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306Philosophy and Literature Structural Interpretations of Biblical Myth, by Edmund Leach and D. Alan Aycock; vii & 132 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, $29.95. The tide of an ambitious collection of essays published in 1971 during die heyday of structuralism —Analyse structurelle et exégèse biblique— suggested a project which has remained largely unrealized. In die present volume, two anthropologists who acknowledge their debt to Lévi-Strauss even while defining their differences with him seek once again to show how the methods of structural analysis can be brought to bear on Biblical texts. Their essays cover a wide range of topics and media. Edmund Leach's most interesting contributions concern renderings in the visual arts of Biblical texts. A sequence from a mural in the Dura-Europos Synagogue illustrates his thesis that Moses' sister and other female Biblical figures have the same structural role as Isis in the Osiris-Isis-Horus constellation , and the depiction of Melchisedech in several fifdi-century mosaics is used to elucidate his discussion of divine and human hierarchies. D. Alan Aycock considers the immobilization of Lot's wife in terms of Lévi-Strauss's study of Asdiwal and explores die function of stigmata widi reference to Cain and Jesus. Since Leach and Aycock are exploring relatively unfamiliar territory, diese essays in practical criticism are supplemented by otiiers in which Leach considers in more general terms what contribution an andiropologist might make to Biblical studies. Leach warns against direct comparisons with modern ethnographic evidence, but believes diat the basic persistent structures of mytho-history as identified by anthropologists can illuminate the structures of Biblical mydi. He defines myth as "a sacred tale about past events which is used tojustify social action in the present" (p. 8), and therefore is not concerned with the Bible as a record of history or with authors' intentions, but with the circumstances of the text's use, especially as a part ofritual. This definition implies a structural analysis, for the text as it is used must be considered a synchronic whole rather than a history of replacement and innovation. Since die textual whole includes in most cases both the Old and the New Testaments, the audiors assume die position of the Christian rather than theJewish exegete. The tone of the essays is often defensive. The audiors fear diat the structures revealed by dieir Einalyses might be considered "trivial" rather than "significant" or "illuminating." That their fears are at timesjustified is less indicative ofthe value oftheir readings than of the inadequacies of a rigid structural rendering of textual material. Leach seems to imply this when he asserts that, contrary to Aycock's view, Abel and not Cain is the "precise structural analogue" ofJesus, but adds that this in no way affects the force of die essay. The fact that Aycock's analysis can withstand diis attack on its basic premise suggests diat the general value of these essays does not lie in their power to arrest the interplay of narrative components in precise structural correspondences. The limitations of a strictly structural analysis are most evident in Aycocks and Leach's depiction ofliminal states and mediary figures as occupying more or less defined positions between discrete units, because the problems raised in their stimulating discussions of Moses' sister, Lot's wife, Cain, Melchisedech, and the suspended hierarchies of the carnival-like communitas go well beyond these rigid divisions and chafe against them. This Reviews307 friction in the essays, however, perhaps constitutes their strength, for, to use a distinction formulated by Roland Barthes in his (structural) study of die Genesis story ofJacob's struggle with the angel, it prompts us to move from structural insights to a textual analysis that can embrace die tensions and differences within the text. University of OregonSharon Larisch TAe Sacred Complex: On the Psychogenesis of "Paradise Lost, " by William Kerrigan; vii & 344 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983, $25.00. Like Harold Bloom, William Kerrigan views Milton as a strong figure whose prophetic power is articulated within a complex of relations which binds the Oedipus complex to religious notions of genesis and apocalypse. At one point Kerrigan asks, "How was this man [Milton] able to extend his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 306-307
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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