Reading Prophetic Narratives

Reading Prophetic Narratives

Dempsey, Carol J

URIEL SIMON, Reading Prophetic Narratives (tr. Lenn J. Schramm; Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature; Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997). Pp. xx + 264. $49.95.

This detailed and intriguing work represents years of thought and meticulous analysis as well as a fresh reading of several familiar prophetic narratives found in the OT. Simon opens his study with a carefully crafted preface in which he asserts that “biblical stories were meant for readers, not critics”; hence, that “any criticism must be based on reading” (p. xiii). He is strong in his claim that while the relationship between reading and criticism is “reciprocal,” neither can be practiced “simultaneously” (p. xiii). Furthermore, he distinguishes between trying to reconstruct what actually happened historically and reading the story itself for all its literary richness.

In chap. 1, “The Birth of Samuel: Miracle and Vow, Divine Gift and Maternal Consecration,” S. examines I Sam 1:1-28; 2:11 a; and 2:18-21 a. He first establishes the parameters of the story and then points out how the story of Samuel’s birth is linked to other passages within the Book of Samuel. S. highlights three structural principles that add cohesion to the narrative account of Samuel’s birth: an inclusio, the division of the story into three parts (each dealing with a different basic situation), and the uniform format of all five senses. He provides a close reading of the text, followed by a discussion of one of the text’s main problems, namely, Hannah’s “psalm.” The last section of the chapter focuses on literary genre and the so-called meaning of the story. Here, S. notes Hannah’s heroic struggle for motherhood.

Chapter 2, “Young Samuel’s call to prophecy” (1 Samuel 3) features a lively discussion on the problem of the text’s literary genre (whether it is a call to prophecy, a description of Samuel’s first prophetic experience, or a call narrative). S. concludes that it is the third. As in chap. 1, S. divides the text into various parts and scenes. Each scene is then carefully studied for its literary form, style, and content.

The topic of chap. 3 is 1 Samuel 28:3-25, “Saul at Endor.” S. has organized this somewhat dense material into two tables, not only to add clarity to the text but also to compare it with similar prophetic stories. He concludes that the secret of any story’s greatness is its truthfulness.

The story of two kings, David and Ahab, is the focus of chap. 4. After dividing the stories into their various parts and scenes, S. analyzes each section and then introduces the idea of the “judicial parable.” He identifies 2 Sam 12:1-14 as this type of parable and proceeds to discuss this text from that vantage point.

In chap. 5 S. deals with 1 Kgs 13:1-32a and 2 Kgs 23:16-18, which are about the man of God who prophesied the destruction of Jeroboam’s altar in Bethel. S. discusses the ideas of “sign” and “portent” as they are used in biblical literature in general, and specifically in the passages from Kings. S. points out that in the Books of Kings, the violation of a sign leads to a new portent and additional signs.

Elijah’s fight against worship of Baal (1 Kings 17-19) is examined in chap. 6, where S. brings to the fore the problems of the narrative. He concludes that “the story of Elijah’s war against Baal does not allow for a faithful reconstruction from oral traditions to the present written story, and that the story as a whole has two separate objectives: (1) it demonstrates “the nothingness of Baal,” and (2) it explains “Jehu’s revolt and Hazael’s victories as condign punishment for the continuation of Baal worship in Israel even after its vanity was proven” (p. 223).

In chap. 7, S. discusses 2 Kgs 4:8-37, “Elisha and the Woman of Shunem.” Here, S. emphasizes the literary function of minor characters and shows how this story is linked to earlier biblical narratives. In an appendix that follows chap. 7, he expands on his ideas of minor characters. His study includes detailed and well-documented notes. An excellent bibliography and various indexes draw S.’s work to a close.

In sum, S. is to be applauded for his marvelous contribution to the field of biblical studies. His remarkable style and brilliant clarity of thought make this work most engaging. While I am not altogether convinced that reading and criticism cannot be practiced simultaneously, nevertheless, S. has succeeded in accomplishing his stated task and purpose. I recommend this work most highly to all scholars and students who are involved in the literary approach to biblical texts in general and to biblical narrative in particular.

Carol J Dempsey, O.P, University of Portland, Portland, OR 97203

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Oct 1998

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