Study Genesis and the Gospels through Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, this weekend only (updated)

March 23, 2013 | 9 comments
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rashomonOne issue that appears repeatedly when studying scripture is dealing with conflicting accounts and multiple perspectives. We have four Gospels that vary in detail, several creation stories, both inside the Bible (Gen 1-2:4, 2:4ff, and the scattered watery Chaoskampf account), and outside (Genesis accounts, Book of Moses, Book of Abraham, Temple), as well as two conflicting accounts of Israelite history (Samuel-Kings vs. Chronicles), and two interpretations of the destruction of Ammonihah (Alma 16-17 vs 25, see Grant Hardy’s article). Our modern tendency is to treat all of these, and indeed nearly all scripture, strictly as history, although bad or inaccurate history, and since we really don’t like multiple accounts, we then wrest ahem… harmonize them. To some extent, that misses the point; none of these were written as history as the modern person would understand it, as a dispassionate, journalistic wie-es-eigentlich-gewesen how-it-really-happened neutral account written down by an eyewitness clerk. Perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated.

Someone with a grounding in historiography would have a better grasp on the issues, arguing that history is necessarily reductionist, biased, selective. Each of these accounts represents a particular perspective and viewpoint. It’s more important to figure out what they’re trying to say, what that viewpoint is, why they are telling it the way they do, then to figure out how to harmonize them.  When it comes to Gen 1 vs Gen 2:4ff, one of the traditional scholarly analyses involves assigning one account to one tradition (Gen 1 is priestly), and the other to a different tradition (Gen 2:4 belongs to J, or the Yahwist tradition.) I am deeply sympathetic and fairly convinced by this view, which has been discussed all over the blogs. (I’ll put up some links if asked.) See here (less technical, skeptical), here (personal experience, less technical, writing book on the subject),  here, here, lots from FPR (I went to Patheos to search for these, and it oddly directed me to the old wordpress version.)

  • A two-parter (technical, in support of theory), part 1, part 2
  • A follow-up and response to the first link above(semi-technical, also in support), post.
  • Lengthy semi-technical post on Genesis 1-3.

However, I’m also aware of another viewpoint, put forward by an interesting, non-traditional scholar. Pamela Reis Tamarkin (interview here) began her study of Hebrew late in life, did not complete a PhD, and yet has published in several prominent journals, receiving more attention than one might expect, given her lack of scholarly credentials. She argues for a unity in Genesis 1-4 and rejects source criticism. Many others who do so come from a conservative theological background, but Tamarkin is female, Jewish, and does not come from that conservative background. One would expect her to readily nod assent to traditional source theory. One of her papers dealt with the issues of Gen 1-2 by comparing it to Akira Kurosawa‘s film Rashomon in which the same story is told four times from the perspectives of the four participants. I’ve posted the version of her paper from Bible Review, “Genesis as Rashomon” here. Another version, printed in her book Reading the Lines: A Fresh Look at the Hebrew Bible is partially readable from the Amazon preview. Since it’s Kurosawa’s birthdy, Hulu is allowing free access to all his movies (including The Seven Samurai!) through Sunday night, for anyone in the US. The films of Kurosawa (d.1998) inspired not just Tamarkin, but people like Ingmar Bergman, Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas and other film makers. The Seven Samurai  was remade in an American setting as The Magnificent Seven with some magnificent actors.

So this weekend, make some popcorn, settle in for some subtitles, and study your scriptures with Akira Kurosawa and Pamela Reis Tamarkin.

NB: I will be writing a post to address the unanswered questions of Jeff G. and Sonny from my last post on Genesis and science, that had the comments closed.

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9 Responses to Study Genesis and the Gospels through Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, this weekend only (updated)

  1. Kelly Boyce on March 23, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Love this

  2. Adam Greenwood on March 23, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Free?
    Rock on.

  3. Abu_Casey on March 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    That was an interesting article, but I’m not sure that a Rashomon approach to the Torah (or the rest of the Hebrew Bible) can sustain all the variation that source criticism identifies. But even the D source appears to be made up of multiple texts. And who’s opinion is D supposed to represent? If it’s not God’s, and we’ve already got man’s (in what is usually taken as J), well, who’s perspective is E supposed to represent? Why doesn’t “God’s perspective” allow sacrifice until Aaron, while the other perspectives do?

  4. Sonny on March 23, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks, Ben!

  5. reed russell on March 24, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Excellent! (And links would be appreciated.)

  6. Ben S. on March 24, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Agreed, Abu. She’s working on the micro level here, which leaves her argument vulnerable at the macro level. To my knowledge, she hasn’t proposed any kind of competing general theory, but does question specific arguments and assumptions. I suspect her book version of the article has more depth than the BR version.
    Reed, give me a bit, I’ll update with links.

  7. Bro. Jones on March 24, 2013 at 8:04 am

    One question I’d ask: Rashomon doesn’t hide its editorialist presentation: it overtly identifies each narrator and viewpoint. The Book of Mormon is pretty good about this too, especially when Mormon/Moroni are injecting themselves into the text. Why no similar structure in the Bible? Cultural thing?

  8. Robert C. on March 24, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Thanks, Ben. I still haven’t had a chance to read the article, but it looks fascinating, and it’s in my queue!

  9. WalkerW on March 25, 2013 at 8:19 am

    I remember giving a sacrament talk on “service” and used ‘Ikiru’ to emphasize the purpose and joy that service to others gives our lives. Any post that relates Kurosawa to the Gospel is good in my book and this is no exception.