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Poetic Heroes: The Literary Commemorations of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World Paperback – September 15, 2014
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"Creative and comprehensive. . . . A veritable sourcebook for the study of early Hebrew poetry and other warrior literature throughout the ancient world."
Biblical Theology Bulletin
"With its breadth of focus and fearless willingness to explore oft-debated topics, Smith's book is essential for biblical scholars and ancient historians."
Reviews in Religion & Theology
"Smith has produced a substantive and eminently learned study on heroic poetry in ancient Israel. The amount of material included in this study is staggering. . . . Filled with insight that opens up a whole new world of study."
— University of California, Berkeley
"Mark Smith takes us on a fascinating tour of the 'lost world' of early Israelite warrior culture. From the heroic values of love, life, and death to the poetic victories of divine and human warriors (both male and female), a submerged stratum of biblical and prebiblical culture comes to life. At once erudite and engaging, this is a treat for discerning readers of the Bible."
— Amherst College
"With sophisticated comparative analysis of classical ancient Near Eastern texts, Smith's Poetic Heroesprobes questions critical to an appreciation of cultural identity and worldview. His work is an innovative and thoughtful contribution to the study of ancient epic traditions, and he grapples deftly with issues in gender and war, providing a basis for further work in religious ethics."
— Dartmouth College
"Smith offers an impressively in-depth account of warriors and warrior culture as depicted in some of the greatest literary masterpieces of the ancient eastern Mediterranean and the ancient Near East. . . . His analysis teases out of these texts key ideas of what defines warriors in the early biblical world, also describing how ancient ideas about warriors were presented and transmitted in oral and written form. . . . An invaluable reference."
Karel van der Toorn
— University of Amsterdam
"Poetic Heroes offers a tremendous amount of things to learn, to enjoy, to savor, and to argue about. A profound reflection on warrior culture in the world of the Bible by a great scholar."
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The main text is 332 pages in length, followed by notes (pages 333-576) and then by five different indexes (pages 577-636).
The notes show how deeply engaged Smith is with the specialized scholarly literature about the various aspects of the early biblical world that he discusses in detail. The thoroughness of his notes reminds me of the classicist Eric A. Havelock’s notes in his book PREFACE TO PLATO (Belknap Press/ Harvard University Press, 1963). Basically, Havelock had formulated the thesis he develops in that book by 1947. But then he set to work not only writing the text of that book but also the notes.
Figuratively speaking, the spirit of ancient warriors and warrior culture is alive and well in scholarly wars of words in academia.
But my favorite scholar is the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003). In connection with Smith’s book, I want to discuss three of Ong’s five book-length studies:
(1) RAMUS, METHOD, AND THE DECAY OF DIALOGUE: FROM THE ART OF DISCOURSE TO THE ART OF REASON (Harvard University Press, 1958), the main text, slightly revised, of Ong’s massively researched 1954 Harvard doctoral dissertation;
(2) THE PRESENCE OF THE WORD: SOME PROLEGOMENA FOR CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS HISTORY (Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded version of Ong’s 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University;
(3) FIGHTING FOR LIFE: CONTEST, SEXUALITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS (Cornell University Press, 1981), Ong’s 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University.
Disclosure: I took English courses from Fr. Ong at Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri, in the fall semester of 1964 (after he had delivered his Terry Lectures at Yale in the spring semester of 1964), the spring semester of 1966, and the fall semester of 1967 (when his expanded Terry Lectures were published). Then with Fr. Ong’s permission, I unofficially audited his graduate course on Polemic in Literary and Academic Tradition: An Historical Survey in the summer session in 1971, which he had first offered in the spring semester of 1971. Basically, the material Ong worked up in that polemic course eventually became the basis for his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University. In the meantime, after I had taken Ong’s polemic course in the summer of 1971, I had become aware of Paul D. MacLean’s work on the evolutionary history of human brain, especially the evolutionary layer, or part, that he sees as the biological base of what Ong refers to as the polemic spirit – as I will explain momentarily. In the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. MacLean was kind enough to send me off-prints of his publications occasionally – nineteen, to be exact. To this day, I still have them in my files. For his part, Ong subsequently turned to E. O. Wilson’s massively researched book SOCIOBIOLOGY: THE NEW SYNTHESIS (Belknap Press/ Harvard University Press, 1975), which he (Ong) repeatedly references in his 1981 book-length study.
