Review of S. Gillmayr-Bucher, Erzählte Welten im Richterbuch

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Gillmayr-Bucher, Susanne, Erzählte Welten im Richterbuch (Biblical Interpretation Series, 116; Leiden: Brill, 2012). Pp. viii, 315. Hardcover. €101.00 $140.00 ISBN 978-90-04-24389-7.

This volume is one of the fruits of the author's sustained interaction with the book of Judges, starting in 2005 in collaboration with the research program “Textvarianz, Textwachtum und die vielfalt der erzählerischen Gestaltung in deuteronomischen Geschichtswerk” at the University of Aachen. As an experiment in a post-structural narratology, the present volume is a tribute to the author's colleagues in the project.

The first chapter is a detailed exposition of the method, delineating the different “worlds” encountered in the act of reading. Outside the text itself, one finds the actual world (AW), which is the reality of the author(s) and reader(s) in general. The narratorial actual world (NAW) is the reality the author/reader experiences at the moment of his/her narrating/reading. This differentiation is important for homodiegetic narration (when the lyrical narrator is a character of the story), when different voices of the narrator tell the story (e.g. a younger and an older “I”), or for varying narrating voices in a text, as each voice may experience its reality differently. Furthermore, the textual actual world (TAW) comprises every fact and event presented in the narration, meaning all narrated material taken as factual by the figures in the text. The TAW represents a system of possibilities that the reader accepts during the act of reading. Within the system, the narrator's voice is not necessarily the most authoritative. One may even find a diachronic stratification of TAWs when judgements or commentaries are layered on top of a previous TAW.

The protagonists present their own knowledge-worlds (what they believe to be true, whether or not it agrees with the TAW), intention-worlds (their aims), wish-worlds (their aspirations), moral-worlds (the norms and subjective convictions they hold individually) and obligation-worlds (social regulations imposed by the group they belong to). These different worlds form the dynamic world-system that is constructed in the interactions between the private worlds of the different characters. Contrary to diachronic analyses that seek to isolate particular strata within the text, such a multi-perspectival approach sees a text as more than the sum of its various units. Though final-form studies like this one may run the risk of missing the lively interaction between the different voices in the text, this narratological study approaches the entire book of Judges from the theoretical model of the Possible World Theory articulated by Marie-Laure Ryan, Andrea Gutenberg and Carola Surkamp, among others.

To illustrate the interaction between the narrator and the characters, a table presents the amount of space in terms of percentage used by the narrator, the speech introduction formulae, and direct speech for each of the twelve blocks into which the author divides the book of Judges (p. 23, Abbildung 1). While the theological commentary in Judg 3:7–11 is obviously taken up entirely by the narrator, the same is true for the sections on the Minor Judges (10:1–5 12:8–15), which opens new horizons for the relationship between these passages and the function of the minor judges. The table also reveals that the Gideon and Samson stories display similar proportions to chapters 17–21, something that may challenge the common tendency to treat the final chapters separately from the narratives of the judges themselves.

The narrator's voice has no monopoly over the reader's perspective. It is in dialogue with the voices of the characters expressed through direct speech. This direct speech in the book of Judges is highly literary, being composed of only a selection of several elements of what the discourse would have entailed in real life. Even more striking, out of the 138 direct speeches in the book, only 45 are part of a dialogue, while the large majority are isolated speeches. Missing answers and reactions open a horizon of expectation to spur the reader to continue the production of a reading by filling in the gaps. The theoretical discussion of Chapter 1 continues with an exposition of the function of dialogues and of the spatial and temporal categories.

