Chapter 4 Review

 Hon 395-40: Reading the Bible as Literature

 Jeanie Crain


Title- Chapter 4: Major Genres: A Way of Seeing

Author-Jeanie Crain

 Place of publication- Cambridge, UK

 Publisher- Polity Press

 Date of publication- 2010

 Number of pages- 65-89


According to the book, the French word genre means, “type, sort, or kind and designates the literary form into which works are classified according to what they have in common, either in their formal structures or in their treatment of subject matter, or both.” Genre criticism falls under the bigger category of form criticism. The four elements that are recognized by form criticism are the plot, structure, or shape of the passage, the genre that the text is, the history of the text and the genre, and the purpose of the genre in the passage.

Many different types of genres of literature exist throughout the Bible. The Bible is considered a model for literary genres. Once the genre is known, it helps the reader to understand how they should interpret the text. A reader must also be aware of applying the definitions of the genres too strictly. Sometimes the different types can overlap. For example, the language of prose can be poetic and poetry can be in the form of prose.

In older times, the major genres were lyric, drama, and epic. Lyric is poetry. Drama is a performance with characters speaking in prose or poetry.  An epic is a poetic narrative and includes prose and prose and poetry. Prose, Poetry, and drama differ over different cultures and historical times. “Prose that presents chronological or sequenced events to tell a story in a particular way,” is called narrative. The stories can be true or made up.

These genres give the reader a way of viewing the world. This requires the reader to distinguish the relationship between real life and life in literature.  Made-up stories are considered to be fiction. Most people believe that fiction is simply “not true.” However, fiction can tell the truth of human experience. These fiction stories can use actual events or facts from history, but they intentionally change the stories to make them fiction to tell the truth about human beings, the world they live in, and human condition. People often think of the bible as telling reoccurring truths about God and the nature and situation of human beings.

Narrative requires attention to things like plot, characterization, point of view, narrative voice, and closure. These together provide literature structure to the story. Plot is the actual story and the order of events, such as conflict, suspense, and closure.  The events can be put into chronological order or be in order of themes. Setting is the time and location in which the story takes place. The narrator tells the story to the readers. The point of view is the perspective through which the story is being told. First person, the person telling the story is a character in the story and I or we can be used. In third person, the narrator is not in the story and is an “all knowing mind.” The Bible has its own narrative device such as repetition to provide coherence and unity, omission which is leaving out information, dialogue, and irony.

Genre criticism has had many attacks in the last 2,000 years. Some of these attacks were saying are the genres objective, and are they only for a certain time and setting. Also it was questioned if genres should be viewed as extrinsic or intrinsic. Also the genre can be affected by the person making the grouping and different types of genres can become mixed and that makes it hard to distinguish between them.

The Documentary Hypothesis states that the first five books of the Old Testament were written by a series of editors from four literary traditions known as J (Yahwistic or Jerusalem source), E (Elohost or Ephraimitic), P (Priestly), and D (Deuteronomic). The Two Source Hypothesis was proposed in 1855, and states that Mark was first written and Matthew and Luke use it as a source.

The narrative of the Bible contains episodes. Episodes are “phrases and steps grouped into a complete story.” These episodes are all linked together to chains of other stories to make one bigger story. Two stories with a structured plot are in Luke 19.1-10 and 2Kings 4. In Luke 19:1-10, Zacchaeus is the protagonist or main character. He wants to see Jesus, but since he is not tall enough to see over the crowd he can’t. He solves his problem by climbing a tree. Once he does this, he engages in dialogue with Jesus and is asked to have lunch with him. This story has all the parts of a narrative, plot, protagonist, dialogue, and problem/resolution. In 2 Kings 4, there is a poor widow Elisha is a lot of debt that her husband had left and she is worried her children will be forced into slavery. She finds a solution to her problem by giving her vessels that continuously replenish themselves with oil. This story also has all the parts of a story.

The last two examples are stories can exist on their own, but narratives also can be made into episodes that can be linked with others. Elisha’s story from above is linked with Elijah’s story in 1Kings 17, where Elijah has to go to Elisha to get feed. Elisha shares her problems with him and they come up with a solution and they eat for many days. In Jeremiah 35:8-16 can also be linked to Elisha’s story because of people having to go into slavery to pay off their debts. Type-scenes are scenes and episodes that occur often in the bible. These repeating scenes and episodes give the bible unity and help to connect all the books of the Bible. A parody is a method of criticism that makes use of another creative work. There are also episodes in the New Testament that are to episodes in the Old Testament.  

