We know, we know. It's a narrative and it's in the Bible, so obviously it's a biblical narrative. But one thing's for sure: the people behind these narratives know how to tell a good story. They value the art and pleasure of characterization, plot, suspense, irony, foreshadowing, humor, and even good ol' puns. Hey, just like Shmoop.
Here are a few key tips for interpreting biblical storytelling:
Tip #1: The narrator and the deity are reliable and generally well-informed. That means we can trust what they say (as far as the story is concerned—anything else is your call).
Tip #2: Repetitions matter. And there are lots of 'em in Genesis. Wells, anyone? VIP hint for how to read them: pay attention to the differences. They're there for a reason, usually as a way of characterizing people and their actions. Remember when Jacob amends God's promises of land and protection in 28:13-15 to include "food and clothes" (28:20-22)? That's so Jacob.
Tip #3: Biblical prose is famously tight-lipped. These storytellers don't give us much to work with, so what they do say is there for a reason. Example: what better way to awaken pathos in the story of Abraham's binding of Isaac than by constantly reminding readers that Isaac is Abraham's son, his only son (check out chapter 22)?
Feeling the itch to scratch below the surface? You pioneering Shmoopers can check out some very accessible treatments of Biblical storytelling by Robert Altar and Yairah Amit.