After this substantial methodological discussion, Chapter 2 addresses eleven identified sections in turn (determined differently than the twelve blocks in Abbildung 1), offering a discussion of the development (Entfaltung) of the worlds of the text, followed by the analysis of the relevant actors and a conclusion. The material is too rich for a summary of each part. A partial discussion of the section on Sisera's mother shall suffice:

At the end of the victory song, a vista in the thought-world of Sisera's mother opens a counter-world to the event celebrated by the song. The perspective of the mother reveals the world as it would be, had Sisera won the battle. As she waits for her son's return, her hopes compose a wish-world based on her experience (knowledge-world) and the assumption that Sisera will be the victor. Imagining Sisera in the process of apportioning the plunder is an ominous scene that depicts the fate of Israel had the mother's expectations come true. This insight into the mother's world raises the narrative tension, underlining that this world is to remain a fantasy for the reader (p. 101).

The final chapter synthesizes the results of the inquiry by focusing on the conception of Israel as an entity consisting of a collection of tribes, on the notion of leadership or its absence, and on the position of foreign rulers and foreign people. A discussion of the historical context in which the solidarity between the tribes was remembered concludes the volume. This solidarity resists impulses to elevate the heroic figures of the book of Judges as models for the future. In the context of the Persian Empire, military confrontations with neighboring peoples had no more place than desires for the restoration of a Davidic kingship. For the literati, the leadership provided by the Torah was the way forward. Quite counter to the isolation of Judah from the northern tribes in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah, Judges upholds the ideal of an Israel conceived as a community of tribes needing no state of its own. The great leaders of the books of Joshua and Samuel are not required for a new beginning: “Das Anknüpfungspunkt ist erneut ganz Israel, nicht eine kleine exklusive Gruppe. Zumindest in der Tradition und in der Erinnerung existiert Israel als ein großer, heterogener Stämmeverband” (p. 291).

The fourteen-page bibliography is up-to-date with an equal share of diachronic and synchronic titles, both in German and in English. The volume is completed by biblical and subject indices. The editorial quality is impeccable. The tables (pp. 23, 35, 247, 252) provide statistical material that this reviewer felt offered significant potential for the exploration of the development of the book of Judges itself. Moreover, the emphasis on the importance of “possible worlds” is an invitation to broaden the application of the method to the different corpora within which Judges was read and re-read.

The method delineated in this volume meshes nicely with the current emphasis on cultural memory and thus holds promise for recovering the contribution of Judges to the memories at particular moments of the book's reception. This allows exegesis to enter a new territory. While particular verses, figures and even books have often been dealt as if they were stand-alone entities, an interpreter ought to deal with the comprehensive cultural horizon of the group that formed the readership at any given period. As scholars are dealing with text-based information, they must therefore deal “with the type of general basic convergences among very diverse books within the repertoire that cut across the particular exigencies and idiosyncrasies of any given text and point at the general discursive matrix of which all of them are a part and to which each of them attests.”[1]

As the narrative worlds in the book of Judges belong to the worlds of larger literary collections, Susanne Gillmayr-Bucher's work implicitly poses the question of the relevance of the Deuteronomistic History. The Deuteronomistic History has formed the cultural horizon of a circle of late twentieth-century scholarly readers of the book of Judges. The Deuteronomistic History was not the discursive matrix for the book of Judges before the 1950s, and it is becoming less and less so in the current scholarly discussion. The possible worlds in the book of Judges ought to be read within the repertoire of authoritative texts to which Judges belongs at particular periods—the Greek historical collection of the Septuagint, the Prophets, the TaNaKh and the various Jewish, Christian and Islamic holy books. While the volume is the outcome of a research program focusing on the Deuteronomistic History, Erzählte Welten has nonetheless emancipated itself from the world of Martin Noth' theory. Susanne Gillmayr-Bucher is to be commended for this volume, another sign that the historical exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures is closing the post-World War II parenthesis by offering one possible way forward.

Philippe Guillaume, University of Berne

[1] E. Ben Zvi, “The Memory of Abraham in the Late Persian/Early Hellenistic Yehud/Judah,” P. Carstens and N.-P. Lemche (eds.), The Reception and Remembrance of Abraham (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011), 13–60 (16). reference