1. Narrative Economy, Artistry, and the Literary Imagination
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1 Narrative Economy, Artistry, and the Literary Imagination The Biblical narrative is of exemplary purity of line, sobriety and terseness. Not one superfluous word, not one useless gesture. The imagery is striking, the language austere, the dialogue so incisive, it leaves one with a knot in one’s throat.1 —Elie Wiesel, Messengers of God Generations of scholars have recognized the artistic qualities of the Hebrew Bible, praising the biblical narrators for the depth of their writing style in spite of the terse nature of their work. But while historical criticism has ostensibly applauded the efforts of the narrators in its quest to uncover authorial intentions and origins in history, historical critics have often fallen short of addressing literary questions. Form criticism, particularly in the work of Hermann Gunkel, served as a possible foundation for narrative criticism by focusing on scenes, characters, and narrative structure, leaving historical critics with road maps to the literary world of the biblical text. However, many scholars have viewed this road as one of many potential paths for new discoveries, limiting the formcritical discussion to genre and tying places and alleged composite characters to tradition history.2 I write, not to resurrect the quest for the historical author, but to look for evidence of the narrator’s voice within the text and to examine the ways in which the narrator responds to potential reader questions and assumptions. By examining the narrator’s anticipation of the reader’s response and the way the narrator intrudes in the text, I construct a more complete picture of the 1. Elie Wiesel, Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends (1976; 1st Touchstone ed.; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 80. 2. François Tolmie, Narratology and Biblical Narratives: A Practical Guide (San Francisco: International Scholars, 1999), 2. 7 narrator’s worldview. The significance of narrative obtrusions lies in the fact that they bring the narrator, the text, and the reader together at crucial points within the narrative where the narrator has broken or reframed the text and inserted a comment that specifically attempts to influence the reader’s response. Therefore, narrative obtrusions serve as important intersections in interpretation. Far too often, various interpretive strategies have separated the text, narrator, and reader, creating new divides in biblical studies. Historical critics focus on the origins and intentions of the author. Scholars influenced by the New Critics concentrate on the text. Reader response began as a reactionary hermeneutic to the textually oriented New Critics and shifted the focus from the text to the reader. Although some scholars may not see the value of combining redaction criticism and narrative criticism and others may think that reader response and narrative criticism cannot work together, I utilize some of the best parts of these methods and show their compatibility with narrative criticism by examining narrative economy, textual unity, and literary artistry and imagination. To discover the scholarly origins of narrative criticism and lay a foundation for my methodology, in this chapter I focus on the history of narrative criticism, contrasting narrative criticism and historical criticism while examining the former’s relation to reader response. My exploration of the portrait of the biblical narrator and my review of the history that led to the formation of narrative criticism begin with renowned biblical scholar and form critic Hermann Gunkel. In his Legends of Genesis (1901), Gunkel both paved the way for narrative criticism and created a few obstacles for it to overcome.3 Literary critic Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis (1946) defined the biblical narrator and helped redefine the concerns of biblical scholarship by bringing literary analysis into the discussion.4 Next, I examine Jewish interpreters and modern canonical critics as proponents of textual unity, a foundational point for narrative criticism since this methodology connects narrative cohesiveness with narrative artistry. The methodology of narrative criticism began in New Testament studies in the 1970s and culminated in two works that brought narrative criticism in full force to biblical studies in the 1980s: literary critic Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981) and 3. Hermann Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis: The Biblical Saga and History, trans. W. H. Carruth (New York: Schocken Books, 1964; repr., Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2006); trans. of Die Sagen der Genesis (Chicago: Open Court, 1901). See also Gunkel, Genesis (HAT; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1901). 4. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (50th anniversary ed.; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003). 8 | Narrative Obtrusion in the...


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