This week’s chapter review covered material from chapter six of our primary text. The bibliographic information is: Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Crain, Jeanie C.. United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2010. Pages 111-128.

This week’s review covers material from chapter six of our primary text. This chapter introduces the literary element of characters as a way of identifying. Arguably the easiest way to approach a piece of literature is through the characters. Characters are often easiest to relate to because they possess human-like qualities. Learning about characters enables a reader to learn about themselves through the character’s motives, attitudes, and moral stances.  Characters are most often revealed through a narrator’s account, but they are also revealed through their own thoughts, what other characters say about them, their symbolic acts, the context surrounding a character, as well as their impact. These various accounts are presented with examples throughout this chapter.

Crain is currently a professor at Missouri Western State University where she has been teaching this course since 2000. She is the author of both Biblical Genres: Introduction, and Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Her academic achievements include: Ph.D. English and Philosophy, Purdue University;  PhD. Biblical Studies; M.A. English, Purdue.

This chapter opens with the section “Preliminary Considerations”. The Bible consists of thousands of different characters who represent a wide range of human activity. These characters are either one-dimensional (flat) or multidimensional (round). Narrators present characters through their words, actions, and thoughts. Narrators use characterization to reveal a character’s emotions, desires, and habits through direct speech, statements and facts that are presented. A narrator provides the greatest certainty of a character’s personality. Crain says, “In the end, like people, the Bible’s characters will remain fragmented, contradictory, mysterious- eluding any attempt to say who they are concisely” (111).  Readers believe that storytellers use setting, action and characters to address issues of human life. Narrators are omniscient and use their characters to reveal God’s work. A narrator’s description of a character allows a reader to observe them briefly and learn about themselves, others, and God. God is the protagonist in the Bible with all characters and events directly connected to Him. Characters must be interpreted as they are not fully or explicitly revealed. Crain says, “The Bible presents its material, including its characters, with a “cryptic conciseness”, describing everything in sparse detail- but with every detail important to the plot” (111).  The Bible often focuses on stories of characters in action, describing what leads to choice and the consequences that emerge. Tests are a common motif and the character’s struggle is a glimpse of the human condition. In the Bible, information is revealed progressively with supplementary details providing an interconnected background of meaning.  

The next section of this chapter is the various ways in which to identify a character. Characters illustrate processes that can be used to observe the framework in which they are found. This can be through context, actions, and through their words, to name a few. The first way to identify a character is through context. Characters must be understood through obedience to the covenant and in light of their moral character. The story of King Saul and the Witch of Endor present Saul through this context. Interconnected accounts present Saul as an impulsive, conflicted, and tragic human. He disregards advice and often takes on responsibilities without thinking about the consequences. This is seen after Samuel’s death when he consults the Witch of Endor regarding his own eminent death. This reveals his confusion about the role of a prophet and the role of a sorcerer. Deuteronomy forbids consulting with witches and ghosts, and Saul consults in both. He is told that his kingdom won’t continue by Samuel’s ghost. Although Saul’s death is ambiguous, it is agreed to be a product of retributive justice for his consultation of a medium instead of God. It is punishment for unfaithfulness and divination.  

Another way to identify characters is through their actions. This identification is demonstrated by King Solomon and Two Women Prostitutes. Solomon’s character consists of a devastating background. It consists of his rise to power (filled with bloodshed), his tainted glory, and his downfall. Solomon kills Joab and Shimei then secures the throne by having his brother killed. Although he has a murderous beginning, he is defined as a good king because he supports the temple as well as centralized worship. Solomon’s reputation for wisdom and justice are understood through the story of the two prostitutes. He suggests to cut the child in half, knowing that the real mother’s maternal ties to her child will cause her to do anything to preserve its life-even if it means giving it to the other prostitute. When Solomon’s power reaches its peak, Solomon’s success is tainted by his accumulation of wealth, wives, and adversaries. He spends more time and money on building his own palace than he spent on the Temple. As a result of his wrongdoings, he is judged for not keeping God’s covenant and his kingdom is taken away. Accounts of Solomon vary. Some narrators portray him as a multidimensional character (with good and bad qualities) while others describe him as a flat character (only good).

 The last method for identification I will cover is to identify a character through their words. Stephen plays a role close to a profit. His memorable speech rehearses history and holds people accountable for rejecting God. He transitions between the historical Hebrew events and present day, comparing the people’s actions to actions of their ancestors. His speech consists of five parts which interlink with the Old Testament. Stephen utilizes foreshadowing and allusion to connect his speech to the Old Testament This makes the Old Testament a required tool in order to fully understand and appreciate the content of the New Testament.  He suggests that Joseph foreshadows Jesus and he also alludes to Joshua. He makes the theological point that Israel has a history of rejection and makes the point that God will continue fulfill promises even though the Israelites have favored the Temple and a rejecting the righteous one. This gives Stephen hope that God won’t hold the people’s sins against them. He reveals the retributive formula, which is God’s justice. Stephen’s speech reveals his prolific moral integrity. He is often compared with Christ, and Stephen’s death has overtones of the Christ’s crucifixion. His grace and power made him a man of good standing.

I found that this chapter required me to think deeper. I enjoyed the challenge of reading the descriptions of the characters and utilizing different ways to identify their personality. I agree that there are humanistic lessons to be learned through each of the characters. I think Crain made the scope of identification fairly manageable. This section should not be too difficult for beginning readers because Crain does a nice job of providing the stories of the characters and distinguishes what method is the best to use to identify the character. As a reader learns about the deeper motivations of a character, they are also learning about themselves. Characters in the Bible remain fragmented and it is the reader’s responsibility to interpret them. The immediate and extended framework must be understood to appreciate the complexity of the characters’ situation. It is also important to ask questions of the narrator. Crain says, “It becomes critical to understand why the narrator uses one part of a text to provide commentary on another, and why one syntax is chosen over the other” (112).  There has to be distinction between the narrator’s and the characters’ points of view. Crain emphasizes the importance of recognizing that all of these characters are interconnected through the protagonist of the Bible, God.

In conclusion, chapter six serves to introduce characters as a way of identification. Each character serves to teach a lesson, with the narrator utilizing characterization to reveal the characters’ habits, emotions, and desires. Understanding that each character is tied to the other contributes to the importance of reading the Bible as a unified work.