Jeanie C. Crain, The Bible as Literature: An Introduction, Polity Press, 2010.pg’s 1-2
Reading the Bible as Literature: A Way of Understanding
Jeanie C. Crain begins her book “Reading the Bible as Literature: A Way of Understanding” by explaining the importance of reading the Bible as literature without denying its special role as religious or sacred text. Crain also describes definitions and backgrounds needed for improving ones understanding of the bible. As Crain elegantly states in her first chapter “Reading the Bible as Literature: A way of understanding”, she wishes that the readers of her book appreciate the bible not only for its religious text, but also because it is a unique collection of some of our oldest literature. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction was written to aid readers of the Bible in understanding the Bible as a whole; a priceless religious resource and an elegant example of early literature.
The text uses the word “Bible” to refer to the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. In should be noted however that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches include the deuterocanonical or apocryphal books of the Greek Septuagint. The Jewish Bible refers to the texts that correspond to the Christian Old Testament, in different order, as Tanakh, a collection including the Torah, Nevi’im and Kethuvim. “Old” and “New” do not suggest that the Christian faith has superseded (supersessionism), or is superior to, Judaism; nor does it suggest that the New Testament merely reinterprets, or distorts, the older tradition. By avoiding the supersessionism mentioned in the previous sentence one can avoid bias when reading the Bible that would distort the content of the respective Testament.
The form the Bible is in now does not resemble the form given to it by the original authors, which were ancient Hebrew manuscripts that made no distinction between lowercase and uppercase letters and did not use punctuation marks or spaces between words. Eventually the scriptures were divided into sections, chapters, and eventually verses. The earliest tradition of referring to both the Old Testament and New Testament as a single book may be attributed to Clement (an early Christian writer around 200 CE). The Bible is read today for many reasons- religious, moral, historical, and literary. Some consider it “divinely dictated, revealed, inspired, or as human creation.” The Bible also can be read for historical purposes. With more than 100 million worldwide sales every year it is safe to say regardless of the reasons the Bible continues to be one of the most influential pieces of literature we as humans have.
New Testament writers often echo the Old Testament text. The New Testament contains almost 300 direct quotes from the Old Testament and almost 1,000 indirect and partial quotes. These echoes in the New Testament have given rise to a reading strategy called typology. Typology explains the characters and events in the Old Testament in terms of the New Testament, such as Adam being a type of Christ. Examples can also be found by New Testament authors describing a quote or paraphrase from the Old Testament such as Moses at the burning bush (Luke 30.27), time, such as stating in the days of Abiathar (Mark 2.26), and words (Romans 11.2). In other words, typology understands the Old and New Testaments as a unified story which presents Jesus as a descendant of David and a fulfillment of Davidic covenant. This idea lost ground after the Protestant Reformation.
As a whole, the Bible reveals a loose Chronology and overarching meta-narrative that tells a story about the past and the future, with the New Testament reinterpreting the Old Testament. The Bible contains four acts: creation and fall, Israel, Jesus, and the Church. It is so crucial to analyze the Bible from a literary approach because it invites us to pay attention to the story, theme, genre, plot characters, setting, and point of view. One popular way of analyzing the Bible is to use Biblical criticism. Biblical criticism requires readers to ask questions about the origin, preservation, transmission, and message of biblical texts. Two major forms of Biblical criticism are textual criticism and redaction criticism. Textual criticism is the study and analysis of existing manuscripts to determine evidence on which to base a text and to eliminate error. Redaction criticism investigates the date and place of composition, its author or authors, and reconstructs the historical situation out of which writing arose. Biblical criticism asks how the Bible came into existence, who were the authors and what purpose did they have to write, when the various pieces of the Bible were written, and what the social settings were. Another form of Biblical criticism is narrative criticism, which insists on close reading of the Bible and looks at the particular way a story is told in relation to complex literary structures such as plot, characterization, and closure.
Scholars who criticize the Bible have been approached for asking questions about the integrity, authenticity, and credibility of the Bible, and for continually challenging and debating each other. Some suggests that Biblical criticism is over reliant upon the scientific method and Enlightenment reason in the search for historical truth and distorts the significance of the Bible for contemporary culture. Considered positively however Biblical criticism has contributed significantly to what can be learned about the creation of the Bible and its content and history. Biblical criticism is just one literary approach that can assist readers in understanding the complexity involved in reading and interpreting the Bible and help them deny the idea that there exists only one correct way of interpreting a particular passage.
Interpretation of the Bible requires gathering all the details together in the context of the whole to suggest meaning. As humans have found, an argument can be made for the most economical explanation, even one that appears to add least to the text. The argument over how the bible should be read presented itself in the 20th century. The question whether the Bible should be read as purely literature or for historical and spiritual purposes was debated intensely. Even the question of whether the Bible should be read in schools was argued. In the 19th and 20th centuries this dispute was settled by allowing students to read the Bible if it was taught from perspectives other than religious. One effort Crain makes in this chapter is to emphasize the importance of the Bible being regarded as a crucial piece of literature and being respected as such. Religious ideas should not stop the masses from appreciating the Bible and studying its content.
I felt Crain did a very nice job of introducing the content of her book in the first chapter. She immediately stated the importance of reading the Bible as literature without denying its special role as religious or sacred text. Crain would go on to define what the Bible is, defining it as the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New. It was interesting to discover that the Bible we read today was not how it was originally assembled. The Bible was originally Hebrew manuscripts that made no distinction between lowercase and upper case letters and did not use punctuation marks or spaces between words. Crain also introduced common ways to read the Bible such as supersessionism while stressing the importance of not interpreting the Bible with bias.
Personally I am guilty of some of the flaws the author points out to us while we read the Bible. Supersessionism for example is a big one for me. I have no motivation to read the Old Testament because as a Christian the New Testament seems more relevant and exciting. This way of thinking however will lead me miss crucial aspects of the Old Testament which are crucial to the New Testament.
I think as a whole Crain does an excellent job of introducing the Bible as literature in chapter one. She sparks a curiosity in her readers to investigate the Bible from a different stand point which is what I believe was one of the major goals of this book. One thing I would like to see more of in the first chapter however is additional examples of literary reading techniques using text from the Bible. Other than that I really enjoyed this chapter. As I continue to progress through this book my mind is beginning to ask new questions, interpret things differently, and see the Bible in a new light. That is a pretty good start to understanding the Bible as Literature if you ask me.