THE beauty of the legends of Genesis has always been a source of delight to readers of refined taste and it is not mere chance that painters have been so fond of choosing the subjects of their works from Genesis. Scholars have more rarely expressed appreciation of the beauty of these narratives, often perhaps for personal reasons, and perhaps often because the æsthetic point of view seemed to them incompatible with the dignity of science. However, we do not share this prejudice, but, on the contrary, are of the opinion that one who ignores the artistic form of these legends not only deprives himself of a great pleasure, but is unable properly to satisfy the scientific demands of the understanding of Genesis. Nay, more: it is no insignificant question for science to answer, in what the peculiar beauty of the legends consists,--a problem whose solution requires a thorough investigation of the contents and the religion of Genesis.
The first question is, whether the form of the diction is prose or poetry. Aside from Genesis xlix. which is a poem and not a narrative, and on that
ground alone is out of place in Genesis, all that the book contains is prose in form. Detailed investigations of the nature of this prose have not been carried on. Meanwhile, at least this may be said, that this prose is not the common colloquial language of every-day life, but is more artistic in its composition and has some sort of rhythmical construction. Hebrew prosody is still a sealed book to us, but in reading Genesis aloud one feels an agreeable harmony of rhythmically balanced members. The translator of Genesis is constrained to imitate this balancing of sentences.
Since the legends were already very old when they were written down, as will be shown here-after, it is a matter of course that the language of Genesis is somewhat archaic; this too must be reproduced in the translation. In certain passages, the climaxes of the stories, the language rises into poetry, as is the case with the German Märchen where the spells and charms are in poetic form. In the case of some of the legends we know variants both Biblical and extra-Biblical, notably of the stories of creation, of the Garden of Eden and of the Flood, which are in strictly metrical form. Inasmuch as these poetical variants are known to be older than the prose versions transmitted in Genesis, we are warranted in the conjecture that the poetic form of these legends is older than any prose form whatever. The older and strictly rhythmical form, which we must suppose to have been sung, would differ from the later prose form, which was recited, as does the ancient German epic from the later Volksbuch (book of popular legends), or as do the Arthurian poems of Christian of Troyes
from the prose versions of Mallory's Morte d’Arthur or the Welsh Mabinogion.
A second question is, whether these poetic versions are popular traditions or the productions of individual poets. Modern investigators have answered the general principle of the question to the effect that Genesis is popular oral tradition written down. We are able to explain clearly how such popular traditions originate. Of course, in the ultimate beginning it was always an individual who improvised or devised this or that poem. But it is characteristic of such popular traditions that we are never able to observe them in the germ, any more than we can in the case of language, but that they appear, wherever we hear of them, as primitive possessions inherited from the patriarchs. Between the poet who first conceived them and the time when they were fixed for transmission to posterity a long period elapsed, and in this period the legends were repeated from generation to generation and passed through many hands. Yet however faithfully such legends are transmitted, they are inevitably altered in the course of the centuries. And thus they finally become the common product of the people. This transformation of the legends was unconscious, at least in its earlier stages. Only in the more recent modifications is it reasonable to assume the operation of conscious art.
Both narrators and auditors regarded the legends as "true" stories. That this is true of the legends of the Old Testament is shown in the historical books of the Bible, where the narrators proceed by
almost imperceptible degrees from legends to genuine historical narratives. It follows also from the legends themselves, which go about in all seriousness to account for actual conditions: because the woman was made from man's rib, therefore he longs for union with her; here we see that this story was no mere poetical figure to the one who told it, but an event that had actually happened. And furthermore, it is to be expected from the nature of the case; legends come from ages and stages of civilisation which have not yet acquired the intellectual power to distinguish between poetry and reality. It is therefore no slight error when modern investigators declare the legend of Paradise to be an allegory which was never intended to represent actual occurrences.
Moreover, for the very reason that the legend is the product of the whole people, it is the expression of the people's mind. And this is a point of greatest importance for our interpretation of the legends of Genesis. We are warranted in regarding the judgments and sentiments presented in Genesis as the common possession of large numbers of people.
Accordingly, we should attempt in considering Genesis to realise first of all the form of its contents when they existed as oral tradition. This point of view has been ignored altogether too much hitherto, and investigators have instead treated the legendary books too much as "books." If we desire to understand the legends better we must recall to view the situations in which the legends were recited. We
hear of such situations Ex. xii. 26 f., xiii. 14 f., Joshua iv. 6: when the children ask about the reason of the sacred ceremony then the father answers them by telling the story. Similarly we can imagine how the story of Sodom was told with the Dead Sea in view, and the legend of Bethel on the summit of Bethel. But the common situation which we have to suppose is this: In the leisure of a winter evening the family sits about the hearth; the grown people, but more especially the children, listen intently to the beautiful old stories of the dawn of the world, which they have heard so often yet never tire of hearing repeated.
Many of the legends, as will be shown later, have such a marked artistic style that they can scarcely be regarded in this form as products of the collective people. On the contrary, we must assume that there was in Israel, as well as among the Arabs, a class of professional story-tellers. These popular story-tellers, familiar with old songs and legends, wandered about the country, and were probably to be found regularly at the popular festivals.
We have already seen (page 38) that the transmitted prose narrative was perhaps preceded by a narrative in regular rhythmical form and intended for singing. In the case of these songs the circumstances of their presentation may have been different. From the precedent of the Babylonian poem of the creation, which in its form is an Easter hymn in praise of Marduk, we may infer that the legends regarding forms of worship go back to hymns for the sanctuary which were perhaps sung by the priest at the sacred festivals and on the sacred ground (p. 33). But however this may be, the legends regarding
sanctuaries as we have them now had certainly ceased to be sung, and, as their peculiarly colorless attitude shows, were not connected with the sacred place in this form, but belong already to popular tradition.
A new and fundamental question is: What unit is really the constituent unit in Genesis, the one which we should first apply ourselves to? For there are a number of different units in Genesis. The most comprehensive unit is the whole Pentateuch, then Genesis, and then the single collections of legends that preceded it; then the individual legends of which the book was composed. Among these a distinction has to be made between the independent individual legends, such, for example, as those of the flight of Hagar and the sacrifice of Isaac, and on the other hand certain groups of several legends constituting legend-cycles, such as the cycle which treats the destinies of Abraham and Lot down to the birth of their sons, or the one comprising Jacob's experiences with Esau and with Laban, or the one of which Joseph is the hero. All of these various units must be considered. But the first question is, Which of these units is most important for our purposes, that is, which of them was the original unit in oral tradition?
This is a question that arises in many similar cases: Which is the elemental unit: the song-book, the individual group of songs in it, or the individual song? Is it the gospel, the address, or the individual utterance that is reported of Jesus? The
whole apocalypse, the separate apocalyptic documentary sources, or the individual vision? For the proper understanding of Genesis, also, it is of critical importance that this question be clearly met and correctly answered. Hitherto investigators have seemed to regard it as a matter of course that the original sources were the constituent units, though the true view has not been without witnesses. 1
Popular legends in their very nature exist in the form of individual legends; not until later do compilers put several such legends together, or poets construct of them greater and artistic compositions. Thus it is also with the Hebrew popular legends. The legends of Genesis even in their present form give clear evidence of this. Every single legend that is preserved in an early form is a complete whole by itself; it begins with a distinct introduction and ends with a very recognisable close. Compare certain specific cases: Abraham wishes to sue for a wife for his son; being too old himself he sends out his oldest servant--thus the story opens. Then we are told how the old servant finds the right maiden and brings her home. Meantime the aged master has died. The young master receives the bride, and "he was comforted for the death of his father." Everyone can see that the story ends here.
