The Biblical Story
and the Use of Time
A STORY IS AN ART FORM THAT USES TIME. This chapter examines some ways that authors of biblical stories manipulated time.
The German author and scholar Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781), in his famous work Laocoon (also known as An Essay on the Limits of Art and Poetry), distinguished between the arts of space and the arts of time. In the arts of space he included painting and sculpture, which describe bodies in a given moment of their existence and are quickly perceived by the viewer. The arts of time, namely, poetry—in which fiction and music may be included—take longer to be perceived.1 Moreover, they do not represent the most suggestive moment, as Lessing put it, which is to say, “a single moment in the course of an action…the one which is most suggestive and which serves most clearly to explain what has preceded and what follows” (1895:91). Rather, they represent ongoing processes expressed by means of language, which is also perceived in the course of time. Lessing wrote:
That which the eye takes in at a glance, he [the poet] enu-
merates slowly and by degrees; and it often happens that,
by the time he describes the last trait we have already