Chapter Four: Major Genres A Way of Seeing
Chapter 4 Outline • Preliminary Considerations • Major Genres and Related Definitions • Poetry • Prose • Fiction • Nonfiction • Genre Criticism • Source Criticism and Documentary Hypothesis • Narrative • Stories with Structured Plots • Linking Episodes • Episodes in the New Testament Linked to the Old Testament • Genesis • Genre • Stories • Groups of Stories • Cycles in Genesis • Drama and Poetry
Preliminary Considerations • The Bible has been regarded as a model for literary genres, the overriding genre being that of an anthology made up of diverse genres. • Both the Old and New Testament have some degree of documentary and didactic purpose: to get historical facts before the reader and to impart theological ideas and moral imperatives. • Modern readers unfamiliar with biblical genres will recognize the familiar genres of prose, poetry, and drama.
Definitions, Cont. • AFrench term, genre means "type," "sort," or "kind" and designates the literary form into which works are classified according to what they have in common, either in their formal structures or in their treatment of subject matter, or both. • Genre criticism belongs to the more encompassing “form criticism,” which directs attention to four elements: 1) the plot, structure, or shape of the passage in question; 2) the identification of genre or category to which a text will be assigned such as narrative, prophecy, poetry/psalmody, wisdom, law, proverb, satire, parable, and drama (The New Testament expands the types with the addition of travelogue, oratory, sermon, and courtroom forensics; the Letters mix epistolary conventions, exhortation, and lyric; Revelation, for example, includes a collage of genres, mixing epistolary, visionary, poetic, narrative, and dramatic.); 3) the history of the text being analyzed and its genre, positing a setting in actual life; and finally, 4) form criticism addresses the purpose of the genre in the passage under scrutiny. Form criticism overall then addresses structure, genre, setting, and intent
Definitions, Cont. • In classical times (Plato, Aristotle, and later, Horace), the major genres, from which other genres have proliferated, were known as lyric (clearly identified as poetry), drama (relating to performance, with characters speaking for a writer in prose or poetry), and epic (in its classical form, referring to poetic narrative, but broadened to include poetry and prose). Bible [and] Old Testament” and use them without prescribing the use of either. • In literature, narrative has been applied to prose which presents chronological or sequenced events to tell a story or stories (what happens) in a particular way. Stories can be based on actual fact or made-up imaginatively.
Definitions, Cont. • Stories that have been made up imaginatively belong to the genre called fiction, which, too narrowly, has been interpreted as “not true.” • Fiction, metaphorically, tells the truth of human experience, and should not be classified as false in the sense that it has no correspondence to historical reality. • Imagination takes actual events from history and reorders them deliberately into a fiction that often tells profound truths about human beings, the world they inhabit, and the human condition.
Definitions, Cont. • Plot refers to the story or succession of events, including conflict, suspense, and conclusion, these events linked explicitly or implicitly in a cause-and-effect structure. The arrangement of plot in narrative emphasizes chronological order (sequentiality) and themes (a unifying quality or idea). Characterspeople the story and generate the actions that make up the plot. Both theme and character will be explored in later chapters. • Setting includes time, location, and everything in which a story takes place; it can also influence characters. • A narrator is the entity that tells the story to its readers. • Point of view refers to the perspective from which the story is told andcan exist in first-person (I, we) or third-person (he, she, it, and they). In first-person point of view, the narrator participates as a character in the story. In third-person, the narrator functions as an “all-knowing mind” standing behind the stories. Biblical narrative has its own set of narrative devices: repetition (words, motifs, themes, whole scenes) which provides coherence and composite unity; omission (a tendency to omit information); dialogue (narrating through dialogue, using dialogue to reveal psychological and ideological points of view, often with two-character dialogue dominating); and irony.
Genre Criticism • Genre criticism has been plagued by a number of critical attacks over its two thousand years of use. • A first doubt arises from the way one understands reality. Do genres exist objectively, or are they merely constructions? • For the most part, genre theory has been concerned with dividing the world of literature into types and naming those types, similar to the scientific process of establishing genus and species. Types, however, may be viewed as timeless essences or ephemeral as opposed to time-bound.
