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Biblical Literature

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Emma Gottlieb

on 11 May 2014

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Transcript of Biblical Literature

Types of Biblical Literature
Unfolds plainly but surface is "sticky"
details are omitted
characters' thoughts are concealed
characters' actions/words "admit" several interpretations
consequences are delayed for several "story cycles"
suspended action at tense moments
turns of phrase become significant
wordplay, non-sequiturs and digressions are common
returning motifs
forward movement of fictional time yields, on closer reading, to more subtle interplay of flashback, repetition, quotation, allusion, dream-vision and waking, prospective and retrospective glance, face-out and fade-in - all which make time seem to proceed in a "muttled and disjunctive fashion"
Biblical Narrative
J.E.P.D theory assigns authorship to four primary sources
"Given the enormous variety of subjexts and literary forms in the Bible, and the long span of time in which the Hebrew Bible as we now know it gradually coalesced, it is impossible to distill THE message of biblical narrative. Attempts to generalize yield only moral and theological truisms taht do violence to the Bible's special way of talking. Biblical narrative rarely moralizes. It explores moral questions, to be sure, but it is in the wit and nuance of the specific moment that one is to find the narrtive's intelligence most concentrated. This intelligence steadfastly withholds itself from stating "messages." It allows its message to arise from silences in the narrative. In a sense, it is WEIGHING messages, in that discordant voices in the tradition are allowed silently to clash, even as the narrative plunges inexorably forward."
What Biblical Narrative is Saying
"For the ancients, religion was already to a certain extent what it should become for us - practical poetry." - Novalis
Biblical Law = Biblical Religion
Almost all biblical books contain at least one poetic line or passage
There are also blocks of poetry, such as the 150
, the oracles of the
, the wisdom of the
, the dirges of
and the love songs of
Song of Songs
Legal texts are also occasionally punctuated with poetically formulated divine oracles
Biblical Narrative
Biblical Law
Biblical Poetry
39 books in total (see chart)
Books are arranged according to Septuagint (3rd century Greek translation with some differences from Hebrew (Masoritic) text)
Other names: Mikra ("lection" or "proclamation") Katuv ("written")
One continuous story from
Genesis through 2 Kings
(Torah + "Former Prophets"
Other whole or partly
narrative books are:
Ruth, Jonah, Esther, Job
"Narrative" does not imply one
author or type of literature
Narratives include:
myth, family sagas, national epics,
stories of origin (customs & names),
royal history, wisdom or morality tales,
prophetic calls and missions, satires,
parables, archival history, cultic stories
Reading Narrative: Two Viewpoints
sensing unique character of each unit
Deciphering origin and transmission
Picturing social/ historical content ("life settings")
Attention to rhetorical and stylistic features
Understanding the role of unity as part of the whole
what precedes/ follows each unit?
note verbal and thematic echoes elsewhere ("inter-textual comparison")
see narrative as unfolding story
evaluate what each unit adds to cumulative narrative
Ancient to Medieval Period
Transitional Stage
Especially of the Five Books of Moses
some parts through human hand (Moses) but divinely directed
Human author(s) (Moses) had prophetic capabilities
pre-modern readers not concerned with inconsistencies or temporal logic
"On the contrary, such inconsistencies were spurs to the interpretive imagination, and precisely because the text was seen as transcendent in origin, the interpreters were accustomed to see all biblical moments as simultaneous: verses could be compared or contrasted entirely out of context; the whole of Scripture was seen as a vast sea of tiny, discrete insights, each with its own independent career in the history of the various biblical faiths; and Jewish interpreters often appealed to the dicutm "There is no 'before' or 'after' in Torah" (Talmud Pesach)."
Modern Approach
Medieval Period
Maimonides, Ibn Ezra & the Zohar
Maimonides attempted to merge scripture & philosophy
the Zohar "attempted to find in Scripture a theosophical and mystical map of the Divine Being"
Commentators begin to express concern over details
Ibn Ezra was troubled by details in the story of Abraham correlating to details in the story of Moses
THEOSOPHY: forms of philosophical or religious thought based on mystical insight into divine nature
17th century: Spinoza & Hobbes
determine 5 Books written after Moses' time
1st "source" theories emerge
Source Criticism in the 18th century (France & Germany)
Astruc: source theory for Book of Genesis based on different uses of the divine name
Eichhorn: "the father of Old Testament criticism"
noted further diversities of style and vocabulary leading to additional refinements in biblical source criticism
19th century Germany: Wellhausen
J.E.P.D. theory assigns authorship to four primary sources
J = Yahwist (uses YHVH) - 9th century B.C.E.
