Frauen Friday: Adele Berlin

After a short hiatus I am very excited to dive back into the world of blogging and especially excited to pick up our Frauen Friday series! If you are new to the blog, Frauen Friday was started with the hopes of providing more exposure to the amazing female scholars, authors, academics, pastors, laypersons, and so on. Thus far I have featured Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Beverly Gaventa, and Elsa Tamez. I am hoping to pick up the pace a bit and have a Frauen Friday post every Friday this summer–I’ll try my best to do so!

Today’s Frauen Friday feature is biblical scholar Adele Berlin. If you are a student of Biblical Hebrew you are likely familiar with some of her work. Here is an abridged bio from her faculty page at University of Maryland:

“Adele Berlin, now professor emerita, was the Robert H. Smith Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Maryland. She taught at Maryland since 1979 in the Jewish Studies Program, the Hebrew Program, and the English Department. Her main interests are biblical narrative and poetry, and the interpretation of the Bible. While at Maryland, Professor Berlin served as Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies (1988-91), held the position of Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs (1994-97), and was Chair of the University Senate for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Professor Berlin has received numerous awards and honors. She is a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research. In 2000 she served as President of the Society of Biblical Literature. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation,  the American Council of Learned Societies, the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem).” (For the full bio go here)

I was first introduced to Berlin’s work during my undergraduate studies in Hebrew when we got to reading poetry. In The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Berlin seeks to “provide a linguistic framework for the study of parallelism,” (xvii). The majority of the book focuses on a number of different linguistic categories (the grammatical aspect, the lexical and semantic aspects, and so on) and concludes with a look at parallelism within the biblical texts. This book is incredibly helpful and if you are a reader of Biblical Hebrew you should definitely own this book.

I later picked up a copy of Berlin’s Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative when I began studying participant reference in Susanna. In the preface Berlin writes,

“It is ironic that, although telling is so important in the biblical tradition, there is no word for story. There are words for songs and oracles, hymns and parables… other than a term like תולדות (‘genealogy, history’) applied to a few narrative sections, there is nothing to designate narrative per se. Yet the Bible abounds with narrative–vibrant and vivid narrative that has an ongoing power to affect those who hear or read it. Its power comes not only from the authority of scripture, but from the inner dynamics of the stories themselves. This book will explore some of those inner dynamics, some of the inner workings of biblical narrative,” (11).

I found chapter two, “Character and Characterization,” particularly interesting and extremely helpful. In it she suggests classifying character types in the biblical narratives into three main categories: the full-fledged character or round character; the type or flat character; and the agent or functionary character (23). Berlin does note that these are not clear cut categories but rather points along a spectrum within which a character might fall and to varying degrees throughout the narrative (32). To demonstrate how these categories work, Berlin looks at the stories about David and the women in his life, namely, Michal, Bathsheba, Abishag, and Abigail. From her analysis Berlin concludes that

“the result in all of these cases is an indirect presentation of David, in which various aspects of his character emerge naturally, outside of the glare of direct scrutiny. These episodes are then combined, in the mind of the reader, with the episodes in which David is the main character,” (33).

Further along, Berlin delves into the importance of description in characterization. For instance, she notes that the Bible does not often provide physical descriptions of its characters. When a biblical author does intentionally include a physical descriptor (e.g., that Esau was hairy) the reader is alerted to important information for the narrative’s plot (34).  Additionally, Berling argues,

“the purpose of character description in the BIble is not to enable to the reader to visualize the character, but to enable him to situate the character in terms of his place in society, his own particular situation, and his outstanding traits–in other words, to tell what kind of a person he is,” (36).

Descriptive terms help the reader see a character the way the author intends him or her to be seen and understood. The book also covers other topics such as point of view as well as how poetic interpretation relates to historical-critical methods of interpretation. Again, I highly recommend this book as I have found it very helpful in my own reading of scripture.

Update: A Festschrift in honor of Adele Berlin was published last year and is available here: Built by Wisdom, Established by Understanding: Essays on Biblical and Near Eastern Literature in Honor of Adele Berlin (2013)

 

 

 

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“Classical” Western Theory of Metaphor: Aristotle

Is there a “classical” western theory of metaphor? This is an interesting question because until recently no one has attempted to present a formal theory of metaphor or of language. To suggest that such was the case would be anachronistic. Yet, if one reads most current works in my field, New Testament hermeneutics, it seems that they all rely on a similar, or a “classical” understanding of metaphor. This series of posts is going to follow the development of the “classical” theory of metaphor from Aristotle to the present day over the next few weeks.

While Plato is commonly regarded as the progenitor of Western philosophical tradition’s anti-metaphorical bent, Aristotle first gives sustained reflection to the nature of metaphor in human cognition. Two revealing statements from Poetics can help boil down his thoughts on metaphor:

Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else; the transference being either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or on grounds of analogy.

But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.

By looking at these two statements together we can cobble together a basic understanding of metaphor:

  1. Metaphor works at the level of individual words. The process of transfer might occur at different levels (species or genus), but metaphor is the transfer of names between two words (most often nouns).
  2. A quality of perceived similarity between the two objects enables the transfer. Metaphoric connections must draw from similarities actually present in the world. A good metaphor corresponds rightly to the thing be signified.
  3. And yet the objects cannot be obviously related or it lessens the impact of the metaphor. In this sense, metaphor is both the realm of the genius (one who can perceive the similarity) and a linguistic deviance.

To summarize, Aristotle’s view of metaphor focuses on single words that deviate from ordinary, literal language to evoke a change in meaning based on perceived similarities.

Compare this to a summary of the common view of metaphor held today by many: metaphor is a linguistic devise useful for explaining something abstract by referring to something more concrete.

It does not take a genius to perceive the similarities between these two definitions. Aristotle’s view of metaphor forms the foundation on which the “classical” view of metaphor is built.

Next week we will look at how the “classical” view developed further in the works of Augustine and Aquinas.