Story in the Old Testament

R.W.L. Moberly


Themelios 11.3 (April 1986): 77-82
[Reproduced by permission of the author]

Dr Moberly is Reader in Old Testament at the University of Durham.


The great acts of salvation in the Bible, the Exodus and Sinai covenant in the Old Testament, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament, have been the subject of intense study in modern times. Given their centrality to the Bible and to Christian faith that is hardly surprising, indeed it is clearly desirable.

One fact about these acts of salvation, which has always been noted but usually rather taken for granted, is that they are presented in narrative, or story, form.[1] In the Old Testament the Exodus and Sinai covenant are part of one great narrative, Genesis - 2 Kings, which stretches from creation to the fall of Jerusalem. It is natural that this narrative, often designated 'salvation-history', has been regarded as the main literary form in the Bible and the central means of revelation. Usually significance has been attached to this in two main ways. First, it has been argued that because the narrative is historical in appearance it is appropriate to study it in the way that other ancient historical narratives are studied. This has led to historical analyses both of the events recorded in the text and also of the sources, transmission and composition of the text itself. Secondly there have been numerous theological arguments about the importance of history as the sphere in which God truly acts and reveals himself.

One of the most interesting and significant developments in recent biblical study has been a growth in literary approaches to the biblical text. Instead of asking predominantly historical questions such as 'Did this event actually take place?' or 'What sources did the writer have?', a growing number of scholars are asking literary questions such as 'What does this story mean?' or 'How is it that the author achieves such a memorable and moving portrayal?' Such literary questions, while not entirely novel, have tended to be neglected previously;[2] yet they point to areas of enquiry that are clearly important for our understanding. In the Old Testament in particular, whose narratives down the ages have captured the imagination of artists, poets, and musicians as well as ordinary believers, a literary approach may offer some deliverance from the predominance ofan historical study that has all too often seemed impervious to the reasons why these ancient stories have actually mattered to people. As such a literary approach is much to be welcomed.

It should be noted at the outset, however, that talk of a 'literary approach' may be potentially misleading for at least two reasons. On the one hand, the term 'literary approach' is in fact an umbrella-term that covers a vast number of different, and often mutually conflicting, approaches, which it is impossible even briefly to describe here. Since helpful surveys are available elsewhere,[3 ]the present discussion will concentrate on just one area of literary study, that which has attached particular importance to the story form of so much of the Old Testament. On the other hand, one reason why many literary studies are illuminating is because they are simultaneously theological studies. Given the thoroughly theological nature of most Old Testament narratives, it is hardly surprising that an approach which concentrates on what the text is saying and the way it says it should throw light upon its theological perspectives and assumptions. This means not only that a literary interest in story will often overlap with a theological approach to the text, but also that a sensitive appreciation of the characteristic assumptions and paradoxes of theology will often be needed by the literary critic.

With these two qualifications in mind, this paper will concentrate on three areas of enquiry. First, the current debate about the importance of story for theology; secondly, the ways in which approaching the biblical text as story can prove illuminating; thirdly, the question of truth in relation to literary and historical approaches to the biblical text.

The importance of story for theology

On a general theological level, much has been made of the importance of story or narrative as a peculiarly appropriate vehicle for conveying theological truth.[4] The basic reason for attaching importance to theology in story form is the fact that a story is so widely accessible to young and old, to educated and uneducated alike. Everybody likes a good story; and stories linger in the mind long after other things are forgotten. To say this is, of course, not to say anything new but rather to state the obvious. Followers of Jesus, whose favoured means of teaching was the parable, should find nothing surprising in the idea that stories are a particularly effective means of communicating theological truth.

