Literary Criticism

Literary criticism developed to examine the literary characteristics (including narrative technique, tone, theme, structure, and imagery) of the Bible.

Though source criticism has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the growth of biblical traditions, by definition it ignores the literary unity of the final form of a text. In reaction, literary criticism developed, to examine the literary characteristics (including narrative technique, tone, theme, structure, imagery, repetition, reticence, and character) of the texts. In simple terms, source criticism is interested in cutting up the texts to find the different layers of tradition; literary criticism considers the text as it stands now, as a whole, not as it once may have been. Literary criticism is both like and unlike traditional Jewish commentary. It looks at the Bible as a unified whole but has no theological commitment and sees it as the creation of human authors. Source criticism is interested in the process that wove the different texts, by different authors, together. In contrast, literary criticism sees texts as coherent wholes that create meaning through the integration of their element, irrespective of the authors and their intentions.
As earlier noted, Exodus 6 repeats a great many of the elements present in Exodus 3. The sages of the Midrash and the mystics of the Zohar created stories to explain this repetition. Similarly, literary criticism does not see the two text s of Exodus 3 and Exodus 6 as contradictory but as different parts of an ongoing narrative. Moses receives a renewed call to action in Exodus 6 be cause he has become so disenchanted by his early failure to convince Pharaoh to let the people go. This new revelation completes the revelation at the Burning Bush. God tells Moses that the mission for which he was called on at the Burning Bush will occur in due time; Moses should not be dismayed by his initial failures in Pharaoh ‘s court and with his fellow Israelites. He reminds Moses that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob received revelations and promises, and yet it was not in their times that the promise to possess the land was fulfilled. As the genealogy indicates, the Israelites have gone from being a family to being a people, and so the divine promise will be carried out, the liberation from Egypt will occur, and the Israelites will return to their land.

Literary criticism finds unity and purposeful repetition where other approaches find disharmony and contradiction.

Discover More

A Spiel and a Yarn

How having an extended family of different faiths built my unique Jewish identity

Valuing Debate and Conversation

Jewish tradition, informed by the precedent of the Talmud, prefers to promote discussion rather than correctness.