Encountering the Divine: Theophany in Biblical Narrative is George W. Savran’s highly regarded and much sought after monograph about the narratives on humans encountering God, as depicted in the Hebrew Bible. In general terms "theophany" refers to all divine appearances but mostly those occurring as visions, dreams, or other revelations. However, in this study the focus is on scriptural references to actual contact between the human and the divine. Savran’s fascination with the idea of theophany led him to assess biblical descriptions, recognizing and identifying patterns associated with such interactions. These Bible narratives deserve particular attention because they make something known about the participants: the possibility for interaction between two distinct spheres—human and divine—and the effects one sphere has upon the other.
In this well-written book, the literary and theological dynamics of the divine-human encounters are first examined utilizing type-scene analysis to illuminate the common structure within these encounters. The sequence of events in these narratives unfolds in the following specific order. The first event is the isolation of the human protagonist from the rest of humanity. Next, a visual and verbal disclosure is made by the Deity. The human protagonist then reacts with a range of responses to the experience. The final sequence in the scene is exemplified by a more externalized reaction, marking the carrying over of the experience into a larger societal framework. The author identifies the different literary strategies employed in each narrative, and offers a detailed analysis of each component of the type-scene. Also included is dialogue on topics such as the intertextuality of the narratives and the deadly nature of these encounters.
This monograph by George Savran presents concrete scriptural examples of a subject mostly regarded as ethereal in nature. Generally, "theophany" refers to divine encounters in the guise of dreams or visions. Savran has gone to great lengths and efforts to analyze Man-God narratives from the Hebrew Bible which describe actual contact and interaction. He uses type-scene analysis to bring into focus the structures and shared dynamics present in these narratives. I commend the author on making a study tool which I found quite effective in helping me wrap my mind around this heady subject. Previous treatments of this topic, in my opinion, have often combined the prophecies and visions type of encounter with the more personally defined contacts, thus introducing a higher degree of subjective assessment to the analysis. By staying with the more actual, physical event narratives, the author focuses on the definition and ordering of the universal aspects found throughout these biblical narratives.
George W. Savran is Professor of Bible, and Head of the Biblical Studies Track at the Schechter Institute, Jerusalem, Israel.