Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Right" on Narrative Criticism in the Pauline Epistles

Lately I have been enjoying working through N. T. Wright's "Paul: in Fresh Perspective." I personally think this book would serve as a very helpful College-level introduction to Paul's writings. One of the most interesting sections in his introductory chapter is his discussion of the presence of "stories" in Paul's letters.
Here are a few choice quotes:

"Once the narrative genie has been let out of the bottle, not least in a world with its eyes newly opened by contemporary literary study, you can't get it back in; and now all kinds of aspects of Paul are being tested for implicit and explicit storylines. Despite the wishes and efforts of some, this cannot be dismissed as the superimposition on Paul of a line ideas or as a mere post-liberal fad. It certainly does not reduce Paul's thought, as some have darkly hinted, to a world of 'story' over against 'doctrine' on the one hand or real life on the other. To take an obvious example, Jewish literature from the Bible to the present day is soaked in certain controlling stories, such as those of Abraham, of the Exodus, and of exile and return, so that a small allusion to one of these within a Jewish source is usually a safe indication that we should understand the whole narrative to be at least hovering in the background. When we find allusions to the same stories in Paul we are not merely invited but obliged to follow them up and lay bare the narrative world he would have take for granted."

"Understanding how stories worked in the ancient world, and how a small allusion could and did summon up an entire implicit narrative, including narratives within which speaker and hearer believed themselves to be living, is a vital tool. I have in mind her the remarkable new book on Nero by the Princeton professor Edward Champlin, in which he demonstrates in great detail . . . the way in which the rich and varied mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome functioned in the minds and imaginations of ordindary people"

"The great stories of Abraham, of Exodus, of David . . . and of exile and restoration . . . create not merely a rich narrative backcloth from which motifs can be drawn at will to produce a resonant typology but also . . . a single narrative line, containing typological recapitulations but not reducible to them, in which Paul believed that he and his contemporaries were living"

"Their [Paul and other ancient writers] narratives could and did function typologically, that is, by providing a pattern which could be laid as a template across incidents and stories from another period without any historical continuity to link the two together. But the main function of their stories was to remind them of earlier and (they hoped) characteristic moments within the single, larger story which stretched from the creation of the world and the call of Abraham right forwards to their own day, and (they hoped) into the future"

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