The Art of Biblical Narrative In what is both a radical approach to the Bible and a fundamental return to its narrative prose Robert Alter reads the Old Testament with new eyes the eyes of a literary critic Alter takes the old y

  • Title: The Art of Biblical Narrative
  • Author: Robert Alter
  • ISBN: 9780465004270
  • Page: 285
  • Format: Paperback
  • In what is both a radical approach to the Bible, and a fundamental return to its narrative prose, Robert Alter reads the Old Testament with new eyes the eyes of a literary critic Alter takes the old yet simple step of reading the Bible as a literary creation.

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    One thought on “The Art of Biblical Narrative”

    1. In this short but dense work, Alter presents his case for the Bible, particularly the Old Testament (OT), as a piece of literature that can and should be examined with literary techniques. We found this book both very helpful and incredibly frustrating at times. It is helpful because Alter lays out useful techniques that help one examine the Bible as a piece of literature by paying attention to words, actions, dialogue, and narration. It is, however, frustrating because Alter is apparently unawa [...]

    2. The Art of Biblical Narrative is the best critical work I have read. It does more than just explain. It teaches. It encourages. It makes the reader want to read the [Hebrew] Bible for the pure pleasure of practicing what has been learned, to discover the literary secrets of the Bible and to enjoy anew the art of reading.I read the Bible, not as revelation nor as history, although I suppose that there is some history there. I read the Bible as literature and as a literary source of Western cultur [...]

    3. The author is a professor of Hebrew and comparative literature, not a theologian or “biblical scholar.” This is the basis for a perspective on the Old Testament to which most Christian readers do not have access. Consider, for example, the talking snake of Genesis 3; fictionalized prose or historically accurate? Most conservative Christians don’t want to go there. Might there be something to be gained by doing so?

    4. Alter's description of the intricate details of OT narratives that usually escape modern readers is fantastic. His defence of the literary integrity of the OT narratives against the claims of source criticism is refreshing. He's ambivalent about the historicity of the events of the OT narratives. Alter writes from a Jewish viewpoint.

    5. So why are there two separate creation myths in Genesis? The story of God creating Adam and Eve simultaneously and the story of God creating Eve out of Adam’s rib? Source criticism would have us believe that the redactor was simply stitching together stories from two distinct oral traditions. Robert Alter would have us look at the Bible through the lens of literary criticism, to recognize and consider how and why the author (s) employed such literary devices as narration, dialogue, characteriz [...]

    6. This is the first major book-length treatment of the Bible as literature, and was published in the 1980s. I especially enjoyed the chapter, "Composite Artistry." In that chapter Alter showed that contradictions in the Bible were due not to sloppiness by the unsophisticated ancients, was often assumed, but the deliberate thrust of a literary genius.Most memorable was the section on the 2 different creation accounts in Genesis. The (P) account (Gen. 1-2:4) presents an orderly narrative of the crea [...]

    7. Definitely a mixed bag, but Alter makes his point well: the Bible is not a poorly written, sketchy book. It is, in fact, the most carefully written, well-thought out, systematic book you will ever read.

    8. A pleasure to read. Demonstrates very simply how masterful (even crafty!) the Scriptures are, with many practical tips on reading between the lines in the Bible.

    9. “Religious tradition has by and large encouraged us to take the Bible seriously rather than enjoy it, but the paradoxical truth of the matter may well be that by learning to enjoy the biblical stories more fully as stories, we shall also come to see more clearly what they mean to tell us about God, man, and the perilously momentous realm of history”. So ends Robert Alter’s seminal contribution to biblical literary criticism. I am convinced that any serious biblical scholar, and not only Ol [...]

    10. Alter is deeply, almost aggressively ignorant of the history of both the Hebrew Bible itself and the region in which its stories take place, but doesn't let that stop him from delineating historical fact and fancy, and projecting, evidence-free, scores of motives onto both the writers of the Bible and their original target audience, usually in exactly the smug and self-indulgent way his stereotype as a literary analyst demands.If his point is that Hebrew Bible's legendary dullness is mostly a co [...]

    11. I really enjoyed this book. Alter walks through the literary features of the Hebrew Bible (within the narrative accounts). There are so many great insights in this book.While Alter identifies the historical impulse behind the biblical text, he doesn't hold up the historicity of everything in the biblical account which I would. However his attention to the literary artistry and examination of the Hebrew idiom and literary conventions (i.e. repetition of key words, variations in repeated words, ec [...]

    12. "The monotheistic revolution of biblical Israel was a continuing and disquieting one. It left little margin for neat and confident views about God, the created world, history, and man as a political animal or moral agent, for it repeatedly had to make sense of the intersection of incompatibles--the relative and the absolute, human imperfection and divine perfection, the brawling chaos of historical experience and God's promise to fulfill a design in history. The biblical outlook is informed, I t [...]

    13. I did try with this. It's written from a Jewish perspective, supposedly showing how the Old Testament is written with various literary styles, and the significance of them. It sounded interesting, and was one of the required books for a theology course my son took.Unfortunately, it was verbose and rather tedious, at least in the first couple of chapters. Worse, it spent far too long criticising many other writers who had written on similar topics. Perhaps the criticisms were valid, but they didn [...]

    14. Fantastic analysis of the Hebrew text from a secular literary perspective. Alter is a genius at bringing the stories of the bible into beautiful detail, and he gives the reader the tools to do the same. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever seen the bible as being "crudely written".

