the possibility cannot be absolutely denied. The 
first of the Davidic collections retained its identity, per- 
haps owing to its length, but the others were used by a 


compiler who included in his collection a number of 
poems derived from other sources, though there is little 
to suggest that these were taken from other collections. 
This group passed through the hands of people who, for 
some reason which we cannot certainly explain, changed 
the divine name Yahweh wherever it occurred, normally 
substituting the common term " God." The alteration 
may, of course, have been due to the compiler himself, 
or it may have been made later. The evidence suggests 
that possibly this compilation was used in Egypt. A 
third compilation was made from miscellaneous sources, 
which included one of the Davidic collections. The three 
were put together, and, finally, the second and third were 
each divided into two, making a total of five books. 

But it was not only the book as a whole which had a 
history. Some of the Psalms themselves passed through 
changes, especially where they were much loved and used. 
In some instances, we can see clearly that two Psalms, or 
portions of two Psalms, were put together to form a new 
whole. This was done even at an early stage, for we find 
cases in the first Davidic collection. It is difficult to 
believe, for example, that Ps. 24 : 1-6 and 7-10 were 
originally composed as a single whole, for the two parts 
differ in style, metre and subject matter. Ps. 40, again^ 
is composite ; vv. i - 1 1 and 13-17 were originally inde- 
pendent. Indeed the latter occurs by itself as Ps. 70. 
There is one interesting feature in Ps. 40 ; the compiler 
who combined the two portions apparently inserted v. 12^ 
to form a link between the two parts. Others occur in. 
later books, e.g. Ps. 108 is a combination of Ps. 57 : 7-1 1 
with Ps. 60 : 5-12. Ps. 68 is a cento of verses derived from, 
other poems, many of which are still extant. 

Sometimes we can trace the history of a single Psalm. 
We may take Ps. 46 as an example. Originally it con- 


sisted of three equal stanzas each having six 2 : 2 lines. 
Thus the middle one runs (text slightly modified as in 
LXX) : 

A river ! its streams 

Gladden a city ; 
God has sanctified 

His dwelling on high. 
God is in her midst ; 

She shall not be moved ; 
God shall help her 

At the turn of the morning. 
Nations are in tumult, 

Kingdoms are moved ; 
He has uttered his voice, 

Earth is melting. 

Even this, however, is not likely to have been the original 
form, since the Psalm is included in the Elohistic section, 
and therefore the word God is probably a substitute for 
the proper name Yahweh. A later generation found the 
Psalmist's words peculiarly applicable to its need, and its 
experience led it to break out at the end of each stanza 
into a triumphant refrain : 

Yahweh of Hosts is with us, 
The God of Jacob is our refuge. 

The occurrence of the name Yahweh in this refrain makes 
it almost certain that this was a later addition. But the 
process was not yet complete. The third stanza calls on 
men to see Yahweh at work, not this time in catastrophic 
natural phenomena, but in the realm of history. Readers, 
however, had been so impressed with what had gone 
before that one inserted the 3 line " what desolations he 
hath wrought in the earth." This is as much out of place 
as an extra 8-syllabled line would be in a " short metre " 
hymn. One or two other changes were made, probably 
by accidents in copying, and two lines (the last in stanza 
I and the second in stanza III) are now shorter than the 


rest, probably through the unintentional omission of a 
word or two. And the refrain has somehow dropped out 
after the first stanza. A history of this kind helps us to 
see how much ancient Israel valued, loved and used these 
poems of the religious life. 

It will also be readily apparent that it is, in most in- 
stances, extremely difficult to assign to individual Psalms 
the dates of their original composition. As long as it 
was held that the personal names in the titles were in- 
tended to indicate authorship, the problem had often an 
easy solution. But since that view has been largely aban- 
doned, we have been thrown back almost entirely on inter- 
nal evidence, and this is seldom decisive. From time to time 
we come across points which might serve as indications 
of date, but as a rule references to historical events are 
couched in general terms, and it is difficult to pin them 
down to a specific occasion. Thus Ps. 74 clearly refers to 
the desolation of the holy city and temple by an enemy. 
But the sanctuary suffered on more than one occasion. 
Was the Psalm composed early in the exile, shortly after 
the desolation wrought by the armies of Nebuchadrezzar ? 
Certainly the burning of the Temple (v. 7) would fit the 
year 586 B.C. But v. 8, with its mention of " places 
where men meet with God throughout the land " suggests 
a time when some kind of worship was practised at 
numerous centres. The phrasing appears to be so chosen 
as to exclude the " high places," and we get the im- 
pression that synagogues are in view. Now we have no 
clear evidence of synagogue worship in Palestine at least 
before the time of Ezra, and the sort of persecution implied 
is naturally associated with the Maccabaean era — say 
168—165 B.C. As against this there is nothing in the 
historical records to show that Antiochus Epiphanes or 
his officers ever burnt the whole Temple. In 351 b.g. 


the Phoenicians revolted against Artaxerxes III (Ochus), 
and the Jews were involved. They were heavily 
punished, and thousands were carried into captivity. 
There is, however, nowhere any mention of damage done 
to the Temple. But details are very scanty, and some 
scholars take refuge in this obscurity and suppose that the 
Psalm was composed at this period. But it is at least 
possible that it was developed from a nucleus which be- 
longed to the earlier destruction of the Temple in 586. 

Pss. 42—43, again, appear to have some definite historical 
reference (It is probably unnecessary to remark that these 
two were originally a single Psalm). The writer had 
held a position of some prominence in the religious life 
of the country. He had been, or was being, carried into 
exile, and the route lay through the lower hills of the 
Hermon range, where, as a matter of fact, he had nearly 
been drowned in a pool at the foot of some waterfall. 
The Temple was still standing, and he hoped some day to 
return to the old worship. The conditions are satisfied 
by the deportation of the best people in the land by 
Nebuchadrezzar, 596 b.g. But it is also possible that 
here too we have a record of experiences undergone by 
one of the captives of 351 b.g. It may plausibly be argued 
that the Psalmist's belief in the limitation of God to the 
Jerusalem Temple favours the earlier date, but at best 
this consideration offers only probability and not certainty. 

There may be instances in which we can be practically 
certain of the occasion which called for a particular 
Psalm. One of the most obvious is Ps. 137. Here we 
have a Babylonian exile, together with special hatred 
against Edom, and intense bitterness towards the Chal- 
dean empire. Taken together these points indicate fairly 
clearly a captivity under Nebuchadrezzar, though there 
is nothing which enables us to decide as between 596 


and 586 B.C. ; the writer does not tell us whether the 
Temple is still standing or not. 

Uncertainty as to dating or historical circumstances, 
however, matters less in studying the Psalms than in 
dealing with most books. True, we need to remember 
that there are elements in the thought of various poets 
which growing knowledge of God has superseded or 
sublimated. It must help us to eliminate the merely 
occasional and temporal if we could definitely put 
ourselves into a Psalmist's position, stand where he 
stood, share his experiences and see life just as he saw it. 
But much of this work can be done simply by reference to 
the Psalter itself, and what really matters about the 
book is that it mirrors thoughts and feelings which are 
common to all ages in history. Human nature is still 
human nature, and human needs recur age after age. 
The twentieth century a.d. has seen sacred buildings 
destroyed by fire, cities desolated by enemy action, and 
masses of men and women deported into practical slavery. 
Problems of the spirit still trouble us, and we can under- 
stand them only when we enter into the sanctuary of God. 
The fool still says in his heart that there is no God, and 
the cynic still demands " Who will shew us any good." 
The sense of futility and frustration still leads men to cry 
out that the work of their hands may be established. To- 
day, as in pre-Christian centuries, there are those who 
are ready to bless the Lord and forget not all His benefits, 
men and women who have found that the Lord is their 
shepherd, devout souls who dwell in the secret place of 
the Most High, and abide under the shadow of the 
Almighty. Not a few, having faced all the toil and 
anguish of life and its problems, even now find that their 
true happiness lies in their nearness to God, and in face 
of death itself they know that He is their portion for ever. 



As we have seen, it is usually impossible to assign a date 
to the original composition of a Psalm. We are on surer 
ground when we approach the question of the purpose 
for which Psalms were composed and the way in which 
they were used. It is clear that the 150 which have been 
preserved in our present book are very far from exhaust- 
ing the total of religious poems produced by Israel during 
the periods when the Psalter was growing. Not only are 
there occasional poems in the prose books, but from time 
to time we have true Psalms embedded in the prophetic 
writings. Nah. i : 2-1 1 is a portion of a Psalm. A whole 
hymn is to be found in Hab. 3, and there are signs which 
suggest that it was taken from an existing collection. 
In Is. 38 : 9-20 we have a Psalm of thanksgiving ascribed 
to Hezekiah. Is. 12 consists of two little Psalms, and 
there are others in different prophetic books. It is clear, 
then, that in our present Psalter we have an anthology, a 
sort of Hebrew Golden Treasury. But, whereas in a 
classical or modern anthology the poems are selected for 
their literary qualities, in the Psalms of the Old Testa- 
ment we feel that some other motive must have been at 
work, for the pieces here preserved vary greatly in purely 
literary value. We can have little doubt that the purpose 
of the compilers was rehgious, not secular or even artistic. 
Within the sphere of religion, however, there are many 
forms and types of experience, and it may be assumed 
that each of our Psalms was written with a view to one or 



more of these. Some are frankly didactic or meditative. 
In such a Psalm as Ps. 91 we have sketched for us in 
beautiful language the contrast between the reward of 
righteousness and the penalty of wickedness. Some- 
times the poet allows us to follow him through his struggles 
with one or other of those great problems which still 
vex the human heart. The writer of Ps. 73, for example, 
like the great poet whose work is enshrined for us in the 
Book of Job, had faced the question of suffering and its 
distribution, and takes us through his own spiritual 
battle. In Ps. 19 : 7-14, and still more obviously in Ps. 
119, we have expressed the praise of the Law, and its 
value for human life and thought. But for the most part 
we may expect to find that the Psalms preserved in this 
book had some relation to the cultus, i.e., to the actual 
worship of Israel. It is especially from this point of view 
that modern students approach the study of the Psalter. 

In order to determine as nearly as possible the place 
that each Psalm took in the religious life of the people, 
there are two or three indications which may be taken 
into account. In the " titles " of a few Psalms we have 
mention of some special occasion for which the Psalm 
is particularly suited. Thus Ps. 92 is assigned to the 
Sabbath, and was used in the special ritual for that day. 
At the head of Ps. 30 we have the phrase " for the dedica- 
tion of the house," and it is natural to think of the recon- 
secration of the Temple by Judas Maccabaeus. No 
doubt the Psalm was used on this occasion, and on the 
annual celebrations which followed and are still main- 
tained. Sometimes the contents of a Psalm suggest its 
suitability for a special occasion. Pss. 3 and 4, for 
example, are companion pieces ; while both imply a 
time of difficulty and danger, the former belongs to the 
morning and the latter to the evening. 


It is comparatively seldom, however, that we are able 
to identify an occasion so clearly as we can in the cases 
just cited. It is possible, on the other hand, in a number 
of cases, to get some idea of the place a Psalm may have 
taken in the service itself. Here it is useful to note the 
class or type to which a poem belongs. The elucidation 
of these types we owe in the main to Gunkel, who identi- 
fies a number of classes, including the following : 

1. " Hymns," or Songs of Praise. 

2. Laments of the Community. 

3. Royal Psalms. 

4. Laments of the Individual. 

5. Thanksgiving of the Individual. 

These are the largest classes, and to them are added 
smaller groups : 

6. Blessings and Curses. 

7. Pilgrim Psalms. 

8. Thanksgiving of Israel. 

9. Legends. 

10. Psalms of the Law. 

1 1 . Prophetic Psalms. 

12. " Wisdom " Psalms. 

There are also Psalms in which the types are mixed. 
Psalms in which the character is changed as the Psalm 
progresses, and Psalms which in themselves are short 

Now most of these types are easily recognizable, and 
several have a quite definite form. The first class, for 
example, commonly begins with an invocation or a call 
to praise. The singer (who may be either an individual 
or the community as a whole) calls on others to oflfer 
praise, or expresses his own determination to celebrate 
the goodness and greatness of Yahweh. One of the most 


familiar is Ps. lOO, which summons all the earth to make a 
joyful noise before Yahweh. In Pss. 96 and 98, again, the 
worshippers are exhorted to sing a new song. In Ps. 95 
there is a slight modification, the exhortation being in 
the first person " Let us sing." Ps. 103 opens with the 
poet's appeal to his own soul to bless Yahweh ; a general 
exhortation comes at the end. 

This introductory demand for worship is followed by a 
statement of the grounds on which it is made. These 
may be general, national, or individual. Thus Ps. 96 is an 
appeal to all nations to recognize that it is Yahweh alone 
who is their God. The reasons given in this piece are not 
elaborated ; Yahweh is great and praiseworthy, and will 
eventually judge the whole earth. Sometimes the Psalm- 
ist begins his ascription of praise without an introductory 
appeal. Ps. 8, for instance, simply opens " O Yahweh 
our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth," 
and then goes straight on with a short list of the great 
deeds that Yahweh has done. A typical illustration of 
the national type may be found in Ex. 15, which certainly 
comes under the head of " Psalm," though it is not 
included in the Psalter. In Ps. 103, again, the benefits 
recited are those conferred on the individual, though, 
here as elsewhere, it is always possible to interpret the 
individual as being the whole community. 

Not a few of these hymns of praise may also be assigned 
to others of Gunkel's classes. Thus Ps. 134 is included 
among the Pilgrim Psalms, though it consists simply of an 
exhortation to praise Yahweh. Thanksgiving Psalms, 
too, are naturally allied to songs of praise. What gives 
them their specific character is that they contain phrases 
which suggest that they had a definite setting in the actual 
cultus, and were used in the ritual of one or other of the 
various forms of thankoffering. We may take Ps. 1 16 as a 


typical case. It is the utterance of one who has been 
grievously sick, and has made a vow for his recovery. 
On being restored to health, he comes to the Temple, to 
fulfil his vow and to make public acknowledgment of 
his obligation to God. There is a ritual method which 
has to be followed ; it includes the question " what shall 
I render unto Yahweh ? " and the answer, probably in 
the first instance put into the mouth of the directing priest, 
" I will take the cup of salvation." Apparently the 
formal proceedings involved the draining of a special 
cup. Here we have something like a small liturgy. 
Ps. 32, again, has a liturgical form. The worshipper, 
having suffered from sickness which he attributes to his 
sin, has confessed, and his recovery shows him that he 
has been forgiven. This he states, again, apparently in 
public, and his admission of benefit is followed by an 
exhortation addressed to him. The words are clearly 
those of Yahweh Himself, but they were probably com- 
municated through the priest. 

A special type of" Hymn " is what is sometimes called 
the " enthronement " Psalm. This is not to be confused 
with the " Royal " Psalms, which deal with a human 
monarch. But a divine kingship was widely recognized 
in the ancient east, and in one instance, that of Ammon, 
the national god was known as " the King." Recent 
studies in Semitic religion have made it clear that in 
many parts of the Nearer East there was an annual 
ceremonial at which the national deity was enthroned. 
The ritual was often elaborate, and included a dramatic 
representation of the acts of creation and a divine 
marriage which ensured fertility and prosperity for the 
following year. There are good reasons for supposing 
that such a ritual was performed in pre-exilic Israel, 
though, as it probably contained features repugnant to 


the high Israehtc moral sense, references to it have been 
almost entirely suppressed in our surviving literature. If 
it existed, it was probably connected with the Feast of 
Tabernacles, which, in pre-exilic days marked the begin- 
ning of the year. The ceremonial probably involved the 
recitation and dramatic representation of a Creation 
story not unlike that which we find in Mesopotamia, and 
appropriate hymns would be sung as Yahweh 
ascended His throne after His triumph over the powers of 
Chaos and death. They assumed that Yahweh's reign 
had already begun, but, since it is obvious that the ideal 
age has not yet arrived, these songs necessarily had an 
eschatological element in them. A good illustration of 
this type may be seen in the second part of Ps. 24 : 
" Lift up your heads, O ye gates . . .", which is clearly 
suitable for a point in the ceremonial at which the newly 
crowned divine king is about to enter the sanctuary 
which is to be His abode for the coming year. Several 
of them begin " Yahweh is King ! ", e.g., Pss. 93, 97, 
99. cf. also Pss. 47 : 2, 95 : 3, 96 : 10. We note further 
the demand for a " new song " at the opening of Pss. 96 
and 98. If modern scholarship is right in associating 
Psalms of this type with an enthronement festival, we 
may be thankful that this part of the ritual has survived, 
and that it can be given an eternal significance. 

We turn now to the second of the main classes, the 
Laments of the Community. These are especially 
appropriate to the ritual of fast-days. The people have 
suffered some frightful calamity, or are in terrible danger. 
They inevitably attribute their misfortunes to the anger 
of Yahweh, and are sometimes at a loss to know what has 
aroused it. They have, accordingly, " afflicted their 
souls " in a public fast, and are gathered to give expression 
to their penitence and their request. The most conspicu- 


cms Psalms in this group are Pss. 44, 74, 79, 80 and 83. 
It is interesting to note how often the worshippers refer 
to the great things Yahweh has done for His people in the 
past, cf. Pss. 44 : if, 74 : 2, 13!?., 80 : 8-11, 83 : 9. But 
for the most part they consist of a recital of the disasters 
which have befallen the nation and a prayer for 
deliverance. The sufferers stress the fact that Yahweh 
is their God, and for His own sake He is urged to help 
them. It is clear to them that their troubles (usually 
the triumph of a ruthless enemy) are due to the anger of 
Yahweh, but they cannot understand what they have 
done to incur His displeasure. It is noticeable that in 
none of the five typical Psalms mentioned is there any 
hint of repentance, even that general penitence which 
Psalmists sometimes profess for sins of which they are 
not conscious. On the other hand we may get protesta- 
tions of innocence, as in Ps. 44 : 8, 18. There is no 
attempt at an intellectual solution of the problem, such 
as we have, for example, in the Book of Job ; there is 
simple bewilderment and a plea that Yahweh will put 
forth His power once more and save His chosen people. 

The class to which the name of " Royal Psalms " has 
been given includes pieces of varied character. All, 
however, are concerned with a king, and it may be 
assumed that the reference is to a king of Judah. Indeed, 
we find David mentioned from time to time, and an appeal 
made to the promises given to the founder of the Jerusalem 
dynasty. While, then, some may have undergone 
modification in the course of transmission, in their original 
form all are to be regarded as pre-exilic. Under this 
head Gunkel classes Pss. 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, loi, no, 
132, 144 : i-ii. 

Most of these seem to refer to times of special need, 
particularly to the eve of a military expedition or a battle. 


Such are Pss. 2, 20, no, 144 : i-ii. Ps. 45 is a marriage 
ode, and Ps. 72 is clearly suited to the accession of a 
monarch. In some cases we can see an obvious liturgical 
arrangement. In Ps. 20, for instance, we have at the 
outset a prayer uttered by the officiating priest, through 
whom, presumably, the king has offered his petition. 
This is followed, apparently, by an interval, during which 
some sign is manifest, and in v. 6 the king, having received 
the assurance that he seeks, breaks out " Now I know . . ." 
Ps. 2 gives a quotation of the divine decree of appoint- 
ment, and we may well suppose that its enunciation 
formed an element in the service for which this piece 
was designed. A similar pronouncement appears in 
Ps. no, and others in Ps. 132. In Ps. 144, again, we 
have an opening prayer, and then in v. 9 comes an out- 
burst of thanksgiving for a victory which is assured if not 
already achieved. Here, too, we shall understand the 
spirit of the Psalm best if we suppose that the officiating 
priest did or said something in the name of Yahweh 
which gave the required assurance. 

Some of these Psalms are more general in their applica- 
tion. Ps. 18 is a song of gratitude after a great victory ; 
Ps. 21 is an expression of the monarch's needs. Enemies 
are mentioned, but there is no special stress on the perils 
of war, and other aspects of royal life are equally contem- 
plated. We have already observed the particular 
application of Pss. 45 and 72 ; Ps. 132 looks as if it be- 
longed to a special temple ceremony in which the king 
took a prominent part, perhaps in connection with the 
New Year celebrations. We can understand why it is 
included in the " Songs of Ascents." 

The Laments of the Individual form a large class, 
probably the largest of all. There has been a good deal 
uf discussion on the question as to whether these really 


are personal, or whether the " I '* who makes his com- 
plaint is not rather the whole people of Israel personified 
as a single unit. Here it is enough to remark that while 
this explanation may be suitable to a number of these 
Psalms, there are others to which it appears inapplicable. 
In such a piece as Ps. 32 the cry of the heart is so clear that 
we can hardly avoid taking it as the expression of an 
individual need. And there are smaller groups within 
the larger whole, such as those which are adapted for the 
fulfilment of vows and those which have a forensic interest, 
which can scarcely be assigned to the community as a 
whole. The seven so-called " Penitential Psalms " (6, 
32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) may be taken as typical, 
though Ps. 1 30 seems to have been adapted for the use of 
the nation as a whole by the addition of the last two verses. 
In general these Psalms are of much the same character 
as the laments of the community. They do not, how- 
ever, appeal so frequently to the great things Yahweh 
has done in the past, nor do they represent that it will be 
to His credit to rescue his afflicted servant. We do, 
however, sometimes meet with an arrangement which 
suggests some kind of liturgy — the presentation of the case 
followed by the assurance that the prayer will be granted. 
This is especially notable where the suflfering endured 
is attributed by the worshipper to his own wrongdoing. 
He confesses that he has sinned, and pleads for forgiveness, 
being met with the answer that his iniquity has been 
removed. Prayers of this kind may well have been 
associated with the sin-offering. The actual offence is 
never described, a circumstance which would fit in 
well with the view that they are forms of prayer to be 
used on many different occasions. Not that this in 
any way detracts from the intensity of the feeling, the 
reality of the sense of sin, or the genuineness of repentance. 


The Psalms were, one and all, originally the work of men 
who had been through what they describe, and have left 
on record an experience which may be of wide applica- 
tion. After all, sin, suffering, repentance, forgiveness — 
these are common to all religions and to all men who have 
any religious outlook. 

Quite a number of these Psalms have special reference 
to sickness. Outstanding among these is Ps. 32, whose 
author had clearly been the victim of some violent fever, 
which had brought him to the very gates of death. He 
took the view that this disaster was the direct punish- 
ment for some sin, confessed, and saw in his recovery the 
complete justification of this theory. He came to 
the sanctuary to acknowledge all that he had received 
and to make pubHc profession of his gratitude. We can- 
not escape the feeling that we have here too some kind 
of liturgical formula. After the statement of the case the 
Psalmist makes an appeal to all who are in right rela- 
tions with Yahweh to join in his act of worship. Then the 
speaker suddenly changes, and we have the words of 
Yahweh Himself. The divine response is, of course, 
communicated by a member of the sanctuary staff, either 
priest or, possibly, prophet. The worshipper is 
assured of Yahweh's guidance and instruction, and 
warned that he must henceforth shew himself submissive 
and obedient. In conclusion the worshipper again speaks 
himself, declaring in general terms his certainty of 
divine deliverance, and once more calling on all the 
righteous and upright to burst into praise. 