Generally speaking, a recognition of the value of story can be a valuable corrective to the dominant tendency in western theology to abstract and to analyze. Since so much modern theology rapidly becomes technical and abstract, it is not surprising that in the current enthusiasm for story it has been suggested that some of the problematic debates of modern theology may owe some of their problems precisely to the exclusively abstract form of the debate. To recast some of the propositions of, say, Christology in narrative form might, it is proposed, help shed fresh light on old controversies.[5]

Much theology of story is essentially an attempt to reflect seriously upon the fact that the foundations of biblical faith are given in narrative form: what is the value and significance of this particular form of communication, rather than any other? Or, in other words, what is the relationship between the content of a passage and the form in which it is pre-


sented?[6] Once this is grasped, one can readily see both that story is essential to Christian theology, and that storytelling must only be a part of theologizing and cannot be the whole. For both Old Testament and New Testament contain much material that is not narrative; law, poetry, proverb, and prophetic oracle in the Old Testament, and theological letters and apocalypse in the New Testament. In the New Testament in particular this extra material provides the indispensable reflection on the story of Jesus that enables the construction of a coherent and rational faith around the story, and the effective application of its challenge to a wide variety of situations. Although, for example, Luke 18:9-14 provides a brilliant picture in just a few words of what justification by faith means (note the technical sense in which 'justified' is used in verse 14), there is still a need for Paul's systematic analysis of justification in Romans if there is to be a coherent doctrine.[7]

The fact that much non-narrative material is given in its own particular forms, and not in others, must be respected and its implications thought through no less so than with narrative. Because the normative content of Christian faith in the Bible is given in a variety of different forms, it is reasonable to expect that Christian theologizing should likewise adopt a variety of forms. The fact that from time to time somewhat extravagant claims may be made for one particular form, such as story, shows little more than that the theological world, like most other departments of life, has its fads and its fashions.

Reading Old Testament narrative as story

Given the need to take seriously the story form of much of the Old Testament, that is to try to grasp more of the meaning and significance of the text through studying the relationship between content and form, the value of the undertaking emerges in a variety of ways.

First, an interest in story will alert the reader to elements in a text that are characteristic of a story - plot, foreshadowing, irony, echo, repetition, contrast, tension, resolution, etc; elements which are clearly present in many of the most famous and memorable Old Testament stories. Interest in story means that the scholar directs his attention to the text as meaningful in itself and looks for those elements that make a text coherent and interesting. This makes a welcome change from the older style of literary criticism, which was in fact source-criticism, when 'the literary critic... approaches the text with, so to say, a dissecting knife in his hand, looks out particularly for breaks in continuity, or missing links in the train of thought'.[8] There is naturally a certain tension between these different approaches to a text, which raises interesting questions of method.[9] For present purposes, the important point is the positive approach to the text which interest in story encourages. My own study of Exodus 32-34, At the Mountain of God, shows how a text considered a 'hodgepodge' by traditional source criticism may in fact have a coherence and integrity previously unsuspected. David Clines' study of Esther, The Esther Scroll,[10] brilliantly illustrates not only how a text can be brought to life, but also how the weight of scholarly analysis need no longer give such priority to questions of literary growth and development, even though these are still given due space.

Secondly, there is the fact that some truths can best, or perhaps only, be conveyed in story form because of the importance of symbol and image in human understanding.[11] To assume, as is often done, that the content of any story can be translated without loss into discursive analysis ('What this story means is that...') is to make an unacceptable separation of form and content. This is not to say that the medium is the message. It is to say that sometimes the message cannot be entirely separated from the medium. For example, stories such as the creation of woman (Gen. 2:18-25), the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-6), or Elijah's encounter with God at Horeb (1 Kgs. 19:1-18) have a depth and appeal which depends in part upon their use of symbolism (e.g. rib, fire that does not destroy, 'still, small voice'). It is not easy to expound the stories in abstract form ('What this story means is that..') without saying something very much less interesting and memorable than the story itself. This does not mean that one cannot comment intelligently upon the meaning of a story. It does mean that the interpreter's comments should never become a substitute for the story, and their purpose should be to send one back to the story with fresh insight so that it is the story itself, better understood, that one if left with as the vehicle of truth and meaning.[12]

