Reading The Bible As Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. 213 pp.
In Reading The Bible As Literature: An Introduction by Jeanie C. Crain chapter two focuses on style, tone, and rhetorical strategy for further analysis of the Bible. The definitions of these rhetorical devices are presented to make the reader aware that these do exist in the Bible and will help in understanding this piece of literature. The Bible must be analyzed in two very different ways. It must be dissected and exposed in every minute part but also on the opposite spectrum; as one whole story, despite its many very different parts, authors, and time periods. Recognizing these rhetorical devices while studying the Bible “can lead to more informed reading and understanding of its content.” This is likely a common goal when reading any literary work, so it makes sense that we should study these rhetorical devices to better understand the Bible as well.
Style, according to the author, “refers to how something is written, to the mode of expression, or to the author’s choice and arrangement of words and phrases into sentences and paragraphs.” I like to think of style as the individual’s personality kind of showing through in their writing. In the book, the author states that tone “names and describes the manner in which an author expresses attitude, the intonation of the voice that expresses meaning. The tone can be, for example, solemn, serious, objective, ironic, humorous, sarcastic, or tongue in cheek.” I feel that tone can give an indication to the reader of how they are “supposed” to feel, so to speak. According to the author, rhetorical strategies “manage language to achieve specific effects. Narrowly interpreted, rhetoric means persuasive speech; more broadly, it includes the use of cultural conventions and expectations (ways of thinking, writing, and speaking) and the manipulation of these to achieve effects.” Overall, authors use rhetorical strategies to persuade and/ or inform readers about what they are writing.
Translations of the Bible rely on people who know the original Greek and Hebrew languages in which the Bible was written. These translators must narrowly analyze and translate, but must also look at the whole of the content and the overall message that the author meant to have portrayed. The different approaches to translation can result in varied meanings. The Bible applies a formal literary language. It also uses “parataxis” frequently, which is “the use of parallel clauses linked by ‘and’,” according to the author. This contributes to the “linkage” of the Bible which connects distinct stories with the overall content of the literary work.
Comparisons and associations are commonly used in the Bible to aid in understanding this literary work. The author states that “comparison includes simile, metaphor, implication…, parable, allegory, vision, sign, type, shadow, example image…, impersonation (or personification), and condescension (used when God is spoken of as a human being.” These can be useful in helping the reader better relate to the text and understand it on another level. Metonymy is also included in the Bible. This is “where one noun becomes associated with another and meaning derives from the association produced in the reader’s mind.” There are many examples of this that can be found in the Bible. Appellation is another type of association which is defined as “using a quality, office, or attribute for a proper noun, such as when God is spoken of as ‘the Majesty’ (Heb. 1.3), when John the Baptist is called Elijah…” This is really interesting to me, because I have never taken a real notice of this rhetorical device when reading the Bible, but now that it is mentioned, I recognize some of these examples. It is interesting to think about in a different light. “Circumlocution uses a descriptive phrase in place of a name in order to emphasize the association: born of woman (human) (Matt.11.11; Luke 7.28); the product of the grapevine (wine) (Matt. 26.29)…” I feel this helps to add depth and some imagery, at times. It could also help the reader to better understand what is trying to be portrayed. The arrangement of words can also play an important part in gaining a better understanding. “Omissions, additions, parallelism, prominence, and reversal; the repetition of words, ideas, sounds, and word-play” are mentioned by the author.
A figurative device, anthropomorphism, can be described as projecting God as having characteristics of human beings. In various parts of the Bible God is said to have a soul, a body and head, a face, eyes, ears, nostrils, a mouth, lips, and tongue, a voice, arms, hands, a finger, a heart, bowels, a bosom, and feet. He is also said to have human abilities throughout the Bible, such as jealousy, remembrance, breath, laughter, tasting, and touching. I think this can help readers associate with God in a way that seems more relatable. “Zoomorphism attributes the feature of an animal to a different species…for example, ‘In the shadow of your wings I used to rejoice’ (Ps. 63.8).” All of these types of figurative language can aid the reader as to not misinterpret the Bible if they are more aware of these methods and devices.
“Merism” is a unique figure of speech that is often used in the Bible to bring contrasting pieces together to create clarity and complete a whole thought using the word “and”. A good example of this can be found in Genesis 1.1 when God created heaven and earth. Complete opposite elements which represents His control over everything. An “oxymoron comes from combining two Greek words meaning ‘sharp’ and ‘dull.’” This relates to the Bible in that sometimes God’s words and thoughts sometimes may seem irrational by humans; however, His wisdom is mainly just beyond human comprehension.
While reading the Bible with a literary approach, it is important to take note of whether a passage is a speech in which the characters are speaking or a narrated report where someone else is stating what another person said. The New Testament of the Bible often alludes to the Old Testament, making references to stories and characters. The Old Testament also makes references to other areas of the Old Testament. Quotations are repeated word for word. But when something is alluded to, there is a brief reference to a passage or it can be made up of different parts of a few passages. I think foreshadowing is done to kind of intrigue the reader. It seems to encourage the reader to continue to find out what will happen. They can make an assumption of what the foreshadowing is alluding to, and want to see if they will be accurate. According to Crain, foreshadowing “advances plot by providing subtle hints about developments that will come later in a story.”
“Irony uses words to suggest the opposite of their literal meaning; dramatic irony exists when others know what the characters do not know,” the author writes. I feel like this may happen quite often in the Bible. It only seems natural that there are many times when God knows way more than the characters in the story, and even the reader as well. The Bible uses rhetorical questions and it often “reminds the creature of the Creator,” according to Crain. When the author uses more words than are necessary, this is amplification. Repetition is a common type of amplification. This is often used for intensity, to emphasize, and kind of drive the point in more. Euphemism is used sometimes to soften unpleasant topics. Generally, the Bible is straight forward, but as the author notes, “for Christians, the Bible closes with finality. Death no longer needs euphemism; its reign of terror has ended!”
Repetition is seen in the Bible quite frequently, whether this is through words, phrases, or images. In fact, the author states that it is “arguably the Bible’s most important literary device.” When I think of repetition in the Bible the first thing that comes to mind is the repetition of numbers. The number three is used in a variety of ways, as well as the number 40. “Recursion refers to the deliberate shaping of narrative events so that key elements are repeated from one narrative to another.” Inclusio is a variety of repetition that is used to signify the beginning and the ending of a segment. Like repetition, it can emphasize and intensify the text. Chiasm is another type of repetition that “juxtaposes, reverses, or contrasts words, dialogues, episodes, scenes and events with the most important idea in the apex, middle, or crossover in the story.” A sign is another rhetorical device that signifies greater meaning than is portrayed in the actual action. Finally, “a vision in the Bible means seeing beyond human sight and real existence, and carries, like parable and allegory, symbolic meaning,” states Crain.
I think the chapter was interesting. I know, personally, it heightened my senses, so to speak. I feel that when I read the Bible I will now be much more likely to pick out some of these rhetorical devices and I feel this will help me with my understanding of what I am reading. Whenever we, as students studying literature, can become more aware of literary concepts, we can improve our comprehension and understanding.