“Return to the Land of Your Fathers”: A Narrative Reading of Genesis 31–33, the Return of Jacob to the Land of Canaan

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In this dissertation, my primary aims are (1) to acknowledge how hermeneutical and methodological presuppositions affect reading and interpretation of texts and (2) to demonstrate this claim by looking closely at Gen 31-33 from a perspective that is oriented toward the narrative. The nature of the dissertation, then, will be primarily exegetical, but will proceed according to clearly delineated hermeneutical and methodological presuppositions with the intent of showing how those presuppositions influence the exegesis. My thesis is this: engaging texts from a perspective that is oriented toward the narrative itself will challenge some preexisting interpretive conclusions, build on or redirect others, and offer entirely new ways of entering the text than have previously been put forth.

More specifically, the dissertation begins with an introductory chapter (ch. 1) that outlines more thoroughly the sentiments expressed in the above paragraph and sets up the method that will be followed. I have intentionally located my work among those who pursue "narrative reading" of biblical narratives. Then, in subsequent chapters (chs. 2-5), the dissertation will interact with the text units that comprise Gen 31-33. Within those discussions, I will seek to demonstrate careful exegesis of the text and how my presuppositions can prove fruitful to the larger scholarship on Gen 31-33. Further, I highlight one or two interpretive difficulties present within each passage and seek to show how a reading that centers on the larger narrative can provide legitimate answers to some of the more perplexing problems.

Many factors emerge from my analysis. First, after having reviewed previous scholarship on these chapters from Genesis, I conclude that two trends have led most discussion. On the one hand, scholars who stand in the tradition that emerged in the late-nineteenth century with figures like Wellhausen and Gunkel offer painstaking accounting of the textual data. However, they often fail to acknowledge how their own works are hermeneutically and methodologically biased toward trying to discover in the text the "real" history of Israel, "what really happened." On the other hand, newer studies in narrative have rightly identified the subjective nature of reading texts and have called attention to their own biases, but due to various factors—breadth of their subject, newness of the trend, concern for macro-level analysis—they have often failed to offer detailed critical engagement with the data. Thus, I intend for my work to be one attempt at standing at the crossroads: I hope to identify my narrative biases, but seek to engage the text rigorously.

Second, my work often takes on an evaluative role vis-à-vis both trends in Genesis studies. For those who follow the first trend mentioned above, I often am able to challenge their handling of the textual data once I have identified their biases. At many points, I suggest that various scholars' conclusions are either less definitive than they sometimes propose or unsupported altogether based on textual data. I frequently challenge those who stand in the second stream of interpretation for their failure to handle the textual data carefully. At many points, they seem instead to do just the opposite: they begin with broader, macro-level conclusions, and either fit the textual data into those conclusions or disregard the data. My intent is not to suggest that either group is wrong, but instead to call both camps to adopt humility in listening to each other. These passages are often far more ambiguous than either camp admits; perhaps, then, all interpreters should proceed more carefully.

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PHD in Theology

First Advisor

Allen, Leslie

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Bible, Criticism, interpretation, Genesis


Missions and World Christianity


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