Hero and Heroine Narratives in the Old Testament -- By: Larry R. Helyer
SBJT 2:3 (Fall 1998) p. 34
Hero and Heroine Narratives
in the Old Testament
Larry R. Helyer is Professor of Biblical Studies at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He is the author of Yesterday, Today and Forever: The Continuing Relevance of the Old Testament (Sheffield Publishing Company), as well as several significant articles on Old and New Testament topics. He is currently writing a volume on Second Temple Judaism.
The Hebrew Bible attests to the fact that the Israelites not only enjoyed good stories, but excelled in crafting them. This article examines briefly three hero and heroine narratives that move comfortably in the circle of world masterpieces. Owing to space limitations, I focus my investigation primarily upon two dimensions of storytelling: principles of selectivity and techniques and devices. I explore these factors in order to discover more about how and why these stories “work.”
The narratives selected are the Abraham cycle, the story of Deborah and Barak, and the career of King David. In the case of Abraham and David I examine the narratives as a whole. The Abraham and David stories are lengthy enough to be designated as “macro-narratives.” The story of Deborah and Barak, on the other hand, is more like an episode in a larger narrative unit—a “micro-narrative.”
The Abraham Cycle
It is hardly surprising that Abraham is so highly regarded. He was, after all, the progenitor of the people of Israel. His life took on heroic proportions in the traditions of Israel and in the subsequent development of the various “Judaisms.” By the second century B.C., he was portrayed as having already observed the Torah (Jub. 15.2; 16.28; 20.1-10), and by the time of the first Christian century his piety had achieved such merit that its surplus might be applied to Jews who fell short on judgment day! (See already Lk 3:8; cf. Bik. 1:4; B. Qam. 8:6; B. Mes. 7:1; ‘Abot 5:2, 3). In addition to his national and theological significance, the tradition portrays Abraham as a powerful, wealthy chieftain whose roots reached back to the birthplace of earliest civilization. On at least one occasion (Ge 12:10–20), he even encountered the rich and famous, the sort of people that perpetually intrigue us. In short, the story of Abraham possesses inherent human interest.
The Abraham cycle, recorded in Genesis 11:26–25:11, exhibits a narrative unity clearly discernible in its structure and plot. The individual episodes comprising this larger story are not diaries or chronicles, but artfully and delightfully told family stories, a...
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