Thirdly, a story may communicate through what it does not say as well as through what it does say. A meaningful silence can be an unparalleled means of creating atmosphere and interest. The story of the Ascension of Elijah (2 Kgs. 2:1-18) is a good example. Standard commentaries leave its memorable impact largely unexamined and unexplained.[13] It is the silence in the story, that which is left unsaid, which, I suggest, provides the key. First, everyone involved, Elijah, Elisha, and the sons of the prophets at both Bethel and Jericho, know that Elijah is to be taken away (verses 1-5); yet nothing is said about how they know. Secondly, why does Elijah try to put Elisha off three times (verses 2, 4, 6)? The story implies both that Elijah was right to try and that Elisha was right to resist; yet no explanation is given. Thirdly, why is Elijah sent in stages to Bethel, to Jericho, and to the Jordan? Did he know where he was going, or was it only revealed to him step by step? And if so, why? There is no explanation. Fourthly, why should Elijah have to cross the Jordan and re enact one of the most symbolic moments in Israel's history, the crossing into the promised land under Joshua? Again, nothing is explained. Fifthly, why is Elijah taken up to heaven east of the Jordan, outside the promised land? Because he had failed? Because his own origins were from Gilead, east of Jordan? Because this is the same region where Moses died? Again, silence.

The result of leaving so much unexplained is at least twofold. First, a sense of background depth and mystery is conveyed which fascinates and involves the reader.[14] Secondly, the story remarkably conveys a sense of the invisible presence of God. The sense of divine purpose and guidance is almost overwhelming, yet God himself remains constantly as it were offstage (the only partial exception being in verse 11). God is strongly present, and yet remains hidden. It is through a masterful use of the possibilities of narrative presentation that the writer has conveyed these effects.

The fourth point, which is related to the previous point and yet distinct, is that a story can communicate through assump tion and suggestion. For example, the story of Joseph (Gen.


37-50) is well-known as an illustration of the sovereignty of God, a point indeed brought out explicitly in the text (Gen. 45:5-8, 50:20). One primary way in which this is conveyed is through those things which the writer takes for granted, for thereby the reader, who naturally identifies with what is happening in the story, is likewise invited to take the same things for granted too. For example, God's right and power to send famine (41:25-32), to determine the future (41:32), and to allow his faithful servant to suffer in various ways (37:28, 39:20, 40:23) are simply assumed. They are not in any way allowed to be problems ('How could God do such a thing?'). Rather, the story takes it as self-evidently true that this is how God is and how he works. The reader who imaginatively enters into the story will thereby absorb these same assumptions himself. Such a means of communication can be a valuable counterpart to explicit declaration.

Fifthly, a story may deliberately leave something vital to its understanding unsaid. This means that the reader is obliged to use his imagination and intelligence if he is to understand the story properly. On the one hand, this means that the meaning of the story, once so grasped, will be more deeply appropriated; on the other hand, this makes for a greater likelihood that the story will be only partially understood, or even misunderstood.

A notable example is Genesis 3. Historically, this has been of enormous importance in Christian theology; and indeed its context at the beginning of Genesis clearly indicates that it is of fundamental significance. Yet its exact meaning is a matter of considerable debate,[15] precisely because the story is deliberately somewhat elusive and enigmatic. The central difficulty is that God's clear statement of a death penalty for transgressing his prohibition and eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17) is apparently not fulfilled (3:6-7). The interpretation of such a fundamental discrepancy between what God says and what he does will largely determine the readings of the story as a whole.

The majority of modern commentators are agreed that God simply did not do what he had said,[16] and explain this as showing either a change of mind or else (more theologically) God's sovereign freedom even over what he himself has said. Coupled with this is usually a tendency to downplay the traditional Christian interpretation of the story as the archetypal story of human sin and divine judgment as being a misunderstanding of the nature of the story.

