Bernard Robinson

Part two of another annual survey of some recent books on the Old Testament. Before his retirement, Bernard Robinson taught Scripture at Ushaw College, Durham.

old testamentGeneral
The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Narrative

Editor: Danna Nolan Fewell
ISBN: 978 0 19 996772 8
Date: 2016
Price: £97.00
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Publisher: OUP

Here fifty-six scholars, predominantly but not exclusively American, have each contributed a chapter to a very substantial (650 page) addition to the Oxford Handbook series. This series seeks to give authoritative, up-to-date information about the topic under discussion. This present volume, edited by Danna Nolan Fewell, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Drew University, treats of narrative in both Old and New Testaments. It falls into four parts: Overtures; Biblical Narratives; the Bible and Bodies; and The Natural, Social and Conceptual Landscapes of Biblical Story Worlds. In recent decades, the editor notes, 'narrative now claims a critical spotlight' beyond the bounds of literary studies, 'expressing how narrative is integral to self-perception and social orientation.' In biblical studies, whereas formerly narrative critics emphasized the 'art' and 'poetics' of biblical narrative (how it produces its effects on the reader; how it achieves ideological consistency), today scholars talk about 'textual instability' and 'undecidability'. They often 'read across unexpected disciplinary lines for new analytical concepts to illuminate textual details.' They have 'turned their attention to the communicative strategies biblical narratives employ, the social impulses and political agendas that drive biblical storytelling, and the ways in which biblical story worlds reflect the material realities and social constructions of the ancient world.' As another contributor says, 'Narrative critics have increasingly shifted their focus from internal elements of the text to the inter-subjective relationship among stories, storytellers, and audiences.' Some of them pursue such questions as how far readers create biblical meaning; how far narratives serve the interests originally envisaged; and how far they gravitate towards expressing other cultural realities.

Narrative criticism today is far more complex and multifaceted than it was a few decades ago. Not unnaturally, therefore, many of the contributors to this volume seek to tease out the various methodologies in use today. As Stephen D.Moore writes, the new narratology is 'chameleon-like': we have feminist narratology; cultural narratology; post-colonial narratology; queer narratology; and post-structuralist narratology. (But not theological narratology! The word 'theology' does not occur in the Index.) Much of what the contributors write tends towards dense, polysyllabic prose, which will appeal to few general readers. Old Testment (OT) specialists, however, trying to keep track of recent developments in biblical studies will need to take this book seriously. For myself, I found the most accessible chapters to be those that explore how narrative criticism can shed light on selected texts. I give two examples.

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