Book Reviews

Genesis as Dialogue

A Literary, Historical, and Theological Commentary

Thomas L. Brodie New York 2001-08-16

Synchronic critical approaches to the Old Testament are slowly but surely pushing older diachronic methods to the side and marking out their turf on the hermeneutical landscape. In this sometimes novel but often impressive work Brodie, a Roman Catholic scholar, makes his contribution to the new wave of synchronic studies on Genesis. As the title suggests, his approach is primarily literary-theological, with attention given to how Genesis, he believes, has utilized traditions from the prophets and world literature.

Brodie unabashedly places himself in the circle of synchronic critics who focus on the text in its finished form. He writes, “It slowly became clear to me that the primary path to meaning, and even to history and social background, is the finished text. The finished text is the number one artifact… . The literary approach works; the question of sources does not have to dominate the interpretation of the text” (p. xiv). In his lengthy introduction to the commentary Brodie presents the case for the literary unity of Genesis, arguing that the book is arranged in twenty-six diptychs, or paired texts that have a dialogical relationship. In his response to the traditional source-critical (JEDP) approach to Genesis, Brodie states, “The issue is not whether something can be divided in two (or three or four) but whether it is more intelligible when taken as a unit. When Genesis is taken as a unit it is indeed perplexing, but ultimately it is supremely intelligible—great literary art, with a magnificent vision of the struggle and richness of life and of a transcendent dimension surpassing human calculation… . The text is complex, but it is orderly” (p. 500). For Brodie the finished form of the text comes from a relatively late period. In fact he says the sources of Genesis include, among others, the Old Testament prophets (appendix 2) and Homer’s Odyssey (appendix 3).

Throughout the commentary Brodie is sensitive to the story’s macro-plot, the relationship between the parts, and the contribution each part makes to the whole. Herein lies the strength of the work. In the introduction to each of his proposed dyptichs he addresses “the basic story line,” literary form, “complementarity of the two panels,” the relationship of the unit to preceding chapters, “leading elements,” and structure. Then follows the commentary proper, which is synthetic, not technical. While Brodie’s comments are often perceptive and thought-provoking, one does wish at times for more exegetical interaction with the text, but given the author’s stated goal and approach, perhaps this is excusable.

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