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The Art of Biblical Narrative
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2001
Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative is the sort of book that comes around once in a generation. For the most part, modern Biblical scholars are divided into two camps - homileticists, who tend to reduce every story in the Bible to a moral, and source critics, who chop up the text into various sources. Alter goes a third way. Alter's thesis is that the literary quality of the Bible has been sadly overlooked. To atone, so to speak, for this glaring omission, Alter sets out to show how the narratives in the Bible, even if constituted from a redacted text, nevertheless exhibit exquisite literary qualities. Alter convincingly demonstrates that if we overlook the art of how the stories are told, then we miss much of their meaning.
Alter reveals various techniques used by the Biblical writers to make the stories so compelling. One technique is the reserve of the narrator who often leaves unspoken the motives of the characters, thereby drawing us into the story by compelling us to try to supply what the narrator has withheld. Wordplay, the skillful repetition of words and phrases - so often lost in translation, connects seemingly disparate narratives into a fascinating montage. Type scenes, similar settings and stories such as meeting a future spouse at a well, play off each other, inviting the reader to compare and contrast what happens in one scene with its counterpart and to find meaning in these similarities and differences. The often laconic and subtle remarks of the narrator tend to support or undermine the words spoken and poses struck by the characters, which most of us will miss unless we learn to read the stories closely.
Perhaps the most delicious part of Alter's book is his frequent recourse to the stories themselves in order to demonstrate his points. For example, Alter begins his book by examining the story of Judah and Tamar that falls in the middle of the Joseph story. Tamar, you will recall, was Judah's daughter-in-law. His son and her husband dies and the other brothers do not fulfill their obligation by levirate marriage to carry on the dead son's name by fathering children with Tamar. Tamar ultimately rights this wrong by seducing Judah and conceiving two children by him. Alter reads the story closely and convincingly argues that the story has been woven tightly into the Joseph story by various narrative techniques so that it becomes the fulcrum upon which the stories hinge, making Judah a different person in time for his momentous meeting with Joseph in Egypt. Alter's treatment of the Judah and Tamar story alone is worth the price of the book. Buy the book and read it, you'll never regret having done so. In fact, you'll find yourself rereading it over and over.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This work begins with connecting archaeological discoveries to
important biblical perspectives. It teaches that the Bible is
sacred history and that the 3rd person narrative is a bridge to
future meanings/interpretations. The author shows where there
is much verbatim repetition in Biblical stories/themes. The
book anticipates a more meaningful theological purpose with the
passage of time and experience with Biblical themes. This is
a wonderfful work for biblical scholars, theologians, historians
and a wide constituency of academicians of all faiths.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 1997
I am a bilble seminary undergraduate from Hong Kong. After I read this book, I found a new perspective (and interest)to read the Bible---the narrative way. Alter helps us to analyse the underlying narrative motive of the Bible writer, which we usually missed
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on February 4, 2013
Fantastic material. Fantastic material. Book condition excellent. Arrived swiftly after ordering. Haven't read it yet but is in my list of resources for biblical studies.
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on November 15, 2012
I was impressed with the price, speed of delivery, and condition of the book. I appreciate this as I am a student and needed this book for class. Thanks!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2014
He makes a mockery of God and hides behind elevated language rather than speak straight forward and plain. Absolutely horrible. Robert Alter is Satan's child.
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