Reading The Bible as Literature an Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Malden, MA, 2010. [1-20] 20.


Reading the Bible as Literature an Introduction by Jeanie C. Crain is a college level textbook offering just what the title says: an introduction on how to read the Bible as literature. The author wishes this book to be a supplement to reading the actual Bible. By using this text, the reader will learn things about the Bible that will “...deepen and enrich its meaning...” (Crain 2). Many people have read the Bible throughout history and there are many different approaches to reading it. Reading the Bible as a piece of literature is just one way.


Chapter 1 is titled “Reading the Bible as Literature: A Way of Understanding”. Judging by the title, this chapter shall discuss details of how the Bible can be understood in the context of literature. In the first section of Chapter 1, a brief overview of definitions, form, and translations is given. The second section looks at different things we can learn and deepen our understanding of while reading the Bible as literature. The third section discusses differences between multiple ways of reading the Bible as literature. The fourth section looks at Biblical criticism. The fifth section concludes the chapter by briefly laying out the ancient Israelite culture and religion. Overall, this chapter succeeds in doing exactly what it intended: showing the reader how the Bible can be understood as literature. Each section of this chapter will be summarized and reviewed here in order to show the successes of the text so far.


By beginning the chapter with a discussion of definitions, the Bible's form, and translations of the Bible, the author is setting the reader up with a good foundation for what they are going to be reading. When asked what the Bible is, most people will be able to give a rough definition, but this textbook makes sure the reader understands what the Bible actually is at a deeper level than just a religious text. Before analyzing any text it is important to have a base of knowledge about the text to be analyzed. The first section of Chapter 1 succeeds in giving the reader just that. By the end of this first section the reader has a good understanding of how different definitions of what the Bible includes, different references to God, different forms of the Bible, and different translations of the Bible can impact the study of the Bible as literature.


The next section begins by questioning why the reader should bother reading the Bible as literature. Along with “...because . . . it's fun...” (Crain 4) the author states that “...paying attention to the literary features of the Bible [is] the starting point for all other approaches to understanding its meanings” (Crain 6). The author views the study of literature as a stepping stone for a deeper understanding of any text. After telling the reader why the Bible should be analyzed, the author lays out several different principles which unify different parts of the text into a whole work. These principles include typology, macro-plots, language, and meta-narrative to name just a few. The author takes these different principles straight to the point in order to give readers both definitions of the principles and concrete examples of the principles at work throughout the Bible.


The third section of chapter 1 looks at different approaches to teaching the Bible as literature. The author states that although many people wish to understand the Bible, “...we can get to our destination through different ways” (Crain 13). The author then lays out the three main approaches that have been taken to studying the Bible in a scholarly manner throughout the twentieth century: “the literature of the Bible, the Bible in literature, and the Bible as literature” (Crain 13). She makes important distinctions between the three approaches followed by a discussion on challenges faced while studying the Bible as literature. The author makes a very important and wise statement when she says “ should be possible to avoid using 'Bible as literature' as a disguise for religion” (Crain 14). She ends this section of the chapter with two very informative paragraphs concerning the unity and coherence within the Bible.


The fourth section of the chapter covers Biblical criticism, a subject that encompasses a large portion of studying the Bible as literature. It includes “...questions about the origin, preservation, transmission, and message of biblical texts” (Crain 16). The author lays out the history of Biblical criticism, including the separation of textual and historical/literary criticism. At the end of this section, the author again stresses the importance of “...fitting all the details together in the context of the whole to suggest meaning” (Crain 17).


The fifth, and final, section of Chapter 1 provides a brief but detailed history of the culture and religion of ancient Israelites. History in the Bible tends to be very tedious, but it is also very necessary for understanding the settings in which the Bible was written. I would argue that this final section is the most important of the entire chapter. Although the other sections are important, a concise history laid out explicitly for the readers is greatly helpful when it comes to actually picking up the Bible and analyzing it. Just as it is important to understand what the Bible itself is before beginning to study (detailed in section 1), it is important to know the history behind what is being read. If I chose to take this class, but did not have any background with the Bible, it would be very difficult to just dive in without any knowledge of the history. Even with the background of Christianity from my childhood, it is very nice to be able to look at this basic historical outline.


Overall, Chapter 1 of Reading the Bible as Literature an Introduction does a successful job at introducing the study of the Bible as literature and why it is important. The Bible can be a very tedious and overwhelming book to attempt to read and study, but this chapter provides a very detailed and organized look at what people who wish to study the Bible as literature are getting themselves into. At the beginning of this chapter the author sets out with the intention to provide a foundation for the reader getting into Biblical study. She outlines many different topics and problems that the readers will be faced with as they progress in their study of the Bible as literature. I feel as though the topics the author presents throughout this chapter are detailed enough to be helpful, but straight to the point enough to not be overwhelming and confusing for the reader.