In Ps. 32 : 7 there is a vague reference to an 
"adversary" (E VV "trouble"). He plays no par- 
ticular part in this Psalm, but in others he is more 
prominent. It is not clear at first sight who he is, and 
how he is concerned with such a matter as dangerous 


illness. It has been suggested that the connection is 
to be found in the belief that sickness and many other 
calamities were due to the action of evil spirits, either 
acting, as it were, on their own account, or let loose on 
the victim by some human enemy possessed of magical 
powers. This hypothesis does at least something to 
mitigate the vindictive spirit for which so many of our 
Psalms have been justly criticized as, for example, in 
the case of Ps. 109. Another good illustration is to be 
seen in Ps. 7. The Psalmist is conscious of complete 
innocence ; he has done wrong to no man, least of all 
to the man who has brought him into mortal danger. 
The Psalmist prays first for his own deliverance, but 
that is not enough, and the latter part of the Psalm is 
occupied with a prayer that vengeance may fall on the 
adversary. But this is not mere passion for revenge. 
The enemy has set loose an evil force of some kind, and it 
is bound, sooner or later, to claim a victim. Since that 
is so, it would seem only right that the sufferer should be 
the man who has launched the deadly thing on the world, 
for no reason except to gratify his own malice and spite. 
It would be manifestly unfair for any other, especially 
for the innocent person against whom it was directed, 
to have to bear the weight of calamity which this thing 
will inevitably bring in its train. 

It must never be forgotten that the ancient Hebrew, 
like others of his time, lived in the midst of a world which 
was peopled by personal beings, often invisible, yet 
capable of doing good or evil to man. Animistic ideas 
are slow to die, even in the presence of a higher faith, and 
the whole history of man's religious life attests the en- 
during power of belief in demons. From time to time 
we meet with expressions and even passages in the Psalter 
which can best be explained by reference to this type of 


thought. Thus in Ps. 91 : 5f. we have a list of the perils 
from which the faithful will be delivered. They in- 
clude "the pestilence that walketh in darkness" — 
clearly conceived as a personal being, while the " des- 
truction " of the latter part of v. 6 is almost certainly 
to be understood as the name of a demon " Qeteb." 

It is, however, fairly clear that all the enemies from 
whom Psalmists pray to be delivered are not necessarily 
sorcerers and evil spirits. In some instances we have 
words which are derived from legal process, and though 
this may sometimes — indeed often — be simply a 
metaphor, there is surely some ground for supposing that 
we have in certain instances forms of prayer which might 
be used by a litigant protesting his innocence. It 
must be remembered that in ancient Israel, and elsewhere 
in the East, evidence had to be very convincing to be 
accepted. Normally it had to be offered by an eye- 
witness — probably by more than one — and circumstan- 
tial evidence had to be very clear. In the absence of 
any direct indication of the truth or falsehood of a charge, 
the suit might be terminated by one or other of the parties 
(in a civil dispute) or the accused (in a criminal case) 
taking an oath. In the Aramaic papyri found at 
Elephantine we have examples of oaths taken in support 
of claims to property, and the record of the oath is part 
of the owner's title, and must be handed on with other 
deeds when the property is transferred to another owner. 
The idea of legal process was never very far from the 
Israelite mind ; the poem of Job, for instance, is unin- 
telligible unless we recognize that the writer contemplates 
a great trial scene in which the sufferer is to hear the 
charges which God will bring against him, and the dis- 
cussion concludes in ch. 31 with a great oath of purgation. 
Another method was, clearly, to bring the matter to the 


sanctuary and secure a verdict from Yahweh, given, of 
course, through the priests. It is not improbable that 
they made use of the sacred lot in ascertaining the divine 
verdict on a difficult case, and it is natural, indeed, almost 
inevitable, that the ceremony which accompanied the 
casting of the lot should include an appeal and a protesta- 
tion of innocence by the accused. We may take Ps. 26 
as an example. The speaker begins "Judge me, O 
Yahweh, for I have walked in my perfection " — using 
a word which implies that he is nowhere open to a 
criminal charge. He is ready, even anxious, to have 
Yahweh testing him, for he knows that the most searching 
examination will reveal nothing in him that ought not 
to be there. He protests that he has had no dealings 
with false men, and that he hates the company of evil- 
doers. He has washed his hands in innocence — a 
metaphor for the upright life which we meet again in 
Ps. 73 : 13, where it looks like a recognized formula — 
and his only delight has been in the worship of Yahweh. 
He pleads that he may not be classed with offenders, and 
ends much as he began. We may well believe that he 
pauses at the end of his statement and waits for the 
result of his appeal. It is favourable, and the last verse 
reads like the response of a man who has been set free 
from suspicion. In other cases we have less assertion of 
innocence, and more of the appeal for deliverance. An 
illustration of this tendency may be found in Ps. 142, 
whose author — or speaker — was, to judge from v. 7, 
actually in prison. 

It is natural to turn from the laments of the individual 
to the thanksgiving of the individual. We may assume 
that this type of Psalm originated, like others, in the 
cultus, and if that is so, then the particular occasion was 
almost certainly that of the Thank-offering. Sometimes 


we can follow the actual procedure. In Ps. 66, for 

example, the Psalmist says (v. 13) that he is entering the 
house of Yahweh to perform his vows. He is bringing 
with him sacrificial animals for the burnt-offering, and 
summons all hearers to witness his act and its meaning. 
He tells them all that he has appealed to Yahweh for 
help, and adds that Yahweh would not have heard him if 
his heart had not been free from evil. Then we must 
suppose a gap in the text, which would be filled in on every 
separate occasion with a recital of the particular circum- 
stances in which the vow had been made. Finally he 
repeats his statement that Yahweh has heard him and 
granted his request, and adds an expression of gratitude. 
Another good example is to be seen in Ps. 1 1 6. This is a 
form which might be used by a person who had suffered 
from some terrible sickness. Apparently, too, it had 
involved him in suspicion of some crime, for he seems to 
have had human adversaries. It may, however, be 
suggested that die Psalm was intended to cover more than 
one type of supphant, and that the Psalmist inserted 
verses which might be omitted if the circumstances did 
not apply. Here, as in most of these Psalms, the writer 
begins with an ascription of praise, though the text may 
be in some disorder. Then follows the reason : Yahweh 
has delivered him from deadly peril in answer to his 
appeal. The danger in v. 3 seems to have been due to 
disease, but other references, e.g., to his own humble con- 
dition (v. 6) and to the falsity of men (v. 11) are adapted 
rather to some legal matter — a criminal charge or a civil 
action. Then in v. 12 he puts the ritual question " what 
shall I render unto Yahweh . . .?" and gives the 
answer, presumably dictated by the priest in attendance, 
" I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name 
of Yahweh." Clearly we have here a piece of ritual, 



with which we may compare the meal to which allusion 
is made in Ps. 22 : 26. The ceremonial continues as the 
worshipper actually offers the substance of his vow and 
slays the sacrificial animal (v. 17), and so brings this part 
of the proceedings to an end. 

Other details are suggested by different Psalms, though 
we must not forget that they were not all necessarily 
present in every performance of the thanksgiving rite. 
From time to time an appeal is made to others to share 
in the recognition of Yahweh's goodness ; the most com- 
prehensive example is to be seen in Ps. 66, where the 
whole earth is summoned to break into a cry of greeting 
to God. In Ps. 118 we have three classes of people 
enumerated — Israel, the house of Aaron, and those who 
fear Yahweh ; all are bidden praise Yahweh " for His 
love is for ever." Elsewhere we get the impression that 
there are other worshippers present on the occasion. 
Ps. 34 : 3, for example, calls on the whole company : 
" Magnify Yahweh with me ; let us exalt His name to- 
gether." Ps. 116:14 simply assumes that there is a 
gathering of people in the sanctuary while the offering is 
being made ; in this case, however, they are not asked to 
participate except as witnesses to the fact that the vow 
has been fulfilled. Evidently different forms of cere- 
monial might be employed on various occasions, perhaps 
depending on the nature of the vow in respect of which 
the offering was made, perhaps on the time and date at 
which it was presented. 

Like some other classes, these hymns of private thanks- 
giving often had an introductory formula, which might 
be more or less extended. Pss. 30, 34, 116, 138 all begin 
with an expression of the singer's feeling of gratitude and 
affection to Yahweh, while Ps. 92 announces in more 
general and sober terms that it is a good thing to give 


thanks (or praise) to Yahweh. In this case we have an 
introduction extending to three verses, followed by a 
transitional passage (w. 4-8) in which praise is mingled 
with a general statement of benefits received. Then 
comes the more detailed reason for gratitude ; the enemies 
of God (who are identical with the enemies of the 
Psalmist) have perished, while the righteous (in this 
instance clearly represented by the Psalmist himself) 
flourish as luxuriant trees to a green old age. 

In addition to the classes which have been mentioned, 
Gunkel enumerates others which he calls " smaller," 
though some of them include a fairly numerous group. 
First among these we may notice those which may come 
under the general head of blessings and curses. It may 
be as well to recall the fact that in the earlier stages of 
intellectual development the spoken word might be, and 
often was, regarded as being in itself efficient. Its power 
depended partly on the personality of the speaker 
who uttered it, but there were occasions in the life 
of most people when they became " fey," and 
what they said might control future events. A man or 
woman at the point of death, for example, would dehver 
sentences which were not merely predictions due to fore- 
knowledge, but in themselves the active agents which 
brought about the result indicated. No small part of the 
influence of the prophet lay in the belief that his oracle 
" would not return void, but would accomplish that 
whereunto it was sent." Now the expert, that is the 
magician or other especially endowed person, would best 
achieve his purpose by putting his sentences into some 
sort of artificial form, and we have sometimes suggestions 
which lead us to suspect that this was the original pur- 
pose of some types of poetry. When, for instance, 
Deborah is exhorted to " utter a song," it certainly looks 


as if this " song " were to be some inspired utterance 
which would secure the rout of the enemy, and this vie\\ 
is strengthened by the fact that she is first bidden 
" awake," which may well imply the rousing of the 
magical prophetic personaHty (Jud. 5 : 12). Of course^ 
by the time we reach the literary period of Israel's history, 
this feeling had largely disappeared (though traces of it 
are almost ineradicable). 

The forms, however, remained, and in a fair number of 
Psalms we have phrases which take us back to the old 
view. Several of our Psalms begin with words rendered 
in EVV as " blessed," and others have the expression 
later on. Ps. i begins " Blessed is the man ..." 
Other examples are Pss. 32, 41, 112, 128. The term 
used in these cases is almost an interjection — " O the 
blessing of . . . ! ", and what follows in the Psalm is 
descriptive of the happiness of the person concerned. 
The righteous devotee of the Law, for example, will be 
like a tree planted by rivers of water. An example of the 
blessing occurring in the middle of a Psalm may be seen in 
Ps. 84 : 4, 5, where it is called down, first on those who 
dwell in the house of Yahweh and then on the man whose 
strength is in Yahweh. 

On the other side we have frequent reference to the 
calamities and the misery which will be the lot of the 
wicked. Often we find that the Psalmist is calling for 
disaster on his adversaries. Though the actual word 
" cursed " does not occur in this formal way in the 
Psalter, we do find it in Jer, 17 : 5-8, a passage which, 
apparently, formed the model for Ps. i, and we may 
assume that language like that of the latter part of this 
Psalm may well have had the effect of a formal curse. 
As we have already noted, such curses are often, perhaps 
normally, attempts to turn back on the enemy a force 


which he has let loose against the Psalmist. The words 
have been uttered, the stroke must fall somewhere, let 
it come back in boomerang fashion on the head of the 
man from whom it originally proceeded. A recognition 
of this fact goes some way to minimise the sense of vin- 
dictiveness which so often troubles readers of the Psalter ; 
the motive behind these expressions is not so much 
hatred or a desire for vengeance as a wish to escape a 
weapon which has already been launched. At the same 
time we are forced to admit that this explanation will not 
fit all the examples ; the closing words of Ps. 137, for 
instance, are simply a demand for retribution which we 
may understand but cannot approve. Both blessings 
and curses are frequently found in Psalms which may 
also come under some other category. 

This last point may be well illustrated by reference to a 
Psalm which has already been cited as an example of a 
" Blessing" — Ps. 128. It is one of the group designated 
in the A.V. as " Songs of Degrees," and in the R.V. as 
" Songs of Ascents," which may well be taken to imply 
songs of pilgrimage, to be used by worshippers on their 
way up to the sanctuary at Jerusalem from some distant 
home. True, Gunkel himself assigns only one of these 
pieces to that special function. This is Ps. 122, and he 
adds to it Ps. 84. We may, however, include also Ps. 15 
and Ps. 24 : 3-6, which state the qualifications required 
of the worshipper. Moreover in the " official " group of 
" Songs of Ascents," we frequently meet with expressions 
which would well suit a traveller on a sacred journey as 
he draws near to his goal. Thus he " lifts up his eyes 
unto the hills" (Ps. 121 : i) as he crosses the coastal plain 
from the west. When he reaches the heights he will have 
seen Jerusalem compassed about with mountains (Ps. 
125 : 2). Ps. 132 expresses the determination of the 


worshipper to reach his goal, and his intense devotion to 
the holy city. The series concludes with an appeal to 
the worshippers, who are exhorted to acts of adoration, 
such as would be appropriate to pilgrims when they find 
themselves on the actual threshhold of the Temple. 

" Songs of Victory " form a class of which we have 
already seen examples among the poems now preserved 
in the historical books of the Old Testament. But this 
element appears in the thought of several poems, e.g., in 
Ps. 46 we have a picture of Yahweh putting an end to all 
war by the complete overthrow of the hostile armies and 
the destruction of their weapons. Ps. 76 comes as near as 
any to giving a complete example of this kind of paean. 
Here we notice that it is Yahweh and Yahweh alone who 
achieves the victory, and He works in miraculous fashion. 
He has only to utter a rebuke, and the enemy sinks down 
in slumber, and the poet uses a word which suggests 
the deep sleep which only God can induce for His special 
purposes, such a sleep as fell on Adam that a rib might be 
taken from him, or on Abram when the covenant- 
making God appeared to him. But while the subject is 
not infrequent, formal Psalms of this type have not been 
preserved in the Psalter, and we are led to suspect that, 
in the age of compilation, Israel had no specific service 
of thanksgiving for victory. Probably forms used in 
other kinds of thanksgiving could be employed when 

Two or three of our Psalms, notably Pss. 78, 105 and 
:o6 have a certain historical character. They tell the 
story of Yahweh's dealings with His people, and seem to be 
fairly late in construction, since they presuppose the 
completed narratives of the Hexateuch. They have con- 
tacts with the " Hymns " for, naturally, the people are 
summoned to praise Yahweh for His marvellous acts. 


As might be expected, these narratives have a didactic 
purpose ; Ps. 106 in particular is an attempt to warn 
Israel against a further repetition of their frequent 
failures and apostasies of ancient days. Here the story 
is carried down to the occupation of Palestine, and while 
it ostensibly does not go beyond the period of the Judges, 
it is obviously coloured by the experiences and events 
of the monarchy, perhaps even of the exile. 

Of " Law-Psalms," Gunkel recognizes only elements 
in Ps. 50. It must be remembered that the Hebrew 
" Torah " does not mean merely " Law " in our sense of 
the word, but rather a piece of divine instruction, and 
Gunkel's point here is that it is only in this Psalm that 
fresh instructions as to worship are given. Curiously 
enough, these are hardly in general accord with the 
tendency of the formal " Law," since the insistence is not 
on the familiar forms of sacrifice, but on a deeper, more 
spiritual devotion to the moral will of Yahweh. 

It is, perhaps, hardly correct to speak of " prophetic 
Psalms " ; what is meant is a prophetic, or rather an 
eschatological element which appears in a number of 
Psalms which really belong to different types. Thus we 
have this kind of thought in hymns of praise like Ps. 98, 
while the songs of the divine enthronement may naturally 
develop an apocalyptic flavour, as in Pss. 47, 93, 97 
and others. Ps. 50, at which we have just looked, begins 
with a theophany of the true eschatological type. The 
fact that in this, and possibly in other Psalms as well, the 
eschatological element could be removed without im- 
pairing other features of the message, suggests that 
possibly the apocalpytic factor is a later addition to, or 
modification of, the original form. There were periods 
in Israelite history, particularly times of depression and 
distress, when men's minds naturally turned to the hope 


of a catastrophic divine intervention and the overthrow 
of the existing world order. It is to be expected that we 
should find traces of this feeling in many forms of Jewish 
worship, and where this was not obvious it might well, in 
certain cases, be made explicit. 

A more strictly prophetic outlook is to be seen in one 
or two Psalms which emphasize the futility of the cultus. 
This is rather surprising in a collection whose primary 
object was evidently to serve the purposes of worship, 
and it attests the strength of the feeling handed down from 
great teachers of spiritual religion like the eighth and 
seventh century prophets. But we cannot deny the 
presence of this element in Psalms like 50 and 5 1 , though 
it is interesting to note that in the form preserved in our 
Bibles an attempt is usually made to correct the anti- 
sacrificial feeling by the addition of a sentence or two 
justifying, or even enjoining, that type of religion which 
the poet elsewhere deprecates. 

Just as some Psalms contain prophetic or apocalyptic 
elements, so others suggest the influence of the " wisdom " 
type of thought. This manifests itself mainly in two 
directions. One is the appearance of short pithy 
summaries of experience — what we commonly call 
" proverbs," and the other is to be seen in the discussion 
of some deeper problem of religion or ethics. A good 
example of the last type is to be found in Ps. 49, which 
deals with the age-long question of the suffering of the 
righteous and the success of the wicked. The con- 
clusion reached by the writer is that in reality the wealth 
accumulated by injustice is of no real value, since the 
owner can take nothing with him when he dies. A 
similar theme dominates other Psalms, especially Pss. 37 
and 73, though the two reach very different conclusions. 
To the other type belong a number of passages in the 


Psalter. Ps. 78 opens very much like some of the chapters 
in the Book of Proverbs, and actually uses the word 
" Mashal," which is the ordinary term for " proverb." 
The remainder of the Psalm, however, is a poetic summary 
of Israel's history down to the establishment of the 
monarchy, described in order to illustrate the dangers of 
forgetting the " instruction " which people like the 
Psalmist could give. At other times we have the dis- 
tinction between the wise man and the fool, so character- 
istic of this thought-area, as in Ps. 94 : 8. In Ps. 34 : i2ff 
we have a string of sentences which recall the form 
common in Proverbs. Verses like Ps. 37 : 16 are of the 
same type ; indeed the alphabetic Psalm lends itself to 
this kind of thought. 

As we glance over these various types, together with 
Psalms in which we have two or more types interchanging, 
we realize that we must not draw lines of demarcation too 
hard and fast. But such a classification as that which 
Gunkel has given us does open the way for a new 
approach to the study of the Psalter. To a certain extent 
it helps us to place a particular piece, especially where a 
whole poem is clearly designed for use in some form of 
ritual. One result is that to-day we ascribe to the pre- 
exilic age a far larger element in the Psalter than would 
have been done by leading scholars fifty years ago. TliC 
study of the pre-exilic cultus is in its infancy, and much is 
still to be learnt from comparison with the practices of 
other religions. Chief among these will doubtless be the 
forms of worship which were current in the ancient 
Ugaritian community whose remains have recently been 
unearthed at Ras Shamra. The sacred texts already 
deciphered shew a sacrificial and liturgical system not 
xmlike that of the Old Testament, and the presumption 
is that a similar type of ritual was observed at the IsraeHte 


sanctuaries during the period of the monarchy. It is, 
however, too early yet to speak of assured conclusions, and 
we must, for the time, be content with a general expecta- 
tion of fuller knowledge. 



It goes without saying that Israel was not the only people 
in the ancient east who possessed a rich store of religious 
poetry. In particular a number of pieces have come 
down to us from the two great centres of civilization, 
those of Mesopotamia and of the Nile. In many ways 
both exercised considerable influence on the thought of 
Palestine, though in different directions. Generally speak- 
ing, it was in ages preceding the advent of the Aramaean 
invaders after the Exodus that Babylonian influence was 
most directly exercised, and for the most part this seems 
to have reached Israel through the Canaanites whom 
they found in Palestine. The most obvious instance is 
that of law, for the eadiest Israelite codes and the well- 
known Babylonian and Assyrian codes clearly have a 
common basis. There is, however, no question of direct 
borrowing, for, strangely enough, of all the forms this 
type of law took, the Israelite is the most primitive. 
The facts can hardly be explained except on the supposi- 
tion that its basis had been long known, centuries indeed 
before the age of Hammurabi, in Palestine, and that there 
it had remained more or less stationary, while in the land 
of its origin it had steadily developed to meet the growing 
needs of a progressive community. 

Now we find in Babylonian sacred literature numbers 
of Psalms which in many respects recall those of the 
Hebrew Psalter. The best known are probably the so- 
called " Penitential Psalms," in which the soul of the 



worshipper is poured out in confession and a longing for 
forgiveness. It is not unnatural that we should detect 
similarities of expression in the hymns of the two countries, 
since the minds of each people would tend to move in 
much the same direction, and the human need in the face 
of sin and its punishment is alike all the world over. 
We do, as a matter of fact, not infrequently note the 
appearance of similar thoughts, metaphors and even 
actual phrases in both literatures. The resemblances, 
however, are not so close or so numerous as to compel 
us to think of direct borrowing, and many of the best 
judges would agree that they are to be ascribed partly 
to identity of conditions and partly to the common 
heritage of the Semitic mind. 

The case is rather different when we turn to Egypt. 
The empire of the Nile had occupied Palestine im- 
mediately before the arrival of Israel, and was always 
close at hand. What is surprising is to find, not that 
Egypt exercised so much influence on the religion of 
Israel, but that she exercised so little. So far as we can 
reconstruct the Hebrew cultus and the mythology with 
which it was connected, it belongs emphatically to the 
general type represented by Mesopotamia and northern 
Syria rather than to that current in Egypt. But we do 
find certain literary similarities which shew acquaintance, 
and perhaps more than mere acquaintance, with the 
sacred writings of Egypt. This is particularly evident 
when we look at some of the literature which belongs 
roughly to the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. 
This was a period when Israel was still in process of for- 
mation ; the date of the Exodus is much disputed, but 
it would be generally agreed, even by those who place it 
as early as possible, that there was no organized Israelite 
state in the middle of the fourteenth century. That is 


the age in which we find one of the most striking rehgious 
movements of ancient times, the reforms of Ikhnaton 
(Amenhotep IV). This is no place to discuss these in 
detail ; it must be enough to note that the new theology 
seems to have been definitely monotheistic, or at least 
to have exalted the Sun-god to the exclusion of all other 
cults. In the proverbial literature of that age — including 
collections which come one or two centuries before and 
after the reign of Ikhnaton — we find a stress on ethics 
which strongly recalls the attitude of the best IsraeHte 
minds as represented in the Prophets and some of the 
Psalms. When we turn from didactic to more strictly 
religious literature, we are even more impressed by 
similarity in thought and even in language. Expressions 
of repentance for sin and requests for pardon will tend 
everywhere to take the same general form, but this does 
not explain the close resemblance in actual words which 
we sometimes meet in reading Egyptian and Hebrew 
penitential hymns alongside of one another. The best- 
known illustration of resemblance, however, is in a hymn 
of praise. We possess a hymn to the Sun-god, composed 
by Ikhnaton, which is very like Ps. 104, and it is generally 
agreed that the two cannot be independent. We read 
lines like these : 

When thou goest down in the western horizon, 
The earth is in darkness as if It were dead . . . 
Every lion cometh forth from his den, 
And all snakes that bite . . . 


