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Song of Moses

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Disambiguation: There are two songs known as the Song of Moses:
* The Song of Moses (Exodus 15) (with the Latin incipit Cantemus Domino). Exodus 15:1 “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea."
* The Song of Moses (Deut. 32) (with the Latin incipit Audite caeli). Deuteronomy 32:1 “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.".

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.

The Song is believed by some to have been written down and placed in the Ark of the Covenant, along with Aaron's staff and the Pentateuch.

Christian sources

According to Christian sources, the Song of Moses was given as a witness, or testimony, towards the inevitable future rebellion of the Children of Israel against the Torah and the consequences thereof.

It is believed by some Biblical interpreters that the Song of Moses began to fulfill its prophetic significance in the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and will complete its fulfillment with the final redemption of the Children of Israel, and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Song of Moses is also referred to in the Christian New Testament - in the books of Hebrews, and by the Apostle Paul in Romans. Finally it is referenced directly, and alluded to, in the Book of Revelation.

Alfred Edersheim writes in The Temple that every Sabbath day throughout the history of the Tabernacle and Temple morning/evening service the Song of Moses was sung in 6 different segments throughout the day. Many of the Psalms, believed to have been written by King David, seem to have been inspired by the Song of Moses.

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

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, ie. 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.

Musical Settings

Disambiguation; for Cantemus Domino see Song of Moses (Exodus 15).

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

References

  • 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 the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Song of Moses" by Emil G. Hirsch and George A. Barton, a publication now in the public domain.
  • 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.;

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