Genre Criticism, Cont. • Is the taxonomy finite or infinite? Cultural-bound or transcultural? Descriptive or proscriptive? T • The Renaissance through the eighteenth century tended to view genres as fixed and timeless; with the Romantics, imagination and experimentation were preferred to rules, genres, and decorum, and genre criticism fell into disuse. • Complex discussions revolve about whether genres should be viewed as extrinsic or intrinsic to their content or as having both an outer and inner dimension; most today view them as generic conventions from which authors draw to set up reader expectation. • The argument can be made that genre will be affected by the one making the grouping and that types cannot be clearly distinguished one from another since they may overlap and become mixed.
Source Theory • You should be aware that a fairly standard approach to the Bible, since the eighteenth century, has looked predominantly at originating sources, usuually referred to as source criticism. • Generally, source criticism may be said to focus upon texts and textuality and to belong to a view of reality that sees truth as external and discovered by reason and science; against this view, what has been described as a rhetorical view sees human beings as creating meaning, fashioning, and manipulating what is construed as reality.
Source Theory, Cont. • At bottom of much of the discussion about sources is an ongoing debate about whether the Bible is one book or consists of many books • A product of source theory has been a growing understanding of the Bible as a composite text, evidence for this growing out of repeated accounts of actions or stories, different names for God and variations in political assumptions, diction and style, incompatible or inconsistent statements, and different viewpoints on religious matters. A focus upon historical study leads to a search for originating sources. • The traditions or sources giving rise to the Bible have a close relationship to the existing forms or genres of biblical literature as they developed out of an oral history. Biblical writing, some suggest, mingles, subverts, renews, and sometimes rejects these traditions. Usually, biblical scholars have argued that the first five books of the Old Testament were not written by one person Moses, but that multiple strands of traditions were woven together to produce these books (composites).
Source Theory, Cont. • The Documentary Hypothesis usually presents the Torah (the first five books) as composed by a series of editors out of four literary traditions known as J (Yahwist or Jerusalem source), E (Elohist or Ephraimitc), P (Priestly), and D (Deuteronomic). • The New Interpreter’s Study Bible dates the Yahwist and the Elohist traditions to the monarchy (1000-800 BCE), and the Priestly, to the exile and restoration (587-500 BCE). • The Deuteronomic is usually dated to the era of King Josiah in the 600s BCE.
Biblical Narrative. • Biblical narrative distinctively consists of episodes that link together chains of stories to form an overarching framework with its own story and plot. • Defined simply, an episode consists of phases and steps grouped into a complete story, and results in some form of problem/resolution that can often be subdivided into rising, turning, and falling action. The HarperCollins Study Bible xxiii emphasizes an “odd concentricity” in the Bible, its tensions held in check by some common framework.
Biblical Narrative, Cont. • Stories with Structured Plot (Luke 19. 1-10; 2 Kings 4) • An example of a short story in the New Testament that has all the characteristics of story—structured plot, protagonists, and theme—is that of Zacchaeus, a favorite with children (Luke 19. 1-10). In this story, the conflict involves the main character (protagonist) Zacchaeus, who wants to see Jesus, but is prevented from doing so because he is too small to see over the heads of the crowd. The exposition gives the setting, Jericho, and introduces Zacchaeus, who resolves (resolution) his conflict by climbing a tree. This decision brings the plot to its crisis or turning point: Jesus talks (dialogue) with Zacchaeus and asks him to descend and host him for lunch, a life-changing event for Zacchaeus.
