Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

7. Anonymous Poems, Leiðarvísan, 20 [Vol. 7, 158-9]

[All]: Two separate accounts of God’s feeding the hungry Israelites during their desert wanderings are alluded to in this st. Lines 1-4 refer to Moses’ striking the rock at Horeb with his staff, providing drinking water. This event is recorded in Exod. XVII.1-7, and is widely referred to in later Hebrew hymns and Scriptures (see, for example, Ps. LXXVIII.15-16, XLVIII. 48.21). Lines 5-8 relate the more famous incident of the provision of manna, panes de caelo ‘bread from heaven’ (Exod. XVI.4), which is recorded in Exod. XVI.1-36. It is interesting to note that the Leið-poet has reversed the biblical chronology in sts 19-20. In Exod., the provision of manna is recorded as taking place before the striking of the rock at Horeb (the relative chronology is confirmed by the geographical progression indicated in Exod. XVI.1 and Exod. XVII.1), both of which take place before the Israelites reach Sinai, where Moses receives the Law. None of the surviving recensions of the Sunday Letter actually contains accounts of all three of these incidents, and only the S. Emmeram Homily version of the Sunday List has accounts of both the miracle at Horeb and the receipt of the Ten Commandments, these being presented there in strict biblical order (see Attwood 2003, 73). Either the Leið-poet was working from some hitherto undiscovered exemplar, or there is some artistic purpose behind the chronology here. Imagery established in these events, in which God provides nourishment for his people, is traditionally considered in Christian thought to refer to Christ, who is described in the New Testament as a provider of life-giving water and as the bread of life: sed aqua quam dabo ei fiet in eo fons aquae salientis in vitam aeternam ‘the water that I will give him shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting’ (John IV.14); ego sum panis vitae ‘I am the bread of life’ (John VI.35). Read in this light, st. 20 prefigures the Incarnation, which is the subject of the next narrative st. (as opposed to refrain st.), st. 22. It is perhaps churlish to point out that the Exod. account implies that manna did not fall on the Sabbath – the Israelites were told to collect a double ration on the sixth day and keep the seventh as a day of rest (Exod. XVI.23-6).

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