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Eli Gutierrez Christian Scriptures 1

04/08/2019 – Alter outlines Dr. Lai Ling Ngan

Chapter 7 – Composite Artistry
I- Introduction: limitations and advantages for modern readers of the Bible.
a. The biblical text is multiple and fragmentary.
b. The nature of the material is elaborately layered.
c. The editorial combination of different literary sources.
d. The final stage in the process of artistic creation.
II- Numbers 16: a crux example.
a. Internal contradictions point to two different stories.
b. Purposefully arranged together:
i. Careful aesthetic and thematic arrangement.
ii. We can guess, but we do not know the motives of the writers.
III- Genesis 42: duplication and contradiction.
a. The writer maintains two different stories.
i. Even contradictions.
ii. The moral-psychological axis.
iii. The theological-historical axis.
IV- Genesis 1-2: two different stories of creation.
a. Two parallel accounts in dynamic and complementary sequence.
i. Differences and contradictions.
V- 1 Samuel 16-17: two introductory stories to David.
a. Differences and contradictions.
b. The effectiveness of composite narrative as a purposeful technique.
c. Two different introductions presenting two different aspects.

This chapter was exactly the reading I was waiting for. As I have been reading about the
“documentary hypothesis” I kept wondering how to use a literary approach to the Bible together
with the Bible criticism. For me, it was like two completely different things. On the one side,
Alter was teaching me to see the biblical narratives as a purposefully and artistically arranged
unit. And on the other hand, I was studying the methods of biblical criticism learning how to see
the biblical narratives as a compound of different sources put together almost randomly. Perhaps,
my perception was not perfectly accurate, but I really was struggling to understand how to make
sense of the two different ways to understand what the Bible is. Fortunately, the class with Dr.
Ngan has been extremely helpful to understand it. Her notes in my papers and her comments in
the class have been useful to solve that question. And now, this chapter in Alter’s book also shed
light to that question. The fact that the biblical writers drew from different sources does not mean
that the Bible is a randomly arranged compound of unrelated or contradictory stories. No, even
the different and contradictory accounts of one character or event were arranged in a purposeful
and artistic way. Sometimes we cannot know the exact motives for a priestly writer to maintain
duplications, inconsistencies, tensions or contradictions, but we can see how the story was
written with aesthetic and thematic elements. One of the insights that was really helpful for me
was that the biblical redactors might have certain notions of unity rather different from our own.
If they keep contradictions in one same story is not because they did not notice it. They should
be aware of the problem; however, they decided to keep both sources for some reason.
Sometimes we can know it, sometimes not. The study of the composite nature of the Bible
Eli Gutierrez Christian Scriptures 1
04/08/2019 – Alter outlines Dr. Lai Ling Ngan
answers more the question of “how did we get the Bible?” or “what is the Bible?” rather than
questions of meaning and purpose. A literary approach to the Bible can answer questions as
“why does the Bible say that? or “what does it mean?”.
Eli Gutierrez Christian Scriptures 1
04/08/2019 – Alter outlines Dr. Lai Ling Ngan
Chapter 8 – Narration and Knowledge
I- Theology as a motivation for biblical writers through prose fiction.
a. Theology through prose fiction and the pleasure of invention.
b. Fiction is a form of play that implies a particular mode of knowledge.
c. It possesses a particular repertoire of techniques to tell a story.
II- Prose fiction and the particular kind of knowledge it makes possible.
a. Biblical writers were impelled to create prose fiction.
b. Omniscient narrator: divest himself from a personal history.
c. Contrast between human limited knowledge and God’s all-encompassing
d. The omniscient narrator does not share completely his knowledge.
III- Genesis 42: the complex interplay of narrative means.
a. Biblical narrative techniques:
i. Dialogue: characters, relations, and motives.
ii. Letiwort: repetition and thematic words.
iii. Reticence: the narrator not sharing all the knowledge.
iv. Verbatim repetitions: especially in dialogue, with slight but significant
v. Motifs: thematic ideas, type-scenes.
b. Representational purpose in using the techniques of biblical narrative.
i. The biblical writers seek to know through their art.
ii. To be human with a divided consciousness.
c. Fiction as an instrument of fine insight into the abiding perplexities of man’s
creaturely conditions.
IV- The Hebrew stories: read them attentively as artful stories.