Biblical Narrative, Cont. • Linking Episodes (1 Kings 17; Jer. 35. 8-16; 2 Sam. 1: 2 Sam. 18: Job 1; 2 Sam. 12) • Story exists at the level of the simplest unit of narrative, displaying significant independence from the larger context;. • Narratives also have larger structures whereby episodes can be arranged thematically, chronologically, as parallel stories, and as stories in a cluster. • The story of Elisha and the poor widow (2 Kings 4) becomes an episode when placed into the greater whole of both 1 and 2 Kings and of the Old Testament itself. • Elisha’s story parallels that of Elijah in 1 Kings 17. 14-16). In this story, the prophet Elijah is commanded to go to the widow Zarephath, who will feed him. The widow shares her predicament, having only a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a jug. She expresses her desperate state: after she takes this little bit home to eat, she expects that both she and her son will die from starvation. Elijah, like Elisha later, provides a solution: a jar that will not be emptied and a jug that will not fail. The story ends happily: Elijah, she, and her son eat for many days.
Biblical Narrative, Cont. • Some scenes and episodes occur so often that they can be called type-scenes An example of this can be found in 2 Samuel 1. An Amalekite servant brings news to David of the deaths of Saul and his son Jonathan. The servant then tells David that he, at Saul’s request, helped him to commit suicide. Mourning follows the news, including the traditional tearing of clothes, weeping, and fasting. The lament then occurs in 17-27.
Biblical Narrative, Cont. • Episodes in the New Testament Linked to the OldTestament (Mark1.21-28; Mark 1. 29-31; Mark 5. 21-24, 35-43; Mark 7. 14-30; Mark 10. 13-16; Mark 1. 12-13; 1Kings 19.15-17; Ex. 4. 27-28; Exod. 18; Mark 3.21; Mark 4.35-41; Jonah 1; Mark 6. 1-6; 1 Sam. 10. 1-27; Mark 6.30-44, 8. 1-10; 2 Kings 4.42-44; Mark 6. 45-52; Exod. 8:14-21) • Once familiar with the Elisha and Elijah stories above, readers will immediately pick up on similarities in stories in the Gospel Mark. In Mark (1. 21-28), a man with an unclean spirit cries out to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” In a later passage in Mark, a Syro-Phoenician woman (7.24-30) begs Jesus to cast a demon from her daughter. Jesus tells her to let the children be fed first just as Elijah tests the widow by asking her to take her remaining meal and to feed him first.
Biblical Narrative, Cont. • Other stories in Mark activate memories of the Elijah and Elisha narratives. In the case of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1.29-31), echoes from both stories can be heard. • In this story, Jesus hears that Simon’s (Peter) mother-in-law has a fever; Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and the fever leaves her, and she begins to serve the disciples. • The woman of Zaraphaeth, after Elijah provides for her and her son, serves him. The Shunammite woman, after her son has been raised from the dead, serves Elisha. In this case, Mark uses similar ideas but makes the mother herself the recipient of the restorative act. • The Shunammite story is also echoed in the raising of Jarius’ daughter in Mark 5.21-24 and 35-43. In this account, Jairus comes to Jesus, begging him to heal his daughter who lies at the point of death. • In both cases, the Shunammite prototype and her New Testament counterpart are ecstatic when the children are rescued from death. The writer of Mark clearly expected the audience to recall the account of the Shunammite so that they know what to expect from Jairus, whose name means “he will awaken.”
Overarching Biblical Structure • At an overarching level, biblical narrative consists of larger, more comprehensive parts, such as the primary story of the Old Testament consisting of Genesis to the end of 2 Kings, the story being that of a people chosen to realize its vision of land and nationhood, this ending in its succumbing to competing nations. • A second major narrative consists of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, which give an account of Judah from the death of the first king of the monarchy to Judah’s restoration from exile. • When the New Testament is included, expanding the narrative framework to the Bible as a whole, it can be divided into epic-like stories that include Moses (the exodus and conquest), the Monarchy (Kings Saul, David, and Solomon), the Divided Kingdom (kings, prophets), the Exile and Restoration, and the advent of Jesus and the establishment of the Church. The story has also been described as paradise, paradise lost, and the redeeming activity in Israel and through Jesus, concluding with paradise restored. • The Bible can also be understood through three “macro-stories”: the exodus from Egypt, the story of the exile and return from Babylon, and the priestly story of temple, priesthood, and sacrifice, all of these building the foundation for the New Testament.
