Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [65-87]


In chapter four of Reading the Bible as Literature, Crain emphasizes the “need to focus on the Bible as a whole” (Crain 65).  An introduction is made to the major genres “into which literary works are grouped according to form, technique/style, or subject matter/content” (65) and an explanation is given to “how a literary genre…contributes a set of expectations that [shape] a reader’s interpretation of a text” (65).  The chapter focuses on preliminary considerations with major genres and genre criticism, narrative aspects, and drama and poetry of the Bible.  As in every chapter, Crain encourages readers to keep an open mind when reading the Bible, so that readers can fully understand not only what is meant by the basic tools of literary analysis in the Bible, but also the Bible as a whole.  Before taking this class, I wasn’t concerned about the rhetorical devices used or the genre of what I was reading, I was merely reading the Bible for religious purposes.  However, I am now able to focus on the impact a simile can make in the text, the power that a certain image holds in the Bible, the importance of genre in the book of Job, and so much more. 

It’s important to first establish what genre means.  According to, a genre is a “category of artistic, musical or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.”  Crain states that “The Bible has been regarded as a model for literary genres, its overriding form being that of an anthology made up of diverse genres” (66).  The three main familiar genres are prose (narrative), drama, and poetry.  Crain emphasizes that the definitions of the major genres are only a starting point for understanding them; multiple genres can be concealed in a text.  I participated in a Bible study this summer studying Titus, so I decided to research genres of Titus.  I discovered that multiple genres, as Crain said, occur often.  A couple genres of Titus are letter (Paul is writing to Titus) or pastoral epistle and reformation of the community.  On another note, I like Crain’s take on fiction-that it shouldn’t be classified as false with relation to historical reality because it does have some truth in it-the author’s imagination takes human experiences and events that they have encountered and turns them into fictional stories that deliver truths about human beings and their world.      

Genre criticism or form criticism focuses on four elements: “plot, structure, or shape of the passage in question, the identification of genre or category to which a text will be assigned, the history of the text being analyzed and its genre, and form criticism, which looks at the purpose of the genre in the passage under scrutiny… [or] structure, genre, setting, and intent” (66).  The main argument of genre criticism is the question as to whether genres consist of objectivity or subjectivity.  An example would be when trying to decide the genre of a song-what constitutes a song from being rock or alternative, hip-hop or rap?  Genre seems as though it can be affected by the person categorizing it, because some genres can overlap.  It seems that deciding what genre a type of work is can be subjective.

Another form of criticism is called source criticism.  “Source criticism is particularly concerned with identifying potential sources and precursors of the text we have now” (“Theopedia, An Encyclopedia of Christianity”).  Writers have their own cultures and traditions that affect the way they write their version of the Bible.  Also, writers want their work to seem relevant and sometimes tailor their writing to the time period.  Scholars seek information about the original sources of the Bible.

“Contributing to the overall complex literary structure of narrative (67),” are the terms point of view, narrator, setting, and plot. In my honors English class, we have focused on the impact that people, power, and place have on the characters in a story.  In Titus, the point of view is in first person, which aids in giving a firsthand view of the spreading of the Gospel by Jesus Christ’s apostle, Paul.  The narrator is Paul, writing a letter to Titus about how to organize the church in the town of Crete.  The setting is in the town of Crete (a disorderly country needing the establishment of a religious leader), after Christ had risen and left his apostles to continue his work.  With Paul being the narrator of the book of Titus, we get to see his experiences as an apostle of Jesus Christ and the expectations he has set for Titus to follow in the town of Crete.  The setting reflects the constant archetype of the rebelliousness of humans.   The lateral terms work together to help the plot unfold.

A narrative is defined as “prose which presents the chronological or sequenced events to tell a story in a particular way” (67).  What Crain emphasizes is that the Bible takes stories from each book and forms a unified “plot conflict that begins with the beginning of human history and ends with the consummation of history” (69), creating an “ever greater narrative” (69).  Forming this great narrative are episodes, which “[consist] of phases and steps grouped into a complete story, and [result] in problem resolution…” (70).  For example, in Exodus, Moses was disconcerted with the treatment of his fellow Hebrews.  Moses decided to take matters into his own hands by killing an Egyptian that was beating a Hebrew laborer.  God was also unhappy with how the Egyptians were treating the Hebrews; God resolved this problem by having Moses lead the Hebrews out of Egypt.  Multiple books in the Bible mention episodes of Moses also including Levictus, Numbers, and more.  These episodes about Moses are just an example of the unity that narratives have in connecting the Bible as a whole.

An in depth view of genre and the narrative aspects of the Bible helped me to view the Bible as a whole, rather than individual books.  I am seeing definite progress in the way I read the Bible not only for religious purposes, but in recognizing the beauty of the Bible as literature also.  I am excited to see what Crain has in store for next chapter.

Reading the Bible as Literature.  Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2010. [65-87]

Theopedia, An Encyclopedia of Christianity. Theopedia, An Encyclopedia of Christianity. Web. 21 Oct 2012. <>.