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SHORTER COMMUNICATIONS NUM 21:14-15 AND THE BOOK OF THE WARS OF YAHWEH

To a most provocative discussion of the origin and concept of the Day of Yahweh, G. von Rad once added a wistful note: "If we could know what the 'Book of the Wars of Yahweh' (Num xxi.14) contained, perhaps this riddle [i.e. the absence of the formula of the Day of Yahweh from pre-Amos mate rial], too would be solved."1 It is perhaps presumptuous to suggest that we may now be in a position to reconstruct, at least in part, the content of that mysterious "book" when such a renowned scholar as N. H. Tur-Sinai once insisted it never existed.2 From the context of the single citation from this enigmatic source, however, most scholars have assumed the work in question to be an anthology of old war poems dealing with the conflict of the invading Israelites with the original inhabitants of Canaan. The brief citation from the so-called "Book of the Wars of Yahweh" as preserved in Num 21:14-15 is translated in the RSV as follows: Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon, and the slope of the valleys that extends to the seat of Ar, and leans to the border of Moab. Though obviously prosaic in nature, at least in this particular translation, the RSV editors have clearly indicated that the passage in question is poetry, of the same sort as the "Song of the Well" (Num 21:17-18) and the "Song of Heshbon" (Num 21:27-30) which appear in the same chapter. As the reader will surmise, the single surviving citation from the enigmatic "Book of the Wars of Yahweh" presents major textual difficulties. In fact, the late W. F. Albright recently dismissed the passage as beyond recon struction.3 The following reconstruction of the poetic fragment preserved in Num 21:14-15 is obviously provisional in nature, though the writer insists that it takes the MT more seriously than have a good many biblical trans lators, ancient and modern:4
'G. von Rad, 'The Origin of the Concept of the Day of Yahweh," JSS 4 (1959) 108. N. H. Tur-Sinai, "Was There an Ancient 'Book of the Wars of the Lord?' "(HebXBIES 24 (1959/60) 146-48. 3 W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1968) 44. 4 Studies in the historical development of Hebrew poetry have shown that several prosaic particles which appear frequently in the received tradition were not at home in classical Hebrew poetry, especially the 8 direct object marker, the relative particle ', the definite article (except when it has demonstrative force), and, in many cases, the waw conjunction. These particles are either deleted here, without further discussion, or are read as other parts of speech. The number in the right margin indicates the syllable count in the original pronunciation, which tends to be constant within individual bicola or tricla. Note that segholate formations were originally pronounced monosyllabic.
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[Yahweh] came in a whirlwind; He came to the branch wadis of the Arnon. He marched through the wadis;
m a r c H e

^ h 2 nSTfitf j ^ |
q

5
5

^ s i d e to the seat of Ar.

He leaned toward the border of Moab;

SKT'ftri? 3 7 ... (7)

This brief poetic quotation was cited by the narrator in Numbers 21 primarily because it placed the boundary of Moab at the Arnon. The subse quent misreading of the verbal roots in question led to confusion in the versions and textual corruption in the transmission of the MT. The picture presented here is that of the Divine Warrior poised on the edge of the promised land, before the most celebrated battles of the Exodus-Conquest. He has come in the whirlwind with his hosts to the sources of the River Arnon in Transjordan. He marches through the wadis, turning aside to settle affairs with Moab before marching against the Amorite kings to the north, and then across the Jordan to Gilgal and the conquest of Canaan. The picture is indeed a fitting one for the incipit of a narrative poem entitled "The Book of the Wars of Yahweh."

DUANE L. CHRISTENSEN

Bridgewater State College Bridgewater, Mass. 02324

For the direct object marker read the verbal root th, "to come," which occurs only in poetry (cf. Dt 33:2; Ps 68:32 and Isa 21:12). 6 This is the only major conjectural emendation proposed in this passage. For MT 2 read the divine name (noting that the final he of the tetragrammaton would not have appeared in the earliest orthography). The confusion of waw and yodh requires no comment, as this is perhaps the most frequent of scribal errors. The confusion of waw and beth is much less likely, though by no means impossible. Note in particular the similarity between these two letters in the classical Aramaic cursive of the late Persian Empire (F. M. Cross, Jr., "The Development of the Jewish Scripts," The Bible and the Ancient Near East [d. G. E. Wright; Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965] 175, fig. 1). The MT could also be explained as a dittography of the beth in the following word and consequent confusion on the part of later interpreters and transmitters of this tradition. The failure to recognize as a verbal form was no doubt the cause of subsequent corruption in this word which is the subject ofthat verb. 'Reading enclitic mem in the middle of a construct chain, with Albright [Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, 44]. Cf. harar-m ctr, "mountains of Seir," in Gen 14:6. "Reading resh for daleth with the Samaritan Pentateuch to form the verbal root sr, "to come, proceed, march." Cf. Dt. 33:2 where the roots r and 'th occur in parallel, and note the discussion of F. M. Cross and D. N. Freedman, "The Blessing of Moses," JBL 67 (1948) 193, 199 n. 11. Q The relative particle "CK of MT is inappropriate for old Hebrew poetry. Either delete with LXX and the Old Latin versions or take it as a variant verbal form as in the previous note.

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