Genesis • As literary genre or type of literature, it has similarities to ancient, pre-scientific historiography, a type of writing intended to raise in readers a sense of identity and citizenship; a consciousness of belonging to a great and noble city or race. • Like historiography, Genesis interweaves elements of myth, legend, and historical fact; unlike historiography, though, the Bible presents God as the primary character and human beings as foolish creatures, not always heroes and heroines, who frustrate God’s intention toward them. • The Bible differs from Greek and Mesopotamian epics (written in narrative verse) by intermingling prose and poetry
Genesis, Cont. Note: Understanding that Genesis resembles historiography should enable you to accept the genres of legend, myth, and tale without concluding that these, in some way, diminish its importance for explaining the Primeval Age or the beginning of the world’s civilizations. You will note that from general beginnings, the Bible moves more specifically into concrete details about the lives of the patriarchs and to increasingly shorter life spans, making these stories more historical in nature. Understanding that Genesis cannot be described as belonging to the genres of science and history as they have emerged in the modern world will also free you from troubling issues such as assigning an exact chronology to the beginning of the world and to the appearance of the first man and woman. Accepting the Bible’s often symbolic use of numbers (seven, for example, signifying completeness and perfection) may give you another tool for understanding the six days of creation and the Sabbath.
Overall Structure of Genesis • The first chapters of Genesis, known as the Primeval History, certainly can be described as bringing together in narrative prose the genres of fable, legend, and myth, using formal rhetorical devices that may echo ancient epic poetry. Early chapters (1-11) contain several stories: the creation of the world and human beings, human beings expelled from the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel and the first murder; the beginnings of civilization, the generations from Adam to Noah, and the wickedness of humankind.
Overall Structure Genesis, Cont. • The next major section of Genesis may be referred to as Patriarchal Tales, its narrative accounting for the beginnings of the Israelite nation, chapters 12-36 presenting loosely strung together sagen, or folktales, of the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It (12.21-25.18) describes the relationship of God to people through a series of promises to the patriarch Abraham and his son Isaac. The promise of posterity, a land, and people makes Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac one of the Bible’s most poignant and moving stories, and raises questions about the character of God. With progressively greater specificity, the Jacob cycle (25.19—36.43) tells the story of the events leading to the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons.
Overall Structure Genesis, Cont. • Chapters 37-50 tell the story of Joseph, a narrative containing plot, character development, and realizing a more complete closure and having the form of a novelette. These chapters tell the story of Joseph with the Israelites settled in Egypt.
Stories in Genesis (Gen. 1-2) • As has already been remarked, the first eleven chapters of Genesis consist of several stories that can be read independently. The first two involve the creation of the world and the creation of human beings. An examination of these stories reveals several differences in tone and scope that have led to the idea that they originated from different original sources, the Priestly (Genesis 1-2.4a) and the Yahwist (2.4b-24).
Stories in Genesis, Cont. • A story normally consists of five parts: • 1) exposition, the beginning section in which the author provides the necessary background information, sets the scene, establishes the situation, and dates the action, and usually introduces the characters and the conflict; • 2) complication, or rising action, develops and intensifies the conflict;
Stories in Genesis, Cont. • 3) crisis, the moment at which the plot reaches its point of greatest emotional intensity, the turning point of the plot that directly leads to resolution; • 4) falling action, the point at which tension subsides, and the plot moves towards its conclusion; • and 5) resolution, the final section of the plot, recording the outcome of the conflict and establishing some new equilibrium, also referred to as denouement. • The second creation story evidences all of these features.
Groups of Stories in Genesis • The Primeval History of Genesis includes two groups of stories (“group” usually meaning five to six stories that can be referred to as an act): chapters 1-4 and chapters 6-11, each of these ending with a genealogical register (5, 11).
Cycles in Genesis and the Macro-Plot • Genesis is structured into four cycles that consist of three to five groups of stories: • the first consisting of the Primeval History (1-11); • the next three found in the Patriarchal History (12-50): Abraham (11-25), Jacob (25-35), and Joseph (35-50). • The cycle in each of these contains an over-riding macro-plot (a plot larger in scale) that helps to unite their several stories. • As part of the Abraham cycle, the account of Isaac demonstrates how multiple stories and cycles become intricately linked..
