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This review is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

PROPHETS IN THEIR COUNTRIES Moelwyn Merchant, Fire From the Heights (Christopher Davies) £6.95

The Bible is god's gift to novelists, the supreme mythkitty, a rattle-bag of 'narremes'. But it's an ambiguous gift, 'as what gods give must be'. Using the forms of the novel to re-tell, to refurbish Biblical narratives is as ill-advised as most attempts to make the language of liturgy more 'accessible'. Narrative elisions are filled in, against the grain of the original, against its logic and economy. Characters are filled out - as though they were 'characters' - to blur the theology with a patchwork psychology, extending to explain. Pace Amis, more does equal worse: the books of Amos and Amis have a different sense of an ending.

Fire from the Heights succeeds because it is both more and less than (as the blurb has it) 'a reconstruction of the life and times' of the prophet Elijah. The narrative is spare and episodic as events shift across and back across four communities, from the desert to the city. There's the group of nomadic shepherds in the hills around Jezreel, a community with its own prophetic imperatives, an early benchmark for Elijah. He has grown up in the more pragmatic but equally decisive set of values at work in Tishbe, the village on the edge of the desert. Then the local economy of the vineyards in the city suburbs, and eventually the court apparatus in Jezreel itself, become the arena for conflicting ideologies and theologies. In each of these areas Elijah is critic and catalyst. Each provides a ...


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