                According to the book, a myth is “a genre embodying a people’s perception of its realities: cosmology, cultural values, social structure and customs, internal and external political relationships, and religious rituals and beliefs.” Genesis combines elements of myth and legend with historical fact. The first chapters of Genesis are primeval history. It brings together the genres of fable, legend, and myth. Genesis contains many stories. The next section of Genesis is patriarchal tales. It contains the beginning of the Israelite nation and the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Chapters 37 through 50 are a novelette explaining the story of Joseph with the Israelites settled in Egypt. The documentary hypothesis says these tales are originally independent but are later built into bigger stories by a skilled editor.

Genesis 1-2 includes stories. It is told from a third-person point of view. The story of God’s creation is told. He creates the universe, light, water, etc. Inside the story of creation, there is embedded poetry. This is all found in the priestly source (Genesis 1-2.4a). The Yahwist account (Genesis 2.4b-24) dramatizes God as a character. The narrator records what god can be seen doing. The story of Adam and Eve contains all the parts of a story: an exposition, complication, crisis, falling action, and resolution. Genesis also includes groups of stories also known as acts. These are Genesis 1-4 and Genesis 6-11. Genesis is also structured into four cycles that include 3-5 groups of stories. Genesis 1-11 is primeval history. Patriarchal history is next. Genesis 11-25 tells the story of Abraham, Genesis 25-35 tells the story of Jacob, and Genesis 35-50 tells about Joseph. The macro plot in the Abraham cycle is the quest for a son. Abraham’s wife Sarah can’t have kids. However, God promises Abraham he will have a son and he does have Isaac later. God does ask him to sacrifice Isaac, not because he actually wants him to kill him, but because he wants to test Abraham’s faith in him.

Job is a book in the bible that has many literary genres within it. It tells moral issues and legal issues, such as duties and rights. It provides answers using poetry and prose through drama. It sometimes is said to be comedy and sometimes tragedy. It belongs to the wisdom tradition. Its prologue and epilogue are considered folktales. It contains aphorisms, parable, hymns, laments, and legal disputation. The book of Job addresses itself to the imagination. Job is known as a good man who fears the lord and goes away from evil. Satan doubts Job and suggests that if all the good things were taken from his life he would lose his faith. The heavenly council then conducts an experiment to see if this is true. Job and his friends all have a different perspective on human suffering. The question arises that how can such a good and loving God allow evil to exist. God then comes in to show how the good, great, and magnificent found in nature comes from the same mystery of that of evil.  The experiment continues and Jobs is still tested.

Job is a poetic drama of a human encounter with God. It contains characters, theme, plot, dialogue, setting, scenic effect, spectators, and structure prologue, argument, and epilogue. Job is a comedy with a bittersweet ending. Job consists of imaginative vision and has a power that goes above the ordinary and reveals the mystery of creation with the eyes of God. Job has extreme parallelism, which are lines that use different words to express the same or similar ideas. These can be synonymous, which means they mean the same, antithetical which means the second line expresses truth of the first in a negative way, or synthetic, which means the second line completes or expands on the first. Job also shows another type of poetry, chiasm, which represents the crossing of two objects in reverse order between two lines of literature. The book seems to close the gap between God and humans.  

Source criticism says that the time of composition determines how readers interpret Job. A later date would point to an understanding of the suffering brought upon Judah by Babylonian captivity.  It is also said that Job is ambiguous and tells one story in prose and another in poetry. The book is considered wisdom literature. It acknowledges the human quest for understanding. The book asks about the proper reason for serving God and also the reason for suffering. The book addresses the mystery of God and human’s imperfect knowledge of him.



                The goal of this chapter was to introduce the major genres in the Bible and also to explain how the genre can affect how the text is interpreted. I believe these goals were well achieved in this chapter. Each type of genre was thoroughly explained and examples were given. The chapter showed how each genre is used and also how it affects the understanding of the text.

 The book goes into great detail into two books in the Bible in particular, Genesis and Job. The chapter goes through these whole books and gives all the genres found in these books and examples. The examples really help to expand on just the definition of the genres and put them more into perspective for the reader. It helps to better understand what the genre is actually about and how the story is written into that genre. It also helps the reader to be able to distinguish between the different genres on their own.

The chapter didn’t give that many other examples or at least go into as great of detail for other books in the bible. I think this is because Genesis and Job contain the great amount of variety and give clear examples of the genres to use as a basis for readers. After learning these they can then go out and look at the other books in the Bible and are able to figure out the genres used in them for themselves.