Cycles and Macro-Plot, Cont. • The near sacrifice of Isaac becomes a link in the chain of stories that follow, for without Isaac, no Jacob or Joseph cycle would exist. • More than a link, the emphasis upon continuity of the family line and fulfillment of God’s promise becomes an overarching or macro plot. • The story of the near sacrifice of Isaac takes place in the context of more extended narrative
Drama and Poetry • One book in the Bible brings readers into contact with all the leading literary forms. Job, composed in its present form sometime between the seventh to second centuries BCE, has the narrative shape of beginning, middle, and end, much of it consisting of poetry, and much of its poetry existing as dialogue. • It presents on one level theodicy or moral issues (explores the justice of God and the traditional morality of retribution) and on another, legal issues, or duties and rights. • It provides a philosophical answer in poetry and prose through the vehicle of drama, sometimes said to be comedy with restoration as the final outcome; it has also been described as tragedy. A • s a literature of contemplation and philosophical discussion, it belongs to the wisdom tradition—personal rather than national, existential rather than historical, experiential rather than revealed, reflecting the movers and shakers rather than the marginal and dispossessed.
Drama and Poetry, Cont. • Its prose prologue and epilogue have been thought to be ancient folktale. • It contains speeches (colloquies and soliloquies or monologues), aphorisms, parable, hymns, laments, and legal disputation.
Structure of Job • Structured dramatically into prologue, epilogue, a cycle of speeches and actors, scenic effects, and an ash-mound serving as the stage, • Job addresses itself purely to the imagination. The sky and atmosphere serve as the dramatic background, and its spectators resemble a chorus. • Its omniscient, all-knowing, point of view permits approach on two levels: the omniscient divine and the limited view of Job and his friends, with Job presenting God as man sees him and as God sees himself. • The prose prologue establishes Job as a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns from evil. • The scene shifts to a heavenly council where an enemy or adversary called Satan raises doubt about Job’s reason for serving God and suggests that if he were deprived of prosperity, he might refuse to worship God. The prose section addresses human integrity. The idea of Satan as a personification of evil does not yet exist. • The experiment proceeds, and in a few verses, Job finds himself deprived of wealth, posterity, and health. (1.13-21). The dramatic movement consists of poetry in which Job and his three friends take different positions and each presents different theological points of view about human suffering. The poetry, exploring philosophically how God can allow evil to exist, asks about the justice or fairness of God.
Job, Cont. • In a spectacular theophany, dramatically arranged by the approach and crescendo of a storm, God steps into the debate, not to solve the mystery of human suffering as in the divine intervention of the gods in Greek drama, but to justify Job, to show his displeasure with the friends’ reliance upon conventional answers • Structurally, the book proceeds through colloquies in two series (chs. 3-14, 15-22) in which Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad speak in this order (in seven speeches) and monologues (chs. 23-42) in which Job speaks seven times followed by Elihu and God in another seven speeches. It should be noted that Eliphaz argues that revelation supports God’s goodness; Zophar, from a philosophical stance, argues for the power and wisdom of God; Bildad upholds the authority of the fathers (tradition) and argues for God’s justice.
Job, Cont. • As narrative and poetry, the book of Job represents a superbly blended poetic drama of the human encounter with God. • What makes the book drama consists of the characters (including God) theme, plot, dialogue, setting, scenic effect, spectators, and structured prologue, argument, and epilogue. • Job has the classic U-shape of comedy, except, as everyone admits, the ending remains bittersweet: what was taken cannot be restored, and new-found prosperity will itself be subject to the storm and stress of a contradictory universe. • What makes Job poetry consists of imaginative vision and a “sheer expressive power” that pushes, soars above the ordinary, and reveals “the panorama of creation… with the eyes of God.” Much of Job seeks to grasp the ungraspable, to span the unbridgeable gap between the infinite God and finite human beings, to see through poetry into “an immense world of power and beauty and awesome warring forces,” all of this in metrical symmetry.