The ships voyage up and down the stream likewise, 
Every way is open because diou risest. 
The fishes in the river leap before thy face ; 
Thy rays are in the great green sea 

or a!B:am 


The earth is in thy hand, 
For thou hast made them. 
When thou arisest they live, 
When thou settest they die. 

Such passages irresistibly remind us of the language ot 

the Psalm : 

He appointeth the moon for seasons : 
The sun knoweth his going down. 
Thou makest darkness, and it is night ; 
Wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. 
The young lions roar after their prey. 
And seek their meat from God. 

* * * 

Yonder is the sea, great and wide, 
WTierein are things creeping innumerable, 
Both small and great beasts. 
There go the ships ; 

There is that Leviathan whom thou hast formed to take 
his pastime therein. 

* * * 

Thou openest thine hand, they are satisfied with good. 
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled ; 
And takest away their breath, they die 
And return to their dust. 

Here it seems to be beyond dispute that the Hebrew 
poet was at least acquainted with the Egyptian hymn, 
and we are, then, justified in suspecting that elsewhere, 
even if the resemblance is less exact, there was in Palestine 
a certain measure of familiarity with other Egyptian 
sacred poems. 

When we consider these facts, it becomes the more 
remarkable that there were wide differences in thought 
between the Hebrew and the Egyptian Psalmists. -^ The 
whole thought of Egypt, for example, was oriented to a 
doctrine of a life after death ; a belief in immortality, 
even in resurrection, goes back to a comparatively early 


date, and may be as old as the pyramids. But nowhere 
in the Old Testament Psalter have we a clear statement of 
such a doctrine. Several passages have been interpreted 
in that sense, but nowhere is it the only possible inter- 
pretation, and where we are considering a new or un- 
familiar position, we can be satisfied with nothing less 
than absolute certainty ; no reasonable alternative ex- 
planation must be rejected. The clearest case is probably 
Ps. 73 : 26. Even this is disputed, and it is justly re- 
marked that the Hebrew rendered " for ever " may mean 
a long time, but is by no means necessarily eternity in 
our sense of the word. At the same time the poet does 
speak of his flesh and his heart coming to an end, ceasing 
to exist, and his communion with God is contrasted with 
this perishing of his physical frame. It would appear, 
then, that we may fairly interpret the passage as implying 
that death is not the end of relations between God and 
man. This is neither a full doctrine of immortality 
nor a statement of resurrection, but when once man's 
thought has overcome the barrier of death these things 
may in time follow. 

Even if this view of Ps. 73 : 26 be right, it remains an 
isolated passage. Much more normal is the kind of 
expression we find in Ps. 6 : 5 : 

There is no remembrance of thee in death ; 
In She'ol who shall praise thee ? 

In Ps. 88 : 10-12, again, we have : 

Wilt thou do thy marvel for the dead ? 

Or shall the shades rise and praise thee ? 
Shall the tale of thy love be told in the grave ? 

Thy faithfulness in Abaddon ? 
Can thy wonder be known in die darkness ? 

Thy righteousness in the land of oblivion ? 

Less keenly emotional, but just as clear is Ps. 115 : 17 : 


The dead praise not Yah, 

Nor they that go down into silence. 

But if on this point Egyptian thinking was centuries 
ahead of that which we find in Israel, in other ways it 
was the Hebrew who made the greatest advances. In 
spite of the efforts made by Ikhnaton to establish a form 
of theology which at least approximates to monotheism, 
the general trend of Egyptian religion was polytheistic, 
with a strong undercurrent of animism. In fact its 
average level declined instead of rising with the passing 
of the centuries. In Israel, on the other hand, the old 
traditions inherited from the Mosaic age insisted on the 
worship of a single deity, and though this ideal was seldom 
realized in practice during the monarchy, there were 
always groups which stood for the cult of Yahweh and 
Yahweh alone as the national God, while He was uni- 
versally recognized as the supreme object of worship for 
Israel. Even as late as the fifth centuiy we find in the 
strange Jewish community at Elephantine more than one 
deity mentioned, but the personal names which have 
come down to us are compounded with no other divine 
element than that of Yahweh. It is in harmony with this 
development, which led in the end to a pure monotheism, 
that we find in many of our Psalms traces, and more than 
traces, of polytheistic beliefs. The phenomenon is 
most striking in cases where Yahweh is exalted at the 
expense of other gods. It is sometimes rather disguised in 
the ordinary English versions. E.g., Ps. 29 opens : 

Give unto Yahweh, ye sons of gods (Elim), 
Give unto Yahweh glory and strength. 

Again in Ps. 96 : 5 the phrase " all the gods of the nations 
are idols " should not be held to imply that foreign 
deities are merely objects of wood, stone or metal. The 
word rendered " idols " is simply a contemptuous diminu- 


tive, and is not to be taken as denying their actual per- 
sonal existence. Ps. 97 : 7 is worth noting in this con- 
nection : " Let them be ashamed, all that serve a graven 
image, which boast ' idols ' ; bow before him all ye 
gods." Here the direct address to the gods shews that 
the "idols", even the "graven image", either are or 
represent real personal beings, though they are inferior to 
Yahweh. It is in the Psalms of Yahweh's enthronement 
that we find most of these expressions. Thus in Ps. 95 : 3 
" For Yahweh is a great God (El), and a great king above 
all gods." Parallel expressions occur in Pss. 96 : 4, 
97 : 9. But the idea appears elsewhere, e.g., in Ps. 86 : 8 : 
" There is none like unto thee among the gods, O Lord, 
nor any works like thine." cf. also Ps. 89 : 6. As we have 
already noticed, in all these instances the other gods are 
mentioned in order to emphasize the pre-eminence of 
Yahweh. Sometimes we get a picture of a heavenly 
court, consisting of divine beings whose president and 
king is Yahweh. Thus in Ps. 138 : i the poet finds 
himself in the presence of the gods, and makes his con- 
fession of praise not only before men but also before the 
divine assembly. More striking still is Ps. 82, where it 
seems that Yahweh, as supreme ruler of the universe, 
summons before him all the other gods. They have been 
entrusted with the government of parts of the world, and 
they have failed so badly that they are to be degraded to 
the level of ordinary human beings and to become subject 
to the same law of mortality as are men. This may indi- 
cate a transition from the acceptance of the full godhead 
of these other " gods " to a doctrine which left them 
superhuman but definitely relegated them to a second 
order of being. Even if Yahweh is the supreme ruler 
of the universe. He may yet employ subordinate agents 
to carry out His wishes in detail. A similar idea appears 

T H E P S A L M S I I I 1 53 

in tiie commonly accepted doctrine of angels — beings 
who are surely superfluous in the service of an omnipotent 
Personality, who can accomplish His will by the simplest 
flash of thought. Indeed, while a behefin angels (This, 
of course, has no reference to the Old Testament concep- 
tion of the " Angel of Yahweh," who is essentially a 
form or manifestation of Yahweh Himself) doubtless owes 
much to Persian influence, especially in distinguishing 
between good angels and evil, it may well be found, on 
careful examination, that the way had long been pre- 
pared by the subordinate status assigned to other gods. 

Even if the Psalter as a whole does not present us widi 
a pure monotheism, there is no doubt as to the absolute 
supremacy of Yahweh. Many times we find reference to 
His work in creation. The heavens are the work of His 
fingers (Ps. 8:3), the sea is His and He made it, and His 
hands formed the dry land (Ps. 95 : 5). Instances are 
too numerous to mention ; nearly every hymn of praise 
contains some reference to the work of Yahweh in 
creation. Occasionally we meet with language which 
suggests a popular mythology akin to that of Meso- 
potamia. In Ps. 89 : 10, II, for example, we have : 

Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces as one that is slain, 
Thou hast scattered thine enemies with the arm of thy 
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine, 

The world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded 

The last line shews that the poet is thinking of creation, 
and we at once recall the story of the rebellious Chaos- 
monster, here called Rahab, who, with her associates, was 
destroyed by the hero-god, the universe then being 
formed from her sundered body. Again in Ps. 74 : 13, 
14 we read : 


Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength ; 

Thou breakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. 
Thou breakest the heads of Leviathan in pieces, 

Thou gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting 
the wilderness. 

The whole passage, w. 12-17 is an appeal to the power 
manifested in creation, and we think inevitably of the old 
story again, though the name of the monster this time is 
Leviathan — a term which seems to be used in the same 
sense in Is. 27 : i. Ugaritic mythology, too, presents us 
with a seven-headed monster. With its polytheistic 
background the myth has been carefully excluded from 
the official religious documents of Israel, but it almost 
certainly existed, and a few casual expressions are best 
explained as referring to it. They were probably over- 
looked because they would suggest the myth only to those 
who were familiar with it. 

In numerous passages, too, Yahweh's control of all 
natural phenomena is stressed. Again, instances are too 
numerous to give in detail, but we may note that occasion- 
ally a whole Psalm is devoted to some such theme as this ; 
Ps. 104 is an excellent example. But in many other 
pieces there are allusions to Yahweh's power as exhibited 
in nature. Volcanic action, which could have been 
known only by hearsay to the untravelled Israelite, is 
suggested by a phrase like " touch the hills and they will 
smoke " (Ps. 144 : 5). An earthquake may be due to the 
presence of Yahweh " The earth shook and trembled, 
the foundations also of the mountains moved, and were 
shaken because he was wroth " (Ps. 18 : 7). The 
regular processes of the physical world, too, were not for- 
gotten, though the eastern mind more readily sees God 
in the abnormal than in the normal. Ps. 104, again, is 
an admirable illustration, while Ps. 107 gives a whole 


series of circumstances in which His power over nature is 
exercised for the good of those who cry to Him. 

It is not only in Nature that Yahweh's supremacy is 
manifested ; it appears also in history. The Psalmists 
seldom, if ever, go so far as some of the prophets do, and 
ascribe the government of foreign nations to Yahweh, 
whether they affect Israel directly or not. But they 
frequently dwell on the story of their own people, and 
'references to the Exodus are particularly common. In 
passing we may note how seldom the name of Moses 
appears, especially in earlier Psalms. But there is no 
doubt that the deliverance from Egypt was the historical 
event which, more than any other, dominated the think- 
ing of the Psalmists, and, indeed, of all Israelites. Some- 
times we have regular poetical summaries of history, as 
in Pss. 78, 105 and io6. Ps. 136 combines the celebra- 
tion of Yahweh as creator with thanks to Him as the con- 
troller of Israel's fortunes. Sometimes the worshipper in 
private or national distress appeals to the great stories of 
the past and asks that they may be repeated. Thus we 
get casual references in such passages as Pss. 80 : 8-1 1, 
81 : 5, 10, 1 14 : I ff., 135 : 8 ff. and many other places. 

All these celebrate the great goodness and favour shown 
to Israel by Yahweh. But the greatest of His gifts was the 
Law, and more than once we have fairly extensive passages 
in recognition of the fact. The latter part of Ps. 19 is 
devoted to the subject, and the longest of all the Psalms, 
the alphabetic acrostic of Ps. 119, is a somewhat artificial 
expansion of the same theme. There are slighter 
allusions to it, e.g., in Ps. 103 : 7. 

The common appeal to Yahweh by the oppressed, 
whether the nation or the individual, is based on two 
presuppositions. One is that Yahweh has all power, 
and the other is that He is absolutely just. As we have 


seen, such application to Him is often reinforced by 
recollection of the great things He has done in the past. 
God can see His own people saved and restored, if only 
He will. And with one consent the Psalmists are certain 
that if He is only convinced of the justice of their case, He 
will see that they get their due. Indeed, they could 
hardly have entered the court unless they had felt satis- 
fied that they were in the right. Litigation is one of the 
commonest features of oriental life, and, as far as we can 
see, it has been so from the dawn of civiUsation. The 
forensic metaphor, then, is very frequent, and, indeed, the 
whole conception of righteousness has the flavour of the 
law. The *' righteous" person is he who wins his case, 
and we have already seen the part played by the idea in 
the Book of Job. Consequently we often meet with legal 
phraseology even when Israel's plea is for deliverance 
from national enemies. Ps. 43, for example, begins with 
an appeal that Yahweh will "judge" the unhappy 
exile and " plead his cause," though here there is no 
question of a human court of law. As we have already 
seen, however, a certain number of the Psalms may 
have been composed definitely for the use of plaintiff or 
defendant. Some are or contain protestations of inno- 
cence, though the greatest of these lies outside the Psalter 
and is to be found in Job 31. It is quite possible that these 
were formulae used in taking an oath. It is clear that if 
one or other of the parties could be induced to swear to 
the justice of his case, that settled the matter. It is 
interesting to note that the offence of perjury was 
practically unthinkable ; no man would expose himself 
to the vengeance of a god whose name had been taken 
" in vain," i.e., to a falsehood. 

As a rule statements of innocence are confined to, or 
adapted to, particular occasions, and give us no list of 


the righteous acts to be performed or the sins to be avoided 
by the worshippers of Yahweh. It may be assumed, 
however, that He Himself is held to be perfectly good, as 
far as men understood goodness. This does not mean that 
their standards were always such as we could accept to- 
day. In particular we have not infrequent calls for 
divine punishment on those who have done wrong to the 
petitioner. Our own feeling revolts against such a 
prayer as that with which Ps. 137 ends. The Psalm itself 
is a beautiful lament over the sufferings of Israel in exile 
and the cruelties which have been perpetrated by the 
conqueror, but it concludes " Blessed be he that shall 
seize thy babes and dash them upon the rock." To us 
who have been taught to forgive our enemies this is a 
direct violation of moral principle — but how human it is ! 
If we had seen and borne what the Psalmist saw and en- 
dured, we might well have endorsed his curse. Centuries 
must elapse before the true principle was stated, and we 
may doubt whether it has even yet been fully learned. 
At the same time we are forced to recognize the fact 
that the emphasis is always laid on conduct rather than 
on ritual. It is true that there are frequent references to 
the ceremonial of Israel, and the highest hopes and 
desires of the worshipper usually centre round the Temple 
cult. It could hardly be otherwise in a corpus of poetry 
mainly designed for use in worship of one kind or another. 
Evidence of this feeling may be seen in such utterances as 
Ps. 42-3, or in the very familiar Ps. 100 — to mention only 
a couple out of innumerable instances. Even in those 
rare instances where the Psalmist adopts a prophetic 
attitude to sacrifice, as in Ps. 51, the editors felt it neces- 
sary to correct any misapprehension by appending a note 
of their own, stressing the importance of the ritual. 
But when the penitent came to confess his wrong-domg 


before God, it was seldom, if ever, that his sin consisted in 
an offence against the ceremonial law. Here we have a 
striking contrast to what we find so often in non-Israehte 
Psalms and in those votive tablets which the archaeologist 
discovers in the ruined shrines of other nations. What 
has aroused the anger of Yahweh, what has brought the 
worshipper into peril, is nearly always a breach of the 
moral law. In full harmony with this position, when we 
find a statement of the quaUfications demanded of 
Yahweh's worshippers, as we do in passages like Pss. 15 
and 24 : 3-6, the list is entirely composed of ethical items. 
We never hear the suppliant admit to failure in the matter 
of sacrifices, nor is it required of him that all his levitical 
obligations have been fulfilled before he can enter the 
presence of his God. 

We are, then, the more impressed by the overwhelming 
sense of sin in the mind of the Psalmists. True, many of 
the pieces in the book are prayers for deliverance from 
suffering or danger which is assumed to be a punishment 
for sin, but there can be no doubt as to the sincerity of the 
confessions which we read. It is significant in itself that 
when the Israelite met with disaster he was at once re- 
minded of his own evil ways. This, of course, is not in- 
variably the point of view adopted by the worshipper, 
and sometimes the poet is simply bewildered by an 
appearance of punishment when he is unconscious of 
sin. As we have seen, such protestations of innocence are 
natural where the speaker is in court, rebutting a charge of 
crime brought against him by his enemies. But in 
numerous other cases we have the simple acknowledgment 
of faults. " Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin 
did my mother conceive me " (Ps. 51 : 5) is not meant to 
be a statement of " original sin," still less a slur on the 
mother's character ; it is merely the poet's way of expres- 


sing his own intense feeling of sinfulness in the presence 
of an utterly pure and holy God. It is particularly notice- 
able that no wrong is ever done to man alone. True, 
it is the sinner's neighbour who is the immediate sufferer, 
but the wrong done to him fades into insignificance as 
compared with the yet deeper injury inflicted on God. 
" Against thee, thee only, have I sinned " (Ps. 51 : 4) is 
the genuine cry of a heart which realises the truth that 
God is the greatest sufferer in the universe. Taken as a 
whole this Psalm has no exact parallel elsewhere in the 
book, but that is in no small measure because it sums up 
and makes explicit much that lies beneath the surface 
of other pieces. 

What then is God's attitude towards sin ? Condemna- 
tion and punishment — these are the first and most obvious 
signs of His reaction to it. A people who held so strongly 
to a doctrine of an absolutely righteous God could hardly 
have taken any other view. But that is not all. His 
justice is tempered, and more than tempered, with mercy, 
a mercy which springs out of and is controlled by love. 
We may look at a poem like Ps. 103 ; it is an expression 
of much that we find elsewhere in the Psalter. It is a 
hymn of the divine love, that love which shews itself in 
so many different forms. That which is most stressed 
here is the love of a person who is in some way bound to 
another, and has certain obligations laid on him by that 
relationship. It is what our versions feebly represent by 
the term " mercy " in w. 11, 17 and often elsewhere in 
the Bible. It implies that God has in some way sub- 
jected Himself to conditions of His own making. He is 
the creator of all mankind, therefore He has responsi- 
bilities towards us : 

" Thou wilt not leave us in the dust ; 
Thou madest man. . . ." 


is the English poet's way of expressing the thought. We 
need not dwell here on the various ways in which the 
Psalmist sees this love made manifest. But there is 
another aspect which is stressed here. It springs out of 
the human consciousness of insignificance in the divine 
presence, the reaction of the infinitesimal to the infinite. 
There is a great gulf between the ephemeral and the 
eternal. God is as much aware of this as we are : 

" He knoweth our frame, 

He remembereth that we are dust." 

God realizes the way in which His creatures are con- 
structed ; He understands their constitution, with all its 
weakness as well as its possibilities. And so His attitude 
is more than that of a creator ; it is that of a father. 
Disguised by the English " pity " we have another aspect 
of love. This is the ideal attitude of the parent to the 
child. Etymologically mother-love, it has become that 
of the father as well, and has lost nothing of its tenderness 
in the transfer. Such love cannot be satisfied with mere 
justice, and, indeed, it may be questioned whether mere 
justice is ever real justice at all. And so we find that the 
experience of the Psalmist is essentially one of forgive- 
ness. That is how he begins when he thinks of the various 
manifestations of Yahweh's love. " Who forgiveth all 
thine iniquities " comes even before " Wlio healeth all 
thy diseases." The way is prepared for the great 
sentences of v. 8 ff. : 

" Parentally tender and freely loving is Yahweh ; 
Slow to anger, and great in love, 
He will not always argue against us, 
Nor will he keep His anger for ever. 

Not as oiu" sins have deserved has he dealt with us, 

Nor as our iniquities have merited has he requited us. 
For as heaven is high above the earth, 


So high is His love to those who fear Him. 
As far as the east is from the west, 

So far has he removed our dehberate transgressions 
from us." 

It is true that Christian thought cannot fail to observe 
a certain limitation in all this. The love of Yahweh, 
great as it is (and the Psalmist uses the largest units of 
measurement possible to him), operates only on those 
who are already in the right attitude — " them that fear 
Him." But we must not ask for too much. It is true 
that in the Old Testament there are adumbrations of 
the truth that God takes the initiative in the elimination 
of sin and its effects, but these are comparatively rare, 
and are far above the ordinary level of Hebrew religious 
thought. We must not look for the parable of the lost 
sheep even in the Psalter. 

But to the Psalm again which we have already touched. 
The natural affection of the parent for the child is the 
attitude of the great person for the small, the eternal 
for the evanescent. In the absence of a full doctrine of 
life after death, in which the relation between the worship- 
per and his God would be maintained, it was inevitable 
that men should dwell on the contrast between the endless' 
life of God and the little span of human existence. This 
is far from being the only passage in which this rises to the 
surface ; Ps. go, for example, is essentially a cry for some- 
thing that will endure after all that makes personality in 
man has ceased to be. But Ps. 103 does not stop with this 
thought ; Yahweh's reaction to his ephemeral children 
is one of tender consideration : 

" He knows all about our structure, 

He remembers that we are dust." 

At once, however, the Psalmist comes back to his main 
theme, and he recognises the eternity of God's love. 


showered generation after generation on the faithful : 

But the love of Yahweh is from everlasting, 
And to everlasting upon them that fear Him, 

And His righteousness unto children's children, 

To them that remember His commandments to do 

(We may suspect that the " covenant-keepers " are a 
later gloss ; their introduction breaks into the regular 
metrical scheme of the Psalm.) 

And so the whole feeling of the poet breaks out in the 
great demand for universal worship. Not only the 
speaker himself, but all other servants of Yahweh, human 
and superhuman, are called on to " bless " Yahweh. 
" Blessing " is not a mere synonym for " praise." It 
necessarily, to the Hebrew mind, involves the conveying 
to another person some spiritual power, vague and 
indefinable, perhaps, but none the less real. Words may 
make a difference, and more than once in the Old Testa- 
ment we have illustrations of the desire survivors feel for 
some " blessing " from the dying, the release of a power 
which may be to their advantage. Implied in the 
demand that men and angels should " bless " Yahw^eh 
is the thought that even He can receive something of 
value from the little human soul, and the least that die 
inferior creature can do in recompense for all that he has 
received is to consecrate his own spiritual force, feeble 
though it may be, to the God who has given so much. 

So, with sin forgiven and love assured, the worshipping 
soul can enter into the full joy of the presence of God. 
In fellowship with Him there are no fears, even when the 
traveller passes through the " valley of deepest gloom." 
Yahweh is a sun and a shield, in His presence there is 
fulness of joy, and at His right hand there are pleasures 



There seems to be in the human mind an ineradicable 
instinct for what we call philosophy. Men have a 
tendency to group events together and try to correlate 
them with one another, seeing, as far as possible, a com- 
mon principle at work in them. " Natural Science " 
deals with the structure and behaviour of the physical 
universe, and reduces the phenomena which it observes 
to the smallest possible number of " natural laws " — 
the phrase is popularly used, though the term " law " is 
not strictly accurate. Chemical research first reduced 
all forms of matter to " elements " and " atoms," the 
atoms of different elements being different from one 
another. It then went further and reduced the atoms to 
their component parts, finding that the " electrons " 
of one atom were identical with those of every other. It 
thus gave a uniform explanation, in the last resort, for 
the substance of which the universe is composed. Such 
widely varying phenomena as the tides, the fall of a pin, 
day and night, the seasons, are now explained by refer- 
ence to a common and invariable principle called " the 
law of gravitation." 