But what if the narrator expected his reader to take for granted that it was inconceivable that God should prove false in such a way, and that therefore the apparent incongruence between what God says and what happens is to provoke the reader into a deeper understanding of what is going on? On such an approach the threatened death is to be found in the man and woman hiding in fear from God (3:8-10) and in the shifting of blame (implying lack of love and trust) from man to woman to serpent (3:11-1 3). That is, death is reinterpreted in terms of something in the inner life of man, a fear and distrust which separates him from God and from his fellow (i.e. 'spiritual death'). The writer is thus showing that the real consequence of disobedience to God lies not in being suddenly struck down, which might naturally be expected but clearly does not in fact happen in life generally, but in a process of inner fear and alienation which destroys the love and trust that matter most in life.

It is not possible to prove that this second interpretation rather than the first is correct, for by the very nature of the story proof is not a possible option. The test must ultimately be whether an interpretation rings true and makes more sense than any other. Whatever conclusion one does come to, it is clear that one can only come to it by thinking intelligently and imaginatively to resolve what the story leaves as such unresolved.

Sixthly, a story can provide a pattern or framework for understanding life and experience. For many, life and exis tence on the purely historical plane may appear random or chaotic, without purpose, meaning or dignity. A story can so arrange things that pattern and meaning can be seen. The biblical story purports to be a true story. This means that as the reader recognizes in it the patterns of how God works, he can then find pattern and meaning for his own life and experience of God.

For example, life for the Jews in exile and the diaspora when they were deprived of all those things that had pre viously been central to their faith and identity - land, temple, king - must easily have appeared hopeless and meaningless. Stories such as those of Daniel and Esther do more than just show how life under God can be a reality in such situations. The way the stories show, both explicitly and implicitly, that God is in control and that what people do does matter makes the stories a powerful medium for creating trust in the wisdom of God and in the meaning and significance of life even in difficult circumstances.

Finally, a story can act as a mirror to help people see themselves more clearly. That is, people naturally identify with the central figure in a story. The central figure can therefore be portrayed in such a way as to represent some characteristic of the story's intended audience; and when the audience recognize what is desirable or undesirable in the story they can then be led to recognize the same feature in themselves.

The most famous example in the Old Testament is Nathan's parable to David (2 Sam. 12:l-7a). Presumably, had Nathan simply related straightforwardly to David what he had done (2 Sam. 11), David would have been unmoved. But through the use of a story to which David instinctively responds in moral and emotional involvement, Nathan prepares the way for the irresistible punchline 'You are the man', which has the necessary effect on the king (12:13). Interestingly, a similar technique is used again on David by Joab and the woman of Tekoa, again with effect (2 Sam. 14).

It is in such a way that the book of Jonah is also probably to be understood.[17] The book probably dates from a time when Israel was inclined to be too inward-looking and to adopt a negative and judgmental attitude towards other nations who did not know God in the way they did. Jonah is therefore made to embody such attitudes in such a way as to show how foolish and unacceptable they are.

The story creates interest and involvement for the reader by the use of a drily humorous 'larger than life' style of telling. The most unlikely prophet (he flees from Yahweh, 1:3) is sent to the largest city imaginable (three days' journey in breadth, 3:3), which happens to be the capital of the Assyrians, notoriously the most fearsome of ancient Near Eastern


peoples (cf. Isa. 10:5-14, Nah. 3). When he finally gets there, this unlikely prophet has only to start preaching and he has the greatest success imaginable - everyone repents (3:5-6), so much so that even animals have to join in (3:7-8). But how does Jonah react to this unparalleled success? Is he pleased? Is he grateful? Because God spares Nineveh (3:10), Jonah sulks (4:1-5) and complains to God that he is too merciful (4:2)! That mercy which God had shown to Israel (Ex. 34:61) and which Israel celebrated in its worship (e.g. Ps. 103:8) should not be shown to pagan foreigners.

But what are pagan foreigners actually like? The first chapter of the book has already devoted considerable space to the pagan mariners who took Jonah on board. They were seen to be caring and responsible people who, though not themselves Hebrews, were fully prepared to acknowledge and worship Yahweh (1:14-16). The pagan sailors are more attractive figures than Jonah. As for the Assyrians, their wickedness is emphasized, yet even they were prepared, when challenged, to turn to God and repent.