E = Elohist (uses Elohim) - 8th century B.C.E.
P = Priestly (source of cultic laws, genealogies & archival histories) - 6th century B.C.E.
D = Deuteronomist (source of Books of Deuteronomy and Joshua through 2 Kings) - 7th century B.C.E.
J - 9th cen. BCE
E - 8th cen. BCE
D - 7th cen. BCE
P - 6th cen. BCE
"These categories have, in recent years, come under question, both because of changes in our assumptions about Israelite religion and history, and because the separation into sources does little to explain the larger unities that exist in biblical narrative."
Redactor Theory
20th century
posed by Richard Elliot Friedman among others
Redactor = one editor or group of editors who merged various alleged sources into the present arrangement
theory arose to explain verses or texts that did not fit JEPD theory (see Friedman chart)
Redactor is viewed as having smoothed over discrepancies, added variant traditions and supplied continuous temporal schema
Redactor(s) is/are now credited with conflation of sources and chronological arrangement as well as complex symmetry, repetition, coincidence, thematice development, and stylistic modulation
Redactor is now seen as a literary artist
"Recognition of this art has led some biblical scholars into a deeper appreciation...of premodern biblical commentators, who with their belief in the unity of the text and the nonsuperfluous nature of each detail, as well as their keen generalizations on biblical rehetoric and style, have been able to render incisive dugments about the literary design of the text, even though they did not see themselves as literary critics. By viewing the text as "teacher" par excellence, they contitioned their readers to take no detail for granted, to treat no repetition or allusion as casual, and to see no part of the text in isolation from the whole. It is with a similar respect for the unity and pedagogical purposefulness of the biblical text that Franz Rosenzweig, the German-Jewish philosopher and biblical translator, somewhat puckishly coined the much-cited equivalence between the scholarly designation "R" (for the German term 'Redaktor') and the Hebrew designation 'Rabbenu' - our teacher."
Redactor as "Rabbi"
Preocccupations in the Narrative
And What is it Not Saying?
Biblical narrative intentionally conceals the identity of the speaker(s) to discourage speculation on authorship; a message is implied in this choice
Biblical narrative purports to be history (concern for chronology, inclusion of archival material, interest in political and military events, preoccupation with etiology and long-range causality)
cannot be said to resemble history in a modern sense
no scientific evidence, very little corroboration
Biased, partisan, polemical perspective
should still be taken seriously in reconstructing life in ancient Israel
The Bible goes beyond history (or literature for that matter)
Units of narrative are not meant to be read in isolation from one another
preoccupation with Blessings and Curses (punishment and reward) as consequences of human choice & action
Religious Ideologies are Evident
Conditional Covenant
Sinai revelation & 1st Abrahamic covenant
Premonarchic & antimonarchic
When Israel performs will of God, she will enjoy God's blessings, and if not, she will be cursed with natural & political disasters
Israel's tenure of promised land is contigent
Davidic monarchy and Solomonic era (nationalist sentiment)
2nd Abrahamic covenant
Land of Canaan is "everlasting possession" of "everlasting covenant"
Symbolized by sign of circumcision
One People, Two Ideologies
2 ideologies represent polarity at heart of Israelite history
Contitional: everyday reality (law, justice, ethics)
Unconditional: utopian reality (hope, dream, prayer)
Narrative skillfully weaves the two together
Both ideologies survive in later Judaism as different domains in national and religious experience of the Jew
"If one believes moral struggle to be everlasting, than the two covenants are not in contradiction."
