Reading the Bible as Literature. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [22-40]
In chapter two of Reading the Bible as Literature by Jeanie C. Crain, a more in-depth explanation of how to study the Bible as literature is discussed. The chapter is divided into three main sections: Preliminary considerations, comparison, association, and arrangement of words, and a sampling of rhetorical devices. Crain states that “the Bible is about more than theology and doctrine and that it is not reducible to science, natural science, or history” (Crain 22). This makes me wonder, what is it that the Bible could be about then? My hope was that this question would be answered in this chapter or future chapters of Reading the Bible as Literature. In this chapter, Crain emphasizes that the Bible should be viewed figuratively, as well as literally, in order to understand that there is “truth beyond logic…and that interpretation need not be restricted to physical realities” (22). She also emphasizes that “rhetorical devices can be recognized and defined and that doing so helps us understand literature” (23).
The Bible “presents itself as a whole, creating in its readers a sense of its style” (23). Style is the author’s intended arranging of words and phrases in their writing. Each author of the Bible has a different style, a different mode of expression. Style can also be defined as how literary work is written. I have noticed that between my NIV Bible and ESV Bible, my NIV Bible has verses divided into different headings than my ESV Bible. For example, Genesis 9 has a heading of “God’s Covenant with Noah” and “The Sons of Noah” as a subheading in my NIV Bible, while Genesis 9 in my ESV Bible does not have a heading, but has a subheading of “Noah’s Descendants.” These minor adjustments are examples of the style of the redactors of these two Bible versions. Tone is the label and description of the emotion that is invoked. An example of tone would be stern in Revelations. Rhetorical strategies, like schema and trope, and figurative uses of language support the “intensified feeling” (23) of the Bible.
The translation of the Bible is emphasized in this chapter, because “readers of the Bible rely upon those who know the original Hebrew and Greek languages to construct appropriate translations” (24). The translation of the Bible has an effect on how a reader interprets it. After some research, apparently there are three broad categories that the translations of the Bible have been divided into. The first category is word-for-word translation, which normally amount for reliable translations with only slightly varied meanings. The King James Version is an example of word-for-word translation. The second category, meaning-for-meaning translations, “can be valuable in putting the Scriptures into more understandable learning” (“Good News: A Magazine of Understanding”). The New International Version is an example of a meaning-for-meaning translation. The third category, paraphrased Bibles, make for easier reading of the Bible in current language, with unique expressions and translations from the author. An example of a paraphrased Bible is The Living Bible. Choosing the category of translation of the Bible is an essential step in studying the Bible as literature; I think it’s important to choose the version that best suits an individual’s purpose for reading the Bible, whether it be for understanding the Scriptures, or for simply observing the beauty of the Bible.
Comparison and association in the Bible serve to connect something to a joint purpose and help readers to understand how certain ideas are linked. An example of allegory (a type of comparison) is in Psalm 145. This psalm is written by David as form of worship to God. It represents a greater purpose, that God’s grace and mercy are unfathomable. An example of metonymy (a form of association) is in Isaiah 27:7, “Israel will bud and blossom,” the “bud and blossom” representing that Israel will prosper. These are just a few examples that illustrate comparison and association in the Bible. Knowing such terms allows for a more detailed understanding of the Bible.
“Rhetorical devices give additional force, more life, intensified feeling, and greater emphasis to what we read” (26). Similes and metaphors work to help the reader connect similar ideas. The only difference is that similes use “like” or “as,” while metaphors have an implied comparison, normally using “is.” A few examples of similes are “Surely wickedness burns like a fire” from Isaiah 9:18, “I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine” and “like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest” from Isaiah 18:4, “…Your wealth and all your treasures I will give away as plunder” from Jeremiah 17: 3, and “They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion” from Hosea 11:10-11. Examples of metaphors include “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life” from Proverbs 11:30, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” from Isaiah 66:1, and “[God’s wrath] is a sword for slaughter” from Ezekiel 21:14, and “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” from Proverbs 13:14. So, I may have gone a bit overboard in looking for similes and metaphors, but I was very excited that I was able to find so many with such little effort. Before, I had never paid attention to the many similes and metaphors sprinkled in the Bible, but as Crain states, “using comparison, the imagination adds surprise, force, and beauty to the ordinary” (27). She couldn’t be more correct; I am just beginning to understand the beauty of the Bible as literature.
“…Literature makes a special use of language to arrest, preserve, and allow readers to experience life in all its varied forms” (26). This quote represents the importance of using “literary tools readily available for understanding [the Bible]” (25), because as readers, we can apply each of these uses of language to our human experiences. That is what I feel is Crain’s main point in this chapter. I can already see a difference in my own reading of the Bible, in picking out literary tools and synthesizing the information that I read. Now, my question of “what is it that the Bible could be about then?” has somewhat been answered in this chapter. The Bible has preserved life experiences of the authors of the chapters in the Bible, using literary tools to aid in their experiences. I’m still confused, however, because, at that time, I feel as though the authors of the chapters in the Bible weren’t worried about writing similes or the use of metonymy. I think that they were writing the Bible in order to preserve their life-changing experiences and emphasize why they worship their God. I am still unsure if these thoughts are correct, but through reading Reading the Bible as Literature, I know I will become more informed in answering this question.
Reading the Bible as Literature. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [1-20]
“What's the Difference Between Various Bible Versions?.” The Good News: A Magazine of Understanding. United Church of God, An International Association, April 2011. Web. 16 Sep 2012. <http://www.ucg.org/bible-study/whats-difference-between-various-bible-versions/>.