A Rhetorical Use of Point of View in Old Testament Narrative -- By: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 159:636 (Oct 2002)
Article: A Rhetorical Use of Point of View in Old Testament Narrative
Author: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.


A Rhetorical Use of
Point of View
in Old Testament Narrative

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Robert B. Chisholm Jr. is Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Many interpreters of Scripture assume that a narrator’s report of an event reflects an omniscient, divine perspective and that a limited, nondivine perspective is confined to quotations (of characters other than God). However, a close analysis of narrative texts makes it clear that this assumption, while a useful general hermeneutical principle, does not account for all the data. Occasionally a narrator wrote from the limited viewpoint of one of the characters or of a casual observer. In some cases such statements are correct so far as they go (the truth, but not the whole truth). In other cases they are incorrect when viewed from a larger perspective and, if taken at face value, can lead to erroneous interpretive and theological conclusions.1

Formal Signals Of A Shift In Perspective

Narrators sometimes interrupt the main line of the discourse with a clause beginning with וְהִנֵּה, “and look.”2 Occasionally this con-

struction formally signals the use of a limited perspective. For example, to describe how Boaz woke up, the narrator wrote, “Look! There was a woman lying at his legs” (Ruth 3:8). The statement is correct so far as it goes, but it is also more vague than one might expect. After all, readers know the woman was Ruth, because the narrator had mentioned her (vv. 6–7), but he heightened the dramatic effect by assuming Boaz’s perspective and thereby inviting readers to experience the event as Boaz did.3

A narrator can also signal the use of a limited perspective through an intertextual link with a passage that provides a fuller perspective. This is seen in the Exodus account of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. In this narrative several verses say that Yahweh was the one doing the hardening, while others depict Pharaoh as hardening his own heart. Still others simply observe that Pharaoh’s heart was hard.4 In seeking to harmonize the various statements, some give priority to divine hardening, while others affirm that Pharaoh first hardened his own heart.

However, a close reading of the narrative indicates that in each case (with the ...

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