| Narrative Criticism
Criticism in General
criticism is a broad term encompassing several different approaches
to the literary text. In the early days of historical
criticism, the term was used for any form of close
reading of the text, and thus could encompass form and source
criticisms. But since the 1960s, with the burgeoning
of the field of literary criticism in the disciplines of English
and World Literature, the term "Literary Criticism"
in biblical studies has come to refer to approaches undertaken
in these other disciplines.
general, all literary critical methods examine the final text
of a given biblical book, as opposed to the origins of its
parts. The literary critic assumes that the author
worked with sources, but also that the author composed a new
account from these sources - an account that has literary
integrity. The critic may choose to focus attention
on the text or the response of the intended readers, and then
within these categories to focus still further, for example
on semiotics or narrative structures.
type of literary criticism described below is referred to
as Narrative Criticism, which focuses on the literary shape
of the text. The narrative critic examines the
text to discern its aspect (fiction or non-fiction, prose
or poetry), genre (history, legend, myth, etc.), structure
(including plot, theme, irony, foreshadowing, etc.), characterization,
and narrative perspective.
examine a text as a literary critic would, apply these four steps
- Analyze the form (literary aspect and genre) of the text. Is it fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry? What is its genre?
- Analyze the literary structure of the piece. Follow this procedure:
- Setting - What is the setting of the story?
- Where does the plot begin, end, climax? What clues in the text support your choice of climax (look for evidence of foreshadowing, repetition that builds in some way, or a critical moment which must be resolved in the storyís denouement)?
- Are there any suggestive gaps in the story - questions that come to your mind that the author does not resolve? Are there any suggestive antitheses presented (one character contrasted to another character, one story paralleling a similar one)? These antitheses can be evidence of irony; each also suggests meaning by presenting a commentary on the other.
- Do there appear to be any anomalies in the text:
digression/interruption, thematic inconsistency,
apparent repetition? [Whereas in source
criticism such anomalies are taken to suggest discrete
sources, in this method they should be taken to
reveal the meaning of the story, and not discrete
- Elements - What are the key symbol(s)? motif(s)? theme(s)?
- Analyze the characters in the story. Who are the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s)? What are their motives? Do they change?
- Examine the narrative perspective of the account. From whose perspective is the story told? Is it told in the first or third person? Is the narrator omniscient? Given the perspective and the storyís form, suggest a location or occasion for the recitation of your story.
Used for the Narrative Analysis of Prose
from M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 3d ed.
[New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1971; orig. 1957] and Margaret
Nutting Ralph, "And God Said What?" An Introduction
to Biblical Literary Forms for Bible Lovers [Mahwah, New Jersey:
story about events that did not occur in time; through verisimilitude
(things made to look true-to-life), fiction is often crafted
to look as if it could have occurred. Its purpose
can be educative or entertaining.
story about events that did occur, told as objectively (without
bias) as possible.
patterned into recurrent units of meter (notice: poetry is
not necessarily rhyming, but it is necessarily rhythmic and
repetitive). In biblical texts, poetic language
often indicates that the poem or form was used in a liturgical
or ritual setting.
use of language as we ordinarily speak it, as distinguished
from language patterned into recurrent units of meter.
account of the life of some great political or military
figure, often told in a highly stereotypical way (marvelous
birth, proper upbringing, noble public life, exemplary death).
long narrative poem on a great and serious subject, related
in an elevated style, and centered on a heroic or quasi-divine
figure on whose actions depends the fate of a tribe, a nation,
or the human race. Examples of epics are the
Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Beowulf,
and Miltonís Paradise Lost.
argumentative dialogue between two characters.
verbal materials and social rituals that have been handed
down solely, or at least primarily, by word of mouth. The
following forms are common to folklore: legends, superstitions,
songs, tales, proverbs, riddles, spells, nursery rhymes;
pseudo-scientific lore about weather, plants, animals; customary
activities at births, marriages, deaths; traditional dances
and forms of drama.
ancient times, a chronicle of political and military events,
geographic descriptions and ethnic portraits, often incorporating
elements of epic, high narrative style, and biographical
to a myth, except that the protagonist is a heroic and probably
historical figure rather than a supernatural being.
imaginative story which uses symbols to speak about reality;
the symbols are necessary because the reality is beyond
human comprehension (Ralph). A mythology may
be defined as a system of hereditary stories which serve
to explain (in terms of the intentions and actions of supernatural
beings) why the world is as it is and things happen as they
do, and to establish the rationale for social customs and
observances and the sanctions for the rules by which people
conduct their lives.
long prose narrative incorporating historical and legendary
interrupt a story in order to portray or recount an incident
or scene from the past.
present an indication or suggestion of something before
it occurs in the narrative.
technique whereby the explicit meaning of an incident or
statement differs from its implicit meaning, intent, or
suggestion. Verbal irony is a statement whose
explicit and implicit meanings differ ("Come to Bethel
and sin..." Amos 4:4); structural irony is found when
1) parallel plots are arranged antithetically (Peterís
denial of Jesus vs. Jesusí confession in Mk 14:53-72); or
2) characters do not know what the reader knows; or
3) forms diverge from what is expected (the oracles
against other nations were never intended to be turned against
Israel! Amos 2:6ff).
element (a type of incident, device or formula) which recurs
frequently in literature. In contrast to a theme, a motif
is more limited and less comprehensive of the entire story.