The physical universe, however, does not exhaust the 
range of experience. Emotion, thought, reason, and 
other " spiritual " phenomena are not to be wholly 
explained by reference to matter and its behaviour. 
It is in metaphysical speculation that an attempt is made 
to unify all experience, and to correlate both the material 



and the non-material elements. In the last resort a 
" monism " is the ultimate of all philosophical thinking. 
But it necessarily begins in a very simple and humble 
fashion. A small group of facts may be taken and covered 
by a generalisation. Weather and climate, which are of 
supreme importance to organised human life, have been 
studied generation after generation, and men's experience 
is apt to crystallize itself in such statements as that which 
tells us that if the oak comes into leaf before the ash, 
then the summer's rain will be but a splash, while if the 
order is reversed, then the land will have a " soak." 
Successive meteorological observations have led men to 
say : 

" A rainbow at night 

Is the shepherd's delight ; 
A rainbow in the morning 

Is the shepherd's warning." 

— a conclusion reached by experience long before 
science was able to give a reason which linked the facts 
with other observed phenomena. The same principle 
was applied to other types of experience, and we have all 
heard sayings like "A stitch in time save nine," a general 
principle which we accept without necessarily endorsing 
its mathematical accuracy. Such summaries of ex- 
perience are usually couched in a form which makes them 
easy to remember, and we often have to admit that they 
appear to be based on an inadequate survey of the field. 
We may even get " proverbs " which contradict each 
other. Does absence make the heart grow fonder ? 
Or is a person out of sight also out of mind ? People who 
accept " proverbs " as expressions of ultimate truth may 
take their choice. Or they may insist on modifying one 
of the expressions and saying that absence makes a fond 
heart fonder — an obvious accommodation to the other 


" proverb " which goes far towards reducing the value 
of the first. 

Such proverbs, then, may be described as the first 
tentative efforts of the human mind in the direction of a 
philosophy, and they are to be found almost everywhere. 
Regarded as the essence of human wisdom by generation 
after generation, they were quoted in market and field, 
in the city and in the open pasture. Learned men de- 
lighted in making collections of them, and it is interesting 
to note how often we find similar proverbs among peoples 
so far distant from one another as to preclude the idea of 
direct borrowing. That there was such borrowing from 
time to time is extremely probable — indeed, in some cases 
practically certain, but it is only when we get corres- 
pondence between fairly long groups of proverbs that we 
can adopt this theory. 

Ancient Israel was no exception to the general rule. 
In reading the Old Testament we are met again and again 
by " proverbs," some of them apparently springing out of 
historical events, and others of a more general character. 
Sometimes more than one event is indicated as the origin 
of a proverb ; the saying " Is Saul also among the 
prophets? ", for example, is explained twice, once in 
I Sam. 10 : 12 and once in I Sam. 19 : 24. Collections 
were made, and, with other literature of a reflective or 
speculative type, were classed under the general head of 
" Wisdom " — the nearest term the ancient Hebrew had 
to " Philosophy." The proverb itself was a form of 
" mashal," a word whose exact significance is extremely 
elusive. To judge from comparative philology, its 
primary sense was that of " likeness " or " similarity," 
and the corresponding term is used in Arabic as a pre- 
position meaning " like." But metaphor and simile 
are very far from exhausting the forms of expression to 


which the Hebrew word is applied. It is not used, for 
example, ofjotham's "parable" in Jud. 9:8-15. On 
the other hand it is employed to describe the great taunt- 
song over the fall of a tyrant, which we find in Is. 14 : 4 ff. 
In the Book of Job the speeches which begin with 27 : i 
and 29 : i are described by this word. So also Balaam's 
utterances in Nu. 23 and 24. In Ps. 44 : 14 and Job 
17 : 6 it is rendered " byword," and the same sense may 
be read into the word " proverb " in such passages as 
Dt. 28 : 37, 1 Ki. 9 : 7, and Jer. 24 : 9. Any one who can 
give us an adequate explanation, and correlate all these 
different senses will have contributed in no small degree to 
our understanding of Hebrew psychology. 

In the book which bears the name of " Proverbs," 
however, the type is, on the whole, fairly uniform. For 
the most part we have a collection — or rather several 
collections — of short, pithy, epigrammatic utterances, 
each of which aims at giving the results of experience in 
tabloid form. There are more extended sections which 
seem to be much nearer to the essay than to any other 
form of modern literature. One of these is an alphabetic 
poem in praise of the good woman, and offers an inter- 
esting picture of the social ideals of Israel. The actual 
form of the individual proverb is verse ; proverbs every- 
where tend to take this shape, since it is at once more im- 
pressive and easier to remember. The compilers made no 
effort, however, to produce actual poems, except in one 
or two instances where we seem to have something of the 
nature of a treatise. They were contented with gathering 
together a number of the sayings, sometimes arranging 
them in little groups dealing with the same subject, but 
taking little or no trouble to produce anything Uke a 
connected system of behaviour. 

A superficial glance at the book shews that it was itself 












a compilation of several collections, each with its own 
title. These are : 

Proverbs of Solomon. 
1-22 : 16. Proverbs of Solomon. 
17-24:22. Words of the Wise. 
23-34. Additional words of the Wise. 
19. Proverbs of Solomon collected by ih-i 
men of Hezekiah. 
VI. 30. The words of Agur, son of Yakeh the 
VII. 31:1-9. The words of Lemuel, king of Massa, 

which his mother taught him. 
VIII. 31 : 10-31. The virtuous woman. (This has 
no separate title, but its form and substance 
make it clear that it was originally an 
independent piece.) 

It is clearly hopeless to try to date individual proverbs. 
Sayings handed from one to another may exist for centuries 
before they are written down or taken into a collection. 
Sometimes we may get hints from language or some other 
feature which may give us a clue to the general period 
at which a saying reached its present form, but such 
opportunities are rare in the greater part of the book as 
we now have it. The age in which a particular collection 
was made may be less baffling. We may, for example, 
accept the statement at the head of collection V, which 
tells us that the following proverbs were collected by the 
men of Hezekiah. Collection I, from its language and, 
still more from indications of an advancing metaphysical 
thought, may well be placed later than most of the book. 
The names of Lemuel and Agur seem to be purely 
artificial ; no kingdom of " Massa " is known. It is 


worth noting that no collection is actually ascribed to 
Solomon, though the proverbs in the two largest sections 
are claimed as being his. He certainly had a reputation for 
epigrammatic speech, and may have been the first to 
formulate some of the sayings we now have before us. 
We have no more justification for believing that all 
" Solomonic proverbs " were uttered by David's successor 
than we have for supposing that all " ships of Tarshish " 
actually voyaged to the Atlantic coast of Spain. It is 
quite impossible to assign to him — or, indeed, to any other 
single author — a particular verse or group of verses in the 

On internal grounds the first section, chs. 1-9, may be 
regarded as comparatively late. Unlike most of the book, 
it contains little that can be classed as typical " proverb " 
writing, and consists rather of a series of exhortations. 
The speaker is sometimes an aged sage who has learnt by 
experience and observation what is safe and profitable, 
and urges the young pupil to follow his advice. Some- 
times the lessons are put into the mouth of Wisdom her- 
self, who is personified in a fashion unique in the Old 
Testament. We are met with repeated exhortations to 
accept the teaching oflfered, e.g., in 1 : 2 flf, 2 : i ff, 3 : i flf, 
4 : I ff, 20 ff, 5 : I ff, 6 : 20 flf, 9 : 10 AT. A cynical mind 
might suspect that in ancient times a teacher sometimes 
had difliiculty in securing the attention and obedience of 
his pupils. The exhortations are reinforced by promises 
of all manner of benefits ; divine favour, honour among 
men, personal dignity, long life, quiet happiness, guidance 
and defence against temptation are among the benefits 
which will be assured to the wise youth. It is remarkable 
that great wealth is not stressed ; indeed it is haixlly 
mentioned, and the learner is told that wisdom is a far 
more valuable possession than gold or precious stones 


(cf. 8 ; 10 f). At the same time, warnings arc given of 
the dangers into which a man may fall if he neglects the 
advice and instruction given to him. If he will not do as 
he is told, then disaster is certain, and he need expect no 
sympathy when it comes. Wisdom herself will mock at 
him and gloat over his calamities (i : 26 ff). 

So much space is given to these exhortations that we 
have in this section comparatively little direct advice. 
Piety, the right relation to God, is emphasised, the term 
used being " fear." This, of course, needs to be under- 
stood from the Hebrew point of view. It is seldom that 
words can be found in any two languages whose meaning 
exactly coincides, and emotions are often differently 
classified in the Hebrew and English minds. " Fear " 
is often far from being terror, or anything like it. It 
may be no more than anxiety or worry. The Hebrew 
says *' fear not " when English would be content with 
" Do not worry about that." The feeling which seems to 
be common to all its uses is that of which men are con- 
scious when they find themselves in the presence of some- 
thing or of someone who is not wholly intelligible to them 
or is much greater than they. It is quite consistent with a 
happy confidence in the person who is " feared," though 
it demands that the inferior shall take into due considera- 
tion the personality and wishes of the superior. The 
" Fear of Yahweh," then, sums up in itself the attitude 
which the religious man will assume towards the object 
of his worship ; as has been well said, it is, perhaps, the 
nearest phrase in Hebrew to that which we call " religion." 
It may be as well to remember the insistence on this 
demand for a right attitude to God when we find our- 
selves dealing with other aspects of the teaching given 
in this book. 

We have two or three instances of direct advice. Do 


good to others when they are in need, and do it promptly 
and cheerfully (3 : 27-28), do not injure him or quarrel 
with him — if you can help it (3 : 29-30). Do not be 
lazy (6 : 6 ff), but take the industrious ant as your model. 
Be very careful to avoid backing somebody else's bills, 
and if you do find that you have been trapped into doing 
so, then spare no effort to get free (6 : i ff ) . In 6 : 1 6- 1 9 
we have a little collection of things that are offensive to 
God. Such small catalogues are a favourite device with 
the proverb-maker, and others occur in later collections. 
The list given here is interesting. It includes pride, 
falsehood, bloodshed, intrigue, malice in action, slander 
and the stirring up of strife among brethren — an in- 
structive commentary on the general state of social life 
in ancient Israel. 

One type of offence, however, is particularly con- 
demned. That is the abuse of sex-relations. It is to 
be noted that the main responsibility is laid upon the 
woman. This may be due to a masculine prejudice 
which was not uncommon in the ancient world, but it 
may also suggest a state of society in which women 
were so far secluded that seduction by a man was difficult 
and almost impossible unless the woman herself had out- 
raged the proprieties and taken the initiative. We 
observe, too, that she is called the " strange " woman 
(2 : 16), the word used meaning properly a foreigner. It 
appears to be assumed that no true Israelite woman 
would behave in this fashion. The subject is introduced 
four or five times and as a rule only two or three verses 
are given to it. The teacher is content to warn the 
pupil that yielding to this temptation may give a 
momentary pleasure, but can end only in destruction 
and in death. But once we have a more extended 
picture (7 : 5-23), not without a touch of a grim humour. 


of the woman's methods in seduction. Again we get the 
feeling that she is necessarily the prime mover in the 
offence ; her male victim is " among the simple ones, 
... a young man void of understanding." In this case 
she is a married woman, who takes advantage of her 
husband's absence on a long journey to commit indis- 
criminate adultery. We can hardly avoid the impres- 
sion that such conduct was far from being unknown in the 
writer's day, and formed one of the major social problems 
of his age. 

The most striking and significant feature of this section, 
however, is the place given to Wisdom herself. She is 
personified as a teacher in several places, but her position 
is, in fact, much higher than this. She appears as a 
divine quality, and indeed, as something more than a 
quality. She is the actual agent of creation : " Yahweh 
by Wisdom hath founded the earth ; by Understanding 
hath He established the heavens" (3 : 19). That this 
is something more than pointing out the intelligence lying 
behind the universe is apparent from the more extended 
passage in 8 : 22 ff. Here Wisdom is a real person, 
" gotten " long before the creation of the world, when 
she stood " beside Him as a master- workman." Further, 
it is Wisdom who is in direct contact with humanity. 
The two great problems of religion are " How did God 
create the world ? " and " How does God come into 
contact with man ? " The answer given to both is 
" Through Wisdom," and the conception clearly approxi- 
mates to that of a hypostasis. In other words it forms an 
early step towards a doctrine developed by Philo of 
Alexandria under the name " Logos," and fulfilled in the 
Christian acceptance of Jesus as the Eternal Son within 
the Godhead. 

It is with the second section, much the longest in the 


book, that we reach a typical collection of proverbs. 
It is difficult to see any kind of system or principle govern- 
ing the arrangement of these sentences. For the most 
part each stands alone, and must be treated by and for 
itself. Not infrequently we find the same proverb more 
than once, a fact which suggests that we have here a 
compilation made from a number of smaller collections. 
On the other hand there are places in the later collections 
where a sentence is repeated within a few verses, and 
though this may be due to an error in copying, it is more 
Hkely that we should attribute it to the compiler himself. 
Thus we find exactly the same form in 14 : 12 and in 
16 ' 25, while more than once we have proverbs which are 
very similar, being identical in one part and differing only 
slightly in the other. Thus both 10 : 15 and 18 : 11 
begin with the words " The rich man's wealth is his 
strong city," but in the one case the second half runs, 
" The destruction of the poor is their poverty," and in the 
the other, " And as an high wall in his own conceit." 
Examples of this kind of overlapping might be multiplied, 
and proverbial literature everywhere has examples of 
sayings in alternative forms. 

It will often be felt that individual proverbs are based 
on an imperfect observation, or on an inadequate survey 
of the field with which they profess to deal. This is only 
natural and is partly due to the psychological effect 
which a proverb must produce if it is to be successful. 
It will fail to be impressive or to be remembered unless it 
has some direct appeal to mind or ear. Words are often 
chosen because they have a kind of assonance with one 
another. We may even find direct contradiction ; to 
take an example from a later section of this book we find 
in Prov. 26 : 4 an injunction not to answer a fool accord- 
ing to his folly, while the next verse gives exactly the 


opposite advice. Sound reasons are given in each case. 
But, taken as a whole, the maxims preserved in Proverbs 
do offer guidance to a reasonably satisfactory experience 
of Hfe. 

It is one thing to lay down rules for conduct, and quite 
another to give such reasons as will induce the hearer or 
reader to adopt them in practice. It is here that we feel 
the greatest weakness of the proverbs to lie. In the pro- 
phetic utterances we have the stern and uncompromising 
demand that men shall do the will of God. True, the 
inspired messengers seldom fail to warn us against the 
disasters which will follow inevitably on the disregard of 
moral principles. But that is not the chief motive in their 
minds. It is enough for them that God has laid down the 
law ; the duty of man is to obey it, whatever the conse- 
quences may be. In the Gospel we have the same 
ethical passion for righteousness, with an even clearer 
statement of the consequences, and here it is often pointed 
out that obedience to the will of God may entail 
suffering. The true disciple must carry a cross 
about with him ; he may well have to use it, and had 
better have it where it will be available at a moment's 
notice. The spirit of the Gross is not wholly absent from 
the Old Testament, and we may find examples of it in the 
matrimonial experience of Hosea, in the undeserved 
suffering of the perfect Servant, or in the fidelity of Job. 
But we miss this high note of sacrifice and surrender to 
principle when we read the Book of Proverbs. Goodness 
is commended less for its own sake than for the advantages 
which it brings in its train. The appeal is to a " cool 
self-love," not to an external object or ideal. " If you 
want to be happy, you had better be good " is the general 
principle which seems to underlie the great majority of 
the sayings. It is noticeable that many deal with matters 


of behaviour and manners rather than with high ethical 
truth. " The less said the better," " Si tacuisses, philo- 
sophus mansisses," " Even a fool when he holdeth his peace 
is accounted wise" (Prov. 17 : 28). — Very good advice 
but hardly inspiring to nobility of heart. Sometimes a 
deeper note is struck, and we come across utterances with 
the quality of " The heart knoweth its own bitterness ; 
and a stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy." 

(14 ' _io)- 
This is not to say that religion is ignored. On the 

contrary a large number of the proverbs can come only 
from minds to which the reality and presence of God are 
primary facts of experience. Again and again the 
urgency of the right conduct is emphasised by the appeal 
to religion. The prudential motive is still present, as a 
rule, but there is at least the full acknowldgement of 
God as the supreme and righteous governor of human life. 
" The fear of Yahweh prolongeth days ; but the years of 
the wicked shall be shortened " (10 : 27), " The way of 
Yahweh is a strong hold to the upright ; but destruction 
shall be to the workers of iniquity " (10 : 29), " The fear 
of Yahweh is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares 
of death " (14 : 27), " Better is a little with the fear of 
Yahweh than great treasure and trouble therewith " 
(15 : 16), " The fear of Yahweh is the instruction of wis- 
dom, and before honour is humility" (15 133), "The 
name of Yahweh is a strong tower ; the righteous runneth 
into it and is safe " (18 : 10) — these and many like them 
illustrate the doctrine that religion is profitable in this 
world. Sometimes we meet with a remark which shews 
a more complete insight into the real value of God's 
friendship, and occasionally we are reminded of a 
genuinely prophetic attitude. The futility of mere 
sacrifice, for example, finds expression in passages like 


15 : 8 — " The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination 
unto Yahweh : but the prayer of the upright is his 
delight." Very similar is 21 : 27 — " The sacrifice of the 
wicked is an abomination ; how much more when he 
bringeth it with a wicked mind," and in v. 3 of the same 
chapter we have a sentence which embodies one of the 
constant elements in prophetic teaching — " To do justice 
and judgement is more acceptable to Yahweh than 
sacrifice." Occasionally, however, we get the impres- 
sion that some people value sacrifice as a means of getting 
a good meal, for it must be remembered that the ordinary 
sacrifice, as opposed to the burnt offering, gave only 
comparatively small portions of the victim to the altar 
and to the priests, while the bulk of the carcase was eaten 
by the worshipper. This is the explanation of expres- 
sions like that which meets us in 17:1 " Better is a dry 
morsel and quietness therewith, than a house full of 
sacrifices with strife." One of the attractions offered to 
the simple youth by the adulteress of ch. 7, comes under 
this head ; she tells her victim, " I have peace offerings 
with me ; this day have I payed my vows" (v. 14): 
in other words, she will give him a really good dinner. 

In spite, however, of these occasional flights into higher 
strata, the general level of the religious impulse is that 
in which it pays to keep on the right side of God. One 
of the reasons is that it is impossible to escape from 
His all-seeing eye. " The eyes of Yahweh are in every 
place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good " (15 : 3). 
Indeed, the divine knowledge goes deeper than speech 
and action, the only criteria available to a man's fellows. 
" The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold : 
but Yahweh trieth the hearts " (17 : 3), and we may go 
even further and say that God knows us far better than 
we know ourselves — " All the ways of a man are clean 


his own eyes, but Yahweh weigheth the spirits." (16 : 2). 
All this is perfectly true, and would be endorsed by every 
serious believer, whether he be one of the Biblical writers 
or no, but we miss the atmosphere of intimate friendship 
of which we are conscious, for example, in Ps. 139. 
Proverbs are essentially the wisdom of the ordinary man, 
not of the lofty or saintly mind. 

Granted the limitations in spirit and outlook, we shall 
find in this book abundant evidence of sound common 
sense, and may get glimpses of the social life and standards 
of ancient Israel. The most conspicuous single figure is 
that of the fool, who disregards all maxims alike of religion, 
of ethics and of manners. There may be grades of folly, 
indicated by the use of different words, ranging from the 
simpleton who means no harm but is supremely gullible, 
to the deliberate and calculating villain, whose folly leads 
him to set himself in direct opposition to the will of God. 
In the last resort, all sin is folly, and in the more advanced 
grades the terms "fool" and "wicked" are practically 
synonymous. But we need not dwell on this type of 
person ; he will meet us on every page of this book. 

The picture of family life drawn for us, albeit uninten- 
tionally, by the proverb-maker, is simple and charming. 
Great stress is laid on the relation between the parent and 
the child. The first proverb in this collection runs " A 
wise son maketh a glad father ; but a foolish son is the 
heaviness of his mother" (10:1). Closely allied is 
15 : 20, " A wise son maketh a glad father ; but a foolish 
son despiseth his mother." Aflfection may be taken for 
granted, but more is required ; there must be respect and 
deference as well. Few if any blessings are more to be 
desired than a good family, and we feel that this is not 
merely due to the passion common to all orientals to 
have some one who will perpetuate their line and name 


after they are gone. " Children's children are the 
crown of old men ; and the glory of children are their 
fathers " (17 : 6). We hear more of the calamity due to 
a son's folly than we do of the delight given by a wise 
child. So " He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his 
sorrow : and the father of a fool hath no joy " (17 : 21). 
" A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to 
her that bare him " (17 : 25). There may even be cases 
in which the child betrays violent animosity, and this is 
one of the deadliest sins : " Whoso curseth his father or 
his mother, his lamp shall be put out in blackest dark- 
ness " (20 : 20) . At times we are reminded that we are in 
the midst of a society in which slavery was normal, 
though on a comparatively mild basis ; the slave has to 
be regarded as a member of the household, and may even 
rise to sonship : "A wise slave shall have rule over a son 
that causeth shame, and shall have part of the in- 
heritance among the brethren" (17:2). One of the 
regular parental duties is education in the widest sense, 
and Israel shared with the rest of the ancient world the 
view that the process of learning was always painful. 
It becomes the child to accept with submission the cor- 
rection and instruction of his father : "A wise son heareth 
his father's instruction ; but a scorner heareth not re- 
buke " (13 : i). " Chasten thy son for there is hope," 
i.e., if he be duly punished (19 : 18). Best known of all 
such sayings is that of 13 : 24 : " He that spareth his 
rod hateth his son : but he that loveth him chasteneth 
him betimes." It is, after all, in early youth that a 
character is really formed : " Train up a child in the way 
he should go : and when he is old he will not depart 
from it " (22 : 6). 

For the most part, little is said in this section of Proverbs 
about women, but we get the impression that, though 


they played little part in public life, they occupied a 
position of authority in the home. Apart from a man's 
own character and actions, no influence had so great a 
bearing on his happiness or misery as did his wife. The 
key, perhaps, is struck by 18 : 22 — *' Y/hoso hath found a 
wife hath found good, and hath obtained favour of 
Yahweh." Again, " A gracious woman retaineth 
honour" (11 : 16). It is recognized that a good wife 
is a divine gift : " House and riches are the inheritance 
of fathers : but a prudent wife is from Yahweh (19 : 14). 
At the same time, it is realized that marriage is a lottery, 
and that a woman in the house is not necessarily a 
blessing. It is her tongue in particular that distresses 
her men folk, though there may be something deeper ; 
the fools are not all males. " A virtuous woman is a 
crown to her husband, but she that maketh ashamed is as 
rottenness in his bones " (12 : 4), "As a jewel of gold in a 
swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without dis- 
cretion " (11 122), "The contentions of a wife are a 
continual dropping" (19:13), "It is better to dwell 
in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman 
in a wide house " (21 : 9), " It is better to dwell in the 
wilderness, than with a contentious and fretful woman " 
(21 : 19). 

