The Names of God: Poetic Readings in Biblical Beginnings

The Names of God: Poetic Readings in Biblical Beginnings

The Names of God: Poetic Readings in Biblical Beginnings

The Names of God: Poetic Readings in Biblical Beginnings

Synopsis

This is the sequel to the author's iconoclastic Toward a Grammar of Biblical Poetics (Oxford, 1992), in which Brichto argues for the aesthetic wholeness of the Hebrew Bible, and the consistency of Scripture's preachment on God, nature, and the human condition--in direct opposition to current source criticism, which maintains that inconsistencies within the text support an atomistic reading of multiple authors. In The Names of God, Brichto brings us his "poetic" reading of Scripture to the Book of Genesis. Using contemporary methods and insights of literary criticism, he examines one of the great inconsistencies within Genesis that have led to the supposition of multiple authors--the assortment of terms or names for the Deity, among them Yahweh and Elohim--and attempts to show the appropriateness of certain of these names to the stories in which they appear. He also looks at a variety of other data within Genesis such as genealogies, eponyms, and chronologies, and shows that their poetical function--their variety, ingenuity, and imaginative whimsy--is vital to the structure of the text as a whole. In finding a unity in this diversity of materials, Brichto makes a strong case for the text as the artistic achievement of a single author.

Excerpt

This book is a companion volume to Toward a Grammar of Biblical Poetics: Tales of the Prophets. It is, in purpose and substance, by initial and continuing design, the goal and consummation of the first volume. The primary objective of both volumes is not to contribute to the theoretical debate on the proper (or preferable) objectives and methodologies of literary criticism, but to enlist generally agreed- upon poetic principles and foci of literary analysis in the interest of interpreting the text we call Scripture, or (as many would prefer) the texts that constitute Scripture. To put the matter differently: my interest is not in such differing schools as, for example, Aristotelian, the Old or New, Structuralist, Deconstructionist, or Postmodern criticism; it is, rather, to draw on the strengths of literary-critical insights, whatever their derivation or provenance, to achieve such persuasive expositions of a text's meaning(s) as are designated in biblical circles by exegesis and in broader contexts by explication du texte.

I suggested in Toward a Grammar that the literary analyses or explications of texts coming down to us from antiquity are of a different order in some respects than those practiced on more recent compositions. They differ, in the main, in the far greater role of two factors in the criticism of ancient literature: assumptions as to the genre of that literature (e.g., is it fiction or history, a hard disjunction) or, a meta-literary factor, judgments on the part of the critic as to the differing capacities or inclinations of the ancient as against the modern mind (e.g., in regard to naïveté and sophistication, literal or figurative intent). My concern with this difference, which holds in respect to ancient literatures, be they the classics or those written in cuneiform or hieroglyphic scripts, focuses primarily on Scripture.

Here, as in the study of Homeric epic, inconsistencies and contradictions in a composition that has come down to us as a single work (e.g., the Iliad, the Book of Genesis) have led scholars to question long-held assumptions of single authorship; and, indeed, to raise such questions as to the existence in it of various strata owing to earlier writings or preliterate traditions, or as to whether the term author should not yield to editor or compiler for the individuals responsible for the literary corpus we have received. Further questions posed with respect to both Hebrew and Greek literary traditions are the degree of autonomy enjoyed by the ancient author or editor, and the extent to which the fetters of tradition are responsible for the literary hash that lies before us. If I may extend this culinary metaphor in a jocose observation: what is most remarkable about this hash is that for all the admitted incompatibility of its constituent ingredients, it continues to be trumpeted as a masterpiece by the very critics who can disentangle the egg noodles from the spaghetti in our . . .

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