Abraham is directed by God to sacrifice his son; this is the exposition (from xxii. on), which makes an entirely new start. Then we are told how Abraham
was resolved upon the deed and very nearly accomplished it, but at the last moment the sacrifice was prevented by God himself: Isaac is preserved to Abraham. "Then they returned together to Beersheba." We see that the narrative always opens in such a way that one recognises that something new is about to begin; and it closes at the point where the complication that has arisen is happily resolved: no one can ask, What followed?
Similarly, the unity of the separate legends is shown in the fact that they are in each case filled with a single harmonious sentiment. Thus, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, emotion is predominant; in that of Jacob's deception of Isaac, humor; in the story of Sodom, moral earnestness; in the story of Babel, the fear of Almighty God.
Many stories are entirely spoiled by following them up immediately with new ones which drive the reader suddenly from one mood to another. Every skilful story-teller, on the contrary, makes a pause after telling one such story, giving the imagination time to recover, allowing the hearer to reflect in quiet on what he has heard while the chords that have been struck are permitted to die away. Any one, for instance, who has followed the story of Isaac sympathetically, feels at the close the need of repose in which to recover from the emotion aroused. Those stories especially which aim to give a reason for some present condition (Cp. pp. 17, and 25-36) require a pause at the close so that the hearer may compare the prophecy and its present fulfilment; as evidence of this consider the close of the story of Eden, of the Flood, or of the drunkenness of Noah.
In later times there were formed of these individual legends greater units, called legend cycles, in which the separate legends are more or less artistically combined. But even here it is not at all difficult in most cases to extricate the original constituent elements from one another. Thus the legend cycle which treats Abraham and Lot separates clearly into the following stories: (1) The migration of Abraham and Lot to Canaan; (2) their separation at Bethel; (3) the theophany at Hebron; (4) the destruction of Sodom; (5) the birth of Ammon and Moab; (6) the birth of Isaac. The legend cycle of Jacob-Esau-Laban divised clearly into the legends of Jacob and Esau, of Jacob and Laban, the legends of the origin of the twelve tribes, with various legends interspersed of the origin of ritual observances. In the stories connected with Joseph, also, those of Joseph's intercourse with his brothers are clearly distinguished from those of Potiphar's wife, of Pharaoh's dreams, and those of the agricultural conditions of Egypt (Gen. xlvii. 13-26).
This leads to the practical conclusion for the exegete that each individual legend must be interpreted first of all from within. The more independent a story is, the more sure we may be that it is preserved in its original form. And the connexion between individual legends is of later origin in many cases, if it be not simply an hallucination of the exegete.
As an example of a primitive legend which is almost wholly without antecedent assumptions, take the story of Hagar's flight, Gen. xvi., for which we
need to know only that there is a man named Abraham with a wife named Sarah; everything else is told by the legend itself. An example of a later narrative is that of the suit for the hand of Rebeccah (chap. xxiv.): this legend is based upon a whole series of individual elements which belong to other legends, as the kinship and migration of Abraham, the promise of Jahveh at the migration, the facts that Isaac was his only son and the son of his old age, and so forth. Hence it is the individual legend with which we shall have to deal first in this treatise.
What are the limits of such a story? Many of the stories of Genesis extend over scarcely more than ten verses. This is the case with the stories of Noah's drunkenness, of the tower of Babel, of Abraham's journey to Egypt, of Hagar's flight or the exile of Ishmael, of the trial of Abraham, of Jacob at Bethel and at Penuel. After these very brief stories we can group a series of more detailed stories occupying about a chapter, such as the story of Paradise, of Cain's parricide, of the Flood, of the theophany at Hebron, of the betrothal of Rebeccah, of the fraud perpetrated upon Isaac by Jacob. Finally the legend cycles exceed this limit of space.
This matter of the compass of the legends constitutes a decided distinction between them and our modern productions. Even the most complex legend groups of Genesis, such as that of Joseph, are of very modest extent by modern standards, while the older legends are absolutely abrupt to modern taste. Now, of course, the brief compass of the old legends is at the same time an index of
their character. They deal with very simple occurrences which can be adequately described in a few words. And this compass accords also with the artistic ability of the narrator and the comprehension of the hearer. The earliest story-tellers were not capable of constructing artistic works of any considerable extent; neither could they expect their hearers to follow them with undiminished interest for days and even weeks continuously. On the contrary, primitive times were satisfied with quite brief productions which required not much over half an hour. Then when the narrative is finished the imagination of the hearer is satisfied and his attention exhausted.
On the other hand, our narratives show us that later times were no longer satisfied with the very brief stories of primitive construction; a more fully developed æsthetic faculty demands more scope for its expression. Thus greater compositions arose. This growth in the compass of legends was favored by the circumstance of their being written down; written productions are naturally more discursive than oral ones, because the eye in reading can more easily grasp larger conceptions than the ear in hearing. Accordingly, this too is a measure of the relative age of legends, though a measure which must be used with caution: the briefer a legend, the greater the probability that we have it in its original form.
The brevity of the legends is, as we have seen, a mark of the poverty of primitive literary art; but at
the same time this poverty has its peculiar advantages. The narrow limits within which the narrator moves compel him to concentrate his entire poetic power into the smallest compass; so that, while these creations are small, they are also condensed and effective. And the moderate grasp which these small works of art have to reckon upon in their hearers results also in making the narratives as clear and synoptic as possible.
To make this last fact more evident, consider in the first place the balance of parts. Not only the longer of these narratives, but especially the briefest also are outlined with extraordinary sharpness. Thus, the story of Noah's drunkenness is constructed as follows: Exposition, Noah's drunkenness. I. The occurrences: (1) Canaan's shamelessness; (2) the filial respect of Shem and Japhet; II. The judgments: (1) concerning Canaan; (2) concerning Shem and Japhet.--Or take the story of the Garden of Eden, chap. iii.: I. The sin: (1) the serpent tempts Eve; (2) the woman and the man sin; (3) as consequence, the loss of their innocence; II. The examination; III. The punishments: (1) the curse upon the serpent, (2) upon the woman, (3) upon the man; IV. Conclusion: the expulsion from the garden.
By means of such plain and beautiful analyses the narratives gain in clearness, that is, in the prerequisite of all aesthetic charm: the whole is analysed into divisions and subdivisions which are themselves easily grasped and the relation of which to one another is perfectly plain. And these outlines are never painfully forced, but seem to have come quite as a matter of course from the nature of the subject.
[paragraph continues] Consider, for instance, in the story of Eden, how perfectly the outline corresponds to the contents: in the fall the order is: Serpent, woman, man; the examination begins with the last result and reverses the process, the order here being: Man, woman, serpent; the punishment falls first upon the chief sinner, and accordingly the original order is here resumed: Serpent, woman, man. Hence the modern reader is advised to heed the systematic arrangement of parts, since the analysis will at the same time give him the course of the action.
Furthermore, the narrator of the legend, unlike the modern novelist, could not expect his hearers to be interested in many persons at once, but on the contrary, he always introduces to us a very small number. Of course the minimum is two, because it takes at least two to make a complication of interests: such are the cases of the separation of Abraham and Lot, of Esau's sale of his birthright, and of the story of Penuel; there are three personages in the story of the creation of the woman (God, the man and the woman), in the story of Cain's fratricide (God, Cain and Abel), in the story of Lot in the cave, and of the sacrifice of Isaac; there are four in the story of Eden, of Abraham's journey into Egypt, of Hagar's flight, of the deception practised upon Isaac by Jacob.
