heck yes 2

31 10 2007

In Contrast to The Dark Knight…

30 10 2007

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a nerd when it comes to superheroes. I can’t get enough of all these superhero movies that are coming out. I even enjoyed DareDevil if that tells you anything. That’s why I got all giddy inside when I saw the new teaser trailer for The Dark Knight, and I just had to post it.

But this looks terribly cheesy. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t play Ozzie Osbourne at the end of the trailer. We’ll see, I guess.

heck yes

29 10 2007

Biblical type-scenes (or, how Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne made it into the Bible)

20 09 2007

I’ve been reading Robert Alter’s book, The Art of Biblical Narrative for Dr. Ngan’s scriptures 1 class (that’s Genesis through Chronicles), and so far it’s been extremely beneficial for how I read the Bible. Of particular note is chapter three, entitled “Biblical Type-Scenes and the Uses of Convention.” For Alter, the biblical writers used literary techniques to tell a story and, really, to create art. One of these techniques is commonly known as the ‘type-scene.’

Now, before we delve further into what Alter talks about, let’s look at an example that we can all understand: superheroes. I like superheroes. I grew up watching the old school Adam West Batman series, the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that really cool Batman cartoon series that came out in the early to mid 90’s.

When we watch a superhero cartoon, TV show, movie, or read a graphic novel (the new “with-it” term for comic book), one of the things we notice is that almost all superheroes have a moment when they begin to realize their powers. For example, Peter Parker in the first Spider-Man movie goes through a series of scenes where he struggles to understand these strange abilities he obtains. After his uncle is killed, Parker realizes that his uncle’s words ring true: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Thus, Parker uses his talents for the greater good of society. We can see a similar “coming of age” story within the Batman mythology. Batman’s parents are killed by a robber when he is a young boy, and this event never leaves his memory. Bruce Wayne uses this memory, his never-ending wealth, and his physical ability to fight crime, and in a sense he avenges the death of his parents.

Notice that both heroes go through this same process, but within each story we can see similarities and differences that illuminate their respective characters. We can call these instances type-scenes. In superhero mythology, the hero discovers his call, and he must decide how to use that call.

The biblical writers used literary conventions similar to this. Alter uses the example of the betrothal story. Alter says that the typical betrothal story includes the main character traveling to a foreign land, the encounter with the girl or girls at a well, someone draws water from the well, the girl or girls rush off to their father, and a betrothal is concluded after a meal.

For instance, in Genesis there are a few betrothal stories. The story of Isaac’s betrothal to Rebekah and the story of Jacob’s betrothal to Rachel are of particular interest. Isaac himself, does not travel to the foreign land, but sends a servant. The servant in Isaac’s place meets Rebekah at the well, and Rebekah not only draws water for the servant, but for the servant’s animals as well. The servant explains why he is there, and Rebekah rushes off to her father’s house, and they have a meal with the servant. The servant travels with Rebekah back to Isaac, and they are finally betrothed. The interesting thing about this story is that Isaac plays a very passive role, while Rebekah plays a very active role. This characterization illustrates the larger narrative in the story of Isaac. It is Rebekah who takes an active role in making sure that her favorite son Jacob receives the blessing, while Isaac pretty much copies everything his father, Abraham, did.

In the next story we see that Jacob takes on an active role in finding his wife Rachel. He travels to the land of Laban, and sees Rachel at the well. It is Jacob this time who draws the water, and he has an obstacle to overcome – the stone on the mouth of the well. Alter writes that this “minor variation of the convention contributes to the consistent characterization of Jacob.” Jacob the heel-grabber is the one who wrestles throughout the narrative. He struggles with Laban, with God, and with his sons. Jacob, though, instead of receiving Rachel as his bride, receives Leah. The writers compare Leah to Rachel – Rachel was beautiful, but Leah had “weak/beautiful” eyes. In other words – Rachel was hot, but not Leah. Jacob is tricked by Laban, and the narrative continues as a struggle.

Now, these two stories show how the type-scene characterizes the actors in the story. What’s even more interesting, though, is when the writers play with the literary conventions so as to communicate something totally unique about the character as in the case with Saul. Saul begins what looks like is going to be a betrothal scene as some girls come down to the well. Instead of meeting one of the girls and seeking a bride, he pulls a Harry and Lloyd – “You ladies are in luck… There’s a town a few miles down the road.” Alter suggests that the reason the writer does this is to foreshadow that things aren’t going to go so well for Saul. Saul, in keeping with his character, did not find a wife at the well as was expected, and neither will Saul maintain his kingship.

I’ve tried to explain in this relatively short entry what Alter does in 15 pages. So if the argument is weak it’s because I sacrificed space for brevity. At the least, though, we can see that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is not “pure history” in the modern sense of the word. It is filled with narrative and exciting story lines. In essence, the Bible is a piece of literary artwork designed to tell the story of God and his people. So, next time you read the story of Abraham or David or Elijah, think about how Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne fit into the narrative.