The reader is now ready for the final section (4:6-11) in which God exposes how narrow and petty Jonah is and delivers the unanswerable punchline (4:10-11) in which God's care for all has to be assented to by the reader, for God's question can be answered in no other way. The story's subtle blend of humour and seriousness involves the reader in such a way that when Jonah's bigotry is condemned, so is the bigotry of the reader: 'You are the man'.

These seven points do not exhaust the significance of story, but illustrate some of the main ways in which it can illuminate the reading of the Old Testament text. In general, one may say that the value of reading biblical narrative as story lies in recognizing and appreciating material that appeals to the imaginative and intuitive side of the human mind, where symbolism, suggestion, stimulation and enjoyment may be of greater importance than argument, appeal and explicit proclamation. It is perhaps particularly important for evangelicals, whose theology has traditionally appealed largely to man's reason and will, to remember that there are large areas of man's mind and personality that are left untouched by such an appeal.[18] It is a strength of the Bible with its many stories that it recognizes the many different ways in which theologi cal truth may be communicated. An approach to faith and life which bases itself upon the Bible should hardly do less.

Story, history and truth

In this final section it will be helpful briefly to consider the question of truth with regard to the stories of the Old Testament. In modern Old Testament study the dominant concern has always been largely historical. One assumption that has been central to this is that questions of history are important for theological truth. The revelation of God has been a revelation in history, and if one denies the historical content of the traditions of Israel one thereby denies the theological meaning attributed to the traditions, or at least one risks reducing theology to a kind of gnosticism.[19] How then does the current interest in story relate to this?

This question may be approached through noting the tendency evident in some recent literary studies not simply to be disinterested in historical questions,[20] but also to suggest that the literary character of the biblical text shows that only a minimal historical content is present anyway. Robert Alter, for example, whose brilliant The Art of Biblical Narrative[21] is the most stimulating and suggestive of recent literary studies, suggests that 'prose fiction' is the best general rubric for classifying biblical narrative. Alter does not intend 'fiction' to be pejorative. It is simply that many of the literary features of biblical narrative show the material to be such that it does not fit within the category of historiography as we recognize it. Stories may be based on actual historical occurrences, but their presentation has been shaped by what Alter calls the 'fictional imagination'. Overall, however, Alter gives the impression that biblical narratives have relatively little to offer the historian.

Such a use of 'fiction', which is not uncommon, clearly requires examination, if only for the reason that fiction is often held to be the opposite of fact and truth; and so to describe a biblical narrative as fictional may seem to be saying that it is untrue. Two preliminary points may usefully be made.

First, it is clearly important that 'fiction' should be properly defined and not used ambiguously. Although fiction has the general and popular meaning of an untruth or fabrication, it also has the specific literary meaning of a work of imagina tion. In such imaginative writing appeal to historical fact may be quite irrelevant to the determination of its value or truth, which must be established or denied on other grounds. It is clearly in this latter sense that Alter is using the term.

Secondly, there is no intrinsic reason, generally speaking, why a narrative should not be both historically accurate and well told as a story. It is vital in this sort of discussion to avoid unnecessary polarization and creating a false 'either - or' dichotomy, when it may be a matter of 'both-and'. Nonetheless the fact that narrative might in principle be both accurate history and effective literature does not mean that any given narrative actually is, still less that all Old Testament narratives are. There is a wide variety of Old Testament narratives which resist neat categorization in terms of literature and history.[22] In the story of the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 25) there is a maximum of history and a minimum of literary art or theo logical development, while in the story of the Flood (Gen. 6-9) the opposite is the case.[23] Patient analysis of each case on its merits rather than sweeping generalizations is what is needed.

