This comment was illuminating for me. He was precisely correct. I love biblical intertextuality. That's when you take two texts or similar narratives and compare them in order to understand how one story echoes or complements the other (example: Sedom and Gemorah as compared to Pilegesh B'Givah.) That is exactly how I learn. I am the biblical intertextuality party girl, dancing from text to text, lighthearted and excited and loving the way in which they all connect to one another. In school, I always excelled at b'kesher l'ma lamadnus. I am great at recognizing connections between texts, ideas, places or characters. My strongest papers are almost always comparative essays. I excel at intertextuality as a skill across the board- whether it's fairytales and Torah, different classical works or biblical intertextuality, that is me.
So when I approach academic bible, I do so in the literary sense. But to me, what that means is that I am engaging in a literary approach to the bible because I am practicing intertextuality upon it, not that I subscribe to an entire methodology that treats the Bible as literature. You see, I am a Rav girl (so I was dubbed once by a friend), and thus I am uncomfortable with treating the Bible as literature in an all-enclusive sense.
At the very beginning of Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative by Adele Berlin, we encounter the following statement:
- Narrative is the predominant mode of expression in the Hebrew Bible. The longest block of narrative runs from Genesis to 2 Kings, and there are shorter narrative units such as Ruth, Esther and Jonah. There are narrative sections in the prophetic books, and there is even some narrative poetry, such as Jud 5 and Ps 105. It follows, then, that if we are to understand the biblical text, we must understand the basics of biblical narrative—its structure, its conventions, its compositional techniques—in other words, how it represents that which it wishes to represent. Above all, we must keep in mind that narrative is a form of representation. Abraham in Genesis is not a real person any more than a painting of an apple is a real fruit. This is not a judgment on the existence of a historical Abraham any more than it is a statement about the existence of apples. It is just that we should not confuse a historic individual with his narrative representation.
Somehow we have no problems with paintings of apples. We know they represent apples even though they are two-dimensional, and not always true to life in size or color. Conversely, we know that paintings of apples are not real; if we cut them no juice will run out, if we plant them they will not grow. We can make the transfer from a realistic painting to the object that it represents- i.e. we can ‘naturalize’ the painting- because we know (either intuitively or from having learned them) the conventions of the medium. When it comes to ancient art forms, difficulties may arise, for some of the conventions may be unfamiliar to us. But it is not impossible to naturalize ancient works of art.
In "Sacred and Profane," Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, writes:
- For Jewish boys and girls, Abraham is not a mythical figure but an ever-present inspiration. They live through his tribulations and wanderings. They travel with him from Syria to Palestine. They feel the fear and trembling of Isaac on the akeda. They escape with Jacob to Haran. They are imprisoned with Joseph in the pit. They rejoice in his ascendancy to high office and fame. They lead the Jews with Moses in the desert of Sinai. They sing with David. They are exalted with the prophets. They laugh with Rabbi Akiva. They meditate with Rambam. These figures are not dead or historical "have-beens" for the children of the heder or the adults of the halakha, but dynamic, living heroes who visit the Jew from time to time, bringing him comfort, inspiration, and hope.
~page 165 in 'Shiurei HaRav'
Now, I can entertain ideas that differ from my own ideas- that is why I am in Revel. It is important to learn methodology and the thought of others even if it differs from your own. Despite the fact that it is doubtful I myself would ever use so carefully defined and limited a methodology as this literary formulation, it is important to know what occurs within the realm of biblical scholarship should I wish to understand it.
A quote from Chaim Potok's The Promise comes to mind:
- I sat down on an easy chair and was alone for a moment and found myself thinking of my father and his book and Rav Kalman and felt suddenly drained and hollow with the realization that the months of seesawing between the two worlds had finally ended for me this night with nothing but an awareness of how deep the separating chasm really was and how impossible it seemed to bridge it- unless you were a Danny Saunders and were rooted deeply enough in one world to enable you to be concerned only about the people of the other and not about their ideas. I was in between somewhere on a tenuous and still invisible connecting span, and I did not know how to make that span tangible to myself and to the inhabitants of both those other worlds. Maybe it could not be done. Maybe Rav Kalman was right. Maybe one had to take a stand and abandon one or the other entirely. I would enter Abraham Gordon's world if I was forced into taking a stand. The world of Rav Kalman was too musty now with the odors of old dead books and dead ideas and Eastern European zealousness. But it would be an unhappy choice. I did not think I could ever be comfortable with Abraham Gordon's answers. I found myself envious of Danny's solid-rootedness in his world- and discovered at that moment to my utter astonishment how angry I was at my father for his book and his method of study and the tiny, twilight, in-between life he had carved out for us. That awareness left me so frightened and shakened that it was a moment before I realized that Abraham and Ruth Gordon were standing in front of me and trying to get my attention. I got quickly to my feet. They were inviting me and my father over to dinner a week from tomorrow night. I accepted gratefully for myself and told them I would talk to my father and call them tomorrow.