Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World.

Author:Trimm, Charlie
Position::Book review

Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World. By MARK S. SMITH. Grand Rapids, Mich.: WILLIAM B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING CO., 2013. Pp. xiv + 636. $55 (paper).

In this book Mark Smith offers us a fascinating perspective on warfare in Israel and Ugarit. After a brief introduction, the book opens by looking at the basic data on pre- and postbattle practices and by defending his method of looking at history. He emphasizes that the warrior culture depicted in the texts may not reflect reality, critiquing several scholars who use later textual material to describe earlier reality, but thinks that we can recover some knowledge of early Israel, a quest that he recognizes that some will think "quixotic" (p. 36). He concludes that we cannot use prose material to learn about early Israelite history (p. 40), although his section on David and Jonathan later in the book illustrates how difficult it is to say anything about these characters without referring to the prose sections. He also seems to do what he critiques others for doing when he draws on diverse texts to illustrate a cultural point (for an example, see the discussion of the consecrated battle camp on p. 74).

Smith next examines three warrior pairs: Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Gilgamesh Epic, Achilles and Patroklos in the Iliad, and David and Jonathan in the Old Testament. Each member of the pair is parallel at the beginning of the story, but by the end one of the pair has become much more powerful and well known. However, the death of the weaker member of the pair shows the ability of the wellknown member to emote. Smith also discusses the females in the lives of the characters: goddesses often invert what is expected of human females by acting as warriors. While each of the pairs become brothers, Smith argues that this is not a physical homoerotic relationship, although the gendered language does present the warriors as a kind of married couple, devoted to each other in the context of battle.

Part three of the book focuses on Ugaritic material. In Aqhat "the narrative sets out the basic gender polarity of warrior culture, which focuses on the young male warrior and experienced female divine warrior" (p. 130). The warrior (Aqhat) risks death, an important part of warrior culture, but his statement to Anat that fighting is not for females is a "category error," since this exclusion of women from combat and hunting might be true for human...

To continue reading