There are indeed narratives in which more personages take part, as in the case of the detailed story of the suit for the hand of Rebeccah, and especially in the stories of the twelve sons of Jacob. Yet even here the narrators have not been neglectful of clearness and distinctness. In very many cases where a number of persons appear, the many are treated as
one: they think and wish the same things and act all alike: thus in the story of the Flood and of the tower of Babel all mankind are treated as one person, so also with the brothers Shem and Japhet, with the three men at Hebron and at Sodom (according to the original version of the story), Lot's son-in-law at Sodom, the courtiers of Pharaoh, the citizens of Shechem (Gen. xxxiv. 24), the brothers of Dinah (xxxiv. 25), the citizens of Temnah (xxxviii. 24), and in many other cases. This is in accord with the conditions of antiquity, in which the individual was much less sharply distinguished from the mass of the people than in modern times. At the same time, however, this condensation of several persons into one is due to the inability of the narrator to catch and depict the actual distinctions among individuals.
How limited in those days the capacity of even an artistically developed narrator to depict character is shown in the conspicuous instance of the story of Joseph: the narrative presents Joseph and the eleven in conflict; among the others the story distinguishes Joseph's full brother, Benjamin, the youngest; of the remaining ten Reuben (Judah) is recognised separately. But this is the extent of the narrator's power to characterise; the remaining nine lack all individuality; they are simply "the brothers."
Further simplicity is attained by means of the arrangement of parts, which, as we have noted, resolves the story into a number of little scenes. And in these scenes it is rare that all the persons of the story appear at once, but only a few, usually only two, are shown us at once. Compare the
scenes of the story of the suit for Rebeccah; the first scene shows Abraham and his servant, the second shows the servant alone on the journey and at the well, the third the servant and the maiden, the fourth the maiden and her family, the fifth, and principal, scene shows the servant together with the maiden in her home, the sixth the servant returning home with the maiden, the last their arrival at the tent of Isaac. Or, another instance, the story of the exile of Ishmael (xxiv. 4 ff.) shows in succession: Sarah hearing the daughter of Ishmael, and persuading Abraham; Abraham expelling Hagar; then Hagar alone in the wilderness with the child, and finally her rescue by the angel. The story of Jacob's deception (xxvii.) treats first of Isaac and Esau, then of Rebeccah and Jacob, next of Jacob before Isaac, and of Esau before Isaac, of Esau's hatred of Jacob, and finally of Rebeccah's advice to Jacob.
The narrative takes especial pains to motivate this succession of scenes; and yet it does not hesitate to simply drop a personage on occasion, as in the case of the serpent after the temptation, or of Rebeccah after the death of Isaac. By means of this analysis the narrative gains great clearness; the hearer is not constrained to keep a confusing group of people in view, but he sees them in succession; thus he has time to inspect them at leisure and to familiarise himself with them. Only once, at the climax of the action, do all the persons appear together: thus in the story of Eden, in that of Noah's drunkenness, and in the story of Joseph at the close. But even here the narrators considered grouping necessary. They would not have been able to conduct a conversation
between a number of persons at once. Thus at the end of the story of Eden God does not reprove all the participants in one common address; but he turns first to the serpent, then to the woman, then to the man. And elsewhere also it is the nature of the style to divide up the conversation into so many dialogues.
The survey of the various personages is further facilitated by a very distinct separation of leading and subordinate parts. The hearer does not have to ask many questions to learn which of the personages should receive his especial attention; the narrator makes this very plain to him simply by speaking most of the chief personage. Thus in most of the legends of the patriarchs the patriarchs themselves are as a matter of course the chief personages. In the following cases the personages of their respective stories are arranged in the order in which they interest the narrator: Cain, Abel; Abraham, Sarah, Pharaoh (Genesis xii. 10-20); Abraham, Lot; Hagar, Sarah, Abraham (chap. xvi.); the servant and Rebeccah are the chief personages in chap. xxiv., the others being all of second rank; in chap. xxvii. the chief personages are Jacob and Esau, while the parents are secondary; in the story of Jacob and Laban these are the chief personages, the women secondary. In this classification sympathy and veneration are not to be confused with interest; the artistic interest of the narrator is greater in Cain than in Abel, in Hagar than in Sarah; in chap. xxiv, the servant is the chief personage while Abraham has only a subordinate part.--In many cases it
is the destinies of a single leading personage that we pursue, noticeably in the case of the stories of Joseph.
In attempting to discover the method by which characters are depicted we are first struck by the brevity with which subordinate personages are treated. Modern literary creations have accustomed us to expect that every personage introduced be characterised if possible with at least a few touches as an independent individual. The method of the primitive saga-man is entirely different. The personages whom he considers altogether or temporarily subordinate receive little or no characterisation. In view of the primitive feeling on the subject it is a matter of course that not much attention was paid to slaves. The attendants of Esau (xxxii. ff.) or of Laban (xxxi. 23) are introduced merely to show their masters' importance, and have no further significance. The narrators did not even consider it necessary to mention the sin of the two chamberlains of Pharaoh (xli. 1), or the feelings of Dinah (xxxiv.), or those of Sarah on the journey to Egypt (xii. 10 ff.). Hirah, the friend of Judah (xxxviii. 1, I2, 20), is not characterised; the sin of Er (xxxvii. 7) is not specified; nothing is told of Shuah, the wife of Judah (xxxviii. 2-12), that is really characteristic; the same is true of Joseph's steward (xliii. 16), of Potiphar, and others.
And even the characterisation of the chief personages is remarkably brief according to our notions. Only a few traits are ascribed to them, often but one. Cain is jealous of his brother, Canaan is
shameless, Shem and Japhet respectful. In the story of the separation of Lot and Abraham, the former is greedy, the latter conciliatory. In the story of Hebron, Abraham is hospitable, and in the migration he is obedient to the will of God. In the story of Penuel, Jacob is strong and brave, in the affair with Esau he is crafty, in the story of Joseph he is fond of the children of Rachel. In the somewhat complex story of the Fall the serpent is crafty and evil, the man and the woman are guileless as children, the woman is fond of dainties and gullible, the man follows his wife. Even in the case of God each individual story as a rule speaks of but one single quality: in most of the legends he is the gracious helper, in others, as the stories of Paradise and Babel, he is the lofty sovereign whose concern is to keep men within bounds.
We are struck by this paucity in the legends, since we are familiar in modern compositions with portraits made up of many separate traits and painted with artistic detail. The art of the primitive story-tellers is very different. True, it is based upon the actual conditions of primitive ages in one respect: the men of antiquity were in general more simple than the many-sided men of modern times. Yet it would be an error to suppose that men in those earlier days were as simple as they are represented to be in the legends; compare in evidence of this the character sketches of a somewhat maturer art in the Second Book of Samuel. With this example in mind we shall recognise also that there is some other ground for the brevity of the legends of Genesis than that abbreviation of the real which is inevitable in every artistic reproduction of life.
It is, on the contrary, a peculiar popular conception of man that we meet in Genesis. This conception was unable to grasp and represent many sides of man, much less all; it could see but a little. But so much the more need had it to catch the essential traits of the individual, wherefore it constructed types. Thus in the story of the flight of Hagar, Hagar is the type of the slave (xvi.) who is too well treated, Sarah of the jealous wife, Abraham the type of the conciliatory husband. Rachel and Leah are types of the favorite and of the unloved wife; in the story of the migration of Abraham to Egypt, or the story of Joseph, Pharoah acts like the typical Oriental king in such cases; his courtiers are courtiers and nothing more; Abraham's servant, chap. xxiv., is an old and tried servant; Isaac, in the story of the deception, is a blind old man, and Rebeccah a cunning, partial mother; Abraham in his migration and in chap. xxii. is the type of the pious and obedient man. A number of figures are the types of the races which are said to be descended from them: the shameless Canaan, the generous but stupid Esau, the crafty Laban, the still more crafty Jacob (cp. p. 23).
