Tragedy in Genesis

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People tend to view tragedy in cataclysmic and catastrophic terms. Every night on the news we hear murders, assassinations and bombings referred to as Atragedies.@ Tragedy need not be an event which affects the community at large. Rather, any event which teaches an important lesson to a specific person or a group of people can be viewed as a type of tragedy. While the Greek tragedies focused upon the catastrophic nature of tragedy, The Biblical Book of Genesis provides the reader with another tragic paradigm. Genesis describes tragic events which are neither catastrophic nor transforming. In fact, according to the Genesetic paradigm, tragedy need not end in death. Before entering into a detailed discussion of Genesis, we must attempt to define the term tragedy itself. Walter Kaufmann defines tragedy in an almost scientific kind of way. To him, every tragedy must fit into exactly the same mold in precisely the same fashion. He writes: tragedy is (1) a form of a literature that (2) presents a symbolic action as performed by actors and (3) moves into the center immense human suffering (4) in such a way that it brings to our minds our own forgotten and repressed sorrows as well as those of our kin and humanity (5) releasing us with some sense (a) that suffering is universal- not a mere accident in our experience, (b) that courage and endurance in suffering or nobility in despair are admirable- not ridiculous- and usually also ( c) that fates worse than our own can be experienced as exhilarating

Kaufmann=s definition precludes seeing the notion of tragedy through a wider lens. His definition is all encompassing and requires many factors in order to be considered a tragedy. To him, very few writings are true tragedies. A tragedy must end in death (Aimmense human suffering@) for it to be included within the canon of tragedy. Seemingly, tragedy could not occur within the mundane as Kaufmann emphasizes that it must be a form of literature and performed by actors. Without suffering, a work of literature cannot be considered tragedy. Kaufmann=s definition was shaped by the works of Sophocles and Euripides. Although there were three primary tragedy writers in antiquity, Kaufmann does not seem to be able to cope with alternative modes of tragedy as expressed by Aeschylus. Instead of accepting the concept of dual definitions or paradigms of tragedy, Kaufmann remains myopic in his view. He writes: AAeschylus was, compared with Sophocles and Euripides, the most optimistic; he alone had the sublime confidence that by rightly employing their reason men could avoid catastrophes. His world view was, by modern standards, anti-tragic; and yet he created tragedy.@ Kaufmann does not come to the logical realization that both Sophocles and Aeschylus are tragic in different ways. Instead of acknowledging that his definition might be too constraining and specific, he rejects the fact that Aeschylus wrote tragedy. By stating that Ayet he created tragedy,@ Kaufmann shows a glimpse of hesitance on the validity of his own definition of tragedy. However, he reaffirms his convictions in writing that Aany realistic notion of tragic drama must start from the fact of catastrophe. Tragedies end badly.@ Kaufmann is not alone in his view that tragedy must end badly. A noted biblical scholar has vociferated:

At some point in tragedy, a catastrophe occurs. Disaster does not have to be the final wordY but it usually breaks the hero, who dares to defy the universe. If they are not already exceptional people, rulers or leaders, tragic heroes are made exceptional by their experienceY Often a tragic hero responds to disaster and unleashes more disaster.

While Exum generally agrees with Kaufmann, she leaves some leeway in her interpretation of tragedy. Usually catastrophe occurs, but it is possible to have tragedy without catastrophe. While her comments regarding tragic biblical heroes is true throughout a...
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