A good deal is said about the relations of men with one 
another outside the family. Kings appear from time to 
time, but they are rather remote from ordinary life, 
and have special duties and characteristics. We may 
fairly assume that what is said of them is valid for all 
rulers, whether they bore the royal title or not. A king's 
position is dependent on the size of the population over 
which he rules : " In the multitude of people is the king's 
splendour ; but in the want of people is the destruction 
of the prince (14 : 28). His authority is regarded as 


practically absolute, and it is exceedingly dangerous 
to offend him, while great advantage may accrue from 
his favour. " The king's favour is towards a wise servant : 
but his wrath is against him that causeth shame " 
(14 : 35), " The wrath of a king is as messengers of death : 
but a wise man will pacify it " (16 : 14). At the same 
time, even the king is subordinate to God : " The king's 
heart is in the hand of Yahweh, as the rivers of water : 
he turneth it whithersoever he will" (21 : i). He has 
special abilities if he is a real king, the most important 
being that which can discern truth beneath the mass of 
falsehood which will normally be presented to him. 
This looks almost magical, "In the lips of the king is 
divination : his mouth transgresseth not in judgement " 
(16 : 10). The moral law is, if possible, more firmly 
binding on him than on any other, for it is his duty not 
only to keep it but to enforce it on others. " The 
abomination of kings " (i.e., that which is abominable in 
a king) "is to commit wickedness : for the throne is 
established in righteousness" (16:12), "A king that 
sitteth on the throne of judgement scattereth away all 
evil with his eyes " (20 : 8), " Righteous lips are the 
delight of kings ; and they love him that speaketh right" 

In his dealings with his fellows, a man is exhorted to 
maintain his self-control. " He that is slow to anger is 
better than the mighty ; and he that ruleth his spirit 
than he that taketh a city" (16 : 32), " The discretion 
of a man maketh him slow to anger ; and it is his glory to 
pass over a transgression" (19 : 11), " Whoso keepeth 
his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles " 
(21 :23). It will be noticed that prominence is given 
here to control over language, and more proverbs are 
devoted to foolish and dangerous speech than to any other 


specific type of action. At the same time, there are in it 
great possibiHties for good. " The mouth of the righte- 
ous is a well of life : but violence covereth the mouth 
of the wicked " (lo : ii), " The tongue of the righteous 
is as choice silver : the heart of the wicked is little worth " 
(lo : 20), " The words of the wicked are an ambush for 
blood : but the mouth of the upright shall deliver them " 
(12 : 6), " The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright : 
but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness " (15 : 2), 
" The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh 
knowledge : but the mouth of fools feedeth on folly " 
(15 : 14), "A fool's lips enter into contention, and his 
mouth calleth for strokes. A fool's mouth is his des- 
truction, and his lips are the snare of his soul " (18 : 6 f.). 
It must not be forgotten, however, that there may be 
more below the surface than appears on first hearing an 
utterance, for " the words of a man's mouth are as deep 
waters " (18:4). 

In accordance with this view of human speech, we 
find that truthfulness takes a high place among the 
virtues. " Lying lips are an abomination to Yahweh : 
but they that deal truly are his delight "(12:22), " The 
desire of a man is his kindness : and a poor man is better 
than a liar " (19 : 22). This is most important in legal 
procedure, and the value of a reliable witness is, as every- 
where in the east, very great, while perjury is so often 
denounced as to make us feel that it was far from un- 
common. " A true witness delivereth souls, but a 
deceitful witness speaketh lies " (14 : 25), " A worthless 
witness maketh judgement a mockery : and the mouth 
of the wicked swalloweth iniquity " (19 : 28) — these are 
typical statements. 

Closely aUied is the common honesty of the market 
and the shop, which is mentioned more than once. 


So in 1 1 : I we hear that " A false balance is an abomina- 
tion unto Yahweh : but a just weight is his delight," 
while the offence of having " divers weights " is con- 
demned in 20 : 10 — " Divers weights and divers measures, 
both of them are alike abomination unto Yahweh," and 
the honest tradesman is commended in i6 : ii, "A 
just balance and scales are Yahweh's : all the weights of 
the bag are his work." 

More proverbs are concerned with industry and lazi- 
ness than with any other virtue and its corresponding 
vice. Particular stress is laid on the troubles which will 
inevitably meet the sluggard. If he will not take the 
trouble to till or reap his fields, he will be in danger of 
starvation, besides bringing disgrace on his family, for 
" The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold ; 
therefore shall he beg in harvest and have nothing " 
(20 : 4), while, on the contrary, the industrious man will 
have his needs fully satisfied — " Love not sleep, lest thou 
come to poverty ; open thine eyes and thou shalt be 
satisfied with bread " (20 : 13). The effect on his parents 
is described in 10 : 5 — " He that gathereth in summer is 
a wise son : but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that 
causeth shame," He is useless to any employer : " As 
vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the 
sluggard to them that send him" (10 : 26). There is 
a certain humour in some of these pictures, that, for 
instance, of the man who has energy enough to put his 
hand into the dish, but is too lazy to carry the food to his 
mouth (19 : 24), or of the man so hard put to it for an 
excuse for lying in bed instead of going to work that he 
makes the absurd remark, " There is a lion without, I 
shall be slain in the streets " (22 : 13). 

Humility is another virtue strongly recommended. 
Pride is dangerous ; we may have here something of 


that feeling which lay behind the Greek theory of 
" hubris " — that arrogance which is produced by success, 
and will certainly lead to disaster. So " When pride 
cometh, then cometh shame : but with the lowly is 
wisdom" (ii : 2), and one of the most familiar of the 
proverbs is 16 : 18, " Pride goeth before destruction, and 
an haughty spirit before a fall." The reason for this is 
to be found in the fact that God will not tolerate any self- 
exaltation on man's part : " An high look, and a proud 
heart, and the lamp of the wicked is sin " (21 : 4), or, 
more explicitly, " Every one that is of a proud heart is 
an abomination to Yahweh : though hand join in hand 
he shall not be unpunished " (16:5). 

Pride and arrogance may be expected more particu- 
larly in the attitude taken by the rich towards the poor, 
and a good deal is said on this aspect of social life . 
Attempts are made to decry the value of wealth ; it is 
of no real use to man, and there are many things which 
are more desirable. So in 11 : 28 we read : " He that 
trusteth in his riches shall fall : but the righteous shall 
flourish as a branch," and a similar idea underlies 13:7 
— " There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing : 
there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great wealth." 
Far superior is religion : " Better is a little with the fear 
of Yahweh than great treasure and trouble therewith " 
(15 : 16), or morahty : " Better is a little with righteous- 
ness than great revenues with injustice" (16:8), or 
wisdom : " How much better is it to get wisdom than 
gold ! Yes, to get understanding is rather to be chosen 
than silver " (16 : 16), or quiet contentment : " Better is 
a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full 
of sacrifices with strife " (17 : i). 

Logically, such an attitude to wealth should mean 
that there is no reason why the poor should not be as 


much honoured as the rich, and as well treated. It 
goes without saying that generosity is greatly to be de- 
sired, for, however much the poor are to be respected, 
they are still in need. Poverty has serious disadvantages. 
It is difficult for the pauper to keep his friends in a world 
where the decisive social factor is money : " Wealth 
maketh many friends ; but the poor is separated from 
his friend" (19:4). The man with no property is 
exposed to the domination and even the oppression of 
his wealthier fellows : " The rich ruleth over the poor, 
and the borrower is servant to the lender "(22:7)," The 
poor useth entreaties ; but the rich answereth roughly " 
(18 : 23). Such conduct, of course, is a direct violation 
of all true religious principle, for " The rich and the 
poor meet together : Yahweh is the maker of them all " 
(22 : 2). On the other hand, humane treatment of the 
poor is a definitely religious act, though it has not yet 
risen to that unique place which almsgiving occupied in 
Pharisaic theology. Still : " He that oppresseth the poor 
insulteth his Maker, but he that hath mercy on the needy 
honoureth him" (14 : 31). Generosity to the destitute 
will earn a reward from Yahweh : " He that hath pity 
on the poor lendeth to Yahweh, and for his deed he will 
pay him in full " (19 : 17). The payment will be a fitting 
one, for " there is that scattereth and yet increaseth ; 
and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it 
tendeth to poverty" (11 : 24). It is dangerous not to 
relieve distress : " Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of 
the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be 
heard " (21 : 13). 

We have thus comparatively little said about some of 
the commoner vices. There is practically no mention 
of sexual offences, such as occupy so large a space in the 
first section of the book, and drunkenness is condemned 


only once (20 : i). What does interest the sages whose 
words are here collected is the relation between man and 
God, including the attitude and behaviour of man to 
his neighbours. The two are not sharply distinguished 
in the minds of the speakers. It has been well said that 
the whole outlook of Proverbs is essentially religious and 
the thought of God is always present, even in sayings 
that appear to us to be purely secular. There is no 
escape from the fact that God is concerned with every 
aspect of human life, and will reward or punish as man's 
action may deserv^e. At the same time, it has to be 
admitted that we have a lower religious level than those 
of the prophet and mystic. The importance of piety and 
upright conduct lies in the fact that they are profitable ; 
God will see that they are rewarded. Violation of divine 
law, on the other hand, will lead inevitably to punish- 
ment. The whole drama must be played out on the stage 
of this life, and we have little reference even to She'ol. 
That means that every one can see for himself the working 
of Yahweh's law of retribution, and should take warning 
from it. These warnings have been gathered together, 
culled from long and varied human experience, and they 
have been set before us in this fashion. By following 
the lines laid down, any man may reasonably expect to 
Uve a quiet and inoffensive life, achieving a certain 
measure of worldly success, and that was an ideal not to 
be despised in an age when personal security was far less 
easily attainable than it is in the more highly organised 
society of our own day. 

The next collection has no title in our present text, 
but there is a strong feeling that the phrase " Words of 
the wise " originally stood at the head of v. 17, and has 
been transferred to its present position by a copyist's 
error. The extent of the collection is not certain. The 


normal view is that it contains 22 : 17-24 : 22, but it has 
been suggested that a division should be made between 
23 : 14 and 15. There is a fresh exhortation to obedience 
in 23 : 15, and the first part has one striking peculiarity 
to which allusion must be made later. The general 
character of the whole, however, is uniform, and for 
practical study of the book itself the two parts may be 
treated as a single whole. 

What has been said about the subject matter of division 
II will apply equally well to section III. The same 
themes are treated, and there is no conspicuous variation 
in tone, outlook, or doctrine. The general social and 
religious background, too, shews no remarkable variation ; 
the sayings here come from the same order of society and 
from the same religious community as those at which we 
have already glanced. There is, however, one important 
difference in form. In nearly every case the proverbs 
contained in section II occupied only a single line each, 
and there was, as far as we can gather, little attempt at an 
organized arrangement. In section III, on the other 
hand, the proverbs are longer, containing two or three 
lines, in which the sense often runs on continuously. 
The same subject rarely appears more than once ; 
drunkenness, it is true, is condemned in 23 : 19-21 and 
in 23 : 29-31, and warnings against oppressing the poor 
occur in 22 : 22-23 and 23 : 10-11, but these are the only 
outstanding cases. At the same time, it is not easy to 
trace a formal and systematic arrangement, except that 
we may note the way in which the collector begins with 
an exhortation whose purpose is essentially religious. He 
puts God first, and his claim to a hearing is that his in- 
struction will lead men to trust in Yahweh. 

There is one feature of this collection, however, which 
has attracted a great deal of attention. We have already 


observed that similar proverbs are likely to be found 
among peoples widely separated in space and time. 
There are many parallels to the sayings of the Jewish 
sages in the literature of Babylonia, Greece, and other 
peoples, some of the most obvious being found in the 
sayings of Ahikar, best known to us through an Aramaic 
papyrus of the fifth century B.C. But the closest parallels 
are to be found in Egyptian writings, which range from 
the third millennium B.C. to a comparatively late period. 
One of these, whose composition is commonly dated about 
800 B.C. is known as " The Teaching of Amen em-ope." 
With the exception of 22 : 23, 26, 27, every verse in 
Proverbs 22 : 17 — 23 : 12 has a parallel in this Egyptian 
collection. Sometimes the sentences are extremely close ; 
the following may be noted in particular : 

Proverbs Amen-em-ope 

22 : 17 

Incline thine ear and hear my words, Give thine ear and hear what I say, 
And apply thine heart to apprehend. And apply thine heart to appre- 
22 : 20. hend. 

Have I not written for thee thirty Consider these thirty chapters ; 

sayings They delight, they instruct. 

Of counsels and knowledge ? 

22 : 22. 

Rob not the poor because he is poor, Beware of robbing the poor 

Neither oppress the lowly in the gate. And of oppressing the afflicted. 

22 : 29. 

A man who is skilful in his business A scribe who is skilful in his 

Shall stand before kings. business 

Findeth himself worthy to be a 
23:4. courtier. 

Toil not to become rich. Toil not after riches. 

23 : 10. 

Remove not the widow's landmark. Remove not the landmark from 
And enter not into the fields of the the bounds of the field, 

fatherless. Nor shift the position of the 


(Taken from Oesterley, Commentary on Proverbs, 
pp. xlvi. f. The text has been amended in places, 
and is almost certainly correct.) 


The similarities are much too close to be accidental, 
though there are one or two points to be noted. The 
passages from Amen-em-ope are not taken from the same 
or consecutive sections, and, indeed, are sometimes 
widely separated. The Egyptian form is usually longer 
than the Hebrew, and sometimes several lines in the for- 
mer correspond to a single one in the latter. In the third 
place, the sayings in Proverbs are adapted to a people who 
worshipped Yahweh, though without any belief in a valid 
life after death. It may, however, be doubted whether 
these divergences are sufficient to dispel the very strong 
impression that there has been direct borrowing on the 
one side or the other. It is not impossible that the debt 
is on the part of the Egyptian sage, who must, then, have 
known this collection much as it now stands. Here we 
have the evidence which has led to the impression that 
22 : 17 — 23 : 14 once formed an independent booklet. 
Parallels with Amen-em-ope are to be found in many other 
places in Proverbs, but nowhere else are they so abund- 
ant ; indeed, taking the book as a whole, it has closer 
affinities with Ahikar than with any other known collec- 
tion of wise sayings. While, then, the evidence is not 
absolutely conclusive, it is strong enough to make the 
theory of borrowing highly probable. 

The fourth section is admittedly an appendix to the 
third, adding two or three subjects — -justice, laziness and 
slander, which are not mentioned in the main body of the 
collection. It shares in all the characteristics of the 
preceding chapters, except the close parallels with 
Amen-em-ope ; the description of the sluggard and of his 
garden is one of the longest " proverbs " in the book. 

Section V is dated in the reign of Hezekiah,i,e. towards 
the end of the eighth century B.C. There is no reason to 
question the accuracy of the title, except that it is hardly 


likely that Solomon was the author of all the proverbs 
contained in these chapters, though some of them may 
have been much older than the date of compilation. 
In general character it closely resembles section II, and 
from time to time we come across exact reproductions of 
sayings found in the former collection. Thus 25 : 24 
is verbally identical with 21 : 9, and probably 27 : 13 
with 20 : 16. The resemblance between 28 : 6 and 19:1 
is so close — one speaks of a rich man and the other of 
fool — as to make original identity plausible. Similarities 
are to be found in many other places, e.g., in 27 :2i and 
17 : 3, in 26 : 13 and 22 : 13, or in 26 : 15 and 19 : 24. 
There are occasional signs of some attempt to arrange- 
ment ; in 26 : 23-26, for example, we have a series of 
utterances dealing with hypocrites, and the two verses 
following speak of the proper retribution which falls on 
the evildoer. But, in general, all that has been said 
about section II will apply equally well to section V. 

Ch. 30 gives us a new name, otherwise unknown. It is 
that of a certain Agur, who is, probably, indicated as a 
Massaite. Massa was the name of an Arab tribe. He 
opens in a fashion which has aroused some difference of 
opinion. His language is that of extreme humility, but 
some readers feel that he is being ironical, and that he 
really would claim to be wiser than all his fellows. On 
the whole the obvious meaning seems the more likely. 
The subjects with which he deals are already familiar, 
but he has one peculiarity. Nearly all his sayings are 
grouped in little sections, each of which is devoted to 
different things which illustrate a common principle. 
" There are two . . . three . . . four things which 
. . ." Thus in w. 7-9 he asks for two things, truthful- 
ness and a moderate share of this world's goods. One 
group seems to have lost its heading. It is that of w. 


11-14, which describes four types of wicked people. 
Apart from this feature, there is httle to add to what has 
already been said about other collections. 

Nine verses are devoted to Lemuel, called a king, who, 
again, is known only from this passage. He, too, is 
assigned to the tribe of Massa. It is possible that the 
compilers of the book were deliberately indicating the 
employment of some Arabian collection of proverbs, 
though it is a little strange that they should acknowledge 
their indebtedness only here. Lemuel has only two things 
to say, and both have been said before in this book. 
One is a warning against sexual offences and the other a 
vigorous condemnation of drunkenness. They are 
addressed expressly to kings, and the speaker is the mother 
of Lemuel. 

The last section in the book is an acrostic poem on the 
virtuous woman. It is extremely interesting for the light 
it throws on the position of woman in the ancient Israelite 
community. She is able to take a considerable share in 
the business life of her time, though it is not clear what 
part she plays, except that she is in the habit of selling 
the products of her loom. While she does not seem to be 
secluded in the way respectable women are in so many 
parts of the east to-day, her main concern is within her 
house. Here she is the absolute mistress, and even her 
husband is mentioned only as praising her for her virtues, 
and for the position he takes among his fellows — appar- 
ently due to the excellence of his wife. She it is who is 
responsible for giving food and clothing to all the members 
of her household, including the slaves as well as the family 
droper. She belongs to a fairly well-to-do class, as is 
shewn by the people she employs, and the suggestion is 
that it is she who has succeeded in making this possible. 
What strikes us most in reading the poem is the woman's 


immense industry. She is at work by day and by night. 
She rises before dawn and prepares the first meal for the 
whole household, and far into the night she is at work with 
spindle and loom. It would seem that wool was bought 
direct from the growers, and that the whole process of 
manufacturing it was carried on in the home. At the 
same time she does not neglect her social duties, the first 
of which is caring for the poor about her. We have here a 
picture of energetic benevolence which offers us the ideal 
for the age from which it comes. Amos and Isaiah had 
fully recognized the fact that in the last resort it is the 
women who set the social and moral standards of the 
community, and their denunciations of what they saw 
form a strong contrast to this attractive picture. We 
cannot sum our impressions up better than in Oesterley's 
words : " The traditional beauty of Jewish home-life is 
both explained and illustrated by a passage like this, for 
we may well believe that the picture presented reflects 
what was a reality in many a Jewish home." 

One question still remains before we leave the subject of 
Proverbs. What is their date ? As we have seen, it is 
quite hopeless even to attempt an answer in so far as the 
individual sayings are concerned, but it may be possible 
to get some idea of the approximate period at which the 
collections were made. The first section is almost cer- 
tainly late. It has the character of a single piece of com- 
position, and the thought, culminating in an advanced 
metaphysical conception of Wisdom, cannot be early. 
The two larger collections, on the other hand, may well 
have been made in the main before the exile, though we 
must allow for the possibility of modification in later 
times. The references to kings are not necessarily to 
Jewish kings, but it is more natural to interpret them in 
this way. The inscription at the head of ch. 25, accord- 


ing to which the collection was made in die eighth century, 
may well preserve a tradition which is substantially 
correct. In that case we may fairly assume that the other 
Solomonic collection is also pre-exilic. The " words of 
the wise," as we have seen, shew a close connection with 
Egyptian literature, and there is at least the possibility 
that Amen-em-ope knew of its existence. That would 
throw this collection also back well into the monarchical 
age. If, on the other hand, the Egyptian document is 
the original, then the earliest date for the Hebrew col- 
lection would be the time immediately preceding the 
exile, and it would probably have to be placed after the 
return. The theological position is interesting ; while 
there is no explicit doctrine of monotheism, it is clear that 
no other deity than Yahweh is considered — a phenomenon 
which might be due to post-exilic redaction. There is 
no doctrine of a valid life after death (a striking contrast 
to the Eg)^ptian proverbial literature), and it is worth 
observing that we find nowhere a suggestion that such a 
theory had ever been propounded in Israel. Here we 
have another indication of a date which must not be 
carried down too far. But in the case of Proverbs, as in 
the Psalms, the actual date is quite unimportant, for their 
subject and their teaching are such as will appeal to 
human nature in every age. 



In I Kings 4 : 32 it is said of Solomon " And he spake 
three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand 
and five." Like his father, then, Solomon won from his 
contemporaries a great reputation as a poet, and it is 
not surprising that later generations were inclined to 
attribute to him, not only the proverbial sayings of the 
whole nation, but also a certain amount of its poetry. 
True, only one Psalm was ascribed to him (Ps. 72), and 
it is clear that men never thought of him as they did of 
David, but it was easy to regard him as one of the great 
figures in the story of Israel's secular poetry. Little 
enough of that poetry has survived ; we have an 
occasional snatch here and there, but the men to whom we 
owe the preservation of that fraction of Hebrew litera- 
ture which has come down to us were interested in 
religion first, last, and all the time. A piece of prose or 
verse had to prove its title to be called rehgious to justify 
its inclusion in the enduring corpus of ancient Israelite 

The matter was simpler in the case of the " Song of 
Songs," because the name Solomon occurs in the book 
some half dozen times. There was nothing strange to the 
ancient mind in a man's writing in the third person 
about himself, and who should be able to write better 
about the king than Solomon himself? But a close 
study makes it practically impossible for us to accept this 
tradition, for reasons into which we may enter later. 



Wc shall do well first of all to see what the book actually 
contains, and then we shall be in a better position to 
discuss matters of authorship and interpretation. 

On the surface the book is composed of a number of 
short poems, some of them clearly mutilated, and others 
showing serious corruptions of text. They are all 
love poems, of that there can be no doubt, and in 
differentiating them we are guided by an important 
grammatical factor. Hebrew, like all Semitic languages, 
distinguished between the masculine and the feminine 
of the second person in its pronouns and verbs. It is 
thus in a large number of cases, possible for us to see 
whether a poem, or even a sentence, is addressed to a 
man or a woman. The sex of the speaker is often easily 
determined, and from time to time we have language put 
into the mouth of a group of people, though it is not 
necessarily clear whether they are male or female. We 
may analyse the book as follows : 

A woman speaks to a man. 

A woman speaks to a company, probably of 

A woman speaks to a man, and is answered 

by him. 
A man speaks to a woman. 
A woman speaks to a man. 
A man speaks to a woman, and is answered 

by her. 
A woman speaks to a company of women. 
A woman speaks. 
A man speaks (?) (apparently a fragment 

only) . 
A woman speaks to a man. 
A woman speaks to a company of women . 
A short piece describing a woman coming in 

state from the wilderness. 
^3* 3 • 9-1 !• A company of women is summoned to look at 

Solomon, coming in procession. 













