IN A previous article in these pages, “A Literary Approach to the Bible,” I wrote about the general paucity of serious literary analysis of the Bible in contemporary scholarship, and about the difficulties that confront the critic in trying to understand and explicate the biblical text in literary terms. What I should like to do here is to extend that discussion by looking closely at one aspect of the literary art of the Bible, the use of repetition in narrative. As before, my effort will be to show how the critical application of literary scholarship can result in a deeper appreciation of the Bible not only as a work of literature, but as a religious document as well.
One of the most imposing barriers that stands between the modern reader and the imaginative subtlety of biblical narrative is the extraordinary prominence of verbatim repetition. This habit of constantly restating material is bound to give us trouble, especially in a narrative that otherwise adheres so evidently to the strictest economy of means. Repetition is, I would guess, the feature of biblical narrative that looks most “primitive” to the casual modern eye, reflecting a mentality alien to our own and a radically different approach to ordering experience from the ones familiar to us.
About the Author