Studies in the interpretation of Genesis 26.1-33
These Studies in the interpretation of Genesis 26.1-33 are concerned with a relatively brief and well defined section of biblical Hebrew narrative, and following an Introduction are divided into two parts reflecting literary and historical interests respectively. The Introduction takes note of the current interest among Old Testament scholars in the literary interpretation of the biblical materials and, after opting for an approach which will take account of both literary and historical-critical enquiry, outlines the procedure which will be followed. No logical priority is claimed for literary analysis, although it is considered appropriate that it should be pursued prior to any historical enquiry. In this way, it has been possible to avoid any suspicion that literary analysis of the type pursued here is a further development of the historical-critical method. Part One (Chapters One - Four) is concerned to construct a literary interpretation of the text of Gen 26.1-33. The interpretation consists of three main studies of the Isaac narrative which are followed by a brief discussion of certain aspects of the method involved. This interpretation has developed in the main from a reflection upon the relationship which appears to exist between the promise made to the patriarch by the deity and the surrounding narrative material. Beginning from a literary-structural analysis of the Isaac narrative, it has been possible to observe that a number of relationships of a literary and structural nature exist between the promise and the surrounding narrative materials. The exploration of these relationships discloses a series of tensions between the promise and the narrated events which in one way or another seem designed to bring the fulfilment of different aspects of the promise under threat, and each of these tensions are resolved in turn in the narrative. Thus, even even if the events narrated appear to run counter to the direction of the promise, it is in the exploration of this dialectic which is set up between promise and those narrative events which tend to threaten the fulfilment of the promise that the beginnings of a satisfactory literary interpretation of Gen 26.1-33 is to be found. The literary interpretation of the Isaac narrative is carried out in three stages. In the first stage (Chapter One), the extent of the material under consideration is narrowed down to Gen 26.1-33, and other material (notably Gen 25.19-26) is excluded. Once the narrative structure has been analyzed in terms of divine promise, threat, and (partial) resolution, a further brief examination of the narrative context of the other divine promise sections in Genesis 12-36 shows that the literary technique of juxtaposing these same three elements has in fact been applied more widely, even if it is most clearly evident in Gen 26.1-33. An analysis of the role Rebekah plays in the wife-sister episode shows that she is clearly a subsidiary character, and that in the narrative Abimelech the Philistine king of Gerar and Isaac's antagonist throughout is the character closest in importance to Isaac. Indeed, in many respects the narrative appears to explore the relationship which exists between Isaac and the Philistine king. A number of literary features which enhance the impression of unity which has already been gained from the structural analysis are examined. In particular, a number of narrative transformations are seen to take place between the beginning and the end of the narrative. These are largely concerned with the situation of Isaac in relation to Abimelech. At the beginning of the narrative Isaac comes to Abimelech at Gerar and is dependent on the latter's good will for his wellbeing. But at the end of the narrative, Abimelech comes to Isaac at Beersheba, in order to participate in the blessing enjoyed by the Patriarch. In the second stage (Chapter Two), the structure of each of the episodes which combine to form the Isaac narrative is examined, using a form of structural analysis used by Bremond in relation to the fairy tale, but which is also appropriate to the analysis of other simple forms of narrative. This examination, which I have used to determine whether the individual episodes maintain a comic or tragic function within the Isaac narrative, is carried out without prejudice to the assumption that the narrative is a unity at some level. One of the impressive features of the Isaac narrative is that the Patriarch does not achieve his good fortune at the expense of Abimelech and his people, but the Philistines also prosper, and it is seen that this effect has been achieved by means of paradox. The discussion of the individual episodes leads to the conclusion that the ability of the narrative as a whole to generate meaning is greater than the sum of its parts. In the third stage (Chapter Three), I have attempted to construct an appropriate 'narrative background' against which the text may be understood. This exercise involves the careful observation of such signals as are raised in the text and appear to direct one's attention to materials elsewhere in the tradition, and particularly among the narratives of Genesis 12-25, which may combine to serve as a background against which the Isaac narrative may be understood, and which might properly enrich one's understanding of the text. This undertaking begins from the point that no text may be properly understood from within a vacuum, and that while it is proper to begin such a literary-structural investigation as has been undertaken in this Thesis from a detailed study of the text itself, it has been considered necessary to go on from there and to provide a richer understanding of the text. The formation of a 'narrative background' is to be distinguished from the method of 'narrative analogy' (Miscall, Alter) so far as it takes the canonical ordering of the narratives more seriously. Part One is concluded with the discussion of a number of methodological issues in Chapter Four which forms an attempt to say something about the aims and validity of the analyses set out in Chapters One-Three. There is no concern, however, to resume systematically issues which have already been raised in the earlier chapters. In Part Two, I have addressed some of the more usual historical concerns of biblical studies. The first main part of Chapter Five is concerned with the form-critical discussion of the Isaac narrative. An examination of the form-critical studies of Lutz. and Coats is followed by an analysis of the structure and content of Gen 26.1-33. The analysis is then filled out by a broad discussion which is informed to some extent by the earlier discussion of Chapter One, particularly by the degree to which the various episodes were there seen to be related to each other. The fact that, apart from vv 1-6, the episodes all required assumption of information provided by one or another of the preceding episodes in order to appear coherent suggests that the unity of Gen 26.1-33 is perhaps more than the result of a collector stringing them together in terms of the common theme "Isaac and the people of Gerar". This observation sets an obvious limit against the usual formcritical criterion which holds that the most original units were concered to narrate only single episodes. Throughout this discussion the results of current studies in folklore which have led to much uncertainty concerning the stability of oral transmission so that it is no longer possible to be so confident in the antiquity of the pentateuchal tradition were taken for granted. The traditio-historical question of priority is examined, and it is concluded that Abraham is in fact prior to Isaac.