Book of Wars of the Lord

WARS OF THE LORD, BOOK OF (סֵ֖פֶר מִלְחֲמֹ֣ת יְהוָ֑ה). One of the several books no longer extant which are mentioned in the OT and which played an important, if somewhat obscure, part in Israel’s literary history. It is cited by name and quoted in Numbers 21:14f. to substantiate the narrator’s statement concerning the boundary cut by the deep ravines of the Arnon between Moab and Ammon. The quotation as it stands is obscure (the syntax is apparently incomplete and nothing is known of the names Waheb and Suphah) and sheds little light on the character of the book itself. It is a plausible conjecture, however, that vv. 17f. and 27-30 are drawn from the same source, not only because of their proximity to the first quotation, but in the case of 27-30 because of the occurrence of a number of identical place names as well as the suitability of the taunt itself for the content of the book as suggested by its title.

Evidently the book consisted of a number of victory songs written to be sung in celebration of the triumphs of Yahweh in the conquest of Canaan by Israel. That Yahweh was “a man of war” (Exod 15:3) who brought Israel victory in battle was a fact the nation loved to commemorate in song.

What is apparently another book of this type is the Book of Jashar (or “the Upright”) mentioned and quoted in Joshua 10:12f. and 2 Samuel 1:18ff. What relationship may exist between these two books (or are they the same book?) and certain other unidentified poetical quotations in the OT (e.g., Exod 15:1-18; Judg 5; LXX 3 Kings 8:53) can no longer be determined.

Questions of the date and authorship of this book remain shrouded in obscurity but it would seem naturally to derive from the heroic age, and thus to be among the most ancient of Israel’s lit.


O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (Eng. tr., 1966), 132ff.