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Melville’s Bibles

Melville’s Bibles

Ilana Pardes
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 206
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  • Book Info
    Melville’s Bibles
    Book Description:

    Many writers in antebellum America sought to reinvent the Bible, but no one, Ilana Pardes argues, was as insistent as Melville on redefining biblical exegesis while doing so. InMoby-Dickhe not only ventured to fashion a grand new inverted Bible in which biblical rebels and outcasts assume center stage, but also aspired to comment on every imaginable mode of biblical interpretation, calling for a radical reconsideration of the politics of biblical reception. InMelville's Bibles,Pardes traces Melville's response to a whole array of nineteenth-century exegetical writings-literary scriptures, biblical scholarship, Holy Land travel narratives, political sermons, and women's bibles. She shows how Melville raised with unparalleled verve the question of what counts as Bible and what counts as interpretation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94152-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    “’Tis high time we should have a bible that should be no provincial record, but should open the history of the planet, and bind all tendencies and dwarf all the Epics & philosophies we have,” wrote Emerson in his journal.¹ It seems as if every other writer in antebellum America sought to follow Emerson’s call and reinvent the Bible. But no one was as insistent as Melville on redefining biblical exegesis while doing so. InMoby-Dickhe not only ventured to fashion a grand new, inverted Bible, in which biblical rebels and outcasts assume central stage, but also aspired at...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Playing with Leviathan: Job and the Aesthetic Turn in Biblical Exegesis
    (pp. 18-45)

    In regarding Job as an admirable founding author whose representation of Leviathan proves beyond doubt the “aesthetically noble” heritage of whales, Ishmael not only extols whaling with the passion of a hot-tempered, stubborn advocate but also endorses the new, ever-growing perception of the Bible as a whole and the Book of Job in particular as the grand aesthetic touchstone for all times. Ishmael, indeed, strives throughout the text to model his obsessive whale meditations on Job’s Leviathan. But as the above passage from “The Advocate” indicates, persuading readers that the chronicle of whales should be treated with the same kind...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “Jonah Historically Regarded”: Improvisations on Kitto’s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
    (pp. 46-72)

    Just before thePequodsets sail, Father Mapple delivers a memorable sermon on the Book of Jonah from his shiplike pulpit at the Whaleman’s Chapel in New Bedford, adding “sea-taste” to the well-known tale about the stubborn, disobedient prophet who escaped to the sea. The sermon opens with an alluring invitation to dive into the Book of Jonah. “Shipmates,” Mapple declares as he turns over the leaves of the Bible, “this book, containing only four chapters—four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “Call Me Ishmael”: The Bible and the Orient
    (pp. 73-97)

    Wandering in the wilderness, after having escaped her mistress, the Egyptian bondwoman Hagar encounters an angel: “And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (Gen. 16:11–12). Ishmael’s fate is sealed from conception. He will become a wanderer, living the wild, precarious life of an outcast in the desert, following in his mother’s footsteps. But the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Ahab, Idolatry, and the Question of Possession: Biblical Politics
    (pp. 98-122)

    Peleg’s warning—not to think of Captain Ahab typologically—needs to be read as anything but literal. This tongue-in-cheek admonition is a self-reflexive moment, which, like “Call me Ishmael,” is meant, above all, to urge us to meditate on the grand typological project at stake. Typologies, Melville reminds us, may seem transcendent, but they are finally nothing but the product of human whims and imagination and as such can be best explored within the domain of fiction. As an author, Melville has absolute, divinelike power to determine the fate of his characters and to decide whether or not their names...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Rachel’s Inconsolable Cry: The Rise of Women’s Bibles
    (pp. 123-147)

    Rachel is the only female biblical character who looms large inMoby-Dick.Melville’s Rachel is primarily a ship namedRachelthat appears toward the end of the voyage in “The Pequod Meets the Rachel,” a chapter devoted to one of the most striking gams inMoby-Dick.What is a gam? “You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the columns of dictionaries,” Ishmael warns us, “and never find the word”—not even in “Noah Webster’s ark.” With that in mind, he provides his own “learned” definition of one of the everyday practices of whalers: “GAM. Noun—A social...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 148-156)

    It is no coincidence that in each chapter I read the “Epilogue” ofMoby-Dickanew. This is, as it were, Melville’s grand finale of biblical juggling. Here Ishmael assumes at once the role of Job’s messenger (the epigraph), of a Jonah who has just emerged from the belly of the fish, of his own namesake, spared from death at the very last moment, of a Micaiah insisting on a prophecy of doom, of a crying Jeremiah who refuses to relinquish the possibility of partial consolation, and of one of Rachel’s exiled sons. But as Ishmael floats on Queequeg’s buoyant coffin,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 157-184)
  13. Index
    (pp. 185-192)