• 12-14 






: 1-7. 
: 8-14. 






: 16-17 



: 1-5- 


14. 4:1-7. A man speaks to a woman (probably there 

arc two pieces here) . 

15. 4:8-11. A man speaks to a woman. 

16. 4 : 12-5 : I . A man speaks to a woman, who replies in the 

latter part of 4 : 16. 

17. 5 : 2-6 : 3. Dialogue between a woman and a company 

of women. 

18. 6 : 4-9. A man speaks to a woman. 

19. 6 : 10. A company speak (?) (apparently a frag- 

ment) . 

20. 6 : 11-12. A woman speaks. 

21. 6 : 13-7 : 5. A company (of women ?) speak to a woman. 

22. 7 : 6-9. A man speaks to a woman. 

23. 7 : 10. A woman speaks (a fragment ?). 

24. 7 : 11-13. A woman speaks to a man. 

25. 8:1-3. A woman speaks to a man. (8 : 4 probably 

introduced by accident.) 

26. 8 : 5-7. A woman speaks to a man, following on an 

enquiry by others. 

27. 8 : 8-10. Brothers speak of their sister, who takes up 

their last remarks. 

28. 8:11-12. Solomon's vineyard. 

29. 8 : 13-14. A man speaks and is answered by a woman. 

On the surface, then, the book consists of a number of 
love poems, or parts of love poems. Two questions 
naturally arise. One is as to whether it is to be regarded 
as a single whole, into which all the parts fit, or whether 
it is only an anthology. The other is as to the inter- 
pretation to be placed on the whole. In part the two 
questions may overlap ; if it be a consistent unity, then 
the interpretation will necessarily be affected. 

As we read this book, we feel that we fully understand 
the difficulty the Jewish Rabbis are said to have met when 
they sought to give it a place in Scripture. Tradition 
says that it, together with Ecclesiastes, was admitted only 
after the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. The name of 
Solomon gave it a certain title, but the saints and sages of 
Judaism could hardly include in their sacred literature a 


work which dealt wholly with secular love. The problem 
was solved by the theory that it was an allegory from start 
to finish, and that it really gave a picture of the love exist- 
ing between Yahweh and the ideal Israel. The same 
problem faced the Christian Church, and it was not 
alleviated by the tendency to monasticism, which placed 
love between man and woman on a comparatively 
low level, and regarded marriage as an inferior state to 
celibacy. The example of Jewish scholars, however, 
afforded a precedent, and for centuries the book was held 
to be a parable of the mutual love between Christ and 
His Church — a view which is still represented in the 
chapter headings of many modern Bibles. 

The general outlook of modern scholarship, going back 
to the earlier part of the nineteenth century, was unable 
to accept an allegorical explanation of the book, and 
tried to explain it as a purely secular poem. It was stilJ 
held to be a unity, due to a single author, and the favourite 
method of treatment was to describe it as a drama. 
Solomon, the great lover, was on royal progress through 
northern Israel, and, passing through the village of 
Shunem, observed a maiden of extraordinary beauty. 
He wooed her in the guise of a shepherd and had her 
brought to his harem, eventually winning her love. 
This scheme left certain points unexplained, and seemed 
in some ways to be forced until it was modified by the 
introduction of a third character. The new view followed 
the old up to the point at which the maiden was taken to 
Jerusalem, but it gave her a rustic lover in her old home to 
whom she had been betrothed. The king used all his 
arts, but in vain ; the girl remained true to her old 
love, and in the end Solomon yielded, and generously 
sent her back to her home, where the faithful couple were 

Iq6 poetry of IHL OLD lESTAMENT 

It would be going too far to say that a romantic story 
of this kind would have been quite impossible in ancient 
Israel. We have too small a fragment of Israelite litera- 
ture in our hands to make so dogmatic a statement. But 
we can say that, apart from this book, there is not the 
slightest evidence for its existence. There are plenty 
of instances of deep affection and even of passionate love 
between men and women — who can forget the story of 
Hosea ? But we have nowhere else any suggestion of a 
literature surrounding this aspect of human relations. 
Matrimony is usually much more a manage de con- 
venance, and where it is described it is cited because of its 
influence on family or national fortunes. It may, how- 
ever, be fairly answered that such a literature, if it existed, 
would hardly have been likely to survive. 

The case against the dramatic form is more serious. 
We have good reason to believe that drama did exist in 
ancient Israel, as among the surrounding peoples. 
We have abundant evidence for it both from Babylonia 
and from northern Syria, and from time to time we meet 
with passages in the Old Testament which suggest very 
strongly that similar drama was to be found in Israel 
also. But this drama was always essentially religious, 
and was, indeed, intimately bound up with the cultus. 
The New Year festival, for example, in Mesopotamia 
involved a mimic representation of the great war among 
the gods which preceded the foundation of the earth as 
we know it. Its leading characters were Tiamat and 
Marduk, and the so-called Creation epic formed a part 
of it. So in northern Syria we have the annual repre- 
sentation of the death, rebirth and marriage of the 
fertility-god, forming a ritual whose magical effect is to 
secure prosperity for the coming year. But nowhere have 
we any evidence of a drama outside the cultic system. 


It is true that our Israelite literature is very scanty, but 
that of Mesopotamia is abundant, and we shiould almost 
certainly have found some reference to secular drama if it 
had existed in Babylonia or within the knowledge of the 
Babylonians. Drama developed in Greece from a rude 
form of cultus, but we can trace the process, and we have 
no right to assume that a parallel course was followed 
in the Semitic world. Compared with this objection the 
entire absence of anything approaching stage directions 
is a minor difficulty, though it leaves room for a high 
degree of imagination and, possibly, of ingenuity. 

tvThe theory of a secular drama, then, has been largely 
abandoned. But an interpretation has been offered 
which brings the Song of Songs into close connection with 
the religious drama of the ancient world. It has been 
noted that many of the phrases used and of the ideas in- 
volved are characteristic of the fertility cult common to 
practically all western Asia in ancient times. In par- 
ticular the worship of Ishtar is cited for parallels — the 
dove, for example, is the bird sacred to this goddess. 
She was known in many parts under different names — 
Ishtar, Astarte, Ashtoreth are all forms of the same word. 
She is also the Aphrodite of Cyprus and the Levant 
generally, and the Artemis of Ephesus. No cult was 
more widely spread in the ancient world than hers, 
especially after her identification with the Egyptian Isis. 
Normally her worship involved the sacred marriage to 
which reference has already been made, and room was 
often left for gross and licentious rites. It has been sug- 
gested that we have in the Song of Songs a Hebrew 
version of the libretto for a ritual performed in honour of 
Jshtar. Naturally it could not have been accepted as 
such by correct post-exilic Judaism, but it might have 
survived in northern Israel, and copies of the text might 



have found their way to the south long after the original 
meaning and purpose had been forgotten. 

A hypothesis of this kind is as difficult to refute as it is 
to demonstrate. The list of words known to be common 
to the Ishtar cult and to the Song of Songs is impressive, 
though most of them may quite well have been used in 
other connections. All we can say for certain is that if 
this view be correct, the origin of the book must have been 
long forgotten before it could even have been con- 
sidered in the orthodox Judaism of the post-exilic age. 
^ One other line of interpretation deserves mention. It 
is held in some quarters that the marriage customs of 
modem Syria (which may go back to very ancient times) 
afford a clue to the nature and purpose of the book. The 
festal season lasts for a week, and during that time the 
bride and bridegroom are hailed and treated as king and 
queen. Their throne is the threshing-sledge, a heavy 
structure of wooden boards forming a small platform, 
studded with nails and stones on its under side. Its nor- 
mal use is to be dragged by oxen over the corn on the 
threshing floor. It was certainly one of the implements 
in common use from the earliest times, and we hear of it 
in II Sam. 24 : 22, Is. 28 : 27, 41 : 15, Am. 1:3. A 
seat is placed on it for the wedding ceremony, and the 
young couple are drawn in state wherever they have to go. 
The ritual is sometimes elaborate, and includes various 
interludes such as a sword dance, in which the bride 
protects herself against her lover by whirling a sword 
before her. She may sometimes cut him severely with it, 
though as a rule she is not too severe in her defence. 
It is at least possible that similar procedure was current in 
ancient Palestine, though direct evidence is lacking. But 
practically every piece contained in the Song of Songs 
can be fitted into the scheme, hx the same time, such 


attempts as have been made to reconstruct the ritual from 
the Song have to place the various portions in a different 
order from that in which the book itself presents them. 

The plain fact is that any attempt to find a consistent 
thread running through the book, with whatever inter- 
pretation we may seek to place on it, must depend to a 
large extent on imaginative conjecture. All we can say 
for certain is that we have a collection of erotic lyrics, 
most of them short and some mutilated — in a few instances 
we seem to have only a single line. The same phrase or 
sentence may occur more than once ; 

" I adjvire you, 

Ye daughters of Jerusalem, 

By the rocs and by the hinds of the field, 
That ye stir not up, nor awaken 
Love till it please." 

This is in 2 : 7 and 3 : 5, and, with slight variation, in 
8 : 4, though it is hardly in place in this last context. 
The last verse of the book runs : 

" Flee, my beloved. 
And be like a roc, 
Or a young hart 

On the mountains of spices." 

Here we have a verse which is almost identical with 
2:17; the differences may easily be explained by textual 
corruption. These and similar facts suggest the same 
kind of structure which we find so often in the prophetic 
books, a collection of independent short pieces, sometimes 
put together almost haphazard, though there are instances 
where the compiler's motive may be guessed. Thus the 
picture of the woman coming attended by a stout com- 
pany of swordsmen (3 : 6-8) is immediately followed by a 
description of " Solomon's " gorgeous travelling litter. 
The two pieces 6 : 13-7 : 5 and 7 : 6-9 both speak of 


a woman's beauty, though the speakers are not the same. 
The pieces are of varied character. Some are des- 
criptions of the physical beauty of the beloved, man or 
woman. In 4:1-7, for example, and in 7:6-9 the 
suitor gives pictures of the woman he loves, while in 
6 • 13—7 '• 5 we have a more intimate account of her 
charms. Here the girl has been asked to reveal herself 
to a company of people, almost certainly other women, 
and they find no fault or blemish of any kind in her. If 
the marriage theory be correct, this may indicate one feature 
of the proceedings ; such inspection of a bride by older 
women has parallels elsewhere, though we should have 
to go far before finding anything exactly similar. In 
5 : 10-16 the position is reversed, and the woman gives a 
description of her lover, in answer to a request by a com- 
pany of women. This piece forms a part of a longer 
poem, and it is possible that originally those already 
mentioned may have been extracted from more extensive 
narratives. In a few cases we have little idylls. In 
I : 7-8, for instance, the fair shepherdess — or rather 
goatherd — seeks to enjoy her swain's company during 
the noonday rest. But she wishes to avoid the possi- 
bility of being insulted by his ruder fellows, and he gives 
her directions as to how he may be found. Twice we 
have stories of nocturnal adventures, which may be re- 
garded rather as dreams than as records of actual events. 
The two are in some ways similar, though they end very 
differently. In the one case (3 : 1-5) the girl rises to seek 
her lover, asks the city watchmen if they have seen him, 
and soon afterwards finds him and brings him to her 
mother's home. In the other (5 : 2-8) — which is more 
obviously a dream — he himself comes to the house and 
asks her to come out with him. After a protest against 
being taken out she consents, but when she leaves the 


house the man is gone. Again we have the watchmen, 
but this time they maltreat her, and she appeals to a 
company of women for help in finding him. The form 
of the poem suggests that she may have been telling them 
her dream, for it is somewhat strange to meet a company of 
women in the streets of an eastern city by night. They 
ask her to describe him and she gives the account which we 
have already mentioned. Then they ask what are his 
habits, that they may know where to look for him, and 
are told that he feeds his flock among the " lilies," a 
word which probably indicates the scarlet anemone so 
common in Palestine. 

Many of the pieces are concerned with the delight the 
lovers h ave in one another's societv. Particularly notice- 
able IS their pleasure in being together in the outdoor 
world. The songs carry us into the springtime of the 
year, into lovely mountain scenery, and into garden s 
beautitul with flowers and fragrant with spices. The 
background^ that ot" a people whose work lies primarily 
with flocks of goats and sheep, and we have only occa- 
sional references to agriculture proper. We miss any 
mention of the cornfields, and only once does wheat 
appear. On the other hand the lovers' world is rich in 
fruits ; we hear much of vineyards, of figs, of apples and 
pomegranates. These imply a settled community, and 
the impression is borne out by the fact that the houses are 
sohdly built, and not mere tents or booths. People 
know, too, what royalty is like, though it may be only 
from hearsay, for we get the impression that the gold, 
silver, ivory, costly woods and rich Tyrian dyes must 
have been a little remote from the ordinary life of the 
people who sang and heard these songs. In the exulta- 
tion of his spirit the lover may feel himself to be a king, 
and the girl to be a queen. Indeed, there are good 


grounds for supposing that the title "Shulamite" does 
not refer to the village of Shunem, as is so often said, but 
is really no more than a feminine of Solomon. What can 
love not do ? Many waters cannot quench it and it is 
stronger than death ; it is not too much to expect that it 
should give the lovers the entry into an empire of the 
soul. It sheds a radiance over the one-storey cottage and 
the muddy village street, over the burning noon-day 
sun and the watchful toil of the shepherd's life. 

To what date, or rather to what period are we to assign 
these lyrics ? It may be said at once that there seems to 
be no valid ground for connecting them with Solomon. 
On the contrary, there are features which suggest a com- 
paratively late date. The vocabulary is unique ; a 
large proportion of the words used are found nowhere 
else in the Bible. This may be due in part to the objects 
mentioned in some of the poems, e.g. the henna and nard 
which are symbols of fragrance. These might be ex- 
plained as words common in ordinary speech which by 
accident have not been preserved elsewhere. But we 
notice that among them we find quite a number of 
foreign origin. Most of these appear to have come into 
the Hebrew vocabulary from Persian, and it is difficult to 
place their introduction before the time of Cyrus. The 
word describing Solomon's palanquin in 3 : 9 may be 
Persian but is equally likely to have been Greek in origin, 
and even in that language it is not known before the latter 
part of the fourth century B.C. One curious feature is 
the relative pronoun. That which is normal in Biblical 
Hebrew appears only in tlie title to the book, 1:1; 
elsewhere the form used is that which is almost invariable 
in post-Biblical Hebrew and common only in Ecclesi- 
astes in the Bible itself, though it appears in a number of 
late Psalms. It is not, however, necessarily late, for it 


occurs in one of the oldest monuments of Hebrew litera- 
ture, the song of Deborah in Jud. 5. It may be dialectal, 
and be characteristic of northern Israel, for it is similar 
to the common form in Phoenician. Even this, however, 
is not a decisive clue, for it is found three or four times in 
Lamentations. Allowing for all considerations, we can- 
not place the compilation, and probably for the most part 
the composition, of these poems earlier than the third 
century b.g. 

Whenever they arose, for sheer literary beauty there are 
few parallels to these snatches of Hebrew lyric to be found 
elsewhere in the world's poetic store. Quaint conceits 
are not lacking ; who can fail to be delighted with such a 
passage as 8 : i ff ? The girl wishes that her lover were 
as her brother, that she might freely ignore conventional 
restraints — kiss him in public, and take him when she 
would to her own home. The picture of Solomon's 
marvellous vineyard in 8 : 1 1 f, the vineyard which is 
worth less to the true lover than his little rustic farm, 
offers us a motif which recalls the old French lyric : 

" Si le roi m'avoit donne 

Paris sa grand'ville . . ." 

and the Hebrew will not suffer by comparison. 

Simplicity and a fresh beauty are outstanding charac- 
teristics of these poems. We, too, cannot but delight in 
the cool dew of early morning, in the flowers which make 
the pastures so rich in colour, in the fragrance of fruit 
and blossoming tree, in the delicate shades of gold and 
pink that spread over the ripening fig. Against this back- 
ground, Theocritus, Vergil and even the Italian sonneteers 
seem artificial and stilted, and it is, perhaps, only in the 
cavalier poets, in Burns and at times in Heine, that the 
modern reader will find anything approaching the charm 
of these ancient Hebrew lyrics. But there is more 


than freshness, there is also passion, deep and intense, 
such as that which inspired the best of the Shakespearean 
sonnets. The lover and his lass shew us their inmost 
soul, without shame and without reserve. It may be that 
it is only in Sappho that we shall find a combination of 
qualities which we may compare with what is so justly 
entitled the " Song of Songs." 
.^■^---^ Commentators and expositors may have been justified 
in seeking a spiritual interpretation for this book. But to 
many readers this will be forced, unnatural, and even 
impossible. The book remains to them an anthology 
of secular love poems. What, then, is its place in Holy 
Scripture ? Can we justify to ourselves its inclusion in a 
body of literature which is essentially religious, and deals 
primarily with our relation to God ? We may well be 
grateful to the ingenious Rabbinic scholarship which 
secured its preservation, even if we are unable to accept 
its views, for the world could ill have spared the book. 
But we may go further still, and find a valid reason why 
we should gladly accept these poems in a corpus of writ- 
ings whose function is above all things to help men into 
fuller communion with God. That love which culminates 
in marriage is the deepest and holiest element in human 
physical nature. Sex is capable of extreme abuse, but 
that is just because it is capable also of the greatest heights 
of earthly experience. What this book has to tell us, 
more than anything else, is that this element in mankind is 
not outside the range of God's interest in us, that it may 
be and should be employed in accordance with His will 
in the concentration for a lifetime on a single human 
object. " Threescore queens and fourscore concubines 
and virgins without number " ? No ; " My dove, my 
undefiled, is but one." 



We have already seen something of what a "dirge" 
meant in the ancient world. Originally, no doubt, a 
funeral spell intended to keep the dead in his place and 
prevent him from annoying the living, it gradually 
developed into a genuine expression of the grief felt by 
survivors at the loss of one whom they loved. We may 
suppose that there were traditional and conventional 
formulae which would serve both purposes, and we gather 
from such a passage as Jer. 9:17 ff. that there was a 
recognized profession, composed of women, who went 
through a regular course of training in their work. They 
had to know the right words which would both allay the 
spirit of the dead and excite the tears of the living. 
Authorship of these dirges, however, was not necessarily 
confined to the professional women, and in II Ghron. 
35 : 25 we have a statement to the effect that Jeremiah 
composed a dirge over Josiah, together with a reference 
to a book of dirges. 

It is, perhaps, this note which has given rise to the 
tradition that Jeremiah was the actual author of our 
present Book of Lamentations or " Dirges." It is 
beyond dispute that they, or some of them, are worthy of 
his poetic genius, and the book which bears his name 
attests the fact that he could and did compose works of 
this kind, cf. Jer. 9 : 19, 21. These, however, are very 
brief, comparable to the dirge of Amos over the fallen 



Virgin of Israel (Am. 5 : 2), and are very different from 
the long and rather elaborate poems preserved in 
Lamentations. Occasionally, too, we have suggestions 
of a point of view which we can hardly associate with 
Jeremiah. When, for example, the poet in Lam. 5 : 7 
lays the blame for Judah's disasters on an earlier generation, 
he is directly contradicting the principle which Jeremiah 
laid down in Jer. 31 : 29-30, where the prophet insists 
that the sinner alone must suffer for his wrongdoing — 
a doctrine to be more fully developed by Ezekiel. Again, 
Lam. 4 : 20 clearly refers to the ruined and captured 
king, and we can hardly imagine Jeremiah speaking of 
Zedekiah thus : 

" The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, 
Was taken in their pits, 
Of whom we said, under his shadow 
We shall live among the nations." 

But while we may find it impossible to accept the tradi- 
dition which ascribes the book to Jeremiah, there is 
abundant reason for assigning it, or part of it, to the 
age in which he lived, and to use it as a historical docu- 
ment illustrating the calamity which he had foreseen for 
forty years before it fell. 

For the book is not a unity ; it does not pretend to be. 
It is a collection of five poems, four of them dirges in the 
strict sense, and the fifth a Psalm such as Israel's poets 
often uttered in times of distress. Each has its own liter- 
ary characteristics, and internal evidence makes it 
practically certain that they are not all the work of a 
single author. They are not of equal literary merit, 
and they vary a good deal in the intensity of their feeling. 
While the first four, at any rate, may reasonably be 
referred to the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, 


to the fall of the city and to its consequent desolation, we 
get the impression that some are nearer than others to 
actual disasters which they describe. 

Chs. 1—4 are acrostic poems, though no two of them are 
exactly alike in their construction. In chs. i, 2 and 4, 
the poet has assigned a stanza to each letter, but it occurs 
only at the head of the first line in the stanza. In ch. 
3, as in Ps. 119, the poem falls into groups of three lines 
each, one group to every letter, and each line of the group 
begins with the proper letter. At the same time, the 
groups are not stanzas in the same sense as they are in 
I, 2 and 4, since it is possible for the sense to be con- 
tinued from one group to another, and the first line of a 
letter-group may be more closely associated with what 
precedes than with what follows. The verse-division 
in the English versions reflects this difference, for in chs. 
I, 2 and 4 each letter-group is counted as a single verse, 
while in ch. 3 every line stands by itself. Thus chs. 
I, 2 and 3 have the same number of lines, though the 
first two have only 22 verses while the third has 66. 

Looking at these external characteristics we note that 
the four poems take the following forms : 

Ch. I is an acrostic poem in which a stanza of three 
lines begins with its appropriate letter. The order of the 
alphabet is that which is now universally adopted, and 
goes back to ancient times. 

Ch. 2 is also an acrostic poem in which a stanza of 
three lines begins with its appropriate letter, but the order 
of the alphabet differs slightly from the normal, since the 
letter 5 (Pe), usually the seventeenth, comes before y 
(Ayin), usually the sixteenth (the common arrangement 
may be seen in those Bibles which print the Hebrew 
letters at the head of each stanza in Ps. 119). 

Ch. 3 is an acrostic in which three lines all begin with 


the same letter. Here, as in ch. 2, the usual order of 
y, 5 is reversed. 

Ch. 4 is an acrostic in which a stanza of two lines is 
assigned to each letter. Otherwise it resembles ch. 2. 

