Friday, May 26, 2017

Conflict at the base of my readings of the Bible

I have just picked up again The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter. I read his concluding chapter first. He certainly emphasizes some things that I consider vital in reading the text. To wit:

  1. recurring words and by implication the importance of preserving in a translation the distinctions in roots in the source text. Related is the sounds-like word-play that is often there in roots that have shared letters, e.g. like בן and בנה, son and build.
  2. repeated actions / stories - not simply source criticism, but offsetting and contrasting views of the same or a similar incident.
  3. Dialogue. and
  4. the role of the narrator.
These last two I have paid less attention to. Perhaps I should wake up, for I have been certainly focused on recurrence and repetition as of structural and interpretive importance. Alter of course does not mention the musical line. That is to be expected.

Here is a summary paragraph: (p 188)
The reading of any literary text requires us to perform all sort of operations of linkage, both small and large, and at the same time make constant discriminations (sic) among related but different words, statements, actions, characters, relations, and situations.
The problem is of course exacerbated by reading in a foreign tongue and writing in one's own. But he is right about this being "pleasurable rather than arduous". The love of the writers and copyists for this text comes through on a sustained reading, also their dedication to honest exposure in truth of the character and witness whether to good or to evil within their characters and actions.

I have still to express what this is teaching me. It is astonishing that I should have tried to express such things 40 years ago in my infancy. Perhaps there is more to say in these days of serious turmoil and of world-wide software controls of our words, actions, and movements.

His final sentence: ... the paradoxical truth of the matter may well be that by learning to enjoy the biblical stories more fully as stories, we shall also come to see more clearly what they mean to tell us about God, man, and the perilously momentous realm of history.