There are 6 thoughts on “The Return of Rhetorical Analysis to Bible Studies”.

  1. Robert Alter’s ongoing literary translation of the Hebrew Bible is excellent. In his introduction to his translation of the Pentateuch, he mentions the over-arching literary feel of unity to the work as a whole.
    While he doesn’t dismiss the notions of J, E, P, etc., etc., etc., he tends to lean towards the view that most critical source text scholarship has vastly overstated their claims over the decades. Part of the problem is that these experts become experts over increasingly small areas of focus, such as the Yahwist, or the Elowist, or the Priestly source, but they are terrible as seeing the big picture.
    Another thing that has always puzzled me: the Great Isaiah Scroll, which I believe is now dated to the 1 century BC. It’s a single, unified scroll, with absolutely no evidence that two or three scrolls were bundled together or copied together. It’s a single, ancient, unified work. This fact is seemingly ignored in constant favor of the Second Isaiah, Third Isaiah edifice that scholars have built over the decades. But there doesn’t seem to be any evidence for it.

    • For those that read your comment and may not be familiar with Alter, his The Art of Biblical Narrative remains a classic in literary studies of the Bible, although the field has come a long way since this was first published 1981, and there are lots of really expensive books to read if this whets the appetite. Nonetheless, despite the advances in the field, The Art of Biblical Narrative remains a must read.

    • Also, for what it is worth, it is interesting to note that the Book of Mormon cites Proto-Isaiah and Deutero-Isaiah, but not Trito-Isaiah. This may be informative regarding these studies in Isaiah.

  2. Great article. A couple follow-up questions:
    1. From footnote 2, where are the boundaries of the three Book of Mormon passages that the author discovered through inclusio? If you could give the chapter-verse ranges, I’d like to go examine them more closely.
    2. From Lundbom chapter 7, could you elaborate on the difference between Greek/Western “hypotactic” rhetoric and Hebrew “paratactic” logic, or give an example or two? That sounds like a very interesting key to understanding the OT.
    Quote: “Scholars … find themselves rethinking old certainties when they see pieces of text assigned by source critics to different authors fitting together perfectly into rhetorical structures designed almost necessarily by a single author.”
    It’s interesting (and honestly a little vindicating) to see this shift back to considering the texts’ unity. It reminds me of Avraham Gileadi’s work that shows the unity of Isaiah, and thus questions the currently widely-held conclusion that Isaiah was composed by two or three authors at different times.
    Quote: “The analyst must essentially rewrite the text with typographical formatting to show the rhetorical function of every word.”
    Amen! This has actually become the main way I study the scriptures—starting with Word files where I’ve removed all the paragraph breaks and chapter divisions so that an entire book is just one long paragraph. Then I go through an insert paragraph breaks, and major and minor headings, where they make the most sense to me. Of course, each time I re-read a book, I end up changing those paragraph breaks and headings, but that’s just part of the process of getting to know that book of scripture better. I highly recommend this way of studying the scriptures and have posted Word files for “do-it-yourself scriptures that make it easier for anyone who wants to try it.

    • You can read the detailed analysis of those three inclusios in the 2015 article published by the Scottish Journal of Theology, “The Gospel according to Mormon,” or the 1991 version in BYU Studies, “the Gospel a taught by the Nephite prophets.” These can be readily downloaded from the BYU Library web site at
      Any scholarly work you might read today is hypotactic in the sense that it proceeds directly and logically to its conclusions. The paratactic approach of ancient Hebrew writers relied on different forms of repetition and parallelism in order to communicate meaning both by the form of the composition and by the word meanings. Chiasms are one good example. And conclusions are made evident in this indirect way.
      Anyone going to read Alter will want to get his 2011 updated edition

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