Doubtless it is another sign of the lack of creative grasp when the legends thus present to our eyes species instead of individuals; but the narrators have made a virtue of necessity. Within the limited sphere assigned to them they give us extraordinary achievements. The types which they had the opportunity to observe they have depicted with a confidence and a clearness similar to those displayed in the national types preserved to us by the
[paragraph continues] Egyptian painters. And for this very reason many of the old legends still fascinate the modern reader, and even the unlearned reader; they often reproduce universally human conditions and relations which are intelligible without interpretation unto this day. To the special student, however, they yield much greater pleasure, for to him they furnish the most intimate revelations regarding primitive conditions and sentiments.
As a natural conclusion from this simplicity of the characters represented we recognise that the art of these popular legends was far from undertaking to show any development in the characters, such as improvement or degeneration. Not that primitive times ignored the possibilities of such changes; the denunciations of the prophets as well as historical evidence prove the contrary. But the art of the story-teller is far from equal to the task of depicting such an inward change. All that modern exegetes claim to have found in Genesis in this line is simply imported into the sources: Jacob's dishonest character did not change at all; and Joseph's brethren are not at all reformed in the course of the story, but simply punished.
While, therefore, the individual legends recognise in the main only one quality of the personages involved, the legend cycles are able to give more detailed descriptions, although after a peculiar manner. The characteristic instance is, of course, the portrayal of the figure of Joseph in the cycle of legends devoted to his history. Here each individual legend brings out one or two sides of his nature: one legend (xxxvii.) tells us that he was loved by his father and therefore hated by his
brethren, and that he had dreams; another (xxxix.) tells us that everything throve under his hand, and that he was fair and chaste; a third (xl.) that he could interpret dreams; and a fourth (xli.) that he was crafty; and so on. Combining all these individual traits we get finally a complete portrait.
Furthermore, the narrators are exceedingly grudging in the outward description of their personages: they reveal nothing regarding hair, complexion, eyes or garb. In all this they seem to take the normal Hebrew type for granted. And wherever they deviate from this rule in their description it is done for specific reasons: Esau. is red and hairy (xxv. 25) clearly because he is a type of the Edomite; Joseph wears his long garment with sleeves (xxxvii. 3) as a badge of the love of his father; Leah had "tender eyes" and Rachel is beautiful of form (xxix. 17) to explain why Jacob rejects Leah and loves Rachel.
Now if we ask what principle the story-teller follows when he does emphasise definite characteristics of his personages, we discover that the characterisation is generally subordinated to the action. The particular quality of the person is emphasised that is necessary for the development of the action; all others are ignored. The story of the deception practised by Jacob tells how the latter, following his mother's counsel, induces his father to bless him instead of Esau: here Jacob is crafty, he practises deception; Esau is stupid, he lets himself be cheated; Isaac is easily deceived, is blind; Rebeccah is cunning, she gives the deceitful advice and is partial to Jacob. This is further portrayed in a more detailed narrative: Jacob is a shepherd who
dwells at home with his mother, Esau a hunter whose venison the father is fond of. The modern story-teller would add a quantity of further traits to give color and life to the figures, but the primitive story-teller rejected all such details. It is very easy to see what the aesthetic interest of the narrator was: he cared above all things for the action; the portrayal of figures was for him only a secondary matter.
What means do the narrators use for the representation of the character of their heroes? The modern artist is very apt to explain in extended descriptions the thoughts and feelings of his personages. When one turns from such a modern story-teller to the study of Genesis, one is astonished to find in it so few utterances regarding the inner life of the heroes. Only rarely are the thoughts of even a leading personage expressly told, as in the case of the woman when she was looking desirously at the tree of knowledge, or of Noah, when he sent forth the birds "to see whether the waters were dried up off the earth," or the thoughts of Lot's sons-in-law, who judged that their father-in-law was jesting; the thoughts of Isaac, who feared at Gerar that he might be robbed of his wife (xxvi. 7); or the cunning thoughts with which Jacob proposed to evade the revenge of his brother Esau (xxxii. 9), and so on. But how brief and unsatisfactory even this appears compared with the psychological descriptions of modern writers!
And even such examples as these are not the rule in the legends of Genesis. On the contrary, the narrator is usually content with a very brief hint, such as, "He grew wroth" (iv. 5; xxx. 2; xxxi. 36; xxxiv. 7; xxxix. 19; xl. 2), or, "He was afraid" (xxvi. 7; xxviii. 17; xxxii. 8), "He was comforted" (xxiv. 16), "He loved her" (xxiv. 67; xxix. 18; xxx. 3; xxxvii. 3), "She became jealous" (xxx. 1), "He was filled with fear" (xxvii. 33), "He eyed him with hatred" (xxvii. 41; xxxvii. 4), and else-where. But even these brief hints are far from frequent; on the contrary, we find very often not the slightest expression regarding the thoughts and feelings of the person concerned, and this in situations where we cannot avoid a certain surprise at the absence of such expressions. The narrator tells us nothing of the reasons why God forbade man to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, nor of the reasons of the serpent for wishing to seduce mankind. He says nothing of the feelings with which Abraham left his home, or Noah entered the ark. We do not learn that Noah was angry at Canaan's shamelessness, that Jacob was disappointed when Laban cheated him with Leah, that Hagar was glad when she received the promise that Ishmael should become a great nation; we are not even told that mothers rejoice when they hold their firstborn son in their arms. Particularly striking is the case of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac: what modern writer would fail under such circumstances to portray the spiritual state of Abraham when his religious devotion wins the hard victory over his parental love, and when his sadness is finally turned into rejoicing!
Now what is the reason for this strange proceeding? We can find it in an instance like that of xix. 27 ff. In sight of the city of Sodom Abraham had heard certain remarkable utterances from the three men; they had said that they were going down to Sodom to examine into the guilt of the city. This strange remark he let run in his head; in the morning of the following day he arose and went to the same place to see whether anything had happened in Sodom during the night. And in fact, he sees in the valley below a smoke, whence he must infer that something has taken place; but this smoke hides the region, and he cannot make out what has happened. For the story-teller this little scene is plainly not of interest because of the thing that happens, but because of the thoughts which Abraham must have thought, and yet he does not tell us what these thoughts were. He merely reports to us the outward incidents, and we are obliged to supply the really important point ourselves. This story-teller, then, has an eye for the soul-life of his hero, but he cannot conceive these inward processes with sufficient clearness to express them in definite words.
This is a typical instance for Genesis. In very many situations where the modern writer would expect a psychological analysis, the primitive story-teller simply presents an action. The spiritual state of the man and woman in Paradise and after the Fall is not analysed, but a single objective touch is given by which we may recognise it. The narrator says nothing of the thoughts of Adam when
the woman handed him the forbidden fruit, but merely, that he ate it; he does not discourse to us on Abraham's hospitable disposition, but he tells us how he entertained the three men. He does not say that Shem and Japhet felt chastely and respectfully, but he has them act chastely and respectfully; not that Joseph had compassion upon his brethren, but that he turned away and wept (xlii. 24; xliii. 30); not that Hagar, when mistreated by Sarah, felt offended in the depths of her maternal pride, but that she ran away from her mistress (xvi. 6); not that Laban was dazzled by the gold of the stranger, but that he made haste to invite him (xxiv. 30); not that obedience to God triumphed in Abraham over parental love, but that he arose straightway (xxii. 3); not that Tamar remained faithful to her husband even beyond the grave, but that she took measures to rear I up children from his seed (xxxviii).
From all this we see on what the story-teller laid the chief emphasis. He does not share the modern point of view that the most interesting and worthy theme for art is the soul-life of man; his childlike taste is fondest of the outward, objective facts. And in this line his achievements are excellent. He has an extraordinary faculty for selecting just the action which is most characteristic for the state of feeling of his hero. How could filial piety be better represented than in the story of Shem and Japhet? Or mother-love better than by the behavior of Hagar? She gave her son to drink--we are not told that she herself drank. How could hospitality be better depicted than in the actions of Abraham at Hebron? And there is nothing less than genius in the simple manner in which the innocence and
the consciousness of the first men is illustrated by their nakedness and their clothing.