Generational Cycle of Justice
Concept of 4-generation cycle of justice laid out in Gen. 15:16 and revisited in Ex. 20:5
punishment visited upon transgressors own & immediately succeeding generations and can be visited as late as 3rd or 4th generations when they persist in the crime
Variants of statement appear elsewhere in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy
Suggestion of this pattern already present in Garden of Eden narrative where Adam & Eve incur delayed retribution on humanity
awareness of mortality: every patriarch in Gen. lives out punishment through presumed loss of a child
Literary devices in Biblical narrative highlight ideology of reward & punishment
hidden causality, symmetry, repetition, etc.)
turbulence and arbitrariness of God's action against sinners is balanced by stability and security in generations who remember slavery of Egypt
Education and tradition preserve and nurture positive cultural continuity
conspicuously absent in biblical narrative
Concrete vision of geneartional continuity found in biblical law rather than in biblical narrative
Biblical Narrative Summary
There is a hidden participant in biblical narrative; an onlooker with an objective
Chronological progression anticipates continuation of tradition by future generations who read and retell
narrative hero not narrative background
Though focus is on individual leaders (flawed), each leader is foiled by "the people" (more flawed)
Emphasis on repeated failure of society to govern itself
From Biblical Narrative to Biblical Law
In Biblical Law, "a society is outlined in which the presence of elders, judges, magistrates, scribes, sages, and storytellers, and a system of education and jurisprudence are presupposed. The stories, by contrast, portray an undecmmunicating and miscommunicating social milieu, in which generational discord and discontinuity are ever a threat. In a sense, without that tension and turbulence, there would be no biblical narrative: its characters would recede into the serene continuity of genealogy. Narrative and poetyr record the exceptional; genalogoy and law record the norm.
The excpetional is invoked to justify the norm.
"Religion in antiquity was not a segment or area of life but rather an entire worldview that permeated, ordered, and shaped the full range of human behavior. It was not a distinctive sector of experience but an ingredient of all experience."
"Religion was not distinguished in the Bible by a name of it's own; there is no word for "religion in biblical Hebrew."
The particular religious worldview of the Bible cuts across the diverse genres of biblical writing and organizes them, giving them unity.
Torah & Law
Law in the 5 Books of Moses = the rules (given by God) by which one people (Israel) was to live in the world
Torah is sometimes called "The Law"
The bulk of material comprises the regulations by which Israel is to fulfill its duties to God
The translation of "Law" is of Greek, not Hebrew, origin (changes original intent of Torah, which in Hebrew means "teaching"
5th book is called "D'varim" in Hebrew (means "words")
Greek translation of 5th book is "Deutero-nomos" ("nomos" means "law")
The "Laws of Torah"
Torah does not encompass a complete code of law
Torah is selective, illustrative, paradigmatic and arranged with imbalance
some laws are repeated
laws we might expect to be in Torah are absent
no evidence that Torah's laws circulated in ancient Israel as either practical guide or anthology of precedents
Torah's laws are less a tool for judiciary than vehicle for religious instruction
God as King

In Torah, God dictates laws directly, without human intermediation
other ancient Near Eastern cultures differentiate between principles of justice (Divine) and the laws themselves (human origin)
Torah conceives of God as Israel's true king
manifests in narratives (which promote idea that people need a non-human king), in the nature of the covenant (an unbalanced "partnership"), and by symbolism of the mishkan (God's dwelling place among humanity, designed like a palace with a royal chamber)
in the TORAH

Value of Life
God created humans with morality
blood, symbolizing life, is element of God (humans created in Divine image)
Torah places highest penalty on shedding human blood
unlike local cultures, family of murdered victim cannot accept monetary compensation for loss of life ("an eye for an eye" Ex. 21:23)
Torah does not condemn one to death for minor infractions (unlike local cultures)
Blood may not be eaten and animals that consume blook of other animals may not be eaten
Applies to Kashrut (dietary laws) and mixing (different categories of species)
Also applies when blemishes defile the purity of the "condition of createdness," which compromises "the state of living-ness". This can happen in cases such as:
Disease (skin afflictions in particular)
infestations of mold in dewelling places
lacerations on the body (changes to Divine image)
Also applies when one comes into contact with death or with a "life-leak" (a leak of blood or other life-sustatining fluid)
birthing fluids, menstruation fluids, semen, other bodily discharges
Unlike other legal codes from the Ancient Near East, the Torah does not (for the most part) respect differences in social station (i.e. slave, servant, citizen) or impose penalties on those who assist fugitive slaves.