While I enjoyed this chapter, it also dissatisfied me in the sense that Alter does not focus on the
theological motivation to use prose fiction but in the way prose fiction was used to convey
meaning. What I do not find in Alter’s book is a profound answer to the theological question of
how to read the Bible in order to hear the voice of God, in order to know who is God and what
he wants, and how to relate those theological questions to the nature of biblical narrative. In
some sense, I expected Alter to answer those question in this chapter. And I think he slightly
begins to do so them but it was not a profound or satisfying response for my questions.
Nevertheless, it was a helpful reading. On the one hand, I could see in just a few pages all the
other insights of the previous chapters in action. As Alter analyses Genesis 42, which is a
pleasure in itself, he points to the various elements he has been explaining throughout the book.
And on the other hand, he shows why the biblical writers created their stories through
fictionalized history, or historicized fiction, because it was the best way for them to convey the
meaning they wanted to communicate. For example, the omniscient narrator only shares
information with the reader when it is crucial information for the story. However, it was not
completely clear to me how that related to the omniscience of God. I wonder if Alter suggests
that the element of the omniscient narrator reflects the biblical writers’ faith on an omniscient
God. Anyway, this chapter helped me to see clearly how the Bible is a human book, written by
humans who used their artistic skills to convey a message about God. In general, Alter’s book
Eli Gutierrez Christian Scriptures 1
04/08/2019 – Alter outlines Dr. Lai Ling Ngan
has helped to see the human part of the Bible. However, if I want to see the divine part of the
Bible, this book would not be as useful.
Eli Gutierrez Christian Scriptures 1
04/08/2019 – Alter outlines Dr. Lai Ling Ngan
Chapter 9 – Conclusions


I- Alter’s literary approach to the Bible.

a. It considers the nature of literary texts in general and the Bible in particular.
b. It analyses examples to understand how the Bible stories are told.
II- The chief distinctive principles of biblical narrative.
a. Words:
i. Leitwort: motifs, repetition, thematic meaning.
ii. Thematic words to enunciate and develop significance.
b. Actions: thematic ideas, repetitions, type-scene.
c. Dialogue: stylized speech as effective vehicle of meaning.
d. Narration:
i. Omniscience and unobtrusiveness are combined.
ii. Few narrated facts and their implications.
iii. Knowledge shared partially to the reader.
iv. Almost without mediation.
III- Example from Genesis 29.
a. Reversal of type-scene.
b. The necessity of learning a distinctive set of narrative procedures.
IV- Conclusion:
a. To take seriously the Bible stories is to enjoy the reading.
b. The pleasure of imaginative joy with a sense of spiritual urgency.

This chapter wraps up very well the whole book. Being faithful to his style, even in the
conclusions, Alter analyses one story of the Bible and uses it as a final example of how to read in
the narrative the procedures of the biblical writers to get a better understanding of what the Bible
stories are and what meaning do they communicate. It is clear for me that such is the purpose of
this book, to help us to read the Bible better. I appreciate that very much. With complete honesty
I can say that Alter has helped me to read the Bible in a better way. On the one hand, this reading
has been challenging, because I realized that a close reading of the Bible requires time and effort.
Requires to be focused and attentive. Requires to be a sort of detective looking for clues in the
text. And, perhaps the greatest lesson, it requires to enjoy the reading. I have mentioned before,
in one of my reflections, that Alter has helped me to be excited about reading the Bible and to
find joy and pleasure in it. In that sense, Alter’s book has been really revealing and formative. I
am really excited about reading the Bible with these new fresh eyes. Reading the biblical stories
is not a boring, cold task. It is not a matter of religion or not even liturgy only. And that does not
mean that I reject the reading of the Bible in Christian worship services. Of course, I agree with
doing that, I will do it myself for the rest of my life. What I am saying is that studying the Bible
takes much more than a superficial reading of a few verses. It takes a life-long endeavor of
abiding with the text. It takes an attentive and playful attitude to the text. And that is something
that I just discovered, and I love it. I thank God for the new eyes that he is developing in me in
order to read what he has revealed in the Bible.