Rather than trying to discuss in general which elements in a story are likely to be literary in origin and which are likely to be historical - a huge undertaking - it will be helpful to focus instead on an underlying issue, that is what constitutes truth in a narrative. For the categorization of biblical narrative as fiction even in the technical sense does seem to stand in a certain tension with the traditional emphasis upon the impor tance of historical content in biblical narrative, and so raises the question of the basis upon which their theological meaning rests.

The central problem, in my judgment, is to do with the relationship between truth and history. Despite the admitted importance of the general historical reliability of the Old Testament, it may properly be asked whether sometimes the relationship of truth and historicity has not been conceived somewhat too narrowly, so that the truth of a narrative has been made to depend too exclusively upon the histoncity of


its content. Any narrow equation of truth with historicity would seem to owe more to the influence of the rather limited horizons of enlightenment rationalism than to the tenets of historic Christian theology. It is my impression, though I cannot justify it here,[24] that the rather narrow equation of truth with historicity was first made by the rationalists who argued of certain Old Testament narratives, 'This is not historical, and therefore it is not true'. This not unnaturally provoked a response along the lines of 'It is true (because of the conviction of faith), and therefore it must be historical'. The great emphasis so often attached, especially in the English-speaking world, to questions of history, sometimes gives the impression of being part of a tradition of apologetic defence of the Bible to such criticism. But the defence too readily accepted the terms in which the criticism was couched, rather than insisting that, important as history is for the Old Testament, history is but one factor among several that must be weighed in a consideration of whether and in what sense a story may be true.

It is worth remembering that, prior to the rise of modern thought when the historicity of biblical stories was generally assumed and was rarely a point at issue, the significance of historicity played a small role in most Christian and Jewish use of the Old Testament. What made the Old Testament valuable, or what made it problematic, were moral, theological, and philosophical considerations. At the Reformation, although the 'plain sense' of the text was given greater weight, historicity as such still had only limited significance. It is well known that Luther evaluated biblical books by the degree to which they bore witness to Christ - a strictly theological criterion. Luther no doubt did not deny the historicity of Esther, but that did not prevent him from considering the book worthless for the Christian on religious and moral grounds.[25]

If it be accepted that the narrow equation of truth with historicity is in fact a departure from historic Christian theology under the influence of rationalist criticism, then it is clear that it needs to be modified. To say this is not to deny the importance of history. It is simply to qualify its importance, and insist that other factors, theological, moral, philosophical and imaginative, be counted along with it.

The breadth of the concept of truth may perhaps be further appreciated through a consideration of the novels, songs, plays and films of our modern culture. What makes most works valuable and gives them their appeal (in their various ways) is surely more than anything else the extent to which they succeed in being true, that is true to life in the sense of acutely depicting and interpreting the human situation and engaging with fundamental values. The interest of, say, David Lean's film of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago hardly lies in the accuracy of its portrayal of the history of the Russian Revolution; rather it is the struggle of a man for freedom, truth and dignity both against the force of political power and against the tensions within himself, both of which problems are acutely posed by the upheavals of the Russian Revolution. The same sort of thing could probably also be said, mutatis mutandis, about the appeal of, say, the songs of Paul Simon or Bob Dylan.

By contrast, many explicitly Christian novels, songs, plays and films have had limited appeal less because of the unacceptability of a Christian perspective in itself, than because they have been seen as ultimately superficial; they have given answers too quickly without sufficiently probing the reality of God and of human life (something which is never true of biblical narrative). That is, in an important sense their truth has not been sufficiently true. What is probably the most widely read modem Christian writing, J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings[26] surely owes much of its appeal not just to the fact that it is a good story well told, but because it also searchingly explores the fundamental ambiguities of power and death. Its Christian values of grace, mercy and hope which confront and overcome evil are clearly portrayed, yet in such a way that they enhance rather than trivialize the story's seriousness.

