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Mark Smith’s Poetic Heroes: Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World is a tour de force of philological commentary, comparative religion, and historical reconstruction that ultimately focuses its attention on the way warriors and their concerns appear in the Hebrew Bible. After an introduction posing the question of warrior poetry’s broad cultural appeal (1–12), Smith devotes part 1 to “the literary commemoration of warriors and warrior culture” (15–47), in which he lays out a glossary of heroic terminology and literary practice in the Hebrew Bible, highlighting the problem of finding cultural reality within literary representations. Part 2 (51–67) explores “three warrior pairs in Mesopotamia, Greece, and Israel” (i.e., Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroklos, and David and Jonathan) and then “gender inversion in the poetry of heroic pairs” (68–95). Part 3 undertakes a detailed study of “human and divine warriors in the Ugaritic texts” (99– 208), focusing on the Aqhat and Baal epics as well as the Rephaim texts, and part 4 arrives at “Israelite warrior poetry in the early Iron Age” (211–332), where the focus is on Judges 5 and 2 Sam. 1:19–27. The book is replete with maximal citation to the secondary literature, featuring nearly 250 pages of endnotes (333–576) as well as a detailed set of indexes.


Originally published in The Journal of Religion 96, no. 3 (July 2016): 428-430.

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