Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 6] pg 110-128.
This review covers the sixth chapter of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction, by Jeanie Crain. First, I will provide some background information on character, followed by a summary of chapter six. The summary will then touch on the main points of the chapter. Since this chapter was about the different ways to identify character, I will touch on a few of the methods mentioned by the author and the examples used. Following the summary, I will provide a personal evaluation of the chapter followed by a conclusion.
Character is not merely a noun referring to a person in a story. It is also a set of qualities a person may have related to the ever-intangible mind. Much like personality, character makes people unique. Since no two people have the same mind, it is obvious that no two would have the same character. Although character is modernly considered to be a positive trait, it really encompasses both the good and the bad. However, it should be said that character is not clearly defined in black and white – people may exhibit elements of character across an entire spectrum. That is where diverse methods of identifying character come in handy. They allow the reader to account for multiple aspects of the surrounding situation and gain a better understanding of the character being portrayed.
The sixth chapter of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was about character and the different ways to identify character. In the section of preliminary considerations, the author notes a few important things to keep in mind while reading the chapter. First is that characterization is a “revelation or display of a character’s habits, emotions, desires, and instincts” (Crain, 111). It is often revealed indirectly, and never revealed fully. Traditionally, people read the Bible in search of religious truth and assume that its authors “worked with a didactic purpose” (Crain, 111). While we cannot know this as an absolute fact, it is plain that the characters of the Bible are representative of human lives and the human condition. In a manner somewhat unique to the Bible, characters are presented “with a ‘cryptic conciseness’ describing everything in sparse detail – but with every detail important to the plot” (Crain, 111).
The main portion of this chapter focuses on identifying characters. The author provides a Biblical example for each way of identification and then explains how each example reveals character in its own way. It is important to “appreciate the complexity and ambiguity that arise within situations” (Crain, 113). One way character cam be identified is through context. Understanding “the context in which characters participate in a national life and set of events” (Crain, 113) helps readers to understand their motivations and fears, successes and failures. Saul became king when Israel was changing their ruling system to be like other countries. He was under a lot of stress to become the kind of king his nation was seeking, especially after Samuel warned against rule by monarchs. At times, he acts rashly, fails to follow advice, and is even hypocritical. With the surrounding context, Saul becomes known as a complicated, conflicted, and tragic human being” (Crain, 114).
A few of the other ways to identify character that are mentioned by the author are actions, symbolic actions, words, and the responses of other characters. One example of character identification by response is that of Huldah. When King Josiah tells the priest Hilkiah to inquire of God, Hilkiah immediately goes to consult with Huldah. The fact that Huldah is “most known by the immediate response of priest in seeking her out” (Crain, 119) says volumes about her character. She was obviously well known and respected; otherwise, the priest would not have sought her out. After hearing what she has to say, Hilkiah tells King Josiah, who implements reforms without delay. Both the Josiah and Hilkiah have immediate positive responses to Huldah and her prophecies, which go to show how such responses can be used to determine character. Some additional ways to identify character include requests, impact, description, and structure.
Overall, I really enjoyed the structure of this chapter. After the preliminary section’s introductory information, each way to identify character is explained in its own sub-section. I particularly liked the part where the author mentioned how even though detail is sparse in the Bible, every little bit is important. I do not know if the details are so important because of scarcity or not, but it adds some perspective when reading Bible stories. Instead of assuming the characters are worthless and quickly skimming the story for the main point, I now notice the subtleties that define each character and make the stories worth reading thoroughly. I do not have any complaints about this chapter. I felt that it was organized well and that each point had an appropriate amount of detail. I wish that I had been able to review more of the methods on identifying character, but I felt it would make the review too lengthy.
In conclusion, chapter six of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction was an excellent addition to what I have read so far. It was well structured and flowed effectively from one point to the next. The examples provided for each of the sub-sections were pertinent and easily understandable. As a whole, I think chapter six of Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction is one of the most useful chapters in the book.
Reading the Bible as Literature: An Introduction. Jeanie C. Crain. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010. [Ch. 5] pg 110-128.