The metre in all these is that which seems most 
appropriate to the dirge, i.e., 3 : 2 varied occasionally 
with 2:2. It was, in fact, in this book that a definite 
metre, of the kind now generally admitted first attained 
wide acceptance, and though earlier students recognized 
only the 3 : 2 (a theory which led to some curious results), 
it received the name of Qinah, or " dirge," metre. It 
was not till long afterwards that it was noticed in other 
poems which could not possibly be classed as " dirges," 
e.g., in Ps. 23. ^ 

The first poem gives us a picture of the desolation of 
Jerusalem and of her people. It opens with the character- 
istic Hebrew groan — How ! It is not a question, it is an 
exclamation of suflfering, and stands outside the metrical 
scheme of the verse. This " anacrusis " is not infre- 
quently used by the Hebrew poets to give emotional 
emphasis to what follows. The first line gives the key to 
the whole poem ; the city that was once so great and 
beautiful, the place that once stood so high in the esteem 
of the peoples, has now fallen to the depths. Once 
populous, now she is lonely, for her inhabitants are gone. 
She had been powerful, now she is no more than a ^^ddow. 
She had been the mistress of others, and now she herself 
has to submit to forced labour, Hke any subject tribe. 
As we read we see more and more of the desolation. The 
land about her is deserted, for its people have been carried 
away captive, and her own inhabitants too have gone 
with them. She can find neither comfort nor sympathy 
from those about her ; they mock at her and glory in her 
fall. The poet owns that her troubles are a just punish- 


ment for her sins, and in them he sees the hand of Yahweh 
at work. He cannot imagine that Yahweh is helpless, 
but He has not even protected His own sanctuary. 
Priests and elders, the chiefs in Church and State, are 
alike helpless, and perish of starvation. Yahweh, whom 
she has offended, is her only hope, and to Him she appeals 
for aid and restoration. 

As we read this deeply moving expression of sorrow, 
we are struck by the fact that there is little or no reference 
to the actual horrors of siege and sack. It is the result of 
the fall of the city, not the terrible event itself, which fills 
the poet's mind. We shall realize this more fully when 
we come to glance at some of the other poems, and it has 
an important bearing on the date of the poem. It goes 
without saying that it must be placed earlier than any 
attempt to restore Jerusalem, and comes, therefore, from 
the time of the exile. But it is not to be placed near the 
beginning of that period. The first keen anguish has 
died away, and left a dull aching sorrow. Though there 
may never have been elsewhere pain like the pain of 
Jerusalem, it is no new thing ; the wound is far from 
fireshly inflicted. We might almost say that she was 
growing accustomed to her desolation, and it is a con- 
dition rather than a disastrous event which gives rise to 
the poet's utterance. In spite of the somewhat artificial 
flavour which an acrostic inevitably produces, the 
language has a solemn beauty, and whether we will or 
no we are carried back into the actual circumstances 
which called the dirge forth. The poem stands high 
among the world's lyrics of sorrow. 

Ch. 2 may well be thought to stand even higher. In 
form, as we have seen, it closely resembles ch. i, differing 
only in the places taken by two letters of the alphabet. 
Like the first poem, the second is a cry of woe and desola- 


tion, but it is much nearer to the actual disaster. The 
poet still remembers keenly incidents of the siege, the 
famine which destroyed more people than the weapons 
of the enemy, the corpses lying about the streets, the 
slaughter even of sacred persons, the cannibalism of 
mothers driven mad by hunger. It is not so much the 
desolation which followed on the sack of Jerusalem as 
the fearful details of the siege and capture which have 
impressed themselves upon him. In other ways the 
general atmosphere is much the same as in ch. i ; we 
observe here also the heart-rending contrast between the 
glorious past and the ghastly present, the exultant mockery 
of jealous and hostile neighbours. An interesting feature 
of the poet's thought is the way in which he sees the hand 
of Yahweh in all that has happened. Take v. 17 for 
example : 

" Yahweh hath done that which he had devised ; 

He hath fulfilled his word ; 
As he had commanded in days of old. 

He hath cast down, pitiless ; 
And he hath caused the enemy to rejoice over thee. 

He hath set up the horn of thine adversaries," 

Or again in v. 21, where Yahweh is directly addressed : 

" They lie on the ground in the streets — 

Young and old ; 
My virgins and my young men 

Are fallen by the sword ; 
Thou hast slain in the day of thine anger, 

Thou hast slaughtered, hast not pitied." 

Even Yahweh's sanctuary has not been spared : 

** And he hath done violence to his tabernacle as it were a 
He hath destroyed his place of assembly ; 


Yahwch hath caused to be forgotten in Zion 

Solemn assembly and sabbath, 
And hath despised in the indignation of his anger 

King and priest." (v. 6). 

Truly " Yahweh has become as an enemy '* (v. 5). It 
is rather striking that, in these circumstances, there is 
little or no reference to the sins, either of the fathers or 
of the generation which actually suffered the horrors 
which the poet had seen. There can be no doubt that 
he had seen them ; his feeling is too keen to let us think 
that he was relying on tradition or on hearsay. What 
is more, they were comparatively fresh in his memory. 
There is a great difference between the emotional tone of 
this chapter and that of ch. i. Both are steeped in pain, 
but here the poignant agony of grief has not yet settled 
down into the ache of sorrow. We must place this poem 
very near the beginning of the exilic period. 

When we reach ch. 3 we are conscious at once of being 
in an entirely different atmosphere. The metre is still 
that of the Qinah, but this by no means compels us to 
regard the poem as a dirge. The use of the acrostic 
letter at the beginning of each of the three lines assigned to 
it gives an artificial air to the whole. The gloom is 
far from being so intense as it was in the first two chapters. 
Vv. 25-27, for example, all begin with the word " good." 
This may be due in part to the demands of the acrostic, for 
comparatively few Hebrew words start with the letter 
(t), and acrostic writers often have to fall back on 
" tobh," the common Hebrew word for " good." 
But we have other signs of a more hopeful attitude than 
appears in other chapters. It seems clear that the poet 
cither has found, or expects to find in the near future, 
release from his troubles and vengeance on his enemies. 
There is, too, a certain lack of detail, a vagueness in 


speaking of the distress into which the poet has fallen, 
which contrasts very strongly with the wealth of detail 
offered us by other poems in the book. Occasionally 
we get hints of quotation from other writings ; the opening 
words of V. 28 suggest an acquaintance with 1:1. It is 
surely not too fanciful to see in v. 30 a reminiscence of 
Is. 50 : 6. We naturally recall Jer. 9 : i on reading 
V. 48, and with w, 12-13 we may compare Job 6 : 4, 
16 : 12. The fact is that this poem is not a *' dirge " 
at all, even in the somewhat wide sense which allows the 
term to include laments over cities and communities 
as well as over individuals. It belongs to the same class 
as a number of the Psalms, especially to those which cry 
out for deliverance from the threats of an enemy. There 
is confession of sin in v. 42, though the precise type of 
offence is not specified. The whole would be very 
suitable for use on some fast day, proclaimed as a result 
of national disaster in order to recover the favour of 
Yahweh and so win deliverance and triumph. 

The date of this poem is not easy to determine. The 
passages which remind us of other writings are never 
direct quotations, though their language gives us good 
ground for supposing that this poet was acquainted 
with them. It is difficult to associate the piece with the 
fall of Jerusalem at all, and, as we have seen, we have to 
admit the possibility that it is even later than the book 
of Job. That would probably carry it down to a point 
rather late in the fourth century B.C. At the same time 
the parallels may be accidental, however unlikely this 
may seem at first sight, and in that case the poem may 
be earlier. 

With ch. 4 we are back once more in the atmosphere of 
586 B.C. The poem differs from ch. 2 mainly in having a 
two-line instead of a three-line stanza, but in other respects 


the two are closely similar and may be the work of the 
same poet. There is, perhaps, a tendency to dwell 
rather more on the horrors of the siege, and especially 
on the reaction of the women and children. The pitiful 
condition of these little ones appealed to the poet strongly. 
He has seen them suffering the agonies of thirst, perishing 
of hunger, and calling for the food which none can 
give. Little babies cry out at their mothers' dry breasts, 
and older children appeal in vain to their fathers for bread. 
Still more horrible is the cannibalism to which the starv- 
ing women were reduced, slaughtering, cooking and eat- 
ing even their own offspring. Incidentally it may be 
noted that Josephus records similar occurrences during the 
final siege of Jerusalem in a,d. 70. The poet feels 
strongly, too, the contrast between what was and what 
is. In former times the city had been rich in many ways, 
some had lived in real luxury, and, still more, her people 
had been beautiful and strong. Now all was changed : 

" They that did feed delicately 
Arc desolate in the streets : 
They that were brought up in scarlet 
Embrace dunghills." (v. 5.) 
" Their visage is blacker than coal ; 

They are not known " (i.e. not recognisable) 
" in the streets : 
Their skin cleaveth to their bone ; 

It is withered, it is become as a stick." (v. 8.) 

In w. 18-20 we live again through the actual fall of the 
city. The enemy is already through the walls, and, sword 
in hand, hunts down the wretched inhabitants, chasing 
them through the streets. The king, as we hear else- 
where, made his way out of the city and fled towards 
Jordan. The language of the poet suggests that he was 
among the small group who got away with Zedekiah, for 


he speaks as if the pursuit had been swift behind himself. 
He seems, too, to have been a faithful attendant on his 
royal master, for the climax of the disaster is reached when 
the enemy overtakes and captures the " breath of our 
nostrils, the anointed of Yahweh." 

While the leading motif is the actual suffering, there is 
room for some reflection, and the poet realises that the 
punishment now fallen on Jerusalem is due to sin. But 
it is especially the sin of those who should have led the 
people to righteousness, the prophets and the priests 
(v. 13), which is responsible, for they " have shed the 
blood of the just in the midst of her." A study of the 
utterances delivered by Jeremiah will bear out this point 
of view, and will help to reinforce the strong impression, 
which we get from all sides of the matter, that this poem 
is the work of one who had hved through the great 
catastrophe and was writing while its details were still 
fresh in his mind. 

Ch. 5 stands apart from the other four in several ways. 
Its metre is 3 : 3, not that of the Qinah, and it is not an 
acrostic poem. It does, however, contain 22 verses, 
the right number for an acrostic. Perhaps a writer of 
such pieces wrote his poem first as it came into his mind, 
and then went over it again, substituting for the first word 
in each verse one which began with the appropriate 
letter. The chapter may, then, have been written for 
acrostic treatment and been left incomplete, i.e., without 
the final process. 

In general character it is nearer to ch. 3 than to any 
of the others. It is a picture of desolation and distress, 
of a people worn by famine and groaning under the yoke. 
Once only is there reference to the plight of the city itself, 
and that is couched in quite general terms — Zion is 
desolate and wild animals wander over the ruined site. 


But we hear nothing of the process by which this came 
about, no word of siege or slaughter at the hands of an 
enemy. The nearest thing is the treatment of the 
women described in v. ii. There is nothing which 
speaks directly of exile, though some of the language 
might well have been used by Jewish captives in Mesopo- 
tamia. The old social and political order has broken up, 
and those who once had been the most prominent among 
the people have either disappeared or been reduced to 
degrading labour. There is constant danger from 
violence, but it does not seem to he the more or less 
organized persecution of a tyrannous conqueror, but 
rather that which arises from the presence of marauding 
and thievish bands. 

In a word, the conditions are those which we know to 
have prevailed in the later period of the exile, and, to 
some extent, after the first return to Palestine. There 
may have been other ages in the post-exilic history to 
which the poem might be referred, but, in so far as we 
have details, there is none that fits it better than the latter 
part of the sixth century. 

We may sum up. Lamentations consists of five poems, 
of varying authorship and of different dates. The only 
thing they have in common is that they are poems 
written in deep distress, though this is far more intense in 
some cases than in others. All may, and some must, be 
assigned to the period of the exile, and all appear to 
have been written in Palestine. Two of them, chs. 2 
and 4, are very early in the period, and come from a time 
immediately after the fatal siege of Jerusalem. They 
may even be the work of the same writer, for both shew a 
superlative degree of poetic excellence. A little behind 
these two, both in time and in quaUty, comes ch. i, 
whose date may be roughly between 570 and 560 b.g 


Finally, not earlier than the end of the exilic period, we 
have ch. 5, and, possibly, eh. 3, though this, if any, is Hkely 
to be later than the return from the exile. It is notice- 
able, too, that these two poems fall some way below the 
high artistic standard reached by the rest — again we feel 
that ch. 3 stands even after ch. 5. This does not mean 
that these two pieces are on a low level as compared with 
work of similar tone, either in Hebrew or in other litera- 
ture. They are well up to the average, and the book, 
small as it is, remains the classic example of literary 
beauty rising out of the deepest suffering. 


The following bibliography, which is restricted for the 
most part to works published during the last fifty years, 
makes no claim to completeness. It is designed simply 
as a guide to further reading on the part of the beginner, 
and thus represents but a small selection from the many 
works which need to be consulted by the more advanced 
student. Similarly, while reference is made to a number 
of French and German works, the student whose reading 
is restricted to EngUsh has been kept primarily in mind. 
An obelisk (j) denotes a Roman CathoHc publication. 
For the sake of background one should know something 
of the literature of the Old Testament as a whole, and 
several suitable introductions are available. Driver, 
An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, gth 
edit. rev. (191 3), remains indispensable for the English 
reader ; but as it is considerably out of date, it should be 
supplemented by Oesterley & Robinson, An Introduction 
to the Books of the Old Testament (1934). The following 
are also recommended : Gautier, Introduction d VAncien 
Testament, 2nd edit. rev. (1914), 3rd edit. (1939) ; 
Eissfeldt, Ei?ileitung in das Alte Testament (1934) ; Sellin, 
Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 7th edit. rev. (1935), also 
available in an English translation of the 3rd edition by 
Montgomery, i.e. Introduction to the Old Testament (1923) ; 
Weiser, Einleitung in das Alte Testament (1939) ; and 
Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (1941). 
Attractive treatments of the literature in its historical 
development will be found in Bewer, The Literature of the 
Old Testament, 2nd edit. rev. (1933), and Hempel, Die 



althebrdische Literatur und ihr hellenistisch-jiidisches Nachleben 
(1930-4). An outstanding feature of the works by 
Eissfeldt, Hempel, and Weiser is the attention paid to 
' form-criticism.' Cf., for example, Chapters III and 
VII of this book. Finally, for an appreciation of the 
Old Testament as literature, see Sands, Literary Genius 
of the Old Testament (1926) ; and Macdonald, The Hebrew 
Literary Genius (1933). 

The reader should also know something of the culture 
of ancient Israel and, indeed, of the ancient Near East 
in general ; and for this purpose one cannot do better 
than consult Lods, Isra'el des origines au milieu du viiie 
siecle (1930), and Les prophHes d' Israel et les debuts du 
Judaxsme (1935), both of which are obtainable in an 
English translation by Hooke, i.e., Israel from its Begin- 
nings to the Middle of the Eighth Century (1932), and The 
Prophets and the Rise of Judaism (1937). Two important 
Danish studies are also available in an English transla- 
tion, i.e., Pedersen, Israel : its Life and Culture, I-II (1926) 
and III-IV (1940) ; and these too may be strongly 
recommended, provided that they are read with caution. 

The foregoing may be supplemented by Gressmann, 
Altorientalische Texte und Bilder zum Alten Testament, 
2nd edit. rev. (1926-7) : and (a) the relevant sections in 
The Cambridge Ancient History, edit. Bury, Cook, etc. 
(1923-39) ; Oesterley & Robinson, A History of Israel 
(1932) ; Schofield, The Historical Background of the Bible 
(1938) ; H. Wheeler Robinson, The History of Israel : 
its Facts and Factors, in this series (1938) ; Wright & 
Filson, The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible (1945) ; 
(b) H. Wheeler Robinson, The Religious Ideas of the Old 
Testament, in this series (191 3) ; Oesterley & Robinson, 
Hebrew Religion : its Origin and Development, 2nd edit, 
rev. (1937) ; Schofield, The Religious Background of tht 


Bible (1944) ; Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old 
Testament (1944) ; (c) Bertholet, Kulturgeschichte Israels 
(1919), available in an English translation by Dallas, 
i.e., A History of Hebrew Civilization (1926) ; J. M. P. 
Smith, The Moral Life of the Hebrews (1923) ; Kennett, 
Ancient Hebrew Social Life and Custom as indicated in Law, 
Narrative and Metaphor, Schweich Lectures for 1931 (1933). 

The following general studies are also recommended : 
Dodd, The Authority of the Bible (1928) ; Myth and Ritual, 
edit. Hooke (1933) ; The Labyrinth, edit. Hooke (1935) ; 
Graham & May, Culture and Conscience (1936) ; Cook, 
The Old Testament : a Reinterpretation (1936), The " Truth " 
of the Bible (1938), and An Introduction to the Bible (1945) ; 
Hempel, Gott und Mensch im Alten Testament, 2nd edit, 
rev. (1936), and Das Ethos des Alten Testaments (1938) ; 
Gausse, Du groupe ethnique d la communaute religieuse (1937) ; 
Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity ( 1 940) ; North, 
The Old Testament Interpretation of History (1946) ; H. 
Wheeler Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old 
Testament (1946) ; and Rowley, The Re-discovery of the 
Old Testament (1946). 

N.B. — There is no satisfactory work in English on the 
theology of the Old Testament, although the posthumous 
work by Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament 
(1904), should not be left out of account. Apart from 
this the reader must be referred to Eichrodt, Theologie 
des Alten Testaments, i (1933), ii (1935), iii (1939); or the 
much smaller works under the same title by Sellin, 2nd 
edit. (1936), and Kohler (1936). 

In addition the reader will find many useful articles of 
a summary kind in (a) The People and the Book, edit. 
Peake (1925) ; Record and Revelation, edit. H. Wheeler 
Robinson (1938) ; A Companion to the Bible, edit. Manson 
(1939) and the Old Testament volumes in The Clarendon 


Bible (1926- ) : (b) ^ New Commentary on Holy Scripture 
including the Apocrypha, edit. Gore etc. (1929) ; T7i£ Abing- 
don Bible Commentary, edit. Eiselen etc. (1929) ; and A 
Commentary on the Bible, edit. Peake & Grieve, new edit, 
with supplement (1936). 

Valuable material will also be found in the principal 
dictionaries and encyclopaedias, notably Encyclopaedia 
Biblica, edit. Cheyne & Black (1899- 1903) ; A Dictionary 
of the Bible, edit. Hastings (1898- 1904) ; A Dictionary of 
the Bible, edit. Hastings (1909), which is quite distinct 
from the foregoing larger work in five volumes ; and 
The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edit. Hastings 
(1908- 1 92 6). Further, the advanced student cannot 
afford to neglect Die Religion in Geschichte iind Gegenwart, 
edit. Gunkel & Zscharnack, 2nd edit. rev. (1927-32), 
and the many important articles on Old Testament 
subjects in Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament, 
edit. G. Kittel (1933- ). 

Finally, there are several series of commentaries which 
need to be consulted in connection with Chapters HI-XI, 
although the reader must be warned that the quality of 
the individual volumes sometimes varies quite con- 
siderably. The following will be found represented in 
this selected bibliography : (a) The Cambridge Bible for 
Schools and Colleges, edit. Kirkpatrick {CB) ; The Century 
Bible, edit. Adeney {Cent. B) ; The International Critical 
Commentary, edit. Driver, etc. [ICC) ', Westminster Com- 
mentaries, edit. Lock & Simpson {West. C) ; (b) Hand- 
buch ^?im Alten Testament, edit. Eissfeldt {HAT) ', Hand- 
kommentar zum Alten Testament, edit. Nowack {HK) ; 
Kommentar zum Alten Testament, edit. Sellin {KAT) ; and 
Kurzer Hund-Commentar zum Alten Testament, edit. Marti 
{KHC). Attention may also be drawn to Die Heilige 
Schrift des Alten Testaments, edit. Kautzsch & Bertholet, 


4th edit. (1922-3) ; Die Schriften des Alien Testaments, 
by Gunkel, Gressmann, etc., 2nd edit. (192 1-5) ; 
Exegetisches Handbuch zum Alien Tesiameni,'\ edit. Nikel 
& Schulz ; Die Heilige Schrift des Alien Testamenis,'\ 
edit. Feldmann & Herkenne. 

Chapter I. — ^The following studies* in the fields of 
English and German literature will be found useful for 
comparative purposes : Saintsbury, A History of English 
Prosody from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day, 3 vols. 
(1906-10), and Historical Manual of English Prosody (191 0) ; 
Abercrombie, Principles of English Prosody (1923) ; 
Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (1925) ; and 
Heusler, Deutsche Versgeschichie, I : Einfiihrendes ; Grund- 
begriffe der Verslehre der Aligermanische Vers (1925). 

Chapter II. — ^Here the beginner will find it sufficient 
to consult Budde, * The Forms of Hebrew Poetry,' in 
Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible iv, pp. 3-9 ; Gray, 
The Forms of Hebrew Poetry (1915) ; and Burney, The 
Poetry of our Lord (1925), Chapter I, on ' The Formal 
Characteristics of Hebrew Poetry.' 

For a critical survey of the many attempts since 
Lowth to define the principles underlying ancient Hebrew 
poetry (e.g., the theories associated with the names of 
Bellermann, Saalschiitz, Ewald, Meier, Ley, Budde, 
Bickell, Miiller, Grimme, and Sievers), the advanced 
student may be referred to Cobb, A Criticism of Systems of 
Hebrew Metre (1905). 

At the same time it should be borne in mind that the 
whole question is still sub judice, and much important 
material is to be found in the learned journals which are 

* Kindly suggested by Professor E. C. Llewellyn of the Department of 
English, University College, Cardiff. 


devoted to biblical and allied subjects. Cf., for example, 
the survey by Begrich, ' Zur Hebraischen Metrik,' in 
Theologische Rundschau, N.F.4 (1932), pp. 67-89, which 
deals with developments in this field from the year 1907 
to date. 

Finally, for the poetic structure of the Ugaritic texts 
(with particular reference to parallelism), see Gordon, 
Ugaritic Grammar^ (1940), pp. 78-87. 

Chapter III. — For a detailed study of the passages 
discussed in the text the reader must be referred to the 
various commentaries which are listed, for example, in 
the above-mentioned introductions to the Old Testa- 
ment by Eissfeldt, Oesterley & Robinson, and Pfeiffer. 

On the general subject of this chapter there is little of 
value in English, but reference may be made to G. A. 
Smith, The Early Poetry of Israel in Its Physical and Social 
Origins, Schweich Lectures for 1910 (191 2) ; and Oester- 
ley, Ancient Hebrew Poems (1938). For the rest, see Causse 
Les plus vieux chants de la Bible (1926) ; Eissfeldt, Einleitung, 
pp. 69-137, and Der Maschal im Alten Testament (1913); 
and Jahnow, Das hebrdische Leichenlied im Rahmen der 
Vblkerdichtung (1923). 

Chapters IV-V. Of commentaries in EngHsh the 
beginner may use Peake, Cent.B (1905); Strahan, The 
Book of Job Interpreted (191 3) ; Davidson, CB, new edit, 
rev. by Lanchester (1926) ; and Kissane, The Book of 
fob] (1939). In this connection the English translation 
in rhythmical form by McFadyen, The Wisdom Books in 
Modern Speech (1918), may also be recommended. For 
the more advanced student, however. Driver & Gray, 
ICC (1921), with its very full treatment of the relevant 
textual, philological, and exegetical problems, is indis- 


pensable. Ball, The Book of Job (1922), is a fresh and 
stimulating piece of work, but owing to its predominant 
philological interest and its bold treatment of the text it is 
primarily a work for the specialist. Of foreign com- 
mentaries the best are those of Duhm, KHC (1897), and 
Dhorme, Le Livre de Job] (1926), which is an exhaustive 
piece of work, and, like that of Driver & Gray, is of 
outstanding importance ; but reference must also be 
made to Budde, HK, 2nd edit. (191 3) ; Konig, Das 
BuchHiob (1929) ; and Holscher, //^7'(i937). 

