Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Book of the Wars of the Lord

From there they journeyed and encamped on the other side of Arnon, which is in the wilderness that projects from the border of the Amorites. For the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of YHVH: What He did in the Reed Sea and in the streams of Arnon.
Numbers 21:14-16

What was the "Book of the Wars of the Lord"?

Ibn Ezra: "It was an independent book, in which were written the records of the wars waged by the Lord on behalf of those that fear Him and was probably written in the times of Abraham. Many books have been lost and are no longer extant such as the Words of Nathan and Ido, and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, and the Songs and Proverbs of Solomon".

Aryeh Kaplan mentions a number of opinions regarding this book:
  • it is an ancient lost book (Baalei Tosafot; Ramban; Chizkuni)
  • it existed among the gentiles (Abravanel)
  • it was a book of records kept from Abraham's time (Ibn Ezra; Bachya)
  • it is a self-reference to the Torah: "it is therefore written in this book, 'God's wars'..." (Targum; Lekach Tov; Septuagint)
  • it is the book of Exodus (Midrash Aggadah)
  • it is the book of Deuteronomy (Yehudah HaChassid)
  • it is not actually a book, but the "telling of God's wars" (Rashi; Rashbam; Lekach Tov; Bachya)
Assorted other comments on this mysterious book (most of them unacceptable to the traditional view of Torah):
  • It's another name for Book of the Courses of the Stars (Mekor Hayim)
  • It is Psalms 135 & 136
  • It's the same as Sefer HaYashar of Joshua 10:13
  • It relates the wars of Moses, Joshua, and the Judges and is therefore later than Moses (Lapide)
  • Moses started it but it was continued by later judges and kings and became the basis for the histories of the Old Testament.
  • A book in poetic form that evidently contained songs which celebrate on the one hand victories and heroic deeds and on the other hand the tragic greatness of fallen warriors. Such ancient collections of songs were utilized as sources in the compilation of the narrative to found in the books from Genesis to Kings. (Eissfeldt)
The Hertz Chumash says: "the lines from that book quoted here support the statement that Arnon was the border of Moab. [He then quotes Ibn Ezra's opinion.] There is no further mention of this book in the whole of Scripture. Evidently it was a collection of ballads and songs."

The strangest comment that I came across is from R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch: "The Book of the Wars of the Lord, similarly to the Sefer HaYashar, proves that in Moses's time, literary activities was not lacking amongst the people, these would be the 'makers of sagas' of v. 27, those who wrote and sang ballads and epic poems narrating the great deeds which they had experienced, for the benefit of their contemporaries and for later times. But at the same time these references to other books prove that the holy book of God, the Torah itself, does not consist of such compositions." For anyone who doesn't quite follow such skewed logic (and I didn't until reading Hertz), Hirsch is implying that the "alleged compiler" (Hertz's term) would have otherwise indicated his sources as he has done in this instance! To put it another way, any written account is 100% original except where the author mentions his sources...

By the way, one of the best discussions on "lost books" that are mentioned in the Torah can be found in Gil Student's essay On the Authorship of the Torah. What I find most interesting about the article, however, is how he hedges his bets (most likely he needed to keep the article as "kosher" as possible) with this one sentence: "However, and this is crucial, the actual Torah was dictated word for word by G-d to Moshe."

My question to anyone who maintains that the Book of the Wars of the Lord is a separate book (Ibn Ezra, Baalei Tosafot, Ramban, Chizkuni, Abravanel, Bachya, Hirsch, Student): If God's Blueprint to the Universe (the Torah) is designed for all generations, why would he refer the reader to a book that is no longer extant?


Anonymous said...

Doesn't it say somewhere that the Torah's main intedned audience was the dor of matan Torah. this explains why the Torah is written in a form in which they could understand i.e. no reference to evolution, animals that they would have been unfamiliar with etc. Even to understand the story of the Mabbul one needs to know about the Epic of Gilgamesh, although most people don't use it to learn Parshas noach nowadays. Similarly, although one can only really appreciate the amazing moral vision of Parshas Mishpotim by comparing and contrasting it to Hammurabi's Code, which the dor of mekablei hatorah would have been familiar with, it doesn't mean that now it has no relevance.

Baal Habos said...

>If God's Blueprint to the Universe (the Torah) is designed for all generations, why would he refer the reader to a book that is no longer extant?

Right. And also what happened to Hafach Buh, F'hafach Buh, Dkulla Buh. IF everything is inside then why refer to something else that according to some opinions was no longer extant by the time the Torah was given.

Frum Heretic said...

Anonymous, I don't disagree with anything you are saying, except the implication that it was written approx. 1250 BCE (the "dor of Matan Torah"). Yes, the intended audience was one that could relate fully to the stories. And yes, the Torah still has relevance today, albeit largely due to 2000 years of rabbinic application.

David Kessler said...

This al sounds like food for the next Dan Brown thriller. Of course wha he makes of it won't exactly be historical, but it ay perhaps be hysterical

Anonymous said...

hmm, Christians arguing something that threatens their beliefs, why does that sound like something they've been doing throughout, I don't know, pretty much their entire documented history?