Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. 22-42.
Chapter three of Dr. Jeanie Crain’s book “Reading the Bible as Literature” focuses on the major uses of image, metaphor, symbol, and archetype throughout the Bible. Dr. Crain provides clear examples of the most prevalent uses of each of these figurative uses of language and relevant references to their use in the Biblical texts.
The chapter begins with an overview of some figurative uses of language including image, metaphor, simile, motif, symbol, and archetype. Simile and metaphor have been exposed in the prior chapters of the book and discussed in depth. An image is defined as “a concrete thing or action that requires the readers to experience literally and connotatively what the image evokes” (p. 44). A symbol is associated with metaphor and simile because it “stands for something in addition to its literal meaning” (p.44). A motif is described as an unfolding pattern and archetype as a universal pattern in image or symbol.
After introducing these basic figurative uses of language, Dr. Crain begins to identify some organizational principles used in the Bible that pertain to the use of symbols. The first organizational principle is the use of light and water as unifying images. The symbolic use of light is used over 200 times in the Bible, from beginning to end. Light is used as a symbol for life, spirituality, God’s presence, and many others. Fire is an equivalent symbol for light and darkness serves as the opposite pole symbolizing evil, the absence of God, and sin.
The use of water as an image occurs over 600 times throughout the Bible. Water is used mainly as a force of life that can only be controlled by God, as a cleansing agent, and as a source of life. Water is used contrastingly to bring life and death, order and chaos, blessing and suffering (p.48). An example of this contrasting use of water is that a flood essentially destroyed the world during Noah’s life, yet the Israelites cross over the Jordan River into the promise land of Canaan. Here water symbolizes both destruction and fulfillment of promises or blessings.
The next section of the chapter describes five metaphors of the divine-human relationship that are used most frequently in the Bible. The first metaphor is of king and subject. This metaphor is used in terms of earthly kings and God’s kingship. The King in both metaphors represents protection, mercy, power, justice, and authority over the people (p. 50). The throne is used to symbolize God’s sovereignty, authority, and magnificence. Throughout the Bible God is depicted on his throne surrounded by splendor and grandeur (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, and Revelation 21).
The metaphor of judge and litigant is used in both a human and divine sense, much like the King-subject metaphor. God is presented as the perfect judge who holds ultimate authority and justice, while exercising patience. Earthly judges are expected to imitate God’s role as judge without infringing on his role as the ultimate authority and final judge. Biblical judges function as prophets, kings, priests, and deliverers for God’s people. Some of the judges in the Bible are Solomon, David, Deborah, Moses, Samuel, and Nathan. God used these judges to communicate with his people and reveal sin and disobedience.
The use of marriage, husband and wife, is the most prevalent metaphor for unity in the Bible. The metaphor of marriage is used to describe God’s relationship with and love for his people, the Israelites. Many human examples of marriage are presented in the Bible as well, with Ruth and Boaz, and Joseph and Mary serving as ideal models.
Another prevalent metaphor is that of father and child. This metaphor is used over 1,000 times and is a major archetype of the Bible. Fathers are presented as leaders, heads of families, economic providers, and models of spiritual excellence, but the human fathers in the Bible do not live up to this idealistic image. In the presence of human father failures, God is portrayed as the example of a perfect father. The father-child metaphor is used in reference to God and Israel as well as God and Jesus.
The last metaphor described in “Reading the Bible as Literature,” is the metaphor of master and servant. This metaphor is used similar to the father-child relationship. Servants are instructed to obey their masters and masters are in turn instructed to treat their servants with respect. This metaphor is used in the form of hospitality throughout the Bible. Jesus challenges the concept of a servant when he says “ whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-8, p. 58).
The third section of Chapter three discusses the archetypal encounters of the Divine and human associated with mountains. Dr. Crain says that there are over 500 references to mountains and hills in the Bible, which represent a physical place, inspiration of beauty, and sacred locations. The three most important examples of this are God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb, also referred to as Mount Sinai, the symbolism of Mount Zion, and Jesus’ death on the Mount of the Skull, or Golgotha. Mount Horeb/Sinai and Mount Zion are both associated with God’s presence and his redemption of Israel. Jesus’ death on the Mount of the Skull, and later his resurrection, is symbolic of the redemption of all people by breaking the barrier between Jew and Gentile and between God and humanity. These mountains ultimately symbolize the restoration of humankind to a right standing with God.
This chapter from “Reading the Bible as Literature” identifies the major unifying images, metaphors, and archetypes of the Bible. Dr. Crain provides many great examples of each metaphor described and provides information on the pervasiveness of each throughout the Bible. Almost every figure of speech identified in this chapter was accompanied by a rough figure of its prevalence throughout the Old and New Testaments. The identification and acknowledgement of each of these images, metaphors, and archetypes throughout the Bible helps readers to make associations across the entire text and to properly interpret the meaning.
Throughout the chapter there are a number of words bolded for emphasis, but the purpose of the bolding is very ambiguous. Sometimes the bolded words were defined, other times there was no clarification. For instance, on page 45, “new creation” and “New Jerusalem” are bolded, but there is only a Biblical quote to clarify what defines “New Jerusalem.” In most instances, I had difficulty associating the importance of the bolded words with the main substance of the chapter. On page 46, “retributive” and “eschatology” are bolded, but there is no clarification of definition or any explanation for why these words are important for the reader to understand or how they relate to the main points of the chapter. The use of bolded words was utilized sparingly in earlier chapters with similar lack of description, but this chapter utilized many more.
The last page of the chapter discussed the symbolic use of trees in the Bible, which is very useful information, but the placement is confusing. The last section of the chapter is labeled “Archetypal Encounters of the Divine and Humans,” which is broken down into the sub-headings of “Mount Horeb/Sinai” and “The Mount of the Skull.” The information on the symbolic use of tress falls under the sub-heading “The Mount of the Skull.” There seems to be no connection between the Mount of the Skull and use of trees symbolically. This organization makes the information on trees difficult to connect to the rest of the chapter. A better placement of this information might have been under “Two Unifying Images” alongside water and light.
In conclusion, Chapter Three of “Reading the Bible as Literature” describes the major uses of unifying principles, divine-human metaphors, and archetypes used in the Bible. There is a plethora of information on each main point in the chapter with many Biblical examples. Each main point is accompanied by a numeric figure describing its prevalence throughout the Biblical texts to emphasize to the reader the importance and prominence of each use of figurative language. Although there is a confusing use of bolded words throughout the chapter, the information is communicated thoroughly in a relatable and understandable manner.