Review of K. Kim, Incubation as a Type-Scene in the ’Aqhatu, Kirta, and Hannah Stories

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

Kim, Koowon, Incubation as a Type-Scene in the ʾAqhatu, Kirta, and Hannah Stories: A Form-Critical and Narratological Study of KTU 1.14 I–1.15 III, 1.17 I–II, and 1 Samuel 1:1–2:11 (VTSup, 145; Leiden: Brill, 2011). Pp. xiv, 370. Hardcover. €132.00 $171.00 ISBN 978-90-04-20239-9.

Koowon Kim's most admirable volume, Incubation as a Type-Scene, explores dreams, oneiric theophanies, and their literary depiction in set scenes in biblical and Ugaritic literature. It focuses specifically on three narratives that are structured around the notion of incubation, the ancient practice of eliciting a dream theophany in a time of personal or national crisis. A major thesis of the book is that incubation as a literary device should be carefully distinguished from incubation as a religious practice (p. 19). I find Kim's distinction between art and life to be most helpful. Kim's volume focuses on artistic depiction. Yet the author recognizes the intimate connections between literary portrayal and social practice. Indeed, he demonstrates an impressive command of the textual evidence—from several genres, time periods, and cultures—for incubation across the ancient Mediterranean world. To my mind, his survey of the practice of incubation (Chapter 2, pp. 27–60), which he undertakes largely in support of his literary theses, is one of the most impressive contributions of the book and should be read by anyone interested in dreams, divination, or religious practice in the ancient world.

Kim posits the existence of an incubation type-scene in Ugaritic and biblical literature. For Kim, incubation scenes in these literatures, like the Homeric type-scenes analyzed by Michael Nagler, share a family-resemblance to one another rather than a mandatory set of features (pp. 15–17, 62, 343).[1] Each incubation scene draws from a stock set of motifs, but it need not include every motif. He defines the incubation type-scene as containing a plot that moves from problem to solution and as containing motifs that express four concepts: predicament, intentionality, liminality, and epiphany (Chapter 3, esp. pp. 64–84). Incubation involves a predicament of personal or national importance—in the three literary examples Kim explores, childlessness. It involves intentional actions aimed at eliciting a response from a deity. It can involve liminal space (e.g., a temple), liminal time (i.e., nighttime), or liminal consciousness (i.e., a dream). Finally, it involves the deity, or perhaps the deity's representative, granting the incubant's request. These four concepts underlying the type-scene are rooted in the religious practice of incubation, but the literary type-scene is not bound by religious practice. Indeed, for Kim, incubation may function as a literary device governing a narrative even when no character in the story undertakes incubation (pp. 71, 84).

Kim identifies the incubation type-scene in the opening movements of the Aqhat (Chapter 4, pp. 88–162), Kirta (Chapter 5, pp. 163–262), and Samuel (Chapter 6, pp. 263–342) narratives. For each text he surveys the presence of motifs—“sonlessness,” “offering,” “sleeping,” “theophany,” “change-of-mood,” etc.—that give expression to each of the four conceptual components of incubation as the stories move from crisis to resolution. Translations of the relevant texts are accompanied by discussion of philological points relevant to the theses he explores. Kim moves deftly between close observation of the texts, especially their structure at the level of the line, and larger interpretive issues (e.g., pp. 149–54, 171). Since the type-scene involves both convention and invention (p. 343), he also considers how each poet has shaped the individual scenes so that they play particular narratological roles in their context. Throughout, even though one might quibble with this or that point of grammatical analysis, one is very impressed with the care with which Kim advances his arguments and the rigor with which he structures his discussion.

The task of demonstrating the existence of a type-scene is inherently difficult. By their very nature, scenes belonging to a particular type are both similar to and different from one another. As such, whether readers will consider the similarities between scenes as sufficient to constitute family resemblance or whether they will instead regard the differences as betraying the opposite, will, to some extent, be more a matter of aesthetic judgment than quantitative analysis. In this regard, constantly in the background to Incubation as a Type-Scene is the question of whether the three scenes Kim analyzes really constitute a new type, or whether one or more of them might better be characterized as exemplars of the long-recognized birth of the hero, or annunciation, type-scene. Kim argues that the principal protagonist in each of these three scenes is the childless parent, rather than the future hero. As such, they should be classified as a literary type distinct from the birth of the hero.