The Torah does NOT abolish slavery, however:
slaves are indentured servants who can repay debts through labor
slaves are not to be treated harshly
slaves are afforded private lives
slaves are discouraged from remaining slaves past their period of indenture
Deuteronomy (later text) tempers slavery related laws in Exodus (earlier text)
Laws controlling slavery are first civil laws that God imposes after Israelites them- selves are freed from slavery
Narrative & Law: Hand in Hand
Biblical narrative transmits and reiterates major legal concerns of Torah
creation story establishes bases for laws of purity by dividing Creation into species and domains
Story of Exodus shapes subject matter of biblical law by declaring Israel to be a nation separate from surounding cultures - stresses difference between social laws and parallel laws of other cultures
Exodus Narrative also gives emphasis to need for laws controling slavery
How to Read Biblical Law
Traditional Approach
Modern Approach
God has coded all the laws we will ever need into the language of the Written Torah
It is up to rabbinic interpretation to explain how all the laws in Oral Torah are derived from Written Torah
Because God is efficient, no two laws teach the same thing or contradict one another; all laws form consistent system consonant with the beliefs of the rabbis
Seeks to understand back-ground of biblical law & appreciate its significance by means of comparing related laws from other ancient Near Eastern cultures
Works with the notion that Torah embodies a revelation from God, shaped by the people that received and applied it.
The Myth of Biblical Poetry
The ancient Israelites did not leave us a systematic definition or description of the phenomenon of biblical poetry
There is no word in biblical Hebrew that corresponds to our term "poetry"
There is, however, a variety of terms for different types of poetic compositions (but no all-embracing term)
"The Hebrew word 'shir' denotes only "that which is sung" unlike the English word 'poetry', which etymologically means "that which is made," but which in actual usage goes on to say a great deal more about the nature of what has been "made."
Biblical Poetry: From Where?
Biblical poetry, though closely linked to musical acccompaniement, was primarily a medium of words (not melody), and remains so, since only the words have survived
Obstacles to our understanding of biblical poetry are:
absence of mythological musie or protohistorical first poet in Canaanite mythology
Absence of historically reliable data revealing when biblical poems were composed
attributed psalms clearly had different intention than determinng authorship
Poetic oracles of prophets not necessarily spoken verbatum by prophet; could easily have been written down later by prophet or by someone who heard them speak
What Is Biblical Poetry?
We are left to wonder about the role of different poetic compositions in the daily life of Ancient Israel:
Pslams may have been liturgy of the Temple but were they composed for this purpose or adapted to it later? How and when were they recited as part of the Temple service?
By whom and for whom were collections of Proverbs made? (Royal Court? Wisdom teachers? General populace?)
Bible does clearly record poetic renderings of events alongside narrative accounts (ex. Song of the Sea)
Characteristics of Biblical Poetry
Emotional and not always logical
non-sequential; not concerned with chronology
incomplete description of events
added details missing from narrative
interupted narrative content with general hymnic material
poetic synonums to evoke images from other poetic passages & to set particular events into context of human experience
Dramatization of events from standpoint of God's personal participation
contrast troubling ideas in the narrative
contains elements of irony
elements (earth, water, wind, fire) are portrayed as servants of the Divine Will
Biblical Poetry: How & Why?
Biblical poetry comprises formal techniques of composition, which contribute to a sense of balance
parallelism in structure, language, thought, or all three
Song of Moses (Deut. 32)
many possibly "whys"
poetry is more memorable; mnemonic device
celebration of military victories of past boost morale in present
favored vehicle for relaying enlightenig visions and/or Divine Revelation; conveys insensity & emotion
conveys sense of dialogue & relationship
contrasts impassivity of narrative; audience is more impacte/affected
Biblical Poetry: In Summary
"The poetic vision and voice. . . effectively transform a private petition into what is experienced as a dialogue of shared religious concern, conducted simultaneously between wroshiper adn Diety, poet and audience, Israel and the world."
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