A couple of weeks ago there was a partial reading of the story of the Adulterous Woman over on T&S. In that endeavor, the narrative-critical aspects of the story were not included. Since I have already ascended from dissy-Hell in order to drink gin from the bathtub with my homies, I think I’ll complement the earlier effort before I return. And since I seem to be totally unable to write anything shorter than War and Peace, this is going to have several installments.
Narrative criticism approaches biblical passages as literature, asking how a text communicates its message as a literary artifact. In general, narrative-critics of the Bible use the same methods as those used by those who study fiction. In specific cases, these methods are modified by an awareness of the time and distance that separates modern fiction from the ancient world. Narrative-critical approaches look at characters, rhetoric, style, syntax, plot, imagery, setting, tone, and point of view (focalization), among other things.
Standing above all this, however, is the narrator. Narrative critics look at the narrator as the one who selects the scenes that are shown, decides what characters say, sets the pace of the narration, evaluates characters, chooses how much background the reader knows, and provides the all-important “insider information” that helps us make sense of what we are reading. In the literary world of the Bible, the narrator, implied author, and real author are very closely aligned.
The narrator, then, is normally the reader’s best friend when it comes to understanding a story. The three-way relationship between the reader, the narrator, and the discourse is one of the most important aspects of narrative theory. And it naturally follows that when that relationship is rendered unreliable or otherwise ambiguous, interpretation becomes far more challenging.