Reading Genesis: Ten Methods. Edited by RONALD HENDEL. Cambridge: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2010. Pp. xi + 230. $27.99 (paper).
In Ron Hendel's introduction to this volume of methodological approaches to reading Genesis, he sets forth the task of the book clearly: to focus on "ways of reading Genesis and on ways of reading influential past readings of Genesis" (p. 1). Thus we find in this collection not only applications of current methods in biblical scholarship to the text of Genesis, but also appreciations of the insights of older approaches. These methods are not to be taken individually, to be judged against one another, but rather are intended to reveal "the play of multiple and complementary methods, which diverge and converge in illuminating ways" (p. 4). The reader--assumed to be something of a non-specialist, although as is so often the case the book has plenty of value for the specialist as well--will be presented with "a panoramic model of biblical studies as a truly interdisciplinary field, in which each method complements and complicates the others" (p. 11). These aims are indeed admirable, for, as Hendel recognizes, the field of biblical studies (and, one might note, particularly pentateuchal studies) is fairly well fractured into individual methods and views about the "correct" way to read the text, frequently with evident disdain for alternative modes. Thus this volume is particularly welcome as a way of bringing together the fruits of a wide range of approaches in the service of enlightening a single part of the canon.
The first method is that of "Literature," written by the estimable Robert Alter. His chapter opens with a survey of literary readings of the Hebrew Bible from the rabbis through Auerbach and Frei in the mid-twentieth century, a survey valuable in and of itself for reminding us that literary readings are not the invention of the last forty years. Alter recognizes that many literary treatments deal with only an isolated text, one free of compositional problems (e.g., Auerbach on Genesis 22), and for that reason he attempts to explicate the literary integrity of the more sustained text of the Jacob story. He exposes numerous intricate verbal and thematic connections across the Jacob story as he bounds from passage to passage, and demonstrates that the life of Jacob presented in the biblical text is truly a life, perhaps the first fully realized life in the history of literature.
The second chapter is devoted...