Bruce Longenecker on Luke’s Narrative Style

Bruce Longenecker has a fascinating new book out on the narrative dimensions of Luke’s Gospel.  It’s called Hearing the Silence: Jesus on the Edge and God in the Gap–Luke 4 in Narrative Perspective.

He addresses the problem of the “under-narrated” episode in Luke 4:16-30.  Just after Jesus gives his Nazareth Manifesto in the synagogue, Luke portrays the enraged townspeople dragging Jesus to the brow of the hill to throw him off.  The drama loads up with tension, but just as it reaches a climax, Luke draws it to a close by seemingly letting all the air out:

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.  But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way (Luke 4:28-30, NIV).

Longenecker begins his exploration at this point.  What to make of this gap in Luke’s narrative?

Good writers often do leave gaps in their narratives, intending to provoke their readers’ imaginations to fill in what’s missing.  But good writing only meets its appropriate ends when good readers are involved–those who attend carefully to trajectories and impulses throughout the larger work so that they fill in gaps in ways that are both creative and constrained by the text and its author’s intentions.

As Longenecker notes, there are better and worse readings of texts:

In a hermeneutical circle in which the auditor engages with a text in ever-improved cycles of understanding about the text’s “various markers and signals,” the narrative itself sets up parameters regarding the live interpretive options an audience might entertain in its quest to appreciate the full dimensions of a narrative gap (p. 40).

What makes this book quite unusual is that Longenecker then explores a range of possibilities for filling in this “narrative gap” with what may have happened.  He examines a number of Jesus-novels to see how fictionalized accounts of Jesus’ life account for this episode, evaluating how well they have attended to Luke’s literary parameters.

He then offers his own proposal for how Luke leads his readers to imagine the dynamics of Jesus’ miraculous rescue from the hands of his angry townfolk.  Along the way, Longenecker discusses Luke’s narrative style and creativity and describes more fully what is required of good readers of Scripture.

There’s so much to say about this fascinating and impressively creative book.  Longenecker touches on a variety of topics, bringing them together to provide a close and fascinating reading of Luke.  And he does it all in 123 pages–and that includes three appendices.

This is a great book for use in an undergraduate hermeneutics course, since it gets at how biblical narratives work, and does so in a lively and highly readable way.  It would also generate great discussion if used by church groups, especially those embarking on a study of Luke.

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