Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Review of Art of Biblical Narrative


I started my review of The Art of Biblical Narrative I posted it below. Essentially, Im okay with saying Ruth and Boaz weren't real people... Ask me about it.

Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative is a must read for anyone interested in hermeneutics and Biblical interpretation. Although this book was written before the French Revolution of Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault, his approach is free from many of the snares and objectivist language that plagues so many hermeneutics books. "Well then, what is approach? What's his worldview? I see that he teaches at Berkley, he must be liberal" You might say. For 'hardlined evangelicals' drinking the cool-aid of Warfield, they will have a problem with his understanding of historicity of the events recorded in the Old Testament. For 'hardlined liberals' drinking the cool-aid of higher criticism, they will have a problem with his understanding of historicity of the events recorded in the Old Testament. No that wasn't a typo. Alter argues that the ancient Hebrew way of realizing history was through fiction.

0Not a balance-between-a-documentary-and-spiritualized-fables, but something different. Inspiration is pretty easy to understand when we think of the propositional stuff of 1 Timothy. What about fiction? The other 3/4 of the bible. Every character's inflection, which P.O.V., which details to include, which ones not to. Anyone who has been involved in any creative process knows that there are no rules as to what must be included, as Marilynne Robinson tells her students if they can pull it off they can do it, with that said how does a Sovereign God inspire and put His stamp of approval on a set of texts that seem to open to interpretation? I have not read every inerrantist's dealing with questions but I know what I have read is that they are assumed at best, ignored at worst.

The book is arranged with each chapter dealing with a different literary device of the OT. Alter's greatest insights are on the subject of repetition. When we are confronted with events that seem to overlap, some respond by saying "see how similar these stories are, who can make heads or tales, who knows what is real and what is made up"? Alter argues that the key to these stories is wrapped up not their similarities but in the subtle differences, in that we begin to perceive the message and shaping power of the narrative.

The Art of Biblical Narrative is not an apologetic for the scriptures, rather Alter demonstrates the beauty, intricacy, and craftmanship of the OT. Which becomes a kind of apologetic, but certainly only for those who have eyes to see.

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