These simple artists had not learned how to reflect; but they were masters of observation. It is chiefly this admirable art of indirectly depicting men through their actions which makes the legends so vivid. Little as these primitive men could talk about their soul-life, we gain the impression that they are letting us look into the very hearts of their heroes. These figures live before our eyes, and hence the modern reader, charmed by the luminous clearness of these old legends, is quite willing to forget their defects.
But even when the story-teller said nothing of the soul-life of his heroes, his hearer did not entirely fail to catch an impression of it. We must recall at this point that we are dealing with orally recited stories. Between narrator and hearer there is another link than that of words; the tone of the voice talks, the expression of the face or the gestures of the narrator. Joy and grief, love, anger, jealousy, hatred, emotion, and all the other moods of his heroes, shared by the narrator, were thus imparted to his hearers without the utterance of a word.
Modern exegesis is called to the task of reading between the lines the spiritual life which the narrator did not expressly utter. This is not always such a simple matter. We have in some cases got-ten out of touch with the emotions of older times and the expressions for them. Why, for instance, did Rebeccah veil herself when she caught sight of
[paragraph continues] Isaac? (xxiv. 25.) Why did the daughters of Lot go in unto him? Why did Tamar desire offspring of Judah? (xxxvii.) What is the connexion of the awakening modesty of the first men and their sin? In such cases exegesis has often gone far astray by taking modern motives and points of view for granted.
A further medium of expression for the spiritual life of the personages is articulate speech. Words are not, it is true, so vivid as actions, but to make up for this they can the better reveal the inner life of the personages. The early story-tellers were masters in the art of finding words that suit the mood of the speakers: thus the malice of the cunning serpent is expressed in words, as well as the guilelessness of the childlike woman, Sarah's jealousy of her slave as well as the conciliatoriness of Abraham (xvi. 6), the righteous wrath of Abimelech (xx. 9), the caution of the shrewd Jacob (xxxii. 9), and the bitter lament of Esau (xxvii. 36) and of Laban (xxxi. 43) when deceived by Jacob. Notable masterpieces of the portrayal of character in words are the temptation of the first couple and the conversation between Abraham and Isaac on the way to the mount of sacrifice.
But even in this connexion we find many things to surprise us. First of all, that the personages of Genesis often fail to speak where the modern writer would surely have them do so, and where the very nature of the case seems to require it. We may well imagine that Joseph complained aloud when
he was cast into the pit and carried away to Egypt (cp. also xlii. 21), that the murder of Abel was preceded by a dispute, that Hagar left Abraham's house weeping and complaining that Abraham had put her away (xxi. 14); but there is nothing of the kind. The first couple do not utter a word of reply when God pronounces his curse upon their future: they do not even indulge in self-accusations; not a word does Rebeccah say in chapter xxvi., nor Noah during the Deluge, nor Abraham in chapter xviii, when a son is promised him or when he is commanded to sacrifice Isaac; neither does Hagar when she sees her child dying, nor later when God heard the weeping of Ishmael. One who examined these references might easily conclude that the personages of Genesis were intended to be portrayed as taciturn and even secretive; he would find the only talkative individual to be--God.
But if we go more deeply into these legends, we perceive that this extraordinary laconism is part of the style of the narrator. The narrators subordinated everything to the action. They introduced only such speeches as really advanced the action. Hence especially they avoided giving utterance to the feelings of the merely passive personages. Whether Joseph complains or keeps silence, when his brethren sell him, makes no difference with his destiny. What words were spoken by Abraham and Noah when they received the commands of God makes no difference; suffice it, they obeyed. The destiny of the first family is fixed when God has cursed them; no self-reproaches will help the matter. Or, what do we care about the dispute that preceded the murder of Abel, since we know the
reason which prompted Cain's deed! And it appears perfectly natural that men should make no reply to the promises of God, as is usually the case; for what can man add when God has spoken?
The other side of this strangely laconic method is that the remarks which the narrator does introduce are an essential part of the narrative. The conversation between the serpent and the woman is to show how it came about that the forbidden fruit was eaten. Cain pours forth his guilt-laden heart before God, and as a result modifies his sentence. Abraham begs his wife to declare herself his sister; and thus it comes about that she was taken into the harem of Pharaoh (xli. 11 ff.). Abraham gave Lot the choice of going to the east or to the west; hence Lot chose the plain of the Jordan. At Sarah's request Abraham takes Hagar as concubine and at her request he gives her up again. In these cases the words are not idle; on the contrary they are necessary to suggest an inner motive for the action to follow. Especially necessary are the words of cursing and of promise; they are the very climax of the story, up to which all the rest leads. This explains why God is so often represented as speaking in Genesis; for speech is really the chief medium through which God influences the action in these legends.
In some places the narrators have introduced monologues, the most unconcrete of all forms of speech, when the situation showed that there was no one present to whom the person could have spoken. This is quite commonly the case with God; for to whom should God reveal his most hidden decrees? But in a few cases we can infer (i. 26; ii. 6 f.) an elder
form of the account, in which God addressed himself to his celestial associates.
But even in the laconic legends there are speeches which, while they are not exactly necessary, either characterise a person or attempt to give the opinion of the narrator, or which aim at some other point which the narrator wants to make. Many of the speeches in Genesis are exceedingly brief. Recall the lament of Hagar: "I am fleeing before the face of my mistress" (xvi. 8), or the words of the daughters of Lot (xix. 31), of Sarah (xxi. to), of Abraham (xxi. 24), "I will swear;" of Rebeccah (xxiv. 18 ff.), of Jacob (xxv. 33), "Swear to me this day," of Isaac (xxvi. 7), "She is my sister," of the shepherds of Gerar (xxvi. 20), "The water is ours," of Isaac's slaves (xxvi. 32), "We have found water," of Laban (xxix. 14), "Yea, thou art my flesh and blood," and so on. Of course, the speeches are not always so brief; they are especially apt to grow longer in the solemn and impressive formulae of cursing and blessing. But in general we may see in brevity a characteristic mark of a certain type in Genesis.
Even such utterances do not always reveal the ultimate purpose of the actors, and reveal their spiritual life only in an indirect way. Hence the expressions are not always entirely clear for us, and require an especial gift for their interpretation. We are told that God forbade to man the fruit of the tree of life, but his reason for this is not given. What thought was in God's mind when threatening man with immediate death, whereas this result did not actually follow? So, too, we learn that the serpent desires to betray the woman, but not his
reason. And even such psychological masterpieces as the story of the temptation are only indirect portrayals of soul-life.
Very many of the legends are no less laconic in their descriptions of incidental circumstances. In this respect also there is a great difference between the primitive literary art and that of modern story-tellers. Of course, the ancients have no touch of the intimate feeling for the landscape; there is no trace of nature-love in Genesis. The facts that the story of Eden is set among green trees, the story of Hagar in the barren desolation of the wilderness, the story of Joseph in the land of the Nile, affect the course of the story in certain respects, indeed, since the first pair clothe themselves with leaves and since the desert is a place where one can get lost, and where there is no water. But these facts in no wise affect the mood or sentiment of the action.
But aside from this intimate feeling for the life of nature, which was foreign to the primitive man, how easy it would have been to give a description of Paradise! What modern poet would have missed the opportunity! But the early story-tellers were content to say that there were beautiful trees there, and the source of mighty rivers. It is a piece of the same method that the narrator does not tell us with what weapon Cain slew Abel; he tells us merely that Noah planted vines and then that he
drank of the wine, omitting the intervening steps of picking and pressing the grapes; he no more tells us how the contempt of Hagar was expressed (xvi. 4) than how Sarah took her revenge. We are wont to admire the circumstantiality of the narratives, and justly, but this by no means implies that the legends abound in striking and highly concrete touches; on the contrary, they present on the whole not an abundance, but a paucity, of concrete elements. But the little that we have is so judiciously selected that we are warranted in seeking for a purpose in almost every minute feature.
