the chicken(poetry) or the egg(prose)?

Camille Bessette at
Fri Sep 4 08:04:02 EDT 1998

Brian wrote:
"Didn't the cultures surrounding Israel record
their national literatures in poetry?  Aren't certain poems in the HB
considered the oldest portions of the corpus?  And so, by recording their
chronicle in prose, might we not infer that Israel actually
(artificially?)created a fresh and therefore strong convention?  To the
ancient's ear, might not the prose have been the more formal sounding?"

Dear Brian,

While working on the side over Psalm 18 and 2 Sam, I want to quote Robert
Alter on your above suggestion.
He explains the phenomenon that only Israel choose to cast its sacred
national traditions in prose by a deliberate avoidance of epic, saying that
the prose form of Hebrew narrative is the chief evidence for this avoidance
(Talmon) and adding that the vigorous movement of biblical writing away from
the stable closure of the mythological world toward indeterminacy and
ambiguities of prose resemble the uncertainties of life in history
(chapter 2 of The Art of Biblical Narrative : Sacred History and the
beginnings of prose fiction).
Do you know Meir Sternberg ? he discusses Alter, especially
his key terms history/prose-fiction.

Paul Zellmer wrote :
"I picture the people speaking prose and then using poetry, with
its special characteristics, for better expressing emotions and for
memorizing stories of significant events."
I would add the special evocative power of images.

Camille Bessette
Carmel de Lisieux /France

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