This week’s chapter review covered material from chapter three of our primary text. The bibliographic information is: Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Crain, Jeanie C.. United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2010. Pages 43-63.

The third chapter of Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature introduces the literary elements of image, metaphor, symbol, and archetype. It is reinforced that these elements are to be used to further a reader’s understanding of the Bible. These figurative uses of language engage a reader’s imagination and encourage heightened spiritual discovery and revelation.  The structure of the Bible promotes intertwining patterns of metaphors and typology that advances beyond the language of fact and evidence. In this section, literature differs from religion in the sense that it refuses to affirm or deny the reality of the visions produced.  This chapter highlights the two unifying images of light and water, the five metaphors of divine-human relationships, and concludes with archetypal encounters of the divine and human.

Crain is currently a professor at Missouri Western State University where she has been teaching this course since 2000. She is the author of both Biblical Genres: Introduction, and Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Her academic achievements include: Ph.D. English and Philosophy, Purdue University;  PhD. Biblical Studies; M.A. English, Purdue University; M.S.A. Management, Georgia College and State University; B.A. English, Berry College.

The third chapter begins with the section of “Preliminary Considerations”. A literary approach to reading the Bible requires a reader to understand the usage of literal and figurative language in connection with human experience. Human experience is presented through a connected pattern of images, metaphors, motifs, symbols, and archetypes. These literary elements overlap and are interchangeable. An image involves something concrete and necessitates literal and connotative understanding. Crain says, “Metaphors and similes function much like a symbol, an image that stands for something in addition to its literal meaning” (44). Archetypes refer to repeating patterns that encapsulate human experience. These elements function as emergent properties. Each is dependent upon the element before, and complexity increases at each new level. It is also important to note that our reasoning relies on the capacity of our imagination. The meaning derived can neither be subjective nor objective.  

The next section is titled, “Two Unifying Images”. The images involved are light and water. These master images serve as links between the Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible. Crain states, “These images connect metaphorically to the destiny of human life, its place in the universe, and its sense of an infinitely bigger other” (45).  As a concrete image, light represents the stuff that God himself solely created. As a symbol, light is used figuratively when speaking of Jesus as the light and life of his people. The presence of light represents God’s presence. The extinguishing of light is used as an archetype of God’s final judgment. Theologically, light is symbolic for the immanence of God. The next image is water. Water has three main functions: as a force of life controlled solely by God, as a source of life, and as a cleansing agent.  In the biblical world, all water could potentially dry up. This demonstrates how human existence is consistently subject to external forces. The need to manage water is also a motif found throughout the Bible. This is an act that can only be accomplished by God. Water as a cleansing agent is depicted through baptism. Christian baptism is often symbolic for a passage from death to life.  

The third section discussed “Five Metaphors of Divine-Human Relationship”. Metaphors achieve what our literal language cannot: the union of human experience and God as Supreme Being through “empathetic projection” (50). The metaphors include God as king, judge, husband, father, and master. These metaphors suggest an obligation through the relationships. These metaphors display the emergent nature found in literary elements. The first level demonstrates a physical image. The second level of metaphor and simile require a reader to interpret this image as something deeper than the literal meaning. It is vital to realize that ignoring either of these levels will be detrimental to a reader’s experience. The final level, archetype, addresses the pattern of response to the permanent human situation. I will touch on two metaphors in this section. The first metaphor is of the king and the subject. The Bible depicts both a human and divine image of a king. They are both an image of protection, justice, and mercy. The people of Israel want a king to be like the nations around them. Deuteronomy limits the humanly king to someone whom God will choose. All human kings fall short in the requirements outlined in Deuteronomy. This is because no one but God can rule over his people without oppression or comparable mercy. Another metaphor is between a judge and a litigant. In this metaphor, there is once again a human and a divine face. God is the perfect judge, constantly warning that rebellion will lead to final judgments. Crain says, “Metaphorically, an ideal human judge imitates God’s righteousness but does not attempt to usurp God’s role as final judge” (53). Although God is the absolute just judge, the Bible displays many examples of humans in this role. They serve as deliverers, prophets, and priests. They often make poor decisions resulting from moral flaws.

The final section is titled, “Archetypal Encounters of the Divine and Human”. An archetype uses patterns to represent universal elements of human experiences. These are often presented as opposites. This is demonstrated in the ascent/descent images involved with mountains. They are both connected to intensifying consciousness. Encounters between humans and God occur on Mount Horeb as well as Mount Golgotha. They are both symbolic of the union of infinite and finite. The motif of the Mountain of God unites the Old Testament and the New Testament. The two mountains (Sinai and Zion) both associate with God’s appearance. dwelling, and the place of the law. Both of these mountains trace the theological theme: the progress of redemption. The next passage covers the Mount of the Skull. This passage concerns the crucifixion of Jesus. The imagery the cross provides is of suffering and commitment. It bridges the gap between humanity and God. Crain says, “The New Testament interprets the Old Testament that all sacrifices are in anticipation of the Supreme Sacrifice” (61). These sacrifices represent an archetype leading to the sacrifice of Jesus. The last important image is that of a tree. In Genesis, the tree represents immortality, and in Revelation it represents the re-created world to come. At the center of these trees is the cross, where Jesus is said become a curse. This curse brings the renewal of life and demonstrates how one image contributes to the unity of the Bible as a whole.  

Personally, I thought that this chapter was more difficult than the last two. It required a reader to concentrate on interlocking patterns of image, metaphor, symbol, and archetype. Crain does an excellent job ensuring that these definitions are clear and provides examples that reinforce the literary element. A beginning reader should not experience many issues if he/she is mindful that this section requires higher thinking beyond typical literal understanding of an object. It is vital that the reader allows his/her imagination to lead to spiritual discovery through the usage of these elements. These literary tools are easily transferred to reading the Bible as long as the reader does not ignore either the concrete image or the figurative meaning behind it. Again, Crain reinforces that these elements should be used solely to increase understanding and appreciation of the Bible as a collective piece of work.

In conclusion, this chapter discussed the literary elements of image, metaphors, symbols, and archetypes. These literary elements are interdependent and require understanding of the various levels. A single image contributes to the coherence of the Bible from Old Testament to New Testament. This unity of the elements provides the themes of creation, fall, exodus, destruction, and redemption. These are patterns within mythology that indicate a greater order.