This economy of circumstantial details is the more striking because alongside such lightly sketched features, and especially in the more detailed narratives, there are often very minute descriptions. Thus, for instance, the meal that Abraham serves to the three men is described in detail, while the meal of Lot is but briefly sketched. For the purpose of exegesis it is very suggestive to keep this question constantly in mind, to observe the brief and detailed treatments, and to consider everywhere the interest of the narrator. In general this will warrant the conclusion that the narrator portrays the principal events concretely, while merely hinting at or omitting those which are incidental to the action: thus, for instance, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac the three days' journey is covered at a bound, while the short passage to the place of sacrifice is described in all detail. The narrator is quite arbitrary in the matter. Similarly the experiences of Abraham's servant on the day when he sued for the hand of Rebeccah are reported very minutely, while all the days consumed
in the journey to the city of Nahor are disposed of in a breath.
This emphasis laid upon the action is seen also in the manner of the conclusion of the narrative. The legends stop promptly when they have attained the desired object, not with a gradual cadence, but with a sudden jolt. This observation also is important for exegesis. The point just before the close is recognised as the climax by the narrator. Yet there are here two varieties of conclusion: the customary sort follows the climax with a short sentence (the type is the sacrifice of Isaac); the less common, and plainly more impressive, closes with a pathetic address (the curse of Noah is here the type).
From the above observations we conclude that in the primitive legends everything is subordinated to the action. In other literatures there are narratives in which the action is merely a garb or a thread, while the chief concern is the psychologic study, the brilliant conversation, or the idea; but not so with the primitive Hebrew legend. The primitive man demanded from his story-teller first of all action; he demands that something shall happen in the story to please his eye. But the first essential in such a story is to him its inner unity; the narrator must furnish him a connected series of events each necessarily dependent on the preceding.
One of the chief charms of the early legend is just this: to show how one thing resulted from another. The more plausible and necessary this connexion appears, the more attractive seems the whole story. A famine forces Abraham to go to Egypt; but he is
afraid of being killed there on account of his beautiful wife. Therefore he reports his wife to be his sister. Deceived by this Pharaoh takes Sarah and makes presents to Abraham. Therefore God punishes Pharaoh. In consequence of this Pharaoh releases Sarah but permits Abraham to retain the presents.--Sarah has no children, but desires them. Therefore she gives her maid to Abraham as concubine. Thus Hagar conceives by Abraham. Hence Hagar despises her mistress. This offends the proud Sarah most deeply. Therefore she causes Abraham to restore Hagar to her, and mistreats her. As a result Hagar flees into the desert. Here God has compassion on her and promises her a son.
Observe how in such cases each successive member is linked to the preceding one; how each preceding member appears as the natural cause or at least the antecedent of the succeeding one. We are in the habit, following a sort of tradition, of calling this kind of narrative childish; but in so doing we are only partially right.
These narratives, then, are exceedingly tense in their connexion. The narrators do not like digressions, but press with all their energy toward the mark. Hence they avoid, if possible, the introduction of new features in a given story, but seek an uninterrupted connexion. Rarely indeed are new assumptions introduced, but good style demands the announcement of all assumptions as near the beginning as possible. In pursuit of this method it is considered permissible to skip over the necessary consequences of what has been told, provided only that those features stand forth which are essential to the continuation of the action. There must be
nothing too much, and nothing too little. The narrator does not spring aside; but the hearer also must not be allowed to spring aside: the narrator holds fast to him so that he can think only what the narrator wants to have him think.
Many of the legends are fond of varying a given motive. Consider how the story of Eden makes everything dependent on the nakedness and the clothing of man, and how the relation of "field" and "field-tiller" (this is the etymology of the Hebrew word here used for "man") pervades this whole legend; how the story of Joseph's sale into Egypt treats the coat-sleeve (coat of many colors) and the dreams; how the story of Jacob's last testament (xlvii. 29 ff.) constantly connects his actions with his bed: in praying he bows at the head of the bed, xlvii. 31; in blessing he rises up in bed, xlviii. 2; in dying he stretches himself out upon his bed, xlix. 33 (English version: "gathered up his feet in his bed"), and so on. In this the rule is, quite in opposition to our sense of style, to repeat the expression every time the thing is referred to, so that one and the same word often runs through the story like a red thread. Undoubtedly this custom originated in the poverty of the language; but the narrators of our legends follow it in order to produce an impression of unity and simplicity.
Precisely because of this inward connexion in the story it is possible in many places where our received text shows gaps or distortions to recognise the original form of the legend: the text-criticism is in this point very much more positive than in the
case of the prophets, the laws and the songs, which lacked this connected condensation.
Furthermore, the course of the action must be probable, highly credible, even unavoidable. Nowhere must the hearer be able to make the objection that what is being told is inconsistent with what has preceded or with itself. Hagar, when elevated to too high station, could not fail to grow haughty; and Sarah could not help feeling offended. True, the probability aimed at by these old story-tellers was different from that of which we speak. Their understanding of nature was different from ours; for instance, they regarded it as entirely credible that all the kinds of animals could get into the ark; furthermore, the way in which they speak of God and his participation in the affairs of the world was naïver than is possible for us of modern times; they regarded it as quite plausible that the serpent should have spoken in primitive times; that Joseph, the grand vizier, should look after the sale of the corn in person.
Hence it would be quite unwarranted to speak of the "arbitrariness" and "childish recklessness" of the legends simply because the assumptions of the narrators are impossible to us in modern times. Only in a very few places can the eye of the modern reader, even though trained for criticism, detect improbabilities. In this line we may ask why Joseph, who was so much attached to his father, failed to communicate with him all the long years. Even after Hagar and her son were once rescued, were not the dangers of the desert sure to recur
every day? But the auditor of ancient times doubtless did not ask such questions; he was more willing to surrender to the narrator, and was more easily charmed; he was also more credulous than we are; compare for instance, xliii. 23.
On the other hand, in a well-told legend the incidents are not so simple that one can guess the whole course of events from the first few words; if it were so, the legend would lose its interest. No one cares to hear of things that are self-evident. On the contrary, our story-tellers are dealing with what they regard as a complicated situation, whose final outcome cannot be surveyed in advance by the hearer. This leads him to listen the more intently. Jacob wrestles with a supernatural being; which of the two will conquer? Jacob and Laban are equally gifted in cunning; which will succeed in deceiving the other? The shrewd but unwarlike Jacob has to meet the dull but physically superior Esau; how will he manage him? Abraham has to go down into Egypt, and how will he fare there? Thus all these stories are more or less exciting. The child-like listener holds his breath, and rejoices when the hero finally escapes all the threatening dangers.
The narrators are very fond of contrasts: the child cast out into the desert becomes a mighty people; a poor slave, languishing in prison, becomes the ruler of Egypt with all her abundance. They try if possible to focus these contrasts into a single point: at the moment when Hagar is in utter despair, God takes compassion on her; the very instant when Abraham raises his arm to slay Isaac,
he is checked by God. Lot lingers, and Jacob holds the divinity fast until the dawn is at hand: the next moment will surely bring the decision.
And where this intense interest is wholly lacking, where there is no complication of interests, there we have no real legend. Thus the account of creation in Genesis i. is scarcely to be called a story; and yet, from v. 2 and 26, as well as from the poetic versions referred to on pp. 10-12 and 25-26, we can conjecture a form of the account in which more personages appear and in which the world is created after a conflict of God with Chaos. In like manner, the accounts of Abraham's migration and of his league with Abimelech are not real legends, but only legendary traditions which have originated probably from the decay of earlier and fuller legends.
