Chapter 3 Review
October 6, 2012
Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. 43-64
Upon reading the Bible, one will quickly discover that it is quite a meaningful book. How do the writers of the Bible achieve this deeper level of meaning? In Chapter Three of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction, Dr. Jeanie C. Crain provides an in-depth explanation of key literary elements the writers of the Bible utilized. Entitled “Image, Metaphor, Symbol, and Archetype: A Way of Meaning,” Chapter Three challenges readers to be aware of when to read the Bible literally and when to read the Bible figuratively. In this chapter, Dr. Crain provides information on the use and importance of images, a deep discussion of Biblical metaphors of the divine-human relationship, and an examination of archetypes used in the Bible. Chapter Three concludes with close reading exercises and discussion questions to aid in reflection of the chapter. This chapter in Dr. Crain’s textbook aims to introduce students to a deeper, more figurative reading of the Bible. Its primary goal is to introduce readers to some useful devices, essential for creating a deeper meaning in writing. Chapter Three does an excellent job achieving its goals; upon completion of the chapter, readers will appreciate the Bible’s utilization of image, metaphor, symbol, and archetype, and be able to identify when these are used.
Typically, reading for literal meaning is easier than reading for symbolic meaning. Reading a piece of literature symbolically usually requires more time, because the reader must think and determine what the deeper meaning is. Dr. Crain begins the chapter with a personal note, acknowledging the challenge. “You may find this chapter challenging, requiring from you mental effort and concentration,” she writes (43). The author continues to explain that, “the structure of the Bible reveals itself in interlocking patterns of myth, metaphor, and typology richer than the descriptive language of fact and evidence,” (43). When an author strives to portray deep meaning, they must go beyond the literal. Professor Crain enforces the point by stating, “You will have to move beyond the literalism that has resulted from our modern world’s emphasis upon empirical fact and history,” (43). It is true that many things today are taken literally. However, the Bible’s powerful meaning would be lost if the entire book was read in a literal fashion. This is why Dr. Crain takes the time in Chapter Three to encourage a more figurative reading of the Bible so readers are able to discover symbols, motifs, and archetypes in the book, and, ultimately, what the writers truly mean in each passage.
As the previous paragraph explained, Dr. Crain opens Chapter Three with a personal note. This explains to readers that the reading of Chapter Three requires much “mental effort and concentration.” The note prepares readers to focus and reflect often upon what they have read. The author provides readers with preliminary considerations concerning the terms image, metaphor, simile, motif, symbol, and archetype. Dr. Crain does not simply list the definition of each word, however. An example of each is provided. For example, water as a simile is a “direct comparison, ‘like cold water to a thirsty soul, /so is good news from a far country’ (Proverbs 25.25),” and water as a symbol presents “the second level of meaning, salvation, as primary: ‘Whoever drinks of this water shall never thirst’ (John 4.14),” (44). These examples increase the reader’s understanding of how each figurative language device is used. Next, Dr. Crain discusses “two unifying images” in the Bible. The first image is light and the second image is water. Chapter Three follows the journeys of these two images, as they were first described as totally concrete images (literal light and literal water), but they then progressed and evolved into symbols with deeper meanings (light as a symbol for goodness, among other things, and water as a symbol for salvation, among other things). Professor Crain then goes into an in-depth discussion of five metaphors used in the Bible. These metaphors describe the divine-human relationship. In other words, these metaphors relate God to us and us to God. The metaphors the textbook examines are as follows: king and subject, judge and litigant, husband and wife, father and child, and master and servant. Dr. Crain provides multiple verses to provide evidence for each of these metaphors. For example, to reinforce the metaphor of God as judge, Dr. Crain provides the following verse (Judges 11.27): “Let the LORD, who is judge, decide today for the Israelites or for the Ammonites,” (53). The chapter comes to a close with a discussion regarding “archetypal encounters” occurring at Mount Horeb/Sinai and the Mount of the Skull. To assist with student reflection, close reading exercises and discussion questions are provided at the end of Chapter Three.
This chapter, while more challenging than Chapter One and Two, did an excellent job encouraging students to read the Bible on a more figurative, symbolic level. Dr. Crain presents the material in a thoughtful, organized way, complete with various examples. It is clear that Professor Crain is extremely knowledgeable about the Bible and its contents. On pages 46 and 47 of the textbook, she is able to outline the journey “light” takes in the Bible, with a generous amount of accompanying Bible verses. The extent of her study is clear, and in this chapter, especially, I appreciated her dedication to the topic and the many references she provided. Exercise 9 in the close-reading exercises at the end of the chapter was important to me, because it allowed me to review what I had just read throughout the chapter. The exercise says, “Choose one concrete image, then demonstrate how the Bible uses it as metaphor, motif, symbol, and archetype,” (63). The exercises and reflection questions are the key to evaluating one’s understanding of the chapter.
In the first chapter of Reading the Bible as Literature, Jeanie Crain acknowledges a similar textbook to this one, titled The Bible as Literature (15). First published in 1986, this textbook was written by John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler, and Anthony D. York. I was eager to compare the third chapter of The Bible as Literature to Jeanie Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature. What I found surprised me. While the first two chapters of each book were quite similar, Chapter Three differed greatly. Gabel, Wheeler, and York’s Chapter Three is titled, “Ancient Near Eastern Literature and the Bible.” This chapter focuses on where the Bible got its influences. While Jeanie Crain’s chapter in Reading the Bible as Literature focuses on the use of figurative language to create meaning, Gabel, Wheeler, and York’s The Bible as Literature focuses on a historical aspect. I found Gabel, Wheeler, and York’s historical perspective interesting. The authors write, “The problem was that, given the theological assumption that the Bible was unique, there was little awareness before the early nineteenth century that there might have been any literature outside the Bible before biblical times,” (Gabel, Wheeler, & York, 40-41). In fact, as The Bible as Literature points out, “It was thought that Egyptian hieroglyphs were only decorative devices…” (41). While I found The Bible as Literature’s chapter extremely interesting, I feel that Professor Crain’s Reading the Bible as Literature made more sense regarding the organization. Presenting history and influence on the Bible is an excellent approach, but I feel it would have contributed better to my understanding if it had been discussed before the third chapter. I believe Dr. Crain’s approach is more effective because it is more linear. Reading the Bible as Literature goes from an introduction to reading the Bible as Literature (Chapter One) to a discussion on rhetorical devices used in the Bible (Chapter Two) to an examination of figurative language in the Bible (Chapter Three). This format contributed much better to my understanding. I appreciate Dr. Crain’s organization and personal notes throughout the chapter. I believe that there is a place for understanding and acknowledging historical information and the things that influenced the Bible, but it would be more beneficial for that information to be included earlier in the textbook.
In conclusion, Chapter Three of Reading the Bible as Literature was an excellent chapter that contributed greatly to my understanding of reading the Bible on a more figurative, symbolic level. The chapter left no questions unanswered, and the questions for reflection allowed me to evaluate my understanding of the topic at hand. Upon completion of this chapter, readers will gain a better understanding of the uses of images, symbols, metaphors, motifs, and archetypes throughout the Bible. Readers will also be encouraged to strive to see the deeper meaning in what they are reading. It is clear that the writers achieved meaningful passages through their use of these figurative language approaches. Chapter Three has encouraged me to pick up a Bible and discover what the writers are really, truly saying.