Two things, therefore, may be said in conclusion. First, in our modern culture we easily and naturally apply the concept of truth widely and flexibly. We recognize without difficulty when a writing is intended as a work of fiction,[27] that is a piece of imaginative writing, and judge it accordingly. We often find that serious fiction contains and conveys important truths. It is unnecessary and wrong when we turn to the Old Testament to abandon all such understanding and insist more narrowly that historicity is the indispensable condition for truth. Of course, questions of historicity do matter in the Old Testament, and there is the difficulty that we are not part of the culture in which the Old Testament was written and so do not share the assumptions and conventions that would have been widely held then. This should make for a proper caution in assigning literary genres and in judging whether or not writings were intended to be historical or to be imaginative, or varying degrees of both. If an Old Testament writing is judged to be historical, or even partially historical, in intention, then its truth will indeed depend, in whole or in part, upon the historical reliability of its content, and the investigation and establishment of this is the proper concern of the interpreter. But if it be decided that, for example, Jonah is a parable-like composition, which tells an imaginative (and unhistorical) story in order to make a moral and theological point, then it should be seen that this neither detracts from the truth of the book, for its truth would be of the same sort as that in the parables of Jesus, nor does it imply that therefore history is unimportant for the Old Testament as a whole, for each writing must be judged according to its own characteristics.

Secondly, it is important again to be reminded that the truth for which the Old Testament has always been valued is not simply truth with regard to what happened in history, but truth with regard to its deep understanding of the paradoxical character of God and the paradoxical nature and situation of man. Readers constantly sense depth in Old Testament narratives, and this is usually an instinctive recognition of the way many stories transcend their original Israelite context and have a meaning and relevance for the 'human situation' of all periods. Usually readers do not bother to ask how it is that the stories achieve this effect, and there is little reason why the ordinary reader should. Nonetheless it is a legitimate question to ask, and the current literary interest in Old Testament narratives as story is a contribution towards the answer.


[1] 'It should be noted that the use of the term 'story' is quite neutral with regard to whether or not any story in question is historical or not. Although in popular parlance 'story' may often mean a tale without real foundation, that is not the meaning in scholarly discussion where the term simply means a consecutive narrative text without prejudice to the nature of its content.

[2] In, for example, the important and influential work of M. Noth, one looks in vain for any such literary appreciation of the narrative texts he discusses.

[3] For an excellent summary survey, see R. J. Coggins, 'The Literary Approach to the Bible', Exp.T. 96 (1984), pp.9-14. For a fuller discussion see J. Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (London: DLT, 1984). Barton relates newer methods of study to more traditional methods, gives particular attention to structuralism, and helpfully sets the whole debate against a wider background of modern literary criticism.

[4] See e.g. M. Goldberg, Theology and Narrative: A Critical introduction (Nashville: Abingdon, 1982); J. Goldingay, 'Interpreting Scripture (Pt. 2)', Anvil 1 (1984), pp. 261-270.

[5] See A. Harvey, 'Christian Propositions and Christian Stones' in A. Harvey (ed.), God Incarnate: Story and Belief (London: SPCK, 1981), pp. 1-13.

[6] As an illustration of the relationship between form and content, one might compare what is said about the worship of Yahweh in his official sanctuary in Deuteronomy 12 and Psalm 84. Because Deuteronomy 12 is in a law code, part of the message conveyed is that worship is a duty; whereas in a song such as Psalm 84 the emphasis is upon worship as a delight.

[7] One may compare the comment of R. Lischer, 'The effectiveness of Martin Luther King as a preacher and agent of social change lay not in his ability to tell a story but in his incisive analysis of the situation in America and his prophetic call to justice. In his style of oratory he did not desert the black tradition [Sc. of biblical storytelling], but the content and structure of his sermons are not organized around Gospel narratives but gospel principles' ('The Limits of Story', Interpretation 38 (1984), p. 35).

[8] K. Koch, The Growth of the Biblical Tradition (London: A. & C. Black, 1969), p. 69.

[9] For a discussion, see my At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34, JSOTS 22 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983), ch. 1.

[10] The Esther Scroll: The Story of the Story JSOTS 30 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984).

