Hukkat–The Ballad of Heshbon

Therefore the bards say,
“Come to Heshbon!  Firmly built
and well-founded is Sihon’s city.
For fire came out from Heshbon,
flame from the city of Sihon.
It devoured Ar of Moab,
the notables of Arnon’s high places. (Num. 21:27-28)

Here we have another piece of archaic poetry inserted into the narrative. Its composition is attributed to the moshelim, variously translated “bards” (NJV) or “ballad singers” (RSV) or even “rhapsodes” (Alter). The root mashal means “to be like” and is used for a variety of literary forms, from proverbs to parables to poems.

Talmudic sages and modern scholars agree that the ballad singers who first sang this poem were Amorite, and that they sung it to celebrate a victory over Moab.  Perhaps, as Milgrom conjectures, the poem is inserted here to prove that Israel seized Heshbon not from the Moabites (whose territory was off limits to them) but the Amorites. Or it could simply be an attempt to flesh out an otherwise skeletal history from an ancient source. This is not the only place that the Hebrew Bible incorporates literature from outside Israel.

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