Song of Moses

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Not to be confused with Blessing of Moses.
For other uses, see Song of Moses (disambiguation).

The Song of Moses in this article relates to the name sometimes given to the poem that appears in Deuteronomy 32:1-43 of the Hebrew Bible written/orated just prior to Moses' death atop Mount Nebo.

The Song is believed by some to have been written down and placed in the Ark of the Covenant at one time, along with Aaron's staff and the Ten Commandments.[citation needed]

Biblical data[edit]

Poem found in Deut. xxxii. 1-43. It is said that "Moses spake in the ears of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song" (Deut. xxxi. 30, R. V.; comp. ib. xxxii. 44). The song exhibits striking originality of form; nowhere else in the Old Testament are prophetic thoughts presented in poetical dress on so large a scale.

The poem opens with an exordium (verses 1-3) in which heaven and earth are summoned to hear what the poet is to utter. In verses 4-6 the theme is defined: it is the rectitude and faithfulness of YHVH toward His corrupt and faithless people. Verses 7-14 portray the providence which conducted Israel in safety through the wilderness and gave it a rich and fertile land; verses 15-18 are devoted to Israel's unfaithfulness and lapse into idolatry. This lapse had compelled YHVH to threaten it (verses 19-27) with national disaster and almost with national extinction. Verses 28-43 describe how YHVH has determined to speak to the Israelites through the extremity of their need, to lead them to a better mind, and to grant them victory over their foes.

In a Torah scroll the song is written with a special layout, in two parallel columns.

Critical view[edit]

The poet was also an artist. Conspicuous literary ability and artistic skill are manifested in the development of his theme. His figures are diversified and forcible; the parallelism is unusually regular. One of the best examples of poetic simile in the Bible occurs in verses 11 and 12 of this song:(Driver's transl.)

"Like a vulture, that stirreth up its nest, That hovereth over its young, He spread abroad His wings, He took him, He bore him upon His pinion: YHVH alone did lead him; And no foreign god was with Him."

The general plan of the poem resembles that of Ps. lxxviii., cv., cvi., and the prose of Ezek. xx., as well as the allegories of Ezek. xvi. and xxiii. In the Song of Moses, however, the theme is treated with greater completeness and with superior poetic power.

Scholarly views[edit]

According to the modern documentary hypothesis the poem was an originally separate text, that was inserted by the deuteronomist into the second edition (of 2), of the text which became Deuteronomy (i.e. was an addition in 'Dtr2').

The poem, cast partly in the future tense, describes how Yahweh is provoked into punishing the Israelites due to their apostasy, resulting in the Israelites being destroyed. Dtr2 is believed to have been produced as a reaction to the Kingdom of Judah being sent into its Babylonian exile, and thus to Dtr1's (the hypothesised first edition of Deuteronomy) positive outlook, and suggestion of an upcoming golden age, being somewhat no longer appropriate. Consequently the poem fits the aim of Dtr2, in retroactively accounting for Israel's misfortune, and, indeed, may have been composed at a similar time.

Though both Jewish and Christian sources have traditionally attributed the Song to Moses, the conditions presupposed by the poem render the Mosaic authorship of it impossible according to critical commentary. The Exodus and the wilderness wanderings lie in the distant past. The writer's contemporaries may learn of them from their fathers (verse 7). The Israelites are settled in Palestine (verses 13-14); sufficient time has passed for them not only to fall into idolatry (verses 15-19), but to be brought to the verge of ruin. They are pressed hard by heathen foes (verse 30); but Yahweh promises to interpose and rescue his people (verses 34-43).

Dating the Song[edit]

There are differences of opinion as to precisely when and by whom the song was written. George E. Mendenhall from the University of Michigan assigns it to the period just after the defeat of the Israelite militia at the battle of Eben-Ezer, and its authorship to the prophet Samuel:

"The poem cannot have originated at any time than after the destruction of Shiloh" and "...there is an impressive number of linguistic correlations in this text with the language and idioms of the syllabic texts from Byblos; those correlations also cluster around Exodus 15, Judges 5, Deuteronomy 33, and Genesis 49".

When all of Deuteronomy 31:14-23 was referred to JE, the poem was believed to be anterior thereto, and was believed to be contemporary with the Assyrian wars under Jehoash and Jeroboam II (c. 780 BCE). To this period it is referred by August Dillmann, Schrader, Samuel Oettli, Heinrich Ewald, Adolf Kamphausen and Edouard Guillaume Eugène Reuss. Kuenen and Driver, who believe that the expression "those which are not a people" in verse 21 refers to the Assyrians, assign the poem to the age of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (c. 630 BCE); while Cornill, Steuernagel, and Bertholet refer it to the closing years of the Exile, i.e. the period of the second Isaiah.

In the present state of modern knowledge the date cannot be definitely fixed; but there is much to be said in favor of the exilic date.[citation needed]

Musical settings[edit]

Disambiguation; for Cantemus Domino see Song of the Sea.

Both Songs of Moses, as with Habakkuk 3 (Domine Audivi), and 1 Samuel 2 (Exultavit Cor Meum) are counted as canticles in church use.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Mendenhall, George E. (1973). The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-1267-4. 
  • Mendenhall, George E., Samuel's "Broken Rîb": Deuteronomy 32, 1975, Reprint from No Famine in the Land Studies in honor of John L. McKenzie. Scholar's Press for The Institute for Antiquity and Christianity - Claremont
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEmil G. Hirsch and George A. Barton (1901–1906). "Song of Moses". Jewish Encyclopedia. 
  • Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography:
    • Kamphausen, A., Das Lied Moses: Deut. 32, 1–43, 1862; Leipzig: Brockhaus
    • Klostermann, A., in Studien und Kritiken, 1871, pp. 249 et seq.; 1872, pp. 230 et seq., 450 et seq.;
    • Stade's Zeitschrift, 1885, pp. 297 et seq.;
    • Cornill, C. H., Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 1891, pp. 70 et seq.,
    • Driver, S. R., Deuteronomy, in International Critical Commentary, 1895, pp. 344 et seq.;
    • Steuernagel, Deuteronomium, in Nowack's Handkommentar, 1900, pp. 114 et seq.;
    • Bertholet, Deuteronomium, in K. H. C. 1899, pp. 94 et seq.;

External links[edit]