At times, however, Kim's argument for the existence of an incubation type-scene is strained. In fact, he himself speaks of Samuel's birth narrative as representing a “transitional stage” between the incubation type-scene and the biblical annunciation story (p. 272). There are several differences between this scene and the birth narratives in Kirta and Aqhat. Most notably, no deity appears to Hannah, though Kim understand's Eli as playing an equivalent role in this scene (pp. 301, 304). Nor does she sleep or dream—for Kim, the narrative still gives expression to intentionality and liminality. Some readers will share Kim's aesthetic judgment about the Hannah story, while others will find the differences between the biblical and Ugaritic stories telling.

To my mind, Kim's classification of Samuel's birth narrative as an incubation type-scene should also be questioned on redactional-critical and socio-historical grounds. Although Kim recognizes the complex redactional history of the books of Samuel, he chooses to focus on the present form of the Masoretic text (pp. 272–73). He even speaks of the “author” of the story (p. 273), as though his theory of the type-scene required one. Kim treats the “author” of the story as manipulating the so-called incubation type-scene towards particular narratological ends without discussing the actual textual blocks with which several scribes have, over the course of generations, shaped the books of Samuel. Whether, for example, Judg 19–21; 1 Sam 1; and 9–11 originally constituted a Benjaminite narrative about the rise of Saul that was later split up and incorporated into stories about the Judges and about Samuel, or not, most surely have some bearing on one's understanding of how Judahite scribes shaped received traditions toward narratological ends. One must also raise the question of how Judahite scribes, working no earlier than the eighth through sixth centuries b.c.e., might have become aware of an incubation type-scene that, to judge by Kim's book, may only be attested in Ugaritic literature from more than half a millennium prior. How, from a socio-historical perspective, are the two literary traditions linked? To my mind, Kim's literary theses require further engagement with such questions.

I found Kim's literary treatment of the Aqhat and Kirta narratives rather more compelling. In these texts he more convincingly demonstrates the presence of motifs giving expression to the four components of incubation. Furthermore, the texts belong to the same literary tradition. If one accepts his proposal, his analysis can be pressed further. In Kim's understanding of the Aqhat narrative, Baal appears to Danel in an oneiric theophany. Yet, it is El who actually grants Danel's request for a son. Conversely, in the Kirta narrative, El appears to Kirta in a dream. Rather than granting his request directly, however, he instructs Kirta to approach Baal with a sacrifice. Why this deferral of divine responsibility in answering the incubant's request in both scenes? These constellations may present an opportunity to tie some of Kim's detailed observation of the motifs in these scenes to larger narratological questions.

At the same time, even at the literary level, Kim has not given adequate attention to the hospitality motif in the Aqhat narrative. Aqhat entertains the goddesses of conception and birth in the seven days leading up to the impregnation of his wife. Hospitality also features as a motif in Gen 18, where Abraham prepares a meal for the deity and his two attendants before receiving the promise of progeny. One wonders if Kim has played up the literary features of the Aqhat story that fit his definition of the incubation type-scene and played down those features that could be related to more general motifs of barrenness, conception, and birth.

The volume unfortunately has a large number of typographical errors, for which the publisher must surely bear some responsibility. For the most part, the reader will have little difficulty ignoring these. Occasionally, however, the lack of adequate editorial proofing shakes the reader's confidence in his or her ability to follow the subtleties of Kim's argument. For example, Kim notes that Aitken does “not use the term ‘a type-scene’” in his analysis of the Aqhat narrative (p. 94). Two pages later, however, he reports that “Aitken divides themes into ‘compositional themes’ and ‘type-scenes’” (p. 96). Is the apparent tension between these two claims about Aitken's analysis a result of inadequate page proofing, or is Kim making a very subtle argument?

Incubation as a Type-Scene participates in intellectual conversations beyond Ugaritic and biblical studies, especially in its many footnotes. As one might expect from the literary focus of the volume, Kim dialogues especially with the work of literary scholars, rather than with the work of anthropologists or psychoanalysts on dreams. This engagement with literary theory is most welcome. Furthermore, although the volume is theoretically sophisticated, one of its great strengths is the fact that it builds its arguments from the primary evidence rather than the theoretical literature.

Kim's appreciation for literary theory, his command of the primary textual evidence from several ancient Near Eastern settings, and the analytical rigor with which he structures his argument all make Incubation as a Type-Scene a most impressive volume and a very welcome addition to biblical and Ugaritic studies.

Stephen C. Russell, Princeton Theology Seminary

[1] M. Nagler, Spontaneity and Tradition. A Study in the Oral Art of Homer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001). reference