The Gideon Narrative as the Focal Point of Judges -- By: J. Paul Tanner

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 149:594 (Apr 1992)
Article: The Gideon Narrative as the Focal Point of Judges
Author: J. Paul Tanner


The Gideon Narrative as the Focal Point of Judges

J. Paul Tanner

Training Coordinator for Biblical Studies
East Asia School of Theology, Singapore

Although the grandeur of Hebrew poetry has long been recognized, far less attention has been paid to the literary composition of Hebrew narrative. However, the last three decades have seen a dramatic shift of attention to structural and stylistic aspects of Hebrew narrative. Studies have demonstrated that ancient Hebrew narratives were composed with care, using sophisticated literary techniques.1 One interesting facet of this narrative artistry is the imposition of structure by means of textual patterning, that is, the control of words and motifs so as to form symmetrically arranged patterns in the text.2

This article introduces the rhetorical study of structure in Hebrew narrative, which may be termed “textual patterning.” This is then applied to the Book of Judges and in particular to the Gideon narrative of Judges 6–8, since this unit serves as the pivot point for the book. The article also seeks to illustrate the significance of this research by suggesting how textual patterning in the Gideon narrative contributes to the theological message of the book.

Textual Patterning in Hebrew Narrative

Against the background of the traditional critical approaches to the Hebrew Scriptures, the past three decades have witnessed the emergence of a need for a synchronic approach to the text. Attention to the canonical form of the text has led to the discovery of repeated instances in which the Hebrew text has been structurally shaped and patterned. The results of such approaches have provided some balance to the extremes of historical critical methods and have also demonstrated that structural patterning of the text can be an important clue to the theological emphasis of the narrative.

In the synchronic approach to Hebrew narrative some scholars have employed the method known as “structuralism.”3 This approach, which arose out of the field of secular literary criticism, must be distinguished from the approach taken here, because “structuralism” does not focus on the formal surface aspects that define the structure of the text. Furthermore it does not have as its goal the interpretation of the text, thereby limiting its usefulness for most biblical scholars. Overall, structuralism suffers from the vanity of trying to impose an abstract Western literary method on ancient texts rather than deriving a method inducti...

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