Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 3] pg 43-64.

This review covers the third chapter of Reading the bible as Literature: An Introduction, by Jeanie Crain. First, I will provide some background information on image, metaphor, symbol, and archetype, followed by a summary of chapter three. The summary will touch on the main points of the chapter, which include unifying images, metaphors of the divine human relationship, and some archetypal encounters of humanity and divinity. After the summary, I will add my personal evaluation of the chapter followed by a conclusion.

                Images, metaphors, symbols, and archetypes are four interlocking elements of literature that are indispensable to the Bible. Images are often concrete objects that can be repeatedly in various ways. As different metaphors are applied to these images, they come to symbolize an assortment of abstract concepts. When all three elements of symbol, image, and metaphor are combined, archetypes are created that span the length of the Bible.

                Chapter three of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was about the underlying structure of the Bible and how it “reveals itself in interlocking patterns of myth, metaphor, and typology richer than the descriptive language of fact and evidence” (Crain, 43). The section on preliminary considerations focuses on concrete images, and how archetypes, motifs, and other elements connect these images to form the construction of the Bible. It is noted how “these often overlap and sometimes can be used interchangeably” (Crain, 44). The author then goes into a section detailing some of these images. Light, darkness, and fire are concrete, if not tangible, things. Both light and darkness are created by God on the first day and from then on “form contextual polarities relative to the life that will spring from them” (Crain, 45). Light is often used to refer to salvation and communion with God, just as darkness is used to symbolize sin and separation from God. Images of water are even more numerous. As the author notes, “Water brings life and death, blessing and affliction, order, and chaos” (48). One important point the author notes is the distinction made between living and non-living water. Living water comes from rivers and springs and is often used to symbolize the eternal life one can have through Jesus. Stagnant water, such as that which comes from a cistern is just the opposite.

                This chapter also goes into detail on metaphors used to describe the divine-human relationship. It lists king and subject, judge and litigant, husband and wife, father and child, as well as master and servant and notes that “beyond the literal image, each represents in some way a characteristic of God” (Crain, 50). The metaphor of king and subject provides and image of power and authority and the metaphor of husband and wife “describes and ideal unity, a relationship built upon mutual love” (Crain, 55). The relationship of judge and litigant portrays patience justice and is remarkably similar to that of father and child. Fathers, while portrayed as “progenitors of descendants, agents of blessing, head of their clans, overseers of the economic fortunes… [and] spiritual paragons” are also authority figures and are often responsible for meting out punishment – just as a judge might give a sentence. Lastly is the metaphor of master and servant. It is apparent throughout the Bible; not only are there numerous instances of human serving other humans or serving God, but also of Jesus serving others. Altogether, these metaphors are not incompatible. They each demonstrate different facets of God’s relationship with humans and function as a whole to provide a more complete picture. The final main section of the chapter was entitled Archetypal Encounters of the Divine and Human and focuses on two such encounters that “represent symbolically the coming together of the infinite and finite” (Crain, 59). A classic encounter is one which takes place on a mountain. Abraham takes Isaac up Mount Moriah when God commands him to make a sacrifice; Moses goes up on Mount Horeb and receives the Ten Commandments from God. Throughout the Bible, mountains come to symbolize law and sacrifice, and how humans relate to God and each other through these things (60).The second encounter explored is the crucifixion of Jesus on Golgotha – the archetype of sacrifice. Within this atonement sacrifice can be found blood as a symbol of the source of life and the cross, which “comes to symbolize curse and blessing, judgment and healing” (Crain, 62).

                Chapter three of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was well done in its order and attention to detail. Each point was fleshed out enough for good comprehension without being too wordy. I also liked how, just as the author noted the intertwining of image, metaphor, symbol, and archetype in the Bible, the explanations of each were woven together throughout the chapter. The one part that seemed disjointed was the section on archetypal encounters. In the sub-section on the Mount of the Skull, the explanation seems to jump from verse to verse in the bible before settling on a point. I know that the author is trying to weave everything together as in the rest of the chapter, but I had a hard time making sense of it all. Aside from that, I had no problem with this chapter. It was well put-together and offered worthwhile information.

                This chapter of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was my favorite so far. It was enlightening to discover how the elements chapter three focused on can be knit together to form complex literary structure. Despite the fact that I found some points confusing, the chapter was excellent as a whole. It contributes to the overall theme of the book without giving away too much for one chapter.

Works Cited

Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 3] pg 43-64.