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Studies in the field of "biblical literary criticism" have proliferated in recent decades. The publication of Robert Alter's 1981 The Art of Biblical Narrative marks the symbolic arrival of a mode of analysis that has now become entrenched in modern biblical research. In this essay it is asked if assumptions about texts predicated on the study of modern literature can be profitably applied to a multi-layered, multiple-authored anthology of ancient provenance such as the Hebrew Bible. As a means of illustrating our concerns we offer a critique of Alter's well-known discussion of the alleged unity and artistic merit of Genesis chapters 37-39. We suggest that exegetes may need to lessen their reliance on pre-fabricated tools of literary analysis. Instead, they will need to develop theoretical and methodological implements that are properly calibrated to the study of collectively and trans-historically composed works of art.