Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Michael W. Martin on Betrothal Journey Narratives

Michael W. Martin, ‘Betrothal Journey Narratives’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 70, 3 (2008), 505-23.

The betrothal journal narrative is ‘an archetypal narrative pattern repeatedly employed in biblical literature, often with important innovations, by different writers for different artistic purposes’ (505).

The climax of the pattern is when the suitor meets the bride-to-be at a well and a betrothal is arranged (a ‘type-scene’ [recurrent narrative episode] famously identified by Robert Alter), but Martin argues that the betrothal itself is situated in a larger narrative framework.

The commonly-recognised elements of the betrothal type scene include:

1. The groom-to-be travels to a foreign country.
2. He meets a young woman or young women at a well.
3. Someone draws water.
4. The young woman/women rush home with news of his arrival.
5. A betrothal is arranged, usually in connection with a meal.

Martin augments these with seven more elements (indicated in italics) (508-509):

1. The groom-to-be travels to a foreign country, either in flight from or commissioned by his kin.
2. He meets a young woman or young women at a well.
3. Someone draws water.
4. A gift is given or a service is performed that ingratiates the suitor with the woman and/or her family.
5. The suitor reveals his identity.
6. The young woman/women rush home with news of his arrival.
7. Someone from the family returns to greet and/or invite the suitor.
8. A betrothal is arranged, usually in connection with a meal.
9. The suitor resides with his bride’s kin, sometimes begetting children.
10. The suitor returns, usually commissioned by the bride’s kin.
11. The suitor is received by his kin at the end of his journey.
12. The suitor resides with his kin, sometimes begetting children.

Martin observes this expanded ‘betrothal journey narrative’ schema in accounts related to Isaac (Genesis 24), Jacob (Genesis 29), Moses (Exodus 2:15-21), Ruth, Saul (1 Samuel 9:11-12), David, Tobias (the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha), sometimes with significant innovative departures from the pattern (509-19).

He also applies his fuller schema to the betrothal type-scene in John 4, noting (among other things) Jesus’ departure from Judea after conflict in Jerusalem (2:13-25) and because of the threat from the Pharisees (4:1), the moment the ‘suitor’ offers a gift (4:10-15), the revelation of his identity (4:25-26), etc., before returning home to Galilee and being welcomed there (4:43-45).

Martin notes: ‘If there is conformity to the traditional schema, there is also innovation. Usually, the suitor travels to the land where his father’s relatives reside and marries a relative, so that the resulting children can preserve the family bloodline. Jesus, however, has taken a Samaritan “bride,” and his “increase” consists of Samaritans and Gentiles.’ (522)

Martin also points out that Jesus’ betrothal journey does not begin when he leaves Judea for Samaria in 4:4; rather, like all betrothal journeys, he begins and ends in the same place – Galilee (2:1; 4:54). In fact, the departure for Samaria is a return trip to Galilee. The suitor appears to be returning home empty-handed when, in Samaria, ‘the anticipated encounter at the well finally occurs, though in an unintended place’. ‘Hence, the traditional story of endogamy is turned on its head, and the boundaries of Jesus’ family are extended to encompass Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile’ (523).

2 comments:

brett jordan said...

These scholars all seem to miss out the 'extended sword-fight scene, involving slo-mo leaping' and 'extreme close-ups on beautiful woman-at-well' hair and facial features'.

Antony Billington said...

I told you to stop reading ‘The Message’...