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Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible

Carolyn J. Sharp

Publication Year: 2009

Was God being ironic in commanding Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of wisdom? Carolyn J. Sharp suggests that many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures may be ironically intended. Deftly interweaving literary theory and exegesis, Sharp illumines the power of the unspoken in a wide variety of texts from the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings. She argues that reading with irony in mind creates a charged and open rhetorical space in the texts that allows character, narration, and authorial voice to develop in unexpected ways. Main themes explored here include the ironizing of foreign rulers, the prostitute as icon of the ironic gaze, indeterminacy and dramatic irony in prophetic performance, and irony in ancient Israel's wisdom traditions. Sharp devotes special attention to how irony destabilizes dominant ways in which the Bible is read today, especially when it touches on questions of conflict, gender, and the Other.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana Series in Biblical Literature

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

Analyzing the ways in which ironic texts signify can be challenging in biblical studies, where an assumption persists in some influential quarters that one can “ just read the text” without the annoying encumbrances of theory. All exegesis is based on assumptions arising from the reader’s experience and from ...

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pp. 1-5

Ambiguity, paradox, and misdirection play through all literature. This is true to a certain degree even in those kinds of writing whose genres seem to preclude indirection or opacity (lists of addresses, say, or commands in the training manual for a Labrador retriever). The unspoken suffuses and lends force to ...

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1. Interpreting Irony: Rhetorical, Hermeneutical, and Theological Possibilities

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pp. 6-42

Universes hang in the balance with every act of reading an ironic sacred text. This apparently extravagant statement might be perceived as ironic by those who do not believe that reading matters deeply, those who do not see cultural constructions of the sacred as important, and those who may not be sure how ...

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2. Foreign Rulers and the Fear of God

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pp. 43-83

In her book Irony/Humor, Candace Lang finds Roland Barthes musing on the “single-voiced dogmatism of ironic discourse,”1 a notion grounded in his idea that “irony is a meta-citation, the quotation of other codes as quotations. . . . The function of the ironic code is to put the stereotypes it repeats in quotation marks, ...

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3. The Prostitute as Icon of the Ironic Gaze

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pp. 84-124

The figure of the prostitute is prominent in several striking narratives in the Hebrew Bible, and metaphorical constructions of female sexuality in terms having to do with prostitution animate the diction of the biblical prophets. Ironic reversals abound in the prose stories and prophetic oracles that deal ...

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4. The Irony of Prophetic Performance

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pp. 125-186

The phenomenon of biblical prophecy may be interpreted as inherently ironic even apart from particular ironies that are wielded by prophets as weapons in their rhetorical arsenals. Prophets are represented in the Hebrew Bible as speaking divinely authorized, powerfully performative words. The biblical prophet ...

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5. “How Long Will You Love Being Simple?” Irony in Wisdom Traditions

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pp. 187-239

Many diverse types of irony enliven Israel’s wisdom literature. The rallying cry of biblical wisdom literature is, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Prov 1:22), itself ironic in its implication that it is the conscious choice of the ignorant to remain unenlightened. Local ironies are common ...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 240-250

The unspoken is powerful in the Hebrew Bible. Irony in ancient Israelite literature serves as a many-edged tool for the destabilization of the overconfident subject, the problematizing of nationalistic rhetoric, and the subversion of ancient believers’ misunderstandings of tradition. Irony underscores the inherent fragility ...


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pp. 251-322


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pp. 323-348


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pp. 349-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780253003447
E-ISBN-10: 025300344X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253352446

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Indiana Series in Biblical Literature