Literary Approaches To The Old Testament: A Survey Of Recent Scholarship -- By: Joe M. Sprinkle

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 32:3 (Sep 1989)
Article: Literary Approaches To The Old Testament: A Survey Of Recent Scholarship
Author: Joe M. Sprinkle


Literary Approaches To The Old Testament:
A Survey Of Recent Scholarship

Joe M. Sprinkle*

In the last two decades scholars from various perspectives have been calling for renewed attention to the final form of the text as a literary whole.1 One can trace the beginnings of a scholarly reaction against the prevailing form- and source-critical approaches (and the preoccupation with historical reconstruction that accompanies these methodologies) in the work of James Muilenburg, who twenty years ago sought to introduce a new approach that he termed “rhetorical criticism.” 2

Muilenburg was not an opponent of form criticism as such. But despite the demonstrated fruitfulness of form-critical methodology, he saw weaknesses in form criticism that indicated to him that, like source criticism previously, it too was arriving at its limits. He therefore pointed to the need not to reject form criticism but “to venture beyond the confines of form criticism into an inquiry into other literary features which are all too frequently ignored today.”3

Muilenburg pointed out a number of shortcomings in form criticism. For example, he noted that there has been a proclivity among form critics in recent years to lay such stress upon the typical and representative that the individual, personal and unique features of a particular pericope are all but lost to view.4 Form criticism does not focus enough attention on why, in the rîb or lawsuit genre, there are so many stylistic and rhetorical differences between exemplars in Hosea and Deuteronomy 32. Exclusive attention to the Gattung at the expense of the unique and unrepeatable

* Joe Sprinkle is instructor of Old Testament at Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa Falls, Georgia.

may actually obscure the thought and intention of the writer or speaker since form (and variations thereof) is inextricably related to content.

In addition Muilenburg criticized form critics for lumping together instances where a genre exists in a pure form and where that form is taken and modified, as the early Elohistic laws are done by Deuteronomy.5 To identify both as the same form or genre and do no more is to obscure the fluidity, versatility, and even artistry of the usage. Rather, one must move beyond a narrow definition of form criticism to other literary considerations. He explain...

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