Because it stands in the shadow of Fishbane’s monumental Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, this little book is not so well known twenty-five years after its publication. That’s a pity, for it exhibits the art of Fishbane’s literarily sensitive readings of key biblical texts to a readership that will not labor through the massive methodological and typological argument of the larger work. If Biblical Interpretation is a four-movement symphony for full orchestra and a price tag to match, Text and Texture is a savory lunchtime string trio in the sun, offered gratis to passersby.
A short introduction claims that Scripture is the `rescued speech’ of divine-human encounter, an artifact of that meeting that requires an interpreter to bring it to life. Fishbane steps in to fill that role in three sections, interpreting in order `Narratives and Narrative Cycles’, `Speeches and Prayers’, and `Motifs and Other Text-Transformations’.
Torah texts from Genesis and Exodus monopolize the section on narrative. In `Genesis 1:1-2:4a/The Creation’ (pp. 3-16), Fishbane offers a winsome reading of the first biblical creation account, read not only for its own texture but also against the phenomenon of multiple creation myths that was typical in the Ancient Near East and remains so today. Readers familiar with literary approaches to the Bible will find little content that is new here, but will delight in the balance and accessibility of Fishbane’s reading. On the other hand, readers who come to this text from Sabbath School, Sunday School, or creationist controversy will appreciate – perhaps for the first time – the cogency of a reading like Fishbane’s, which seeks out the author’s artistry and does not shrink from its theological burden. In this way, one of the Bible’s most pregnant texts finds in Fishbane a capable midwife.
Though Jewish readers will not be surprised, Christians who follow Fishbane’s reading of the primeval history (`Genesis 2:4b-11:32/The Primeval Cycle’, pp. 17-39) may find striking his suggestion that the text portrays the serpent as a potentiality within human experience rather than as the supernatural adversary figure developed by Christian reflection upon this passage. This detail, typical of Fishbane’s reading of the Bible’s first man as `everyman’, exemplifies the interpretation the reader should expect as Fishbane moves from the `psychological’ insight of Genesis ch. three to the outworking of the knowledge of evil in the sociality of ch. four. Fishbane is particularly attentive to human energy and restraint, the former serving both to construct and dismantle civilization.
The author’s treatment of the Jacob cycle (`Genesis 25:19-35:22/The Jacob Cycle’ discovers an intricate chiastic structure to the composite work, not unlike the symmetry in their literature that has been posited by Homeric scholars. Diverse genres have been artfully and coherently woven into a work in which `this narrative perspective-the ambilaterial givenness and hiddenness of divine grace-gives to the Jacob cycle its most fulsome power.’
Fishbane’s brief treatment of the Exodus tradition (`Exodus 1-4/The Prologue to the Exodus Cycle’, pp. 63-76) closes out his section on narrative cycles. Taking pains to credit the editorial work that wove separate traditions into a coherent whole, the author notices how the patriarchal narratives anticipate (though in compositional terms, depend upon) motifs and vocabulary given to us in the Exodus Cycle. As well, Moses’ experience of reluctant calling typifies that later calling of at least three classical prophets.
`Deuteronomy 6:20-25/Teaching and Transmission’ (ch. 5, pp. 79-83) introduces the book’s somewhat shorter section entitled `Speeches and Prayers’. Fishbane observes that community continuity depends upon the sons’ identification with and commitment to the experience and covenant of their fathers. Deuteronomy does not take this intergenerational dynamic for granted.
`Psalm 19/Creation, Torah, and Hope’ (ch. 6, pp. 84-90) is a tersely elegant comment upon a three-part prayer, in which creation is praised, Torah is received, and hope is given in the very articulation of the anxious prayer’s words. Fishbane’s attention to nuance and double entendre is particularly helpful when he writes about prayer, prayers, and pray-ers.
Fishbane approaches one of Jeremiah’s anguished prayers as ‘a heightened expression of Jeremiah’s inner history as a prophet of God, (without feeling) constrained to locate its precise setting in life (‘Jeremiah 20:7-12/Loneliness and Anguish (ch. 7, pp. 91-102)’. The ‘language of direct encounter (‘You!’) frames the prayer, ‘bracketing and counterpointing the references to God as “Him” and “He,” and the citations of the enemies plot against “him’ (Jeremiah)’. This observation leads to a subtle exposure of the intratextual references that crisscross this text and others in the book with poignant results for a prophet who finds himself set upon and outwitted by the God who chose him for a spokesman.
‘Psalm 122/Space in Suspension: The Pilgrimage’ (ch. 8, pp. 103-107) gently observes the transformation of the ‘I’ to a strengthened ‘I-in-community’ that occurs in the course of this endearing ‘psalm of ascent’.
In my judgment, Fishbane’s finest work is found in ‘Motifs’ and ‘Other Text-Transformations’, a section of the book that is headlined by ‘The “Eden” Motif/The Landscape of Spatial Renewal’ (ch. 9, pp. 111-120). Utilizing prose reminiscent of the best midrashic and literary treatments of Scripture (in our time, think Levenson and Brueggemann), the author shows how Edenic imagery flows from humankind’s most basic longings for harmony and divine blessing, then flourishes anew in exilic times to express both the tragedy of Israel’s loss and the potency of its longing to begin again.
In his last chapter (`The “Exodus” Motif/The Paradigm of Historical Renewal’, pp. 121-140), Fishbane shows how the Edenic spatial imagery is complemented by the temporal-historical paradigm of exodus and typologically correspondent new exoduses. `Reflective historiography’ discovers in liberation from Egypt and conquest of the land a motif that is almost infinitely capable of reuse in the generation of hope. In this way, Israel’s consciousness is `layered’ in a manner that fits `new events to the archetypal armature of its formative experiences … History serves here a prism of hope; the future will reclaim a stained past.’
An epilogue allows Fishbane and his reader to savor the eminently theological disclosure that sustains the exercise, the craft, and the art of Jewish biblical interpretation.