Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Hayes, Elizabeth R. and Karolien Vermeulen (eds.), Doubling and Duplicating in the Book of Genesis: Literary and Stylistic Approaches to the Text (Winona Lake IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016). Pp. xiv + 219. Cloth. US$53.55. ISBN: 9781575064543.

Doubling and Duplicating in the Book of Genesis is a collection of essays presented at the joint session of the Stylistics and Hebrew Bible section of the ISBL and the “Literary Figures”: Fact or Fiction section of the European Association of Biblical Studies at the 2014 meeting in Vienna. The book is comprised of eleven articles, along with an introduction written by one of the editors, Karolien Vermeulen. After providing a brief overview of the current state of literary approaches to the Hebrew Bible, Vermeulen finds the term “literary” inadequate to describe the current volume in view of recent developments taking place within the field that include linguistics, redaction criticism, ideology, and text world theory. As such, the subtitle of the volume “Literary and Stylistic Approaches to the Text” takes into account these various methodologies, with each contributor being given some level of freedom to make use of a particular methodology, depending on what is deemed useful and necessary to address his or her specific topic.

Attention is given at the outset to Robert Alter's work, The Art of Biblical Narrative, noting the significant contribution he has made to the field of biblical studies.[1] The present volume stands in the tradition of Alter insofar as it focuses on the literary form of the text in its final shape rather than on its compositional history, but it develops this approach further by giving careful attention to the issues of why the text has its present form and how its form affects the reader in the communicative process. While the contributors represent a variety of methods—all under the category of “literary and stylistic” approaches—the singular focus on Genesis is intended to provide a level of unity to the volume that might otherwise be difficult to achieve. Moreover, every essay discusses the topic of doubling and duplicating in Genesis—whether it be lexical, thematic pairs, or doubling plots/stories—thereby fostering further interconnection between the various contributors.

For the sake of brevity, a sampling of essays will be summarized as a way of illustrating the kinds of contributions made in this volume. In Part 1 Savran examines the verb פצר, “to urge, press,” in request-refusal narratives, which includes the story of Lot and the men of Sodom, and the Jacob and Esau encounter (along with other stories outside Genesis). Savran argues that “urging” provides the opportunity for a character to change his or her mind, especially after an initial refusal, and it allows the reader to assess the motives of the character. His point is that double requests and refusals do not simply repeat the action, but rather, the narrator uses repetition to convey the complexity of the main character. The essay by Grossman focuses on Gen 21:1–12. Although the narrative is often separated into two parts and attributed to different authors, he argues that a close reading of the text attests to a carefully designed chiastic structure that centers on the divine revelation concerning Abraham's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. He argues for a single literary unit that emphasizes at its center God's concern for both sons. Also included in Part 1 is Rendsburg's intriguing study of alliteration. He analyzes a series of texts in Genesis (often noting occurrences of an unusual term or hapax legomena) and argues that the literary device of alliteration is governing lexical choice.

Vermeulen's work on the blessings and curses in Gen 1–11 is one of several essays in Part 2 that focus on thematic pairs in Genesis. She examines the six blessings in the primeval history (Gen 1:22, 28; 2:3; 5:2; 9:1, 26), noting that they are matched stylistically with six curses (Gen 3:14, 17; 4:11; 5:29; 8:21; 9:25). She observes that if the second creation story is read in isolation without Gen 1, it would begin with the creator-god cursing the creation, which is an unlikely beginning. She argues, therefore, that the 3-3 pattern at the beginning of Genesis (three blessings followed by three curses), which notably includes J and P texts, underscores the unity and complementary nature of the two creation stories. She observes further that they begin with God as agent of both blessing and cursing (although cursing is grammatically more distant). Yet, as the narrative develops, blessing and cursing shift to the human domain (Gen 9:25–26), thereby foreshadowing the role of human characters in the patriarchal narratives. The study by Shimon, for its part, takes the reader out of the primeval history by comparing and contrasting the migrations of Terah and Abraham (Gen 11:27–12:9). While emphasis is often on the similarities of the two migrations, Shimon also explores how they are different. For example, Terah's migration seems to be motivated by economic reasons, whereas Abram was already wealthy prior to his entrance into the land and as a result, his migration was due to the divine call rather than economic benefit.

Duplicates at the level of plot and story are explored in Part 3. Matskevich examines the “stylistics of ambiguity” in Gen 2–3. Rather than focusing on the more traditional conflict between God's authority and human's disobedience, she explores contradictory features within divine discourse, noting how ambiguity is masterfully played out further in the serpent's speech. She argues that God's voice in the story is less monolithic than is often assumed, and suggests that two distinct narrative plots may be identified in Gen 2–3. The first plot follows the more traditional interpretation of human sin and divine judgment, whereas the second “shadow plot” attributes the fall to God who creates the conditions that precipitate it, and hence is held responsible. Matskevich thus concludes that the divine character in Gen 2–3 is complex and that ambiguity is seen in both sides of God's character, which has been artistically woven into the two narrative strands.

This collection of essays makes an important contribution to literary and stylistic research with its inclusion of a variety of hybrid methodologies that are current in the field. Scholars will find this book a helpful entry point, enabling them to interact with current approaches and to determine what may be potentially fertile ground for further research. While the reader may find some essays more insightful than others, and some arguments more convincing than others, that these essays have been collected into one volume is certainly beneficial for anyone interested in the style of the Hebrew Bible.

This volume also contributes to scholarship on the book of Genesis, given its focus on doubling and duplicating in Genesis. While biblical scholars will find the essays informative, the reader may well be given the impression after reading several entries that the primary focus of the book is on literary and stylistic approaches to the text (as noted in its subtitle), rather than on its actual title, Doubling and Duplicating in the Book of Genesis. Given that a variety of hybrid approaches are employed, this can at times undermine the overall unity of the volume. Notwithstanding these minor points, this book provides an important contribution to the current and developing field of Stylistics and the Hebrew Bible, and to scholarship on the book of Genesis.

Carol Kaminski, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

[1] Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books), 1981. reference