Job, Cont. • Job has long been considered literature that captures the sublime and engages the emotions and imagination, accomplishing this with a dazzling array of poetic techniques that include repetition, allusion, figurative language, imagery, and formal structure • Chapter 28 perfectly illustrates the impossibility of achieving wisdom except through fearing God and shunning evil, both attributes ascribed to Job. The hymn consists of a formal structure of three strophes or stanzas: the first stanza presents an extended image of the accessibility of ores and gems, setting the stage for the question raised in verse twelve, “Where is wisdom to be found?” Strophe two describes wisdom as being more precious than gems (simile). The final strophe (verses 20-28) concludes that wisdom, unlike gold and gems, cannot be found in the physical world; only God knows the source of all things and, thus, the source of wisdom. The aphoristic conclusion states “See! Fear of the Lord is wisdom; to shun evil is understanding” (28). In light of describing poetry as “a way of seeing,” the command “See!” in verse twenty-eight captures the essence of the full revelation that humbles Job into declaring “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42.3).
Job, Cont. • While literalist readings of the Bible may fear the mythological, the fact that myth addresses death, the changing seasons, the passage of the sun and moon, and the origin of the universe and life may provide enhancement and appreciation for the Bible as literature. • It should be stated that the Bible has also been approached in yet another way: the Bible as history, this generally contrasted to the Bible as mythology, and this approach leads to a discussion of truth and fiction in the Bible. Actually, mythology predates scientific method and the discipline of logic and may, in fact, provide the foundation for them. • Northrop Frye, Words with Power 5-12, xv identifies the verbal modes as descriptive (perceptions, facts, experience), logical (concepts, dialectical opposites), rhetoric (persuasion, convention, and ideology), and poetic (metaphorical and mythical), explaining that modern thinking has favored descriptive, logical, and rhetorical modes even though mythology preceded them.
Job, Cont. • Job exhibits the prominent binary form of biblical poetry, so much so that it can be described as an example of “extreme parallelism.” • Parallelism refers to lines that use different words to express the same or similar ideas in grammatical form; • it can be synonymous, expressing similar content in similar grammatical form; • antithetic, in which a second line expresses the truth of the first in a negative way; • climatic, where the second line completes by repeating part of the first and then adds to it;
Job, Cont. • and synthetic, where a pair of lines form a unit and the second line expands or completes the first. This form of parallelism, or “seconding,” may in fact describe most of the poetry in the Old Testament. • Modern readers must shift from viewing poetic verse as made up of a particular number or quality of syllables to viewing verse as a parallelism of two or more clauses. These can occur in couplets, triplets, as quatrains, sextets, and octets.
Job, Cont. • Job further illustrates a form of poetry, the chiasm which, as explained in the chapter on rhetorical devices, takes on an X-shape like the Greek letter chi, representing the crossing of two objects in reverse order. • Two short examples illustrate the pattern: “As for me, I would seek God, and to God, I would commit my cause” (5.8) and “he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety (5.11). In each, a middle term connects concepts repeated in reverse order.
Job, Cont. • Source criticism would argue that the time of composition makes all the difference in how readers interpret Job. The seventh century BCE date would point to a reconciliation of the suffering brought upon Judah by the Babylonian captivity. Source critics argue that the book is ambiguous, telling one story in prose and another in poetry, the first presenting a patient Job, who persists in integrity, and the latter, an impatient Job, who openly attacks the deity for injustice. • Considered as genre, wisdom literature, the book of Job belongs to a tradition of debate and legitimizes the human quest for understanding. Its very form participates in this debate: the book begins by asking about the proper reason for serving God, and Job proves he serves God out of a sense of integrity; the second question asks about the reason for suffering, exploring the traditional belief that suffering is punishment for sin and, its flip side, that righteousness is rewarded by prosperity. • While the book seems to argue against suffering as punishment and righteousness as rewarded by prosperity, the conclusion re-opens the debate by restoring Job’s fortunes.As theodicy, a treatise about God’s justice and the existence of physical and moral evil in the world, Job gets a special pride of place in responding to God’s mystery and imperfect human knowledge of God.