(1) Now, for all practical purposes, everything Smith discusses in his massively researched 2014 book POETIC HEROES pre-dates everything Ong discusses in his 1958 book-length study.
(2) After Ong’s 1958 book was published, Albert B. Lord published his 1960 book THE SINGER OF TALES (Harvard University Press). Ong refers to it in his 1967 book-length study, and he never tired of referring to it in his later publications. Smith also refers to Lord’s book repeatedly in his 2014 book.
But in Ong’s 1967 book-length study, he also discusses polemic and polemic structures at length (pages 192-286). The Greek word “polemos” means war, struggle.
(3) However, in his 1981 book-length study, Ong fine-tunes his thinking and instead refers to agonistic tendencies and structures. The Greek “agon” means contest, struggle.
Both of those discussions are thematically related to Smith’s detailed discussion of warriors and warrior culture in his 2014 book. However, Smith does not happen to advert explicitly to either of Ong’s discussions.
But the psychodynamic that Ong thematizes as the polemic spirit in his 1967 book and later thematizes as the agonistic spirit in his 1981 book involves the psychodynamic spirit in both rhetoric and dialectic that Ong discusses in his 1958 book. Perhaps we could say that both rhetoric and dialectic involve wars of words.
Smith discusses warriors and warrior culture commemorated in literary works in the early biblical world. However, to spell out the obvious, for literary works to exist, writing systems had to have been invented. But before any writing systems had been invented, the human race had existed.
To discuss human artifacts that came into existence before writing systems came into existence, Ong in his 1981 book draws on Erich Neumann’s book THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS, translated by R. F. C. Hull (Pantheon Books, 1954). I would align the warrior culture in the early biblical world that Smith discusses with stage four of the eight stages in the history of consciousness that Neumann discusses.
Unfortunately, Ong does not happen to advert explicitly to Neumann’s book THE GREAT MOTHER: AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARCHETYPE, translated by Ralph Manheim (Pantheon Books, 1955). For all practical purposes, the images of the mother archetype that Neumann discusses in this book pre-date culturally the historical emergence in Western culture of stage four of the eight stages in the history of consciousness that Neumann discusses in his book THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS.
But today we often refer to culture wars and cultural warriors in our contemporary American culture.
No doubt our contemporary verbal wars of words and all wars involving physical violence engage our fight/flight/freeze response, which the American neurosurgeon Paul D. MacLean, M.D. (1913-2007) sees as manifesting the oldest evolutionary layer, or part, of the human brain.
This oldest evolutionary layer of the human brain is the biological base of what Plato and Aristotle refer to as the “thumos” (or “thymos”) part of the human psyche, of what Ong refers to as the polemic spirit (1967) and the agonistic spirit (1981), and of what Smith refers to as warrior culture in the early biblical world.
MacLean himself sums up his research in his monumental book THE TRIUNE BRAIN IN EVOLUTION: ROLE IN PALEOCEREBRAL FUNCTIONS (Plenum, 1990).
Gregory L. Fricchione, M.D., a psychiatrist at Harvard, discusses MacLean’s work in his book COMPASSION AND HEALING IN MEDICINE AND SOCIETY: ON THE NATURE AND USE OF ATTACHMENT SOLUTIONS AND SEPARATION CHALLENGES (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), as does Darcia Narvaez in psychology at the University of Notre Dame in her award-winning book NEUROBIOLOGY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN MORALITY: EVOLUTION, CULTURE, AND WISDOM (Norton, 2014).
Fricchione articulates a process theory anchored in brain evolution. He casts all human processes within the hypothetical conceptual framework of thought as involving separation challenges and attachment solutions. By definition, separation challenges involve differentiation and moving toward what C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychological theorist, refers to as individuation.
Even though Narvaez does not happen to advert explicitly to either of Neumann’s two books mentioned above, she draws on other sources to discuss our small-group hunter-gatherer ancestors who pre-date the warrior culture in the early biblical world that Smith discusses.
