chapter  11
11 Pages

What is a Book? Modern Exegesis and the Literary Conventions of Ancient Israel

Literary critics who first show on modern literary grounds that a text can be read as a unity but then appeal to Jewish tradition to support their argument are trying to have their cake and eat it, and at the same time giving hostages to fortune. Thus historical critics may be right to say that Old Testament texts contain inconsistencies, doublets and incongruities, but wrong to think that that shows them to be composite. But most biblical critics of all persuasions tend to draw a distinction between clearly composite works such as Chronicles or indeed Kings and those which come more obviously from a single author. For Robert Alter, we may say, authors in ancient Israel shared something like our notions of coherence and aesthetic form, but we have to dig a bit deeper to find the evidence of this than traditional biblical critics suppose.