For the English reader the following general studies 
will be found of value : Peake, The Problem of Suffering 
in the Old Testament (1904) ; H. Wheeler Robinson, The 
Cross of Job (1916) ; McFadyen, The Problem of Pain : 
a Study in the Book of Job (191 7) ; Jastrow, The Book of 
Job : its Origin, Growth and Interpretation (1920) ; Mc- 
Kechnie, Job : Moral Hero, Religious Egoist and Mystic 
(1926) ; and Kraeling, The Book of the Wa)>sofGod{ig'^8) : 
but where possible these should be supplemented by 
Kautzsch, Das sogenannte Volksbuch von Hiob (1900) ; 
Sellin, Das Problem des Hiobbuches (19 19) ; Baumgartel, 
Der Hiobdialog (1933) ; and Lindblom, Le composition du 
livre de Job (1945). See also the general studies of 
Israel's wisdom literature which are cited below in 
connection with Chapter IX. 

Chapters VI-VIII. — For the English reader Kirk- 
patrick, CB (1902), is of special value. Within its limits 
it is a model piece of work ; and though sadly out of 
date, it has yet to be superseded. It may be supple- 
mented, however, by Oesterley, The Psalms : Translated 
with Text-critical and Exegetical Notes (1939). The 
philological notes in Briggs, ICC (1906-7), are sometimes 
useful ; and Buttenwieser, The Psalms : Chronologically 


Treated with a New Translation (1938), is interesting as an 
unconvincing attempt to arrange the psalms in their 
historical sequence. See also McFadyen, The Psalms 
in Modern Speech (1916), i.e., a companion volume to that 
which is noted above in connection with Chapters 
IV-V, ad init. 

The best foreign commentaries are those of R. Kittel, 
KAT^ 5th & 6th edit. (1929), which may be singled out for 
its fusion of careful scholarship and devotional exegesis ; 
and Gunkel, HK (1926), which is remarkable for its 
combination of wide reading and scholarly insight, 
though somewhat marred by an over-confidence in 
textual emendation : but the commentaries by Baethgen, 
HK, 3rd edit. (1904) Schmidt, HAT (1934), and Gales, 
Le Livre des Psaumes^ (1936), have each their pecuhar 

Special studies in the Psalter may be represented by 
(a) Peters, The Psalms as Liturgies (1922) ; The Psalmists, 
edit. Simpson (1926) ; Welch, The Psalter in Life, Worship 
and History (1926) ; Snaith, Studies in the Psalter (1934) ; 
Gumming, The Assyrian and Hebrew Hymns of Praise 
(1934) ; Widengren, The Accadian and Hebrew Psalms of 
Lamentation as Religious Documents (1937) ; Oesterley, 
A Fresh Approach to the Psalms (1937) ; James, Thirty 
Psalmists (1938) ; and Patton, Canaanite Parallels in the 
Book of Psalms (1944) : (b) Gunkel, Ausgewdhlte Psalmen, 
4th edit. rev. (191 7) ; Mowinckel, Psalmenstudien I-VI 
(192 1 -4) ; Stummer, Sumerisch-akkadische Parallelen zum 
Aufbau alttestamentlicher Psalmen] (1922) ; Quell, Das 
kultische Problem der Psalmen (1926) ; Schmidt, Die Thron- 
fahrt Jahves (1927), and Das Gebet des Angeklagten im Alien 
Testament (1928) ; Gunkel & Begrich, Einleiiung in die 
Psalmen (1933) ; and Weiser, Die Psalmen ausgewdhlt, 
iibersetzt und erkldrt, 2nd edit. (1939). 


Chapter IX. — The English reader has at his disposal 
two useful commentaries in Toy, ICC (1899), and Oester- 
Icy, West. C (1929), the latter having the merit of 
attempting to place the book of Proverbs in its setting 
within the general context of the wisdom literature of the 
ancient Near East. The English translation in rhyth- 
mical form by McFadyen, in The Wisdom Books in Modern 
Speech, as cited above in connection with Chapters 
IV-V, may also be recommended. 

Of foreign commentaries, attention must be drawn to 
Gemser, HAT (1937), for the same reason as that given 
in the case of Oesterley. For the rest, it will be sufficient 
to mention Wildeboer, KHC (1897), and Frankenberg, 

On the whole the book of Proverbs is be ter served by 
the many general or special studies which have been 
published in this field in recent years, particularly 
(a) Elmslie, Studies in Life from Jewish Proverbs (191 7) ; 
Oesterley, The Wisdom of Egypt and the Old Testament 
(1927) ; Ranston, The Old Testament Wisdom Books and 
Their Teaching (1930) ; and Rankin, Israelis Wisdom 
Literature : its Bearing on Theology and the History of Re- 
ligion (1936) : (b) Eissfeldt, as cited above in connection 
with Chapter III ; Gressmann, Israels Spruchweisheit im 
Zusammenhang der Weltliteratur (1925) ; Humbert, 
Recherches sur les Sources Egyptiennes de la Litterature Sapient- 
iale dTsrael (1929) ; Fichtner, Die altorientalische Weisheit 
in ihrer israelitisch-judischen Ausprdgung (1933) ; Baum- 
gartner, Israelitische und altorientalische Weisheit (1933) ; 
and Duesberg, Les Scribes Inspires : Introduction aux Livres 
Sapientiaux de la Bible] (1938-9). 

Chapter X. — There is no satisfactory, full-scale com- 
mentary in English on the Song of Songs. What little 


is available is noted below. In general see : (a) for the 
dramatic theories, Ewald, Das Hohelied Salomons (1826) ; 
Renan, Le Cantique des Cantiques (i860) ; Delitzsch, 
Hoheslied und Koheleth (1875), available in an English 
translation by Easton, i.e., Commentary on the Song of Songs 
and Ecclesiastes (1877); Rothstein, Das Hohe Lied (1893) ; 
Hazan, Le Cantique des Cantiques en/in explique (1936) : 
also, as a series of dramatic lyrics or as a dramatic poem, 
Harper, CB (1902) ; Cannon, The Song of Songs edited 
as a dramatic poem (191 3) ; and Pouget & Guitton, Le 
Cantique des Cantiques^ (1934) '. (b) for the wedding- 
cycle theory : Budde, KHC (1898) ; Siegfried, HK 
(1898) ; Martin, Cent. B (1908) : (c) for the love-lyric 
theory, Haupt, Biblische Liebeslieder : das sogenannte 
Hohelied Salomos (1907) ; Staerk, in Die Schriften des Alien 
Testaments, 2nd edit. (1920) ; Jastrow, The Song of Songs, 
being a collection of love lyrics of Ancient Palestine (1921) : 
(d) for the theory of an Adonis-Tammuz liturgy. Meek, 
' Canticles and the Tammuz Cult,' in American Journal oj 
Semitic Languages and Literatures, xxxix (1922-3), and in 
The Song of Songs : a Symposium, edit. Schoff (1924) ; 
Wittekindt, Das Hohe Lied und seine Beziehungen zum 
Istarkult (1926). 

Finally, the beginner may be referred to Ranston, as 
cited above in connection with Chapter IX ; and for 
further reading the more advanced student should 
consult the fully documented article by Rowley, in The 
Journal of Theological Studies, xxxviii (1937), pp. 337-363, 
which also gives detailed references for the Jewish and 
Christian allegorical interpretations in both their ancient 
and their modern forms. 

Chapter XI. — For the book of Lamentations the 
English reader is practically confined to Peake, Cent, B 


(191 2), and Streane, CB (1913). Of foreign com- 
mentaries the best are those of Budde, KHC (1898), and 
Lohr, KH, 2nd edit. (1907), on which those of Peake 
and Streane are largely dependent. See also Jahnow, 
as cited above in connection with Chapter III. 

Aubrey R. Johnson. 


Aaion, Houie of, 137 

Abraham, 51 

Abram, 141 

Abner, 65 

Accadian, 20 

Accentual Rhythm, 74 f., 24 

Achish, 55 

Acrostic (Alphabetic), 39 f., 144, 166, igg, 

207 ff., 214 
Adam, 141 
Adams, 82 
Adversary, 132 
Aeschylus, 68, 86 
Agag, 59 
Agur, 167, 188 f. 
Ahikar, 186, 187 
Alliteration, 14 
Amalek, 54 f. 

Amen-em-ope, Teaching of, 186 f., igi 
Amenhotep IV, 148 
Ammon, 127 
Amos, 83, 205 
Anacrusis, 18, 36, 208 
Angel of Yahweh, 153 
Angels, 152 f. 
Anglo-Saxon Poetry, 14 
Animism, 133, 140, 151 
Antiochus Epiphanes, iii, 120 
Aphrodite, 197 
Apocalypse, 142 
Arabic, 15 
Aramaic, 81 
Aramaic Papyri, 134 
Ark, 53 
Anton, 30 

Artaxerxes Ochus, i2l 
Artemis, 197 
Asaph, 114 f. 

Ascents, Songs of, in, 115, 140 
Asher, 52, 57 
Ashtoreth, 197 
Assyria, 55, 66, 146 
Astarte, 197 
Astral cults, 81 
Av«nger of blood, 97 

Babylon, 146, 197 

Balaam, 53 ff., 57, 166 

" Beats " in Hebrew verse, 23 

Benjamin, 53, 56 

Bhajans, 39 

Bildad, 73 ff., 90 ff., 96, 102 

Blessing, 49, 30 ff., 125, 138 f., 162 

Blessing, Priestly, 53 

Boax, 97 

Boils, 73 

Bow, Song of the, 48 

Briggs, 23, 29 

Browning, 106 

Buddhism, 107 

Buint, 303 

Caesura, 32 

Cainites, 49 

Canaan, 51, 61 

Cannibalism, 210, 213 

Canon, Old Testament, 108 

Cavalier poets, 203 

Chaldeans, 121 

Chaos, 128 

Chaos-monster, 90, 102, 153 f. 

Chief Musician, 117 

Chinese, 20 

Choirmaster, 117 

Christ, Cross of, 84 

Cicero, 16 

Collections, Proverb-, 167 ff. 

Collections, Psalm-, 108 ff. 

Community, Laments of the, 125, 128 ff., 131 

Composite Psalms, 118 

Conduct, Importance of, 184 

Conquest of Palestine, Israelite, 55, 146 

Creation story, 128, 196 

Cretans, 55 

Crocodile, 78 

Curse, 49, 51, 125, 138, 139 f. 

Cyprus, 197 

Damascus, 57 

Dan, 53, 56 

Daniel, 70 

Dante, 14, 68 

Dating of Proverbs, 167 

Dating of Psalms, 120 fi 

David, 52, 59, 60, 64, 66, 192 

Davidic Psalms, 112 ff. 

Death inevitable, 89, 94 f. 

Death, Life after, 95, 98 f. 191 

Deborah, 55, 62 f., 138 f., 203 

Decalogue, 104 

Degrees, Songs of, in, 140 

Dirge, 49, 64 {., 205 ff. 

Divine names, 71 f., 109 f. 

Dramatic poetry, 15, 47, 86, 195 

Dreams, 200 f. 

Drunkenness, 183 f., 185, 189 

Ecclesiastes, 194, 202 

Edom, 31, 54, 55, 61, 71, 86, 121 

Education, 168 

Egypt, 107, 146, 147 f., 197 

Egyptian Psalms, 147 ff. 

Egyptian text of the Old Testament, 34, 37, 

64, 80, no. III, 119 
Ehud, 54 
El, 71 

El Elyon, 51 
Elephantine, 134, 151 
Elihu, 75, 76 f., 104 
Eliphar, 75, 88 ff., 95, loi 
Eloah, 71 
Elohim, 71 
Elohistic Psalms, 109 fi., 117 




Bii|;lifh poetry, 14 

Enj«mb*m»Ml, 18 f., 2Z 

Enthronement Psalms, 137, 13s 

Ephesus, 197 

Ephraim, 53, 55, 56 

Epic poetry, 47, 86 

Erotic lyric*, 199 

Esau, 51 

Escbatology, 142 

Esdraelon, 55 

Ethan, 115 

Evil spirits, 13 J 1. 

Exile, 53 

Exodus, 146, 147, 155 

Expectation and fulblmsnt, 16 fi., ai 

Etekiel, 70, 106 

Eira, lao 

Faith, 82 

Family life, Israelite, 176 S. 

Fasts, 128, 212 

Father, God as, 160 f. 

Faust, 68 

Fertility cults, 197 

Fool, 174 

French poetry, 14, 15, 20$ 

Froude, 13 

Gad, 52, 55, 56 
Gwierosity, 183 
German poetry, 14 
Gibeon, j8 

Gods, Foreign, 151 B. 
Goel, 97 
Goethe, 68 

Golden Treasury, i2j 
Gray, G. B., 23, 25, 26 fl. 
Greek loan-words, 202 
Greek poetry, 13, 14, 47 
Greek thought, 99 f., 107 
Gunkel, 125 Q. 

Habakkuk, 65, 83 f.. 123 

Hallelujah Psalms, 112 

Hammurabi, 146 

Hannah, Song of, 63 

Hebrew language, 24 f., 193, 211 t. 

Hebrew poetry, 20 ff. 

Heine, 203 

Hcman, 113 

Henx>«, 202 

Hermon, 121 

Heshbon and Moab, Song of, 50 

Hexateuch, 141 

Hezekiah, 123, 167 

High places, 120 

Hinduism, 107 

Hippopotamus, 78 

Historical references in Psalter, r20 ft. 

History controlled by Yahweh, 155 

History of Psalms, 118 

Honesty, 180 f. 

Hotea, 83, 173, 196 

Humility, 181 f. 

Humour, 67, 181 

Hymas, 107, 108, 125 ff. 

" 1 " in the Psalms, 131 

Ikhnaton, 148 

Immortality, Doctrine of, 98 B., 149 t. 

Individual, Laments of the, 125, 130 fl. 

Industry, 181 

Isaac, 51 

Isaiah, 65, 83, 123 

Isaiah, Oracie of, 66 

Ishtar, 197, 198 

Isis, 197 

Islam, 107 

Isolated poems, 47 fi. 

Issachar, 32, 56 

Italian poetry, 14, 30] 

Jabbok, 50 

Jacob bleaced by Isaac, 51 

Jacob, Blessing of, 52 f., 36 

Japhet, 51 

Jerachmeelites, 55 

Jeremiah, 65, 84, 205 f. 

Jerusalem, 51, 194, 208 fi., 212, 21) 

Job, 32, 67 ff., 129, 166, 186 

Jonah, 65 

Jonathan, 64 

Jordan, 50 

Joseph, 51, 53 

Joshua, 58 

Josiah, 205 

Jotham, 58, 166 

Judah, 52, 56 

Judas Maccabaeus, 124 

Judges, 32 

Justice, 87, 187 

Kenites, 55 

Kings, 129 f., 178 f. 

Kingship, Divine, 127 f. 

Kittim, 55 

Korah, Sont of, 114 

Lamech, Song of, 49 

Lamentations, 27, 203, 205 ft. 

Laments of the community, 125, 128 ff. 131 

Laments of the individual, 125, 130 fi. 

Latin poetry, 13, 14, 47 

Law, 108, 124, 155 

Law-codes, 146 

Law, Process of, 91 ff., 134, 156 

Law, Psalms of the, 124, 125, 142 

Laziness, 170, 181, 187 

Legends, 125, 141 f. 

Lemuel, 167, 189 

Leprosy, 72 

Levi, 52, 56 

Leviathan, 154 

Life after death, 93, 98 t. 

Lincoln, Abraham, 13 

Liturgies, 127, 131, 132 

Local songs, 49 

Logical rhythm, 24 

Logos, 171 

Lot, Sacred, 135 

Love, 159 ff. 

Love poems, 193 ff. 

Lovt, Yahweh's, 160 fl. 

230 INDEX 

Lowth, 21, 2« f., 25 

Lucretius, 68 

LXX [See Egyptian text of Old Testament). 

Lyrical poetry, 15, 47, 199, 203 

Macaulay, 16 

Maccabaean era, 120 

Magic, 64, 133 

Manasseh, 53, 56 

Marduk, ig6 

Marriage, 178, 189 f., 195, 198 

Maschil, 116 

Mashal, Meshalim, 49, 57, 144, 165 f. 

Massa, 188, xSg 

Melchizedek, 51 

Metopotamia, 70, 107, 128, 146, 147, 153, 

196 f., 215 
Messianic hope, 54 
Metaphysics, 163 f. 
" Metres," Hebrew, 25 ff. 
Michtam, 116 
Milton, II, 67 
Miriam, Song of, 61, 62 
Mixed metres, 37 f. 
Moab, 50, 52, 54, 61 
Monasticism, 195 
Monotheism, 81, 151, 191 
Moral standards, 104 
Moses, 55, 58, 65 f- 
Moses, Blessing of, 56 S. 
Moses, Song of, 60 ff. 
Musician, Chief, 117 
Mystics, 84, 88, 184 
Mythology, 90, 102, i$j 

Nahum, 63, 123 

Naphtali, 53, 57 

Naomi, 97 

Nard, 202 

Nathan, 59 f. 

Nature controlled by Yahweh, 126, 154 

Nature, Delight in, 201, 203 

Nebuchadrezzar, 120, 121 

Neptune, 82 

New Year festival, 130, 196 

Noah, 51, 70 

Oath, 104, 134, 136 

Paeans, 49, 60 fi. 

Pain, Problem of, 68, 82 ff., 87 

Parable, 58, 166 

Parallelism, 21 ff. 

Parallels to Psalms in other literatures, 146 ff. 

Paranomasia, 59 

Penitential Psalms, 131 

Penitential Psalms, Babylonian, 146 f. 

Persian influence, 153, 202 

Pharisaic Judaism, 99 

Philistines, 52, 61 

Philo, 171 

Philosophy, 163 f., 165 

Phoenicians, 52, 121, 203 

Phonetic rhythm, 24 

Piety, Hewbrew, 73, 102, 169, 184 

Pilgrim Psalms, laj, 126 

Poetic form, 11 fl. 

Polytheism, 151 

Poverty, 183 

Praise, Songs of, 125 

Prayers of David, 113 f. 

Precentor, 117 

Pride, 182 f. 

Priestly blessing, 53 

Prison, 135 

Prophetic Psalms, 123, 142 f. 

Prophets, 34, 35, 83 t., 108, 132, 173 

Proverbs, 57, 164 fi. 

Proverbs, Book of, 144, 163 ff. 

Proverbs, Dating of, 167 

Prudential motive for good behaviour, 173 f. 

Psalms, Book of, 32, 107 fi. 

Psalm -titles, 112 ff. 

Psalms, Dating of, 120 ff. 

Psalms, History of, 108, 118 f. 

Psalms of Solomon, 115 

Psalms, Permanent value of, loS, 122 

Psalms, Purpose of, 123 S. 

Psalms, Wisdom, 125, 143 f. 

Psalter {Set Psalms, Book of) 

Psychology, 99, 166 

Punishment of sin, 88, 95, loi, 124 

Qeteb, 134 

Qinah, 27, 208, 211, 214 

Quantitative rhythm, 15 

Rahab, 102, 153 

Ras Shamra, 144 

Rebecca, 51, 57 

Redeemer, 97 

Red Sea, 60 

Refrain, 43 f. 

Regularity, Principle of, 15 

Regular metres, 37 f. 

Resurrection, 99 

Reuben, 52, 56 

Revenger of blood, 97 

Rewards of righteous, 89, 91, 93, 168, 173 8 

Rhyme, 14 

Rhythm, Accentual, 14 ff., 34 
Rhythm, Logical, 24 
Rhythm, Sound-, 21 
Rhythm, Thought-, 21 
Rich and poor, 182 
Rich, Sins of the, loi 
Righteousness, 91 f. 
Ritual, 127, 130, 131 f., 136, 137, 143 
Royal Psalms, 125, 129 t. 
Ruth, 97 

Sabbath, 116, 124 

Sacrifice, 136, 137, 142, 14J, 175 

Samaria, 60 

Samaritan schism, 11 1 

Samson, 59 

Samuel, 59 

Sankey, I. D., 113 

Sanskrit, 13 

Sapphics, 204 

S>pph», 204 



Satan, 70, 72, 7* 

Saul, 52 f., 57, 59, 6+, 65, 165 

Science, Natural, 163 

Selah, 44 f. 

Servant, The perfect, 84, 173 

Sex-relations, 170 £., 189, 195, io+ 

Shaddai, 71 

Shakespeare, 18 f., 68, 204 

Sheba, 60 

Shem, 51 

Sheol, 85, 90, 94, 96, 184 

Sheshoni, 37 

Shulamite, 302 

Shunem, 195, 202 

Sickness, 133, 136 

Sievers, 25 

Sibon, 50 

Sin, Sense of, 158 ff. 

Slander, 187 

Slaves, 104, 177 

Sluggard, 181 

Social life depicted in Proverbs, 176 ff- 

Solomon, 60, 115, 167, 192, igq, 203 

Solomon, Psalms of, 115 

Song of Songs, 192 fi. 

Sorcerers, 133 

Sound rhythm, 20, 21 

Spanish poetry, 14 

Spells, 49, 50 ft. 

Stanza, 18', 41 ff., 119 f. 

" Stresses ' in Hebrew versa, 25 

Strophe, 41 

Suffering! Problem of, 82 ff. 

Sun-god, 148 f. 

Syllabic rhythm, 13, 14 

Synagogue, 120 

Syncopation, 22 

Syriac, 15 

Syria, Northern, 147, 196 

Tabernacles, Feast of, 128 

Tarshish, 168 

Taunt-songs, 57, 66, 166 

Teacher and pupil, 168 

Tempk, Destruction of the, 120 

Tennyson, 11 

Thanksgiving of Israel, 125, 141 

Thanksgiving of the individual, i«3, 126, 135 tf . 

Theocritus, 203 
Theophany, 105, 142 
Thought-rhythm, 20 ff. 
Threshing-sledge, 198 
Tiamat, 196 
Titles, Psalm-, 112 ff. 
Tribal songs, 49 ff. 
Truthfulness, 180 
Types of Psalms, 125 ff. 

Ugarit, 144, r54 
Universality of Yahweh, 83 
Uranus, 82 
Ui, Land of, 71 

Vedic hymns, 107 

Vengeance, 133 f., n» 

Vergil, 203 

Verse members, 31 ff. 

Verse units, 25 ff. 

Vtrs libre, 17 

Vicarious suSering, 84 

Victory, Songs of {See also Paeans), 141 

Volcanic activity, 154 

Vows, 127, 136 

Wailing women, 64, 205 

Wars of Yahweh, ]Book of the, 4S 

Wealth, 182 f. 

Well, Song of the, 50 

Wisdom, 78, 165 

Wisdom, Personification of, 168, 171, 190 

Wisdom Psalms, 125, 143 f. 

■Wise, \\'ords of the, 167 

Wizards, 50 

Woman, 167, 170, r77 f., 189 f. 

Word, Efficiency of, 50 f., 139 

Yashar, Book of, 48, 58 

Zebulun, 52, 56 
Zedekiah, 206, 213 
Zophar, 75 S., gj, 100, loj 



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