Next, I should also mention that the Jungian psychotherapist and theorist Robert L. Moore of the Chicago Theological Seminary also pays homage to MacLean’s brain research in all four of the books that he co-authored with Douglas Gillette about the four masculine archetypes of maturity:
(1) THE KING WITHIN: ACCESSING THE KING [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1992; revised and expanded edition, Exploration Press, 2007);
(2) THE WARRIOR WITHIN: ACCESSING THE KNIGHT [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1992);
(3) THE MAGICIAN WITHIN: ACCESSING THE SHAMAN [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1993);
(4) THE LOVER WITHIN: ACCESSING THE LOVER [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1993).
Moore claims that there are also four parallel feminine archetypes of maturity (Queen, Warrior, Magician, Lover) in the psyches of each and every human person. In other words, each boy and each girl come equipped with both a set of masculine archetypes of maturity and a set of feminine archetypes of maturity. In each of their four co-authored books, Moore and Gillette include a short appendix in which they briefly discuss the four feminine archetypes of maturity.
Occasionally, Smith discusses feminine figures in literary commemorations in POETIC HEROES. However, for understandable reasons, he focuses on masculine figures of warriors and warrior/kings.
Now, if we were to consider the imagery in literary commemorations of warrior/kings, we might be inclined to say that the optimal form of the King archetype does not emerge and flourish in the male psyche unless and until the Warrior archetype is engaged in pro-social activities.
Thus the engagement of both the Warrior archetype and the King archetype in the male psyche involve what Ong refers to as the polemic spirit (1967) and the agonistic spirit (1981).
In addition, the engagement of both the Warrior archetype and the King archetype in the male psyche involve separation challenges and attachment solutions (Fricchione).
Now, when I was an undergraduate at Saint Louis University (class of ’66), I took a required philosophy course in ethics. The textbook was by a prolific philosophy professor at SLU named Vernon J. Bourke: ETHICS: A TEXTBOOK IN MORAL PHILOSOPHY (Macmillan, 1951). In his textbook Bourke quotes a fascinating statement made by St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most famous medieval Aristotelians:
“‘Up in Macedonia, there is a very high mountain that is called Olympus. It was customary to hold games and contests there, and they were called the Olympics. Now in these games, they didn’t give the prizes to those who were the strongest or best fighters, but to those who actually struggled and won victories. Now the same thing applies to those people who are good and best in the way of moral virtue; only those WHO DO THINGS RIGHTLY are illustrious and happy. So, it is better to say that happiness is action in accordance with virtue, than that it is virtue itself’” (quoted on page 36).
In the individuation process (Jung), we must struggle and win inner victories, which in turn we then manifest in our overt actions involving others. In terms of warrior/king imagery that has come down to us in literary commemorations, our inner Warrior energies need the optimal form of our inner King to guide and direct them with respect to which engagements to pursue, and which not to pursue.
By definition, the fully functioning human person needs all eight optimal forms of the masculine and the feminine archetypes of maturity.
It is difficult for both men and women to learn how to access the optimal forms of the four masculine archetypes in their psyches. Perhaps Smith’s book can help us better understand imagery involving the masculine Warrior and King archetypes.
But it appears to be even more difficult for both women and men to learn how to access the optimal forms of the four feminine archetypes of maturity. In terms of attachment theory (Fricchione), I imagine that we begin to form an attachment to our biological mother in the womb.
Concerning our forming archetypal attachments after we are born, see the British psychiatrist and Jungian theorist Anthony Stevens’ book ARCHETYPE REVISITED: AN UPDATED NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SELF (Toronto: Inner City Books, 2003; orig. ed., 1982).
Now, in various books and articles, Ong differentiates our contemporary secondary oral culture powered by communications media that accentuate sound from the primary oral culture of our pre-historic and pre-literate and pre-philosophical ancestors such as the small-group hunter-gatherer people discussed by Narvaez. No doubt the communications media that accentuate sound deeply resonate in the human psyche with the collective unconscious (Jung).
The medical doctor and Jungian theorist Edward C. Whitmont explores our contemporary recovery of the feminine archetype in the human psyche in his perceptive book RETURN OF THE GODDESS (Crossroad, 1982).
Figuratively speaking, we can liken misogyny and misandry to Scylla and Charybdis.
Perhaps we can also liken our inner struggles with discerning misogyny and misandry to Jacob’s wrestling with the angel of God as he slept.
No doubt Smith deserves to be highly commended for avoiding the spirit of misandry in his detailed discussion of warriors and warrior culture in the early biblical world.