Focus And Structure In The Abraham Narratives -- By: Byron Wheaton

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 27:1 (Spring 2006)
Article: Focus And Structure In The Abraham Narratives
Author: Byron Wheaton


Focus And Structure In The Abraham Narratives

Byron Wheaton

Byron Wheaton is Adjunct Professor of Old Testament at Emmanuel Bible College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

Studies in structure have contributed a great deal to our understanding of the meaning of texts. John Breck writes, “[Many contemporary scholars] have rightly sensed the intimate connection that exists between rhetorical form and thematic content, between the structure of a literary unit and its theological meaning.”1 The literary insights of Alter, Fishbane, Fokkelmann,2 and others have exemplified the use and demonstrated the significance of form for meaning. Many of these insights have come through the analysis of the literature found in Genesis. While there seems to be a voluminous amount of material already written on the structure and style of the book of Genesis, this study ventures to propose a new nuance in its composition.

In light of the recognized contribution that structure has to meaning, it would be useful to examine the story of Abraham for its structure as one way of probing for the meaning.

I. The Shaping of Stories

Victor Wilson has described some of the characteristic ways the ancient world shaped its oral and literary traditions.3 He reiterates what earlier scholars maintained, that cultures do have characteristic ways of expressing themselves.4 For the ancient Hebrews, that entailed stating things in an episodic and repetitive fashion.5

Moreover, since the ancients were part of an oral world, they were conscious of what was pleasing to the ear and what could easily be remembered.6 In reflecting the way they thought and in achieving effective communication, the ancient world shaped both its oral and literary works on the basis of two main principles: “These are symmetry and repetition, each depending upon the other like the weave of a fabric.”7 Wilson elaborates on these two principles by pointing out that symmetry “is the expression of two things, the notion of center, and the principle of balance”8 while repetition provides order and affirms stability.9 These notions were part of the worldview of ancient ...

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