Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 1] pg 1-21. 

                This review covers the first chapter of Reading the bible as Literature: An Introduction, by Jeanie Crain. First, I will provide some background information on the Bible and how it fits into the framework of literature followed by a summary of chapter one. The summary will touch on all the main points of the chapter including general characteristics of literature that are present in the Bible and contextual information that is necessary to better understand the literature contained within the Bible. After the summary, I will add my personal evaluation of the chapter followed by a conclusion.

                The Bible is the most widely read book in the world. It is filled with history and stories of human experience. Most often, the Bible is read as a religious text, but it can also be read as an historical text or simply as literature. Since not everyone places religious value in the Bible, reading it as literature appeals to the broadest audience. Chapter one of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction presents this point of view to the audience and explains how to best conduct a critical literary review of the Bible. It introduces the main foundations of literature and then shows how they apply to the Bible. In order to do this effectively, it must take an unbiased point of view while still using sufficient detail and Biblical evidence.

                Chapter one was about reading the Bible as literature as a “starting point for all other approaches to understanding its meanings” (Crain, 6). At the beginning of the chapter, the author puts down some preliminary considerations, to establish the foundation for understanding the Bible as a piece of literature. These three points of consideration are definitions, form, and translation. The section on definitions defines the Bible as “the commonly anthologized thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament” (Crain, 3). It also offers a brief explanation of the many names of God that are used in the Bible. When addressing form, the author notes that the form of today’s Bible is not the same as it was originally and details the gradual change in the text over time. The last introductory section on translation points out the differences in various translations of the Bible. Some translations, such as the NRSV, focus on the literal meaning of the text. The author then references a translation by Everett Fox, which uses more repetition and alliteration in order to preserve “the rhythm and sound of original Hebrew language” (5). She then goes on to say that this alternate version “emphasizes not only the motif but, structurally, the thematic link between the sections, and affects meaning” (5).

The main portion of this chapter points out different elements of literature in the Bible. One important element is intertextuality, which is the referencing of earlier parts of the Bible to add to the meaning of later parts. As the author notes, the “New Testament writers freely allude to, or consciously echo, other Old Testament texts (7). Macro-plots and meta-narratives are two other elements mentioned in chapter one. Macro-plots are layers of stories that function as one. These can be seen frequently throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Genesis. Meta-narratives are “an explanation for everything that happens in a society” (Crain, 163). The Bible as a whole is a meta-narrative because of its large story that spans both past and future, and because of the explanations that are offered and interpreted by the two Testaments. Different forms of language, such as symbolic and metaphorical are also covered in this chapter. As an example of metaphor, the author notes the concept of journeys that can be seen in the entry and exit from both Egypt and Babylon (9). In addition, the author mentions the element of human experience which is everywhere throughout the Bible. She says, “the Bible images reality and truth, rather than stating it in abstractions and propositions… it enacts human  experience instead of telling about it” (12). It also looks at the various ways the Bible is taught as literature and has been interpreted over the years. Finally, it takes note of ancient Israel’s religion and culture to add perspective to the literary aspects of the Old Testament.

                I think chapter one of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction has done an overall good job of introducing the more general literary elements of the Bible. It covers each element mentioned in sufficient depth and provides Biblical examples without getting too wordy. I felt that the main points of the chapter could have been organized differently. For example, I would have put the sub-sections on macro-plots, meta-narrative, the monomythic and universal, and prophecy all together at the beginning of the section titled “A Literary Approach” since all four of these relate to stories in the larger sense and events that span the Bible. Next, I would have put the sub-section on language and the sub-section on intertextuality, allusion and typology because both of these tend to be text specific. I would leave the sub-sections on impact and experience at the end where they are. While I do not have much experience with reading the Bible as literature, I have been reading the Bible for spiritual purposes for years. Now confronted with this new perspective, I have to agree with the author that the Bible “deserves to be recognized as among the world’s greatest literature” (6).

                In conclusion, chapter one of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction offers an excellent overview of the main literary points that can be found in the Bible. They are covered in adequate depth and without religious bias. Although the order of some of the points is slightly confusing, the message that Bible is literature and that it is beneficial to read it as such comes across well.

Works Cited

Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 1] pg 1-21.