Songs of warriors (2 Samuel 22)

Bilderesultat for ashurnasirpal ii

Illustration: Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II

The Bible attests to the fact that ancient warriors often celebrated their achievements in song. Indeed, the first song recorded in the Bible is that of Lamech (Genesis 4:23-24), a fighter who boasted of killing a man who had wounded him. Songs by or about warriors have surfaced in several varieties:

  • In what may be called the “victory song”, a warrior sang of his triumphs in battle. Such a song could be blatantly boastful, like Lamech’s or could give thanks to God, as did David’s in 2 Samuel 22. This song praises God but is clearly military in orientation: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (22:35). There are pagan analogies for such songs; an Akkadian hymn celebrating the military campaigns of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (ruled 883 – 859 B.C.) begins with the king claiming that he would sing in praise of his god, Enlil, but quickly moves on to be a boastful account of Ashurnasipal’s triumphs. The Greeks somewhat transformed this genre and composed songs in honour of athletes, as in the odes of Pindar (fifth century B.C.), who celebrated the victors in the Olympic and other games.
  • A second type of military song was the lament over fallen heroes. A magnificent example is that of David over Jonathan and Saul (1:17-27). The Greek poet Simonides (fifth century B.C.) composed verses for the Greeks who died at the battle of Thermopylae, also commemorating the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea.
  • Epic poetry, which memorializes at length the deeds of great heroes, can be considered a third genre. Examples include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Ugaritic epic og Kirta and the well-known Greek Iliad and Odyssey by Homer. The Bible, because it focuses on God and His covenant rather than on the exploits of heroic human beings, includes no epic poetry.

 

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