As we have seen in the second division of this treatise, the legends are not free inventions of the imagination. On the contrary, a legend adopts and works over certain data which come from reflexion, tradition or observation. These fundamental data have been treated in the preceding pages; our present task is to consider the part taken by the imagination in the development of the legends. With this subject we have reached the very heart of our investigations.
As has been shown above, many of the legends seem intended to answer definite questions. That is, these legends are not the thoughtless play of an imagination acting without other purpose than the search for the beautiful, but they have a specific
purpose, a point, which is to instruct. Accordingly, if these narratives are to attain their object they must make this point very clear. They do this in a decided way, so decidedly that even we late-born moderns can see the point clearly, and can infer from it the question answered. The sympathetic reader who has followed the unhappy-happy Hagar on her way through the desert will find no word in the whole story more touching that the one which puts an end to all her distress: God hears. But this word contains at the same time the point aimed at, for upon this the narrator wished to build the interpretation of the name Ishmael ("God hears").--Or what word in the legend of the sacrifice of Isaac stamps itself so deeply upon the memory as the affecting word with which Abraham from the depths of his breaking heart quiets the questioning of his unsuspecting child: God will provide! This word, which made God himself a reality, is so emphasised because it answers the question after the etymology of the place (Jeruel).
Other legends reflect historic events or situations, and in such cases it was the duty of the narrator to bring out these references clearly enough to satisfy his well-informed hearer. Thus in the legend of the flight of Hagar the actors are at first mere individuals whose destinies are interesting enough, to be sure, but at the climax, with the words of God regarding Ishmael the narrator shows that in Ishmael he is treating of a race and its destinies.
Hebrew taste is especially fond of playing about the names of leading heroes and places, even when no etymology is involved Many of the legends are quite filled with such references to names. Thus
the legend of the Deluge plays with the name of Noah (cp. viii. 4, 9, 21), the story of the sacrifice of Isaac with Jeruel (xxii. 8, 12, 13), the story of the meeting of Jacob and Esau with Mahanaim and Penuel (cp. p. 321 in my Commentary), and so on.
Thus these legends are rich in points and allusions; they are so to speak transparent: even the one who reads them naively and simply as beautiful stories finds pleasure in them, but only the one who holds them up against the light of the primitive understanding can catch all their beautiful colors; to him they appear as small but flashing and brilliant works of art. The characteristic feature of the Hebrew popular legends as contrasted with other legends, if we understand the matter, consists in the flashing of these points.
The art of the story-tellers consists in avoiding every suspicion of deliberate purpose at the same time that they give great prominence to their point. With marvellous elegance, with fascinating grace, they manage to reach the goal they have set. They tell a little story so charmingly and with such fidelity to nature that we listen to them all unsuspecting; and all at once, before we expect it, they are at their goal. For instance, the story of Hagar's flight (xvi.) wishes to explain how Ishmael, although the child of our Abraham, was born in the wilderness; to this end it draws a picture of Abraham's household: it shows how, by an entirely credible series of events, Ishmael's mother while with child was brought to desperation and fled into the wilderness; thence it came that Ishmael is a child of the desert.
In many cases the task of the narrator was very
complex: he had to answer a whole series of different questions, or to assimilate a quantity of antecedent presumptions. Thus, one variant of the legend of Babel asks the origin of the difference of languages and of the city of Babel, the other wants to know the source of the distribution of races and also of a certain ancient structure. Or again, the story of Abraham at Hebron undertakes to tell not only the origin of the worship at Hebron, but also to explain the birth of Isaac and the choice of his name. Here then the task was, to unite the differing elements into unity. And it is just here that the story-tellers show their art. The prime motive furnishes the leading thread of the story; the subordinate motives they spin into a single scene which they introduce into the body of the story with easy grace.
The etymologies usually constitute such subordinate motives. Thus in the story of the worship at Jeruel a scene is interjected which is to explain the name of the place, "God sees"; but this little scene, the dialogue between Abraham and Isaac, xxii. 7 f., expresses so completely the tone and sentiment of the whole story that we should not be willing to dispense with it even if it had no particular point of its own. In other cases the artists have joined together two leading motives; then they invented a very simple and plausible transition from one to the other: thus the first part of the legend of Hebron presents the establishment of worship there under the guise of the story that
[paragraph continues] Abraham entertained the three divine visitors there; the second portion, which is to account for the birth of Isaac, simply proceeds with the given situation, having the three guests enter into a conversation at table and therein promise Isaac to Abraham. It is the most charming portion of the task of the interpreter of Genesis to search for these matters, and not only, so far as this is possible, to discover what is for us the oldest meaning of the legends, but also to observe the refinements of artistic composition in the stories.
We have to do, then, even in the oldest legends of Genesis, not with aimless, rude stories, tossed off without reflexion, but on the contrary, there is revealed in them a mature, perfected, and very forcible art. The narratives have a very decided style.
Finally, attention should be called to the fact that the narrators scarcely ever express a distinct opinion about persons or facts. This constitutes a clear distinction between them and the later legends and histories worked over under the influence of the prophets. Of course, the narrators of the early legends had their opinions; they are by no means objective, but rather intensely subjective; and often the real comprehension of the legend lies in our obtaining an impression of this opinion of the narrator. But they almost never gave expression to this opinion: they were not able to reflect clearly on psychological processes. Wherever we do get a more distinct view of such an opinion it is by
means of the speeches of the actors which throw some light on what has happened; consider particularly the utterances of Abraham and Abimelech, chapter xx., or the final scene of the story of Laban and Jacob, xxxi. 26 ff. At the same time this suppression of opinions shows most clearly that the narrators, especially the earlier ones, did not care to proclaim general truths.
It is true, there are at the basis of many of the legends and more or less distinctly recognisable, certain general truths, as, in the case of the story of the migration of Abraham, a thought of the value of faith, and in the story of Hebron, the thought of the reward of hospitality. But we must not imagine that these narratives aimed primarily at these truths; they do not aim to teach moral truths. With myths, as has been shown on pages 15-17, this is different, for they aim to answer questions of a general nature.
Out of the type of legend which has been sketched in essentials in the preceding pages there was evolved, as we may discover even in Genesis itself, another type relatively much nearer to modern fiction. While the story of Hagar's flight is a classic instance of the former sort, the most conspicuous example of the second is the story of Joseph. It is necessary only to compare the two narratives in order to see the great differences in the two kinds: there, everything characteristically brief and condensed, here, just as characteristically, everything long spun out.
The first striking difference is the extent of the stories. Since the earlier form was in vogue we see that men have learned to construct more consider-able works of art and are fond of doing so. The second is, that people are no longer satisfied to tell a single legend by itself, but have the gift of combining several legends into a whole. Thus it is in the story of Joseph, so also in the Jacob-Esau-Laban story and in the legends of Abraham and Lot.
Let us inquire how these combinations came about. in the first place, related legends attracted one another. For instance, it was to be expected that legends treating the same individual would constitute themselves into a small epic, as in the stories of Joseph and of Jacob; or the similar, and yet characteristically different, legends of Abraham at Hebron and Lot at Sodom have become united. Similarly in J, a story of the creation and a story of Paradise are interwoven; both of them treat the beginnings of the race. In P the primitive legends of the creation and of the deluge originally constituted a connected whole. In many cases that we can observe the nature of the union is identical: the more important legend is split in two and the less important one put into the gap. We call this device in composition, which is very common in the history of literature--instance The Arabian Nights, the Decameron, Gil Blas, and Hauff's Tales--"enframed stories." Thus, the story of Esau and Jacob is the frame for the story of Jacob and Laban; the experiences of Joseph in Egypt are fitted into the story of Joseph and his brethren; similarly the story of Abraham at Hebron is united with that of Lot at Sodom.
