Robert Alter's groundbreaking study, The Art of Biblical Narrative, is premised on literary comparisons that are based not on historical contiguity, but on formal similarity. Failing to grasp such comparisons, Alter's critics have unfairly dismissed his project as "ahistorical" and "anachronistic." His literary approach to the Bible, however, is in fact historical, just not historicist, realist rather than nominalist. That is, it posits the existence of various literary universals, specifically, the formal narrative possibilities inherent to the medium of literary prose. The theoretical issues involved can be observed in the case of allusion. Allusions in biblical narrative operate according to the literary principle Viktor Shklovsky identified as "defamiliarization." In contrast, allusions in Homer's oral epics operate according to the aesthetic principle of familiarity, which according to Walter Benjamin characterizes the traditional art of the storyteller. Thus, literature and oral tradition, poetry and prose, are no mere constructions, but autonomous categories subsisting in the real of language.


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pp. 324-344
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