‘No King In Israel’: Narrative Criticism And Judges 17-21 -- By: Philip Satterthwaite

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 44:1 (NA 1993)
Article: ‘No King In Israel’: Narrative Criticism And Judges 17-21
Author: Philip Satterthwaite

‘No King In Israel’: Narrative Criticism And Judges 17-211

Philip Satterthwaite


Scholars such as Robert Alter and Meir Sternberg have produced suggestive interpretations of sections of Old Testament narrative. This article applies their techniques to the stories in Judges 17-21, and argues that these techniques yield a coherent interpretation of the chapters, paying attention to features such as repetition, narrative analogy, and the use of narration and dialogue. It subsequently deals with some implications of this interpretation, according to which the narrator takes a negative view of pre-monarchic Israel.

I. Introduction

By ‘narrative criticism’ I refer to an approach to Old Testament narrative of which Alter and Sternberg are perhaps the best-known exponents (it is not an ideal term, but it is at least brief).2 Narrative critics by no means have an identical approach to their task, but there is a good deal of common ground. I mention two features which seem to me to characterise narrative criticism. Firstly, a tendency to approach Old Testament narrative texts on the assumption (which in practice tends only rarely to be modified) that they are unities: this differentiates narrative criticism on the one hand from source- and form-criticism, which tend to argue that Old Testament narratives are

to various degrees composite;3 and, on the other hand, from the views of critics such as deconstructionists who argue that at a different level, the level of the conventions which allow a text to yield meaning, every text is necessarily divided against itself.4 The second characteristic feature is a conviction that Old Testament narrative in general displays considerable literary artistry. Much of the detailed workings of narrative criticism is a setting-forth of this artistry in diverse forms: hence the interest in literary patterning, the uses of repetition, characterisation, and much more.

I shall be trying to show that narrative criticism can successfully be applied to Judges 17-21. Much of the work of narrative critics has been on sections of the Old Testament previously already noted for their aesthetic qualities, such as Genesis 37-50, the book of Ruth, the books of Samuel. It was perhaps not surprising that their techniques should have met with some success there. I ...

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