    15. What are we to make of the astringent, crabbed and cryptic prose of the Old Testament? There is a quality to hearing it spoken, but reading it just seems dismal. Details are left out, as well as motivations. Stories jump from one incident to another without rhyme or reason. It is an extremely cold style, with little emotion, warmth or compassion, and practically no humor or joy. Alter does better than most (all?) in showing the genius of the Old Testament writers. Alter highlights four literary [...]

    16. It's a really interesting book, looking at the Bible as a finely tuned & intricate piece of work. Alter challenges the modern criticisms of the Old Testament that see things like repetition as examples of bad editors, or lazy writers. Instead, Alter speaks of "scene types", where familiar characteristics call us to look closer, ask what similarities and differences between stories mean.It was a really worthwhile book to read, though I would say that Alter sometimes takes his theories & a [...]

    17. The Art of Biblical Narrative is perhaps the best tool to enable someone to understand, interpret, and appreciate the narratives found in scripture. The principles and observations found in this volume are dense, but accessible. Anyone doing work in the Old Testament (or even a lay reader of Scripture) should pick this text up. (Those of a theologically conservative background, however, would probably not subscribe to his theological conclusions, but the observations are fantastic nonetheless.)

    18. From a Jewish perspective. Really helpful to explain what important aspects of OT narrative to look for when analyzing the texts. His examples are perhaps the best part. His explanation of the importance of dialogue made the style of OT narrative more meaningful to me. He ardently defends the artistic quality of the texts against contemporary assumptions of crudeness, which I appreciated.

    19. A masterful little book. If you want to read anything on literary approaches to the OT, this is quite a good choice. Compact, artful and filled with delightful explanations of biblical narratives. The concept of "historicized prose fiction" was very enlightening to me (although I would prefer "fictionized prose history").

    20. Overall, Alter aims to demonstrate that the Bible should be considered from a literary perspective, and that the Bible fundamentally depicts the same "literary art" that is ascribed to (to use Alter's examples) "the poetry of Dante, the plays of Shakespeare, the novels of Tolstoy" (13). He does so through discussion of both the "literary" characteristics throughout the biblical text as well as providing examples of how these play out in specific narratives. What is most central to this welcome s [...]

    21. Incredibly important, endlessly insightful, lucidly written. One of the best books of any sort that I’ve read.

    22. Amazing book. Wonderful to read (if somewhat over-flowery at points). This does what any great book should do: causes you to think of something in a whole new way, sheds further light on the text, and creates new pathways of meaning from which to take extensive journeys. I particularly liked its discussions of contrastive dialogue, narrative analogy, word-choice, Leitworter, and ambiguity. I particularly agree with him when it comes to the "historical" process (trying to peer back behind the tex [...]

    23. "The biblical tale, through the most rigorous economy of means, leads us again and again to ponder complexities of motive and ambiguities of character because these are essential aspects of its vision of man, created by God, enjoying or suffering all the consequences of human freedom. Almost the whole range of biblical narrative embodies the basic perception that man must live before God, in the transforming medium of time, incessantly and perplexingly in relation with others." loc 473"It is pe [...]

    24. I appreciated much of what Alter writes, especially with regard to the complexities of design and the literary unity of the Biblical narrative. The recurring motifs, leitworts, and patterns of repetition in the Bible often prove significant for our understanding of the Hebrew Bible. I also appreciated some of what he had to say about literary conventions in the Hebrew Bible. He contends that some of what higher critical scholarship attributes to sloppy redaction may be purposeful design on the p [...]

    25. Robert Alter does an excellent job explaining how the stories of the Bible are much more complex and interesting than we give them credit for. Of course, many of these stories are monumental cultural landmarks even today, but Alter argues that most of us are not reading them as the truly revolutionary works of literature they are. Through the use of various inventive literary techniques, the Bible authors, with remarkable economy of language, tell the story of mankind's relationship with God. Th [...]

    26. This turned out to be not quite the book I was looking for: I'm teaching the Abraham and Isaac story soonish, so I wanted some help with what was happening there, and I thought, heck, I can probably learn something to apply to my own writing if I read about biblical narrative. But instead, this book is really focused like a laser on the stories it considers, and is interested in them in ways that are very grounded-- so you learn a lot about how in the David story knowledge is parsed out, or why [...]

    27. A extraordinary book of rare critical acumen, Alter sets out to display the high art of concise and laconic biblical narrative while challenging many of the basic assumptions of source and to some extent redaction criticism. With Alter, many premises of the documentary hypothesis, while not dead, are at least made moribund or not very convincing, To take one example, there is an inset narrative in Genesis showing the adventures of Judah with Tamar that "interrupts" the Joseph saga before it resu [...]

    28. This book looks at the literary artistry evident in many of the Biblical narratives. He is not concerned with how the Bible got its current shape, or what its purpose is; rather, he wants his readers to see the great skill with which the narratives were woven. He discusses Biblical type-scenes, uses of convention, narration vs. dialogue (the Bible leans heavily toward the latter in its narratives--why? what do we learn this way?), the techniques of repetition and reticence, composite artistry, a [...]

    29. Alter contributes some excellent insights into the techniques and patterns of the Biblical authors which are quite helpful to the modern reader in getting at the intended meaning of the text. However, Alter subscribes to views of higher criticism, even going so far as to label Biblical narratives as "prose fiction." In his view these narratives were contrived to convey true principles about God and man but can hardly be called history. While Alter's observations about techniques of repetition, t [...]

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