Wolters has proposed that the hymnic form is not necessarily associated only with praise of God or temple liturgy. He then goes on to look at the Song of the Valiant Woman in relation to heroic poetry. He compares this poetry to the oral epics of the Homeric, Norse and Yugoslavian tradition.
Although Wolters does not state this explicitly, his mention of these other cultural traditions ties his argument into the thinking of Walter Ong, and Milman Parry on oral epic poetry. Wolters skillfully demonstrates how this understanding of the passage illuminates some of the more obscure vocabulary and casts it in a different light.
In my last post I showed how this approach is coherent with the retranslation of verse 31 using “honour her” or “extol her for the fruit of her hands” instead of “give her of the fruit of her hands”.
In the following excerpt Wolters runs down the passage and demonstrates that there is a recurring use of a certain type of language that is not evident in English. He writes (page. 10),
- Against this background it is striking to that the Song of the Valiant Woman displays a number of features which are clearly reminiscent of poetry of the heroic type. I list the following items.
1. The subject of the song is called an eshet hayil, a term which has been translated in many different ways, but which in this context should probably be understood as the female counterpart of the gibbur hayil, the title given to the ‘mighty men of valour’ which are often named in David’s age. The person who is celebrated in this song is a ‘mighty woman of valour’.
2. That this is the meaning intended emerges also from the recurring of the word hayil in verse 29 near the end of the song, forming a kind of inclusio with eshet hayil at the beginning. There it occurs in the idiom asa hayil, which regularly means ‘to do valiantly’ in a military context.
3. Besides these two occurances of hayil, a word meaning basically ‘power’ or ‘prowess’, it is remarkable how often the woman’s strength is mentioned in the song. ‘She girds her loins with strength'(v.17) and ‘she is clothed with strength and honour'(v. 25), where the Hebrew word is oz in both cases. The second line of verse 17 adds ‘She strengthens her arms’ (immets).
4. A number of words and phrases besides asa hayil seem to have a specifically military connotation. In the expression ‘you surpass them all’ (v. 29) the phrase ala al is often used elsewhere in the sense of going out to do battle against an enemy. (In fact, the meaning ‘surpass’ is assigned to it only here. See BDB and KB. s.v. ala. In verse 19 apparently innocent words ‘she stretches out her hands to the distaff’ translate the idiom shalah yad be, which (as Paul Hambert has pointed out) always has an aggressive connotation elsewhere, so that its use in this peaceful context is exceptional. It is remarkable, moreover, that the same expression (with the preposition le) is used in the heroic context of the Song of Deborah to describe Jael’s grasping of the tent peg with which she kills Sisera (Judges 5:26) I might mention also the use of the warlike words shalal, ‘plunder’ (v.11) and terep, ‘prey’ (v. 13) in the unusual derived sense of ‘profit’ and ‘food’ respectively.
Wolters then reprises the discussion of tanu, showing how it is used to mean ‘celebrate in song’ and appears elsewhere only in the context of other heroic poetry, the song for Jephthah’s daughter and the Song of Deborah. Wolters relates these short praise poems to panegyric odes. [my link].
For those who are counting, this is not a gender post, but an interest on my part in retrieving a few words of Hebrew vocabulary to my memory as well as relating issues of biblical interpretation to my previous training with the Toronto School of Communication. (most of which I have forgotten!)