Melville's Bibles

Melville's Bibles

Melville's Bibles

Melville's Bibles

Synopsis

Many writers in antebellum America sought to reinvent the Bible, but no one, Ilana Pardes argues, was as insistent as Melville on redefining biblical exegesis while doing so. In Moby-Dick he not only ventured to fashion a grand new inverted Bible in which biblical rebels and outcasts assume center stage, but also aspired to comment on every imaginable mode of biblical interpretation, calling for a radical reconsideration of the politics of biblical reception. In Melville's Bibles, Pardes traces Melville's response to a whole array of nineteenth-century exegetical writings--literary scriptures, biblical scholarship, Holy Land travel narratives, political sermons, and women's bibles. She shows how Melville raised with unparalleled verve the question of what counts as Bible and what counts as interpretation.

Excerpt

“‘Tis high time we should have a bible that should be no provincial record, but should open the history of the planet, and bind all tendencies and dwarf all the Epics & philosophies we have,” wrote Emerson in his journal. It seems as if every other writer in antebellum America sought to follow Emerson’s call and reinvent the Bible. But no one was as insistent as Melville on redefining biblical exegesis while doing so. in Moby-Dick he not only ventured to fashion a grand new, inverted Bible, in which biblical rebels and outcasts assume central stage, but also aspired at the same time to comment on every imaginable mode of biblical interpretation, calling for a radical reconsideration of the politics of biblical reception. I would go so far as to suggest that if MobyDick has acquired the status of a gigantic Bible of sorts in American culture and beyond, it is precisely because Melville opens up the question of what counts as Bible and what counts as interpretation with unparalleled verve. This book carries through Moby-Dick’s invitation to rethink these two concepts.

The invitation to plunge into a world of exegetical contemplation is put forth at the very outset. Ishmael, the narrator, whose voice often merges with that of Melville, defines himself in the opening “Extracts” as the commentator on different “whale statements” provided by the “sub-sub librarian”—from biblical verses on whales in Genesis, Job, Jonah, Psalms, and Isaiah to commentaries on whales by great writers and thinkers such as Montaigne, Rabelais, Shakespeare, and Hobbes to . . .

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