[11] I would like to add 'myth' also, but modern debate has so muddied the waters that clear and constructive use of the term becomes extremely difficult. See, however, my brief comments as to how one can speak of the truth of myth in 'God Incarnate: Some Reflections from an Old Testament Perspective', Churchman 98 (1984), pp. 49-51. See also the important survey of the growing appreciation of the significance of myth in H. G. Reventlow, Problems of Old Testament Theology in the Twentieth Century (London: SCM, 1985), pp. 154-167.

[12] The symbolic appeal of the burning bush is well illustrated by the fact that the 7-branch candlestick (menorah), which was part of the tabernacle and temple furnishings, and which became the symbol of Judaism, is probably a stylized representation of the burning bush (see J. D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985), p. 20).

[13] See, for example, J. Gray, I and 2 Kings 3 (London: SCM, 1977), pp.472-7, G. H. Jones, I and 2 Kings, vol. II (Grand Rapids & London: Eerdmans & Marshall, 1984), pp. 381-88. Jones' treatment is con siderably more helpful than that of Gray, but is still incomplete.

[14] See also the famous discussion of Genesis 22 in E. Auerbach, Mimesis (Princeton, 1953), ch. 1.

[15] See e.g. C. Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (London: SPCK, 1984), pp. 178-278.

[16] See e.g. C. Westermann, Genesis I-11 p. 225.

[17] Jonah, see e.g. L. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), pp. 175ff; B. S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (London: SCM, 1979), pp. 417-27.

[18] One may note in this context the problems and challenge that the charismatic movement has posed to much mainstream Chris tianity, because of institutional Christianity's almost inherent suspicion of 'enthusiasm'. The charismatic appeal to the emotional side of human personality has found wide acceptance among many who rightly felt that emotional expression and involvement in worship had been unduly neglected or suppressed.

There is then, of course, the danger of the pendulum swinging too far, with the emergence of a style of Christianity that is unhealthily based upon emotional experience to the neglect of rational thought and a discipline of the will. It is only when a right balance between reason, conscience, imagination and emotion is maintained that a truly biblical faith will be seen.

[19] For a helpful statement and discussion of this position, see G. J. Wenham, 'History and the Old Testament' in C. Brown (ed.), History, Criticism & Faith (Leicester: IVP, 1976), pp. 13-73.

[20] Not untypical is a statement such as 'The question of historicity is not addressed in this book since it is outside the range of my present interests' in P. D. Miscall, The Workings of Old Testament Narrative (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), p. 8.

[21] The Art of Biblical Narrative (London & Sydney: G. Allen & Unwin, 1981).

[22] 0ne may compare the comment of R. E. Friedman, 'The contemporary analyst wants to categorize this [sc. biblical] corpus as history or literature; but it does not fit our categories, precisely because it is older than the formation of these categories' ('The Prophet and the Historian: The Acquisition of Historical Information from Literary Sources', in R. E. Friedman (ed.), The Poet and the Historian, Harvard Semitic Studies 26 (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1983), p. 4).

[23] For observations on the varying relationship of biblical narrative to history, see also J. Barr, 'Story and History in Biblical Theology' in his Explorations in Theology 7 (London: SCM, 1980), p. 8 (reprinted from Journal of Religion 56 (1976), pp. 1-17).

[24] For an important study of some of the intellectual assumptions prevalent during the rise of modern biblical criticism, see H. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (New Haven & London: Yale UP, 1974).

[25] Luther's comment is widely quoted in introductions to works on Esther. See e.g. J. Baldwin, Esther (Leicester: IVP, 1984), pp. 51f.

[26] For criticism and interpretation of The Lord of the Rings, see esp. H. Carpenter (ed.), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981).

[27] This is not, of course, invariably true. For example, many a reader of C. S. Lewis' Letters to Malcolm will have supposed that they are part of a genuine correspondence without realizing that the correspondence was simply a literary form adopted by Lewis as a (for him) more appropriate (because less explicitly didactic) vehicle for a treatise on prayer.