Biblical Narrative and the Death of the Rhapsode

Biblical Narrative and the Death of the Rhapsode

Robert S. Kawashima
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/16/2004
ISBN: 978-0-253-00320-1
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Published with support from the Koret Foundtion
Koret Jewish Book award finalist 2004
Informed by literary theory and Homeric scholarship as well as biblical studies, Biblical Narrative and the Death of the Rhapsode sheds new light on the Hebrew Bible and, more generally, on the possibilities of narrative form. Robert S. Kawashima compares the narratives of the Hebrew Bible with Homeric and Ugaritic epic in order to account for the “novelty” of biblical prose narrative. Long before Herodotus or Homer, Israelite writers practiced an innovative narrative art, which anticipated the modern novelist’s craft. Though their work is undeniably linked to the linguistic tradition of the Ugaritic narrative poems, there are substantive differences between the bodies of work. Kawashima views biblical narrative as the result of a specifically written verbal art that we should counterpose to the oral-traditional art of epic. Beyond this strictly historical thesis, the study has theoretical implications for the study of narrative, literature, and oral tradition.

Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature—Herbert Marks, General Editor

Author Bio

Robert S. Kawashima is Dorot Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.


"For many years now, biblical scholars have studied the literary qualities of the ancient texts. Adding astute insights to those of pioneering scholar Robert Alter, Kawashima (New York Univ.) offers a comparative study of Greek mythology and the Hebrew Bible, probing their relationship and looking at what the stories have in common and what kind of knowledge is required to span the gulf between them. The author argues that the essential difference between these two Mediterranean-centered foundation stories lies in the fact that one was oral, the other written. Part of the oral tradition, the Greek tales were recited on ceremonial occasions by a rhapsode (bardic minstrel), whose delivery depended on memory and personal style; each performance was novel and subjective. The biblical narratives, which tradition has it were brought back to the Holy Land from Babylonian exile by priest/scribe Ezra, were written texts that were read sequentially at public assemblies. Law prohibited change in the texts and thus fidelity marks their particular verbal art. Kawashima illuminates the two forms' literary elements—narrative, dialogue, repetition, characterization—as they have evolved into modern literature. This is a meticulously researched study, both demanding and rewarding. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper—division undergraduates and above." —M. Butovsky, emeritus, Concordia University, July 2005

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Novelty of Biblical Narrative
2. From Song to Story: The Genesis of Narrative in Judges 4 and 5
3. Narration and Discourse: The Linguistic Dualism of Biblical Narrative and Its Literary Consequences
4. Represented Consciousness in Biblical Narrative
5. Biblical Time and Epic Time: From Grammar to Narrative Technique
6. The Art of Biblical Narrative as Technique: Making Strange the Tradition
7. Conclusion: Toward an Archaeology of Ancient Israelite Knowledge