In order to judge of the artistic quality of these compositions we must first of all examine the joints or edges of the elder stories. Usually the narrators make the transition by means of very simple devices from one of the stories to the other. The transition par excellence is the journey. When the first portion of the Jacob-Esau legend is finished Jacob sets out for Aram; there he has his experiences with Laban, and then returns to Esau. In the story of Joseph the carrying off of Joseph to Egypt, and later the journey of his brethren thither, are the connecting links of the separate stories. Similarly in the story of Abraham and Lot, we are first told that the three men visited Abraham and went afterwards to Sodom.
Now we must examine how these various journeys are motivated. The sale of Joseph into Egypt is the goal at which everything that precedes has aimed. The journey of his brethren to Egypt is prompted by the same great famine which had already been the decisive factor in bringing Joseph to honor in Egypt. And the experiences of the brethren in Egypt are based upon Joseph's advancement. Thus we see that the story of Joseph is very cunningly blended into a whole.
There is less of unity in the story of Jacob; but even here there is a plausible motive why Jacob goes to Laban: he is fleeing from Esau. In other respects we find here the original legends side by side unblended. On the contrary, in the story of Abraham and Lot no reason is alleged why the three men go directly from Abraham to Sodom; that is to
say, there is here no attempt at an inner harmonising of the different legends, but the narrator has exerted himself all the more to devise artificial links of connexion; this is why he tells that Abraham accompanied the men to the gates of Sodom, and even returned to the same place on the following morning. In this we receive most clearly the impression of conscious art, which is trying to make from originally disconnected elements a more plausible unity. In the Joseph legend we have an instance of a much more intimate blending of parts than the "frames" of these other stories, a whole series of different adventures harmonised and interwoven.
Another characteristic feature of the Joseph story is its discursiveness, which stands in notable contrast with the brevity of the older narratives. We find in it an abundance of long speeches, of soliloquies, of detailed descriptions of situations, of expositions of the thoughts of the personages. The narrator is fond of repeating in the form of a speech what he has already told. What are we to think of this "epic discursiveness"? Not as an especial characteristic of this particular narrative alone, for we find the same qualities, though less pronounced, in the stories of the wooing of Rebeccah, of Abraham at the court of Abimelech (Genesis xx.), in some features of the story of Jacob (notably the meeting of Jacob and Esau); and the stories of the sacrifice of Isaac and various features of the story of Abraham and Lot also furnish parallels.
Very evidently we have to do here with a distinct
art of story-telling, the development of a new taste. This new art is not satisfied, like its predecessor, with telling the legend in the briefest possible way and with suppressing so far as possible all incidental details; but it aims to make the legend richer and to develop its beauties even when they are quite incidental. It endeavors to keep situations that are felt to be attractive and interesting before the eye of the hearers as long as possible. Thus, for instance, the distress of Joseph's brethren as they stand before their brother is portrayed at length; there is evident intent to delay the narrative, so that the hearer may have time to get the full flavor of the charm of the situation. Thus Joseph is not permitted to discover himself at the very first meeting, in order that this scene may be repeated; he is made to demand that Benjamin be brought before him, because the aged Jacob hesitates a long time to obey this demand, and thus the action is retarded. Similarly in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, the narrative is spun out just before the appearance of God upon the scene, in order to postpone the catastrophe and intensify the interest.
The means that is applied over and over again to prolong the account is to report the same scene twice, though of course with variations. Joseph interprets dreams for Egyptian officials twice; Joseph's brethren must meet him in Egypt twice; twice he hides valuables in their grain sacks in order to embarrass them (xlii. 25 ff., xliv. 2 ff.); twice they bargain over Joseph's cup with the steward and with Joseph himself (xliii. 13 ff., 25 ff.), and so on. Sometimes, though surely less frequently, it is possible that the narrators have invented new
scenes on the basis of the earlier motives, as with the last scene between Joseph and his brethren, chapter l.
Quite unique is the intercalated episode, the negotiations of Abraham with God regarding Sodom, which may almost be called a didactic composition. It is written to treat a religious problem which agitated the time of the author, and which occurred to him in connexion with the story of Sodom. These narrators have a quite remarkable fondness for long speeches, so great as to lead them to subordinate the action to the speeches. The most marked instance is the meeting of Abraham with Abimelech, chapter xx. Here, quite in opposition to the regular rule of ancient style, the events are not told in the order in which they occurred, but a series of occurrences are suppressed at the beginning in order to bring them in later in the succeeding speeches. Thus the narrator has attempted to make the speeches more interesting even at the expense of the incidents to be narrated.
It is also a favorite device to put substance into the speeches by having what has already been reported repeated by one of the personages of the story (xliii. 13, 21, 30 ff.; xliii. 3, 7, 20 f.; xliv. 19 ff). The rule of style in such repetition of speech is, contrary to the method of Homer, to vary them somewhat the second time. This preference for longer speeches is, as we clearly perceive, a secondary phenomenon in Hebrew style, the mark of a later period. We observe this in the fact that the very pieces which we recognise from other considerations as the latest developments of the legend or as intercalations (xiii. 14-17; xvi. 9 f.; xviii.
[paragraph continues] 17-19, 23-33) are the ones which contain these speeches.
We may find this delight in discursiveness in other species of Hebrew literature also. The brief, condensed style of Amos is followed by the discursive style of a Jeremiah, and the same relation exists between the laconic sentences of the Book of the Covenant and the long-winded expositions of Deuteronomy, between the brief apothegms which constitute the heart of the Book of Proverbs and the extended speeches which were afterwards added by way of introduction, between the oldest folk-songs, which often contain but a single line each, and the long poems of art poetry.
We do not always agree with this taste of the later time; for instance, the story of Joseph approaches the danger-line of becoming uninteresting from excessive detail. On the other hand, this discursiveness is at the same time the evidence of a newly acquired faculty. While the earlier time can express its inner life only in brief and broken words, the new generation has learned to observe itself more closely and to express itself more completely. With this there has come an increase of interest in the soul-life of the individual. Psycho-logical problems are now treated with fondness and with skill. Thus in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac there was created the perfection of the character study.
The narrator of the stories of Joseph shows himself a master of the art of painting the portrait of a man by means of many small touches. Especially successful
is the description of Joseph's inner vacillation at the sight of Benjamin (xliii. 30), and the soul painting when Jacob hears that Joseph is still alive (xlv. 26), and elsewhere. But while in these later narratives the incidental features of the old legend are still developed with greater detail, on the other hand this very fact has naturally thrown the chief features somewhat into the background and made the original point of the whole less obvious. This result has been further favored by the circumstance that the original points had in many cases ceased to be altogether clear to those of the later time. Thus in the story of Joseph the historical and ætiological elements have lost importance.
The difference between the two styles is so great that it seems advisable to distinguish them by different names, and to limit the use of "legend" to the first while we call the second "romance." Of course, the transition between the two is fluctuant; we may call such transition forms as the story of Laban and Jacob, or that of Rebeccah, "legends touched with romance," or "romances based on legendary themes."
On the relative age of these styles, also, an opinion may be ventured, though with great caution. The art of narrative which was acquired in the writing of legends was applied later to the writing of history, where, accordingly, we may make parallel observations. Now we see that the oldest historical writing known to us has already adopted the "detailed" style. Accordingly we may assume that this "detailed" style was cultivated at least as early as the beginning of the time of the kings. And
therefore the condensed style must have been cultivated for many centuries before that time. However, it should be observed, this fixes only the time of the styles of narrative, and not the age of the narratives preserved to us in these styles.
43:1 Reuss, AT III., p. 73: "Originally the legends of the patriarchs arose individually without connexion and independently of one another."--Wellhausen, Composition 2, p. 9: "Tradition in the popular mouth knows only individual legends."