structure of the action of a story, as these actions are
ordered and rendered toward achieving particular emotional
and artistic effects.
general locale and historical time in which the action of
a story occurs; it can also refer to the particular physical
location in which a particular scene or episode occurs.
frame or outline of a literary piece.
which signifies or points to something else. Since words
themselves are symbols, a symbol in literature has two targets:
1) an object or event, and 2) that to which that
object points. For example, the words "bread
of life" in John 6:22-59 point first to real bread,
and secondly to the concept of the Christís life-giving
idea, point of view or perception embodied and expanded
upon in a work of art; an underlying or essential subject
of artistic representation. In contrast to a
motif, the theme comprehends the entire literary work; in
this sense, it is analogous to the thesis of a research
who opposes and actively competes with another (the protagonist);
leading or principal figure in a story or drama.
emotion, desire, physiological need, or similar impulse
acting as an incitement to action.
way a story gets told; the perspective or perspectives established
by an author through which the reader is presented with
the characters, actions, setting, and events which constitute
the narrative in a work of fiction.
author refers to him/herself as "I/we."
narrator assumes a posture of knowing everything that is
in the charactersí minds and revealing this selectively.
Used for the Narrative Analysis of Poetry
drawn from T. Brogan, "Rhythm," Princeton Handbook
of Poetic Terms [ed. Alex Preminger et al.; Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1986] 238, and David L. Petersen and Kent Harold
Richards, Interpreting Hebrew Poetry [Guides to Biblical
Scholarship, Old Testament Series; ed. Gene M. Tucker; Minneapolis:
Augsburg Fortress, 1992]).
or less regular poetic rhythm; the measurable rhythmical
patterns manifested in the work.
resemblance of two (or more) components of a poetic unit
whereby the later element(s) mimics, opposes, or builds
upon the former element(s).
word in each component of the parallel is related.
or more sounds of the original words are played off of each
other in the various components (you can ignore this feature,
since it is only visible in the original language).
verbal action of one component is related to the verbal
action in another.
of Parallel Relationship
word or idea in one component is opposed against an antonym
in the second component.
word or idea in the later component differs from or builds
upon a word or idea in the first component.
word or idea in one component is mimicked or repeated by
a synonym in the second component.
cadence or contour, any sequence perceptible as a distinct
pattern capable of repetition and variation.
which points to something else; some relationship obtains
between the symbol and that to which it points.
concrete place, object or figure that finds its fullest
meaning in another place, object or figure; while type is
technically a subset of symbol.
- Aristotle. "The
Poetics." In Aristotle, vol. 23, The
Poetics; "Longinus," "On the Sublime";
Demetrius, "On Style," trans. W. Hamilton Fyfe
and W. Rhys Roberts, Loeb Classical Library 199. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard University Press 1982; original 1932.
Elizabeth. "Narratological Plots and Aristotle's
Mythos." Arethusa 33 (1 2000)
37-70. Available online.
Daniel and Yvan Bourquin. How to Read Bible
Stories: An Introduction to Narrative Criticism, trans.
John Bowden. London: SCM Press, 1999; French original,
Paris: Cerf, 1998.
Powell, Mark Allan. What is Narrative Criticism?,
Guides to Biblical Scholarship, New Testament Series. Minneapolis:
- Culpepper, R. Alan. Anatomy of the Fourth
Gospel: A Study in Literary Design. Minneapolis:
Donahue, John R. The Gospel in Parable: Metaphor,
Narrative, and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels. Philadelphia:
- George, Larry Darnell. Reading the Tapestry:
A Literary-Rhetorical Analysis of the Johannine Resurrection
Narrative (John 21-21), Studies in Biblical Literature
14. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
- Iverson, Kelly R. and Christopher W. Skinner. Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011.
- Kingsbury, Jack Dean. Matthew as Story,
2d rev. ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1988.
- Longenecker, Bruce W., ed. Narrative Dynamics
in Paul: A Critical Assessment. Louisville,
Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 2003.
- Merenlahti, Petri. Poetics for the Gospels?:
Rethinking Narrative Criticism, Studies of the
New Testament and Its World. Edinburgh: T
& T Clark, 2002.
- Moore, Stephen D. Literary Criticism and the
Gospels: The Theoretical Challenge. New Haven,
Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1989.
- Nahkola, Aulikki. Double Narratives in the
Old Testament: The Foundations of Method in Biblical Criticism,
BZAW 290. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter,
- Resseguie, James L. The Strange Gospel: Narrative Design and Point of View in John,
Biblical Interpretation Series 56. Leiden: Brill, 2001.
- Rhoads, David, Joanna Dewey and Donald Michie. Mark
as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, 3rd ed.
Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011.
Stephen H. A Lion with Wings: A Narrative-Critical
Approach to Mark's Gospel, Biblical Seminar 39. Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.
- Tolbert, Mary Ann. Sowing the Gospel: Mark's
World in Literary-Historical Perspective. Minneapolis:
Augsburg Fortress, 1989.
- Tovey, Derek. Narrative Art and Act in the
Fourth Gospel, JSNTSup 151. Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1997.
Michael E. The Problem of Markan Genre:
The Gospel of Mark and the Jewish Novel. Atlanta:
Society of Biblical Literature, 2002.
Jerome T. Style and Structure in Biblical Hebrew
Narrative. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical
- Of Interest
- Wire, Antoinette Clark. Holy Lives, Holy Deaths: A Close Hearing of Early Jewish Storytellers. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002.