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 culture.Robert Alter, with an obvious passion for language, literature and the Hebrew Bible, takes the reader through a number of steps to recognize the literary richness of the text(s).Impressively, he takes us through uses of convention, repetition, narrative vs dialogue, characterization and more.Each topic is superbly exemplified, often with various examples to show different ways of doing the same thing.The reader cannot help but learn how to read with greater understanding and clarity.Indeed, this is not just learning how to read the Bible.These skills will assist the reader to better understand how to read with depth and understanding.
The only weakness I found in the book was in the chapter called “Composite Artistry”.Here he attempts to explain those parts of the Bible where the same story is told twice but with different developments.Examples include: the creation of man and woman simultaneously in Genesis 1 by god simply with the power of his words while in Genesis 2 Adam is created from the soil and god blows life into him and then later creates woman from Adam’s rib.The two stories of creation are very different in many ways.Alter wants to give a literary gloss to such inconsistencies and, indeed, I would agree with him that these are not just slip ups on the part of the priestly redactors who brought the various stories together.Alter’s explanations remain weak here and he admits to it.I expect that these types of inconsistencies are more likely the result of editorial disputes that were resolved by keeping both stories.Woman was created twice (thus opening the door for Lilith); David was working as a shepherd for his father while moonlighting as court musician for the stressed out Saul who just didn't recognize David as his musician when David slew Goliath.These types of things occur with committees where some form of concession is needed to bring about agreement.
The book is otherwise excellent and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to understand with greater depth the meaning of the biblical stories or just wanting to read better.I would also recommend it to would be writers. As I have noted elsewhere in Goodreads, I see the influence of the Hebrew Bible in the works of Hemingway and McCarthy. I am certain to be seeing much more in the future. There is much to be learned here.Five big stars…and now on to reading Alter’s translation of “The Five Books of Moses” in order to try out all of these new skills.
eBook The Art of Biblical Narrative