Alter on the Art of Reading Scripture

Noted literary critic and Bible scholar Robert Alter, as part of the conclusion to his seminal book The Art of Reading Biblical Narrative, offers below some very important remarks on what it takes to read the Bible:

The reading of any literary text requires us to perform all sorts of operations of linkage, both small and large, and at the same time to make constant discriminations among related but different words, statements, actions, characters, relations, and situations. What I have tried to indicate throughout this study and to illustrate by way of summary through this last example is that in the Bible many of the clues offered to help us make these linkages and discriminations depend on a distinctive set of narrative procedures that for readers of a later era has to be learned. It has been my own experience in making a sustained effort to understand biblical narrative better that such learning is pleasurable rather than arduous. As one discovers how to adjust the fine focus of those literary binoculars, the biblical tales, forceful enough to begin with, show a surprising subtlety and inventiveness of detail, and in many instances a beautifully interwoven wholeness. The human figures that move through this landscape thus seem livelier, more complicated and various, than one’s preconceptions might have allowed. (italics mine.)

Alter, R., The Art of Biblical Narrative (Revised Edition), p. 544, Basic Books, 2011.

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