Shorter Reviews and Notices -- toward a Grammar of Biblical Poetics: Tales of the Prophets by Herbert Chanan Brichto

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TOWARD A GRAMMAR OF BIBLICAL POETICS: TALES OF THE PROPHETS, by Herbert Chanan Brichto. Oxford University Press, New York, 1992. 298 pp. $35.00. ISBN 0-19-506911-0.

The interest in literary approaches to the reading of biblical texts continues unabated and is carried forward in positive ways by this volume. While not seeking after a fully comprehensive aesthetics of biblical narrative, Brichto begins with a more theoretical statement of literary features in biblical narrative, including such matters as character and characterization, plot, point of view, direct discourse, synoptic resumptive techniques, metaliterary conventions, genre, and figures of speech. This introduction, of some length, is then followed by a series of "exegetical essays" on biblical narratives, the stories of Jonah, the golden calf, Elijah and Ahab, and the Elisha legends.

While the treatment is consonant, in many ways, with other narrative studies, such as those by Robert Alter, Meir Sternberg, Robert Polzin, and Kenneth Gros Louis, it is also distinctive in various ways. Brichto takes seriously the "scriptural" character of scripture and regards its "preachment" character or its kerygma--a term he uses quite unashamedly--as inherent in the nature of the material and not to be avoided. Thus, with regard to the golden calf episode, he has a section on its kerygma in which he identifies the "essential message" of the narrative, "its central, or core, meaning." The goal of exegesis, in Brichto's judgment, is "grasp of the kerygma." Near the end of the book, he makes the following forthright statement:

When Scripture ceases to be relevant to our experience of life, it is as artistically trivial as it has been declared metaphysically and ethically pointless. The Bible has proven that it can survive a failure of aesthetic appreciation, but it is doubtful that it could survive as an artistic creation shorn of a capability for compelling assent to its moral affirmations and its mordant yet never morbid assessment of the human condition. …