Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
FM 21:1 (Fall 2003) p. 90
Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Ethically, by Gordon J. Wenham. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2000. Pp. 180.
Gordon J. Wenham has written extensively on nearly every aspect of the Pentateuch and other parts of the Old Testament. His writings are noted for their thoroughness and insight. He sees things in the text which others have often too quickly overlooked.
In this recent book on the narrative nature of biblical “Torah,” or, rather, on the Torah nature of biblical narrative, Wenham pursues the question of how ethics might be taught and learned in the biblical narratives of the Old Testament. It has been commonplace to see biblical law as a foundation for ethics, but in this book Wenham asks whether, or perhaps how, ethics might also be the focus of the OT biblical narratives. Wenham approaches the question by first probing the nature of the OT’s understanding of law and ethics, particularly how that is played out in its narratives. How are ethical ideals made manifest in biblical narratives? How are readers expected to distinguish between what literary and narrative characters do and what they should do? How are readers of the Bible expected to emulate its literary characters without sometimes feeling the need to cross their own ethical boundaries? Or, more basically, are readers to emulate the lives of narrative characters at all? Is there an ethical relationship between the biblical narratives and the numerous laws and proverbs in the Old Testament?
For Wenham, the major task of teaching the ethical demands of biblical Torah should be approached from the perspective of the nature of biblical narrative as such. How does one learn anything from the biblical narratives? Are they merely examples of good or bad living? How do we decide? Wenham suggests the task of teaching ethics in biblical narrative has been assigned by the biblical authors to the usual function of literary works, namely narrative techniques, or stratagems. A particularly important stratagem, Wenham argues, is the function of the biblical narrator, or the “implied author.” Wenham, in my opinion, is not clear on the distinction of these two literary (or narrative) devices, but he clearly assigns the more importance to the “implied author.” The “implied author” is not the author we are used to thinking of as the writer of a biblical book. The “implied author” is the “author” the reader of a book envisions as a kind of conversational partner in and through the reading of the narrative. The narrator, for Wenham, has the task of speaking on behalf of the “implied author.”
FM 21:1 (Fall 2003) p. 91
Influenced heavily by Meir Sternberg’s studies of the ...
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