Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Biblical Narrative: Book of Samuel (Class 1)

I'm going to write this as though Rabbi Mordechai Cohen were speaking, with the understanding that in fact I am paraphrasing him. These are my notes, and as usual, any and all mistakes are mine.


This course is entitled "Biblical Narrative: Book of Samuel." Now, the very words 'biblical narrative' mean you have assumed Tanakh is literature. The word 'narrative' is used in place of legal text, poetry, historical documents or annals, any other type of document, in short.

(In the 1980s, having very little to do with Jewish/ Christian interpretation of Tanakh, there was a debate over the use of these terms (literary ones) and the idea of literary categories with respect to Tanakh. The debate was between Adele Berlin and James Kugel. Adele Berlin said you could categorize Tanakh as literature. James Kugel said that the Bible is not literature.)

What, you may wonder, is the precedent for the idea that we utilize literary terms when analyzing Tanakh?

1. Moshe Ibn Ezra: He discusses the literary features of Tanakh. He's a poet from the Golden Age of Hebrew poetry in Spain (he lived in Muslim Spain.) He wrote a work on poetics. He speaks of the elegance of the Hebrew Bible from the Arabic-literary yardstick. There's a distinction to be made between the prose and poetry in the Bible (thus, genre). Ibn Ezra states that there is nothing as pure in terms of poetic style per Arabic rules, in Tanakh, but there are some elements of Hebrew poetry in Tanakh.

2. The Netziv: He takes a position using literary categories of Tanakh. You see this in his introduction to the Chumash. There he points out that the Gemara assumes the whole Torah is called a shir (because of the obligation to write ha'shir ha'zos- this Torah.) For shira to have meaning as a term (i.e. a song) it must be as opposed to something else, that would be prose. Thus, the Netziv differentiates between shira and sipurei prazi. (There are arei choma- walled cities- and arei prazi- open, unwalled, free cities. This suggests free-flowing, unwalled stories.)

So there is precedent for viewing the Tanakh as literature.

Now, the idea of 'Bible as literature'- what does that mean?

The test is not so much in theory as in application. What does it add to our understanding of Tanakh to read the Bible as literature?

Goal: Ultimately to make you more sensitive readers of Tanakh (attuned to language, etc)- teaching us a methodology of analysis.

Example: See the Akeidah in Bereishis and Rashi on Genesis 22:2: וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ. 2 And He said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.'

So why are all those extra words (thy son, thy only son, whom thou lovest) needed in the pasuk? So as to prepare Avraham. There is a relationship between the tradition of parshanut ha-mikra and modern analysis.

To give a very simplified version of the Jewish tradition of Parshanut:

1. Midrash
2. Rishonim
3. Achronim

But what about general scholarship? There are many different trends in general scholarship.

1. Historical-Critical Method (Source Criticism): Aimed to take apart/ analyze the biblical texts according to their sources - this leads to the Documentary Hypothesis

2. Form Criticism: How genres of biblical literature are a reflection on Israelite history/ the history of the Jews

Example: In Psalms, they will say- what does Mizmor Todah tell you about how people worshipped in ancient Israel? (Did this have to be said in a certain place, was it only when you brought a Korban, etc)

3. Literary Criticism: (1970s) This movement reacted to earlier movements and is termed New Criticism. Up till this point, to study Shakespeare meant to study Shakespeare's sources- did he base himself on Chaucer, the Bible, others, etc? That's how it used to be (totally historical analysis.)

Literary analysis means that one is not interested in pre-history of the text, but wants to focus on the actual literature. The argument of New Criticism was 'The Heresy of Paraphrase'- paraphrase is evil.

Critics would say: Look at the power of the literary expression (emotive impact), not the history. Wording is organic to the literary work. (Wording and idea are not separate.) Nachama Leibowitz did this. The New Criticism, she said, was precisely what you find in Midrash. The Midrash is interested in what every word comes to teach you. She focused on Rashi in particular because Rashi was against the heresy of paraphrase as well.

