—Biblical Data:

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 Yhwh 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 Yhwh to threaten it (verses 19-27) with national disaster and almost with national extinction. Verses 28-43 describe how Yhwh 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.

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.

—Critical View:

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: Yhwh alone did lead him; And no foreign god was with Him."

Page from the First Edition of Albo's "'Iḳḳarim," Printed by Joshua Solomon Soncino, 1485.(In the Columbia University Library, New York.)

The conditions presupposed by the poem render the Mosaic authorship of it impossible. 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 Yhwh promises to interpose and rescue His people (verses 34-43). The post-Mosaic origin of the poem is therefore clear; and these historical arguments are confirmed by the theological ideas and phraseology of the poem, neither of these being characteristic of the age of Moses.

On the other hand, there are many points of contact, both in expression and in theological conception, with the prophets of the eighth to the fifth century B.C. Critics are not agreed, however, on the precise date of the song. Formerly, when all of Deut. xxxi. 14-23 was referred to JE, the poem was believed to be anterior thereto, and was believed to be contemporary with the Syrian wars under Jehoash and Jeroboam II. (c. 780). To this period it is referred by Dillmann, Schrader, Oettli, Ewald, Kamphausen and Reuss. Kuenen and Driver, believing the expression "those which are not a people" of verse 21 to refer to the Assyrians, assign the poem to the age of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (c. 630), while Cornill, Steuernagel, and Bertholet refer it to the closing years of the Exile—the period of the second Isaiah. In the present state of modern knowledge the date can not be definitely fixed; but there is much to be said in favor of the exilic date.

  • Kamphausen, Das Lied Moses, 1862;
  • Klostermann, 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, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 1891, pp. 70 et seq.,
  • Driver, 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.
E. G. H. G. A. B.
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