I and my five brothers and two sisters grew up with story-telling by Mother, things like Five Little Peppers and How They Grew along with memorable stories from the Jewish Bible: baby Moses being groomed as a prince in Pharoah’s court but running away to become a shepherd, and then returning once again—very reluctantly—to lead his people in their exodus from Egypt. Adventure tales, all.

I loved isolated episodes from the life of David, youngest of eight sons. Last on the totem pole, he is picked by the prophet Samuel as future king of Israel. He goes out to face a dangerous giant, the enemy Goliath, who is dressed like a moving fortress. David has only five smooth stones and a slingshot.

On my own I discovered the Hardy Boys, a whole series of two brothers in adventuresome and dangerous situations. Outclassed by sinister forces, they always prevailed—like David and Moses—on behalf of family, friends, and community.

My college major ended up as literature. After a wonderful detour into philosophy for a Masters degree, I ended up with a doctorate in stories and poetry from the University of Chicago. Teaching and writing, I’ve lived happily ever after.

American literature was a major interest, but I became fascinated by strange connections within biblical narratives: for example, David slaying Goliath in the name of the Lord, but not until after making sure that the reward for doing so is marrying into the royal family, or Abraham being challenged by God to slay his son, but within the context of six prior and connected challenges.

My sense had been that ancient stories like the epics of Homer were unified and compelling, while the longer biblical narratives were sloppy and random—that Genesis, for example, was merely a compilation of one event bumping into the next one, randomly. But then I got serious about reading Genesis as a coherent text, a whole story unified by a variety of repetitive patterns—like the seven visits between Abraham and God that determine the story’s action, its plot. The sophistication of this narrative art and its compelling nature appeared significantly greater, to me, than what I had found in careful reading of Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad.

Meanwhile, my curiosity about the striking difference between literature from an oral culture, with its preliterate audience, and modern literature led to a book, Television: Friend or Foe?, a study that viewed television stories from the perspective of an oral, non-print world.

I was hooked. My teaching of the Bible as literature over nearly three decades has led to three books of narrative analysis: Genesis, the Story We Haven’t Heard (2001); The Way According to Luke: the Whole Story of Luke-Acts (2006) and David, Saul, and God: Rediscovering an Ancient Story (2008).

Reviews of each book can be found by clicking on the titles in the sidebar.

Paul Borgman




New Work