Spirit and Word (Mowinckel)

This book is a collection of essays, which content is different from what the title suggests. The majority of the book is a collection of Mowinckel’s articles on Form Criticism. Only the final two chapters deal with “word” and “spirit” in ancient Israel.



Mowinckel highlights that the later prophets never experienced the “ecstasy” that one finds among early, pre-Davidic prophets (possible exception being Jeremiah). In fact, a key argument in the reforming prophets (Micah, Amos) is that their prophetic word has rational, moral content and is not like the “empty wind” (ruach) of the ne’bim.”


A word for ancient man was not simply a verbal utterance. It contained “force” as well as mental-content (Mowinckel 89ff). In short, speech was also act. As Mowinckel says, “One thinks ‘words’ and does ‘words.’ Yahweh’s word is also an action.”

Word also implies knowledge. Knowing Yahweh’s word implies conformity to Yahweh (93).


Most of the book is a laborious, extremely detailed survey of form and historical criticism. I grant that Mowinckel has an interesting point that form and content are correlative. True enough. I’m just not persuaded it took 70+pages to establish that fact. The chapter on Word and Spirit, similar to the Title, is worth the price of the book. The rest of the book, sadly, is not worth the price of the book.