Reading Biblical Narrative: an Introductory Guide

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010, 06:58 WIB
Reading Biblical Narrative: an Introductory Guide
Name of Book :  Reading Biblical Narrative: an Introductory Guide
Author : J. P. Fokkelman
Publisher :  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA., 1999
At the preface, Fokkelman says that "there are two sorts of reading. There is the sort we learned, when we were five or six. The other sort is reading with understanding, receiving the text on the right wavelength". So this book is meant to teach people to "read with understanding". It accomplishes its objective by inviting its reader to go back over the same biblical narratives numerous times, viewing the text through a different lens on each visit. One is trained to seek out story's hero, a concept that is linked to the notion of quest (the effort to solve a problem).
Fokkelman believes that the distance separating us from the biblical stories is not to be feared, since a well-written story will "come into its own" when it meets an attentive reader. Fokkelman believes that reading is the action of conferring meaning to a text, is only realized through the mediation of the reader and scarcely taken into account by those who seek to interpret texts as coming from a different place, in a different day and a different culture. He thinks the biblical texts deserve better. Tell them to a good listener and they will quickly come into their own. So subjectivity is 'in' and what follows is a training manual for readers with no knowledge of the original languages.
A skillful narrator uses both "narrative" and "narrated" time. That narrator is a pose, an attitude, omniscient and anonymous, indeed a veritable ringmaster, a master over characters whose truth may or may not be that of the narrator himself, a puppeteer manipulating his characters and his readers "who hardly knows when to stop". In this narratogical world, even God is a character who answers to the narrator's sovereign whim. It is our responsibility to ferret out the storyteller's ideology by means of the way he intervenes in his stories to provide information and description.
Fokkelman returns time and again to the genius of a good narrator, who by selecting elements of action and passion constructs a plot that enables us to detect its hero and that hero's quest. The way he structures a narrative-astutely employing time and space, entrances and exits-allows him to conceal his values where the well-trained reader will find the treasure. The narrator himself is a veteran of "extensive training" in exploiting multiple forms of repetition, with their varying degrees of similarity and contrast.
Fokkelman dedicates one chapter to exploring the "collaboration" of prose and poetry, a topic which hints at his subsequent Reading Biblical Poetry. After establishing what differentiates the two forms of discourse, Fokkelman alleges that the hybrid style of the biblical writer "relativizes, or even mocks and annihilates the distinction". A penultimate chapter extends the "main questions of narratology" to the New Testament's synoptic gospels. These questions are "who is the hero, what is his quest, what does he want to achieve, and how have his action and pursuit been shaped as a plot? How are the various themes distributed along the linear axis of the story?" A final chapter offers helpfully suggestive ten questions or ten groups of questions for a reader to ask of text, together with suggestions for further study.
Though this book is not the kind of easy read that its title might suggest, it is a worthwhile and occasionally unsettling book for the biblical critic. The gap between Fokkelman's theory and execution will present no problems to the literary professionals but may prove a handicap to those less skilled, while the emphasis on hero, plot and winners, though helpful to beginners, may stifle more imaginative and creative approaches in others, and it is sometimes easier to see the value of his challenge to the traditional interpretations than to appreciate what is added by his alternatives.
This practical guide to the narrative literature of the Bible assumes no prior knowledge of the texts, nor of the languages in which they were originally written. Exploring sample stories from both the Old and New Testaments, it is full of step-by-step analyses and exercises, which help to uncover layers of meaning.