David W. COTTER, O.S.B., Genesis. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2003. pp. 366. $49.95 pb. ISBN O-8146-5040-6.
Reviewed by James ZEITZ, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, TX

One of the new series (Berit Olam) that treats the Bible from a narrative—rather than an historical-critical point of view—by David Cotter, the editor of this series, this work is an invaluable summary of narrative criticism applied to Genesis. The main reason we should read this commentary is: "There is no commentary (on Genesis) that applies the tools of narrative analysis to the book as an integral whole." (p.xxiv)

The emphases in this commentary, which also constitute its freshness and cause the text to speak anew to the believing community are: first its attention to plot and character development, second the summary of structures, small and large, and finally its acknowledgement of pre-critical, traditional commentaries, both Jewish and Patristic.

In setting before us the project of narrative criticism Cotter acknowledges that this does not replace, but rather presupposes the historical-critical treatises of the past century. Modestly he also admits that his standpoint—a Catholic, male priest and monk—is one of many, that nevertheless attempts to "read the entire book as a story" (p.xxiv).

Building on the work of other narrative critics, especially Jerome Walsh (co-editor of Berit Olam), who are interested in the final, canonical form of the text and its "literary craft," Cotter's commentary is a good summary of the structural units and literary techniques used in Genesis. This approach also uncovers new insights into traditional treatments of the Book of Genesis. For example, Cotter entitles Genesis 12-50 "Stories about the Troubled Family Chosen for Blessing—-thus de-centering the narrative away from the "patriarchs." Also, in his subdivisions of Genesis 12-50 into four 'generations,' of this family, he admits that the traditional view that there are four patriarchs is too neat, and neglects other factors, such as pairings (Abraham and Lot, Sarah and Hagar), and the role of women. One example of the blurring of divisions is his treatment of Tamar and Judah (Genesis 37) in connection with the Joseph story: Judah's "conversion" when realizing Tamar is 'more righteous' is a foil for Genesis 38: the story of Joseph. Tamar also is only the second person called "righteous" after Abraham.

Throughout the commentary, Cotter points out how "character development" is an important aspect of the narrative and its "plot," from God in Genesis 1-2:3, to the "developing character" of God in Genesis 12-25.

Overall this work will be valuable not only to specialists, but also to teachers of introductions to the Hebrew Scriptures who need to draw students into the richness and variety of biblical texts.


Amazon.com - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books