So by this example in Bereishis by the Akeidash, what Rashi asks is exactly what a New Critic would ask- making us live this with Avraham Avinu. This is what Adele Berlin refers to as an element of poetics.

Another Example: Compare Genesis 22:6 with Genesis 22:8

וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֲצֵי הָעֹלָה, וַיָּשֶׂם עַל-יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ, וַיִּקַּח בְּיָדוֹ, אֶת-הָאֵשׁ וְאֶת-הַמַּאֲכֶלֶת; וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם, יַחְדָּו. 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together.

ח וַיֹּאמֶר, אַבְרָהָם, אֱלֹהִים יִרְאֶה-לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעֹלָה, בְּנִי; וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם, יַחְדָּו. 8 And Abraham said: 'God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So they went both of them together.

The words "so they went both of them together" are repeated in both pesukim. Why is this? Rashi asks this question. Rashi says in the first instance Avraham, who knew he was going to kill his son, walked as happily as Isaac, who didn't know. In the second instance, when Isaac does know, he still walks happily and at peace. Rashi has answered per his ideology. However, others would answer that Isaac is clueless- he still doesn't know (even after Avraham said he'd be shown the seh) and that is why the verse reiterates this- he walks on blindly.

Adele Berlin notes that the methodology and techniques of literary analysis are like the recipe for a cake. How the cake tastes is the actual interpretation you employ. R' Cohen's goal is to teach us the methodology and techniques of literary analysis.

A literary portrayal is not to be equated with the historical events. Don't confuse the literary text with the historical reality behind it. We are learning about how to analyze a literary representation, literary art.

Now let's look at Shmuel 1:1.

Beginning: Elkanah is the main character (we get his lineage, etc) and appeneded to him are his wives.

(Compare to Rus where Elimelech is introduced and Naomi and children are appended to him.)

Note the chiastic structure-

Shem achas Chana
v'shem ha'sheinis Peninah
vayehi l'Peninah yeladim
U'leChana ein yeladim

Note also that Peninah is introduced originally as ishto- Elkanah's wife. Chana does not have that designation. (Me: Yes, but later Chana is also called ishto. Also, I think this text is meant to be read as a response/ echo of Rachel + Leah. Therefore, when Elkanah says 'Why are you sad? Why are you crying?' I think he means to say- that's not productive. Do something the way Rachel did. Also, I think we are meant to note the differences in temperament. Rachel says 'Hava li banim' and Yaakov gets upset. Chana is passive; she is sad and cries.)

The goal of this class is to learn methodology (not the chiddushim of R' Cohen or your classmates.) (Me: Aw. That's sad.)

Books To Purchase: Poetics & The Interpretation of Biblical Narrative by Adele Berlin, The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter

Assignment 1: 1-2 pages. In your opinion, what is the literary function of the story of Eli's sons, his interaction with them, and the prophecy to Eli? How might these compare with the stories about Hannah and Samuel?

Read: Berlin, Poetics, 11-21
Rozik, 'Mi'derachei ha'Midrash u'mi'derachei ha'saprut b'parshanut ha'mikra'
Leibowitz, 'Keitzad l'kro perek b'Tanakh'
Cohen, 'Best of Poetry'


Anonymous said...

These are incredible notes! You're lucky to have the ability to write so quickly. I have a question though, is this okay with your teacher that you post his entire syllabus and class notes? People may not be willing to pay to go to Revel if they can take his class on the internet for free...

Chana said...

See, I always assumed that especially with YUTorah operating for free, all of my teachers want more people to learn more, and would be happy for their ideas/ thoughts to be shared. But I did stipulate that anyone who learns anything should donate money to Revel/ YU- I think that is a fair tradeoff. See, the problem is that most people CAN'T come to Revel- because they live in a different country, etc- those who can come already know there is nothing like sitting in class (the notes are not at all the same.)

Staying Afloat said...

Thank you! I took a lot of Rabbi Cohen in Stern and one Revel course on tehillim that almost broke me, but in such a great way. It's so wonderful to walk through his derech again.

And reading the notes, while awesome, is not the same as the class experience. So I'd consider your blog advertising. :)